Inverness, A year at War

Newspaper Sources & Sources 2 Extracts from 3 local Newspapers

Rationing   Duncan Forbes Primary 7 Project Work

Donald A Junor, Soldier Papers relating to his career

Cigarette Cards Showing the weapons used during the war

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1939 to SEPTEMBER 1940


(Updated 6/2/2006)


During the war Inverness was served by several locally produced newspapers:

The Inverness Courier

The Highland News

The Football Times

The Northern Chronicle

The People's Journal

In this Scrapbook History of Inverness and locality at the outbreak of war, I hope to show the impact of war on a civilian population. using extracts from these local newspapers.

Visual material drawings,photographs,official documents, advertisements and cartoons contribute a great deal to the flavour of the period.


Topic                      Page Reference      Newspaper Page Numbers to note                                            





Air Raid/Shelters.








Call Up






Civil Defence






Dig For Victory...










Food Advice




Home Guard










Protected Area....
















War News





Some Invernessians may remember the sources first hand but as these stalwarts become fewer ; and since so many were off fighting anyway ; I felt it was important now, to focus attention, young and old, on how people coped with the problems of life in the first civilian world war. Two things emerge in conversation with people who lived in Inverness during the period; the unifying effect of exhausting war work, and the popular confusion in the period. This left the local press as the main communication link in the area. Seldom before, and probably never since, has the local press been so essential to popular mass communication.

Few people read a newspaper from cover to cover, column by column, but everyone finds something of interest on the same page. The attraction of the newspaper is that there is on the one page so much varied information that it suits all tastes. This is why I have not grouped extracts by topic but have chosen a Scrapbook approach which leaves the Reader to re-live the period, choose what to read and draw independent conclusions or to remember!

May I thank the following people for their help, kindness and permission to proceed with this publication:

Miss E Barron of the Inverness Courier

The Editor, Mrs McColm and 'Albert' of the Highland News.

Mr & Mrs V Morrison and the Editor of the People's Journal.

Mr R. Cunningham, Social Studies Adviser, Highland Region

Hamish Henderson, School of Scottish Studies

Kate Morrison

The H.E.L.P. team ably led by Eileen MacCaskill

Thank you all for support, constructive criticism and constant



In this survey of Inverness In the Second World War I would like to concentrate on the worrying period from the outbreak of war in 1939 to 1940; when the fact that little happened led to the feeling that it was a Phoney War For people in Inverness and the Highlands there was great excitement and preparation in this period and they did not know that nothing serious was to occur. Indeed Inverness was, like all cities in Britain, frantically preparing for a Blitzkrieg.

My sources are a much underused asset in the Historian's craft ; the newspapers of the locality and period. The COURIER was an excellent newspaper that concentrated mainly on Inverness news, albeit censored. The HIGHLAND NEWS and FOOTBALL TIMES covered the town and county in a less formal fashion with advertisements. It is a newspaper of wide interest from recipes to sport. The PEOPLE'S JOURNAL is one that covered the whole area and beyond and provided amusement, escapism and war news. There were some very interesting articles in its volumes.One newspaper is no longer published. THE NORTHERN CHRONICLE. I rate it very highly both for news content and format. It covered the country areas.

There was increasing censorship of the Press and the Ministry of Information and others used it for public notices in their organisation. Why?

Well, North of the Caledonian Canal was a restricted area due to the Fleet being at anchor at Scapa Flow and because there were Germans, Austrians and Italians living locally.

In this booklet on Inverness there are extracts that show the local situation, the situation in the Highlands of Scotland and with a National perspective where appropriate.

First, several points to remember.

1. Inverness was a small community in 1939 ; the county population was only 59,525 people. Certain family names appear regularly and the local gentry played a major part in war work. The war was taken seriously by the Invernessians and the cry for an Air Raid Shelter for Merkinch was as serious as that in central London since after all in 1939-1940 they didn't know what was to follow.

2. I included Information on the whole area since Inverness was the centre of an entire region that prepared for war. The Protected Area forced all people to carry a special pass  and there was some concern that soldier husbands might not be allowed back home without a pass. People were prosecuted for not having a pass ; 100 or 3 months in prison was a serious penalty.

3. Much of the direction In the war came from a vast array of Ministries specially formed to administer and organise the Civil population, and Inverness was as much the slave of Tom Johnstone's mini-Scottish Cabinet as was Aberdeen or Peebles.

4. I aimed at a comprehensive social Scrapbook on the period and include extracts from everything that was printed in the various Newspapers. The result is a complete view of the period including food prices and many advertisements. The latter provided revenue for the newspapers.

5. Entertainment during the war is included under football results,  Cinema ads , Theatre review  and various Jokes. The Radio was a source of serious news and entertainment and in a sense more immediate for those who had it; people who did not have a Radio could gather in the homes of those who did. The film "The Spy in Black" was so successful in January 1940 that queues blocked entrances and exits.

As is widely known, the Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, went to see Hitler, and obtained a piece of paper that promised "peace for our time" Just before the war. What is less well known is that he went fishing in Sutherland about the same time, arriving in Inverness by train. The Secretary of State for Scotland, Colville, was in Shetland and the dreaded one-way traffic system was imposed for a month in the centre of Inverness.

How does a nation prepare for war with the potential of a horde of German Stuka dive bombers creating a Blitz on a civilian population of men, women and children?

The simple answer is, very very seriously. The newspapers of the period 1939-1940 were totally the loyal servant of the Government when needed, since the seriousness of the situation demanded that no chances be taken.

The Government had issued several key leaflets through the Ministry of Information.

What to do about Gas

Evacuation. How and Thy?

The newspapers carried notice of new regulations ranging from:

Notice to Farmers.

Information on Registration for call up.

Medical attention in Inverness

Regulations regarding the carrying of Identity Cards.

Thus a "reluctant" civil population was reminded and educated in appropriate conduct during the war.... today such regimentation in peacetime would create a storm of protest. However by 1939 war was expected.

The vast Administrative machine is outlined below. It speaks for itself!

At the outbreak of war the Government enacted the Defence of the Realm Regulations D.O.R.A. thereby ensuring public order during the war. Cinemas were closed as presenting too easy a target for attack, yet they were opened a week later, and in the Playhouse, Robert Montgomery and Rosalind Russell played "Fast and Loose".

Aliens and evacuees, food controls, registration, air-raid protection, an effective black-out, local defence, communication, first aid there was such a lot to think of and organise in 1939 and so little time to do it! A county population of 59,525 was difficult to contact in a remote area and thus newspapers were extremely useful.

The earliest problem was to find accommodation for the 900 evacuees from Edinburgh who were to be billeted with Highland families for their safety. This took a great deal of co-ordination.  By13 July 1940 the trickle had become a flood.I can imagine the hordes of excited, nervous and labelled children standing like cattle waiting to be collected. As it happened many went home when little happened in the early phase of the war.

The Registration of men and the check on those eligible for exemption from war service since they were in reserved occupations was quickly done.There were, however, those who would not go to war, claiming to be conscientious objectors. The first Scottish case was heard in Inverness in early September 1939; Robertson used the slaughter of the First World War in his defence that War was going to settle nothing. He failed because he could not be allowed to succeed, given the gravity of the situation! One mother summed this up well.... I would have no such men in the country, as in my opinion they are as much help to Hitler as any spy.

With many men off in the services the role of women took another step towards equality, as had happened in the Great War, and women did the work normally done by men. The Women's Land Army was the best example and the most humorous.

The fear of imminent air raids and bombing using firebombs and gas led to a vast re-organisation on defensive lines. Everyone became involved as Respirators were compulsory. Bags for carrying them could be ordered for 2/ from Glasgow  The A.R.P called for many volunteers.  There men could actively help in the Auxiliary Fire Service, Air Raid Wardens Service, Demolition Parties and Decontamination Services, the women could help in Communications, First Aid, Blood Transfusion, as Nursing Auxiliaries, in preparing Hospital supplies OR organise their household and family. This was of paramount importance, especially since many had an additional evacuated member.

The Black-out created terrible problems both serious and less so. Many pedestrians were killed, knocked down in the dark by poorly lit cars  Some fell into the Canal and drowned. Some were fined for forgetting to blackout the skylight, and, worst of all, Inverness woke one morning to see a NAKED tailor's dummy in Cameron's window after thieves had struck. The press was shocked! Accidents and Crime increased as a result as statistics for 1939 show. The enthusiastic Local Defence Volunteers, later called Dad's Army, had problems too, being caught smoking in Merkinch School!!

What of Air Raid Shelters in Inverness?

Basically there were 3 types. PUBLIC SHELTERS built specially in the dense areas of population  such as Farraline Park, Castle Street, Bank Street, and Nerkinch. Plans for 14 shelters were drawn up and contractors hired but I wonder if these were ever completed? At any rate a row broke over the building of the Merkinch shelter which was delayed.

The other kinds of shelters were do-it-yourself. The MORRISON SHELTER was basically a reinforced kitchen table under which a family would shelter. This would protect them from roof fall. The ANDERSON SHELTER was assembled from steel sheets in a hole in the ground in the garden. It was more practical, yet there was some concern that everyone should get help to have one.  The lack of raids gradually reduced the pressure for the building of shelters later.

On Friday 29th a National Register was taken of every man, woman and child in order that IDENTITY CARDS be issued. The reason was obvious- to check on missing people after air-raids.  Identity discs went on sale since papers could be lost.  This identity card was used as a pass, although everyone north of the Caledonian Canal had to have a Certificate of Residence in a Protected Area.  The Fleet was at Scapa Flow, so the North became a protected area for defence and a row developed over servicemen kept out from their family although compassionate permits were issued. One Fifeshire shaft sinker was fined 2.00 in court for trying to enter the area illegally.

Other records in the handbag or wallet tended to proliferate with shortages and rationing produced cards for food, kerosine, clothes.

Profiteering and the Black Market were problems  yet in the country areas there were sources of food not too easily controlled.

Prices in the period seem low, yet they can be compared with wages.   What was frustrating was the quantity that could be obtained on rations -

Meat   8ozs        Coffee 5gms
Bacon  4ozs        Jam 115gms
Butter 2ozs
Cheese loz

The Ministry of Food issued instructions on the regulations, advice and recipes, yet there was a limit to what could be done in the kitchen with such small quantities. Coupons were numbered 1-26 and each had to be used weekly.

I pity the wife at Kiltarlity with 10 children to feed who was evicted   and life must have been very difficult for women coping alone with the hardship. The confusion and panic is perhaps shown in the RUMOURS that spread... from scaremongering to wishful thinking.

Farmers produced much more food during the War since Great Britain had to become self-sufficient. There was a great deal of organisation necessary and many sacrifices to be made - poultry had to be culled pigs had to be slaughtered   and grass had to be ploughed up for food production as had school playing fields and golf courses. The extra food produced could be canned in the new factory in Telford Street once the supply of rabbits ran out.

The Plough for Victory slogan won support from everyone since the people rallied to the patriotic call. Equipment  was now in the hands of the Woman's Land Army  although Agriculture was a reserved occupation exempt from military service.

Forestry gained help from 1,000 LumberJacks from Newfoundland who helped in Ross-shire.  Economy in wood was achieved  by making tent poles and broom handles square and small rather than round. In wartime, waste, salvage and pests like rats became a desperate threat.

Fishermen helped by doing MINESWEEPING duty off the coast

Saving was promoted by the Government in a drive to finance the war. Lend to defend the right to be free was a good slogan and people bought war bonds, savings certificates and defence bonds  in National Savings Week. Metal was saved very carefully as was paper, and the Buckingham Palace railings were dropped as bombs on the Germans later in the war. In 1939 propaganda leaflets were dropped. Sandy in a cartoon does his bit to save paper. Waste paper was difficult to store.

People were encouraged to save the Railways for war work by not travelling except when necessary.

How involved were Inverness and the Highlands in the War?

Did Highlanders make any contribution?

Did anything serious happen in the area?

The first civilian to be killed in the war was recorded in the Inverness Courier on Tuesday 19th March 1940 when a report on the attack at Scapa Flow was reported.  German bombers were involved in the raid and James Isbister began the casualties. Again, a Skye man was killed in a raid.

There was an alleged air raid on Foyers - yet it was not reported - perhaps as censorship increased. An aircraft crashed on Ben Rinnes. In Aberdeen a plane fell on the Ice Rink, Hall Russell was bombed and machine gunned and King Street lost 2 houses in a bombing raid. Inverness seems to have been a less important target. Really, human memory is more reliable than the press here, yet also more likely to forget or invent.

One event was the Registration of Aliens in Inverness. The fear of Germans, Austrians and Italians resident in Britain was controlled by D.O.R.A and they were to be registered and interned if necessary. Some were torpedoed on the Arandora Star on the way to Canada and lost their lives.

3,000 people were involved and by 31st December, 105 aliens had been registered. If in business, being of foreign extraction might mean ruin, yet compared to aliens in Germany, they were treated well; they might have had divided loyalty, and internment was for their protection too.

People became involved at a personal level in war after the phoney war period, with war reports and personal tragedy. In a small community, grief was shared as was anger. The Newspapers kept the Invernessians informed of events, and editorials gave vent to Highland opinions on matters.

There was no way to avoid the total civilian re-organisation for war and the Highland area was increasingly war conscious, especially since Highland Regiments did so much during the war; pride was generally felt.

DUNKIRK was where the Allies found themselves stranded on a beach, being driven back to the sea by the Germans, with the prospect of surrender and massive casualties. The epically successful evacuation was one of the key events of the war like the Battle of Britain, or the Clydeside Blitz.

The evacuation owed a great deal to the heroic stand made by the local Cameron Highlanders the 51st Division. Their sacrifice at St Valery allowed the evacuation at Dunkirk by delaying the Germans. The account  is only a short precis of a three page spread that appeared in the HIGHLAND NEWS on 3 August 1940.

Throughout the war, the P.O.W in the camps were served by the Cameron Comforts Fund for their heroic action. The Highland News had a detailed map of the location of the prisoner-of-war camps in Europe. The PEOPLE'S JOURNAL had interesting features on making a P.O.W Radio Receiver from a safety pin and a razor blade with headphones  and line drawings showing kitchen utensils made out of old tins. The Red Cross helped to distribute letters and food parcels.

Education continued during the war. Some teachers chose to serve, and they could not be replaced.  Scholars were allowed to dig for victory but were not allowed to collect salvage I expect some "high Jinks" caused this ban.   One ex-Rector had interesting views on the defects of modern education which were reported in the Highland News.  Children in Inverness did good work in salvage collection, farming and co-operating at home in the war it was an exciting if rather confusing period for them. There were few people in Inverness idle during the war. Unemployment was low since everyone could find war work of some kind.

The press continued to inform throughout the black periods of the war and amuse too. Despite the severity of the situation, life went on, and the human spirit and humour prevailed. People helped each other out during the war period to defeat the blackest force ever to attack Britain - Hitler's Reich.... Inverness played its part too.