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Caithness at War: Week 2

11-17 September 1939

The second full week of the war saw the French offensive in the Rhine officially halted on Tuesday 12 September after an advance of just five miles. On Saturday 16 September German forces surrounded Warsaw; the next day Russian forces invaded Poland from the east. On Sunday Japan attacked the Chinese city of Changsa.

Schools across Caithness reopened after being closed for the first week of the war, and were already receiving children evacuated from towns and cities. Forss School recorded on Tuesday, “Three children admitted – evacuees from Edinburgh”.

In Wick, “All the school, playgrounds, etc.” of New North School were formally requisitioned by the Air Ministry, and alternative accommodation would have to be found for the children.

Wartime measures came into force following the first meeting of the County Council since war broke out, on 15 September. Although rationing had not yet started, a Food Control Committee had been established for the county and the County Clerk was appointed the Food Executive Officer. It was arranged to hire the Parish Church Hall, High Street, Wick as the Food Control Office at £3 a week.

Local authorities had been made responsible for ensuring that petrol supplies remained available for Special Services. In Caithness the Chief Constable proposed that the police “take possession of a petrol tank in each of the Burghs of Wick and Thurso and Landward Area”.

Finally, the meeting noted that Captain H.A. Taylor of Sandside had donated to the Council a “shooting brake” (i.e., an estate car), for conversion to an ambulance for the use of the Air Raid Precautions service.

Thurso Burgh Council also met this week, on 12th September, when Inspector Macleod “referred to some difficulty which had arisen during the first week of the black-out” – although the exact nature of the difficulty was not recorded – and requested early closing of shops in the town.

One unexpected consequence of the war came from a letter from the Department of Health to the Burgh, stating that in view of the outbreak of hostilities, all new housing schemes should be suspended and any that had already started should be speeded up and completed as soon as possible.

It was agreed to provide a canteen in Thurso Town Hall for servicemen (“to supply the men with tea, sandwiches, etc. and to provide games and writing facilities”). Although the naval authorities hadn’t requisitioned the Hall it was being used as sleeping accommodation for the men passing through the town, and the Council resolved to seek full compensation.