IT was the first public address in a career which would one day take him to the summit of American politics and into the Oval Office at the Whitehouse.

But when John F Kennedy got up to speak, it wasn't within the ivy-clad walls of Harvard, or a community hall in Massachusetts, but the ballroom of a hotel in Glasgow.

And instead of the adoring applause and cheers which would one day greet the idealistic young Senator as he campaigned for the presidency, he was greeted with considerable anger by US citizens fearing for their lives.

It was 79 years ago this month that the young Kennedy, then aged 22, made his way to Scotland at the behest of his father, Joseph Kennedy, then the US Ambassador to Great Britain.

War had just broken out with Nazi Germany, and the young Kennedy was dispatched on a special diplomatic mission to ensure there was no fallout after a U-boat torpedoed the Govan-built passenger liner Athenia as it sailed Glasgow to Montreal on 3 September 1939.

The sinking, one of the first hostile acts of the war, cost the lives of 117 people onboard - 28 of them American - and had heightened the chances that America would be dragged into the war.

Ambassador Joseph Kennedy, an American isolationist, was determined this would not happen and sent his son to turn on the charm and sooth the nerves of traumatised survivors who had been brought to the Art Deco Beresford Hotel in Glasgow's Sauchiehall Street as part of the relief effort..

Phillips O'Brien, Professor of Strategic Studies at St Andrews University said: "The Athenia was one of the first ships sunk at the outbreak of the war and the shock would have been immense.

"It was very early on, during the phoney war, and Joseph Kennedy, the American ambassador, would have wanted to act quickly to show to the US citizens caught up in the sinking that their government was looking out for them.

"Joseph Kennedy was a colourful character and was isolationist towards American involvement in the war. He wanted to act quickly to make things were smoothed over."

Many of the 1400 Athenia passengers, which included hundreds of women and children, were rescued from the sea off Northern Ireland.

Patrick Dollan, Glasgow's Lord Provost at the time organised the relief effort personally and even launched a special fund for the survivors, which raised more than £3500.

In a telegram to the US President Franklin D Roosevelt sent on 5 September, he assured that "Glasgow will look after American and other survivors of [the] Athenia disaster who have arrived in our city."

This prompted President Roosevelt to write to Provost Dollan in response on 11 September, saying: "I wish you to know how deeply I and the American people appreciate the efficient, generous and humane manner in which Glasgow and its citizens came to the help of our fellow countrymen and women in their need.

"I express to you my heartfelt thanks and assure you that Glasgow's gesture will not be forgotten."

When the young JFK arrived in Scotland, he also quickly showed his appreciation of Provost Dollan's efforts, accompanying him to a meeting in the City Chambers and visiting survivors in hospital.

Kennedy said at the time: “I have never seen people more grateful for all that has been done for them by Glasgow than those to whom I have spoken today.

“I have told Lord Provost Dollan that it is the desire of the American government to undertake complete responsibility for the care of our nationals but he has insisted that Glasgow regards it as its privilege to undertake this responsibility. That is a very generous gesture indeed and it will be fully appreciated by my countrymen.

“I will go back and tell my father how kind you have been to our people.”

But when Kennedy was taken to the the Beresford Hotel to meet with around 150 American survivors, some of them wounded, the mood turned ugly.

Demands were made for protection from the US navy for any further crossings of the Atlantic, with many people fearing further German attacks.

A newspaper report from 8 September said: “Several women shouted “We must have a convoy, we are not going in a small freighter without a convoy. You can’t trust the Germans now’.

“We want an armed escort,’ shouted another woman who had a bandage around her head. Mr Kennedy, obviously taken aback by the display of feeling in the meeting said he would report to his father on a suggestion of a convoy,”

There was also said to be anger at the arrival of the ambassador’s son – dubbed the “schoolboy diplomat” – whose fresh-faced looks made him seem even younger and more inexperienced than his 22 years.

But he was able to remain calm and reassured them that they would be safe and ultimately persuading them to travel.

With the crowd mollified and less likely to voice their outrage over the attack when they returned home, the sinking of the Athenia did not prove to be the catalyst which drove the US to war.

Conversely, it was to prove a rallying cry in Canada, which also lost a number of its citizens, spurring many men to enlist.

Among the casualties of the sinking was 10-year-old Canadian girl Margaret Hayworth, whose fate was widely covered by the newspapers, setting their tone for the rest of the war. One thousand people met the train that brought her body back to Hamilton, Ontario.

However, the truth about the sinking was obscured in Germany, where Hitler decided to dampen down publicity to avoid stoking American outrage.

Officially, it was denied that the Athenia had been torpedoed by a German U-Boat, and records were altered to cover up the incident with the truth only emerging during the Nuremberg trials.

JFK returned to Harvard and would later enlist in the US Navy, serving on a torpedo boat in the Pacific.

He was injured when the boat was rammed and sunk by a Japanese destroyer, and had to survive for several days behind enemy lines.

After the war he became active in politics, entering the House of Representatives in 1947 and advancing to the US Senate in 1953. He was elected President in 1961, and assassinated two years later in Texas.

The Beresford Hotel, which opened in 1938, was turned into an office block after the war, and later bought by the University of Strathclyde for student accommodation in 1964, renaming it Baird Hall.

It was sold in 2003 and work began on its re-conversion into private apartments.

Prof O'Brien, said that the JFK's trip there would have been part of his father's efforts to limit the damage to America's interests caused by the sinking of the Athenia, giving the young JFK an introduction to the world of poltical spin.

He said: "John Kennedy - JFK - was the second son and it was his older brother Joe who was being groomed to be president. But Joe died during the war undertaking a very dangerous bombing mission, and John was next in line.

"Their father was politically driven to his finger tips and wanted to get someone up to Glasgow to ensure there was no bad press and that the American government came out of it ok.

"As John was in London at the time, he would have been used to make the diplomatic point that the US government was on top of things."