Feb 212024

Cramond Island, Cramond, Edinburgh EH4 6NU 

Green island surrounded by blue-grey water.
Cramond Island
©Mtcy, Wikimedia Commons

Cramond Island is one of many along the Firth of Forth; it can be reached on low tide following a bridge, the Cramond Causeway. The island houses many old fortifications from the WW2 era, and it is also a great place to observe coastal birds and seabirds crossing the Firth of Forth, such as the Eider duck. Particularly during low tide, many waders, such as the Oystercatcher, the Dunlin or the Redshank, can be seen stirring sandy mud looking for seaweed, small invertebrate, and shells.  

Black and white duck with a yellow beak in water.
A male Eider duck in winter plumage
©Magnus Hagdorn, Wikimedia Commons


Individual Researcher Walk; RSPB (Edinburgh Area Local Group)

Jun 052023

45 Abercorn Terrace, Portobello, Edinburgh, EH15 2DG

Portobello Beach, looking south-east in the direction of Abercorn Terrace.

Joseph McLuskie, house painter and Edinburgh resident, became the first civilian air raid casualty on mainland Britain after being hit by a stray machine gun bullet whilst he was up a ladder in Portobello (16 October 1939). McLuskie also became the first civilian in Britain to receive compensation for an air raid injury. Portobello hosted the funeral for the two German pilots shot down in the raid on the Forth. On 20 October 1939, a Royal Air Force procession escorted their remains from St. Philip’s Church to Portobello Cemetery, Milton Road East. The coffins were draped with the flags of Nazi Germany and hundreds of people lined the route as a pipe band played ‘Over the Sea to Skye’. At the graveside the chaplain stated, ‘There is much to divide us in thought and sympathy from those around whose graves we this day stand as mourners. And yet we do sincerely mourn the sacrifice of life demanded of them, and of so many other young and gallant men of all nations unhappily involved in war’. This suggests that ideas of heroic masculinity and nobility attached to the wartime pilot could transcend national boundaries, even at the height of war.

Tip to see this location: look east from Edinburgh Castle or Calton Hill, or travel to Portobello to see Abercorn Terrace and Portobello Cemetery.

Sources: Daily Express, 13 December 1939, p. 1, The Scotsman, 17 October 1939, p. 8, The Scotsman, 21 October 1939, p. 7 .

Additional links:

Jun 052023

Rosyth, Dumfermline, KY11

Rosyth in the distance, photographed from Calton Hill.

Scotland was an important centre of naval operations with the naval base at Rosyth mainly acting as a refitting and repairing yard for the Royal Navy. In October 1939, six British sailors killed in the German raid on the Firth of Forth were buried with full naval honours in Douglas Bank cemetery near Rosyth. Many people gathered outside the Dockyard gates to watch the funeral procession. Rosyth was also a base for part of the Norwegian Navy, underlining the close ties between Scotland and Norway during the war. In 1942, King Haakon of Norway opened Norway House at 37 Inverleith Place, Edinburgh to be used as a club for Norwegians for the duration of the conflict. On 11 May 1945, Crown Prince Olav sailed from Rosyth back to Oslo on the same ship, HMS Devonshire, which had first brought the Norwegian royal family and government to the UK in June 1941. The departure of the prince coincided with the arrival of German delegates from the Wehrmacht and the Luftwaffe in accordance with the unconditional surrender terms imposed by the Allied Supreme Commanders. They were received on board a British warship lying off Rosyth.

Tip to see this location: look north-west towards the Forth bridges from either Edinburgh Castle esplanade or Calton Hill.

Fighting Norwegians go back to Norway, 29 October 1944, Rosyth. © IWM A 26188.
HMS Duke of York Readies for Sea Trials. 24 October 1941, Rosyth. © IWM A 6027.
Rosyth in the distance, photographed from Edinburgh Castle.

An image of King Haakon and Crown Prince Olav abord HMS Glasgow can be seen here: https://www.scran.ac.uk/database/record.php?usi=000-000-061-593&scache=3lrsr1bqcc&searchdb=scran

Sources: Craig Armstrong, Edinburgh at War, (2018), p. 175-6, ‘Norway House opened by King Haakon’ The Scotsman 2 November 1942, p. 3, ‘Prince Olav arrives in Norway’ The Scotsman 14 May 1945, p. 5, ‘Naval Funeral at Rosyth’ The Scotsman 21 October 1939, p. 7.

Additional links:

Jun 052023

Mortonhall, Edinburgh, EH16 6UT

Remains of the Mortonhall army camp Nissan Huts.

Recent archaeological excavations undertaken on behalf of Scottish Water revealed that Mortonhall caravan park acted as an army camp during the war. Initially, in July 1940, the camp was occupied by the 16th Battalion Durham Light Infantry (DLI), converting from tented to permanent accommodation in mid-1942. Following the departure of the DLI on Christmas Day 1942, it is believed that the Royal Signal Corps occupied the camp until the immediate postwar period. Archaeological finds included an ink bottle, a milk bottle, a sauce bottle, and stainless-steel knife blade. Researchers also believe that the site served as a postwar camp for displaced people from Eastern Europe, including Ukrainians and Poles. A tip to see this location: look south from Edinburgh Castle esplanade, the top of Calton Hill or Blackford Hill. Alternatively travel to Morton Hall to see the site in person. The camp can be accessed via a silver gate into the field off Mounthooly Loan, opposite King Malcolm Close.

Remains of the Mortonhall army camp – accessible via Mounthooly Loan.
Remains visible along the tree-line of the field.

Sources: The Excavation of a World War II Army Camp at Mortonhall, Edinburgh – Magnus Kirby, Alasdair Ross and Sue Anderson, Journal of Conflict Archaeology, Vol. 8, No. 2 (May 2013), pp. 106-135; ‘How Our Armies are Housed’, The Scotsman 9 October 1942, p. 7

Additional links:

Jun 032023

Leith Walk, EH6

View from the top of Leith Walk and Union Street, looking north towards Leith.

On the night of 10 June 1940, when Italy declared war on Britain, anti-Italian riots broke out in Edinburgh. These were concentrated in Leith where there was a significant Italian commercial presence of cafes and fish and chip shops. Afterwards, a local journalist reported that the main thoroughfares of Leith looked as if a series of heavy bombs had fallen. Shop windows were smashed and premises ransacked and looted. Hostile crowds of up to 2000 people gathered and the police reported that over 100 shops were attacked. The Scotsman pointed out that an Italian man whose premises were severely damaged had two sons on active service in the Black Watch. This incident illuminates the readiness of British society to identify and target the internal ‘other’ at times of national crisis.

An image of an Italian ice cream shop in Edinburgh, c. 1907, can be seen here: https://www.scran.ac.uk/database/record.php?usi=000-000-003-554-C&scache=5nhz091lz7&searchdb=scran

Sources: Wendy Ugolini, Experiencing War as the ‘Enemy Other’ (2011), p. 123, ‘Italians Detained: Rioting During Night of Big Round Up’ The Scotsman 11 June 1940, p. 6.

Additional links:

Jun 032023

20 Picardy Place, EH1 3JT

Site of 20 Picardy Place, former Italian Fascist Club, now a Holiday Inn.

20 Picardy Place was the site of the Italian Fascist Club, set up in 1923, as part of a global project to spread Fascist ideology beyond Italy’s borders. Although it functioned primarily as a social club, members were expected to swear an oath of allegiance to Mussolini and MI5 began routinely monitoring the club in the run up to the war. On 10 June 1940, when Italy declared war on Britain, the police occupied the premises and the press reported that the burning of papers caused a slight fire. Many of those involved with the club were deported as ‘enemy aliens’ on the Arandora Star and lost their lives when the ship was torpedoed by a German U-Boat whilst en-route to Canada. See also the sculpture of Edinburgh artist, Eduardo Paolozzi, entitled Manuscript to Monte Cassino (1991), which pays homage to his Italian heritage and those lost on the Arandora Star. It is located outside St Mary’s Cathedral, Leith Street.

Manuscript of Monte Cassino – current location on Leith Street, outside St Mary’s Cathedral.

An image of The Manuscript of Monte Cassino from 1991 can be seen here: https://www.scran.ac.uk/database/record.php?usi=000-000-095-300-C&searchdb=scran

Sources: ‘Italians Detained’ The Scotsman 11 June 1940, p. 6, Wendy Ugolini, Experiencing War as the ‘Enemy Other’ (2011), p.60.

Jun 032023

The Mound, Edinburgh, EH2 2EL

National Gallery of Scotland, The Mound. Photographed from Princes Street.

In September 1939, the National Galleries of Scotland dispersed its collections from the National Gallery and the Scottish National Portrait Gallery to six country houses across Scotland. Lists of works were prepared in order of importance and packing cases loaded with the transfer taking three days in total. The artworks were kept under continual close observation, ‘like hospital patients’, in their new homes. Two rooms of the National Gallery reopened in late 1940 with an exhibition of photographs in aid of the Polish Relief Fund. Temporary exhibitions continued throughout the war years, promoting collaborations with artists from all over Europe and displaying the flags of Allies ‘from China to Peru’ from the pole above the gallery door. The original paintings returned to the galleries in July 1945. This initiative reflected a global impulse to ensure that artistic masterpieces were protected and moved to places of safety at a time of conflict.

How Scotland’s Pictures were Safeguarded. The Scotsman, 19 July 1945, p. 3.
Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Queen Street.

An image of the Scottish National Gallery c. 1900 can be seen here: https://www.scran.ac.uk/database/record.php?usi=000-299-993-773-C&scache=3lnez1bqc4&searchdb=scran

An image of the National Gallery of Scotland in 1927 can be seen here: https://www.scran.ac.uk/database/record.php?usi=000-000-129-663-C&scache=5los51bqcn&searchdb=scran

Source: ‘How Scotland’s Pictures were Safeguarded’, The Scotsman, 19 July 1945, p. 3.

Additional links:

Jan 152019

Photograph of the entrance to the shore path

The entrance to the shore path

Walking Path, West Shore Road, Edinburgh EH5 1QG

On October 16th, 1939, the skies over Granton’s shoreline were filled with enemy bombers. In the first major raid against Britain of WWII, the German Luftwaffe sent twelve Junkers Ju88A-1s to intercept Royal Navy Battleship HMS Hood. Approaching from the west, the bomber crews saw they were too late – a battleship already safely docked in Rosyth Dockyard. Seeking alternative targets, the Junkers dived to attack shipping in the river below. With total surprise they dropped their bombs unopposed, narrowly missing HMS Edinburgh and HMS Southampton. Wave after wave of bombing harried the desperately zig-zagging ships. Then a shock… Spitfires! The raiders had been briefed there were no Spitfires in Scotland. Now two squadrons of them swarmed in defence. The bombers broke and fled for their lives, chased back down the river or across Edinburgh at rooftop height. Citizens dived for cover as machine guns rattled and bullet casings cascaded onto the streets. Two bombers were shot down into the Forth, their surviving crew rescued by local fishing boats. The 603 (City of Edinburgh) Squadron had claimed the first ever Spitfire victory. Edinburgh’s skies were safe, but disaster had only narrowly been averted.