Case Study: Wartime Remains in the Cromarty Firth

Susan Kruse

During World War I and World War II the Cromarty Firth in Easter Ross was a restricted area, with military camps, defences, airfields, practice trenches, ammunition stores, offices and other installations. A surprising amount survives, and many have been the subject of community investigations.

At the steep cliffs at the entrance to the firth, the North and South Sutors had extensive fortifications at two coastal batteries and camps. These are in the process of detailed survey work by Allan Kilpatrick of HES with local help (MHG8373; MHG8556). In some places original WWI camouflage paint still survives. The preservation is so good that the sites have been scheduled. Army bases were established at the base of the Sutors, at Nigg to the north (where nothing survives) and at Cromarty to the south, where there was also an early seaplane base (MHG30329).

Figure 1: View from Evanton towards the Sutors. ©Susan Kruse
Figure 2: Rare aerial photograph showing Invergordon, likely just after WWI. ©Invergordon Museum

In World War I, Invergordon was a major naval port, but also with an army presence. The archival and surviving remains have been investigated as part of an important community project which produced a listing of sites, trail leaflet and booklet (Kruse et al 2017).

To the west of Invergordon at Dalmore Distillery the US Navy established a base towards the end of World War I in order to assemble and ship mines for laying in the Northern Barrage between Orkney and Norway. Some buildings survive or can be traced on the ground. These were investigated by a community project involving Invergordon Museum and Alness Heritage Centre, with results published in a booklet which combined community investigations at the sister site in Inverness and defences on the Black Isle (Harvey and Kruse 2020).

Brick and concrete structure open to the air with a large concrete-lined hole in the ground next to it.
Figure 3: Cromarty Firth gun emplacement, North Sutor. ©Susan Kruse
A box-shaped brick building, with the door blocked up, sitting near the shore of the Cromarty Firth.
Figure 4: One of several pillboxes preserved at WWll Evanton Airfield. © Alan Kinghorn

At Rhicullen to the north of Invergordon, World War practice trenches can still be traced, a rare survival (MHG50626).

The Cromarty Firth was even busier during World War II. Most of the remains on the North and South Sutors date to this period. Invergordon was no longer a major Naval repair base, but was used for refuelling, involving the construction of the massive oil reservoirs at Inchindown (MHG35519) which still survive. Most of Invergordon was taken over by the RAF, who also expanded to Dalmore and Alness when space became limited. The army also had camps, including one taken over by Polish regiments. WWII Invergordon and Dalmore were also investigated by local groups, collecting valuable memories of the era. Their research is published on the Invergordon Museum website and a booklet (Kruse et al 2017).

A small brick building in a grassy area.
Figure 5: WWI Detonator store, from the US Naval Mine base at Dalmore. ©Susan Kruse
Figure 6: Interior of Tank 6, Inchindown, 2011. ©HES

Airfields were situated further up the firth at Evanton and to the north at Fearn (MHG19584) and Tain (MHG18739). Evanton was also investigated by a community project, producing a trail leaflet and booklet (Kruse 2013b). Limited work has been done at Fearn as well, combining oral history and some survey. No work has been undertaken at Tain, despite preserving a remarkably intact theatre-style operations room (MHG18952), which fortunately is now listed. Wartime remains also exist at Dingwall at the end of the Firth, but have also not had much study.

These community projects have shown the potential for archive research, memories, and survey to record important wartime remains and the impact of the military presence on the local communities. In particular they also showed the value of tapping local memories, which is reaching a critical point for World War II informants. Most of the sites are not listed, and yearly some remains disappear. Other areas in the Highlands, particularly Loch Ewe, Wester Ross and Caithness, have similarly well-preserved wartime remains which also need detailed recording. The work also has economic possibilities for tapping into wartime tourism.

Six workers posing for a picture in front of a World War 1 generator.
Figure 7: WWI Generating station, Invergordon. Note the female worker. ©HES

Further information

Harvey, Adrian and Kruse, Susan (eds) 2020 The Northern Barrage. The Fence across the North Sea in WWI, Inverness Local History Forum: Inverness.

Kruse, Susan, McIntosh, Una and Gaston, Catherine 2017 Wartime Invergordon: a town transformed, Invergordon Museum: Invergordon.

Archaeology Scotland – Women at War

Invergordon Museum