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On the morning of Sunday 1 April 2018, exactly 100 years after the Royal Air Force came into being, a service of commemoration will be held at Girvan’s Doune Cemetery. The service will honour the memory of the man considered to have the best claim to be the father of the RAF, Sir David Henderson. Born into a family of Glasgow shipyard owners, he opted for a military career, but his family background of engineering gave him an interest in technical matters which would stand him in good stead. As an officer in the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders, he distinguished himself in the 1899-1902 Boer War, and he rose to become the British Army’s foremost authority on military intelligence and tactical reconnaissance. 1903 saw the Wright brothers make the first successful powered flight of a heavier-than-air machine, and in 1909 Bleriot made the first flight across the English Channel. Only two years later, David Henderson learned to fly, having grasped the military potential of the new invention. Aged 49, he was at the time the oldest qualified pilot. He was instrumental in the formation of the Royal Flying Corps in 1912, and was appointed Director General of Military Aeronautics. When RFC squadrons were sent across the Channel to support the British Expeditionary Force soon after the outbreak of the 1914-1918 Great War, David Henderson went with them to take direct command of their operations at the Front. When he returned to Britain in 1915, Hugh Trenchard replaced him in this role.

 

Aircraft

When the Royal Flying Corps made its first sorties over the Western Front in 1914 it was under the command of David Henderson

 

In the summer of 1917, Germany escalated the air war by sending their new twin-engined Gotha bombers to attack London. Damage was negligible, but many lives were lost, and the sight of large formations of enemy aircraft flying over the capital in broad daylight, virtually unopposed, dealt a heavy blow to civilian morale. Prime Minister Lloyd George asked the South African General Jan Smuts to draw up a report on Britain’s air defences. Sir David Henderson was seconded to Smuts to advise on aviation matters, and was largely responsible for the contents of the report. There was competition for resources between the Army’s Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service (which operated many land-based aircraft in similar roles to the RFC). Their operations were poorly coordinated, and were subject to the requirements of their parent services. The Smuts report recommended that they be merged to form an independent Air Force, on an equal standing with the Army and Navy, and this was the basis for the creation of the RAF. It was Hugh Trenchard who was appointed Chief of the Air Staff, and Henderson then resigned from the Air Council. Trenchard would successfully fight to keep a strong and independent RAF during the defence cuts of the inter-war years, but always insisted that it was Henderson, and not he, who should be regarded as father of the service.

 

Sir David Henderson

Sir David Henderson

 

Among the training facilities taken over by the RAF were the RFC’s No. 1 School of Aerial Fighting at Ayr Racecourse and No. 2 (Auxiliary) School of Aerial Gunnery at Turnberry (where the golf course had been commandeered as an airfield, with the hotel as HQ, officers’ mess and hospital). In May 1918 they were amalgamated to form the RAF’s No. 1 School of Aerial Fighting and Gunnery with all operations located at Turnberry – the name was soon changed to No. 1 Fighting School. The aviators sent there to refresh their combat skills after a spell away from the Front included Captain Ian Henderson, David’s only son. He was an ace fighter pilot credited with seven victories over enemy aircraft, and had been awarded the Military Cross. On 21 June 1918 he and another ace, Harold Redler, took a DH 9 two-seater up from Turnberry to test-fire the rear gun. Something went terribly wrong, and a crash took the lives of both men – a terrible blow for David Henderson. Harold Redler’s body was sent to his home county of Somerset for burial, but an open motor lorry took Ian Henderson’s flag-draped, flower-covered coffin – brother officers seated on either side- along Girvan’s Dalrymple Street – lined by townspeople – to Doune Cemetery. The cemetery contains the graves of thirteen Great War airmen, including Australians and Americans. After the end of the war, an airmen’s memorial paid for by public subscription was erected on Turnberry Golf Course. It bears the names of 33 RFC and RAF aircrew, two pilots of the Australian Air Corps, and four of the US Army Air Service. The names of many accident victims of the Second World War, when Turnberry was again a training airfield, would later be added.

 

Turnberry Memorial

The memorial to fallen airmen on Turnberry Golf Course

 

Sir David Henderson was involved in the peace negotiations which brought about the end of the war. He was then appointed Director General of the newly-formed League of Red Cross Societies, but while serving in this capacity he died in Geneva on 17 August 1921, aged 59. His arduous war service was considered to be the cause of death. In accordance with his wishes, his ashes were brought to Girvan and scattered at the grave of his son Ian. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission headstone at the grave is inscribed with the names of both father and son.

 

HendersonGrave

The headstone in Girvan’s Doune Cemetery commemorating both Captain Ian Henderson and his father Sir David

 

Hugh Trenchard also had an Ayrshire connection. He was an Englishman, but when he received his officer’s commission in 1893 it was as a lieutenant in Ayrshire’s county regiment, the Royal Scots Fusiliers. He served with the regiment in India and South Africa before transferring to the Royal Flying Corps, and maintained a close association with it for the rest of his life. From 1919 to 1946 he held the honorary rank of Colonel of the Regiment, and when Ayr War Memorial was unveiled on 13 April 1924 it was Air Chief-Marshal Sir Hugh Trenchard who performed the unveiling ceremony and gave the address.

 

Sir Hugh Trenchard

Sir Hugh Trenchard

 

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Arrangements for our 2017 South Ayrshire History & Family History Fair on Saturday 3rd June are well underway with an exciting line-up of speakers.

Whether you’re interested in exploring your family roots or wanting to take a more specialised look at a particular topic, the History Fair – and the guest speakers – will help bring your interest to life.

The tomb effigy at Dunkeld Cathedral of Alexander Stewart, the Wolf of Badenoch, son of the first Stewart king Robert II (who died at Dundonald Castle) and Elizabeth Mure of Rowallan.

Our Speakers for the day are:

Thomas Rees, Rathmell Archaeology –  Demolition work for the Riverside Development in Ayr will include an archaeological investigation of a significant area of the historic town centre. Thomas will explain the project’s potential to uncover new evidence about the Royal Burgh’s medieval origins.

Tom Barclay, Local Studies Librarian, South Ayrshire Council – King Robert the Bruce is arguably the most important figure in the shaping of Scotland’s later medieval history. Tom will look at Bruce’s many connections with Ayrshire, and the traditions and sites associated with him in the county.

Professor Steve Boardman of the University of Edinburgh – Ayrshire’s Kyle district was an important power-base for the Stewarts in their rise to occupy the Scottish throne. Professor Boardman will speak about the career of one of the most notorious of the family, Alexander Stewart, Earl of Buchan, better known as ‘the Wolf of Badenoch’.

Neil Fraser, The Scottish Cultural Resources Access Network (SCRAN) – SCRAN is an online treasure-house of images covering all aspects of Scottish history and culture, which is constantly being added to. Neil will give a presentation on the site’s resources which will highlight its extensive and fascinating Ayrshire content.

Stalls

In addition to a full programme of informative talks featuring respected guest speakers, stallholders from various groups will be offering advice and guidance on family history, tracing your roots, and exploring local and national history between 9am and 4.30pm. There will also be a specialist Scottish bookshop. Admission to the stalls is free.

Location and Cost

As usual, the Fair will be held in the Walker Halls, Troon, from 10am until 4pm. The cost of the full day conference is £10, £5 for half a day.  Tickets for individual talks are priced at £3 each or £2.50 for 2 or more and will be available from Troon and Carnegie Library during the month prior to the fair.  Tickets will also be available to purchase on the day.

History Fair Enquiries

If you have any enquiries about the History Fair or would like to make a booking please don’t hesitate to contact us. Tel: 01292 559318 or 272231  Fax: (01292) 616301 or email: localhistory@south-ayrshire.gov.uk.

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Engineers surveying the seabed of the Firth of Clyde and the North Channel on the route of a planned undersea power cable recently came across a wreck. It was identified as that of a First World War German submarine, or U-Boat, either UB-82 or UB-85. Much press coverage resulted, due to the bizarre claim made by the captain of UB-85 when he surrendered to a British warship. A sea monster, he said, had attacked his vessel and damaged it so badly that it was unable to submerge. It seems more likely that human error was actually to blame, and that the captain did not care to admit this.

The war saw the transformation of the submarine from coast defence novelty to wide-ranging commerce destroyer. The wreck discovery is a reminder of the threat posed by these craft in the waters to the west of Ayrshire’s southern tip, where the shipping lanes in and out of the Irish Sea, the North Channel and the Firth of Clyde all converged. This was the closest to Ayrshire that the shooting war came.

On 11 March 1915 the auxiliary cruiser HMS Bayano, a converted merchant vessel, was sunk by U-27 about seven nautical miles south west of Ballantrae. 195 men were lost, and 20 of the 26 survivors were landed at Ayr.

Sectional view of a mine-laying coastal U-Boat.

Sectional view of a mine-laying coastal U-Boat.

Some classes of U-Boat were equipped to lay mines, and many commercial craft including Clyde Coast paddle steamers were hastily converted to auxiliary minesweepers. The Ayrshire shipyards at Ardrossan, Irvine and Troon constructed a total of 31 purpose-built minesweepers.

The Carrick Herald of 6 November 1914 reports the latest restrictions on local lighting. These were progressively tightened and extended in all coastal areas, and transgressors were fined.

The Carrick Herald of 6 November 1914 reports the latest restrictions on local lighting. These were progressively tightened and extended in all coastal areas, and transgressors were fined.

Concern that U-Boats would use lights on shore to navigate after dark led to a blackout being imposed in coastal areas around Britain. When a U-boat fired shells at a chemical plant at Whitehaven in Cumbria in August 1915, it raised fears that Ayrshire’s greatest contributor to munitions production, Nobel’s British Dynamite Factory on the coast at Ardeer, might be similarly targeted or attacked by saboteurs coming ashore. A permanently-garrisoned fortified perimeter was constructed around the works with small coast-defence guns emplaced on the seaward side.

A snapshot dated April 1918, taken from a window in Wellington Square, shows an SSZ class Royal Navy non-rigid airship off the beach at Ayr’s Low Green.

A snapshot dated April 1918, taken from a window in Wellington Square, shows an SSZ class Royal Navy non-rigid airship off the beach at Ayr’s Low Green.

Not long after the sinking of the Bayano, a Royal Naval Air Service base for anti-submarine airships was established at West Freugh on Luce Bay, Wigtownshire, and these craft would have become a familiar sight off Ayrshire’s southern coast. Unlike the huge and complex German Zeppelins with their rigid framework, they were simple gasbags with a rudimentary compartment for crew and engine slung beneath. Their main weapon was the radio with which they could summon patrolling warships if they sighted a submarine. In November 1916 airship SS-23 force-landed near Girvan due to engine failure. Its gasbag was deflated, and it was taken to West Freugh by road to be put back into service.

White crosses mark the graves in Girvan’s Doune Cemetery of French sailors Adolphe Harre and S. Brajuel, drowned when the Longwy was sunk in 1917.

White crosses mark the graves in Girvan’s Doune Cemetery of French sailors Adolphe Harre and S. Brajuel, drowned when the Longwy was sunk in 1917.

The French merchant ship Longwy was heading into the Firth of Clyde with a cargo of iron ore from the Spanish port of Bilbao when she was torpedoed by UC-75 on the night of 4 November 1917. She went down in the same area where the Bayano had been lost. The weather was rough and none of the 38 on board survived. The bodies of three of the crew, including the captain, Joseph Huet from Saint-Malo, were washed ashore near Girvan and were buried in the town’s Doune Cemetery. The following appeal appeared in the local press: ‘It would be a graceful thing on the part of this community, if there were a representative attendance at the interment’. Captain Huet’s remains were later returned to France, but at Girvan, crosses bearing the legend ‘Mort pour la France’ mark the graves of Adolphe Harre and S. Brajuel. Telegraphist Harre was one of an eight-strong French Navy detachment on board.

Although it eventually brought America into the war, the German U-Boat campaign took Britain to the brink of starvation before shipping convoys were belatedly introduced.

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History Fair

Fascinated by the past and wanting to learn more? Looking for something different to do at the weekend? Join us at this year’s South Ayrshire’s History Fair on Saturday 4 June 2016 at the Walker Halls in Troon.

We have a full programme of informative talks featuring respected guest speakers. Tickets start at just £3 per talk up to £10 for the whole day and are available from Carnegie LibraryTroon Library or at the Walker Halls on the day.

Our speakers for the day are

Frances Wilkins, Lecturer and scholar, author of 30 titles on Scottish smuggling and the Scottish slave trade

Tom Barclay, Local Studies Librarian, South Ayrshire Council

Chris Whatley, Emeritus Professor of Scottish History, University of Dundee

Thomas Rees, Rathmell Archaeology Ltd.

Programme

9.00am – Registration

9.45am – Councillor Bill Grant

Chairman – Dauvit Broun

10.00am  “The Smuggling Coast from Stranraer to Girvan” Frances Wilkins

11.00am  “Ayrshire before history: a personal view of early sites and their archaeology”  Tom Barclay

Lunch

2.00pm  “Men at War: securing Burns’ memory in the West of Scotland, c 1859-c1896 (the race between the towns of the region to have a statue of Robert Burns)” Chris Whatley

3.00pm  “A Founder’s Workshop from the Bronze Age? Excavations from the shadow of Hunterston”  Thomas Rees

Booking Forms
Booking forms are available online to print off and post to us.

Download and print our History Fair Leaflet (pdf)

Stalls

In addition to the talks, between 9am and 4.30pm a number of stalls will also be attending offering advice and guidance on family history, tracing your roots, exploring local and national history as well as a specialist Scottish bookshop. Admission to the stalls is free.

History Fair Enquiries
If you have any enquiries about the History Fair or would like to make a booking, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Jean Inness
South Ayrshire History Fair,
Library HQ, John Pollock Centre, Mainholm Road,
Ayr KA8 0QD
Tel: 01292 559318 or 272231 Fax: 01292 616301
Email: localhistory@south-ayrshire.gov.uk or jean.inness@south-ayrshire.gov.uk

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One hundred years ago, families spread across the whole of Ayrshire were mourning the loss of loved ones. News was arriving of the heaviest loss of life the county had yet suffered in the Great War. On 12 July 1915, Scottish soldiers of the 52nd Lowland Division rose from their trenches and charged part of the Turkish lines at Cape Helles on the Gallipoli Peninsula. They included the 4th and 5th Territorial battalions of Ayrshire’s county regiment, the Royal Scots Fusiliers. This was the latest of the many attacks which had been launched since British, Australian, New Zealand and French troops landed on the peninsula in April. The aim of the campaign was to force the passage of the Dardanelles Straits, knock the Turkish Ottoman Empire out of the war, and open up Black Sea supply routes to Russia and, via the Danube, to Serbia. This apparent opportunity to break the stalemate of the Western Front was faltering due to resolute Turkish resistance.

GallipoliBlog1

The Gallipoli Peninsula is shown in pink. The Cape Helles sector was at the south west tip, with the front line just south of Krithia village. The ANZAC sector was further north, between Gaba Tepe and Suvla Bay.

The allied bombardment which preceded the 12 July attack had reduced the Turkish positions to a confusing maze of shattered trenches. As officers and NCOs were killed and wounded, command and control began to break down in the face of Turkish shellfire and counter-attacks. The ‘trench’ chosen from aerial photographs to be the final objective turned out to be just a shallow scrape, and many men pressed on beyond it. Few of them returned. Others had been given the hazardous task of digging communication trenches from the British front line to the captured positions. This meant standing in the open exposed to enemy fire, and losses were heavy. Fighting continued through the night. Some isolated groups fell back to avoid being cut off and surrounded. This resulted in the withdrawal of others who thought that a general retreat must have been ordered. However, with the help of reinforcements from the Royal Naval Division, the captured trenches were secured by the end of 13 July. The operation would be officially referred to as the Action of Achi Baba Nullah. The British commanders judged it to have been a successful limited attack, but the offensive capability of the 52nd Division had been destroyed. Turkish losses were also heavy, but were more easily replaced.

Six of the Ayr men who fell in the 12-13 July fighting at Gallipoli. Robert Capperauld was a reserve player with Ayr United Football Club. From the Ayrshire Post.

Six of the Ayr men who fell in the 12-13 July fighting at Gallipoli. Robert Capperauld was a reserve player with Ayr United Football Club. From the Ayrshire Post.

The two RSF battalions had lost over 200 dead, including 12 officers, and 300 more were wounded. There are few of Ayrshire’s public war memorials which do not bear the names of men who fell at Gallipoli on 12 and 13 July 1915, or died of wounds in the following days. Ayr’s memorial has 15 such names, and Troon’s 10. The battalions of the King’s Own Scottish Borderers which attacked alongside the RSF suffered even more severely.

Four of the six Maybole men killed in the 12 July attack, three of them by the same shell while digging a communication trench. From the Ayrshire Post.

Four of the six Maybole men killed in the 12 July attack, three of them by the same shell while digging a communication trench. From the Ayrshire Post.

It was not only in British Army units that Ayrshiremen fought and died at Gallipoli. They were to be found in the ranks of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, among the British emigrants to these countries who made up a significant proportion of their army volunteers. Ayrshire local newspapers published letters which they had written from Gallipoli to their relatives in the county, and news of those killed and wounded also appeared.

Private John Oman from Girvan, killed 8 May 1915, was one of a number of Ayrshire emigrants who died at Gallipoli while serving in the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. From the Carrick Herald.

Private John Oman from Girvan, killed 8 May 1915, was one of a number of Ayrshire emigrants who died at Gallipoli while serving in the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. From the Carrick Herald.

The most prominent and controversial Ayrshireman at Gallipoli was the head of one of the county’s oldest landowning families. Major General Sir Aylmer Hunter-Weston of Hunterston, who had been born at Hunterston in 1864, was placed in charge of operations in the Cape Helles sector. He would be criticised for ordering a succession of mis-managed and costly frontal attacks in the early part of the campaign. Learning from these, he later changed to more carefully-prepared assaults with concentrated artillery support and limited objectives, of which the 12 July attack was one. He was typical of British commanders at this stage of the war in being inexperienced in modern methods of warfare, and in command of officers and men similarly inexperienced and often inadequately trained.

The Ayrshire Yeomanry setting off for Gallipoli from their training base at Annsmuir near Cupar, 26 September 1915.

The Ayrshire Yeomanry setting off for Gallipoli from their training base at Annsmuir near Cupar, 26 September 1915.

Reinforcements for the 52nd Division which arrived in the autumn included men of the Ayrshire Yeomanry, the county’s Territorial cavalry unit. They left their horses behind and served as infantry. By this time major assaults had ceased, but they were engaged in several sharp actions and lost 18 killed.

Reluctant acceptance that the campaign had failed, and that the troops could be better employed elsewhere, led to the evacuation of Gallipoli. The ANZAC/Suvla sector was evacuated in December 1915, and the Cape Helles sector in January 1916. This was so well-managed that in both cases, the Turks did not realise what was happening until the last men had embarked. The 52nd Division with its Ayrshire units fought on against the Ottoman forces in Egypt and Palestine until transferred to the Western Front in the final stages of the war.

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Robert the Bruce’s defeat of Edward II of England at Bannockburn on 24 June 1314 was the most spectacular event in his colourful career, a career which had its origins in what is now South Ayrshire. Robert’s unrecorded birthplace was almost certainly Turnberry Castle, the ancestral home of his mother, Marjorie, countess of Carrick, and Robert in due course became earl of Carrick.

The fragmentary remains of Turnberry Castle, probable birthplace of King Robert the Bruce, can still be seen beside the lighthouse on the edge of the famous golf course.

The fragmentary remains of Turnberry Castle, probable birthplace of King Robert the Bruce, can still be seen beside the lighthouse on the edge of the famous golf course.

Having seized the Scottish kingship in 1306, Robert was defeated and forced to seek refuge for a time among the islands off the west coast. When he returned to the Scottish mainland in 1307 to launch his fightback against English garrisons and the many Scots who were hostile to him, he sailed from Arran to Ayrshire’s Carrick coast and landed near Turnberry. Here he could be sure of mustering men whose loyalty he could depend on, and who, along with the Islesmen accompanying him, would form the nucleus of his army. After a faltering start, Robert’s guerrilla campaign began to deliver the string of successes (including the repulse of an English force at Loudoun Hill) which ultimately led to the confrontation of the kings near Stirling in 1314. Edward was caught off guard when Robert suddenly abandoned his defensive tactics and seized the initiative with a dawn attack. Advancing in good order, the Scottish spearmen closed with the English knights before they were able to mount an effective charge. They kept pushing forward to bottle up the entire opposing army and then drive it into the steep-banked channel of the Bannock Burn.

King Robert the Bruce and his men are featured on the cover of the official brochure for the 1934 Pageant of Ayrshire.

King Robert the Bruce and his men are featured on the cover of the official brochure for the 1934 Pageant of Ayrshire.

Around 1375 John Barbour, archdeacon of Aberdeen, wrote The Bruce, an epic poem celebrating the deeds of King Robert (who had died in 1329) and his comrades in arms. While Barbour’s vivid description of Bannockburn differs on a number of points from other accounts of the time, it remains the principal source for the events of the battle. Barbour places the men of Carrick in Robert’s own division, along with the men of Argyll, Kintyre and the Isles. Other Ayrshire contingents probably served under Sir Walter Stewart in the division of Robert’s brother Edward Bruce.

Walter, head of his family, with his principal seat at Ayrshire’s Dundonald Castle, later married Robert’s daughter Marjorie Bruce and founded the line of the royal Stewarts. It is now thought that a Scottish division said by Barbour to have been jointly commanded by Walter Stewart and Sir James Douglas was an invention intended to please Walter’s son King Robert II – the third Scottish division at Bannockburn was led by Robert the Bruce’s nephew Sir Thomas Randolph, earl of Moray.

Many traditions of King Robert would be related in Ayrshire in later times. He was said that when he held a parliament in Ayr in 1315, he established the burgh of Newton-upon-Ayr and granted privileges in the new burgh to 48 men who had distinguished themselves at Bannockburn. These privileges were passed down to their descendants, the Freemen of Newton. Situated on the north bank of the River Ayr near its mouth, Newton was in the territory of the Stewarts, and it is likely to have been they who actually founded the burgh. However, this does appear to have taken place in the period soon after Bannockburn.

Bruce’s Well at Kingcase, Prestwick. Tradition tells that here the ailing king drank the healing waters and founded a leper hospital.

Bruce’s Well at Kingcase, Prestwick. Tradition tells that here the ailing king drank the healing waters and founded a leper hospital.

Towards the end of his life, Robert suffered from a painful and disfiguring skin disease, said by English chroniclers to be leprosy. In the later Middle Ages, the spittal of St Ninian at Kingcase, south of Prestwick, was dedicated to the care of lepers. It was understood to have been endowed for this purpose by King Robert the Bruce, who had drunk from its healing well. The king probably did visit the spittal at Kingcase during the last months of his life. He travelled down the Ayrshire coast during the course of a pilgrimage from his estate at Cardross near Dumbarton to the shrine of St Ninian at Whithorn. The well at Kingcase became known as Bruce’s Well. In 1912 Prestwick Town Council restored and rebuilt the well, replacing its rough old stonework and worn steps with fine masonry to create its present appearance.

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If you are on our mailing list you should shortly be receiving our booking leaflet, if you are not on the list you can either request to be added by emailing us at localhistory@south-ayrshire.gov.uk or downloading the form online to book your talk or stall.

Stalls confirmed so far

Tickets

Tickets for the speaker’s programme start at just £3 per talk up to £10 for the whole day. Tickets are available from Carnegie Library, Troon Library or at Walker Halls on the day.

For the full programme of the days events or further information please visit the History Fair 2013 page of this website.

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