11th Commando Black Hackle in Arran – Part 3

A history of the 11th Commando in Arran by Jim Henderson
‘Lest we forget’

In Part 3, Jim Henderson recounts the time in September 1940 when the 11 Commando arrived in Lamlash.

On arrival at Lamlash the troops were marched from the Pier through the village, divided into groups and billeted in several homes in the village. They were divided into 10 groups, No’s 1 in the area of the Dyemill, 2 and 3 around Benlister, Murray Place and Cordon, 4 and 5 in the back road and Hamilton Terrace, 6 and 7 in the centre of the village, 8 at Woodhead with 9 and 10 from Millhill to Mount Pleasant. The officers rented the Whitehouse from the Duchess of Montrose to use as the officer’s mess. The community hall built behind the Whitehouse during the First World War was used for the overspill and many were accommodated in tents in the adjoining sports field.

The forces, to allow the troops, including the sailors from His Majesty Navy moored in the bay, some form of recreation commandeered the local golf course, located on the hillside from 1889 and designed by Willie Fernie, who won the British Open in 1883, on the North side of the village. All of the other Island courses were closed and cultivated or used for stock grazing, to support the war effort.

Photo of group of No 11 Commando in Lamlash, from the collection of Robert Fowler No 11 Cdo, courtesy of his nephew Iain Jamieson

Colonel Keyes was billeted in a charming cottage near the Whitehouse where he and 2 other officers recall an elderly lady who fed them extremely well. Jimmy Lappin was billeted in ‘Cul-a-Valla’ lodging with Mary McKechnie who provided good quality grub; hot bathing facilities and clean clothes.  [Most of the days the soldiers would return to their billets soaking wet, much to the displeasure of the landladies who were left with the task of drying their kit, bearing in mind the uniforms were made of wool. The weather in the main was rainy and the only source of heating was from the coal fires.]

Blair Mayne was billeted at ‘Landour’ where he shared the outhouse with 5 others for sleeping accommodation. Among this group was Walter Marshall, mentioned in part 1, who met up with Janet McMillan Hamilton and returned after the War to marry her and start a family.

Mrs Hamilton and Mrs Crawford, a young married woman, went from feeding for 2 to cooking for 8 hungry men. Both of the ladies mentioned made a big impression on the Commando treating them like sons rather than strange soldiers. In Hamilton Terrace only 2 of the houses boasted a bath, which was used by many of the soldiers and not just their lodgers.

Mrs Hamilton was honoured in operations twice- in the Western desert a Matilda Tank had the words ‘HAMMY’ on the turret and in Burma a large truck travelling between Lashino and Cumlin had ‘HAMMY’ on the bonnet.

Four of the men of 4 troop, including Reg Harmer and Reg Walters were billeted in one of the Hamilton Terrace back houses with Ma McColl. She banned the storage of live ammunition, but under their beds was hidden cases of .303 bullets, 50 anti-tank shells and a couple of boxes of hand grenades.

A lot of the training took place in the hills behind Lamlash village, from this position they fired at the weathervane on top of the Church spire. If they hit the vane in the right spot it would spin round and they followed this up by trying to hit a moving target. To this day the marks of the bullets remain in the weathervane.

The landladies of Lamlash remained in the memories of the Commando for all time, appreciating their kindness and care of body and soul during their time at Lamlash.

The same could be said of the Lamlash folks who developed a friendship with many of the Commando during their brief time of training based in the village. After the War ended many returned to renew friendships and remember the few months spent in Arran. Some returned to marry and settle on the Island like Walter Marshall. In 1983 Jack Bradley returned to visit his billet in the cottage at Benlister.

Others like a few of the Naval chippy’s returned to renew relationships, for example – Harold Taylor who married Jessie, Fred Marriott who married Jean, Tom Scott who married Margaret McKinnie and Matt McAdam who married Rosie. There was also a sapper Tiff Turner who returned to marry Ban McNeish of Claveron.

James Lawson a piper who joined the Commando in November, arrived to witness Colonel Richard Pedder’s discipline. A short distance from the main pier was a stone jetty. At high tide the troops would be marched fully clothed and kitted out, to the end of the pier where they stopped and began marking time. This raised a question from the leader ‘Paddy’ who asked why they had stopped marching and instructed them to continue into the sea, making their way ashore swimming in the extremely cold sea water.

At this time other Commando troops were stationed on the Island. The 9th Scottish Commando were based in Whiting Bay and 7th Commando based in Lochranza. Both had a compliment of 500 men, the Island seemed to be overrun by various troops and sailors from the ships of the Atlantic fleet, anchored in the bay. The pace of training was intense, extremely hard and unforgiving.

At the head of the stone jetty was a shoe repair business operated by Archie McDonald who had an assistant Hugh Henderson, both were commandeered to repair the footwear of the troops and naval ratings. Opposite was the workshop of McArthur and Sons joiners, they were also commandeered to repair the fleet target practice rafts etc., for the duration of the War. All of them held an interest with the author – Archie was my Uncle, Hugh my father and McArthur’s was where I served my apprenticeship and worked for 17 years.

Next month, part 4 will cover the training regime of Colonel Pedder and Admiral Cowan.