The Second World War & Scotland
No event in modern history has caused as much upheaval in Scotland as the Second World War. The battle against Hitler once again saw Scots in the front line of the fighting – only this time, civilians at home suffered as much as the soldiers, sailors and airmen who were confronting the enemy directly. The war brought death, misery and destruction to Scotland on a huge scale. But it also helped to make Scots of all classes rub shoulders with each other, and to give the economy a lift it desperately needed after the dark years of the Depression. When war with Hitler was declared in 1939, there was little enthusiasm in Scotland for the fight, although there was a stern resolution that Nazi-ism was an evil, which had to be countered.
In the first few months of the fighting, virtually nothing happened. This was the so-called Phoney War, although there was one huge exception towards the end of 1939 when a German U-boat torpedoed the HMS Royal Oak at Scapa Flow off Orkney, where, ironically, the German fleet had been deliberately scuttled after the First World War.
Concrete anti-tank barriers were built along the East Coast to head off an invasion. In the Highlands, vast tracts of land were turned into an armed camp and used for commando training purposes. The area was practically sealed off, with anyone wanting to go north or west of the Great Glen only being allowed to enter with a special pass.
By the time the war ended in 1945, more than 57,000 Scots had died. The casualty toll was less than half that of the Great War, but the fight had been every bit as traumatic.