Here is a photo of HMS Killiecrankie alongside at Leith docks in 1963. She was the training tender for the Leith & Edinburgh Royal Naval Reserve (RNR) station at HMS Claverhouse on Granton Square.
The Killiecrankie was built in 1952 as the Ton-class minesweeper Bickington, over 100 such ships were built in the 1950s in response to Cold War paranoia that the Soviets would mine inshore waters. They were all given names ending in –ton, but many were given different roles and were renamed. Bickington was commissioned as HMS Curzon as the Suffolk RNR tender. When she moved to the Forth she took up here new name. She served on the Forth from 1962 – 1676, before renaming to her originally intended HMS Bickington and being transferred to the Fishery Protection Squadron
HMS Claverhouse was a shore base, it is Royal Navy practice to name shore bases as if they were ships. But how did this particular name with its strong connotations in Scottish history become associated with Edinburgh and Leith, which it otherwise has a brief connection with?
The first Claverhouse was a surplus WW1 coastal monitor (a sort of small, slow ship for carrying big guns to shoot at the shore with), originally the M23. In 1922 she was sent to Dundee as an RNVR (Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve) drill ship and renamed HMS Claverhouse.
The RNVR was distinct from the RNR; the latter was a reserve force of professional civilian seamen, the former were civilian volunteers from non-seafaring occupations.
I suppose someone had a sense of humour to name the Dundee drill ship after “Bonnie Dundee” (John Graham of Claverhouse, 1st Viscount Dundee, or “Bluidy Clavers” to his opponents), given the divisive (and ultimately fatal) part he played in 17th century Scottish history .
For her ship’s crest and motto, the first Claverhouse took these directly from the 1st Viscount Dundee, a phoenix rising out the flames and “Gang Forrit” (which either is literally to “go for it”, or a euphemism for to take communion) .
With war looming in the late 1930s and the need to suddenly train up volunteers and reserves to man the wartime navy, HMS Claverhouse was shifted to a permanent shore base on Granton Square, in the requisitioned Granton Hotel. The new HMS Claverhouse took the crest and motto of the little ship from Dundee, which was kept on as a drill vessel. At Granton, merchant seamen were given training in defensive techniques (how to fire guns!) and as an HQ for the local coastal defence forces.
When the war ended, Claverhouse was not returned to civilian life but was kept on as the HQ for the newly formed Forth Division of the RNVR. Again, the motto and the crest was inherited from Bonnie Dundee.
Tay Division of the RNVR was based on the old wooden frigate HMS Unicorn in Dundee, so it took as a crest a white unicorn.
The old monitor M23 stayed at Granton as the Claverhouse drill ship until 1958 when she was sent for scrap. But the post-war naval reserves were primarily concerned with minesweeping, so she was joined in 1948 by a small war-surplus motor minesweeper MMS.1089.
MMS.1089 took the name HMS Forth, but was soon renamed Killecrankie. Again someone had a sense of humour as, if you don’t already know, the Battle of Killecrankie was where Viscount Dundee met a very pyrrhic end when a musket ball went through him in his moment of victory, finishing him and ultimately the Jacobite rising of 1689.
The little Killiecrankie was too small and obsolete for the realities of Cold War minesweeping, so she was sold in 1957 and replaced with the newer and bigger HMS Bickington/Curzon. She took the generic ships crest of all the Ton-class minesweepers.
In 1976, when Killiecrankie was returned to being plain old HMS Bickington, she was replaced by her sister HMS Kedleston, but the latter kept her own name.
In 1986, Kedleston was in turn replaced by the new River-class minesweeper HMS Spey as the Forth RNR training ship. She lasted in Leith until 1993 when a defence review withdrew the entire RNR fleet and moved it to other purposes.
Spey spent 4 years in Northern Ireland before being sold to Brazil. As part of these economy measures, in 1994 the RNR Forth Division of HMS Claverhouse and the Tay Division of HMS Camperdown were merged as HMS Scotia and relocated to Rosyth.
Rosyth as it turned out wasn’t that smart an economy measure; although it looked good on paper, shifting your volunteer base away from the centre of population it draws from doesn’t help with recruitment and the RNR re-established separate Forth and Tay divisions in 2000
The new Forth Division only lasted until 2004 before being wound down as another economy. The old HMS Claverhouse on Granton Square is now the “Claverhouse Training Centre” for various cadets and other reserves units.
So anyway, that’s the long version of how two rather geographically and historically unusual (you might even say inappropriate) names came to be used for naval establishments in Edinburgh and Leith.
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