Kincraig – a key point in history

IT'S an odd combination – but nature and Eastern European heritage have combined to make Elie's Shell Bay and its surroundings one of the most intriguing areas in the land.

The ground at Kincraig, Ruddon's Point and Cocklemill Burn has rare natural characteristics and also boasts the higest viewpoint on the Coastal Path.

It's also significant in terms of wartime coastal defences and the creation of a foreign military unit, which stands proudly as a symbol of Britain's war effort.

The fascinating legacy of this corner of the East Neuk is to be recounted in a book by Leven man Ron Morris.

A keen naturalist and military historian, he is researching the story of the gun battery at Kincraig, which was crucial to the area's shoreline defences, and the firing range at Ruddon's Point, used by the volunteer/Territorial army over a 100-year period.

Ron is also eager to tell the story of Polish paratroopers who trained at Shell Bay in the Second World War.

They staged an exercise in 1941 in the form of an assault on Kincraig battery, which was to have a significant bearing on the Allied war effort.

The mission led to the formation of the 1st Independent (Polish) Parachute Brigade, which was to play a significant role at Arnhem in `Operation Market Garden', the wartime campaign famously recounted in the 1977 film `A Bridge Too Far'.

And, as another anniversary of that original exercise approaches, Ron, of Haughgate Street, believes there should be some kind of official acknowledgement.

"Looking back, this was a monumental moment in the history of the brigade and deserves recognition," he said. "It would be good if a plaque could be erected on site eventually."

Ron Morris, a retired policeman, who jokingly admitted he'll "investigate anything", has long had a passionate interest in the Shell Bay vicinity.

His police duties included a spell as wildlife liaison officer before he left Fife Constabulary in 2003, while he and his friend, Mike Ramage, have worked on several previous books detailing the local wildlife.

They are being supported in this latest venture by Save Wemyss Ancient Caves Society, Fife countryside ranger Deirdre Munro and Shell Bay caravan park manager Kate Forbes, among others.

In terms of geology and natural history, Ron reckons Kincraig/Shell Bay is one of the most fascinating stretches of the Kingdom.

Kincraig cliffs offered the highest viewpoint on the Fife Coastal Path, while the general area was part of the Chain Walk and contained interesting caves, rock formations and flora, he said. It was also a fine wildlife habitat, with favourable spots from which to see whales, dolphins and migratory birds.

Ron has already done extensive research but he would like to hear from anyone with any more information about the gun battery, the firing range – and the presence of the Poles.

In the 1860s, the volunteer army, which became the Territorial Army, with recruits from around Colinsburgh, Elie, Largoward and Largo, began using Ruddon's Point as a firing range, continuing right up until the 1960s when the ground was sold to a caravan firm.

The Shell Bay area, boosted in 1857 by the opening of a railway link, was also developed as a military camp, where sometimes up to 1000 men were billeted. Huge crowds would visit the area on holiday to see their relatives at the camp, explained Ron.

Coastal artillery defences were extended along the islands on both sides of the Forth, with six-inch guns positioned at Kincraig and at Archerfield on the East Lothian side.

As World War Two brought a more serious threat of invasion, the weapons became larger and more sophisticated, and their placing more strategic, before the site reverted to care and maintenance in the mid-1950s.

The growth of Fife's distinctive Polish community can be largely traced back to the countrymen who came here for wartime training, or who escaped or were forced to leave their homeland.

Some eastern Europeans were brought to Largo Bay and Shell Bay for instruction as a cadre unit, before increasing in number and learning to become parachutists, staying and training at Largo House.

However, key figures in the Polish Armed Forces, such as Major General Stanislaw Sosabowski and General Wladyslaw Sikorski, felt they deserved more recognition.

On September 26, 1941, Polish parachutists flew from what is now Manchester Airport and dropped around Shell Bay for an assault exercise on Kincraig Battery, watched by Polish and UK generals.

"At that time, there was great pride in the British army," said Ron. "Eastern Europeans, like Poles and Czechs, were held in reserve and not allowed to do anything."

However, the exercise was a major triumph and the battery was taken with no `casualties'. From that day, the participants became known as the 1st Independent (Polish) Parachute Brigade.

They went on to the notorious Dutch drop for `Operation Market Garden' and, according to Ron, theirs was one of the more successful engagements in an otherwise doomed campaign.

So significant was that exercise in the East Neuk that Ron believes a memorial is deserved, and he hoped further publicity might result in a permanent tribute.

He also appealed for anyone with any information or photographs relating to the subjects of his book to contact him – he can be reached on e-mail at ronmorris617@hotmail.co.uk or telephone 01333 301083.

"Any assistance, no matter how small, will be greatly appreciated," he said.