Culbin's wartime history
War is always hungry for resources: metal for weapons, wood for structures.
Much of Culbin’s early forest (planted years before the Forestry Commission bought up the land) was felled during the World War I to provide timber for works such as trackways and props for the trenches of the Western Front.
When the Forestry Commission acquired Culbin, it spent the first ten years of its ownership replacing those felled stocks.
Why wasn’t Culbin felled in World War II?
By 1939 few of Culbin’s replanted trees would have been mature enough for felling. But as is usual for Culbin, there is an unexpected twist to its story at this point in its history.
The young forest was taken over as a secret base for military exercises and may have had a part to play in the success of the D-Day landings in Normandy in 1944. Older residents of the Black Isle remember tanks thundering down Fortrose High Street (with the houses shedding their lead and roof tiles in homage!) on their way to embark on landing craft awaiting them at the end of specially built jetties off Chanonry Point.
These landing craft then crossed the choppy Moray Firth, reckoned to be a good simulation of crossing the English Channel, and the men and machines landed at Culbin and other neighbouring beaches including Roseisle, where concrete ‘pillboxes’ still lie like a row of dice where the dunes have eroded away. The shoreline is now up to 70m further inland than it was in wartime.
This was far from a gentle practice for the real thing. The seas here are treacherous, and men died on these exercises. The Valentine tanks which lie buried deep below the waters of nearby Burghead Bay are a designated war grave.
Evidence of Culbin's wartime role
There is little visible evidence of wartime Culbin today, although the beach sometimes reveals pieces of rusting shrapnel. Many people do not recognise the most enduring feature of the wartime landscape here. Look out over the Gut and you will see it is dotted with regular lines of poles. These were deliberately erected to avoid enemy gliders from Norway landing here. Fears of espionage and invasion were very real in those times.
And isn’t there a story about a wartime plane being found in Culbin years later?
Not quite. There was a tragic accident which happened just after the war, in which a young pilot and his trainer died, but the plane, a Vickers Warwick Mk 1 from 6 Operational Training Unit at RAF Kinloss was found at the time.
The crew was Flight Lieutenant Roy Howard Mitchell DFC, and Flying Officer Alan Bywood, and their bodies were removed for burial by their families. Mitchell had been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for sinking a German U-Boat in 1944.
What little remained of the plane was found again when the surrounding forest was felled in the 1980s, but dense new planting now surrounds the crash site once more. The aircraft is being left in peace for the forest slowly to reabsorb and so is deliberately not indicated on any map.