A 1940 map showing Banff Drill Hall

In 1923 a new drill hall was suggested for Banff and by 8th May 1925 it was ready to be formally opened by Major-General A.B. Ritchie, C.B., C.M.G., commanding the 51st (Highland) Division, Perth. He stated that Banff had the honour of being the first provincial regiment of artillery formed in Scotland, with the exception of Midlothian. He also explained that the Territorial Army was of great importance as the regular army had been reduced by twenty percent.

In times past, the Drill Hall had been at 6 Castle Street in Banff, where Trend D.I.Y. is now.

This new hall was on Old Market Place and had an orderly room, officers’ room and a large billiard and recreation room on the ground floor. On the first floor, instructors’ quarters were provided.

There was also a drill hall, extending in to Princess Royal Park of 85 feet by 40 feet. To the south of the drill hall there was Princess Royal Park, which allowed the battery horses to be exercised and gun tests to be carried out.

In the 1930s there are descriptions of the hall being decorated with garlands, flags, balloons and flowers, along with novel lighting effects for balls, held annually by the 223rd Banffshire Battery R.A. (T.A.). Around 2 -300 people attended these from across the North-east. In the Press of the time, you can find a list of everyone who attended.

During WW2, the hall was used as headquarters for training purposes. A soldier in The King’s Own Scottish Borderers described how the company of soldiers were sent to Banff and used the Drill Hall as their headquarters while being “accommodated in the spacious and elegant confines of Duff House” and others were located at Banff distillery which had been closed, although the whisky was still in the bonded warehouses. James McQuarrie described how “We had to run about three-quarters of a mile down to the sea shore, dive in and then run back again. It made us fit.”

By 1968 drill halls across the North-east were sold to the councils and in the case of Banff Drill Hall, it was to be used for education purposes and so it became the Community centre. Many local people will have fond memories of attending youth clubs and other clubs there or picking up skis from their store before heading off to the Lecht or Cairngorms.

There are eighteen Commonwealth War Graves from the Second World War in Banff.  These are only a few of the airmen killed serving at the Boyndie base. Only those whose planes crashed in Scotland are buried in Banff. If you were shot down over the sea or over Norway there will be no grave. One of the Canadians and one of the Australians had brothers who were shot down over Europe.

One is of an unknown airman, so that is where, if we have a wreath, we lay it. Four were from England, seven from Canada, four from Australia, and two from New Zealand. One, called William Reid, was from Britain, but we don’t know where.

Of the British airmen, one was a doctor’s son from Surrey, one the son of a warden at Parkhurst prison on the Isle of Wight, and another came from Bethnal Green in London.

Two of the Australians came from neighbouring suburbs of Sydney, and one from just outside Perth in Western Australia. The other came from the outback in Queensland, a small place called Winton, where they have an annual festival because ‘Waltzing Matilda’ was first performed there.

The New Zealanders came from in or near Auckland, in the North Island, but the Canadians came from all over, from Edmonton, and Ottawa, and Saskatoon, and two from small places in the prairies. The one from Ottawa had three Christian names, Louis Eber Eldred, but apparently answered to ‘Tony’. The man from Saskatoon was not only married but had two small children, and this may explain why this is the only grave that has recent mementos from the family on it.

And then there was Ernest Raymond Davey, who came from London, Ontario, in Canada. (I think people called him ‘Bus’.) He wrote a poem, found after his death, called Extinction: the Airman’s Prayer which was put into a book. It is a serious Christian poem; at home, he was a loyal member of the Anglican Church of Canada. It is easy for us to imagine how we would like to face our death when it comes. It is different for someone who is actually facing it.

Here it is, from Soldier Poetry of the Second World War: An Anthology, ed. Jane and Walter Morgan, Presented with the permission of the Department of National Defence, Government of Canada. Oakville: Mosaic Press, 1990: 45. RPO

Almighty and all present power

Short is the prayer I make to thee;

I do not ask in battle hour

For any shield to cover me.

The vast unalterable way,

From which the stars do not depart,

May not be turned aside to stay

The bullet flying through my heart.

I ask no help to strike my foe;

I seek no petty victory here;

The enemy I hate, I know

To thee is dear.

But this I pray, be at my side,

When death is drawing through the sky;

Almighty Lord, who also died

Teach me the way that I should die.

A portrait of Cetshwayo ka Mpande by Alexander Bassano in 1882.
Cetshwayo ka Mpande by Alexander Bassano

King Cetshwayo was the last Zulu King. At the time British people spelt the name Cetewayo, but nowadays it is more likely to be Cetshwayo, closer to the actual pronunciation. After a long and brave fight by the Zulu army, the King was captured after the battle of Ulundi in 1879 by Major Richard J.C. Marter of the Kings Dragoon Guards. Colonel Harford described the moment King Cetewayo gave himself up – “the King …strode in with the aid of his long stick, with a proud and dignified air and grace, looking a magnificent specimen of his race and every inch a warrior in his grand umutcha of leopard skin and tails, with lion’s teeth and claw charms round his neck”.

Was this the same stick which was taken from him? In 1882, Mr F.C. Lucy took a collection of these valuable items back to Britain after a trip to South Africa. The list was long and included Cetewayo’s stick, 13 throwing and stabbing assagais (light spears), 3 knobkerries (clubs), clothing with bead work, 2 Kaffir pipes and 2 Zulu pipes, as well as a number of natural history objects.

These were donated to the Banff Museum by Mr Lucy of London, via his mother-in-law Mrs Ewing, who lived in St Catherine Street. The walking stick is listed as being in the museum in 1919 (Banff and District by A. Edward Mahood). After this it is difficult to track what happened to Cetewayo’s stick until it turns up in the British Museum in 1963. It is there listed as being previously owned by Cetshwayo kaMpande, Banff Museum, and from the collection of Captain A.W.F. Fuller.

Captain Fuller was referred to as “an armchair anthropologist”. He was born in Sussex and trained as a solicitor but at the outbreak of the First World War he signed up with the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry and became a captain. He built up a vast collection and he refused to sell anything until shortly before his death when 6,800 items from the Pacific were sold to the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago. The rest of his collection was dispersed by his widow. The clue as to how Cetewayo’s stick went from the Banff Museum to Captain Fuller comes from newspaper articles which state that in 1938, the then town council, brought in Mr Kerr of the Royal Scottish Museum to assess their collection and he recommended that a large number of items from the museum should be disposed of as they were not local to Banff. Could it be that Cetewayo’s stick was sold then?

Colour photo of bronze plaque and wreath on a stone background

This picture is of the war memorial at Duff House. Poppies in remembrance of the British that died, and the Forget-me-nots as the German flower of remembrance. This is one of the very few joint nationality war memorials in existence. It is placed on the spot where one of the bombs fell as part of the events recounted below.

“In the morning at nine o’clock the klaxon for roll call went. We were all lined up outside. We heard an aircraft and he came pretty low. He must have been coming out from Norway or somewhere [like that]. I think it was a reconnaissance aircraft. They are loaded with bombs too. I think he was on a reconnaissance mission to explore northern Scotland, and he saw this camp down there. He saw the tents of the guards up on the hill, and he saw this building there with people outside and thought, ‘let’s give them a lesson,’ so to speak. Before we witnessed that it was over, the bombs fell. Miraculously, I wasn’t hit by anything, but I lost six of my crewmates from U-26 during the air attack mistakenly made by Hermann Göring’s ‘Flying Circus’. Two bombs went into the elevator shaft as duds, they never blew up. But two guards outside, they were killed through the bombs.”

These are the words of Paul Mengelberg, one of the true eye-witnesses as the bombs fell. This took place on 22nd July 1940 – 81 years ago this last week.

Paul Mengelberg continued, “Those that died were given a soldier’s funeral by the British forces at the gravesite in Banff.” Later writers mention that the bodies were eventually repatriated to Germany, but this is not correct. In 1959, an agreement was concluded by the governments of the United Kingdom and the Federal Republic of Germany concerning the future care of the graves of German nationals who lost their lives in the United Kingdom during the two World Wars and so a new German Military cemetery was established at Cannock Chase, Staffordshire, which is where the six men are now buried.

The two British soldiers who were killed were of course returned to their families, one in Newcastle, one in Blair Atholl.

Colour photo of gravestones in neatly cut grass
Four colour photos of gravestones
Colour photo of gravestone
Colour copy of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission card for Thomas Blakey
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission card for Thomas Blakey

It is a real achievement to raise a regiment. We all remember how the Duchess Jean raised the Gordons by giving a kiss to each recruit, with the king’s shilling between her teeth. Here is the story of a native of Banff who raised a regiment. His name was Sir John Bury Gordon (1781-1835) and the regiment he raised was the 30th Royal Lancers (Gordon’s Horse).

Sir John was a hereditary baronet, a Gordon of Park. The fine Castle of Park is still there, beside Cornhill, a few miles inland from Banff. The family had long links with Banff. His grandfather Sir William was made a Burgess of Banff in 1730, but then he was out in the 1745 Jacobite Rising, fought at Culloden, and was very nearly captured skulking near Banff. The government troops reported that a man identified as him had galloped off up a hill, and those pursuing him got bogged down, and he got away because he knew the country and they didn’t.

His young wife Janet (we have a picture of her in the Museum of Banff) was a daughter of Lord Braco, who became first Earl Fife. One story says the two of them eloped. A Jacobite son-in-law was rather an embarrassment in 1746, but Sir William escaped to the continent, and we find he was recognised as nobility in the peerage of Hungary. He had handed over his castle to his half-brother, Captain Gordon of the Marines, so it was not forfeited, but however, as Sir William’s children were born overseas – the brave Janet joined him – they were not entitled to inherit a Scottish estate ‘as natural subjects of the French king’. In any case, Captain Gordon was determined not to give it back. Our Sir John was born in Banff because the other side of the family kept the castle. His father was a professional soldier, an excellent man except when drunk, and was killed fighting in India a few months before our Sir John was born. There was a surge of sympathy for the young widow with her fatherless child, and money was found. And when he was 14 Earl Fife, who was after all related, got him an ensigncy in the Coldstream Guards, and the rest of his life he was a soldier.

Sir John spent the last 23 years of his life at Madras, and there he raised his regiment. It was in fact part of the private army of the fabulously rich Nizam of Hyderabad, but there was status involved in being a British regiment, raised by a British officer.

Sir John was the last of the hereditary baronets of Park. He married the daughter of an Anglican cathedral dean, but she fell in love with another man, and Sir John divorced her. Her son by her new husband became Speaker of the House of Commons. Sir John remarried, but there were no children.

The 30th Royal Lancers (Gordon’s Horse) fought in the First World War. There is a picture of the Lancers’ last charge – perhaps not these particular Lancers – but there was no real call for cavalry in the trenches. 

The cup and saucer building near Glengassaugh distillery
Chickens in Glasshaugh House
Chickens in Glasshaugh House

In 1759 General James Abercromby (aka Mrs Nanny Cromby) retired from the army and returned to his Banffshire estate, Glasshaugh.  With plenty of time on his hands he commissioned the rebuilding of Glasshaugh House in a classical style, see above.

Fast forward to the 21st century.  The house still exists but in a ruinous state.  Not surprising since in the last century it was used to house livestock, ‘chickens on the second floor, pigs on the first – who reached their pens via the principal staircase – and cows on the ground’.

Back in the 18th century, James’ thoughts turned to land improvements on his estate.  But what to do? 

  • What about a mill? 
  • A mill??
  • A windmill would be fun!

So, a windmill it was.  While windmills were not unknown in Scotland, most mills in the area were water driven.  In construction, two essential components required are labour and materials.  Fortunately, labour was readily available in the form of large numbers of tenant farmers and cottars locally displaced in a manner reminiscent of the Highland Clearances.  Materials were available in the form of a nearby Bronze Age burial cairn.

To the utter astonishment of the local population around Banff a gigantic four-story windmill was completed and dressed in splendid white sails.  It was the talk of Banff and beyond.  It still is, but now known locally as the Cup and Saucer.  Not surprisingly travellers who pass it on the A98 between Banff and Portsoy have no idea what it is.  Could it be a Martello tower, Pictish broch, a tower house, a part of the nearby Glenglasshaugh Distillery??

James Abercromby, defeated general, nanny, wind power visionary, destroyer of Bronze Age remains? We will let his wife, Mary Duff, have the last word. She ended the inscription on his gravestone at Fordyce:“… his once happy wife inscribes this marble as an unequal testimony of his worth, and of her affection.”

Glasshaugh House
Glasshaugh House
Fort Ticonderoga

James Abercromby (1706 – 23 April 1781) started his military career at the age of 11 by entering the 25th Foot as an ensign.  It is a truth universally acknowledged, that significant promotion in the military, must await a war.  In 1734, not yet a captain, he sought and won promotion as Banff member of parliament courtesy of his brother-in-law, William Duff – Duff’s son was underage.  Abercromby had to give up his seat in 1754 when the son came of age. 

Abercromby’s big military moment, and it was just a moment, came in December 1757 with the outbreak of the Seven Years’ War.  He was made Commander-in-Chief of British forces in America and directed to take what is now called Fort Ticonderoga from the French. He managed to assemble a force of 15000 and move them and their supplies through the wilderness. That said, the troops eventually lost their way in the dense forest and soon after, Lord Howe, Abercromby’s right hand man, was killed during a brief skirmish with the French.

At Fort Ticonderoga the French commander, Montcalm, was hastily entrenching his force of some 3,500 men behind a barricade of brush and abatis (sharpened wooden stakes stuck in the ground, pointing at advancing troops).  Fearing French reinforcements and lacking Lord Howe’s advice, Abercromby vacillated, but eventually ordered a series of frontal assaults without waiting for artillery support.  Bad move; the strategy was a disaster leaving 1,944 British troops dead or wounded and Montcalm in situ. Abercromby then ordered a retreat. Second bad move; his forces still vastly outnumbered Montcalm’s, and by bringing up his artillery, he could have won the day.  However, Abercromby was disheartened by his heavy losses and pulled back to his fortified camp south of Lake George.

Worse was to come. James was mocked as Mrs Nanny Cromby, a name that referenced his organizational skills and his indecisive leadership.  In September 1758 he was sent home and replaced by General Jeffery Amherst.

Portrait of James Grant, 1789 - 1858

James Grant, (1789-1858), born at Banff made a name for himself as a soldier, administrator and historian in India with the East India Company.  He first arrived in India as a cadet at the age of sixteen. Graduating from the cadet academy he distinguished himself in many military campaigns while also mastering the Marathi, Urdu, and Persian languages. In 1818 he was appointed to the important office of Resident of Satara State.

In office, a great deal of Grant’s time was spent in adjudicating the claims of his officers for booty during battles and prize claims in the aftermath of battles.  As can be imagined there was fierce competition among officers for prize as, Henry Dundas Robertson, his fellow administrator and Scot wrote, ‘Treasure-hunting does indeed make men keen.’  To distinguish between actual looting and suspected booty Grant constantly consulted Maratha manuscripts. From his research in the primary materials, it was but a short step to historical scholarship.

In 1820 he began work on the first volume of his History of the Marattas, which eventually went to three volumes.  Grant’s history feels quite modern in its use of primary documents (state papers, family and temple archives, and personal contacts with the Maratha chiefs) and its appreciation of the material culture of the Maratha, particularly that of their weaponry. The complete history was published in 1826.

He left India in 1825, married and soon after he succeeded to the estate of Eden and with it to the Duff name. He spent his time there improving the property and helping in the development of short horned cattle. In 1850 his wife, Jane Catharine, succeeded to an estate in Fifeshire belonging to her mother’s family, and James became James Grant Duff Cuninghame. 

Francois Thurot

From 1702 until 1815, the French and British were involved in six wars. In the wars, merchant ships suffered heavy losses off of the North East coast. The merchant ships were attacked by privateers of mainly French origin, although privateers of American and Dutch origin were active too.

Privateers were privately owned ships, commissioned by governments to attack the merchant shipping of enemy countries and disrupt their trade. The fate of ships captured by privateers varied – their cargoes and the ships themselves could be sold, refitted or burnt. Often their crews were allowed to return home. The Moray Firth was a busy shipping route at this time as ships would sail around the top of Britain to avoid trouble in the English Channel.

The most noted incident was in 1757. On the 5th of October, Francois Thurot, in command of the frigate Marischal de Belleisle and several other ships, appeared in Banff Bay, much to the distress of the people of Banff. The plan seemed to be to invade Banff, plunder and destroy it with a force of 1100 men. The people of Banff were saved though, by a storm, a gale which forced the ships to cut their cables and flee.

In 1777 the Tartar of Boston, an American privateer, captured Lord Fife’s ship – the Anne of Banff – (amongst others). Lord Fife feared he would not be safe living at Duff House “We shall be burnt and plundered”

By 1781, in response to the threat, a very fine battery of 9 eighteen pounders were erected at Banff above the high ground above Banff harbour. This is where the name Battery Green comes from. As well as this soldiers were stationed along the Moray Firth coast.

Ultimately, the focus of transport shifted from the sea to overland routes and led to the building of the first bridge at Banff.

Turnpike Trusts were established in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as a way of creating and maintaining a decent road network. The individual Trusts were established by Acts of Parliament. Turnpikes or Toll bars were points on the roads where people had to pay to use the road. The first Scottish Turnpike Act was in 1713 but it was the end of the century before turnpikes were built in Aberdeenshire and Banffshire.

There was a case for more roads. In the late 1700s, cargo ships from the Moray Firth were often attacked and captured by French privateers. For example in 1781 the “Anne” of Banff was taken by a Dunkirk privateer and Lord Fife lost many possessions. As the seas were so dangerous there was a great need for an alternative and safer travel route.

Also agriculture and industry saw considerable developments during this period so roads were needed to transport goods being produced.

In 1796, the road from Aberdeen was surveyed and planned, allowing an estimate to be drawn up. In 1800 a general meeting was held in Banff because the road from Turriff to Banff was so bad that no one would carry the mail on the road without extra payments being made to them. The great Provost George Robinson obtained the necessary permissions to have the road built and in 1801, Thomas Shier was appointed as the road overseer as he had surveyed the route.

It all took time. In 1802 the first eleven miles of turnpike road between Banff and Turriff was complete. In 1804 the Head Court of Banff “authorize[d] the Magistrates to subscribe £500 to the construction of a turnpike road from the Harbour of Banff southward to Huntly by Inverkeithny and Marnoch.”

In 1804 “the Provost is authorized to subscribe a sum not exceeding £300 towards making a direct communication to Keith by a turnpike road from Cott-town of Ordens to the place where it will join the Portsoy turnpike, near the Kirk of Ordiquhill.”

Four turnpike roads led out from Banff – to Boyndie, Turriff, Buchan and Marnoch. Many of the toll houses can still be seen around the area, normally altered to suit the needs of today. The nearest example to Banff is the Toll house just South of the Gellymill. The first toll house was built in 1802 “where the Turriff turnpike intersects the Macduff road below Myrehouse”. It was made of turf and the keeper, John Morrison, was paid 1/- for each day. This was replaced by the permanent house “immediately below the Gellymill”.

By 1808 the system of toll roads inland from Banff was complete. Everyone was to pay the tolls except for soldiers and their carriages ‘on the King’s business’ who would be exempt.

By 1809 the demand by the military for a decent road through Banff to Fort George from Aberdeen reduced as other, shorter routes from Fort George south had opened up and the route along the Moray Firth coast was no longer so well used.