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Loch Fyne’s 21st century tranquillity belies its critical wartime training role – culminating in the pivotal D-Day invasion itself.
The part played by the loch was commemorated this week in a series of events in Inveraray to mark the 75th anniversary of the decisive assault on the Normandy coast which ultimately led to victory on the western front.
In a poignant ceremony led by former army chaplain, Reverend Dr Roderick Campbell, a remembrance service was held at Inveraray war memorial on the 75th anniversary of D-Day and the launch of the Normandy campaign on June 6, 1944.
Shortly after Dunkirk, in the early days of 1940, a new command known as Combined Operations was formed at the behest of Winston Churchill. Its function was to form the army, navy and air force into one assault force.
Amid great secrecy, No 1 Combined Training Centre, Inveraray, was set up in the autumn of 1940, with the ultimate aim of returning to Europe and taking the fight to the Nazis.
It took four years of preparation before the Allies were ready for this invasion – and much of the training for the assault took place at the newly-formed training centre.
It is estimated that around 250,000 British, US, Canadian, French, Polish, Norwegian, Dutch and even Russian troops trained in the Inveraray area between 1940 and 1945.
The early Royal Marine Commando units trained on Loch Fyne, perfecting amphibious assault techniques.
Training was realistic, regularly involving live fire, so casualties with serious injuries were not uncommon, while the number of deaths for all kinds of reasons is never likely to be known.
Troops were trained for raids all over Europe and North Africa and techniques were being perfected all the time. They trained for the North African landings, the invasion of Sicily and ultimately D-Day.
Organised by Inveraray branch of the Royal British Legion Scotland, events this week included a fascinating display of memorabilia and pictures of No 1 Combined Training Centre and Loch Fyne from the time.
Jim Jepson, who founded the Combined Operations Association in the 1990s, gave a talk on Inveraray’s wartime significance and said: ‘We must not, we cannot afford to, forget these people, or what they did for us.’
No 1 Combined Training Centre, Inveraray
After construction began in 1940, No 1 Combined Training Centre was composed of seven camps – Shira, Castle, Duke’s, Town and Avenue, while Kilbride and Chamois camps were beside the naval base known as HMS Quebec, at the site of Argyll Caravan Park just south of Inveraray.
The modern-day Loch Fyne Hotel was the headquarters, known at the time as Admiralty House and home to No 1 Combined Training Centre commandant, Vice Admiral Theodore Hallett.
As one of around 50 such centres based primarily on the west coast of Scotland and south of England, its prime purpose was to train army and navy service personnel in the use of landing craft for landing assault troops, supplies, ammunition and weaponry on to heavily defended enemy occupied beaches, with RAF support as required.
Inveraray training centre had many famous visitors, including King George VI, Winston Churchill, King Haakon of Norway and Crown Prince Olaf. Other esteemed visitors involved Mountbatten and Polish leader General Sikorski.
Among the quarter of a million military personnel who passed through No 1 Combined Training Centre were famous names such as Sir Alec Guinness, James Robertson Justice, David Niven and James Doohan (who later became Scotty from Star Trek).
As D-Day preparations were being finalised, plans were being made at Inveraray for of an invasion of Japan – before the sudden Japanese surrender following the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.
After that, the No 1 Combined Training Centre was reduced to a care and maintenance basis.