Recently the Helensburgh Heritage Trust website received this inquiry from a professor based in Canberra, Australia.
John Rayner wrote: “I am currently undertaking research on the degaussing of naval ships during World War Two, degaussing being the process of demagnetising a ship to protect it from magnetic mines.
“The records I have obtained from the Australian Archives for 1940-42 contain many signals from the Australian Navy address to Cairndhu House, Helensburgh. I was wondering if you have any records regarding degaussing activities at Cairndhu House.”
As it happens, the inquiry went to the right person, Trust company secretary John Johnston, who replied: “I have an interest, as during the war my grandmother, Mrs Brenda Johnston, had over 200 naval officers billetted in her house all involved with degaussing. I remember meeting them when coming on holiday.”
John was able to tell the professor that Cairndhu was built in 1871 for John Ure, Lord Provost of Glasgow, whose son became Lord Strathclyde.
“It is a grand house,“ he wrote, “a miniature French chateau in Francois 1 style. The interior has splendid features such as a dramatic black and gold Anglo-Japanese ceiling with sunflowers, bamboo and birds. There is very good stained glass by Daniel Cottier.
“After the Second World War it was a hotel, and it is now a nursing home. I do not know what happened during the war, but I suspect it was requisitioned for the navy because of the enormous activity in the quickly built port in the Gareloch.”
Such is the speed of the internet that Professor Rayner responded after some research: “It sounds like a magnificent property. It seems that it was requisitioned in September 1940 and set up as an outstation of HMS Vernon, the Portsmouth shore base with special responsibility for mines.
”The house was assigned the name HMS Revlis, also the name of a motor yacht employed at Helensburgh, and given over to degaussing operations. It was returned in 1947.”
Both plan to continue their research, and Mr Johnston would be glad to hear from anyone who can add to their knowledge.
He still lives in Rhu Arden, Upper Sutherland Crescent, where his grandmother lived from 1904, and says that other similar houses had service personnel billetted, and after the Clydebank blitz many provided homes for evacuees.