- Contributed by
- People in story:
- James Gow
- Location of story:
- Argyll Scotland
- Background to story:
- Argyll Home Guard
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 22 November 2003
Gamekeeper turned soldier
My grandad, 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.
In 1914, he volunteered for war service, joining the 6th (Perthshire) Battalion, Royal Highland Regiment (Black Watch), Territorial Force. Re-designated the 1/6th Battalion, in early 1915 it was brigaded into the 51st Highland Division, a territorial formation.
On the Western Front
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, Sergeant Neil Weir, late of 1/8th Btn Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.
After the war, my grandad was introduced to Neil’s sister, Margaret Anne Weir, of Glendaruel, Argyll. She was a housekeeper at Glen Caladh Castle and a native Gaelic speaker, as well as a gold medallist, for singing at the spinning wheel, at the National Gaelic Mod.
My grandad took up the post of gamekeeper at the estate and married Margaret, my gran. My father, James (Hamish), was born in Glen Caladh Castle.
A crack shot
In time, they moved to another estate over in Kintyre, Argyll, again as gamekeeper. My grandfather became quite a local figure during the 1920s and 1930s, 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.
In the Home Guard
After Dunkirk, the LDVs or Local Defence Volunteers, then the Home Guard, were raised. Kintyre, too, had its Home Guard unit, which local veterans of the WW1 51st Division joined, including my grandad.
They built and manned roadblocks, patrolled the Kintyre coastline and searched the black night for any sign of U-boats, known to use isolated Atlantic inlets to rest-up and recharge their batteries before harrying Allied convoys. He anticipated some form of action would occur, but when it did it was most unexpected.
Steeled for action
Early one morning, in March 1941, he was up in the hills, attending to his game-keeping duties. As he walked over the rolling, heather-clad hill tops, 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 beat, the sound of engines.
Lone bomber hugging the hills
As the noise got louder, he turned round to see a large plane hugging the hills and heading toward him. It was not the RAF but a Luftwaffe bomber, making its way down the spine of Kintyre toward the Irish Sea, having just bombed Clydeside. Perhaps it had lost its bearings, perhaps it was taking the chance to shoot up a Clyde convoy.
Letting fly with both barrels
Till the day he died in 1945, my grandad never knew what made him do what he did next. As the bomber, probably a Heinkel 111, came close and showed its German-cross emblems, he closed his shotgun and raised it to his shoulder.
Then, 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. Grandad knew his time had come.
Spirit of a feisty, old Scotsman
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.
Bomber with other priorities
The plane long gone, he went back to his duties. Soon, however, he would hear how a lone German bomber had flown over Campbeltown. Of how it had strafed the main streets with machine-gun fire and killed the town’s provost. The provost had died saving a young girl by diving across her and using his own body as a shield.
So perhaps the German gunners spared my grandad, not out of compassion for a crazy, old man but rather as they’d wished to save ammunition for Campbeltown.
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