Facing the Bear: Scotland and the Cold War

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Trevor Royle has few rivals as a chronicler of war and its impact on Scotland.

To his previous works on the Civil War, Culloden and the first and second world wars is now added his analysis of how the Cold War affected Scotland and its people in the years after 1945. But he does not merely record the military and strategic aspects of these conflicts, rather he always sets them in their wider political and social contexts and analyses the impacts on Scotland and its citizens.

As in all previous conflicts Scotland supplied many front-line troops, especially in Korea where the world’s geo-political issues threatened to become really “hot”. On the home front the Cold War conflicts were centred around such places as the Holy Loch, host to American Polaris missiles, where CND and other protestors attempted to hinder their further deployment.

A Dunoon Grammar schoolboy, George Robertson, joined the protests and later declared the action to have kindled the interest in politics which led to government posts and latterly the role of Secretary General of NATO. He is now Lord Robertson of Port Ellen.

Royle chronicles the Cold War views and actions of what reads like a Who’s Who  of post 1945 Scotland, among them Lord George MacLeod, Naomi Mitchison, Hugh MacDiarmid, Edwin Muir and Hamish Henderson, composer of the much-vaunted The Freedom Come-All-Ye.

With more than 200 military and intelligence installations in Scotland which provided vital information for the government, there was much for CND and other activists to feel anxious about if the cold war ever heated up as in the Cuban missile crisis of 1962.

Trevor Royle has produced another tour de force in his wide-ranging, scholarly, yet highly readable analysis of Scotland in the Cold War period.

He will talk about Scotland and its experiences through two world wars and the Cold War at the West Over Sea-Tobermory Book Festival on October 27, with particular reference to Mull and the Hebrides.

Trevor Royle. Facing the Bear: Scotland and the Cold War. Birlinn. 2019.

Eric Macintyre