Scottish Memory Lane - War and Conflicts
There are a few folk still alive who saw the First World War which began over 100 years ago, but there are lots of us who lived through at least part of World War II where the civilian population was very much in the front line and subjected to bombs dropped by enemy aircraft. But more recent conflicts such as Korea, Malaya and Suez - and the threat of nuclear war (remember the Cuba crisis?) still had an impact on youngsters. Here are some of the memories of Scots who recall those 20th century conflicts.
It's hoped that readers will send in their own stories and memories of wartime in Scotland. All contributions should be sent to Scottie@RampantScotland.com.
Recently added stories have placed beside their title.
It was July 1939. I was nineteen years old, and in the Territorial Army and I had just qualified as a small arms instructor. Unknown to us we were only eight weeks away from the outbreak of World War Two. I had just two weeks previously been promoted to the rank of Lance Corporal, but my cloth Lance Corporal´s stripes had not been as yet issued (out of stock our "Q" said) Much to my surprise and no little horror I was put in charge of a detachment of ten men and at our annual training camp at Lieth Docks I was given my first taste of authority, which was rather frightening. One of my concerns was that I was the youngest member of this group, and at least two of my men were twice my age. It all seemed a bit premature, but I was very fortunate in being put in charge of a decent bunch of Gunners (Privates) who accepted without question my very juvenile authority.
Midway through our fortnight´s training there was a Sunday church parade, and as my detachment was the furthest out, my truck was designated to pick up men from two other detachments and take them to the Drumhead service. With half a dozen of my men in the back we arrived at out first pick-up site. Sitting in front with my driver the door suddenly swung open and a Sergeant, the site detachment commander said "Get in the back, I´m sitting here" This was the crunch. In the British Army Sergeants were gods and I still don´t know where my courage came from. I replied "This is my truck, my driver, and I am the detachment commander, and I sit here" I waited for the blast of three stripe authority, but to my relief and no little surprise my challenger said "Sorry" and took his place in the back of the truck.
There was an unrelated sequel to the first meeting with that Sergeant. Six months later when the war had started and I had been promoted to the rank of Sergeant, I was even more conscious of my youth, so attempted to grow a moustache. It wasn´t very successful but some camouflage had to be attempted. My friend from Lieth docks and now a good friend, whose comment on seeing my meagre growth for the first time commented "Well, although you still look like a schoolboy, it breaks the monotony of your face"
Alistair Macdonald, Beckenham, Kent UK
It was the summer of 1941 and the war was a way of life, and a profession which could last a lifetime. My unit was based in the south of England and was kept rather busy in an anti-aircraft role.
Three senior Sergeants of which I was one were selected to attend a School of Gunnery in Shrivenham to qualify as Assistant Instructors on Gunnery. The plan was that, on qualifying, one would be appointed as a Regimental AIG, and the other two as Battery Instructors. Six weeks seemed an awfully long time to be instructed on the new (at least to us) Swedish 40mm Bofors Anti Aircraft and anti-tank gun, but how wrong can you get? Gunnery certainly was the central theme, but there was much, much more. The internal combustion engine, diesel engines, generators, wireless communication, the newly invented radar, all current light weaponry, our own and the enemy´s, Through it all "How to instruct" This was paramount, and much of which was already part of our life in uniform.
The days started early and finished late. After the evening meal, there was preparation for the next day when you were likely to be called upon, without pre warning to make a presentation, or in the language of the course, a lecturette. I think I was called upon a dozen times to give a ten minute talk on a subject usually associated with the subject under discussion, but not always. At least once a day a student was called out to give a ten minutes presentation on a subject apparently pulled out of a hat. For example I remember one of my subjects was announced by the instructor something like this "Right Sergeant Macdonald, let´s hear from you. What do you know about a match?" He produced one, and continued. "Look, I´ll make it easier for you" So saying he broke it in two, and handed it to me with "The stage is yours" The limiting of stage fright was the objective It was hectic, exhausting but extremely rewarding.
The course came to an end, and I and the two other Sergeants rejoined our Battery as provisional instructors, although, until the results came through, we were unqualified. The fateful day arrived. I remember I was taking a class on the Bren gun when someone from Battery Office told me that the results had been posted on the notice board. I could hardly wait to finish the lesson. What a disappointment. There they were, tabulated - Sgt Lawson J. "A" Sgt Hendry R. "C" Sgt Macdonald A. "D" I don´t think I have ever been so completely devastated; only two digits off "F" for Failure. I was sure I had performed better than Bob Hendry, and I was fairly certain that I had had the edge on Jock Lawson, but there was no disputing the published results. Somewhere along the line I must have blotted my copybook. Avoiding colleagues, I missed lunch, and spent a miserable afternoon, made even worse when at around 4 o´clock I was told to report to Regimental Headquarters - the Colonel wanted to see me. This then was clearly the end of my career as an instructor; and back to the role of just another sergeant.
At RHQ, surprisingly, I didn´t have to wait the customary half-hour, but I was ushered in by the Orderly Room Sergeant on my arrival. "You're expected. Just knock and go in" The Regimental Commander was sitting at his desk. I delivered a smart salute, and to my surprise the Colonel rose from his chair, advanced towards me hand outstretched "Well done Sergeant. You probably don´t know this but you were the only one on the course to pass with Distinction"
Alistair Macdonald Beckenham Kent UK
The Handout - Dispensing Millions
I've probably got my dates wrong, but after a lapse of almost 70 years, does it really matter? Italy 1946. The ritish Army Battery I belonged to was withdrawn from its duty of guarding the German Prisoner of War camp at the beginning of the year. Spring had already arrived in the south of Italy, and to put a bit of icing on our cake, our new billets were for the first time in 6 years purpose built. Not for us but for the Italian pre-war navy. Compared to where we had come from they were five star. The Battery still numbered around 300 men, all impatiently waiting for demobilisation, but reasonably happy with the whole of Taranto (in the very south of Italy) available for their recreation and pleasure. And it was Spring. Graphic shows Taranto harbour before the war via Wikimedia Commons.
A quiet life. Just waiting, and for me the wait was still extending to over six months - then home. There was however still a bit of variety on the cards, still one piece of theatre to be enacted before I too was on my way home. Looking back on it I am still amazed how anyone could so easily make a pig's breakfast of such a simple procedure, and was rather embarrassed that I should have contributed to the shambles. The precise details are now lost in the mists of time, but had I been able to understand what was going on I would have remembered more. The biggest mystery, which confused more than just me, was that the Army was handing out the equivalent of literally millions of pounds, with the scantiest of checks and balances.
It was so unlike the War Office that I for one was convinced that I had missed out on some instruction, and would be held responsible for gross irresponsibility. Perhaps it was even a staged farce. Late one evening when we were all sitting comfortably in our luxurious Mess ante-room, a message came through from Brigade HQ. An officer, accompanied by two armed Senior NCOs would report to the Field Cashier's Office in Taranto at 0730 next morning. The officer would also take with him half-a-dozen (empty) sandbags. This latter made the order highly suspect, but Brigade was Brigade and not given to jokes. So, next morning there was I, as the day's Duty Officer, at the Field Cashier's Office, with the sandbags and flanked by a couple of armed Sergeants as instructed.
Across a six-by-three foot barrack room table the situation was explained. (well, the clerk seemed to think was adequately covered, but read on) At midnight, the one just passed, the Italian Government had devalued the lire which was now, instead of being 400 to the pound sterling, it was 900. This didn't mean very much to me until the implications were explained. (nothing in writing)
Yesterday, an item in say a shop window for sale at the equivalent of a pound could be purchased for 400 lire. Today it would still be worth a pound, but now sold for 900 lire (the new pound's worth) Simple, but grossly over simplified, and probably inaccurate. The British soldier, and all others in the Armies of Occupation, some 800,000 of them were 500 lire short in every pound value they carried, and that of course couldn't be tolerated. So, for every 400 lire held by a soldier, he had to be given another 500 lire. There were checks but not very rigorous. For example, the whole unit had to be paraded, with the exception of the cooks, who were always excused such parades. They, the non-cooks, were to produce and present all the lire they had in their possession, but no more than the sum of the last four wage withdrawals would be accepted for upping, and they would be given back for every 400, an extra 500. Their wage withdrawals would be checked against their AB64 army pay book. "Got it?" enquired the clerk behind his table. "Well, here's a million lire. Put it in your sandbags, and tomorrow morning at the same time bring back all the lire you haven't dished out"
There had to be something I'd missed, and it bothered me all day. Anyway the unit was paraded having been told to bring all the lire they had in their possession plus their AB 64 (army pay book) and the show began. As the morning wore on and money was being distributed, the Sergeant Major who was sitting alongside me and keeping tabs, suggested that the sums being handed out to individuals appeared to be increasing as the hand-out progressed. And they were. It hadn't taken the smart ones long to see and seize an opportunity. Having been given their bonus of lire, they went to the back of the queue and handed a portion of their newly acquired wealth to a mate who had yet to be served. (No more, of course than the last four withdrawals of his wages) What had gone was gone, but the Sergeant Major read the Riot Act and the flood slackened off, but only marginally.
At the end of the day there was still a goodly amount of lire left over, that is by weight, for it was anyone's guess as to its value, and the officers had yet to be taken care of. This appeared to be a rather grey area (or was it a lack of understanding on my part?) for commissioned ranks in the British Army had no AB 64's. How then to restrict the benevolences to the sum of the last four withdrawals when there had been no such withdrawals? In the Mess the CO asked how much I thought was left. We ran our inexpert eye over the remaining couple of sandbags, for there was no running balance being kept (I hadn't even been asked to count what I had been given at the Field Cashier's that morning) and concluded that there was enough to be shared on the basis of what I thought was twice the average handed out to Senior NCO's. Some of the remainder, if any, of one almost empty sandbag would go into the Mess Fund.
This financial exercise was officially recorded in the Battery War Diary, but next morning I was in a sweat as I approached the Field Cashier's office. I anticipated "How much did you dispense, and how much are you returning?" What I got was "Everything go OK? Fine, just dump what you've got left in that bin" A couple of points which might help to explain what appeared to be a very ham fisted operation. 1) The lire notes being handed out were our own specially printed Allied Military Currency (AMC) and 2) The bill for all this apparent lavishness was being carried by the Italian government.
To put it into another context, by the end of December 1945, it was reported that one hundred billion (not a typing error) worth of Allied Military Lire notes were printed, and in the years ahead issued as wages to the troops. It is difficult to see who lost out, if in fact anyone did. As for those who gained, I think our half dozen cooks who were dragged away from their dixies at about 2 o'clock, and knew the score, made a killing, as did the Officers' Mess Fund which at that time, unknown to the resident officers, including myself, had less than a month's Battery life left. The Battery was being dismembered.
Some details of that day are lost in the mists of time, but I will never forget my return to the Field Cashier's office with my few hundred lire. "Well, where are your signed documents of payments?". He didn't and that's another memory.
Alistair Macdonald Beckenham Kent UK
It was 1942 and I was looking forward to my train journey to Aldershot although my arrival there was to be the first stage of an over-seas posting, probably to North Africa, and as it turned out, the Western Desert it was. The pleasure however was in the fact of it being only my second train journey as a first class commissioned rank passenger, and after over two years of travelling third class (there was no second class in those days) from the south coast of England to my home in Scotland. This often entailed standing in corridors for up to ten hours all the way from London to Edinburgh, and today´s journey was certainly something to be welcomed.
I was 22 years of age, a very new Second Lieutenant, and had spent the last seven months at an OCTU in North Wales. Today´s setting was the Tay Bridge Station in Dundee. In about 15 minutes the train from Aberdeen to London, "The Aberdonian" would draw into the station, and I would be conveyed in First Class comfort all the way to King´s Cross. The platform wasn´t too crowded, and looking around to see who my travelling companions might be, my eye caught sight of a young girl a few paces away, and simultaneously her eyes lit up in recognition. I had been introduced to her a few month´s ago by my fiancée who was a childhood friend, and although we hadn´t spoken much, I was immediately aware of pending problems, which could be quite embarrassing ones. Graphic of a steam train is © Ben Brooksbank via Wikimedia Commons.
Margaret had been born totally deaf; had never heard a human voice, not even her own, yet with a great deal of difficulty and determination she could speak, and was an accomplished lip-reader. Her speech, while a miracle that it was there at all, was laboured and not too distinct except to those who were accustomed to listening to her, but I certainly was not one of those so accomplished, hence my misgivings.
She was delighted to see me, a friend who could, she thought understand her articulation and who apparently presented her with no lip-reading problems. She was travelling to Edinburgh where she was about to start her first job in a florist shop, and was thrilled at the prospect of being able to cope with the needs of her customers. We chatted without too much difficulty and I was very pleased to have given her the opportunity to make conversation with an understanding friend.
In about five minutes the Aberdonian was due to pull into the platform, and I began to worry. What happens when it arrives? Do I say cheerio and make my way to my first class carriage? Or should I gallantly open the third class door for her and then proceed to the luxury of first class? Or should I...? She was so animated, so delighted to have a chat with someone who could understand her laboured speech that there was no way I could leave her to travel alone. In any case she was alighting in Edinburgh where I could change to a first class compartment. So when the train drew up at the platform I courteously escorted and joined her in a third class carriage. We were lucky and found a couple of seats together side by side, causing expressions of ill-concealed surprise among the four uniformed Gordon Highlanders already in the compartment. We continued our conversation albeit having to contend with a few more obstacles - train noise made it more difficult to follow what she was saying, and in order to give her the best opportunity to lip-read, I had to twist round to face her so that she could see my lips. None-the-less I felt that I had done the gentlemanly thing, and at a very small inconvenience to myself. I had also given a few Gordon Highlander squaddies something to talk about.
We were about five minutes into our journey; just crossing the Tay Bridge when from along the corridor came the call "All tickets please" The door slid open and the ticket inspector held out his hand for my ticket. It was greeted with a rather sour and loud "There´s plenty room up front for first class passengers" He was quite right, for at the next stop, I would probably be denying a passenger a seat. I could offer no excuse - there was no way to explain my predicament. He held out his hand to Margaret who handed him her first class ticket.
Alistair Macdonald, Beckenham, Kent
Underground Shelters - and Claustrophobia
I was 4 when the second world war began and aged 10 when it ended but I will never forget any of these 6 years. We lived in a Corporation home in Edinburgh.
I was the middle one of 5 kids evacuated to the country but since no one could take in 5 kids I was separated from the family. I will never forget the air raid sirens and having to go to a shelter under ground. As a result, for the next 50 years I suffered drastically from claustrophobia. Maybe because of my screaming we started gathering (all 7 of us ) on the floor inside the front door rather than go to the underground shelter.
I also well remember the food ration books. My father had no work - my mother worked in the kitchen of a hotel and as a result managed to get some left over food for her 5 kids - once we were back home.
Thank you for letting me share.
Margaret Robertson, USA
It was Italy 1944. My Battery was deployed round the Adriatic port of Monfalcone a naval supply base some 30 miles east of the Foggia airfields (see NASA satellite graphic of Monfalcone). We had regular meetings with the Americans on the airfield as we had a Troop of Bofors anti-aircraft guns lending them some assistance.
A beautiful day; a good road, so on my Norton 500cc motorbike. I was looking forward to seeing our American friends, and in particular their "spectacular" meals. Their rations were very much superior to those of the British Army. Where else in war-torn Europe could I relish melon, grapefruit and pine-apple other than under the Stars and Stripes? But we won out on liquid refreshments - American forces were "dry" and we were not....
It was a very hot July day, and I was in my tropical uniform, but with a few "personal amendments". (The graphic shows Alistair in "proper" tropical uniform - he is the good looking one on the right) I shunned the mandatory motorcycle helmet; it was too heavy and hot. It was replaced by my service cap anchored to the back of my head and held on by my chin-strap round my neck. My tropical cotton shirt was unbuttoned to the waist. My shorts were already bordering on the regulation length. I was dressed to fit the occasion, and the Americans were very envious of the Eighth Army´s summer outfit. Briefings over and it was about four pm and I was on my way back to my HQ in Monfalcone. Cruising along at about 50 mph on a long straight flat road, passing through acres of ripening fields mainly of tomatoes.
I was about half-way home when I noticed in the distance a dark shadow across the road. As I got nearer my brain began to attempt an analysis of this odd darkness, odd because there were no trees near enough to cast such a shadow. When I at last solved this phenomena it was too late. I was into a vast swarm of locusts crossing from one tomato field to another. Some flying; some crawling over the Tarmac. The swarm was about six feet high above road level, and the insects themselves were each about the size of a large index finger, with a wing span of double that length. (graphic of locust swarm is © "Iwoelbern" via Wikimedia Commons ).
I was into the thick of this winged myriad, my wheels skidding on the crawling carpet of insects, and those airborne were inside my shirt, my shorts and packed into the back of my cap. I managed to keep my bike upright, emerged from the winged cloud, and pulling into the verge began the unpleasant business of picking the crawlers from my body. (Graphic of close-up of locust is © Etan J. Tal via Wikimedia Commons ) If nothing else, I had a tale to tell on my return to base.
Over seventy years have passed, but trying to drive through a million locusts is an everlasting memory, as clear today as it was then. I still shudder.
Alistair Macdonald, Beckenham, Kent UK
Buried Under Rubble
On May 7th 1941 I was in one of the 2 houses bombed on Hathaway Drive, Giffnock. Giffnock is an upmarket residential East Renfrewshire. As a dormitory area for those working in Glasgow, it lies at the southwest of the Greater Glasgow conurbation and would not be a strategic target of the German air force. So the bombs were probably dropped at random by bombers flying overhead. I had been born less than a year earlier and my parents told me that I had been buried under a beam that had fallen over my cot. That had saved me from the roof that landed on the beam. They told me that it took people some time to find me under all the rubble. Before discovering me alive, the searchers had said that I was probably dead. The graphic here is of a present-day church and War Memorial in Giffnock and is © Stephen Sweeney via Wikimedia Commons
I now live in a small town called Leamington in southwestern Ontario, Canada. If anyone has any photos of the bombed houses (since rebuilt) in Hathaway Drive before or after the bombing, I'd be delighted to see them - please send them via Scottie@RampantScotland.com
George Gordon, Ontario, Canada.
War and Children
Three or four years ago I was asked if I would prepare a message for the young Sunday School kids, about being a child in wartime - the piece below was what I said. The child named Fiona later became my wife and we've been married for over 50 years :
Sometimes a child will see someone who has a chocolate bar, or a sandwich, that looks better than the one he has, but taking a treat or something that belongs to someone else is greedy and selfish, and it's not a nice thing to do.
When a country or the leader of a country wants another country's property, and decides just to take it by force, that starts a very nasty fight, called a war, and people who fight in a war sometimes get hurt very badly.
Now, it's the grown-ups who might have to go away to fight the war. Sometimes they don't get to come home again, so a war is a very bad thing.
Kids can get a different idea about a war, depending on where they live when the war starts. A really nasty war started the day after I was five years old, it meant that we didn't get candies, and didn't get to eat the good food we usually enjoyed, and we had to sometimes get out of bed in the middle of the night and go someplace where we could be safer from bombs that were dropped from airplanes. After dark, there were no street lights, and we were not allowed to let any light shine out of the windows, so everyone had to have heavy curtains on all their windows. After a night like that I would go out and look for bits of bombs on the street, and these bits were called shrapnel, and it was kind of exciting to find them.
So that I could be safe from the bombs, my Mom and Dad sent me away to live with my Aunt and Uncle. They lived in a town in Scotland called Perth, and I went to school there and I was very safe and happy, and I had lots of friends to play with every day. The graphic shows the River Tay and Tay Street in Perth. Sometimes I wasn't as safe as I should be because I had a habit of jumping from bridges, and falling out of trees, and almost climbing over fences, so my Aunt had to take me to the hospital to get fixed up, but I was having fun.
There was a little giri in Scotland, her name is Fiona but 1 didn't know her until many years later, and her experience was very different from mine. Her Daddy was a sailor, so he was away from home a lot, bringing food and other stuff back to Scotland from Canada and South America.
One day, when Fiona's Daddy was away at sea, a bomb hit their house and they lost all their furniture, and all their books and clothes and toys, and they had to go away and find someplace else to live.
Later on they had to leave everything behind again because a bomb landed in their backyard, but it didn't explode so no one was allowed to go there, because it could explode any time.
Fiona's Daddy was First Officer on a merchant ship and he was torpedoed two or three different times. Usually when you are torpedoed you get very cold and wet, and sometimes swallow oil that's in the water. That happened to Fiona's Daddy and he got very sick with pneumonia, and he died.
So a little boy called Don was quite happy and comfortable in the war, but a little girl called Fiona lost her Daddy and her house and all her toys.
When the war ended we were all very happy and we all celebrated. All the street lights came on again. After a couple of years we were able to get lots of candies again, so all the dentists In Scotland were happy the war had ended, and the girls were able to get magazines with coloured pictures, because everything was just printed in black and white during the war.
Since we are in a Sunday School class, will you all join me in a short prayer?
"Dear Lord, we thank you for helping us to be safe, and thank you for the families we love and who love us. Bless all who go out in the service of our country, and let them come home safely to us, that we may all rejoice in a life of faith, love and harmony with all the peoples of this Earth. Amen.'
Don Fitzgerald emigrated to Canada after the war but came back to Scotland on holiday some years later and met Fiona. They eventually got married and have lived in Canada ever since.
The Gun Site
Background. I was nineteen before I set foot outside my native Scotland, and my first venture was not, as might be expected, to England, but to Northern Ireland. This exodus was neither voluntary nor a vacation, but was in uniform On His Majesty´s Service.
It was May 1940 and the country was belatedly preparing for a German invasion. My regiment was hurriedly moved from a firing camp in Northern Ireland to the City of Newcastle in the North of England. (Graphic on the right © James Cridland via Wikimedia Commons is of the iconic bridge over the river Tyne in Newcastle). Air defence gun sites there had been vacated by a unit needed urgently on the south coast of England, and we were given sketches and maps of their gun site locations.
My first task on arrival was to find the hurriedly vacated sites and deploy my own six Bofors 40 mm guns (graphic via Wikimedia Commons) in readiness for the next bombing raid. It was urgent work, but I had no trouble in tracing from the maps five of the six sites. The sixth sandbagged emplacement and huts eluded me. I had a Bedford 1500 truck and a driver. It was raining steadily and we had spent a fruitless morning finishing up on a road adjacent to Newcastle docks, feeling very frustrated, and of course blaming my failure on a poorly drawn sketch map.
We pulled up at the side of a field on a slight incline to what looked like a long embankment probably supporting a railway line. So I set off to look over the top of the rise on the other side of which was a dockyard area, and hopefully the missing gun site. Wading through soaking long grass I reached the embankment. I stood on the barbed-wire fence but still couldn´t see over the top. So I climbed over the fence, balancing with a foot on a rail, but mentally registering that the centre rail was slightly higher, I stepped on it. Black out. The next part of the story was told to me when I regained consciousness, my legs being massaged by a couple of railway workers.
I had stepped on a live electric rail carrying, they told me, over 10,000 volts. (Graphic © David Ingham via Wikimedia Commons) I was very lucky they said and appeared to be somewhat dubious of my excuse for such a stupid error - I had never seen an electric train far less heard of a third electrified rail - as far as I was aware they didn´t exist in Scotland, and Newcastle was my first visit over the border - and almost my last.
End piece. The gun site was there, just over the top, and has certainly registered its presence, and earlier absence in my memory. In fact after almost three quarters of a century I can still see that innocent looking centre rail.
Alistair MacDonald, now in Bromley, Kent.
Air Raids on Edinburgh
Americans have often asked me over the 55 years I have been in this country if Edinburgh was bombed during World War II. I tell them what I remember - Marchmont flats bombed, the docks, a school (no children present). and a whisky distillery. I then add there were 15 raids all together, but I can never remember where I got that number. Now, I know - it was a book called "Living Memories - a Portrait of Edinburgh in the last century". Here are some of the facts about those events from 75 years ago, but we should never forget. Anyway, it's interesting.
The first raid on Edinburgh by the Luftwaffe was on the afternoon of 16th October, 1939, just a few weeks into the war when 14 Heinkel and Dornier aircraft made a day light raid. The attack was expected because of the proximity of the naval base at Rosyth, in Fife across the Firth of Forth, the strategically important Forth Bridge and the Port of Leith. (graphic of Luftwaffe Dornier bomber via Wikimedia Commons )
No sirens sounded and it was thought that the planes flying overhead were part of a Royal Air Force practice run. But the raid was genuine and the enemy forces were attacking warships in the Forth, while HMS Edinburgh and HMS Southampton were at anchor east of the Forth Bridge. After a counter attack from 602 and 603 squadrons of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force, three bombers were brought down. One ditched in the sea by Port Seton east of Edinburgh. A fourth was brought down by anti-aircraft fire from land batteries and the two warships Three of the four man Luftwaffe crew brought down off Port Seton were rescued by a local fishing boat. One of the Germans gave his gold ring to the skipper, John Dickson, as a gift of thanks.
At times the planes were so low people could easily see the swastikas. This was the first of 14 Luftwaffe raids on the city during the war which killed 20 civilians and injured a further 210. A tenement in Leith, suffered a direct hit and a few days later another raid was launched on Granton, the site of the gas works. A bomb was dropped on the lawn of the Palace of Holyrood House, missing the historic building by a few yards.
Not as bad perhaps as London and all the major cities in England and Wales and seaports and then Glasgow and Clydebank and Dundee maybe had a raid too.
Later a two story block was bombed in the West Pilton part of Edinbugh and another bomb struck a bonded whisky warehouse . All the air raid wardens were reported to be almost weeping at the loss of good whisky! Bombs also fell on open ground at Edinbugh Zoo.
In March 1941 incendiary bombs fell on Abbeyhill in Edinburgh and in April a land mine shattered the roof of Leith Town Hall and destroyed the infant annex of David Kilpatrick's school (no students present). In a raid which had dropped just two landmines, three churches, dozens of shops and hundreds of houses were damaged. In May incendiary devices fell on Milton Road and Portobello. The final raid on Edinburgh was in August 1941. Graphic of Leith Town Hall (later Leith Main Police Station) via Wikimedia Commons.
The Luftwaffe being chased by Spitfires over Edinburgh when the Germans were after the Forth Bridge is one of my memories which I have spoken about in the past. Where mother and the neighbors hung the wash was pretty high up. We kids played there as well and had a lovely view of Arthur's Seat. We were all there and one of the women said "Look at that". We all looked up and we saw the British planes chase the Germans in the north east sky over Edinburgh. It was amazing. When my mother came home I told her and she didn't quite believe me, then neighbors told her and it was in the newspaper the next day and on the radio.
I have many memories of the war. No wonder with Dad in the Air Force and mother having to work she tried to get me to safety to her brother in New Zealand. Mother got an ulcer because of all the worry about me and if the Germans raided during the day and she was at work. Such anxious times for everyone. I still have the form from the New Zealand government saying they gave the OK for me to live with the Gray family for the duration of the war. Then a boat load of children was on it's way to Canada and it was sunk. There was no more thinking of sending me to New Zealand!!
Helen Ella Veldre from Edinburgh, lived over 55 years in USA.
War in the Small Village of Almondbank
I was 8 when WWII broke out, living in the small village of Almondbankfive miles from the big city of Perth.
My father at that time was considered too old to be called up for military service but he joined the Home Guard or the L.D.V. (Local Defence Volunteers as it was called at the start. Graphic here of some LDV personnel is via Wikimedia Commons. Every evening in our house after work he cleaned his rifle I was allowed to help by pulling a rag through the barrel polished the brass buttons on his army overcoat and was then all prepared for a "call out" when or if it came. He was out many nights for several hours at a time guarding strategic spots around our village attending by bicycle, I might add. I think he felt very important, as did the other local men doing the same thing. "Doing one´s duty" was so important.
My Dad was a "toonie" (from Perth) and my Mum was a local country girl but my Dad had soon adapted to country life by planting a large vegetable garden so we were never short of fresh vegetables soup was a mainstay. My Mum and her sisterinlaw worked on a local farm doing the work men who had joined up usually did.
I well remember her working at the harvest, thinning beets, planting potatoes and we all helped dig the potatoes in those days getting two weeks holiday from school in October for this task. Tattie howking" (digging up potatoes) was hard work but fun and what we earned paid for school shoes or a new coat for winter. Graphic here of a potato harvest is via Wikimedia Commons.
We played out on our main street as there was very little traffic skipping (double ditches were fun) hide and seek, marbles ("bools´ we called them) rounders (our equivalent of baseball!) peevers were easy as our sidewalks were dirt and we just drew what we needed with a stick. We also "stotted" a ball against a blank wall and sang different ditties.
In summer before the war I remember going for a week to Broughty Ferry where we rented a room and took our own food and the landlady cooked it for us. Not my Dad, he took a summer job for that week to make extra cash. My Granny came with us, to help keep an eye on my young brother who would be only two or three at the time.
We, too, had an Anderson shelter at the foot of our garden but I don´t recall ever being in it. I only recall one bomb ever being dropped in our vicinity and apparently it was meant for the Moncrieff Tunnel which was on the main railway line from London to Aberdeen it missed! Graphic of the tunnel with a more modern train emerging is via Wikimedia Commons
Margaret, from Perthshire, now in Canada.
Three Ships Came Sailing By
It was after the war so I must have been about eleven years old. Three U.S. Navy ships came into the Firth of Forth and moored at Leith. The Captains sent out invitations to the schools of Edinburgh inviting the children to come aboard and visit. There was an aircraft carrier, a submarine and another ship. (Subsequent searching on the Web showed that it was the USS "Randolph" aircraft carrier that had paid a "good will mission"to Northern Europe including the Firth of Forth at Rosyth).
My school, Sciennes School, told us about the invitation and my class went for a visit. I think I was on board the aircraft carrier. I seem to remember it being large with a flat deck. The sailors were so friendly asking us questions about our school, had our fathers been in the war, etc.
However, what I remember most and can still see it today in my mind's eye was an enormous barrel of sugar. There was tea and coffee as well, then doughnuts. The coffee was great and so were the doughnuts. but it was that barrel of sugar I couldn't stop looking at all that sugar!
A sailor asked me if I wanted some in my mug of tea. I told him I already had it. He asked why I was staring at the sugar barrel. I told him we hadn't seen sugar for years and years and I so wished my mother could see it. All that sugar it was unbelievable. I remember when my father was home on leave from the R.A.F. and my mother said to us "Our neighbour has given me two teaspoonfuls of sugar. I am desperate for a cup of tea with real sugar so I am having it."
I wasn't so fussy about tea and my father gave her a thumb's up. If she could only have seen that barrel it wasn't like a small beer barrel it was huge.
I told Mother about it. She couldn't believe the size of the barrel. I've always thought if I had asked for some to take home to surprise Mother, the sailor would have given me a bag full of sugar.
It was also my introduction to Americans in a large crowd. The sailors got shore leave in Edinburgh and were photographed beside an Edinburgh doubledecker tram. Little did I know that that 14 years later I would be in America. I went to work there and have a bit of an adventure. Then I met my husband who was also an immigrant from another country and we have now been married 53 years. My dear mother came over, too, and spent the last 17 years of her life in the States. Oh yes, I still oversugar my tea to this day!
I think sugar was the last item to be taken off rationing 8 years after the end of World War II. I have a friend who still has her ration book for 1953/54. Ah, the memories!
Helen Ella Veldre, lived 55 years in USA
Editor's note: It was as a result of coming across that picture of the sailors beside an Edinburgh tram that identified the aircraft carrier as USS Randolph. Here is a picture (below) of the ship at full speed out at sea! Something that Ella had not seen until she sent in her story!
Tommy Gun Dad
I remember the brick airaid shelters built into every fourth garden at the back of the row of houses I lived in, particularly the one next door which was built into the ground and had a flat concrete top at ground level. I am sure, had the war come as far north as Inverness, then that is where I would have been going.
My Dad was also in the homeguard and had a TOMMY GUN (a light automatic machine gun) stacked in the cupboard and I remember his complaining one night about having to go out with his troop to play war games in the cemetery which consisted of a hill and some flat ground round it at the bottom . He probably was not taking into account that some other fellows never had his experiences in the 1st World War where he was a machine gun sergeant ..at the age of 19.!!..either because he had brains or because they were running out of men who were still alive!!
Greenock Air Raids
Born in 1932 I can still remember Sept 3rd 1939. Exciting times for a boy of 7 who had no thoughts of what would happen to our family in a couple of years time.
Living in Greenock with all of the shipbuilding yards on our doorstep on the river Clyde,it was inevitable that Germany would hit us. On the nights of May 6 and 7,1941 German planes arrived, attacking shipping anchored at the "Tail of the Bank" and the shipbuilding yards which were less than a mile from the tenement building that we lived in.
Either through miscalculation or high winds, bombs intended for the "yards" swept off course and completely destroyed a row housing on our back yard and along the street killing approximately 11 relatives including my Grandfather and one aunt.
My Father, had who had just finished his shift in "Scotts" shipyard arrived home about 15 minutes before the sirens sounded and gone to bed. I can to this day remember his comments "No damned German is going to drive me out of bed"! My Mum my brother and myself headed downstairs from the 5th floor to the basement cellar that was reinforced with corrugated iron sheets which in retrospect would not have provided any great protection. (Graphic of the Scott shipyard at Greenock is © Thomas Nugent via Wikimedia Commons)
As a result of the direct hits on the buildings immediately in front of us, my Father was the first man to break the 4 minute Mile coming down 5 flights of stairs as he appeared in the cellar doorway !! The second night, the planes returned to complete the job and again we miraculously survived.
Not aware of the fact that my Mother was pregnant, the following morning we left Greenock for the safety of a small village where my Mother's brother's wife had relatives. New Lanark, looking back was like Disneyland. A small millowned village. It had 2 main streets Long Row and Double Row where after a few nights staying with relatives (where I am ashamed to recall that I went to bed with my shoes on to allow me to get out fast if there was another raid) we were granted refuge and a house. All houses had no locks on the doors, when it got dark the lights came on and in the morning, the lights were turned off. Rent was 2/6d a week all found. Light bulbs when broken were replaced by the Mill at no cost. Rationing well although we had ration books, woe betide anyone who attempted to visit the one local store more than once a week, it seemed like the only local policeman had a photographic memory for faces.
We lived there for approximately two years before returning to our Greenock "flat" (apartment).
A magic place for a young town boy who had part of his education in a two room schoolhouse (run by a Mr and Mrs Campbell), that when we are back in Scotland, we always attempt to renew old memories of these wonderful times in New Lanark which is now a Scottish Heritage site.
I often look back to these dark days and think that if the German's had invaded Scotland, they never would have found New Lanark !
Ed and Anne Bignell, Pickering, Ontario, Canada.
Like so many others we were fortunate that Aberdeen was scarcely troubled with air raids but did have our moments in the sun and shelters in the back " gairden ".
Serving an apprenticeship in McKinnon`s on Spring Garden had its peripheral excitements and one of those I had the fortune of enjoying (although my mother would not share that sentiment when I caused her "more washing " that day !)
I, like so many others in those days, cycled back and forth to work and of course required lights of some sort for the bike. Somehow I inherited a torch for the front and a slip on tail light which consisted of, literally, a pariffin lamp, with a wick that you had to light to make it work. (Graphic ©"Keithonearth" via Wikimedia Commons)
Cycling up George Street on my way home, during an alert as it happened, I got to the junction of, I think, Hutcheson Street, when the lamp went off like a torch.
The only clear memory I have of what happened next was a very long arm of the law grabbing me by my arms and hauling me into a shop doorway. (Graphic of a Northern Constabulary policeman © Dave Connor via via Wikimedia Commons) What was said I have forgotten other than something my father was fond of saying like " yir heeds in yir ai..e min". Right at that moment, in bright moon light, some kind soul from an aircraft, that I never did see, let loose with firecrackers; well it sounded like that to the innocent, followed by the roar of an aircraft engine, I presume. And then silence. Well not exactly silence as the Bobby was speaking a language that was foreign to me at the time and he kicked the still flaming light off the bike but not before it had ruined my back tyre! I had to walk to work thereafter until my father came up with another.
Thank you Hitler for making my day! This was I think in 1944 and I signed on in 1946 after hostilities ceased (unfortunately). I doubt that the Bobby is still living but one never knows. If so and he reads this, thanks for "smartening me up " and adding to my many memories.
Frank Sutherland, BC, Canada
Passing by Numbers
It was 1937. The country was at last aware that our military services were grossly undermanned. The city was wreathed in posters Your Country Needs You and Join the Territorial Army. A group of my friends and I discussed joining one of the local army units. The armoured car company was rejected too snooty. The Royal Engineers not so much snooty, but picks and shovels, and the Black Watch, without debate dismissed as rather rough. That left the Royal Artillery, and we, all five of us agreed that we should sign up with the Gunners.
One evening at the Territorial´s drill hall we joined the queue. Of our five I was last to sit down and be made aware of the registration procedures. It didn´t get very far as I was told at the age of 17 I was too young to enlist. I was devastated, but was advised that if I got signed permission from my parents I would be accepted. This, with some difficulty I managed to persuade them to approve, so back to the drill hall with signed approval. There I was told that I would be called for interviewing and would be accepted as a Gunner.
My first interview was with the Commanding Officer a chat which took the best part of three minutes. This was followed by a medical examination a few health questions and a stethoscope. There I was told that next on the agenda was the eyesight test, followed by a hearing check. This was my first sign of a pending disaster, and great embarrassment, for although I knew that I would be graded 20/20 for eyesight, I was totally deaf in one ear having seven years earlier been operated on for mastoid which removed all hearing apparatus from my left ear. (Graphic of an ear here is via Wikimedia Commons) There was no way I could possibly pass a hearing test, and I would return to my friends medically unfit, which at my age would be extremely embarrassing.
However, I joined the queue waiting for the hearing test, but seriously considering walking out and going home. There were about half a dozen in front of me in the queue, and at the head was a sergeant carrying out the tests. Standing behind the candidate and holding an army pocket watch in his right hand at an extended arm´s length. Drawing the watch slowly to the ear, he said "Say OK when you hear the tick" followed by "Good, now the other ear". This routine was repeated with every recruit, and always started with the right ear.
It dawned on me that the elapsed time between the right ear verdict of "Good, now the other ear" and the second "Good" could be measured by a count of four one, two, three, four. I rechecked this count with the following testees and assured myself that if the same routine was applied to me a one, two three four then OK would get me a pass mark on the sergeant´s report sheet. Then it was my turn and with an enormous sense of relief my right ear was on stage. The sergeant proclaimed it "Good, now the other one" one two three four then the result, not just "Good" but "Very good" and I was in, with all my fears rapidly melting away.
That was April 1937. Nine years later I took off my uniform for the last time, and not once during my war service, with countless conversations, was my disability discovered.
Now the other ear One, Two, Three, Four.
Alistair Macdonald, Bromley, Kent
Luftwaffe Over The Forth
These are my early impressions of WWII.
I was just short of 9 years old when war broke out in 1939 and although I had been aware that the grownups had looked a bit worried from time to time, the war meant nothing to me. Nothing, that is, except that school didn't start in the autumn as expected. It was delayed for a couple of weeks or more.
We lived on the southern edge of Dunfermline overlooking the River Forth, Rosyth Dockyard and the tops of two of the arches of the Forth Bridge. I was outside playing with some friends when the air raid siren went off AGAIN! It had been being tested for a few days, meaning nothing to us so we paid no attention until we became aware that there seemed to be a lot of planes flying about. Upon looking up, we noticed that some of the planes had black crosses on their wings and tails instead of the red, white and blue roundels that we were used to seeing. It still didn't dawn on us that there might be anything wrong until we became aware that red darts of fire were coming off the wings of the planes they were firing at each other. We headed indoors and stayed there until we heard the 'all clear'. There were quite a number of raids in an attempt to hit the bridge and/or damage the dockyard.
That was the first air raid of the war, and the first of many we were to experience. I was scared of walking to and from school (about 15 minutes) every day in case there was a raid when I was midway. I realize now that someone would probably have rescued me from the pavement and taken me indoors or into a shelter (similar to the Anderson shelter shown here), but that didn't occur to me at the time.
Air raids when we were IN school were a welcome interruption to lessons. We lined up, marched out into the air raid shelters that had been built in the playground, and sat there singing songs until the All Clear sounded. At our age we were unaware of the extent of the danger that threatened. Gas masks were issued to everyone and were a real nuisance to have to carry everywhere. Thank goodness they were never needed.
Kathleen, now in North America
Wartime Memories of Edinburgh and the World!
This is an absolutely lovely idea.....looking forward to reading some of your emailers memories.. Although I am now 80 years old, I remember vividly the start of WW11...Sitting at the foot of the stairs, we lived in a 3 story flat....and a few of us little girls just heard the war had started, and we jumped up and down yelling "where are the bombs?"......
Shortly after this, my father left to join the Royal Navy.and for the next five years we only saw him a few times, when he came home on leave....He travelled to every continent, . and my geography greatly improved with all the stories of the different countries.....including. New York, (troop ships).
India was very interesting, another different culture, but Africa was one of my favourites. where he told the story. of while in port in Algiers. he had walked over to another British ship in port to deliver some shoes he had repaired...and on the way back, there was a bombing of the harbour, and he had jumped into the water to swim over to his own ship.....another story. which he had only heard about, was when two of his brothers were in North Africa, one in the 8th Army, and another in the Royal Air Force, and the two of them had met in a pub ....by accident....another brother who was in Europe most of the time in the Army met a Belgian girl. They married and lived there for the rest of his life.......All four of them survived the war.
He was also on the Arctic convoys to Russia, Murmansk..and he managed to converse with the Russians although did not know a word of Russian.... (The graphic here is of a Royal Navy ship on its way to Murmansk).
We had an air raid shelter in our back green, serving two stairs, both 8 and number 9 South Elgin Street. The graphic is of an air raid shelter in London but the larger ones all looked similar. One of the girls would start the singing. and we hardly ever, heard any noise of planes over head, if ever....Edinburgh, being further north. we did not have many trips down to the air raid shelter.....Now. that little girl who started the singing, so many years ago, became a teacher and later moved to the west coast of Canada to teach, in the small coastal town of Powell River. B.C. where I have lived for many years.......small world
I was lucky, that there was a newsagent on Easter Road, who graduated me from the Dandy. Beano. as well as their Xmas albums....Enid Blyton. Girls Crystal. and later Womans´ Own etc....my family loved to read (no tv) ....so I still do. as well as my children.
I didn´t like the food rationing, clothing coupons, etc...but I always managed to get more than my share of "sweeties"....thinking back, we were not so badly off, I was never scared or worried about the war....I thought Winston Churchill was great, although my parents were more inclined to favour the Labour party......but he sure did his part.....keeping the UK strong ..........After the war things changed a lot, not so many uniforms on Princes Street, and Edinburgh opened a beautiful new ice rink. and the first year started the hockey team with 10 Canadians.....the Murrayfield Royals....I had skated at Haymarket, and Dunfermline Ice Rink. so had to go to Murrayfield......where I met one of the new team.....Last year we celebrated our sixtieth wedding anniversary......
Irene in British Columbia, Canada.
Wheel Barrow Transport to Air Raid Shelter
My father told this many times to encourage us to keep our weight down.
During WW II there were air raids. Sirens blasting away. All lights needed to be turned off if it was dark. There were neighborhood shelters for people to go to until the raid was over. My Aunt Kate was too large to walk to the shelter so they put her in a wheel barrow and wheeled her down the street. I'm pretty sure this was in Glasgow. I have no idea whatever happened to her after the war. Her Brother, Thomas, was a soldier and brought back souvenirs from Belgium which included a pair of floor to ceiling tapestries.
During WW II my father would send boxes of food and other things to his Mother in Tarbert as they were very short of food there. The closest large town was Glasgow which had suffered greatly during the war. Even eggs and kippers were hard to come by.
Sleeping Under the Table
I had a wonderful time reading your Wartime Memories section. I was born in 1939 and lived well outside Glasgow, but like many others we were on the flight path when planes would be heading for bombing the docks. The disgusting rubbery smell of gasmasks still remains with me. My mother always refused to go to the shelters during the night and the two of us and the dog all slept under the dining room table my mother maintained that if we were going to die we would do it in our own house.
My father was in Ceylon (as it was then) during the war years and was able to send Mum occasional boxes of tea which gave her the chance to trade with some of the neighbours who were happy to swap egg rations etc for extra tea. Grandchildren having difficulty believing what it was like then, particularly the food rationing!
Anne & Dave, Melbourne Australia
"Skitten Airdrome" Fools the Germans
Oh my! You certainly sent me down memory lane! I remember Churchill's BBC broadcasts, Dick Barton, ITMA (my favorite was Mrs. Mopp!) I remember ration books and gasmasks and airraid warnings.
We lived in the extreme north from '39 '42, and we had an "Anderson shelter" dug into our back yard because we were in a strategic area. (The graphic shows an underground Anderson shelter being built). Several times we dressed in the dark, grabbed our gas masks, and headed for the shelter until the "allclear" sounded. Less than a mile from our house was "Skitten airdrome" It was a "dummy" airfield to divert the German planes from the real one several miles away. It must have looked pretty real from the air because it was targeted several times. My father, who was too old to be called up, was an AirRaid Warden. One of his jobs was to check on people's blackouts. All of this carried out on bicycle!
Like you, I used slate and slate pencil in school. In 1943, school dinners were started, and delivery of tiny 1/2 pint bottles of milk. (Graphic showing bottles for 2 pints, 1 pint and 1/2 pint is via Wikimedia Commons ) Since we lived in the country, our school dinners consisted of soup & pudding. The soup was usually "powtowdy" (sheep'shead broth) and the pudding something steamed and extremely heavy, served with a thin custard. The only teachers I knew until high school, were my parents. My father taught primary 46, and my mother, Infants up to primary 3.
We played skipping rope games, ballbouncing games, "skeetchie"(hopscotch)and counting out games. Boys kicked a football or played marbles. (Graphic of marbles via Wikimedia Commons )
Food, of course, was rationed, but I don't recall being hungry. Empty tummies were quite satisfied with a "jeely piece" a jam sandwich. Small rations of meat were amazingly stretched, and we got used to eating less. When I think of the outrageous serving sizes today both in homes and in restaurants, I don't wonder there is an obesity problem.
In the "old days" we also did a lot of readingfrom comics to books. We also learned the art of listening from the radio. One radio program that escapes my recollection had interesting music as its intro: The music was "The Coronation Scott". I can clearly remember the tune, but not the program that followed. (Editor's note: I recall it too the radio detective series was "Paul Temple"). The graphic here is of the Coronation Scott train at full speed from via Wikimedia Commons.
Later on, after the war, the radio was still important because that was when we listened to Radio Luxemburg and got the "top twenty" hits of the day!(Les Paul & Mary Ford, Patti Page, and then, of course, the first British win in the Euro song contest, "Cruising Down the River"). Life was so very much more simple then. We now have 125 channels or so to watch on television, and on many nights there is absolutely NOTHING worth spending the time watching.
Thank you again, Scottie, for stirring old memories. It all seems so far away in another life as a sit back in an airconditioned home watching high definition on my flatscreen T.V.! Keep the memories coming!
Wilma, Texas, USA
Evacuation and Low Flying German Aircraft
In September 1939 I started my last year in primary school in Giffnock, south of Glasgow, and very soon after that, the War began and so did the process of 'Evacuation' of school children from the major cities in Britain, to various "safe" places in the countryside. My brother and I and ourcousin "Sandy" Lindsay were sent by our parents to stay with our aunt in the mining village of Douglas West in Lanarkshire. The illustration here is of Douglas Castle (also known, appropriately enough, as Castle Dangerous" )near the village. We stayed for about three months, I think, before being sent home, because the danger of being caught up in a 'blitz' was not as bad in Scotland as it was in southern England.
I have many memories of the war, but the major ones are as follows. My uncle Bill was 'called up' to serve in the army, and was sent to France even before war was declared. When Germany invaded France, he was one of the many who made their way to Dunkirk, and while he was on the beach, there was a dive bomber raid, and he dived into one of the many bomb craters where, as he told us when he finally got home, that he was really angry because he lost his false teeth in the sand!!.
My truly "scary" memory was also not merely the bomb raids on Clydebank, but on the way home from the "pictures" with some friends, we were taking a short cut home by passing through a field where people sometimes dumped junk. We came across a table leg with two top rails joined to it, and had some fun pretending it was a machine gun, the leg being the gun and the rails the supports. By a strange coincedence, an aircraft came flying towards us at a rather low altitude, and I pointed the 'gun' at it making a "rat ta tat" sound. As it flew above us, we saw dark wings with black crosses on them!! We knew immediately that it was a German bomber, and immediately ran as fast as we could with loud yells of terror. Shortly after this, we saw a flight of Spitfires chasing after it. It was later on that we realised that this must have been a reconnaisance plane, probably checking the results of the bombing raids on the shipyards at Clydebank. The best memory of the war was, of course, V.E. day'
David, now in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
Barrage Balloons and Gas Masks
I was born in March 1939 so I don't have many direct recollections of WWII. But my mother often retold the story of taking me in my pram to the local park and she was petrified as this strange, huge alien object began to float up from behind some trees. She found out later that it was a "barrage balloon", one of many which would float in the sky above the city in a vain attempt to deter enemy aircraft. The gas filled balloons trailed wires below which were supposed to cause any aircraft flying into them to crash. They were more effective at night than during daylight raids.
We lived in a mainly residential area of Glasgow, some miles from Clydebank on the western edge of the city. With its major shipbuilding yards it was inevitable that Clydebank would become a target for the Luftwaffe. In March 1941 Clydebank was largely destroyed and suffered the largest loss of life in all of Scotland in WWII. Only 7 out of 12,000 houses were undamaged, 528 people died and 35,000 people became homeless as 439 bombers dropped over 1,000 bombs. Despite the noise and the antiaircraft gun vainly firing away all night from a location nearby, I apparently slept through the entire night! The innocence of babies right enough!
Because of the horrors of poison gas being used in World War I, we were all issued with a gas mask to provide some protection should this be dropped by enemy bombers during the Second World War. I vaguely recall taking my gas mask in its cardboard box to school but I was reminded of them long after the war had ended when I came across the family collection stored in a trunk in the loft space of my parents' house. Of course, I had to try one on very claustrophobic and stuffy!
My Dad was in what was called a "Reserved Occupation" and did not have to join the armed forces, as he worked for the London, Midland and Scottish Railway (LMS) and it was important to keep the trains running throughout the war. But like many others who carried on in their civilian job, he became a part of the "Home Guard". They were an army of 1.5 million volunteers who acted as a secondary defence force, in case of invasion by the forces of Nazi Germany. They also guarded the coastal areas of Britain and other important places such as airfields, factories and important buildings they were often on duty at night after a normal day's work, helping to put out fires and in rescue work after an air raid. They were a uniformed force and trained in weapons and civil defence. Initially they were poorly equipped and trained by late 1940, the Home Guard had amassed around 900,000 weapons but with more than 1,682,000 volunteers at the time, this meant that 739,000 men were without a weapon. A popular TV comedy programme later portrayed them as "Dad's Army" which was maybe a bit unfair. The picture here of me was taken around 1943 when I was trying on my Dad's uniform and forage cap for size as you can see, they didn't fit!
When the Second world War began it was widely expected that Britain would be subjected to bomber attacks at night and the authorities thought that navigation and targetting would be made more difficult if there were no manmade lights to give away the position of houses and roads. So at the start of the war in September 1939, regulations were introduced which required doors and windows to be covered by heavy material to avoid any lights reaching passing aircraft. All external lights such as street lights were switched off and vehicle headlights were fitted with slotted covers to deflect light downwards. I recall standing waiting for a bus to arrive at a bus stop one evening and peering into the darkness until the dark shape of the bus arrived and we filed on board. Inside, the lights were dim and the windows were covered in black paint. The blackout resulted in an increase in traffic accidents and since particularly on moonlit nights aircraft navigators used reflections from rivers and railroad tracks which were better aids to navigation, the blackout really only served to impress on the population that there was a need to follow the rules!
VE Day and VJ Day
VE Day Headline in Daily Express
My memory of Victory in Europe Day (VE Day) in May 1945 is refreshed by a copy of the "Daily Express" newspaper that my parents filed away in an encyclopedia as a memento of that tremendous day. The historic front page, however, has a gaping hole in it where I (as usual) had cut out that day's "Rupert" cartoon to file away with all the others. I think/hope I got permission to abstract the cartoon of the little bear - but I can't be certain!
Instead of the usual Scottish Daily Express masthead of a Lion Rampant holding a Saltire flag, they changed it that day to a flag with "VE" instead.
I also recall the bonfire and celebrations for VJ Day a few months later when Japan surrendered, thus bringing World War II to an end. As a six-year-old at that time I also became aware for the first time about the effect of alcohol... No, I didn't sample any but saw the mother of one of my friends staggering after drinking too much in celebration! My experiences of life were broadening!
If you would like to contribute your memories of Scotland when you were young, please send your stories to Scottie@RampantScotland.com
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