- Contributed by
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 31 March 2004
My granddad, James ‘Curly’ Gow, was quite a character. A Highlander, he was a native of Dalnaspidal, in Northern Perthshire. He was a gamekeeper, by profession, on a Perthshire estate and in 1914, he volunteered for war service, joining the 6th (Perthshire) Btn, Royal Highland Regt (Black Watch) TF. Re-designated the 1/6th Btn, in early 1915 it was brigaded into the 51st Highland Division, a territorial formation . He served with the 51st on the Western Front , as it forged a formidable reputation as one of Haig‘s spearhead ‘shock’ divisions. Having attained corporal’s rank, in 1918 he was promoted to sergeant and transferred to a battalion of the Royal Scots Fusiliers, a veteran senior nco to bolster young untried troops. A fellow sergeant he made friends with had also been transferred from the 51st Highland Division, Sgt Neil Weir, late of 1/8th Btn Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. After the war, my granddad was introduced to Neil’s sister, Margaret Anne Weir, of Glendaruel, Argyll. She was a housekeeper at Glencaladh Castle and was a native Gaelic speaker, as well as gold medallist, for singing at the spinning wheel, at the National Gaelic Mod. My granddad took up the post of gamekeeper at the estate and married Margaret, my gran. My father, James (Hamish) was born in Glencaladh Castle. In time, they moved to another estate over in Kintyre, Argyll, again as gamekeeper. He became quite a local figure during the 1920's and 30's, being a crack-shot with his shotgun and winning many trophies. He was also something of a musician, an accordionist, playing Scottish and Highland dance and pipe music. He was offered a record deal with Beltona before WW2, but declined for work reasons. Then war came.
After Dunkirk, the LDV’s, then the Home Guard, were raised. Kintyre too, had its Home Guard unit, which local veterans of the WW1 51st Division joined, included my granddad. They built and manned roadblocks, patrolled the Kintyre coast-line and searched the black night for any signs of U-boats which were known to use isolated Atlantic inlets to rest-up and recharge batteries before harrying allied convoys. He anticipated some form of action would occur, but when it did, it was most unexpected. Early one morning, in March 1941, he was ‘up in the hill’, attending to his gamekeeping duties. As he walked over the tops of the rolling, heather-clad hills, the spongy peat soil yielding below his walking boots, he carried his ’broken’ shotgun in the crook of his arm. Perhaps he knew, perhaps he didn’t, but the Luftwaffe had just bombed Clydeside, one of many such raids. His thoughts were interrupted however, by a distant, pulsating sound, the sound of engines. As the noise got louder, he turned round to see a large plane hugging the hills, heading toward him. It was not an RAF plane - it was a Luftwaffe bomber, making its way down the spine of Kintyre toward the Irish Sea, having bombed Clydeside. Perhaps it had lost its bearings, perhaps it was taking the chance to shoot up a Clyde convoy. Till the day he died, in 1945, my granddad doesn’t know what made him do what he did next. As the bomber, probably a Heinkel 111, came close and showed its German-cross emblems, my granddad closed his shotgun and raised it to his shoulder. As it was nearly overhead, he let fly with both barrels. He could see the forward gunner in the nascelle, training his machine gun on him. Granddad knew his time had come. Then, in a moment, the plane was gone and on its way. Even the rear belly-gunner refrained from firing on him. Why ? Did they see a feisty old Scotsman ? Perhaps they liked his style ! British bulldog spirit and all that. He also wondered why he’d done something so dangerous, rash and ineffectual.
The plane long gone, he went back to his duties. Soon however, he would hear how a lone German bomber had flown over Campbeltown and strafed the main streets with machine-gun fire, killing the town’s Provost, who died saving a young girl by diving across her and using his own body as a shield.
So perhaps the German gunners spared my granddad, not out of compassion for a crazy old man, but rather, as they wished to save ammunition for the Campbeltown attack.
© Copyright of content contributed to this Archive rests with the author. Find out how you can use this.