During World War 2 the Glens of Lochaber were yet again called upon to provide shelter and training for soldiers, airmen and women, sailors, and various secret agents, all going to face the horrors of war in the many fields of battle and espionage around the world at that time.
One interesting security tale that my mother told is of a weekly surgery that my father, the local Doctor, had for people stationed at the Highland Hotel. A “Black Maria” van would draw up to the house, and several foreign men, accompanied by a British sergeant came to consult him.
They generally arrived in the morning, when my mother was brewing coffee. As they came in they would give an appreciative sniff and say “Aahh”. She would kindly bring them from the surgery waiting room into the warm kitchen, for a cup of coffee.
Apart from the Sergeant, they were all foreign. Some were from Norway, France, Germany, Poland and Russia amongst others. As they drank their coffee there was friendly chat while they waited for the doctor.
At the end of the war the officer in charge of the Highland Hotel came to thank my parents for looking after the men. He was already known to my mother and she was keen to question him. She had been concerned about a couple of the ‘foreign lads’, so she asked him if they had returned safely from their last excursion in Russia?
The man paled at her question. Nobody was supposed to know anything about them, and he nearly blew a gasket when she asked if it was ‘Hess’ they were guarding up at the hotel. She’d heard comments from a Fort William telephone engineer that scrambler phones were installed at the hotel because a “special prisoner” was there, being guarded by ‘agents’.
With a cautious sigh he said he couldn’t tell her because he was now on a 25-year ‘oath of secrecy’ but he would aim to let her know eventually.
Of course this answered her question and after 25 years no further official information was forthcoming.
However, records show that Rudolph Hess had been appointed Deputy Führer to Adolf Hitler in 1933; Hess held that position until 1941, when he flew solo to Scotland in an attempt to negotiate peace with the United Kingdom during World War II. He was taken prisoner and eventually convicted of crimes against peace. He committed suicide by hanging at the age of 93 after 40 years in a German prison.
Fort William had always been a tourist centre. Situated on Loch Linnhe at the southern end of The Great Glen there was a number of hotels, and other accommodation, ideally situated to host soldiers, sailors, W.R.N.S., commandos, British and foreign navy and military, not to mention special agents, while they all trained for their military tasks.
The whole area was designated “H.M.S. St Christopher” and no one could enter without acceptable documentation, or cross the loch without a permit. Every big house, castle and hotel had troops of some kind stationed with them. In the town, the Station Hotel and the Waverley Hotel became home for the W.R.N.S. Another hotel hosted the R.E.M.E. Loch Linnhe itself was ‘shelter’ to various naval vessels. At one time there was both a Russian ship and a Polish ship, anchored in the loch. As they were then officially still at war with each other, shore leave was only allowed on separate days to prevent a bloodbath.
Further out in the countryside, Achnacarry Castle held the Commandos, Inverlochy Castle had Polish troops and the area from Corpach westward was a ‘protected’ area and only very special permission allowed entry. It was only after the war that anyone learned that midget submarines did their training at Lochaline.
So the Glens of Lochaber played an important part during the war effort of 1939 – 45 WW2. Who can guess what the future holds?
Written by ANNE L. MacDONELL in upcoming book Tales from Lochaber
Tales from Lochaber is a group where people are invited to post stories about memories, characters they knew or stories they were told over the years which are not a part of the General Known History of the Lochaber. Anne L MacDonell an award winning writer and published Author originally from Lochaber , will bring out a book titled ‘ Tales from Lochaber ‘ in 2022 . She will include the best stories submitted to the group, with credit to the writers.
If you would like to see your tale published in Anne’s new book please send it in now. If you don’t have a story please enjoy the group and keep reading all the amazing Tales from Lochaber.