World War Two

Illustrated Essays

6. Netherton cottages including Sunnyside
9. The “Noo Hooses” today

The white building in the foreground is Sunnyside which was demolished by a landmine in March 1941 killing four people.

During the Second World War Strathblane, in common with many other villages, was organised into areas to respond in case of enemy attack. Villagers were encouraged to attend the various Auxiliary Fire Service demonstrations and to man the pumps! With many of the men away fighting, women were quite often involved in these activities and the village seemed as well prepared as other neighbouring rural communities.

The Home Guard was a feature of the village. People were reminded not to leave white washing out at night and to observe the blackout. Even Halloween was affected by the war due to problems regarding the blackout. Air Raid Protection (ARP) lectures were common and the Ministry of Information van would arrive on a monthly basis for propaganda purposes. Red Cross and War Weapon weeks occurred on a regular basis and all in the parish would be encouraged to take part in these events. The Women’s Guild were involved in “Comforts for the Services” and would send knitted goods etc abroad. “Dig for Victory” was a popular war slogan as more fields were ploughed in the area to produce food.

Strathblane was viewed by the authorities as a relatively safe location, which led to the decision to allocate up to 50 billets in local homes for unaccompanied children from areas likely to be bombed.

Sunnyside and the Landmines

However this relative calm was shattered by the terrible Clydebank Blitz which began on the night of March 15 1941. As well as conventional bombs the German Luftwaffe air raids involved dropping landmines – large canisters armed with a delayed firing mechanism that descended by parachute and were intended to cause major disruption to infrastructure.

On the second night of the Blitz, two of these dreadful weapons landed on Blanefield, a mere six miles from Clydebank as the bomber flies. Although only one exploded, after landing on the roof of the New City Row of tenement apartments then rolling down the hill towards the lower Sunnyside block, the impact was massive. Sunnyside was effectively destroyed and had to be demolished completely.

The late Tom Rennie described his memories as a 16-year-old:

“I was standing outside in New City Row with my Uncle Hugh Tate when we noticed what we initially thought was a parachute coming down. We soon realised that it was not a parachute but a landmine, which was falling towards the roof.
I ran to fetch the police. As I did so, the mine which had now landed on the roof apparently rolled down and dropped off the roof further down. I was half way across the drying green when I was blown across the green and hid at the corner of the wall at the main road. I protected myself behind the wall and slowly moved up towards the police station beyond the War Memorial. PC Fraser was with Mr (later ‘Sir’) Charles Edmonstone who was the Officer in command of the Home Guard. In due course a rescue party was organised.
In the house occupied by Mr and Mrs Stockdale there were no floor boards and only the joists remained. I took old Mrs Stockdale out. She was very distressed and was covered in blood and dirt. Her husband was sitting in his wooden chair dead. It appeared that he had been killed outright.
In the house occupied by Mr & Mrs Woods and their two children, Mrs Woods and her children had been killed. Mr Woods survived. The Woods were a family who had moved to Blanefield from Clydebank to escape the risk of being bombed.
The people bombed out of their houses were evacuated to the Edmonstone Hall as that had been designated as the Central Clearance Point as well as a First Aid Centre.
People were unable to return to their houses and many were billeted out through the village. These arrangements did not always work well and many were glad when they could return to their own homes. I was billeted at Baptiston Farm, near Killearn. My parents were given accommodation at Craigbrock, Duntreath. I enjoyed my stay at Baptiston and was in no hurry to return home.

After the initial confusion caused by the landmine, people were evacuated from Sunnyside. The discovery of a second landmine lying in the whin bushes in the field south of the Edmonstone Hall resulted in the bewildered people again being evacuated, although this weapon did not explode.

The Village Club was not deemed safe enough and instead people were taken to the Kirkhouse Inn, which was already packed with people.

The late Mrs Armstrong described what happened next:

“An ARP man walked in front of the group stopping a bus coming along the main road with a gun as all traffic had to be stopped for fear of the mine being detonated by the vibration. Mrs Armstrong then recalled a hair-raising journey clutching her infant son in the bus that had been stopped and was now packed with villagers travelling with no lights to Lennoxtown then over the Crow Road to Fintry. The sky, she remembers, was being lit up by fires burning in Clydebank and the search lights looking for enemy planes flying overhead on their way back to Germany. Finally, having crawled over the Crow Road at a snail’s pace the bus arrived at the High School in Balfron, which was crowded with refugees from Clydebank and surrounding areas. There people were put up for the night and those who could went to stay with family. Some were able to return to their homes within a week. Others whose houses had been destroyed were billeted out to houses in the area. Many still have very mixed memories of this.”

The effect of the landmine blast was felt throughout other parts of the village and created many strange effects. At 12 Burnside Row, all had gathered in the bottom house for safety. There the skylight was shattered and the staircase damaged. Over in Strathblane, the windows of Dr McMillan’s house, the village GP, were put in. Helen Peters remembers that night as a small child sitting in an elderly neighbour’s house in a bed recess with a friend when the land mine exploded. The result of the blast was that the elderly lady sitting in a chair opposite them flew across the room and ended up in the bed beside them!

The village primary school’s windows were all put in by the blast, but were quickly repaired and the children were back in class…….though sadly without their classmates Isabella (11) and John (9) Wood who had perished along with their mother in the Sunnyside explosion. (No mention was made of this in the school log, which merely recorded the need to repair broken windows.)

In another house opposite the Edmonstone Hall, the effect of the blast was to roll the carpet up and leave it neatly rolled behind the sideboard!

Conspiracy theories

During the war, the railway was busy with ammunition trains running through the night. Ammunition was stored in the Aberfoyle/Gartmore area and trains pulling a large number of wagons frequently rolled through the village, usually at night. It has been suggested by some that the enemy planes on the second night of the Blitz dropped the land mines when they saw the sparks of the last train to Glasgow, which had just travelled through Strathblane. It was also suggested that a person of Italian descent who lived in the village, and was known to flaunt the “black out”, opened a door to signal to the planes as they flew over.

The more likely story is that the planes were simply jettisoning their bombs to gain height to escape from the anti-aircraft guns located near Mugdock and return post haste to Germany.

Celebrations

After the War there were celebrations and the school was closed for VE Day (Victory in Europe) and VJ Day (Victory in Japan). Several homecoming events were organised and the Parish Church held a “Welcome Home Dinner” in the Edmonstone Hall on Wednesday 29th January 1947. That night Victory Trifle was served up and the Rev Frederick Kennedy, Parish Minister, who had been a Padre himself, during the war, addressed the meeting.

Other Bombing Incidents

A Luftwaffe Junkers 88 bomber of the type shot down over Blairskait

By May 1941 the German raids on Clydeside’s shipyards and engineering works had shifted to the towns of Greenock and Port Glasgow. Better defences had been put in place including the use of night fighters and the erection of ‘Starfish’ decoy towns: structures containing tanks of petrol which could be set alight to resemble burning cities, intended to divert the German bombers away from their targets.

On the night of May 7 one particular raid, of Junkers 88 bombers from the Luftwaffe base at Schiphol in Holland, was intercepted by Boulton Paul Defiant night fighters scrambled from the RAF base at Prestwick. One Defiant crew scored a direct hit on a Ju.88 which burst into flames and started to spiral downwards.

Strathblane amateur war historian Alisdair Fleming has spent years researching what happened to this particular machine, whose fate had been witnessed by his father who was then serving with the police in Maryhill, Glasgow. Mr Fleming found the crash site, on bleak Blairskaith Muir near Lennoxtown, and has pieced together the remarkable story, which he presented to a capacity audience at Strathblane Heritage in 2023.

The plane’s four-man crew parachuted out before the crash. Radio-operator Overfeldwebel Ernst Laganki and air-gunner Feldwebel Willi Muller landed on Balmore Golf Course, suffering broken legs in the process. They were arrested by the local Home Guard to become prisoners-of-war.

But commander and observer, Hauptmann Gerd Hansmann, and pilot Oberleutnant Werner Coenen, were last out and died as their parachutes were unable to open fully. They were buried in Lennoxtown’s Campsie graveyard and – although Werner Coenen was later exhumed to br reburied in the German military graveyard at Cannock Chase, Staffordshire – Gerd Hansmann remains in his Campsie lair, a decision taken by his widow, Gisela.

Gisela and Gerd after their marriage – nine short months before his death

Alisdair Fleming’s research has uncovered a remarkable story. Gisela visited her late husband’s grave after the war and saw that local people had placed flowers by his headstone, possibly because of a local story that the plane’s crew had stayed at the controls to try and ensure that it avoided crashing on the village. She was deeply moved, particularly when she was invited to join villagers in their homes as they witnessed her devotion to her lost husband. And although Gisela later re-married, she continued to visit Gerd Hansmann’s grave until her own death in the 1990s. Such are the human reactions to the horrors of war.

Gerd Hansmann’s grave headstone in Lennoxtown’s Campsie cemetery, still with flowers

WW2 Summary

Six men from the parish fell in the Second World War –
James Callender Gnr RA
Andrew M Maclean Lt RNMR
Gilbert McKay P/O RNVR
Archibald MacNicol SPR RE
Richard NR Pedder Lieut Col HLI
Alexander Turnbull CH P/O RNVR

The graves of Andrew Maclean and Gilbert McKay are in Strathblane Parish cemetery and are maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. There is also another CWGC-maintained grave there, for Leading Aircraftsman Daniel Davidson who died in 1946 aged 24.

Strathblane Heritage plans further research to tell their stories, to add to the material in the popular 2012 publication “A Village Remembers”, about the WW1 victims.

Gunner James Henry Callander (or Callender) was killed on 2nd October 1944
The war diary records the following –
Regiment moved towards “The Island” and came into action near Bemmel. (Gelderland). Single anti-personnel bomb dropped on A.Trp position Gnr J.H.Callander 357 Battery killed. source: https://www.oorlogsdodennijmegen.nl/persoon/callander/468b8965-db34-4d54-9a15-2f0a211ee712 He is buried in the Jonkerbos War Cemetery in Nijmegen. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/13805000/james-henry-callander

More information on the War Memorial can be found on the The Scottish War Memorials Project website and more information about those who gave their lives can be found on Wakefield Family History website.

WW2 Plaque in Strathblane Cemetery

In March 1997 Strathblane Community Council erected a memorial in Strathblane cemetery to the four people who were killed in the Sunnyside bombing:

  • Margaret Wood
  • Isabella Wood
  • John Wood
  • John Stockdale

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