James (Jimmy) Matheson Gunn was born in Lamigo Skerray, son of Margaret Gunn. He married Johan Mackenzie from the Old Post Office Skerray at the Free Church Skerray on 21 May 1941. Jimmy was employed by Sindlay the road contractor and worked on the construction of new roads around the Highlands of Scotland.
He enlisted in the Territorial Army and served with eighteen other men from Skerray in ‘C’ Company of the 1 Battalion Lovat Scouts. The Lovat Scouts had been reformed after World War One with a strength of 400 men in three Squadrons with ‘A’ Squadron recruited in Inverness-shire, ‘B’ Squadron in the Western Isles and ‘C’ Company in Ross-shire, Sutherland and part of Caithness.
In 1938 Jimmy Gunn and his eighteen fellow Lovat Scouts from Skerray attended an annual Territorial Camp at Woodhouse Lee Camp near Penicuik in the Lothian’s. The Lovat Scouts had gone to the Central Belt of Scotland for two weeks camp, while at this camp they paid a visit to the Edinburgh Military Tattoo and the Glasgow Exhibition.
The Lovat Scout annual camps were hard work as the battalion practiced its war role of reconnaissance and forward observation, a lot of men took their own ponies to the camps and received a generous allowance from the unit. During the rest of the year training and parades took place in local village drill halls with a Regular Army Sergeant living in the area in command.
In 1935 and 1936 the Lovat Scouts had been re-organised into small sections of men and mounted on horse back, each troop of men had three sections of eight fighting men armed with Lee Enfield rifles and (Bren) Light Machine Guns. Austin light armoured cars were used to carry wireless sets and dispatch riders were mounted on motorbikes.
The Territorial Army was mobilised on the 3 of September 1939, the day that Great Britain declared war on Nazi Germany. The Lovat Scouts were ordered to report to the Territorial Army camp at Beauly Ross-shire and there were many tales of how the men got in from the outlying areas including the men from the Islands who had borrowed boats to reach the mainland. The Scouts were then re-deployed out from Beauly with ‘A’ Squadron going to Muir of Ord, ‘B’ Squadron staying in Beauly and ‘C’ Squadron being stationed at Strathpeffer.
On the 21 of March 1940 the Lovat Scouts moved to Sutton on Trent in Nottinghamshire and joined the Cavalry Division as mounted scouts tasked with providing mobile patrols for forward reconnaissance and protection. The battalion then trained for its new role beside the armoured units of the Cavalry Division for the next two months until they were warned for service overseas.
The 1 Battalion Lovat Scouts sailed from Glasgow on the SS “Ulster Prince” bound for the Faeroe Islands on the 23 of May 1940. The battalion arrived in the Faeroes three days later and began their task of guarding the islands from German invasion; the Lovat Scouts were to guard the main towns from attack. If German forces invaded the Lovat Scouts were told that the towns of Thorshaven and Skaaalefjord would be held to the last man and last bullet.
The only Germans the Lovat Scouts saw were the crews of enemy bombers attacking shipping around the islands, occasionally the Scouts fired their Bren guns at the bombers and one occasion were credited with shooting one down. Lovat Scout doctors also helped treat captured enemy U-boat crews brought to the Faeroes by the Royal Navy, on one occasion four capture Italian destroyers were brought to the islands and the battalion supplied the guard for these ships.
The Lovat Scout battalion carried out normal training and fitness route marches during their time on the Faeroe Islands, they also performed a variety of other tasks. The Scouts looked for contraband on neutral foreign merchant ships and supplies bound for Nazi Germany were seized. Patrols were also sent out around the island to deal with loose mines floating around before they hit the rocks and by February 1941 the Scout patrols were credited with destroying 48 mines with rifle, Bren gun and Anti Tank gun fire.
Jimmy Gunn came home to Skerray on leave on the 14 of May 1941 and married his fiancée Johan on the 21 of May, he then rejoined his battalion in the Faeroe Islands. During the reception after the wedding the newly weds received a telegram from the Lovat Scouts saying, “plenty of ammunition but send more Gunns.”
In June 1942 the 12 Battalion Cameronians (Scottish Rifles) relieved the Lovat Scouts on the Faeroe Islands and on the 10 of June the Scout battalion sailed from the islands bound for Invergordon. Once the battalion arrived in Invergordon it was sent to a camp at Nairn and then proceeded on leave.
An advance party from the battalion went to Halkirk in Caithness in July 1942 to prepare the way for the rest of the battalion, ‘C’ Company did not go to Halkirk with the rest of the Lovat Scouts but was sent on a top secret task called “Exercise X”. When the battalion finally moved north to Halkirk on the 30 of September, ‘ C’ Company moved south to Balmoral Castle and “Exercise X” guarding the Royal family in their Scottish residence.
‘C’ Company revelled at their task in Balmoral Castle supplying the guards around the area and making sure nothing untoward happened to their Royal charges. Jimmy Gunn served at Balmoral with the Lovat Scout guard detail and told his family how he had attended the ghillies ball in the castle; the ghillies ball is a ceildh laid on by the Royal family once a year for all the estate workers.
During the time that Jimmy Gunn was at Balmoral guarding the Royal Family, he received the news that Johan had given birth to their daughter Christine . Jimmy was not to see his daughter until she was three months old and then did not see her until he returned from Canada in June 1944.
In October 1942 the Lovat Scouts carried out training at the Commando School of Mountain Warfare in Bangor in north Wales, where they taught rock climbing techniques. Battalion snipers were also increased at this time from eight to sixty-four.
On the 28 of December the Lovat Scouts boarded the SS Mauritania at Liverpool docks bound for New York and further Mountain Warfare training in Canada. The battalion landed in New York on the 4 of January 1943 and was amazed when they saw this huge city all a blaze with lights. There was no blackout in force in America during the Second World War and many of the Lovat Scouts had forgotten what the sight of a city fully lit up looked like.
The battalion then boarded a train and set of on a six day, 2,500-mile trip across America and Canada to the Rocky Mountains and intense Arctic and Mountain Warfare training, the training once complete would see the Lovat Scouts as the best at this warfare the British Army had. The men were given the rank of Mountaineer and soon began to learn skiing, climbing and how to live in snow holes high on the mountains.
On the 9 of June 1944 the Lovat Scouts returned to Liverpool and were told they were to embark for Italy and service with the 8 Army, battling in the mountains in northern Italy. The battalion was first of all sent home on leave before embarking for Italy on the 9 of June. Jimmy Gunn came home to Skerray for his leave and spent it with his wife and ten month old daughter.
The battalion sailed to Italy on July 16 on board the “Queen of Bermuda” and arrived in Naples Italy on the 29. The Scouts entered the frontline in early August, alongside the 10 Indian Division and began to carry out reconnaissance patrols and ambushes; the battalion War Diary says that very quickly 240 patrols had been carried out.
On the 24 of August ‘C’ ‘D’ and Headquarters Squadrons withdrew to the north bank of the River Arno for three days, then moved back to the front and relieved ‘A’ and ‘B’ Squadrons forward of Carola. The Squadrons then began to patrol daily and on the 26 of August were told to patrol and carry out reconnaissance on the German defensive line called “The Gothic Line”.
During the night of 2 September the Lovat Scouts relieved the 2/3 Gurkha Rifles just forward of San Martino, then began to aggressively patrol the new line. Patrols were involved in constant contact with enemy troops and took many Germans prisoner as they ambushed and harried the enemy lines. On the 17 of September the battalion relieved the 1/2 Punjabi Regiment at Mignana, ‘C’ Squadron however had remained at Fronzola with the Indian Horse.
The advance up through the Italian countryside continued pushing the German northwards towards the Austrian border; the Lovat Scouts dug in at San Sepolchro then when patrols found the Germans had gone they moved forward to Alfero. The Lovat Scouts now began to patrol forward once more and between the 2 and 12 of October there was much close quarter fighting between Scout patrols and German defensive positions.
On the 12 of October 1944 number 11 platoon from ‘C’ Squadron, under the command of Lieutenant Budge was told to patrol forward onto the Relato Ridge. The platoon advanced forward towards Corno and attacked a number of enemy held houses in the village of Busuntolo, the enemy troops were seen to be defending a red brick bungalow in strength.
Number 11 platoon attacked at dawn and engaged the enemy, a number of German troops in a hay barn were silenced with hand grenades before the Scouts went on and attacked the houses. As they bypassed the first house and moved on to attack the second, a German machine gunner in the basement of the bypassed house opened fire severely wounding Corporal Gunn. The section Bren gunner Private McLennan was killed by the same burst of fire, the remaining Lovat Scouts took the village killing two Germans and capturing nineteen.
The Scouts then came under heavy mortar fire and nine were wounded; Corporal Gunn died almost immediately from his wounds he was twenty –four years of age. Private Hugh Mackay from Achtoty was with him when he died.
The 1 Battalion Lovat Scouts continued patrolling the front lines until the 30 of October when they were withdrawn to Arrezzo to refit and re-supply. The battalion then fought on in Italy until a cease-fire was declared on the 5 of May 1945.
In June the Lovat Scouts moved north to Austria to begin to search for and disarm enemy troops, confiscate weapons from civilians and search for SS and Nazi officials. The Nazis who were discovered were handed over for trial and all the weapons that were found were destroyed. In July 1945 the battalion moved to Salonika in Greece, to join the 11 Indian Brigade and took up positions near the Rupal Pass on the “Iron Curtain”. The battalion then helped restore law and order to Greece, keeping the peace between rival factions that threatened to plunge that country into civil war.
The 1 Battalion Lovat Scouts were disbanded in the United Kingdom in October 1946 the men who had served with Corporal Jimmy Gunn returned home to their families in Skerray. His wife Johan still lives in Skerray today.
SCOTTISH NATIONAL WAR MEMORIAL EDINBURGH CASTLE Gunn James M 318306. Corporal. (b) Sutherland. Killed in action 12-10-44. Lovat Scout.
COMMONWEALTH WAR GRAVES COMMISSION Gunn Corporal James Matheson 318306. Lovat Scouts. 12-10-44. Age 24. Son of Margaret Gunn of Skerray Sutherlandshire, husband of Johan Gunn of Skerray. Plot III. Row E. Grave 22.
Corporal James (Jimmy) Matheson Gunn 318306 1 Battalion Lovat Scouts is buried in a war grave at ARREZZO WAR CEMETERY, ITALY.
The Skerray Lovat Scouts 1939
Cpl Jimmy Gunn 0n a Lovat Scout Tank
Jimmy Gunn and his brother in law Geordie Mackenzie
More information on the Skerray Lovat Scouts can be found here