Dave Scott-Morgan

Dave Scott-Morgan

Songsmith, Writer, Musician, Birmingham UK

Gibraltar Farm

It was a Wednesday in August 2017. We had played some shows on the west coast of Scotland and it was our day off. Meandering along the harbour footpath in the small village of Arisaig. I stopped at a stone plinth – a memorial in the shape of a parachute – and read the inscription: It had been blessed by no less than the Pope (the Pope?) – to ‘Czech agents who trained here in 1941-43’(?)  Beg pardon, agents who trained HERE ??.  I had read somewhere about the operation to assassinate Heydrich, the brutal Nazi overlord of Czechoslovakia, and wondered if this had anything to do with that. Over to one side of the harbour there was a tourist shop and lurking in there were lots of local history books. I thumbed through one of them and quickly found out that the memorial was indeed for the agents who killed Heydrich. I was gobsmacked that they should have been training here in Arisaig, in this remote outpost of the empire. But then, reading on, I discovered to my utter amazement, that the famous Violette Szabo had also trained in this area. The year before I had written a song about her (‘Gibraltar Farm’).  

Reading on, my pulse rate kept on increasing as I discovered that the secret wartime headquarters of SOE (Special Operations Executive) had been a stately home now turned into a hotel, Arisaig House, just a mile from where we were… Walking into the big stone foyer, right there on the wall, framed in pride of place, was Violette Szabo’s poem – the one written by cryptographer Leo Marks and sounding for all the world like a love poem when really it was a secret communication tool for her to use. I looked at it for ages, while Violette strode past, uniformed and stern, in the corner of my mind’s eye.

I was excited by the amazing history of the place and the peculiar divine convergence that had placed me right in the middle of it.  
But the truth is, I had come here in spirit long before I ever came here in person. I had become connected to the history of Arisaig, long before I had any idea it existed even. I guess it all started when I heard about a once-top secret airfield in Bedfordshire called Tempsford. I read about the fact that there was a little shack on one side of this airfield where agents used to be kitted out before finally taking off for occupied Europe. How bizarrely curious!


As I dug deeper, I learned about a famous girl agent named Violette Szabo, who had a poem written for her which sounded for all the world like a love poem, but actually it was a code poem, a means of secret communication.
I was intrigued by the history of now-disused Tempsford and, working as a flight instructor, discovered that one of my trips required just a small diversion to overfly it. Orbiting around for several minutes and staring down, I could see the shack was still there – with a little track leading to it from the nearby London to Edinburgh railway line. (I had heard of agents negotiating that track in the pitch black of night from a train out of Kings Cross that had been stopped for thirty seconds at a signal two and a half miles north of Sandy station).

Then in early 2016, a visiting preacher came to our church and we got chatting. I found out that he lived just a stones throw from Tempsford. He told me that the shack was called ‘Gibraltar Farm’ and that it had now it had become something of a memorial – a shrine to the memory of the wartime heroes who passed through it. I thought ‘Gibraltar Farm’ – what a great title for a song! So I wrote the song focusing on Violette Szabo, and incorporated in it some lyrical mementoes from Leo Marks’ poem.

I recorded it as an album track and hadn’t intended to play it live until one day my percussion player recognised Violette’s picture on a song lyric sheet. He told me that he had just been to a survival lecture by Ray Mears which had used Violette Szabo as an example of surviving under extreme circumstances. I played him the song and he convinced me we that should do it with the group. And so it was that Morganisation performed ‘Gibraltar Farm’ for the first time in September 2016 at a theatre in Bromsgrove. In the audience was a man from Fort William, and shortly after he contacted me about my group doing some shows in Scotland. That’s how I got to be on the beach at Arisaig in 2017. 

And later that same year, through an amazing convergence of happenstance, my wife and I actually got to stay in a cottage on the Arisaig House estate for 6 months. 

Violette died in February 1945 aged just 23 at Ravensbruck concentration camp. She was one of the many thousands of brave young people who went from this country to ‘set Europe ablaze’ (as Churchill had commanded), helping to defeat Nazism through individual acts of lone heroism. But Violette has become the fitting mast head for all of those involved in that struggle. And Leo Mark’s poem has become a work of artistic beauty, grifted out of a time of death and ugliness.