Campbeltown at War

Kintyre and its strategic port has always played a role in the defence of the realm. All along the coast, there are fortifications, dating from the early Christian era. The best example of which is probably the excavated Kildonan Dun, a fortified farmstead from the first century AD at Ballochgair. The place names such as Carradale, Saddell and Skipness indicate Viking strongholds and the fighting men of Kintyre have played a major role in almost all of Scotland and the UK’s battles as well as the civil uprisings such as the 1915 and the 1945.

The Heritage Centre has a considerable collection of artefacts, medals, documentation and exhibits from both the First and Second World Wars when Campbeltown provided so many fighting men and also had both naval and air warfare significance.

In the first World War, the fighting men of the 8th Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders had a very distinctive role in the very worst of the fighting across France and Belgium with honours and great losses at Mons, Loos, Ypres and Passchendaele in particular. As a result of the heavy losses, Campbeltown was presented with a captured German Minenwerfer or Mortar gun which is now located outside the Heritage Centre.

During the Second World War Campbeltown was the base for HMS Nimrod, the training school for the Navy’s Asdic anti-submarine detection system. This meant that schools, hotels and church halls were all taken over by the Navy and there was a steel boom floating across the entrance to the harbour as well as a minefield beyond Davaar, to prevent penetration by enemy submarines.

Campbeltown was also the headquarters of HMS Minona, the Deep Sea Rescue Tug Service and responsible for towing damaged ships from the Atlantic convoys into harbours from Scapa Flow to Portsmouth, with their vital loads. The Heritage Centre was subsequently made the centre for the Rescue Tug Association collection of documentation, ships logs and models and is the National Centre for such material.

Photography was forbidden in the area during the wars, The famous official war artist Stephen Bone was however commissioned to produce paintings of the maritime war effort in Campbeltown and the Heritage Centre holds a set of reproductions of these famous paintings of the boom, submarine activity and the rescue tugs, Courtesy of the Imperial War Museum.

Machrihanish airfield opened for the first time in 1918, operating as a sub-station of the RNAS airship station based at Luce Bay. In the Second World War Machrihanish was the location for the Royal Naval Air station, HMS Landrail, which was a base for anti-submarine reconnaissance on the western approaches. It was also used for Swordfish and Barracuda torpedo bomber training and deck landing training.

Torpedo bombing training officer at RNAS Machrihanish for much of the war was Lieut Commander Kenneth Pattison DSO DFC who had successfully crippled the German Battleship, Bismarck. During that time his son, Rodney Pattison was born in Campbeltown. Rodney is better known as a double Olympic Gold medallist with his yacht Superdocious. He is Campbeltown’s most famous sportsman.

Images and plaques on the walls of the heritage centre
Plaques and images at the Heritage Centre.