Bowland – The Bunker


Bowland – The Bunker

In the early months of 1940, there was a genuine fear that German forces would be invading Britain in the immediate future and, realistically, that they would sweep through the country in a very short time.

In preparation for this, a large number of auxiliary units were raised. These were groups of men, about seven in number and usually with First World War battle-field experience, to go underground to observe and report enemy movement and cause as much damage as they could after the first wave of invasion had passed.

A large number of underground bunkers were excavated ‘in secret’ at observational points. As these chambers were Nissen Huts about 15 feet by 10 feet with long brickwork entry/exit passages and completely under the turf, I have some doubts about how secret they actually were.

The men chosen to serve in this secret army were given special training and their bunkers were provided with weapons, maps and a 7-day ration pack, the understanding being that they would not survive longer than a week. They were not affiliated with the Home Guard and went about their daily business as normal but listened intently to the six o’clock news every night.

Fortunately the invasion never materialised and the bunkers were quietly forgotten about. Some were emptied and bull-dozed, some were simply earthed over with the contents inside.

In the 1990s, the R.C.A.H.M.S. had a project to record all the known defences of W.W.II and I was asked about the bunkers. I knew one on the outskirts of Selkirk near the Lindean Mast which had been found and used as a gang hut by the youths of Selkirk. Also another at Old Melrose which was found when a tree was uprooted by the wind in 1947. This provided a source of treasure for the Newtown boys who drank the bottle of brandy, used the maps as fire-lighters, sold the coir matting for pocket money and used the hand grenades to fish the deep pools of the Tweed.

From other sources, I had heard about underground bunkers near Galashiels and Bowland and here I struck it lucky. For the Scottish Borders Memory Bank, I interviewed Mrs Ruby Vinicombe, formerly Ruby Baird. She was the daughter of Lt J.Baird who was the commander of the Galashiels and Bowland Auxiliary Units in the 1940s. This interview is a fascinating tale of the times which is in Memory Bank archives under the title of ‘Resisting the Nazi Invader’. It gives information about the local men who formed part of the Secret Army and their ‘duties’ official and unofficial. These varied from taking cases full of salmon to the Waldorf Hotel in the early period of the war (unofficial), to guarding the Royal Family at Balmoral in 1944, dancing with the princesses and teaching them to fish (official).

From this account and another source, I learned that the Bowland Unit bunker was on the Caitha Hill. Divining rods gave the exact location at the top of the tadpole-shaped wood in the centre of the picture.

In shape and size it was a normal bunker with a Nissen Hut/ main body and two entry/exit tunnels. From the main chambers there are three wires leading to (presumed) foxholes. As there are no signs of disturbance on the ground, it is likely that the contents will still be there in situ which a trial trench could prove. But N.B. it might be booby-trapped.

26 May 2016. Walter Elliot.

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