World War II had begun, in schools or village halls throughout the country lectures were given on security and home defence. Citizens were advised to be diligent at all times, to be very wary of any strangers in their midst and to report anything unusual to the police. Older people listened attentively for they had already undergone the hardships of World War I. Younger folk listened too but for them there was a kind of excitement in the air. Perhaps they would be called upon soon and could also fight for their country. They might fly in aircraft, sail in naval ships or even drive tanks. They had never experienced the horrors of war but before long many were to come face to face with the dreadful realities which the hostility of war brought about.
One evening while walking with two friends, the importance of those lectures was very forcibly brought home. We intended to go in the direction of Port Culag and maybe hit a few golf balls around. However, a thick mist came in off the sea and we decided to walk to Balintore instead, choosing the grassy path by the foreshore in preference of the main road. The path no longer exists but was once very much in use. The night was very still and the fog made it feel a bit eerie. As we walked along we became aware of voices in the distance, just a jumble of sounds to begin with but they got louder as we marched on. I pondered, could one voice be coming from the sea? There was no doubt that the other was on the shore. Feeling rather apprehensive we decided to investigate. What if a secret agent was about to land? His accomplice was obviously here already. Our imaginations leapt into action! Quietly we walked on and we were soon able to hear what was being said.
“West a bit, west a bit. In a bit yet! Now straight in.” There was an answering voice from the sea and the sound of oars. Then, the voice on the shore again.
“Right in now. That will do.” We were very close by this time and were able to identify the voice on the beach, the man was from Hilton. Our fears more or less vanished and curiosity took over. Down we went to the rocks just below the Balintore hotel, where two men were getting out of a small boat. The Hilton man was with them and immediately appealed for our assistance. There was no place to tie the boat, so he asked if we would hold it for a short time as he wanted to go to the hotel with the two men. He explained that one was a naval officer on urgent compassionate leave who had to get to the station as soon as possible. The other was a rating, he had to take the boat back to his ship which was lying offshore. Of course they wanted a drink first, they’d only be five minutes, or so they said. We consented and when they left we laughed at ourselves for thinking of German spies.
The sea was coming in now and the fog became even denser. Five minutes, ten, then twenty minutes passed and there was no sign of either the Hilton man or the naval rating. We began to worry as the sea surrounded the rock we were on. We questioned whether it would be wise to pull the boat in a bit, however in doing some may damage it. The men could be drunk when they returned and goodness knows how they would behave. Our imaginations were working at full pitch again. At last it was agreed that if they didn’t appear within a few minutes the boat could just take its chances. When our patience was almost exhausted the men returned and thankfully we got back on the shore. The sailor got back into the boat and we listened as he piled his oars over the rocks. He needed no instructions this time as the water was now quite deep. On our homeward way we thought of the many miles of unguarded coastline here in Easter Ross. How easy it would be for secret agents to land after nightfall! They could even land weapons. Those security and homeland defence lectures weren’t so unnecessary after all.
Many years after the war, there was a threat of a different kind. Our ships and planes were constantly shadowing Russian U-boats, they seemed to be everywhere around our coasts. One gentleman sunning himself on the cliffs near the villages was startled to see a submarine surface quite close inshore. Having some naval experience he maintained it definitely wasn’t one of ours. In all probability it was not!
Now, when I walk to the bothy or the summerhouse and look up at the cliffs, then out to the sea, I realise more than ever just how vulnerable our defences were during those dark days of the war. Perhaps we should be just as diligent now. Threats come from different areas, we get begging letters through the post, con-men at our doors and children put in danger from people who sell drugs of all kinds. The need for awareness is still very much with us and I doubt if the carefree pre-war conditions will ever return.