The Second World War

In 1939, following the invasion of Poland and Czechoslovakia by Adolf Hitler’s German Army, the world was plunged once more into the terrible carnage of global conflict. In Hawick, as had been the case in the First World War, this outbreak of war meant the upheaval of normal life, including the conscription of several thousand soldiers by the British Army.

Again, as had been the case over two decades earlier, the Common Riding was cancelled during the war years (1940-45), but the marches were still ridden by Chap Landles and supporters. For those serving men, whilst they couldn’t celebrate the Common Riding at home, they could still elect one of their own to carry on the tradition as ‘Cornet’. Hawick soldiers stationed in England appointed W. Slorance as their Cornet in 1940, and in Scotland others appointed E. Moffat in 1941. The 4th Battalion of the King’s Own Scottish Borderers appointed Jim Reid as their Cornet in 1945, and carried to the warfront a flag, made by the women at Pringle’s, and which had been dipped in the Elbe; the flag was returned to Hawick with the names of those comrades lost to the war embroidered upon it.

At home, Hawick had its own Home Guard, whilst (as they had in 1914-18) the women of Hawick ensured that life went on as normally, and as productively as possible; for example, working on local farms as part of the ‘Land Army’. Given the agrarian landscape of the Borders, towns like Hawick were the ideal destination for evacuees, removed from cities like Edinburgh and Glasgow for their own protection (to avoid their being harmed in the many air raids of the Second World War). In 1939, about nine hundred women, children, and teachers evacuated from urban centres arrived in Hawick, along with about six hundred sent to Denholm, Minto, Roberton, and other rural areas.

As the war went on, and began permeating deeper into the everyday, St. Mary’s Kirk was requisitioned, whilst Allars Kirk Hall was set up as the reserve headquarters for Civil Defence. In 1942, in response to the increasing need for iron (to be repurposed in the production of arms and armaments), many iron railings around the town were requisitioned. Activity at Stobs Camp increased, too, and for the first time since the First World War it saw a constant military presence. Regiments stationed there included the Cameronians, Royal Scots Fusiliers, King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, Royal Artillery, Pioneer Corps, Royal Norfolk Regiment, Suffolk Regiment, Yorks & Lancs, and others. Searchlight-training and D-Day preparation both took place at the camp, and it is possible that tank-training also took place near Shankend, a little to the east of the camp. Stobs was used as a POW camp once more, though held far-fewer German prisoners than it had in the First World War. Seemingly fewer records regarding Stobs during World War Two survive, compared to the many extant accounts pertaining to its earlier usage.

On 2nd September 1945, after six years (and one day) of crippling war, and the debilitating genocide of Jewish peoples, and peoples defined as homosexual, disabled, gypsy, and/or politically-leftist by the German Nazi Party, the Allied forces were declared victorious, having secured the surrenders of both Germany and Japan. There were celebrations in Hawick on both V.E. (Victory in Europe) Day, and V.J. (Victory in Japan) Day. The deadliest military conflict in world history, the Second World War claimed the lives of between seventy and eighty-five million people, around three percent of the world’s population at that time. In Wilton Lodge Park, by the Museum, stands the Hawick War Memorial: a stone-built Cenotaph with a winged sculpture on a pedestal, with a wreath attached in front. A set of steps leads up to the memorial, passing between two stone pillars topped by ornamental lamps, the pillars recording the years of the First and Second World Wars. Remembrance Day is observed here every year by prominent members from throughout the town and its High School.