Wigtownshire in Wartime
BBC Reporter Follows in the Footsteps of Sir Winston Churchill
On the 8th of May 2020 we commemorate the end of the War in Europe as the 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe (VE 75) is celebrated and those who committed so much, including those who gave their lives to restore peace are remembered.
VE Day has special significance to Knockinaam Lodge, as this former Victorian hunting lodge now a boutique hotel is said to have been a meeting place for D-Day talks. In 1944, it is believed that Prime Minister Winston Churchill and US General Dwight Eisenhower held a secret strategic meeting to flesh out plans for the D-Day landings at Knockinaam, then a private residence. Due to the hushhush nature of meetings that took place during this sensitive time, finding concrete proof of the meeting at Knockinaam Lodge has been a long-term task for owners, David and Sian Ibbotson and recently with the help of a local historian and former Royal Air Force (RAF) airman and explosives factory engineer, Morris Service the search for proof has heightened.
The BBC Visit Knockinaam to Uncover the D-Day Secrets
Curiosity about this clandestine meeting at Knockinaam Lodge between these two powerful strategists led to a visit by Mike McEacheran, writing for the BBC to commemorate last year’s 75th anniversary of the D-Day Landings. Mike spent a few nights at Knockinaam, soaking up the atmosphere at this secluded hotel. With private cove and surrounded by high cliffs, it is not hard to understand why this property would have been regarded as a perfect place for a meeting that no-one would know had taken place.
Knockinaam was originally built in 1869 as a hunting lodge for the Hunter-Blair family. During the war it was owned by the Orr-Ewing family, and with a family connection in the Chamberlain War Cabinet, which included Winston Churchill, it is said that Churchill and Eisenhower were invited to make use of Knockinaam Lodge and in early 1944 they quietly plotted the D-Day Landings from here. Of course, this meeting was one of many to plan an operation on the scale of the D-Day but each meeting would have made crucial steps in refining what we all now know as the catalyst for bringing about Victory in Europe.
While Mike was a guest at Knockinaam he carried out his own research and found the information uncovered by 81-year-old Dumfries & Galloway aviation historian, Mr Service to be invaluable in the writing of his article. Sian Ibbotson helped Morris with his research, gathering historical documents and anecdotal information, while Morris widened his search for proof, trying to contact various people who may have been able to shine a light on this meeting. One written account read was from a WREN who remembered a meeting in Largs, Ayrshire. She said it involved Prime Minister Winston Churchill, Lord Mountbatten, Chief of Combined Operations and General Dwight Eisenhower. The Largs Conference, which was codenamed RATTLE, may have been one of 4 occasions both men were in Scotland and near enough to have included a secret meeting at Knockinaam. Both men travelled by plane and train to reach each strategic point to inspect places where troops were preparing and to meet and discuss progress. Morris reached out to the grandson of Eisenhower’s train attendant, who kept details of train journeys, hoping this might reveal written proof that on one of these occasions there was a re-route to take in a meeting at Knockinaam but sadly this drew a blank.
It is documented that Eisenhower spent a mini-holiday fly-fishing in Scotland, while also inspecting troops in March 1944, so was this a disguise and was he really there to meet with Churchill at Knockinaam? He also flew from Blackpool to Northern Ireland later that same spring, again did he fit in a secret meeting at a secluded hunting lodge in nearby south west Scotland? There was also a visit to Garlieston, nearby to Knockinaam, by high ranking US officials who had a problem to solve given that it had been discovered there was not enough naval piping equipment to raise the Mulberry Harbour concrete section – at Garlieston there was a section of the man-made harbour that was used to trial landing on the beaches at Normandy, since the beaches there were regarded to replicate those troops would encounter once they reached the other side of the English Channel. The shortfall on piping was solved by Churchill offering piping equipment from London Fire Brigade. Was Churchill at Knockinaam and did Eisenhower, who was staying at Culzean Castle, within easy reach of Knockinaam, pay a visit to this secretive location to talk about progress and the plans for D-Day?
The Search for proof of Knockinaam’s WW2 military history goes on
Having spent countless house researching and speaking with people, Morris and Sian have not yet given up and more information continues to be uncovered. Sian explains: “Over the years there have been many rumours of Churchill meeting Eisenhower here at Knockinaam Lodge, whilst a private residence, to discuss the D-Day Landings. We have heard of many stories from local residents, some backing up the rumours and others refuting that it happened. All David and I can say is that when we bought Knockinaam, 16 years ago, the previous owners were certain that it did occur. They had seen a photograph of the two men shaking hands in front of the Drawing Room fireplace. That photograph belonged to a local resident and we are still trying to find it; we are sure that it is out there somewhere.
Discover the Solway Military Trail in Dumfries and Galloway
What really went on at Knockinaam and in the area during those crucial years of the war may never be completely uncovered. We can only imagine what was going through Churchill’s mind as he looked out to sea from the lawn at Knockinaam Lodge. While Sian and Morris continue the search for definitive proof about Knockinaam’s part in the the D-Day Landings, guests at this luxury hotel can but imagine the intense discussions that may have gone on here in this peaceful hide-away. Relax in the Morning Room and reaching out for one of the books in the collection on Churchill and Eisenhower, immerse yourself in this period of modern history that continues to touch so many as we remember the ingenuity of the people who made great efforts to bring war to an end and those who made the ultimate sacrifice.
To commemorate Knockinaam’s military connection and the wealth of military history of Wigtownshire the hotel will be running a Wigtownshire at War, Special Break later this year in October, with a guided tour of significant locations near to Knockinaam.