Banchory Train Station during WWII
Banchory Train Station during WWII

How Eisenhower came to Banchory during World War II

It is well documented that Dwight D Eisenhower, first as General, and later as President visited the Royal family at Balmoral on Royal Deeside.

On Saturday 5 October 1946, HM King George VI hosted General Eisenhower and his wife and again on Friday 28 August 1959, as President Eisenhower, he spent the night at Balmoral as guest of HM Queen Elizabeth. On both these occasions Eisenhower travelled to and from Balmoral by car from Dyce airport in Aberdeen.

In July 2016 I came across an interesting reference.

General Dwight D Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force, together with British and American Chiefs of Staff, enjoyed the use of a special GWR train during the period leading to the D-Day landings in Normandy in June 1944.

I then discovered that on Saturday 15 January 1944, when Eisenhower flew into Prestwick to take up his position as Commander in Chief Allied Expeditionary Forces for invasion of Europe – Operation Overlord, he was met by Lieutenant Colonel James Gault, the General’s British Military Assistant, who had General Lee’s train with Ike’s rail carriage the Bayonet, standing by to take the party to London. This prompted me to find out more about the train.

General Dwight D Eisenhower, together with British and American Chiefs of Staff, enjoyed the use of a special GWR train during the period leading to the D-Day landings in Normandy. The train, code named Alive, could consist of up to 11 vehicles, 10 of which were of Great Western origin; the exception was a 1st Class LNER Sleeping Car (code name Bayonet) – it was used personally by Eisenhower.

Banchory Train Station during WWII

I then found a record of the various journeys undertaken by the train in 1944 leading up to D-Day and discovered that the General had used the train to come to Scotland in April. Could he have visited Banchory on that visit?

On 11 July 2016 I emailed the Eisenhower library which archives all his papers from his time as General and later as President.

I note from a record of General Eisenhower’s World War II train that he visited Scotland from 12 – 15 April 1944. Can you supply me with any detail of this visit to Scotland?

It was not long before I received a reply.

Thank you for your inquiry. I am afraid we don’t have a lot on the trip to Scotland in April, 1944, but here is an overview of what I could find.

To start with, here is what General Eisenhower’s day by day chronology from The Papers of Dwight David Eisenhower.

April 12 “Evening departure by train for Scotland, accompanied by General W. B. Smith.”

An artist’s illustration of Eisenhower’s train

April 13 “Inspection trip to Scotland. Sees a Polish Division, among others, and goes salmon fishing with General W. B. Smith as guests of Colonel Ivan Cobbald.” [also spelled Cobbold by Capt. Harry Butcher–see below]

April 14 “Scotland”

April 15 “Afternoon return to London from inspection trip to Scotland”

Capt. Butcher wrote a single paragraph on April 13th,

Last evening Ike resumed his inspection, taking the train to Scotland where amongst other he will see a Polish Division. General Walter Bedell Smith is accompanying him and a respire from their labors will be afforded by an attempt at salmon fishing as guests of the British liaison officer, Colonel Ivan Cobbold (sic) The party is to return to London Saturday morning.

On the 15th Butcher wrote, Ike’s train returning from Scotland is three hours late, bringing him in at 1:30.

I am afraid that is all there is to find here regarding the April trip to Scotland. I also used “Banchory” and “Cobbold” (or Cobbald) as search terms to no avail. Nor did a check of the papers of General Walter Bedell Smith yield any results.

I replied on 20 July 2016: I think it confirms that General Eisenhower was in Banchory in April 1944. The Col Ivan Cobbold (note the spelling) rented fishing at Cairnton which is a very short distance from Banchory.

Ivan Cobbold had rented Cairnton from the Burnetts of Leys. He had married Lady Blanche Cobbold, the daughter of the 9th Duke of Devonshire, and his brother in law was Harold Macmillan. He was a close friend of Winston Churchill and worked alongside him in the War Cabinet Rooms in Whitehall helping to direct the war effort. On Sunday 18 June 1944 he was killed when a doodlebug landed on the Guards Chapel near Buckingham Palace.

My research resulted in my being confident to make a hasty addition, before publication, of my book The Deeside Railway:

What is not well known is that General Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force, paid an earlier visit to Deeside. In mid-April 1944 he spent a few days in Banchory, travelling there in the private train which he used during the Second World War. The General enjoyed a mini holiday while preparing for D-Day in June of that year. He also went fly fishing for salmon at Cairnton, about two miles west of Banchory, on the River Dee.

The Queen with President Eisenhower

I believe that this is the first printed reference to the visit of Eisenhower to Banchory in April 1944. But my research does not end there! Did the General catch a salmon when he fished at Cairnton? Very recently I managed to view the fishing records and found that on Friday 14 April Captain Walter Bedell Smith, who accompanied the General on his visit, caught two – a 7½ and 8 pound salmon on the Grey Mare pool using a silver grey fly. There is no mention of Eisenhower who must have had an unsuccessful day on the river!

Describing this visit in his book, Waging Peace, President Eisenhower says, ‘One quality of the royal family that has always intrigued me is the informality which prevails when its members are at home among themselves, particularly at Balmoral. At the afternoon picnic by the lake, the Queen acted as hostess and simple housewife, gracefully cooking the ‘dropped scones’ over a charcoal burner for her eight or ten guests. I tried to help as a waiter; I am quite sure that I was adjudged by her Majesty as somewhat less than competent in this department. In any event, after tasting dropped scones for the first time I asked the Queen for the recipe and she later sent it to me.’

Accompanying the recipe, the Queen sent a handwritten letter in which she gives several suggestions for cooking the scones: including adding in syrup or treacle in place of sugar and less milk and flour when making smaller batches. She closes the letter by saying, ‘We remember your visit to Balmoral with pleasure… all good wishes to you and Mrs. Eisenhower.’

President Eisenhower also travelled to Balmoral Castle to visit Queen Elizabeth and The Duke of Edinburgh. Eisenhower had been a friend to the Queen’s father, King George VI. Eisenhower served as president of the United States from 1953-1961. Former president Dwight D. Eisenhower’s last and final visit to his Scottish White House, Culzean Castle, came three years after, 16-21 August 1962. He spent a quiet visit with his family playing golf with his friends before returning to the American White House.

  • Stewart Wilson, retired rector of Banchory Academy, is the life-long recorder of events, people and the history of Deeside. His book The Deeside Line tells the story of its 45 mile route from Aberdeen to Ballater.