Bartholemew half inch 1940-1947 showing coastal defence areas to the North East

A mystery solved: Guns at Bourhouse

The guns at Bourhouse were known to have existed but nothing else was known about them locally. By an amazing chance this position changed in 2005 when The Rev L Twaddle forwarded to me a letter he had received about ten years before. I decided to telephone the sender with little hope of success to my surprise and delight I found Mr Emery alive and very willing to talk. I feel that his report is of importance and that I should put it in the public domain. I therefore publish his letter as sent.

Letter from Angus M Emery,

To Laurence Twaddle Minister of Spott 28 9 94

Dear Mr Twaddle,

I thought perhaps the enclosed photos and the cutting from the Sunday Post may interest you and the occupants of Bourhouse.

In June 1940 I was one of a detachment of the 71st* Medium Regiment RA who brought the guns to Bourhouse.

After staying overnight at Leith Fort [now demolished] about 50 officers and gunners travelled to Rosyth Naval base where we took over the two 6 inch naval guns. [A Guinan says probably 6inch BL Mk 19 field guns late WW1made by Vickers]

Towed by hired lorries from Smart’s of Leith we moved at 5mph to stop at Willowbrae Road for the night We slept on the lorries.

Next day we reached Dunbar and spent two or three days in the Barracks until the guns had been placed in position at Bourhouse.

Our detachment remained there until October 1940 when a detachment from the Scottish Horse [RA] took over.

Yours sincerely

Angus M Emery

Please retain the enclosures

  1. Extract from the Sunday post showing one gun and Anthony Eden [It seems surprising that this was published as it was a security risk but it was very early in the war]
  2. Photo of the other gun
  3. Photo of soldiers AM Emery Rt Rear

Report of conversation between Lt Col S A Bunyan and A M Emery 23 05 05

Bartholomew half inch 1940-1947

Angus Emery Was conscripted on 2nd April 1940 in the age 23 group. By June he was in 71st Medium Regiment RA which was partly formed in Edinburgh one intake was local and the other came from England. The regiment was in Lockerbie and Annan. It was warned to expect a move overseas but this was stopped because of Dunkirk. A detachment of forty was told to go to Dunbar. They were commanded by Capt. Myles with two second lieutenants and two sergeants. Only three of the party were locals. The others were mainly English. They went by train to Princes St Station and moved to Leith Fort where they spent the night. [Leith fort closed in 1956]. They proceeded to Rosyth Naval Base where they took over two six inch naval guns on land mountings. They conveyed these over two days to Dunbar. They spent the first night at the Golf Course at Willowbrae [Edinburgh]. They remained with the guns on the vehicles but were well treated by the residents in the neighbouring villas.

They spent the next night in Dunbar Barracks. The OCTU was already there but was accommodated in various hotels. The permanent staff was accommodated in the barracks. At Dunbar they saw a German plane heading for home brought down over the Forth by three Spitfires or Hurricanes, which then did a Victory Roll. Next day they went to the Bourhouse GR 6655 7665, where a master gunner installed the guns. The recently appointed Secretary of State for War, Anthony Eden, visited the site on the 17th July 1940.

A view of the the Bass Rock from Bourhouse

They established a camp in an area of trees, under canvas with no duck boards and awful food, mutton stew followed by two prunes. Initially they were commanded by a Captain Myles who was disliked. He was replaced by one who was a gentleman and who with the onset of cooler weather moved them into the big house, though they still had to sleep on the floor but they had no complaints.

They were well supplied with ammunition. The shells were 100 lbs each. Two rounds were fired, with due warning to the locality, to calibrate the guns but no practice firing was done. He confirmed, that as far as he knew, they were never fired in anger. They were essentially a precaution for invasion.

They were intended to cover the beaches at Belhaven and Westbarns or the sea immediately beyond them. They were in clear view and they had no rangefinder. Coastal defence against shipping was provided from Inchkeith and Fidra. During their stay, and as a result of an open skylight, three bombs were dropped near the camp on the other side of the road making a crater about a hundred yards away.

There was a national invasion threat on the 27th or 29th of September 1940. They were ordered to go to the guns carrying their boots. They were aware of movement between them and the coast indicating the presence of the OCTU and The Durham Light Infantry [may have been the Sherwood Foresters] and also of the presence of troops in the no go area to the rear. They stayed on post till about 5 am when they were stood down. It appears this was a national alarm with he thinks code named Cromwell, this codeword appears in other accounts of the period.

A gun carefully concealed by camouflage

Their main day time occupation was filling sandbags with earth, thousands [probably an exaggeration] of them to erect huge barriers round the guns. They can be clearly seen in the photograph. They were not allowed out much except down to Dunbar for haircuts. A Church of Scotland canteen van came once a week and provided tea and scones.

At the end of his stint at Bourhouse in October 1940 he re joined the Regiment which had meantime moved North to Peterhead, Fraserburgh and Fort George. He then joined 52 [Lowland] Division from Annan, Falkirk and Lanark. It went to Huntly to train as a mountain Division. It included troops from India and had Norwegian Trainers. He left Huntly in Jan 1943. He went to Cromer where they replaced the Scottish Horse. At Cromer they were a training regiment. He became a sergeant. Wanting more action in 1944 he applied for a posting. This produced an unexpected result. He was posted to the East African Artillery. Later they were told they were going on an exercise. It was in fact a posting to Burma but the Askari were not told. The Atomic Bomb intervened. and they did not go. On 1st Jan 1946 he left Mombasa for home and demobilisation. He did not join the TA but in 1952 was recalled as a Z reservist. He reported to 357 Regiment at Dalmeny Street and did a camp with 357 regiment at Larkhill in Wiltshire. He enjoyed it as an experience for a fortnight but resisted encouragement to join the TA.

Emergency batteries In the summer of 1940 with invasion expected hourly guns were mounted at every possible landing place on the east and south coast of England. A vast arrange of equipment both, field and naval was used. The importance of the emergency batteries declined after German endeavour was largely switched to Russia and American aeroplanes came to defend Britain. Some guns were moved to North Africa and emergency Batteries were withdrawn certainly after 1944 and probably earlier from Bourhouse.

The guns were only part of the measures taken for the defence of Britain The Defence of Britain project launched by the CBA lists the intensive preparations made to defend the whole country not just the seaward areas.

The letter I got with the local volumes gave, as an example, the details of a pill box at a bridge known to me in the heart of rural Worcestershire. The inventories give an impressive list of check points in this area.

We can still see in this area the remains of concrete tank blocks, concrete pill boxes and the like.

Stephen Bunyan 20 07 20

Further reading

East Lothian at War, 2 volumes Ian Brown and J Tully Jackson
Dunbar A Garrison Town, R J M Pugh
165 OCTU, Stephen Bunyan, East Lothian Life issue 105/6
CBA Twentieth Century Fortifications in the UK Vols 4&5
Gordon Barclay (2013) If Hitler Comes: Preparing for Invasion: Scotland 1940, Published by Berlinn, Edinburgh