ON November 1, 1960, Prime Minister Harold Macmillan informed the Commons that a Polaris nuclear submarine base would be developed at the Holy Loch, on the Cowal peninsula. Macmillan had privately expressed misgivings about placing such a “major nuclear target” so close to Glasgow, but the decision went ahead, and was immediately condemned by several Scottish MPs. One urged Macmillan to put the plan to a plebiscite of the Scottish people,

In early March 1961, the US depot ship, Proteus, sailed into the Holy Loch, “having successfully negotiated,” as this newspaper reported, “the dangerous shoals of political controversy”. Anti-Polaris demonstrations had already begun locally but a dozen young men from the Kilmun area beached the protestors’ dinghies and kayaks on the eve of Proteus’s arrival, painting a slogan on the side of the kayaks: “Welcome, Yanks”.

When Proteus berthed on March 3, with a crew of nearly 1,000 officers and men, six anti-nuclear protestors from England tried to reach her, leading naval and civilian police a merry dance before being swamped by naval launches. They were later charged at Dunoon with breach of the peace.

Captain Norval Ward, commander of the US Submarine Training and Refit Group, Clyde, told a civic reception and cocktail party in the Queen’s Hall, Dunoon, that the Proteus’s mission was one of peace and nothing else. They had come “because the government of the United Kingdom has asked us to be with you”.

On March 4 some 1,200 anti-Polaris demonstrators marched from Dunoon Pier to Sandbank War Memorial; the Herald noted that they had arrived on the afternoon car-ferry “in a bearded, duffle-coated disorder, shouting ‘Yanks Go Home’ at any American sailors they saw”. Some carried banners that read, ‘You’ve never had it so radioactive’, a play on Macmillan’s ‘You’ve never had it so good’ message to the British people in 1957.

Read more: Herald Diary

On March 8 the US submarine Patrick Henry, with a full load of 16 Polaris missiles, arrived at the Holy Loch. She was secured (photograph) alongside the Proteus, watched by dozens of reporters and photographers – and one canoe-bound demonstrator, pursued by 70 civilian and naval police, ratings, and naval frogmen in launches.

On March 27 three demonstrators boarded the submarine, and one, Mike Nolan, squatted on its after-fin (photograph), giving the thumbs-up to journalists in a nearby launch.

A group of American sailors left Nolan to his own devices for 15 minutes in the bitterly cold wind. An officer picked up a megaphone and called out, but Nolan had his back to him. “Hey, buddy”, the officer shouted. Nolan turned round. “The exec.,” the officer continued, “says if you wanna come on and have a cup of coffee we’ll be glad to give it to you”. “I’m okay here, thanks”, Nolan said, his teeth chattering.

He was left there for another 30 minutes before being arrested by police.