The Story about Newlands House

Newlands was built in 1911 to replace a previous house, possibly on the site of “a castle, or fortlet, of great strength” according to one 1820s account, although the wartime owner Walter Duncan was unable to find evidence of that.[1] He was convinced by a relative and a Norwegian whaling captain to let the house be used as a hospital for Norwegian personnel. He did so only on the condition that “it be returned in the same condition”, but according to one relative of Mr Duncan this was no problem since the Norwegian staff and patients were “very tidy and respectful”.[2] According to records at Dumfries Museum, as well as a hospital Newlands served as accommodation for Norwegian officers – whether that eventually included the captain who persuaded Walter to let them stay, we cannot say![3]

The cloak room became an operating theatre, while x-ray equipment was set up in the servants hall. One young resident of the estate arrived at Newlands from South Africa, having sailed with Norwegian whalers who were returning from their Antarctic hunt. She remembered how the Shetland Bus, a covert operation which transported commandos to Norway and back, mostly operated during darkness in winter. Hence passengers were prone to frostbite during the voyage and some were transported straight to Newlands.[4] The same girl remembered that all the staff of the hospital were Norwegian, but that as a child one matron in particular stuck in her memory for being “fierce”.[5]

She also recalled that the Norwegians’ culinary habits, which included catching salmon to smoke and rearing pigs that they butchered themselves – apparently the colonel who tended the pigs was very stout himself. Perhaps these were served with the vegetables that her mother grew in the walled garden of Newlands. There was also a particular Norwegian kind of traditional Scandinavian søtsuppe, or ‘sweet soup’ made with fruit, mainly raisins, but perhaps also dried apples and apricots, prunes, lemon and cinnamon.[6] Another cheerful recollection is provided by local man Robert Borthwick of Galaberry, who remembers that recuperating Norwegians once held a sports day on the playing fields at Duncow. It was memorable for its unusual games, one of which was “to try and kick a rugby ball through a suspended tyre!”[7]

Walter and his brothers were called up themselves and served in India, but his chauffeur Mr Hume stayed on and looked after the Norwegians’ vehicles.[8] As thanks for his hospitality, King Olav V awarded The Medal of St. Olav to Walter Duncan. Established by Haakon VII in 1939, this medal is conferred “for services in advancing knowledge of Norway abroad and for strengthening the bonds between expatriate Norwegians and their descendants and their country of residence”.[9] Since his service to Norway occurred during wartime, Walter’s medal probably included an oak leaf cluster.

The connection between Norwegians and Newlands House did not end with the war. Due to its importance for many who were hospitalised there the house has been revisited over the years by royalty as well as veterans and members of the Scottish Norwegian Society. Two plaques on an outside wall of the house now commemorate a visit from King Haakon in 1941, and another by his successor King Olav during the 1962 royal tour of Scotland.[10] A third plaque between these two bears the motto in Norwegian, ‘Then we two brothers stood together and thus we shall henceforth stand.’ Its full inscription reads:




On Sunday 5th June 1966, to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the SNS , Walter Duncan invited members from across Scotland to visit Dumfries, where he and his wife who hosted a dinner for members at the County Hotel and then welcomed them to Newlands.[12] As a lifelong member of the Scottish Norwegian Society, it was Walter Duncan who wound up the Dumfries branch in 1967 and passed on its remaining funds to the Glasgow branch of the SNS.[13]

For their 50th anniversary celebrations on Sunday 22nd September 1991, many members of the SNS travelled to Newlands where Walter’s widow still lived with the new owner, his nephew.

One member recalls how they “were invited to sign the Visitors’ Book which contained the names of many distinguished visitors to Newlands over the years” and that “some members were able to look back at their signatures from the visit in 1966.”[14] Newlands House remains a private residence of the Duncan family.

[1] Canmore, ‘Newlands’ page [accessed 23.3.2017] <>

[2] Interview with Our Norwegian Story researcher

[3] Dumfries Museum, ‘Norway and Dumfries: a special friendship’ (1990) p.12

[4] Interview with Our Norwegian Story researcher

[5] Interview with Our Norwegian Story researcher

[6], ‘Recipes: Søtsuppe – Scandinavian Sweet Soup’ [accessed 16.3.2017] <>

[7] Isabelle C. Gow, Nithsdale at War (Catrine: Stenlake, 2011), p.90

[8] Interview with Our Norwegian Story researcher

[9] The Royal House of Norway website, ‘Decorations: The Medal of St. Olav’ page [accessed 22.3.2017] <>

[10] James McKenna, ‘History of the Scottish Norwegian Society’ (2002), p.19

[11] James McKenna, ‘History of the Scottish Norwegian Society’ (2002), p.19

[12] James McKenna, ‘History of the Scottish Norwegian Society’ (2002), p.9

[13] James McKenna, ‘History of the Scottish Norwegian Society’ (2002), p.6

[14] James McKenna, ‘History of the Scottish Norwegian Society’ (2002), p.19

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