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Dunbar Wars

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The following quote provides a number of interesting points about Dunbar:

In 1914, the year of the Great War, Dunbar was an important cavalry depot. Among the regiments stationed there were the 1st King’s Dragoons, the 17th Lancers, reconstituted after the disastrous Charge of the Light Brigade during the Crimean War - a survivor, Sergeant John Penn is buried in the local churchyard – the Lanarkshire Yeomanry, the Lothian and Border Horse, the 1st Royal Dragoons, the Scots Greys, the Royal Scots and the King’s Own Scottish Borderers. During that terrible war, men who were stationed at Dunbar served in every theatre of the war, from the Western Front to Gallipoli and the Middle East. Although as far as can be ascertained, Charles Hamilton Sorley never served at Dunbar, although he had relatives in the town. Sorley, a promising war poet whose handful of war poems are only now beginning to be recognised as comparable with the war poems of Siegfried Sassoon, Robert Graves and Wilfrid Owen. Sorley was killed at Loos aged 20 in 1915. Yet another ‘first’ for Dunbar were the preliminary trials to develop the airborne torpedo over Belhaven Sands. By the war’s end the local war memorial bore the names of 12 officers, 108 other ranks and that of one woman, Sister Violet Fraser, one of Elsie Inglis’ famous nurse contingent sent to nurse the wounded in Serbia.

By 1939, the Castle Park Barracks had assumed a new significance, becoming the HQ of the 165th Officer Cadet Training Unit (OCTU). Dunbar again became an armed camp, its wide, flat beaches suitable for a airborne invasion. Elaborate defences were built – anti-tank blocks, dragons’ teeth, mines and stout poles embedded in concrete in the sands to deter glider aircraft landings.

Less was known about the clandestine, top-secret operations at Belhaven Hill School which housed personnel of the Special Operations Executive made famous by its agents dropped into occupied France - women like Odette Churchill and Violet Szabo. Teams of operatives worked round the clock at Belhaven School, decoding messages sent from France in morse code, forwarding to General Command in England.

The first and last shots of World War 2 were fired off Dunbar, the first in October 1939 when the Luftwaffe attacked the major naval base at Rosyth Naval Dockyard and passed over Dunbar. The town was bombed only twice, in 1941 and 1942, with only one fatal casualty, five wounded and minor damage sustained by several houses. The community raised an impressive sum of the East Lothian contribution to ‘Battleship Week’ in 1943 which led to the commissioning of HMS Dunbar a minesweeper which took part in the D-Day landings in 1944. Although not the first warship of that name – Cromwell had given that name to one of his warships – the officers and crew expressed pride in being the first to sail in what they believed to be the first naval vessel of the name.

The last action of the war occurred a few miles off Dunbar, when despite the surrender, a German U-boat attacked and sank two merchantmen off the May Island before sailing home to surrender. The military continued to use Dunbar as a garrison town and tank training ground for a further decade until 1955, when the War Office sold Castle Park Barracks to the Burgh Council, which sadly allowed it to deteriorate until the 1990s, when the fine Georgian building was converted into flats.

- Swords, Loaves and Fishes: A History of Dunbar by Roy Pugh

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