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An overview.

Spread over the peaceful setting of urban West Dunbartonshire and its scenic hills and rivers are numerous features that are actually connected to war. These are in some instances scars, but others are the sites and signs of efforts that overcame conflict. And naturally memorials to the fallen on our behalf.

When we do contemplate West Dunbartonshire at war, images of the Clydebank Blitz probably come to mind. But what about the Dumbarton Blitz? Or the effects of WWI on the population of West Dunbartonshire? Or how the district contributed to victory through industry? There are a great many stories to tell yet not enough seems to be told. Memories fade. In the immediate aftermath there was an understandabke tendency to try to forget and so often a reticence about speaking out after years of being very guarded. We know a great deal about that last World War in broad terms, but so little about how it pock marked both our urban and out natural environments. Those who experienced all that first hand are now few. When the Lennox Heritage Society tried to find speakers of that generation who would be prepared to discuss it, they found it difficult. Even PastMap and Canmore, which together record historical sites such as these, seem to have missed some right here in our area. We need to know how to look.

This website does not aim to record the detailed histories and stories of West Dunbartonshire's experiences of war, but to show places and features that have been so affected. Hopefully, you the reader will be enthused to follow this up.

Efforts have been made to better understand all of this. The Clydebank Local History Society has delved into the Clydebank Blitz and West Dunbartonshire Council's cultural department has published on the subject and had exhibitions. WWII is best covered, but that before it less so. One such project was undertaken some years ago specifically on World War One by the Community Partnership (supporting communities in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park), and was participated in by West Dunbartonshire heritage and history groups. (See link below). Such projects open a myriad of related subjects and expose us to the experiences of the time. Hopefully a similar project can be arranged for WWII.

The two World Wars may seem more pertinent to our environment and our society, but to get West Dunbartonshire's experience of war into perspective we need to look way back in time. The signs of conflict are there to find if the signs can be read and understood. The following is hardly a comprehensive synopsis, even at that level, but it is offered as an outline sufficient you give an idea of what our area is about, how society contributed and reacted and why West Dunbartonshire is what it is.


Dumbarton Rock has been a strategic point throughout history. Whoever had control of it, had the upper hand over the whole district. The earliest inhabitants identified and occupied duns, strategically defensible hills at various places across the terrain that we now know as West Dunbartonshire, but only Dumbarton Rock is known with certainty to have experienced armed attack.

Some local hillfort sites have signs of vitrification – intense heat that fused the rocks together. Sheep Hill is a local example. (See SHEEP HILL FORT, Auchentorlie). Why did this happen? Most archaeologists now consider that vitrified forts are the product of deliberate destruction either following the capture of the site by an enemy force or by the occupants at the end of its active life as an act of ritual closure. Destroying them completely denied others to utilise them. Either way, they show that warfare was a perpetual concern.

The Romans had built a substantial fort at Old Kilpatrick around 81 AD. If the date is correct, it shows that this fort preceded the Antonine Wall by some sixty years. When the Roman Emperor Antoninus Pius ordered the building of the Antonine Wall across the Scottish isthmus to this point AD 142, it linked with this fort and others were built along its length. We Scots like to think that our ancestors ably and bravely resisted domination by the Romans. Some degree of acceptance of the superiority of power is more likely locally with perhaps occasional skirmishes being the only means of resistance. The Romans had after all had a tough time when they tried to penetrate the north east and must have expected trouble from these wild tribes here too. It would make little sense to establish such a vast fort network and the Antonine Wall here unless it was perceived as a necessary means of control and subjugation.

Dumbarton Rock was fought over during the early medieval period. In 756, for instance, a joint force of Picts and Northumbrians captured the fortress after a siege, only to lose it again a few days later. By 870, it was home to a tightly packed Brittonic settlement, which served as a fortress and as the capital of Alt Clut. In that year the fortress suffered a four month siege by Viking invaders. The attackers probably wished to destroy the kingdom as a maritime power and to utilised this strategic site for themselves. It only ended when the defenders ran out of water. After the siege, numerous prisoners were taken and sold into slavery in Dublin. Following this defeat, the power centre of Alt Clut moved further up the Clyde to the vicinity of Govan and it became known as the Kingdom of Strathclyde. The loss of Dumbarton meant that the area increasingly fell under the influence of the Scottish Kingdom of Alba.

We have only scant ideas what any fortifications on the Rock looked like during its earliest occupancy. The natural rock outcrop offered good defence and it probably only had basic palisading and huts, Construction of a structure that we would now recognise as a formal castle began under Alexander II in 1220 in response to further threats by Norse invaders. As Dumbarton Castle it would become a royal castle and play a role in the Wars of Independence.

It is believed that William Wallace was imprisoned here for a short time in 1305 before being taken to his execution in England. And in 1333 it provided a refuge for David II and his young wife Joan of the Tower after the Scottish defeat at Halidon Hill.

Murdock Stewart Duke of Albany had been imprisoned by King James I of Scotland on charges of treason. In retaliation, James the Fat, his youngest son, attacked the castle in 1425, but was unable to take it thanks to its defence under John Colquhoun. James the Fat, then marched on the town of Dumbarton and burned it. [Wiki].

The next significant event involves Mary, Queen of Scots. Matthew, Earl of Lennox had been an ally of the French in Scotland under Mary of Guise but became pro-English. In 1544 munitions and funding arrived at Dumbarton's harbour and were secured by Lennox and the Earl of Glencairn. Lennox then left for England, leaving the castle under the control of William Stirling of Glorat. Lennox negotiated a deal with Henry VIII of England offering Dumbarton Castle and the Isle of Bute in return for land in England, marriage to Henry's niece Margaret Douglas, and the future Governorship of Scotland. Lennox undertook to prevent the infant queen Mary being taken from Scotland. However, George Stirling of Glorat, was unhappy with this policy and prevented Lennox returning into the castle. George Stirling declared that he would hold the castle in the name of the young queen only. The Privy Council of Scotland agreed to George Stirling's plan. Despite this, more French troops were landed at Dumbarton. In May 1545 Lennox tried to take the castle, with soldiers commanded by his brother, Regent Arran besieged the castle with a superior force, having borrowed the artillery of the Earl of Argyle. George Stirling of Glorat surrendered after 20 days. The siege at Dumbarton delayed Arran's action at the siege of St Andrew's Castle on the East coast of Scotland. Thereafter the castle was in the hands of Regent Arran and he held court there. [Wiki].

After the defeat at the Battle of Langside, the Keeper of the Castle accompanied Queen Mary into England but was allowed to return. When the governor of Edinburgh Castle changed sides to also support Mary, this became a problem for Regent Moray. During the Marian Civil War the castle was fortified for Mary against the supporters of James VI of Scotland with rock obtained by demolishing churches and houses in Dumbarton and Cardross. The castle was captured by the forces of Regent Lennox in the early hours of 2 April 1571, using ladders to scale the rock and surprise the garrison.

In 1645 the recruitment of extra soldiers was approved to guard the increased number of prisoners. The castle's strategic importance declined after Oliver Cromwell's death in 1658. However, due to threats posed by Jacobites and the French in the eighteenth century, new structures and defences were built.


The castle was garrisoned right up until World War II. (Also see DUMBARTON CASTLE AND ROCK). As we then consider the modern era, we begin to find a vast spectrum of evidence of conflict. This ranges from Starfish Decoy system bunkers to gallant efforts at warship construction, The Blitzes and memorials to the fallen. Each is discussed separately.

It is intended to suitably record all the affected sites through this website, but avoid replicating the local history of both World Wars where this is already very well covered. There are however gaps and aspects that are thinly recorded that need attention. Links to the research of others is provided below.

Some subjects are also covered under different guises : The shipyards that built warships (most significantly, Beardmore); Overtoun House that served as a convalescent home for injured soldiers and locals during WWII; The Argyll Motor Works (Lomond Galleries) that the Admiralty used as a munitions factory during the First World War and repurchased for the manufacture of torpedoes during World War II. 

Nothing brings the prospect of war more sharply into forcus than such aerial photographs. This is the one for Dumbarton. It was produced by the Luftwaffe to plan bombing raids across the country. You can see a key with notes of all the potential targets. This is a free copy of the photo, but the originals were incredibly sharp and detailed. Copies at that clarity can be purchased from NCP. NCP © See below.


Many industries were involved in some way in the war effort. The following are described elsewhere in this website :

ARGYLL MOTOR WORKS : The Torpedo factory - index.asp?pageid=716913

BEARDMORE SHIPYARD : index.asp?pageid=717898

BLACKBURN AIRCRAFT FACTORY : Sunderland flying boats and other aircraft : index.asp?pageid=719281

COMMUNITY PARTNERSHIP (supporting Communities in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park). WWI project : https://www.thecommunitypartnership.org.uk/project/communities-commemorate-ww1-service-spirit-and-sacrifice/ ### This body has ceased. Contact can be made instread with the Loch Lomond & The Trossachs Countryside Trust   :  http://trustinthepark.org/

INDEX ON CENSORSHIP : This explains to some extent why much was not recorded : https://www.indexoncensorship.org/2014/03/carnage-clyde-wwii-cover/

NATIONAL COLLECTION OF AERIAL PHOTOGRAPHY (NCP) : The above photography by the Luftwaffe is recorded as :

Date: 02 October 1939
Location: Dumbarton; Greenock; DUNBARTONSHIRE; SCOTLAND
Coordinates (lat, lon): 55.937357, -4.562576

Sortie: Target Graphics
Frame: SC445477
Corporate bodies: German Air Force (Luftwaffe)

Image type: Vertical
Scale: 15200


NATIONAL RECORDS OF SCOTLAND : Clydebank Blitz : https://www.nrscotland.gov.uk/research/learning/features/the-clydebank-blitz-13-15-march-1941

SCOTLAND'S HISTORY website : Clydebank Blitz : http://www.sath.org.uk/edscot/www.educationscotland.gov.uk/scotlandshistory/20thand21stcenturies/worldwarII/clydebankblitz/index.html

VALE OF LEVEN PROJECT : Excellent coverage of both World Wars. Follow thes main pages to the sub sections : http://www.valeofleven.org.uk/wars.html

WEST DUNBARTONSHIRE COUNCIL : WWII https://www.west-dunbarton.gov.uk/leisure-parks-events/museums-and-galleries/collections/war-and-military/world-war-ii/#:~:text=The%20most%20devastated%20area%20during%20the%20raids%20was,fell%20on%20the%20canteen%20of%20the%20Denny%20Shipyard. ; blitz https://www.west-dunbarton.gov.uk/leisure-parks-events/museums-and-galleries/collections/war-and-military/blitz/ and Clydebank Blitz Anniversary https://www.west-dunbarton.gov.uk/council/newsroom/news/2019/mar/plaque-unveiled-to-mark-clydebank-blitz-anniversary/

WIKIPEDIA : Dumbarton Castle https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dumbarton_Castle#Early_Medieval_Era and Vitrified Fort https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vitrified_fort



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