Sunday, 29 April 2012

The Siege of Dunottar Castle, Scotland (1651)

A recent business trip to Aberdeen, Scotland produced an unexpected bonus when a client took me out to see the spectacular Dunnottar Castle which is about thirty minutes drive from the 'granite city'. The site is spectacular. The castle sits on the flat top of a rocky outcrop which can only be reached by traversing a single track narrow path or by boat. The cliffs surrounding the castle are sheer vertical inclines and the way up to the castle is secured by a single entrance way set into the rock itself.

Dunnottar Castle
Oliver Cromwell's army laid siege to the castle for eight long months in 1651. The broken parapets which are evident today, are the result of the damage inflicted by the new model army's siege guns. The siege was unsuccessful but as a precaution, the Scottish Crown Jewels which were hidden in the castle, were smuggled out by the wife of the minister (Reverend Grainger) at nearby Kinnef Kirk church. Legend has it that these precious objects were lowered to Mrs Grainger who was waiting on the beach to the South of the outcrop.

Defences at the Gate
There had been a number of earlier sieges at this site. The first couple when Dunottar was known for its' status as a Pictish fortress. These sieges occurred in 693 AD and 934 AD respectively.

During the Scottish Wars of Independence the castle was garrisoned by troops carrying the flag of Edward 1st of England. This after Edward had crushed the forces of John Balliol, King of the Scots.

In 1297 (a year later) William Wallace and his rebel army attacked and took Dunottar. The English garrison was totally destroyed - many in the wooden buildings where they had taken shelter.

The Scottish poet, Blind Harry, wrote an account of this terrible time in his epic poem 'Wallace'. The words, which are shown below,  make chilling reading.

Therefore a fire was brought speedily:
Which burnt the church, and all those South’ron boys:
Out o’er the rock the rest rush’d great noise;
Some hung on craigs, and loath were to die.
Some lap, some fell, some flutter’d in the sea;
And perish’d all, not one remain’d alive.

The bay to the Nouth of Dunottar Castle
Now, the castle is a peaceful place. Though privately owned, the ruins are accessible at set times. On the occasion of my visit the door was firmly locked. The walk along the causeway and around the foot of the mighty rock on which the castle stands, served to show what a formidable fortification this would have been.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Operation Husky, Sicily (1943)

Sicily is a beautiful place at this time of year. The weather is generally good, the fields are a riot of spring colours and the historic sites are not heaving with tourists. My wife and I have just come back from a week on the island. A week that was full of pleasures and interest - one aspect being the opportunity to visit sites associated with the Allied invasion in July 1943.

82nd Airborne Memorial
We spent a few days in the fantastically well preserved medieval town of Modica before moving up to Taormina in the shadow of the awesome Mount Etna. These places have the added advantage of being close to the main 'Operation Husky' battlefields.

The allied armies came ashore in the South East of the island. The British and Canadians on the right in the vicinity of the Pachino Peninsular and the Americans on the left primarily through the flatlands around Gela and Scoglitti.

Our first stop was at the Point Dirillo where, on the 11th July, the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment (82nd Airborne) under Colonel James M. Gavin fought a series of actions in the Acate Valley and the Biazza Ridge to support the American beach assaults which had happened the previous day.

The 82nd Airborne memorial (above) is located at the strategically important Point Dirillo pass which lies between the two primary American beachheads. Above the monument the Italian defences are easily explorable. There are a couple strongpoints linked by a system of trenches on two levels.

Point Dirillo, Sicily
We visited the beach at Scoglitti where the US 45th Infantry Division came ashore - a huge expanse of flat sand giving easy access to the plain beyond.

Somewhat to the North of the American landing beaches the British 5th Division landed at Cassible and immediately struck out towards Syracuse via the Ponte Grande where a force of British Paratroopers Had been badly battered by a strong Italian counter attack on the morning of the 10th July. The bridge was forced by the Bren Gun Carriers of 5th Division and Syracuse fell to the Allies on the evening of the first day. The 926 burials at the CWGC cemetery at Syracuse bears silent testimony to the intensity of the fighting.

Commonwealth War Graves  at Syracuse