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Scotland At War: Edinburgh During World War Two

Image title “British Guard Fleet Firth of Forth 1916” by Royal Navy – This is photograph Q 20633 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums.. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons 

From the moment Germany invaded Poland and Britain and France declared war, Edinburgh prepared for a Scotland at war. With its many factories, coal mines, engineering works and shipyards, Scotland was the industrial stronghold for the British war effort. A perfect target for the enemy, the Luftwaffe bombed Clydebank, Glasgow, Greenock, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Dundee in a series of air raids. Thousands of people died and tens of thousands were left homeless in the wake of Scotland at war.

A City Transformed

Still recovering from the aftermath of World War One, the world was plunged into another deadly battle. Prepared to defend their country to the last, Edinburgh and its patriotic citizens rallied to support the Allied efforts as the Scottish Command Headquarters during the war. Men downed tools to take up arms. Women entered the workplace en masse. Edinburgh Castle, the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary and Bangour were transformed into military hospitals. And the Crown of Scotland was hidden below a medieval latrine closet in Edinburgh Castle to prevent the enemy from finding it should the city fall.

Bomber plane dropping bombs in World War 2Image of a Bomber Plane in WW2 is Licensed under Public Domain

Bombing The Firth Of Forth

Six weeks into the war, the first air attack over Britain took place over the Firth of Forth. Nine German planes took the British air-defence completely by surprise. Busy with a gun-drill at the time in preparation for Scotland at war, anti-air-raid gunners quickly swapped their dummy munitions for live ammo. Despite missing their intended target, the Royal Navy fleet based at Rosyth, the Germans did manage to damage the HMS Southampton, the HMS Mohawk and the HMS Edinburgh. Sixteen soldiers lost their lives and another 44 were injured. Supermarine Spitfires from the 603 Squadron ‘City of Edinburgh’ and 602 ‘City of Glasgow’ managed to shoot down the first enemy aircrafts over Britain.

Warships on firth of fourth during world war 2
Image title “British Guard Fleet Firth of Forth 1916” by Royal Navy – This is photograph Q 20633 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums.. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons

Evacuating The City

At the beginning of 1939, the Department of Health in Scotland started to prepare for Scotland at war. They set to work planning the evacuation of Scotland’s most vulnerable citizens before the anticipated Blitzkrieg struck. Although evacuation was voluntary, on the 31st of August, the order came to ‘Evacuate Forthwith’. Children gathered at their local primary schools carrying their gas masks, toothbrushes and a change of underclothes. After walking to their nearest railway station, they were evacuated to secret destinations – Glaswegians were sent to Perthshire, Kintyre and Rothesay, while Edinburgh children were sent to the Borders or the Highlands. At the end of the year, the feared Blitzkrieg hadn’t happened, and three quarters of the evacuees returned home.

Children being evacuated during world war 2 on a train station platformImage of Evacuee children during World War 2 is licensed under Public Domain via Commons

A Lasting Legacy

Scotland at war was devastating on Edinburgh city. As a central cog in the British war machine, the scars of the city can still be seen in the many statues, monuments and tributes to brave men and women who lost their lives in the fight for a better future. To find out more about the effects of Scotland at war on Edinburgh, you can read our Edinburgh Guides or speak to our friendly staff – they are always happy to share their local knowledge.

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