Memories of a Rhu childhood

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churchillselassieWORLD War Two Prime Minister Winston Churchill and President Roosevelt had four major meetings in North America. Trips 1, 3 and 4 left from Faslane where Churchill's special train parked in the siding there. The second left from Stranraer.

Churchill left Faslane on the former LMS Glen Sannox-type fast turbine steamers, accompanied by his Chief of Staff.

The first trip was on the Duke of York, the newest battleship, which sailed on December 13 1941 to Washington.

His second trip, also to Washington, was in a flying boat called Bristol on June 16 1942. They were in the air for 26 hours.

The next two trips were on the Queen Mary. The liner only had escorts at the point of departure and arrival, but she sailed at speed, zig-zagged and would not stop und ser any circumstances.

The third meeting was in Quebec, and the ship sailed on August 6 1943 for Halifax, Nova Scotia, arriving on August 9. In addition to the normal party Mountbatten, Guy Gibson of Dambuster fame and Orde Wingate of Chindit fame were on board.

During the voyage Churchill joked that any U Boat captain who sank the liner would be famous.

The fourth meeting was also in Quebec, and the Queen Mary sailed for Halifax on September 6, 1944, arriving on September 10.

Haile Selassie (pictured above with Churchill in 1952) lived on a large yacht called the Nahleen, owned by a family called Yuile, before moving to a rented house on the Point road, Rhu Lodge — later rented on one occasion by Noel Coward.

He used to walk around the village escorted by his detectives and was very friendly to children.

The yacht was taken over by the navy and after the war it became a floating restaurant in Romania. It was in a terrible state when bought about four years ago and then was modernised in Devonport Dockyard.

The Gareloch in the 1930s was home to a large number of cargo ships which were laid up. In the winter storms from the north west a number always went aground. They went back into service when World War Two began. Near to Gully Bridge slipways were constructed to load large landing craft, and lots of ships were loaded there for D-Day.

An unusual incident took place at Rhu Spit when it was longer than it is today. During World War Two a destroyer coming up at a fair speed took the wrong side of the light was aground for a while.

Dr Charles Blatherwick (1836-1895) and his daughter Lily (1854-1934), both talented watercolour artists, lived in Rhu at Dunaivon, and some of his works are in the Anderson Collection.

Artist and portrait painter Sir James Guthrie RSA (1859-1930) kept a seaplane in a small hangar below his house, Rowmore. As children we used to hang around as it came and went, alas in vain. You can still see the remains of the rails on the beach where the main road curves to the right just past the pier.

The head of Clan McDonnell lived and owned land on what is now the Caledonian Canal. He was an unusual person. He was against the Canal and did everything he could to obstruct it, but when it went ahead he was on the first ship to go through it.

But the ship ran aground and he died from his injuries. The family moved to Rhu, and his three daughters were married in Rhu Church.

  • Heritage Trust life member Howard MacDonald, born in Rhu in 1928, lived there and then in Helensburgh until 1955, and now lives in Weybridge in Surrey. The former Hermitage School pupil, who rose to become Company Secretary of Royal Dutch Shell and then Chief Executive of Dome Petroleum in Canada, returns to Scotland once a year to spend a week at his timeshare at Gleneagles.