The Isle of Whithorn Maritime History

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An old photograph of the Isle of Whithorn Harbour
The Isle of Whithorn

The Isle of Whithorn

The Isle in Wartime


The army camp at Burrow Head was built rather hurriedly just before the Second World War as a training camp for Anti-Aircraft gunners while the country was in the process of re-arming. The idea was that an aircraft would fly up and down in front of the guns, which would try to bring it down. Initially, radio-controlled ‘Queen Bee’ aircraft were used, and the flat concrete foundation by the white tower on the cairn (and which is now the location of the Solway Harvester memorial stone), was laid down for one of the control huts.

A fleet of small craft were based in the Isle to service the operation - several patrol vessels and one that was responsible for lifting the downed drone and taking it back for refurbishment. It was obviously uneconomic to keep using drones, and so obsolete aircraft were brought in to West Freugh to tow drones in front of the guns - the idea being that the gunners shot at the drones and not the aircraft!

A slipway down to the water was built in front of the old lifeboat house to bring the RAF patrol boats up when bad weather was forecast, particularly strong southeasterly winds. The RAF had their own weather station which was supposed to forecast bad weather, and on two separate occasions the Head Coastguard, John Maguire, warned them that bad weather was approaching, but the warning was disregarded - with the result that they lost two craft.

The local ladies ran a very popular WVS (Women’s Voluntary Service) canteen on the harbour for the hundreds of troops who were here. The last military personnel to be stationed at the camp were Polish soldiers who were there until, rather sadly, a political decision was taken to send them back to their own ravaged country.


 

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