Tuesday, December 12, 2023

April-May 1944: Uncle Paul Went to Rhubana Lodge (STS 22)

After Uncle Paul completed the SOE assessment at Winterfold, he was sent to the Group A (paramilitary) Specialist Training School (STS) 22 at Rhubana Lodge, at Morar, Inverness-shire, which is in Scotland, right on the western shore of Loch Morar, in a rather remote area:

Morar in the northern end of the the UK.

Map closeup: Note the red heart - that's Rhubana Lodge,
between Loch Morar and the Sea of the Hebrides in the North Atlantic.

Here's what the place looked like over 100 years ago:

Rhubana Lodge in 1913.
Image courtesy of University of St Andrews Libraries and Museums.
See links below for high-res version

I think it's still pretty remote almost a century later. Here's a photo of the lodge taken in 2017, and it's incredibly lovely. Give me a place like this over the (also lovely!) Winterfold House any day.

Image by J.M. Briscoe ("Doffcocker"): https://flic.kr/p/YJBfbQ

Image by J.M. Briscoe ("Doffcocker"): https://flic.kr/p/ZLzxeQ

According to Denis Rigden in SOE Syllabus:

    The paramilitary schools, or group A schools, were opened between November 1940 and June 1941. Numbered STS 21 to STS 25C, they were based in 10 shooting lodges in the Arisaig and Morar areas of Inverness-shire. The surrounding countryside, which includes Loch Morar and Loch Nevis, is rugged and remote, ideal for the commando-style training that was provided… STS 22a, at Glasnacardoch Lodge, Mallaig, was a foreign-weapons school. The only instruction not given in Inverness-shire was parachute training.

    The Arisaig and Morar group of schools could accommodate up to 75 students. Courses at first lasted three weeks but were gradually increased to five. The main subjects on the syllabus, details of which changed often, included physical training, silent killing, weapons handling, demolition, map reading and compass work, field craft, elementary Morse and raid tactics.

STS 22 was commanded by Major G. Maxwell, and the training Uncle Paul got there was (I think) the equivalent of basic training in the military, though an abbreviated version of it.  But he continued learning Morse, plus how to fight, shoot, and blow thing up.  

Here is what his STS 22 instructors wrote about Uncle Paul in May of 1944:

That's definitely an improved opinion of him over what they had to say at SAB/STS 7 ("This man is neither dominant, robust nor aggressive. Signs of indecision, carelessness and rather an offhand manner may be due to feelings of social inferiority ... in any unusual situation there was a good deal of hesitation and nervousness."). So he was improving and getting more comfortable even in the short time since he was first assessed by the SOE.

The UKNA file doesn't give the exact dates he was at Rhubana. But we know the class started out 3 weeks long, quickly growing to 5 weeks, but the clues in the file suggest that his training was on the shorter end. I believe the timeline must have looked like this (or something very close to it):

  • 20 April 1944: Assessment at STS 7 concluded*
  • 21 April 1944: Travel from STS 7 to STS 22
  • 22 April 1944: Begin STS 22 paramilitary training
  • 12 May 1944: Complete STS 22 paramilitary training (3 weeks)
  • 13 May 1944: Travel from STS 22 to STS 51
  • 14 May 1944: Begin training at STS 51*

* Known dates

I've sent away for three publications put together by the Land, Sea, and Island Centre of Arisaig, a historical society in the area, to learn more about the training Uncle Paul went through, and they look very promising:

The miniseries on Netflix called Churchill's Secret Agents: The New Recruits episodes two and three deal with the paramilitary training.

Neither episode was filmed at Rhubana, however, as it's privately owned. According to IMDb, "the filming [for the series] took place at the Alvie and Dalraddy Estates (4 miles from Aviemore) in the Cairngorms and Forglen Estate, near Turriff in Aberdeenshire."

Links and references and other related and interesting stuff:

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