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5 April 2002

MULL-ED OVER
POLITICIANS expressed dismay this week when it was revealed that Argyll and Bute Council have changed their minds about projects to be submitted for European Funding.
It was believed that the local authority had finalised their priorities as Port Askaig, Dunoon Pier, Oban Airport and the Salen-Tobermory Road, Mull.
However, MP Alan Reid received information that the Mull project has been dropped in favour of the Lismore ferry slips.
The classification of projects as “Strategically Important to the area” is vital to gaining access to a £22m pot of funding, enabling them to progress.
However politicians believe that Argyll and Bute Council’s indecision, over which are “Strategically Important,” could jeopardise European Funding as a whole.
Mr Reid said: “If you are sitting on the monitoring groupof the Highlands and Islands Partnership and every letter you receive from Argyll and Bute Council lists different priorities, it harms the case as a whole. The Council’s approach has been totally different from areas such as the Western Isles, who set out clearly what they want and lobby hard to get funding for it”.
It is believed the next meeting of the Highlands and Islands Partnership is to take place in May, but it is unclear whether the Argyll and Bute projects will be discussed.
Ahead of this meeting MSP’s George Lyon and Duncan Hamilton, MP Alan Reid and MEP Professor Neil McCormick have been lobbying for the region.
To try and remedy previous confusion about priority projects and fixed links, Professor McCormick had been urging the Highlands and Islands Special Transistional Programme to consider Port Askaig, Dunoon Pier, Oban Pier and the Mull road, on fair and equal terms with schemes from other areas.
In a letter to the group he said: “It appears there may have been misunderstandings at an earlier stage in the process concerning the particular priorities Argyll and Bute intended to take forward. It is clear that the European Union voted these transitional funds for a well rounded set of priority projects in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, and a failure to include vital projects in Argyll and Bute because of bureaucratic disagreement about the presentation of schemes would be monstrous and unacceptable.”
However, this new shift has left the region’s politicians wrong footed and arguing in favour of a project, which is no longer considered a priority.
Argyll and Bute MSP George Lyon said: “I had written in support of these four priorities and that they should be given funding from the European Programme.
“However the council really are the driving force behind this and yet they don’t seem to be very sure what they want.
“The original list consisted of 14 projects, other council’s had selected four or five schemes and are fighting hard to get funding for them. The track record of other council’s has been good at accessing funding. Argyll and Bute Council need to focus clearly on their priorities, then we can give them 100 per cent backing.”
Highlands and Islands MSP Duncan Hamilton added: “At a recent meeting about the Dunoon Pier Project, with the Council’s Head of Transportation and Property, Alastair Gow, I was reassured that there would be no slippage in the council’s priorities.
“I thought that meeting was very constructive and was reassured that he would be keeping me informed of further progress after a crunch meeting to be held with the Highlands and Islands Partnership.
“If the Council has now changed their priorities for projects I would find that absolutely astonishing and searching questions would have to be asked about how they are handling this.”
A spokesman for the authority said: “The next meeting of the Highlands and Islands Partnership is in the Autumn, and if there are any projects for the area, they will be dealt with.
“Projects are dealt with on a Highlands and Islands basis and we cannot make any changes here.
“Priorities are set out in a document agreed by all bodies and we cannot change this.”
The Highlands and Islands Partnership confirmed that the next meeting will be in December and that applications will be received at the start of September.


THE KILFINAN COMMANDOES
MARKING the 60th anniversary of a series of sabotage missions by a group of Norwegian Special Operations Executive (SOE) Commandos, is an amazing discovery that these men actually lived and trained in Kilfinan before starting their crucial mission.
The Norwegian SOE heroically halted Germany’s race to be the first to obtain the atomic bomb during World War II, with the destruction of the heavy water plant at Vemork, Norway, and they became the legendary heroes of Telemark.
And this historic revelation has been uncovered due to the local history interests of 70-year-old John MacColl who lives in Kilfinan.
The story unfolded due to a documentary on Channel Four, “Churchill’s secret Army”.
John was dozing in his seat, but was alerted to the words “East Loch Fyne” and he wondered what these amazing heroes connection was with the Kilfinan area.
He said: “I was having trouble keeping awake when the words East Loch Fyne rang in my ears. I wondered what the connection was with the area, so I wrote to Channel Four and was then put in touch with the producer of the documentary, Martin Smith, who was very helpful.
“Mr Smith passed on an address for Joachim Ronnenberg in Norway, who was the leader of a group of Commandos, called ‘Gunnerside’, during World War Two, to whom I wrote, never dreaming that I would receive back such an amazing reply.”
Through letters written to John, the leader of the SOE group Joachim Ronnenberg, who is now 80-years-old and still living in Norway, reminisces about his time in Kilfinan, Argyll, and how ‘Gunnerside’ came to be there.
The heroic story unfolds in occupied Norway during World War Two. The SOE were called upon to destroy the heavy water plant at Vemork, near Rjukan in the region of Telemark, the largest Electro chemical plant of its kind in the world after Germany had captured it in May 1940.
It soon became clear to British Intelligence the importance the plant held to the German war effort.
The Norsk Hydro plant produced a by-product, known as Deuterium oxide, or heavy water, an essential component in the production of Uranium 235, needed to make what was to be Hitler’s ultimate weapon, the atomic bomb.
Churchill’s cabinet was fully aware of the German’s intention and, through an SOE coup, they encouraged the plants engineers, Dr Jomar Brun and Einnar Skinnerland, to act as SOE agents.
Brun and Skinnerland smuggled intelligence out of the plant to Intelligence Headquarters in London, where the famous cryptographer, Leo Marks, passed the decoded information to Churchill’s cabinet.
Contact had been made with Skinnerland to find out exactly what improvements the Germans were making to the plants output and design plans. Skinnerland, one of the original designers of the Norsk Hydro, now plotted along with the Chief engineer Brun in its destruction. They smuggled micro-photographs of the plant layout in toothpaste tubes to London.
When the intelligence was passed, the special Operations Executive were given orders to destroy the plant.
On October 18, 1942, an advance party of four Norwegian SOE commandos were dropped in Norway on the Hardanger Plateau on a reconnaissance mission of the plant.
Code-named ‘Grouse’, they were led by Lieutenant Jens Anton Poulssen, their job to fuse with ‘Operation Freshman’ and guide them to the plant to procure its destruction. But, sadly, ‘Operation Freshman’ went dramatically wrong, and the two RAF Horsa gliders — never before used in such an operation — crashed in the severe weather, killing many of the 34 Royal Engineers on board, and air crew. Any survivors were rounded up by the Germans, interrogated; tortured and shot. They were all in British Army uniform. Today a memorial stands just outside Oslo in their memory.
In an intelligence meeting Brun advised that the destruction of the Vemork plant had much more chance of succeeding if the attack was made on a smaller scale, hitting the structures weak points with a highly trained group of soldiers. The war cabinet met and approved a small-scale attack.
One of the most highly trained and respected Norwegian lieutenants, Joachim Ronnenberg, was chosen for what could be classed as a suicide mission.
With only a 50-50 chance of returning, each man carried an ‘L-tablet’ (cyanide) in case of capture.
Ronnenberg picked five highly trained men for the job and good skiers, to make up ‘Gunnerside”, which consisted of Lieutenant Knut Haukelid, Sergeant Fredrik Kayser, Birger Stromsheim, Kasper Idland and Hans Storhaug.
‘Gunnerside’, at that point, was stationed just outside Cambridge, and at the same base was a Scottish Officer, Major Dunlop MacKenzie. On hearing ‘Gunnerside” needed a safe spot to train and await their vital mission, MacKenzie offered them his house on a local estate in Kilfinan, Argyll, and a secluded cottage about an hours walk away at Stillaig Bay, by Portavadie.
‘Gunnerside’s’ leader Joachim Ronnenberg, reminisces about his time in Kilfinan, saying: “It was January 1943 and we were awaiting departure back to Norway. My group ‘Gunnerside’ had taken the responsibility for the destruction of the heavy water factory at Vemork, after the sad failure of the ‘Freshman’ operation causing the deaths of 40 British chaps, commandos and airmen”.
He continued; “The December moon period was unsuccessful due to bad weather, so I asked for ‘Gunnerside’ to be taken to a safe spot in Scotland where we could use the time training, and await the February dropping period.
“One of the British officers at our base, a Major MacKenzie, suggested he could take us to his home outside of Glasgow, where he and his family lived away from traffic and people. He remembered “that they took great care of us, and were extremely nice people”.
Reliving the journey to Kilfinan, Ronneberg said: “As I look at the map I remember we went by train down the side of the Clyde to Greenock, where we caught the steamer.
“I think we called at Rothesay and then on to Tighnabruaich, where we landed at the wooden pier there, and were collected by car.
We drove to the MacKenzie house at Crispie in Kilfinan, where we all spent the first night. The next day we split up, and some stayed at a small cottage at Stillaig Bay an hour or so walk away. We took turns staying at the cottage, training and contemplating the mission. We knew there was quite a task ahead of us with not much chance of survival, but were more concerned about when the new moon and the dropping period would be”.
‘Gunnerside’ used the remoteness of the Portavadie, Kilfinan area, with its rugged coastline and hills to train in.
Although fed at the big house, ‘Gunnerside’ also did a little cooking of their own Joachim Ronnenburg continued: “I do remember we shot a seal which we recovered when the tide went out. It tasted very OK when done with onion, although we had to slice it very thin”.
The time came for ‘Gunnerside’ to leave Kilfinan and travel back down to Cambridge, and on February 16, 1943, a Halifax Bomber flew out Ronnenberg and his group. The plane had been specially adapted for dropping missions.
Due to the fact that security had doubled at the Vemork plant, they were dropped 40 miles away from ‘Grouse’ on a frozen lake.
‘Gunnerside’ marched and skied across the Hardanger mountains in white ski suits over their British army uniforms, carrying heavy packs of explosives.
After a week enduring atrocious conditions, they met up with the half starved intelligence group ‘Grouse’ now code named ‘Swallow’. The ‘Swallow’ fused with ‘Gunnerside’ and continued to climb through the mountains until they reached Vemork.
On February 27, 1943, ‘Gunnerside’ found themselves on the final leg of their mission. Now in full British Army uniform they made their way down into the valley in preparation for the dangerous ascent of the 500ft rock face to the heavily guarded, almost impregnable plant, jutting menacingly out of the side of the mountain.
The attack started just after midnight on February 28.
Lieutenant Haukelid and the men with him cut the perimeter fence and took up silent positions watching the German guards.
Ronnenberg and a sergeant had separated from ‘Gunnerside’ and they found the cable vent and crawled through. The shaft took them right in to the high concentration room where the heavy water was stored, to the total surprise of a guard who was kept at gun point till the charges were laid.
With only two minutes until detonation, Ronnenburg and the three others with him had barely exited from the building when the charges went off.
The plant went on full alert as ‘Gunnerside’ made their escape, leaving behind a Tommy Gun to show it was British forces that had sabotaged the plant, in the hope there would be no German reprisals against the local people.
The saboteurs escaped the Nazi wrath down a railway line and back into the mountains they knew so well, knowing they couldn’t be easily followed in the treacherous conditions.
Later that day, through blinding snow and rain ‘Gunnerside’ reached base camp where they broke into two groups.
Ronnenberg remembered his orders: “Five of the ‘Gunnerside’ group were to report back, via Sweden to the UK. Our orders were to ski the 500 km to Sweden in full British army uniform to prevent German reprisals if caught, the journey from Vermork to Sweden took us 18 days hard skiing”.
‘Gunnerside’ escaped in the knowledge their mission had been a complete success, as the explosives had literally blown the bottom out of the high concentration room, and Hitler’s atomic dream was running down the drains.
But even though the ‘Gunnerside’ mission was one of the most successful sabotage missions of World War Two, by April 1943 the production of heavy water started again.
Attacks continued on the Norsk Hydro, and America despatched 150 B-17s bombers to destroy the plant, but the mission failed, although Vemork was put out of action for the rest of the war, the high concentration plant had survived.
Berlin, frustrated with the constant sabotage, decided to move the stock-pile of heavy water out by rail ferry.
London instructed SOE to do everything possible to destroy its valuable cargo. Only one SOE commando remained at Vemork, Lieutenant Knut Haukelid, who had spent time in Argyll with ‘Gunnerside’ was now to become one of the biggest war heroes of World War II.
Later a film was made about Haukelid, Ronnenberg and ‘Gunnerside’s’ exploits, and in 1965 an epic called “The Heroes of Telemark” starring Kirk Douglas and Richard Harris, was released.
In February 1944, Haukelid and two others stowed away on board the Hydro ferry and they set to work laying a ring of eight Kilos of plastic explosives, set to blow a hole out of the boats keel.
At 10.45am on Sunday, February 20, 1944, just as she was crossing the deepest part of Lake Tinnsjo, the Hydro ferry exploded, destroying the last of the German’s heavy water supply.
If it had not been for the heroic courage of Ronneburg and Haukelid and the men of ‘Gunnerside’, the Germans would have had their first atomic pile working by late autumn 1943, well ahead in the race to produce the atom bomb.
The sabotage mission on the Vemork plant was now to hinder Germany for the rest of the war.
Churchill was so impressed by ‘Gunnersides’ heroic mission he commended the men for their bravery, and the group’s leader Joachim Ronnenberg received the DSO, while Haukelid, Indland and Kayser were awarded the Military Cross, and Stromshiem and Storhaug the Military Medal.
Who would have believed that after all these years it would be uncovered that these amazing heroes trained and prepared for such an historic, vital mission, in Kilfinan, Argyll.


NO TIME FOR IDLE CHATTER
KEEPING the visually impaired up to date with the latest news is voluntary organisation Argyll Talking Newspapers (ATN).
Following a television request in 1985 for people to produce Talking Newspapers, Ardrishaig woman Mrs Jean Matheson MBE embarked on a venture that was set to blossom over the years.
On Friday January 10 1986 the first tapes of the Oban Times, the Argyllshire Advertiser and the Campbeltown Courier were sent out.
And the Dunoon Observer and Argyllshire Standard was added to the list following a request from a visually impaired Dunoon resident Mrs Brodie, who suggested Mrs Matheson for the MBE.
Permission was granted and the first tapes were released on Monday January 20.
Today Mrs Brodie is the VIP (Visually Impaired Person) on ATN’s committee.
1995 saw The Buteman added to the ever growing list, which now includes Am Muileach, The Ileach, The New Testament and The King James VI version of the Bible. The Farming Times was also taped while in existence.
Mrs Matheson said: “We were able to start in 1986 thanks to the kindness and generosity of the Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB), who gave us a second hand copier, and Mid Argyll Round Table who donated the funds to cover the cost of all the other equipment we required.
“Servicing of machines and replacing where necessary is an expensive business, so we are always glad to receive donations. Over the years Mrs Brodie and her friends, two of whom are now in their 90’s, have raised more than £6,000 for us with afternoon teas and other social events- and they even claim to have enjoyed doing it!”
Postage of the tapes is free and they are delivered in special wallets with reversible address labels, with the client’s address on one side and ATN’s on the other.
Mrs Matheson continued: “Wallets have to be sent back promptly, even if they are empty, to ensure that they are in time for the next issue.
“A gentleman on an island with only a weekly mail call has two wallets, so that he does not miss an edition, and some hospitals also take the tapes.”
ATN also produce books on tape, with author Angus MacVicar being the first to give his permission. The latest addition is Southend man Willie Robertson, a retired policeman who writes about a wily police constable posted to an island station because he does not make enough arrests. However, he does maintain order in his own way , which suits the islanders.
The first ATN was sent out to a ‘readership’ of 20 clients, there are now more than 250.
The service is carried out each week by a team of volunteers who meet twice weekly to carry out the various duties involved.
The returned tapes are removed from their wallets and their contents are erased, while four readers begin with the first reading session. A recording technician is on hand at all times to check the volume and clarity.
Meanwhile, those papers which have not been edited at home are being prepared for the next recording session.
Once recording is completed, the tapes are duplicated on a speed copying machine, with each one being checked before issue.
Sadly, founder member Mrs Matheson has now stepped down from her position with ATN, but in her place is new Chairperson Mr Derek Meredith.
He said: “I am delighted to take over from Mrs Matheson and to continue the excellent service that she began.”
Mrs Matheson added: “I wish Mr Meredith, and all the other volunteers, every success in the future- I know they will continue to do a professional job.”


PERMISSION GRANTED
NEWS that Dunoon’s historic landmark, the Burgh Hall, has been granted planning permission to be converted into nine flats and offices has been met with dismay by the Burgh Hall Project Group, who have been trying to raise the funds to buy the premises.
Present owners, Bute Housing Association, applied to Argyll and Bute Council for permission to convert the run down building into flats and office space, and the authority approved the application at this week’s Bute and Cowal Area Committee meeting.
Representative of the Burgh Hall Project Group Roy Rees said: “The news that Bute Housing has received planning permission didn’t go down very well with us.
“We have been working very hard with the housing authority in the hope of purchasing the Hall ourselves and keeping it solely for community use.
“If we do manage to raise the funds to buy the Burgh Hall, we will not be using the planning permission granted.”
Director of Bute Housing Alan McDougal said: “Although we are in discussion with a local group regarding the Burgh Hall, we decided to keep our proposals for the premises running in parallel with this.
“We chose to do this till we knew exactly what the group were planning to do – a fall back position.
“Our application was already in and, at this point, we could see no point in withdrawing it.”
The Area Committee agreed to grant planning permission on condition that the exterior structure of the Burgh Hall was not dramatically altered, and that it would not prevent the Burgh Hall Project Group from continuing to try and purchase the building themselves.