How Lanark Lanimers declared war on Hitler

Heilarious...Hitler spoof (Photo courtesy of Lanark Museum Trust)
Heilarious...Hitler spoof (Photo courtesy of Lanark Museum Trust)

IT’S probably just as well that there were few if any Germans at the 1939 Lanimer Day Procession...or World War 2 might have started three months sooner than it did!

There’s a bit of a popular myth these days that Britain was almost totally unprepared - and indeed shocked - to find itself at war with Germany for the second time in a generation on September 3, 1939.

Well, it certainly didn’t come as any great surprise to Gazette readers, especially the ones who spectated at that last peacetime Lanimer parade in June of that year.

For, while certain London newspapers like, infamously, the Daily Mail were still politely referring to the evil dictator as “Herr Hitler”, Lanark had already made up its mind that Adolf was a bad ’un and so mercilessly lampooned the Fuhrer in a comedy Lanimer lorry entry.

The crowds lining the route reportedly laughed uproariously as Lanarkian Thomas Gibson (pictured) dressed up as the German leader to rave nonsense at them.

In a way, it was the reporting of little incidents like these in the Gazettes of the time that gives you a clearer picture of what ordinary people were thinking and doing that last pre-war summer than any history book will today.

It is almost beyond belief now but, just a few years before the War a rally of two thousand black-shirted members of the British Union of Fascists was held at Lanark Racecourse; what the good folk of the town thought of this invasion by Sir Oswald Mosley’s Nazi sympathisers is not recorded in the paper but it’s hardly to the town’s credit that their host was a certain well-kent Royal Burgh businessman of the day. (We’ll refrain from naming him to spare his descendants’ blushes!)

A far more popular gathering was held at Douglas that May when our very own local regular regiment The Cameronians celebrated the 250th anniversary of their founding with a traditional Conventicle parade.

Without recourse to the national media, the people of Clydesdale had, by September of 1939, found out for themselves what evil they faced.

A congregation of a Law kirk were certainly not under any illusions, having had, as a guest speaker earlier that year, a German pastor who had escaped his own homeland just ahead of the pursuing Gestapo, intent on arresting him and throwing him into a concentration camp.

He told the shocked villagers that his crime had been to preach a sermon pointing out that ordinary German Christians were being faced with an intolerable choice; they could worship either Hitler or God but NOT both.

Even the Lanark Presbytery were eventually diverted to issues like this and away from the most important item on their agenda in the spring of 1939, campaigning against local golf clubs being allowed to open for play on Sundays!

In the meantime, the local authority had been quietly drawing up lists of all the homes in Carluke, Lanark and the larger villages with spare accommodation; this was not with a view to introducing an early form of Bedroom Tax but with the chilling aim of finding places for refugees from London if their city was flattened by bombing.

Much the same thought was behind the planning of the new hospital outside Law village; again, this was meant to treat the many thousands of casualties of the expected Blitz on the English capital.

Just three days after war was declared on September 3, the first batch of child evacuees arrived at Lanark Station to be distributed to the relative safety of local homes. They were the first of many thousands.