First World War buildings on the map

Searchlight emplacements, pillboxes and a firing range at Portkil on the Rosneath Peninsula are included in a new audit of First World War buildings in Scotland.

The audit was commissioned by Historic Scotland and the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland and saw records of 900 buildings updated.

One the map, a century afterwards - first word war defences
One the map, a century afterwards – first word war buildings are marked by blue dots

As Scotland prepares to commemorate the centenary of world war one, the audit of wartime assets aims a fuller picture of the country’s part in the war at a local and national level.

The audit is available online in searchable format.

The structures at Portkil, some of which are still clearly visible today, were one of five coastal batteries built to defend port and shipyards on the Clyde.

It was a powerful battery of two six-inch naval guns, capable of tackling a large enemy warship coming up the river, and two 4.7-inch quick fire guns intended to tackle faster, smaller vessels.

This battery was paired with another, at Fort Matilda, on the south side of the estuary. The estuary is about 2.2km wide here, but the larger guns had a range of almost 11km, firing an armour-piercing shell weighing 45kg.

Maps drawn in 1916 also show the defences of the battery itself, to protect it from an enemy attack by land.

Defensive trenches were dug on the tip of Portkil Point and the whole landward side of the battery was surrounded by a barbed wire entanglement and six blockhouses or pillboxes.

An outer line of defences was constructed between 700m and 1.6km from the battery, comprising five ‘positions’, each of which had one, three, or most commonly two, blockhouses, and trenches: there were 12 pillboxes in total in the outer defensive line.

The headquarters of the defensive troops was at Portkil farm.

The six-inch guns were removed in 1916 and installed further down the river at the Cloch Point battery.

The two smaller guns were removed in 1928.

The drill hall in Lomond Street, Helensburgh, is also included – it has now been demolished, although it was B-listed.

The audit’s author, Dr Gordon Barclay, said: “The audit has more than tripled the number of places known to be associated with Scotland’s contribution to the First World War, both military and civilian, and has revealed an extraordinary variety of structures, reflecting Scotland’s importance to the war effort.

“The audit is only the first step, and other places no doubt remain to be identified, and the wartime role of many other places will certainly come to light during the centenary of the war.”

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