As Aberdeenshire and Clydesbank learned in 1941, one can mind one’s own business and war will still, sadly, find you.
Rescue Party, Kilmun Street [Maryhill, Glasgow], 1940, Ian Fleming, courtesy National Galleries Scotland
I attended church on Sunday with the Iona Community. This began as a project to find new ways to live in Christian community, one of which involved rebuilding Iona Abbey. The movement was started in 1938 by George MacLeod, a Church of Scotland minister whose WW1 experiences led him to socialism and pacifism. His modern-day followers are devoted to social justice and peace. As sadly sometimes happens, that seems to mean excising Christ from the Creed in this foundational place of Christian worship.
Scotland suffered more than 500 German air raids during the course of WW2. Other than London, Peterhead in Aberdeenshire was the second-most bombed location in Britain, with 28 airstrikes. Aberdeen following closely with 24.
Shelters in a tenement lane, Glasgow, 1942, drypoint etching, Ian Fleming, courtesy National Galleries Scotland
The worst was the Clydebank Blitz, on March 13-14, 1941. Clydebank abuts Glasgow,. It was a working-class shipbuilding, oil depot and munitions town. The Luftwaffe dropped more than a thousand bombs and 100,000 incendiaries. The close mix of industry and housing meant inevitable loss of life.
In terms of military objective, the raids were a failure. While most industrial targets were damaged, none sustained a death blow. The human cost was horrific. Twelve hundred people died, a thousand were seriously injured, and hundreds more were injured by blast debris. A third of all housing was destroyed; another third was seriously damaged. The water, gas, and electricity systems were ruined. Clydebank was so badly damaged that it became the only British town evacuated during the war.
Bomb Crater, Knightswood, 1942, Ian Fleming, courtesy Glasgow Museums Resource Centre
In Glasgow, there were at least 11 airstrikes. In one attack, a mine landed between a tram and a tenement on Nelson Street, killing 110 people. On the same night, 67 people were killed at Yarrow shipyard.
The attacks were recorded by an artist with the unfortunate name of Ian Fleming. He was born in Glasgow in 1906, and attended the Glasgow School of Art.
The Blitz, Glasgow, 1942, drypoint etching, Ian Fleming
With the start of hostilities in 1939, Fleming became a reserve policeman. It was while doing this that he recorded his experience of the Glasgow Blitz. In 1941, he joined the Royal Pioneer Corps. He was at Normandy and on the drive through the Low Countries, across the Rhine and into Germany.
These experiences seemed to have never damaged his essential good humor. “Ian Fleming was an avuncular presence, invariably supportive of the up-and-coming, with a fund of knowledge, anecdote and good sense delivered as incisive advice when needed,” read his obituary.
The peaceniks of Iona are aging now; they are among the last of us to remember WW2 and its immediate aftermath. They’ve chosen an excellent place to escape the world. Iona looks and feels like the end of the earth. But as Aberdeen and Clydesbank learned in 1941, one can mind one’s own business and war will still, sadly, find you.
Shelter interior, Glasgow, 1942, pen and wash with chalk, Ian Fleming, courtesy National Galleries Scotland
That’s what happened to the first religious retreat on Iona. A series of Viking raids began in 794 AD. After it had been plundered many times, St. Columba’s relics were removed and the monastery was abandoned. And still, its evangelical Christianity survived. In fact, it ultimately, peacefully, conquered the Norse themselves.