THE Polaris-missile, nuclear-powered submarine Patrick Henry had left Charleston, South Carolina, on December 30, 1960, and travelled some 11,000 miles under water, beating by 12 hours the 66-day record set by her predecessor, the George Washington.

Now, on March 8, 1961, the submarine glided into the newly-established US Polaris nuclear submarine forward operating base on the Holy Loch. Fierce anti-Polaris protests had previously greeted the arrival of the depot ship, USS Proteus.

Now, waiting for the Patrick Henry was a canoe containing a lone protestor, Laurens Otter, a 30-year-old former London schoolmaster.

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He and three colleagues had reportedly worked all night to get the canoe ready. The four had drawn straws at their camp on the shore at Kilmun to see who would man the canoe. Otter won. And, watched by personnel aboard the submarine, and the British frigate escort ship Exmouth, which had been tasked with dealing with “incidents”, he set off towards the Patrick Henry.

“An element of the farcical entered into the arrival of the Patrick Henry”, reported the Glasgow Herald, “as more than 70 civil and naval police, ratings, and naval frogmen in launches pursued” Mr Otter.

“His canoe was eventually capsized by a policeman leaning from a launch, and he was dragged from the water by three naval frogmen and taken to the U.S. naval pier at Ardnadam”. He was charged at Dunoon police station with breach of the peace – the same station where he had been charged less than a week earlier. He was released without charge, and the charge was later dropped.

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Otter, a veteran peace activist, died in February 2022, aged 91. He had joined CND on its creation, and he and his wife Celia had spent their honeymoon in different prisons after being arrested for their activities. One obituary said that of Otter’s many direct actions, “perhaps the most celebrated is the time [he] was among protesters who tried to board the … Patrick Henry in the Holy Loch”.

Even before the arrival of the Proteus on Friday, March 3, the base had become a focal point for determined civil-disobedience protests under the banner of CND. Many people were understandably concerned that Scotland now found itself on the front line of the Cold War.

A ‘Polaris-action group’ had been camped on the stony foreshore at Kilmun for weeks, their tiny fire illuminating a slogan, in foot-high lettering on a wall at the lochside: “Polaris spells doom”.

HeraldScotland: The Patrick Henry arrives at the depot ship, ProteusThe Patrick Henry arrives at the depot ship, Proteus (Image: Duncan Stewart)

When the depot ship arrived, CND demonstrators told journalists that they were hoping to get as close to it as possible and to “hand some leaflets to the seamen if we can”. But precautions were already in hand: Clyde protection motor fishing vessels patrolled the loch overnight, while HMS Exmouth had orders to retaliate with fire extinguishers and hoses if demonstrators tried to use force when the depot ship berthed.

When Proteus sailed in, six demonstrators from England, who tried to reach her in their kayaks and dinghies, were swamped by naval launches. Watched by boat-loads of journalists, and with US sailors looking on from the Proteus’s top deck, the six led police a merry dance.

One, Mike Nolan, nimbly escaped the attentions of two launches from HMS Adamant, headquarters of the Third Submarine Squadron at Faslane; the boat-hooks wielded by their ratings were a fraction too late as his kayak jinked and dodged among the fleet.

“For 20 minutes”, the Glasgow Herald reported, “he held out, as the Proteus grew larger in the foreground, and then an unlucky current threw him against a launch’s side”.

A senior officer from HMS Adamant grabbed a boat-hook from a constable and stabbed it into the bottom of the kayak, pinning it to the side of the launch.

Those were the days – Anti-nuclear demonstrators on the march, 1961

Nolan, who believed in passive resistance, went limp, but it still took two constables, a naval frogman and a police sergeant to haul him from the kayak and into the launch.

He and five others were taken to Dunoon and charged with breach of the peace, but the charges were dropped on March 12.

Dozens of journalists boarded the Proteus to attend a press conference given by its captain, Richard B. Laning. He declined to confirm that the Patrick Henry was due in the Holy Loch shortly – though, if it did arrive, he added, the depot ship was ready to service it.

HeraldScotland: U.S. sailors from the Proteus watch anti-Polaris demonstrators march from Dunoon to Sandbank, March 1961U.S. sailors from the Proteus watch anti-Polaris demonstrators march from Dunoon to Sandbank, March 1961 (Image: Harry Moyes)

In Dunoon’s Queen’s Hall, the provost, Catherine McPhail, gave a warm speech of welcome at a civic reception for 150 of the Proteus’s officers and men. Captain Norval Ward, commander of the US Submarine Squadron 14, who was taking up his new appointment as commander of the Submarine Training and Refit Group, Clyde, declared that the Proteus’s mission was one of peace.

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Later, there was a dance in honour of the Proteus’s crew. The town’s bars and cinemas were packed, and many shops remained open until 10pm; that first weekend, though, many shopkeepers capitalised on the newcomers by putting up their prices.

The Glasgow Herald welcomed the arrival of Polaris-carrying submarines, saying they “rule out the nightmare which the strategists call a ‘pre-emptive strike’. Nuclear war in the Polaris era means the certainty of mutual destruction. There is no longer any prospect of getting in a shattering first blow”.

The strength of pro- and anti-Polaris feeling around the Holy Loch was made clear the day after the arrival of the Proteus, when 1,500 demonstrators marched from Dunoon Pier to Sandbank war memorial.

HeraldScotland: Two young Americans, Barton and Martha Stone, who had taken part in a peace march from the US to Moscow, pictured at a CND rally in Glasgow in October 1961Two young Americans, Barton and Martha Stone, who had taken part in a peace march from the US to Moscow, pictured at a CND rally in Glasgow in October 1961 (Image: Newsquest)

Local people were antagonised by an anti-nuclear sign that was hung on the memorial. Many protest banners were visible – one read, “You’ve never had it so radioactive” (a play on Macmillan’s “You’ve never had it so good” speech) – and some demonstrators chanted “Go home Yanks” at US sailors. Slogans and catcalls were freely exchanged; one local schoolboy held up a poster which read, “We need Polaris. The Holy Loch was a war-time base. Go home weirdies”.

Two men were arrested after demonstrating outside the US Consulate in Glasgow’s Woodside Terrace. On Sunday, May 14, 2,000 people, led by Michael Foot MP, staged a protest march from Kirn pier to Dunoon. As Foot spoke at Black Park, a group of counter-demonstrators arrived in a van equipped with a loudspeaker; a group of other men surrounded the van and pushed it back towards the entrance.

There was another headline-grabbing protest on May 21, when 48 people were arrested. Around 3,000 people had sailed to Dunoon then marched to Hunter’s Quay. The march over, around 100 others descended on Ardnadam pier.There were skirmishes on the pier as police tried to clear a path for a van carrying 3,000 loaves for the Proteus. Injuries were suffered on both sides, and the police were accused of using excessive force.

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Demonstrators who tried to board the Proteus were forced back by fire-hoses – but many claimed they had been pelted with nuts, bolts and heavy tins of metal polish.

A London teacher who had taken part in the demo at the pier wrote to The Herald, objecting to a comment in our news report that many of the women wore “dirty black jeans or slacks with shapeless sweaters”. When necessarily roughing it on a vital anti-Polaris demo, she pointed out, “I am not likely to don 15-denier nylons, stiletto heels, a smart suit/’little black dress’, plus an expensive hat”.

On March 27, three demonstrators reached the Patrick Henry. Mike Nolan managed to sit on its after-fin for 45 minutes before being hauled aboard a US launch. Around 350 anti-Polaris protestors were carted off by police on the weekend of September 16-17 during another big demonstration.

HeraldScotland: Mike Nolan perches on the after-fin of the Patrick Henry as police try to end his protestMike Nolan perches on the after-fin of the Patrick Henry as police try to end his protest (Image: Newsquest)

The Polaris subs were called upon during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. The day after President Kennedy made a broadcast to the world, revealing that there were nuclear missiles in Cuba and demanding that they be removed, a Glasgow Herald reporter went down to the Holy Loch to check on the US Polaris submarines based there. They were no longer present. “They were all gone, together with their tenders. They had taken their stations for Armageddon”, The Herald noted in 1992, on the 30th anniversary of the crisis.

HeraldScotland: Mike Nolan is hauled ashore at ArdnadamMike Nolan is hauled ashore at Ardnadam (Image: Newsquest)

In 1973, America alerted its bombers and missile launchers, and put its missile subs to sea from the Holy Loch, recounts author Rodric Braithwaite in his book, Armageddon and Paranoia. President Nixon hoped to deter the Russians from sending troops to support the Egyptians during the Yom Kippur war between Israel and Egypt.

The events at the Holy Loch in 1961 spurred many protests, which have endured in the memory decades after the base closed as the Cold War came to an end. A flavour of this is evident in an article by the Guardian journalist Ian Jack, in 2007.

“Soon after the depot ship arrived in 1961”, he wrote, “I went as young CND member to demonstrate. Polaris had a galvanic effect in a country where the Gorbals Young Socialists flourished, Glasgow still published a magazine devoted to anarcho-syndicalism, and the folk-song movement was taking wing. I carried one pole of a banner and the poet Hugh MacDiarmid took the other.”.

The Holy Loch base is long gone, but the passionate anti-nuclear fears it stirred found lasting expression in the Faslane peace camp, which came into being in the summer of 1982, on the doorstep of the Trident missile base on the Gare Loch.