Scotland's secret war

An exhibition showing the extraordinary roles that ordinary Scots played during the Second World War. Ran from 8 July to 16 October 2005.

Scotland's Secret War poster

Intriguing tales of cunning, courage and invention during the Second World War come to light this summer in an exhibition at the National Library of Scotland.

Commemorating the 60th anniversary of VE day, 'Scotland's Secret War' uncovers 'hidden' stories from the conflict, showing the extraordinary roles which ordinary Scots played in changing the course of the war.


Secret contributions

Scotland's contribution to the Allies' victory is often overlooked, but many Scots were heavily involved in providing vital technology, intelligence, maps, evasive operations and propaganda.

The exhibition draws on government files, personal archives and official papers — many of them released on public display for the first time since 1945 — to reveal secret contributions to the war effort that were going on at home and abroad.


Personal stories

Using material from NLS collections we tell, for instance, how:

Home Guard photo
Home Guard ready for action.
© Aberdeen Journals Ltd
  • A Church of Scotland minister — nicknamed 'The Tartan Pimpernel' — helped 2,000 soldiers escape from France.
  • A Scottish radio boffin's experiments with developing a 'death ray' for enemy planes lead to the creation of radar.
  • A Scottish journalist was enlisted to head-up a top-secret propaganda unit.

As well as stories of spying on Scotland, you can read about 'the Shetland Bus' — a secret maritime route between Scotland and Norway — and about the crucial work of Edinburgh's world-famous map-publishers Bartholomew.


Hess and Enigma

In the story of Scottish Home Guard, the capture of Deputy Fuhrer Rudolph Hess was a notable success — and on loan from the National Museums of Scotland we have a piece of Hess's plane!

WAAF ops room photo
A WAAF ops room.

Also from NMS is a German naval Enigma machine. In the exhibition you'll hear a recording of the experiences of two Scotswomen involved in Enigma code-breaking operations at Bletchley Park and elsewhere.


Great for kids

Children can have their own go at a web-based version of Enigma in our interactive area.

Would-be spies can try out memory games and learn about message-sending and morse code.

There's even an operations table, where various mission case studies can be followed — just like an ops room.



During the run of 'Scotland's Secret War', we've organised a range of talks and events for all ages — from a 1940s-style tea dance to a 'spy school'.

The exhibition is sponsored by 'The Scotsman', 'Edinburgh Evening News', and 'Scotland on Sunday'.


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