The 11th (Scottish) Commando Black Hackle
A history by Jim Henderson
In this new 6 part series, Arran local Jim Henderson, gives an account of the period during the 2nd World War when the 11th Commando were posted to Arran where they lived and trained, forging many relationships and connections with Arran that continue to this day.
Part 1 – ‘Lest we forget’
Wednesday 6th September will be the 80th anniversary of when over 500 of the 11th (Scottish) Commando arrived in Lamlash to continue training. When the 11th Commando was formed it was decided that the headdress would be a glengarry with a black hackle supported by the badge of the Soldiers own regiment.
After the War ended in 1945, the surviving Commando returned to their units, homes and loved ones. A few returned to Ayrshire and Arran to renew friendships made, which often led to marriage. Many of the 11th Commando returned to Arran for holidays and a small number became members of Lamlash Golf Club, which led to the formation of the annual reunions.
The reunions were organised on the first weekend following the English bank holiday to coincide with the weekend nearest the 6th September. The first reunion in 1985 was organised by Lamlash locals, which included Harold (Spud) and Jessie Taylor, Isabel Allen and Ban Turner and around 50 former officers and men of the 11th Commando attended. The following year in 1986 over 70 of the men and their families gathered in the gardens of Brodick Castle. The 3rd reunion had around 40 of the men present plus their family members.
During the 50th anniversary, in 1990, the 5th reunion, there were around 120 men and family of all ages present when the grandson of Richard Pedder unveiled a plaque in Lamlash Church. This also marked the involvement of Lamlash Golf Club when the Commando were welcomed as part of their annual celebrations. An annual competition was organised and in 1993 the Commando presented the Commando Veterans Cup and the individual prizes. The first winner of the cup was Ronald McDowall who just popped the author by one stroke. In 1997 the winner was Blair McGunnigle the grandson of Walter Marshall.
As the years progressed nature began to take its toll and the number of the Commando making the journey to Arran began to decrease. At the 70th anniversary in 2010, only one of the Commando were able to attend the reunion, however relatives have kept the tradition alive. Peter Turfrey as the Commando secretary organised the reunions from 1997, assisted by David McNaughton who acted as the treasurer. In 2013 when, in the early stages of another Arran reunion, Peter and David passed on unexpectedly their widows, Maureen and Christine, have kept up the tradition attending the Arran weekend every year, Maureen travelling from near Birmingham and Christine from Kilmarnock. Maureen’s step-father was Reginald Walters who was in 4 troop 11 Commando and latterly with the 204 Mission and Chindits. Christine’s father was Matthew Wilson, a member of the Seaforth Highlanders and Cameroon. He joined the 11 Commando and was batman to Major David Blair who was in charge of 6 troop and was billeted in Kinniel House.
This year will be the 35th annual visit.
The Commandos were formed in July 1940, following a command by Prime Minister Winston Churchill of the United Kingdom following the evacuation of troops from Dunkirk. The volunteers came from all parts of the United Kingdom.
By May of 1940 the Germans had invaded Norway, in the low countries the resistance from the French and Belgian armies collapsed and the British Expeditionary Forces had to make an orderly evacuation from Dunkirk on the 6th June 1940. Churchill directed Lord Ismay, head of the Military Wing of the War Cabinet Secretariat to prepare an Enterprise consisting of specially trained troops of the hunter class, who could develop a reign of terror first of all on a ‘butcher and bolt policy’.
Churchill held a meeting with the Chiefs of Staff and instructed them to train a special force capable of developing a reign of terror by forming an offensive to defend Britain and keep the Germans at bay, who occupied the coastline of the North Sea and the English Channel.
Lt Colonel Dudley Clarke came up with an idea based on the guerrilla fighters of the Boer War and named these special forces ‘Commando’. The object was to form a specially trained group of Commando, who were able to fight independently under the command of specially selected officers.
Despite opposition from regular army authorities, officers were selected and allocated a destination to train his group, normally a seaside location where the men would be billeted and trained, when not engaged in operations. The Commando organisation was intended to create a group of men capable of the following:
1. Operating independently for a 24-hour period.
2. Capable of very wide dispersion and individual action.
3. Not capable of resisting an attack or overcoming a defence of formed bodies of troops, specialising in quick hit and run tactics dependent for their survival and success upon speed, ingenuity and dispersion.
The Commandos came under the province of Combined Operations in July 1940. Churchill appointed Sir Roger Keyes Admiral of the Fleet as Director of Combined Operations, who was followed by Lord Louis Mountbatten from October 1941 for a duration of 100 weeks. A number of the new units were despatched to several parts of Britain – 3rd and 4th Commando were the Southern command, 5th and 6th the Western command, 7th the Eastern command, 8th the London district command and the 9th and 11th Commando the Scottish contingent.
Lt Colonel Richard R Pedder aged 36 was chosen to lead the 11th. He requested volunteers from the Scottish forces, who were joined by troops from England and Ireland, all of them associated with Scottish regiments like the Black Watch, Argyle and Sutherland Highlanders, Royal Scots Greys and others, for an undefined hazardous nature and ruthlessly culled both officers and men he considered unsuitable for the task ahead.
The Scottish Commando became Individual, Different and Unique. History records their brief time as one of the most important in all of the services.
The men who formed the 11th (Scottish) Commando were the first group to reach operational strength. Among the volunteers was the son of Sir Roger Keyes – Captain Geoffrey Keyes who was part of the Royal Scots Greys stationed at Redford barracks in Edinburgh. Once selected, he brought with him several troops from the old regiment including Walter Marshall (who lived in Lamlash until his death in 2005).
Other volunteers included Robert Mayne (Paddy) of the Royal Ulster Rifles and Eoin McGonigal, who although was undisciplined, proved to be a tough Commando and developed a strong bond with Captain Keyes.
COMMANDO, a Portuguese word meaning command, which was adopted in the early 1900’s by the ‘Boers’ in South Africa for military purposes and expeditions against the local populations. Commando units eventually were made up of the Special Air Service, Special boat service and Parachute regiments, over a period of time, which were disbanded and integrated with the S.A.S in 1941 [Special Air Service] and the L.R.D.G. [Long Range Desert Group] after the 11th Commando were disbanded.
After the war ended the Commando role was exclusively given to the Royal Marines. Their missions were the stuff of fiction, but it was in fact a reality. During the period of 1940 to 1943 the Commando units proved to be the toughest and the bravest of hand-picked members of the British military. Hundreds of them perished; many were engaged in what was more like suicide missions, in operations which were so daring and dangerous that even the officers planning the missions had on occasions, reason to question the tactics.
Next month, Jim’s account continues with Churchill’s orders, early combat and the start of the 11th Commando.
Featured image shows the 11th Commando Black Hackle in Cyprus