Neil McLennan: The Lothians links to Churchill's war effort

As Churchill: the film '˜lands' in cinemas many will be unaware of the films Scottish links '“ both in fact and in fiction.

Celebrated Scots actor Brian Cox plays the British wartime leader
Celebrated Scots actor Brian Cox plays the British wartime leader

Whilst some are tied to the D-Day preparations that the film focusses on, others extend much further. Filming for the production saw Edinburgh and East Lothian used as settings for the film although they are portrayed as the south-east of England. Newhailes doubles as Chartwell. And so the meeting of General Eisenhower, Field Marshal Alan Brooke and Field Marshal Montgomery, filmed just outside Musselburgh with the Scottish 17th-century Palladian house first owned by the Dalrymple family the setting for the historic meeting.

Other Scottish sites were used including Crammond, Rutland Square and Yellowcraigs beach. You would never know that some scenes were filmed high above Edinburgh and around it. The leading man is also Scottish; Brian Cox as the cigar-smoking commander.

The D-Day landings were cloaked in secrecy and laced with deception. Operation Fortitude saw “phantom” armies in Edinburgh and England seem like they were ready to attack Axis Europe via Norway and Pas de Calais, thus diverting German forces from defending around the Normandy areas where the Allied landings would actually take place.

East Lothian could have acted as more than just a film set. A build-up of shipping around Dunbar and North Berwick in the spring of 1944 helped to deceive German intelligence that such an attack was certain.

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Operation Mincemeat saw the body of a homeless man floated off the Spanish coast dressed as a British Officer with plans concealed on him, safe in the knowledge that with ‘neutral’ Spain a leak would pass the plans to German officers. Those ‘fake’ plans led to German troops being moved away from the real landing areas.

All the German troop movements were being listened to by Churchill and his commanders – although at one point in the war he was almost removed from circulation of these as he almost gave away the secret of this powerful source of information.

Amidst the secrecy, many believe Roosevelt and Churchill met at Archerfield House to finalise plans. This has never been confirmed.

In this current era of struggles and terror, we might reflect on three things. Firstly, the work of espionage, spies and saboteurs to keep our country safe. These deeds still go on today and whilst recent attacks have exposed gaps in the provision, how many attacks are foiled without us even knowing?

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The second aspect that is worth consideration in the current context is the sort of leadership we respect and wish for. Churchill gave us stirring leadership during the dark days of the 1940s. Alas the ‘marble man’ image has many bumps on it too – failed command at Gallipoli where many Scottish troops died and Dundee far from united behind him as a result of his actions against striking miners.

The film is worth watching, be that for history, leadership, espionage or seeing Scotland as the setting.

Neil McLennan is a former head of history. His History Scotland, podcast series unveils Scotland’s Hidden Histories:- http://scot.sh/his-podcast