Danger on the school run – training at the replica Atlantic Wall, Sheriffmuir, 1943

In the school records for Dunblane, there is a file of correspondence covering the years of the Second World War that include some remarkable letters about the period in 1943 when troops were training near Dunblane.

As part of the preparation for the D Day Landings that took place in 1944, the British Government built replicas of the Atlantic Wall fortifications at various sites in the UK. The Atlantic Wall was constructed by the Axis powers between 1942 and 1944 using slave labour and extended from the northern tip of Norway down to Spain. The intention was to prevent invasion from the British Isles. When the D Day landings were envisioned, it became clear that some sort of training in breaching this defensive wall would be necessary for the Allied troops. Details about the construction of the various fortifications that made up the wall were smuggled out of mainland Europe by brave members of the resistance in various countries. These details and plans were used to build sections of wall for training use in at least 5 locations in the UK. The locations were top secret: the men who were contracted to build the structures were taken to the sites in covered vans and had no idea where they were working. You can find out more about the Atlantic Wall and the Sheriffmuir section of it here.

The Sheriffmuir section of wall was completed by early summer of 1943 and troops were taken to the area for training. As well as tank assaults on the structure, the soldiers were trained in shelling it to test how the maximum damage might be achieved. Notice was supposed to be given by the War Ministry to farmers and other people living locally as to when this was to happen so that people and livestock could be kept out of the way. This wasn’t always the case, however, as this correspondence testifies.

It would appear that 3 children were routinely taken by taxi from Sheriffmuir and Lairhill to their school in Dunblane. On the 21st of May, 1943, the driver of this taxi, John Penny was taking the children home along the Sheriffmuir Road at the end of the school day as usual when a shell flew over the roof of his vehicle and burst in the ground at the side of the road nearby. He had been warned by a soldier that there might be shelling in that area but apparently this was normal practice and nothing had ever come so close before. Although he and his charges were unharmed, he felt that it was necessary to warn the local constabulary who in turn notified the School Management Committee who then took this up with the Perthshire Education Committee. After some negotiation, the military authorities agreed to suspend shelling between 9 o’clock and 9.30 and 12.30 and 1 o’clock and the school run became less dangerous for these three Dunblane scholars.

Remnants of the Atlantic Wall can still be seen today at Sheriffmuir above Dunblane.