On a blustery July morning in 1943, a strange kerfuffle could be seen taking place on the shores of Gruinard Bay on the west coast of Scotland. A group of men,some in army uniform, were attempting to herd dozens of sheep into a landing craft. After much effort, the sheep were finally loaded and the little boat set sail for low-lying Gruinard Island.
The island lay approximately half a mile offshore: it was bleak, windswept and extremely remote. It was also uninhab- ited, one of the principal reasons why it had been selected for an experiment so secret that not even the local crofters were allowed to know what was taking place.Alice MacIver, a young girl at the time, found all the commotion terribly exciting: ‘There was lots of activity. It was great fun, when you remember this is a very quiet place. We just thought it was some military exercise.’
But it was not a military exercise and nor were the men soldiers. They were scientists – brilliant ones – and they had travelled to Scotland from Porton Laboratories in Wiltshire.
Some, like Paul Fildes, worked for the Biological Department. Others were employed by the Chemical Defence Experimental Station. All of them knew they were playing for very high stakes: the tests to be conducted on Gruinard Island, known as X Base, had the potential to change the course of the Second World War.
What happened next? To find out, listen to the full episode of our podcast, Unknown History, in the top right hand player of this page or on iTunes, Stitcher, and Spotify. Plus, connect with Giles on Twitter and Facebook.
This post is roughly excerpted from When Churchill Slaughtered Sheep and Stalin Robbed a Bank. You can order a copy of the book, which is now available,on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Indiebound, Books-a-Million, and Apple. Check here for more on other books by Giles Milton.
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