IN PEACE AND WAR
SEPTEMBER 1939 - JULY 1945
Expanding horizons 2 –
The Declaration –
Air raid warden –
Blackout hazards –
Gas masks issue –
Gas mask song –
Air raid precautions, shelters, baffle walls & sandbags –
The watchie –
Anderson Shelters -
Fire precautions –
Athenia incident – Phoney war –
May 1940, The move from South Ailey to Loch Goil -
The Boom -
Apprehension deepens again -
LDV Title is Changed to APP -
Ack-ack & searchlights –
Barrage balloons –
Phonetic alphabet –
First bombs fall –
Makeshift shelters –
Shrapnel hunt –
Bombs hit Hillington –
Plane spotting –
The HMS Sussex incident –
My sister is born –
The night of the 13th of March 1941, the Linthouse landmine –
Elderpark barrage balloon burns –
An expedition to Knightswood –
Hand grenade in the dustbin –
Military vehicles –
Poles installed in fields –
Leg tan –
VE & VJ celebrations
The final paragraph of my first book of reminiscences (A Govan Childhood – The 1930s (1993) mentions Prime Minster, Neville Chamberlain's constant outdoor inanimate companion, his umbrella. A popular song of the time, The Umbrella Man, was heard regularly on the wireless, which featured an itinerant umbrella repairman going round the streets of a town calling out his trade. Part of the chorus was-
Any umb(e)rellas, any umb(e)rellas to mend today?…
It was reputed to have been a tribute or scornful reference more likely, to the effect he was creating in his negotiations with Hitler for peace. As the words imply, the song was about repairing broken umbrellas and that some would inevitably be beyond repair. Having studied events of the time, to me now, the implication was that his task was futile and failure inevitable.
EXPANDING HORIZONS 2
Towards the end of the 1930s I was going through the stage of beginning to take an interest in the wider world through newspapers, radio and books. What is related in this section of personal experiences of the war was absorbed in the ordinary course of events at home, at school and with pals in the street and overhearing the remarks in conversations of adults. The wireless was of course the main source of information, much the same as television is today. But the visual effect of cinema newsreels were the most powerful if somewhat less often encountered of the media, visits to the cinema on average being once or twice a week. As related at the end of AGC, a general sense of apprehension among people about war breaking out became apparent from the time I returned home after a five month stay in hospital in 1937. Initially muted it gradually became all-pervasive, increasing in intensity until the event itself arrived as an intangible and baleful presence.
It arrived in a crescendo of announcements on radio and in the press in the form of bulletins, instructions, advice and warnings. In cinema programs there were 'shorts', brief information films issued by the government that appeared on the screen after an expanding word FLASH, about what to do and what not to do in any possible situation that may arise, from air-raids and poison gas attacks to actual invasion. They went on at interminable length about new rules and regulations being rushed through Parliament to take care of every kind of hazard. Familiar sounds were no longer heard; church bells were silenced and were to be heard only as a warning of invasion. Whistles, tube type as used by the police then and the football referee’s rattling pea type were to be used to warn people to stay off the streets. Football supporter’s rickities were an indicator of poison gas attacks, and hand bells were rung to indicate that the danger was over.
The rickity was a stout open wooden frame about 12 inches by eight fixed like a flag loose on the end of a short round wooden handle so that it could be rotated. Two strips of springy wood were screwed to the outer part of the frame with the inner end pressing against large coarse ratchet teeth cut in the wood of the handle. When the frame was rotated on the handle it made a loud snapping noise as the end of the springy strips cut to the correct length slipped off the high part of the ratchet and slapped down at the base of the next ‘tooth‘. Football supporters used to take them to games, and when they were spun rapidly, the sound produced was a really loud penetrating din which could be like an only slightly muted old type road repair compressed air drill. The People’s Palace Museum has one.
Because of the strategic importance of local industry, shipbuilding and heavy engineering, residents of our district were well aware that it would be a likely target for German bombing. After the declaration was made, among young folk and less worldly-wise adults, a feeling akin almost to agoraphobia was induced, with people constantly glancing up at the sky as if expecting something to fall on them at any moment. It dominated every conversation, and the sound of a plane brought on apprehension. Voices on the radio had expounded in on the possibility of war, then the definite threat and its imminent arrival in at times gloomy and depressing tones, at others rather hysterical. Faintly remembered is the event on that Sunday the 3rd of September, listening to Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain's 11am broadcast informing the country we were at war. The main impression for an eight year old juvenile was this must be in deadly earnest because normally nothing was allowed to disturb the peace and quiet of a Sunday.
Initially with my pals we were hoping for something exciting to occur and the sooner the better. For most of us, in our immaturity a war seemed a good diversion from ordinary everyday life. Some fear was generated by stories on the wireless, and of fleeting glimpses on cinema newsreels, of German dive bombers dropping bombs on and machine-gunning civilians in Spain during the civil war there and then Poland, but this seemed light years away. It was as if these scenes were made up for entertainment, like the rest of the programme. The feeling among most people, however, was that surely our own government and military authorities would have effective ways of dealing with any threat.
For a couple of years there had been discussions and arguments in Parliament about the need for and reluctance of the government to spend money the country could ill afford on defence facilities and armaments. But as the threat became more ominous work on warships, planes, military vehicles and equipment for civilian protection began in earnest. Reading today in various historical accounts of the true state of the country at the time can still produce pangs of anxiety. With the lack of resources and bad initial organisation leading to incredible waste of much of what there was in material and effort, it seems a miracle must have occurred for the outcome at the end of six years to turn out as it did. That miracle occurred first in June 1941 when Germany invaded Russia, and again in December of that year when America declared war on Germany.
On the Friday, two days before the declaration, the evacuation of women and children began, causing anxiety both with those who were going away and the undecided. Large groups of children from every school, accompanied by a few mothers, teachers and officials, were transported by special trains to designated areas well away from cities, and boarded with anyone willing to take them in and forced on many who weren’t. Individual schools were directed to particular regions, with the squad from St. Constantine's Primary in Uist Street, being allocated to the Kirkcudbright/Creetown district of Galloway. The operation was organised by the school authorities, and the government paid boarding fees to householders who provided accommodation for which I think they received three-and-six or four shillings per week per child. While the evacuation was voluntary for the participants, a certain amount of pressure was used to persuade families to take up the offer, with the suggestion that it was the best way to avoid being injured or killed if or when the air raids began.
There is no recollection of any discussion at home on whether or not the offer should be taken up. It probably did so out of my hearing, but it seems to me now that it was simply ignored. I recall a personal conflict of emotions, between fear of being separated from either or both parents and the powerful urge to travel and see new places. But worry caused me to refrain from enquiring about their intention - I had decided to be like Asquith and 'wait and see'. To a lesser extent the turmoil affected even those who remained behind, because it meant that the reduced numbers attending classes meant much reorganisation of school curriculums. Asquith was a Prime Minister during WWI who in Parliament was asked to explain a secret event of national importance replied ‘Wait and see!’
For years after the war it remained unclear whether a great adventure had been missed or I had been in fact fortunate. Within a few weeks evacuees began to return home with disturbing stories of the accommodation they found themselves in, such as dirty houses, martinet landladies, poor food and other unpleasant conditions, while others found a virtual paradise compared with their own home, making friends and enthusiastically taking to life in the country, village, or small town. The other side of this was that decent homes with friendly and welcoming people were horrified and disgusted when landed with children from slums, dirty, poorly clad and rowdy who were unable to appreciate what was being done for them and stole or broke everything they could lay their hands on.
Some people who did go made a lifelong commitment to their enforced home, and even at this time of writing after more than seventy years, they still keep in touch with the people they were with at this time. Indeed one or two remained there, or over the years moved to live permanently in the place where they had been evacuated. It is recalled that around half of St. Constantine school's register took part in the initial move, but most returned within a few months, with the rest gradually coming back. Of course the reason for the operation, the threat of air raids, did not happen immediately, and it was this that mostly caused the drift back. Among my local group of friends, a few went away for a while, but all returned fairly soon so that the local squad of chums was back to full strength by the following summer.
During the summer of 1939 a test had been organised to make sure everyone knew what they had to do comply with the blackout. All householders and occupiers of other premises were required to comply with a regulation designed to ensure that no lights showed anywhere from habitation or workplace during darkness. The authorities decreed that as night approached at around 8pm in late August, on a particular evening an inspection would be made of all homes and other premises by wardens. The blackout had to be total and they went round advising people if their blinds and curtains were suitable. In our house a combination of blinds and curtains in the kitchen were judged to be adequate, but my mother had blue curtains of a rather thin material at the room windows. They were probably a cheaper quality winter weight that in her estimation would do with a low wattage bulb, but with an element of doubt. She hoped they were of sufficient density to satisfy the inspectors. Our turn for inspection came early in the gathering gloom of an evening.
The times for street lighting to be switch on and off at dusk and dawn, were to be announced in newspapers something that continued for many decades after the war ended. I recall seeing them recorded in press weather reports as e.g. Lighting-up time 06.00pm, Lights out at 06.00am applied to vehicle lights which police continued to enforced strictly.
On the evening of the inspection, leaving the lights in both apartments on and the door unlocked, the three of us went downstairs from our top flat house of the three storey tenement in the gathering dusk, to see how our windows looked from outside. All around, other householders stood about in groups in streets and back courts, studying their own and other windows and offering opinions on whether or not their efforts were likely to be acceptable. Viewed from the backcourt, our kitchen windows were quite satisfactory with no trace of light showing.
We then went through the close into the street, but looking up at our oriel room window, as expected the element of the light bulb could be seen shining dimly through the curtain material. My parents talked about this for a little while and discussed it with others, most of whom displayed a kind of forced optimism. But it was obvious that more light was showing here than from other windows, which would become more prominent as darkness increased. Then, as we gazed up anxiously while trying to convince each other that the arrangement would do, the light went out!
We each looked around quickly to check that of the three of us, the other two were present, that one of us hadn't slipped off from among the crowd and gone up to the house unnoticed. There was mounting consternation and puzzled apprehension that someone was in the house. Abruptly there was a rush for the stairs with each of us full of trepidation and wondering if we were being burgled. On the way up we met a gentleman coming down. He was formally dressed in a dark suit, white shirt and collar and tie and carried a white tin hat (steel helmet) slung over his shoulder. He had a clip-board and a gas-mask in a khaki satchel slung over his other shoulder, and on his upper arm there was a black armband with LDV (Local Defence Volunteers) in white letters on it.
The LDV civil defence organisation, Local Defence Volunteers, was formed in 1935, but was soon to be changed to ARP (Air Raid Precautions). Dad angrily demanded to know if he had been in our house on the top flat. The man said reasonably that he had had to go in to put the light off as it was breaking regulations. A brisk argument ensued on the stairs, with Dad saying things like, 'You've no business entering peoples' homes’, and the warden making it clear that under the new regulations he was required to do just that if he thought it was necessary. For a time we could not understand how he had got up the stairs without us seeing him, until it was realised that he had entered the close from the street and gone up when we were in the back court.
The curtains had to be replaced so mum searched the shops for a suitable replacement, in doing so she encountered for the first time something that was to become all too common during the following years, the shortage of necessities that were formerly freely available. This was of course due to there being so many other people needing to replace unsuitable curtains causing a heavy demand. If the exercise had taken place in the spring then the urgency would have been less, but some time passed before she was able to acquire material of sufficient density. It was reported in the press that stores had sold many miles of blackout curtain material all over the country during the weeks following the inspection.
In the meantime we were not entirely free from apprehension in case the warden should come back to recheck, because as autumn advanced the room light was needed more. Every establishment was affected, shops, hospitals, offices and factories. Some industrial premises had large areas of glass, particularly those with rooflight windows, were seriously affected. The only treatment feasible was to paint them over, which meant they had to have their lights on continuously.
Soon other events connected with the black-out changed the environment in a way that led to hazards at night. After the declaration and as winter drew in, it was extended more strictly than before to include the streets. Street light bulbs were masked in such a way that what little illumination did escape shone straight down on the roadway as a small diffused pool of light. Vehicle sidelights of the period at their best were only tiny units on either side on top of the front mudguards, and an even tinier single red light at the rear. Having blank discs with halfpenny size holes installed behind the glass lens made them acceptable. Wartime TV drama programs in later decades have often ignored this in any motor vehicles featured; so far in only one series has this sidelight modification been reproduced correctly. Despite being far less efficient than the modern types, headlights were masked with a round hood having a projecting section with horizontal hooded slits in the front, so that only a small section of road immediately in front of the vehicle received any illumination.
Tenement stair lamps were shielded to prevent the light reaching staircase windows and close entrances. On public transport, tram-cars and buses had the top half of all windows in both upper and lower decks painted black. Destination screens remained lightless, with the large but unlit service number introduced only the previous year, being the main guide in the almost pitch darkness as to which service the vehicle was on. The trams were severely affected because their power supply was external, taken from the overhead wires, which had gave them rather better interior lighting than buses. They had up to half their light bulbs removed and the remainder were masked.
All this artificial light reduction produced an unexpected effect outdoors in winter. Occasionally on clear nights of full moon it was possible to read a newspaper in the street, a phenomenon town bred people were unaware of but one country folk knew about. Initially, these periods caused deep apprehension. It was felt that if the bombers came over on bright moonlit nights all the efforts to cut down on ground based lights would be futile, with the whole country laid out for them to take their pick of the best targets, which everybody living in industrial or military areas assumed would be theirs. This introduced the term ‘bomber’s moon’. Few understood that enemy aircraft would be at a similar disadvantage by being rendered visible to the defending anti-aircraft batteries, to be seen and picked out by searchlights and defending fighter planes.
Steps had to be taken to counter the greatly increased number of accidents caused to people during the blackout by the use of white paint, quite a few of which were fatalities. In the initial rush of enthusiasm for the idea whitewash was used, applied liberally as broad horizontal stripes to street furniture such as trees, lamp-posts themselves although electric street lighting was switched off during alerts, the corners of buildings, electrical junction and pillar boxes, but most of all to pavement edges. Broken lines were applied along kerbs on streets in busy districts where the greatest danger lay on the darkest foggiest nights. In some places similar lines were drawn as guides over routes in wide open spaces where a lot of people walked. But whitewash was soon found to be extremely inefficient because the next shower of rain washed it away.
Oil based paint was tried which was more durable but still subject to weathering, wear and tear and getting covered with dirt, so that for a while it had to be re-done regularly. I could be wrong in this, but a later refinement here was paint made luminous by the addition of radium which may have been used in the areas of greatest hazard. This was long before its radiation dangers became known. During this period I was presented with a watch with a dial that had luminous numbers, the luminosity of which was poor unless it was held up close to a light bulb for a short time. This made them really stand out in pitch darkness but it soon faded. For some time I used to play with it at night holding it up to my face, and I now wonder how many units of radiation (rads) I received doing this.
GAS MASKS ISSUE
After the blackout regulations were imposed, the issue of gas masks was the next major operation to be undertaken by the authorities. Supplies were kept at central points in each district, usually in a local authority office or a church or Salvation Army hall, where people had to go to and collect one. Respirators were in cumbersome individual corrugated ply cardboard boxes, roughly 8 x 6 x 6 inches, having a single-leaf flip up lid and a loop of carrying string of sufficient length to go over a shoulder. It was supposed to be taken with you constantly wherever you went, and it became the bane of everyone’s existence. To avoid total disintegration the box had to be kept dry, which was impossible in wet weather, until waterproof covers became available - to buy of course.
After a time the string also needed to be knotted after breaking, which of course shortened the loop, and that item became just another one of many everyday things in short supply. Initially, the corners of the boxes were sharp which caused friction by inconsiderate people barging about in a crowd, particularly in shops. Workers and school pupils were for a time subjected to regular inspections at there places of employment and schools to check they had their masks with them, and there were practice mask fittings during practice alerts. There were even spot checks in the street by police and officious wardens. At the height of the invasion scare and during the period of the blitz, anyone spotted without their mask was liable to be pulled up and given a warning.
There seemed to have been two different types of mask issued, both of which when worn were held in place by adjustable elastic straps running over the top and round the sides to meet at the back of the head. One type, in red rubber with twin individual round-glass eyepieces, mainly belonged to members of the forces or civil defence services and police, although a few private individuals had them. This type had a corrugated hose leading from the mask below the mouthpiece to filters that were in a satchel slung over a shoulder. The most common kind supplied to the vast majority, of which I had one, was made of black rubber with a single curved celluloid eyepiece. Wearing it took a bit of getting used to, and I sympathise now with anyone who suffered from claustrophobia. They certainly would only be able to tolerate it in a dire emergency in having to choose either death or overcoming the claustrophobia.
Breathing through it took a little extra effort and exhaling caused a rude noise as pressure built up inside, forcing some air to escape at the cheeks, the point of least resistance. There was some envy of those with red masks among my pals, with the usual suspicion of others having something different that might give better protection. But this was tempered by the thought that while they looked like frogs or toads wearing goggles, we looked like more exotic lizards. Wearers of this standard single eyepiece issue were open to ridicule as bearing a resemblance to a horse with a feed-bag.
Some time after the general issue it was announced that a modification was required to all standard respirators, so they had to be taken back to the ARP post for this to be done. The original filter was contained in a round tin-can type black metal canister located in front of the mouth. It was about 2" in depth and 4" across. Respiration passed through the elements which looked like white lint via many small holes in the flat ends. The modification took the form of an addition, another canister of about the same depth which was simply taped on to the original with heavy duty black sticky tape, a one minute operation. I can't recall whether the modification was made necessary because of a fault in design or manufacture of the original one, or to combat a then recent development in the form of warfare the mask was supposed to protect against.
Photographs of mask wearers can be dated to a particular period by noting if the extra filter is visible seen in the illustration above. Shortly before this happened I had been presented with a most convenient waterproof carrying case made of Rexene, with strap, flap and press-stud fastening, in which the mask was a perfect fit and much easier to carry than the box. But the extra filter caused immense frustration because the mask would no longer allow the case flap to close. After the blitz of March 1941, as time passed urgings to carry your mask gradually abated, and eventually they were left at home to gather dust.
THE GAS MASK SONG
Here’s the gas mask song composed by Dave Willis, c1940, one of the popular Scottish comedians of the time:
IN MA' WEE GAS MASK
AH'M WORKIN' OOT A PLAN
ALTHO' THE KIDS IMAGINE
THAT AH'M JIST A BOGEY MAN
THE GIRLS ALL SHOUT
AN' BRING THEIR FRIENDS TAE SEE
THE NICEST LOOKIN' WARDEN IN THE A.R.P
WHENEVER THERE’S A RAID ON
LISTEN TAE ME CRY
'AN AIRYPLANE, AN AIRYPLANE
‘WAY UP A 'KYE'
THEN AH RUN HELTER SKELTER
BUT DON'T COME EFTER ME
'CAUSE YE'LL NO' GET IN MA' SHELTER
FOR IT’S FAR TOO WEE
AIR-RAID PRECAUTIONS, SHELTERS, BAFFLE WALLS & SANDBAGS
Sandbags were another common sight. Some important buildings such as police stations, hospitals, banks, and all important establishments connected with the war effort had them built up in tidy layers to about halfway up the ground floor windows. At ARP posts in particular they were stacked up in front, laid neatly interlocked like brickwork often three or four deep, and buttressed along the frontages up to sometimes a quite remarkable height. Some tenement close entrances were treated in this way also, probably those having no other protection in the form of nearby shelters or baffle walls, or where no bracing had been installed in them. Air raid shelters with thick brick walls and mainly flat concrete roofs were built in all urban up areas. Except for the entrances and tiny air vents, they were plain and featureless. Where there was no space for shelters, tenement closes were strengthened with timber or steel bracing. At the eastern end of Skipness Drive, between Hutton Drive and Drive Road, narrow shelters were built along the centre of the street, while the closes at the western end, including ours had timber bracing.
On the other side of the block from us in the northern section fronting Govan Road, two brick-built shelters were put up for four of the back courts next to the dykes, to be used by the tenants of these closes. They were of a different design from most others anywhere else in that each block had four parallel compartments, with a communal internal access, that were roofed individually with curved pre-cast concrete sections forming a series of long almost semi-circular arches. The construction areas, which remained fenced off by the normal back court dividing railings, were turned into barricaded-off building sites for the duration of the work. Only now when writing this do I wonder what the tenants of the closes affected, who had lost two-thirds of their clothes-drying back-court areas, coped with the inconvenience.
During the work a curious event occurred. The shelter walls had been completed to roof height, leaving the tops near enough as an extension of the dykes comprising the washhouses and middens. They were lower than and stood back a little from the dyke roofs, which of course presented a challenging leap to more adventurous dyke climbing boys. A watchman was on duty from after working hours to late evening, with the normal watchie’s small low wooden framed tarpaulin covered shelter, and brazier with a supply of coke. Not what is known as Coke today (Coca-Cola), but coal processed into what later came to be know as smokeless fuel. Of course watchmen sometimes became bored, and to pass time would wander off the site when things were quiet. And this is what happened here on one occasion in early evening, and we had a grand-stand view of the incident from our top floor kitchen window.
Soon after the man ambled off, a group of my pals appeared and began to play on the dykes. After a time the bolder ones, realising he was absent, began to try the new jumps formed by the shelter walls. Suddenly he reappeared through a close about two back-courts away from them, but his field of vision was restricted by the new construction. He nevertheless knew from the sounds of a squad of children enjoying themselves that they were probably playing on what he should have been guarding. Giving a roar, he stooped and picked a half brick from among the building work detritus and hurried to the open space at the rear near the dykes, from where he could see the length of the site across the intervening courts. Alerted by the shout the boys ran as fast as they dared along the walls away from him, on which the not long laid bricks on the not quite dry concrete were by then beginning to work loose and wobble, which took them to the rear, higher, wall of an adjacent washhouse.
As the lads were getting clear by scrambling onto the roof, the last one had jumped across from the shelter to the dyke which, being higher, he had to land on the edge, resting on his hands with arms braced vertically and legs dangling before scrambling up. At that instant the watchie came in sight of him from at a distance of about sixty feet, but the railings separating the courts prevented him from giving chase, as they were always elderly retired men and unable to leap across as a younger man might have done. Uttering threats and imprecations, the man drew back his arm and threw the half brick with the force and accuracy of a baseball pitcher. In the instant after Gus drew his feet up, it struck the wall at the spot where they had been but a second before with such force that it shattered. The boy was able to escape, but the incident was talked about with awe for a time. The accuracy or luck of the throw and the good fortune of Gus was remarkable; if the missile had struck home it would surely have crippled him for life.
In areas of what was then modern council housing of four-in-a-block type, finding space to provide communal shelters at a convenient distance for the inhabitants was usually easy. A structure of special design known as the Anderson Shelter (designed by government architect Sir John Anderson) suitable for installing in the gardens of individual houses, was one of two types constructed. The other was of course a smaller external version of the surface brick-built type. One of the latter that was supposed to be shared between the occupants of two neighbouring houses, occupied part of the back green of the Corporation house we were allocated in Old Pollok, when we moved there in 1945. It survived until the 1960s and was used by my father and me to keep garden tools, park bikes and motorcycles’.
Anderson shelters were constructed with 10’ X 4’ sheets of corrugated iron, each of which forming the side walls had one end curved through 90 degrees, so that when two of the curved ends were bolted together they formed an inverted U. Comprising two sections, each about four feet wide, two of the ‘U’s’ were set up together in excavated holes about 8 feet x 6 and between three and four feet deep, which had been dug in back gardens at a point farthest away from houses. When the corrugated structure was erected in the hole the end walls were then secured in place, the flat corrugated sheets of which had the top edge corners cut off to roughly match the curve of the roof. In one of the ends at ground level, there was a low opening forming an entrance three feet high by two wide.
Leaving the end with the entrance clear, earth excavated from the hole was then heaped up over the structure, forming a protective covering under which the occupants would be safe from anything except a direct hit or near miss by a bomb. This type was installed in the Drumoyne and Shieldhall terraces of two and four in a block housing schemes. They were surprisingly dry and snug, but rather cramped, with plain plank seating along each side and at the rear that was just deep enough for sleeping on. While thinking it would be essential, there is no recollection of there being a protective barrier in the form of a baffle put in front of the entrance. But putting another sheet of the iron in front by hand would mean that a nearby explosion might heap up debris in front, which would trap the occupants.
Baffle walls were another form of protection against bomb blast. They were thick walls of brick, put up mainly on front of and close to surface air-raid shelter entrances to shield them from blast. In some areas they were built across close mouths, the reason for this seemingly haphazard allocation of different forms of protection appeared to be arbitrary and illogical. No doubt officials examined every location and determined from material available which form should be allocated to each one. Some areas of tenements had shelters built either in the back courts or in the streets, as described above, or baffle walls were built in front of the closes themselves. Or, as in our case, the closes had timber bracing, while in yet others precious round steel poles like modern scaffolding was used.
Sandbagging too was built up around some close mouths in such a way as to give the impression of entering a tunnel. In our locality all of these types were employed to some degree. Windows large and small of some concerned citizens could be treated with gummed brown paper strip stuck in X or + form on each pane by the occupier, and shop windows had the strips applied in a horizontal/vertical criss-cross large-mesh netting pattern. This was to lessen the risk of bomb blast sending glass fragments flying and causing injuries.
|Back-courts with air raid shelters at the four corners|
Another hazard during air raids was incendiary bombs. They were comparatively small, so a plane loaded with them could carry many more than high explosive (HE) bombs. A tactic developed by bomber forces of both sides was to saturate an urban area with HE which, as well as causing structural damage which opened up buildings, frequently cut the water and gas mains. Then planes loaded with fire bombs spread their cargo that started fires, to which escaping gas contributed and for which there was a reduced or non-existent water supply to put them out. To counter this, in Britain & probably Germany too, static water tanks were constructed and symbols were painted on walls in surrounding areas with directions to the nearest tank. There were other sources such as rivers and burns, and these signs became one of the most enduring relics of the war.
Anyone born before 1970 might recall seeing faint traces of the letters EWS, painted in large format about the height of a man at street level, on walls of older buildings of brick or stone, along with a large arrow, all originally done in yellow with black edging. The letters stood for Emergency Water Supply and the arrow indicated the direction to the nearest tank. In one case one of these signs was still visible on the tenement wall at the corner of King's Park Road and Aitkenhead Road as recently as 1990, although stone cleaning removed it shortly after this.
EWS tanks were assembled from flanged pressed steel plate sections about three feet square, the plates having an embossed pressing in the centre to give strength. With the flanges bolted together in not higher than two sections, they could be assembled to whatever size of tank was needed in a particular location. The sites in the surrounding area with the EWS signs, like the one below on a wall in Cross Street Pollokshaws, also indicated the capacity of the tank, such as 5,000 gallons. They were assembled in multiple in areas at greatest risk, and remained uncovered until the drowning incidents involving adventurous children swimming in warm weather occurred, and wire grills with apertures for hoses were welded over them.
There were no EWS tanks in Linthouse because in common with other areas along Clydeside within reach of it, the river itself was available, and EWS and arrow signs were painted at the corners of all the roads that ran down to the riverside. Few of the tanks were ever used, and as time passed they became a habitat for pond life and water plants and minnows. Of course for the enterprising youngsters of the time, the well rusted wire of the grill coverings was easily penetrated for fishing for minnows with home made nets.
THE ATHENIA DISASTER
The first hostile event of the war arrived with alarming swiftness. It did not affect us directly, but was close enough to give the impression that we might be in the thick of it on the home front anyway, from then on. The sinking of this ship was just the first of seemingly countless others to follow during the next few years, although a few months passed before it began in earnest. The Donaldson liner ATHENIA (seen below passing Yorkhill quays) went down the river late on Friday 1st of September 1939. On board were up to a thousand passengers, many of whom were children being evacuated to Canada. The ship called at Liverpool and Belfast picking up another two hundred, then headed up the Irish Sea and went out into the Atlantic. As it was passing round Northern Ireland the declaration of war was announced, and within hours the ship was torpedoed by a U boat and sank with the loss of ninety-three lives, many of them children. In the view below the ship would be in charge of a tug, the tow rope and prop-wash of which is seen in front of the bow.
The tragedy was reported in a form in which nearly all similar occurrences were to be conveyed by the now government controlled press and radio from then on. It was announced in an irritatingly obscure way, the first time of use of a style of reporting on the home front as well as where the fighting was taking place that was used, which was said to be for security reasons. But it brought home to everyone, we youngsters in particular, that the war was in earnest. It could no longer be regarded as an entertainment as depicted on films from far away places, to be faintly aware of as happening to other people, to foreigners living in remote lands.
THE PHONEY WAR
Nothing much occurred in the UK during the next six months. Talk among my friends was along the lines that maybe the Germans were afraid of us after all, that nothing was going to happen and we would be deprived of the excitement and interesting/alarming events we had been anticipating. People in general were then much less in touch with international news than they are today. Although there was no television to convey immediate visual impressions, all cinema programmes included newsreels similar to present day television news, which were supplied by the Gaumont British and Pathe News, all of which were highly censored. So unless you were one of the very few who never went to the 'picture house' as the cinema was commonly referred to, you had to depend on radio and newspapers which, effective though they were, did not carry the impact of the visual medium.
Of course most people relied on the wireless and newspapers for the latest information, because news films of the time sometimes took up to a week to reach the screen, particularly those coming from abroad. Which now makes me think that, as children, either we were remarkably well read or listened avidly to the radio. I certainly did both, and my street acquaintances seemed to be up to date with all the latest developments.
MAY 1940, THE MOVE FROM SOUTH AILEY TO LOCH GOIL
In 1940 the holiday accommodation rented at South Ailey Farm at Cove on the Roseneath peninsula by an aunt was requisitioned by the government. It was required to house military personnel connected with the anti-aircraft batteries and searchlights that were being set up all round the Firth as a precaution against aerial attack on shipping gathered there. Because of its relative remoteness compared with other ports in the south and east of Britain, the Clyde was considered to be one of the best locations for ships to assemble to be made up into convoys before heading across the Atlantic. At its busiest, and I remember it later being crammed full, with the number of vessels at anchor at any one time so great that at sea level it was sometimes difficult to see from one side to the other of the inner Firth.
Shieldhall where the aunt’s family lived was relatively near the docks and shipyards and they would surely be bombing targets, so the she looked around for other accommodation as she wanted a place where she and her daughters could live away from the city. She arranged with a sister’s husband to share the cost of buying a large house, Blairlomond at Douglas Pier on Loch Goil. This was ideal because she knew the area, having herself had an Aunt, Jemima McFarlane, who from the late 1880s had worked as a domestic servant in the house of the ‘laird’ of the district, Drimsynie. Jemima later married a local man Hector Blair and settled in Lochgoilhead village, and there were occasional visits there by family members. This was how the family connection to the area was established.
I have a faint recollection of my mother saying at the time that something like £1400 was paid for the house. What I think might have happened is that brother-in-law probably supplied all the money while the aunt was to be responsible for its upkeep and fund any repairs. Soon the members of her family were living there. After Blairlomond was acquired, the main event leading up to furnishing the house was traumatic. The she went round relations and friends asking for any household equipment that could be spared. She hired an open lorry and driver, both of which turned out to be old and clapped out, to go round the houses on a warm sunny summer Saturday afternoon in 1940 to collect everything, and there was quite a lot, and have it taken down to the Goil.
My parents had offered a few items, two of which were the settee (above) and the kitchen table seen in an early photo and sketch of a tenement kitchen in part one of AGC. Most of the male members of the families volunteered to help with the flitting, and I have an exceptionally clear memory of seeing the lorry leaving Skipness Drive. With the vehicle loaded, the settee had been placed the rear of the load across the back of the lorry. Three of the helpers, one of whom was Dad were sitting on it, and they waved back to me as they went out of sight round the corner into Holmfauldhead Drive to cross the river by the Linthouse/Whiteinch ferry. Some items were to be collected from South Ailey so the lorry made a ten mile diversion there.
|Blairlomond 1890s. The burn flowed through the tunnel under the extension at bottom right.|
Late that evening word arrived that the lorry had been involved in a bad accident at Finnart on Loch Long. The vehicle’s brakes had been unable to hold it on the steep descent from Whistlefield to the loch side. When he realised this the driver knew that if he continued on the road, because of the speed gained they would all probably be killed when it plunged off the road at the foot of the hill onto the shore, and if it was at high tide they might even end up in the loch. So he steered left off the road, went though the dyke and the vehicle went down through trees for some distance before coming to a stop. I think there were six people on board, among them were the driver, Ina and my Dad, but all had survived with various cuts and bruises, although I don’t remember hearing of any broken bones which was surprising. Little of the load survived, so the aunt had to go through the begging performance again. One item that did survive was our kitchen table that I recall sitting at subsequently when at Blairlomond (above) on holiday. Note the bell faintly visible hanging from the wire arch at the steps in the 1955 photo which was rung to alert everyone when a meal was being served.
To deter Nazi submarines from sneaking up the Firth of Clyde and sink ships at anchor while waiting to form convoys on the otherwise well guarded Inner Firth, it was decided that some form of protection was necessary to prevent this. It was done by stringing a boom, a net of steel cables strung between the surface and the sea bottom, from pontoons across the narrowest point between Dunoon at the top and the Cloch Lighthouse at the bottom of the aerial photo below. There was a section in the middle that was opened by guard boats to allow normal traffic to pass through. During this time it was thought that U-boats of the Kriegsmarine did try once or twice to do this but were detected and chased off with depth charges before they could do any damage.
In March 1943 a tragedy did occur in the outer Firth when the Royal Navy Aircraft Carrier HMS Dasher of the Avenger class of converted American merchant ships, was practicing takeoffs and landings with her planes. The aircraft needed refuelling, and when this was being carried out a hosepipe nozzle was carelessly handled and got out of control, allowing the highly volatile aviation spirit pouring out onto the deck which caught fire and set the ship ablaze. Two third of the crew perished in the conflagration. In another incident during this time, French destroyer Mallie Breze was at the quayside in Greenock in April 1940 being loaded with torpedoes when one slipped off the sling, hit the deck, exploded and the boat sank. She lay there until after the war ended, then she was raised and moved over to the north beach at Cardross where she was beached at high water and broken up for scrap. There was another sinking here at the Tail-'O-the Bank in 1974. The Greek vessel MV Captayannis with a load of sugar was anchored with a number of other ships waiting for tugs to be taken up the river. The MV was waiting to be unloaded at James Watt Dock in Greenock when a storm caused her to drag its anchor and, blown onto a tanker, was holed and was in danger of sinking, so the captain beached her on the sandbank – and is still there!
APPREHENSION DEEPENS AGAIN
The much talked about and fearfully awaited sinister events on the continent now began to happen in earnest with the failure of a campaign by British forces in Norway. Then in June 1940 the Germans launched their offensive through Belgium, Holland and France. The flow of events of the war can be studied elsewhere in innumerable excellent accounts, so it is unnecessary to relate them in detail here. Highly recommend, although not unbiased, is Winston Churchill's The Second World War in six volumes, from which it has been possible to take a refresher course to clarify many points of personal interest described in this account. The war began three weeks before my ninth birthday and had ended by the time I was fifteen, and reading these books fifty years after the events they portray was enthralling. There were revelations with much information on a host of events of which I knew nothing, and filled in many blanks in stories only half heard or misunderstood. Some of those that were missed at the time they occurred were of considerable importance, and how that happened is a mystery.
Before this time air raids on Britain were by single planes or a small number of aircraft, mainly bombers. They were comparatively infrequent and sometimes were for reconnaissance. But when the Germans began to over-run the continental countries, serious bombing raids by large fleets of bombers, later accompanied by fighter planes for protection, became more frequent mainly over England. This was in part due to a general intensification of the air war as they reached out from within German airspace initially. Then as they captured all of the adjacent western continental landmass they were able to use airfields there which shortened very much the distance their aircraft had to travel. It was a time of panic among our people, but new much improved RAF planes like the twin engined Beaufighter & Mosquito fighter bombers were being delivered too that were faster and had greater range.
LDV TITLE IS CHANGED TO ARP
Accommodation for the Civil Defence organisations, Local Defence Volunteers which had become Air Raid Precautions, and the Home Guard, was provided in schools and church halls, or empty shops were requisitioned. Sirens to warn that an air raid may be imminent had been placed on roofs of public buildings spread out through towns and cities, so that nowhere in an urban or suburban area would anyone be unable to hear the alert or the all clear, the latter of which was a sustained note that continued for about a minute.
The Linthouse siren had been installed on the roof of Elderpark Primary School in St Kenneth Drive. Over the autumn and winter of 1939/40 there had been many practice soundings and false alarms which at first intensified the panic, then after a time, with no action people paid less attention to them. Later, after the blitz began in earnest, the sound of the warning generated a sinking feeling in the pit of the stomach. When the warning sounded with a rising and falling note the more distant sirens were heard faintly, then the nearer ones started up in an approaching wave of sound, which peaked when the Linthouse unit started up.
Heard singly outwith a war situation the sound they produced was tolerably pleasant, but when the others joined in, in turn and out of phase with each other, the discord increased the unpleasant sensation. Somehow, for me that sound produced conflicting emotions. As well as the deep feeling of terror experienced during the worst of the bombing, there was some quality about the actual sound produced that fascinated me. It was somehow similar to the tones produced by a long since discarded toy humming top, except of course in volume and warning mode when the sound rose and fell.
Urban dwellers in Britain born as late as the 1960s might be surprised to learn they could have heard an air-raid siren. Due to the cold war, they were kept in working order and tested at intervals of something like once or twice a year up to around 1970. Advance notification of date and time of the test was given in the press. In Pollokshaws, where I have lived since 1958, the siren was located on the roof of the boiler house of the baths in Ashtree Road (below), and was only removed with the others in 1992. Testing was still being conducted after we moved to live near the baths in 1967, and for me, the sound continued to induce that sinking feeling right to the end.
The accuracy of the warning of an imminent air-raid was initially very much a hit or miss affair, because when enemy planes crossed the east coast there was no way of knowing where they were heading. The arrangements went something like the following. At first, when the siren sounded the warning Air Raid Imminent, everyone, including workers, had to make for the nearest shelter. But because of the serious, and usually needless, disruption caused to vital war work, this rule had to be modified as it became obvious that there had to be a greater certainty of an actual raid. Enemy planes entering our airspace say, over the Firth of Forth would set the alert sounding over a 50 mile or so radius, and if it held a westward course this area of alert would move with them.
It will be seen that all the Germans needed to do to completely paralyse the country was send over a small number of planes spread out at random along the east and south coasts of Britain without taking any offensive action. The warning was then altered to a two-stage system. The radius of the initial warning was reduced by half, while the sirens still sounded at the 50-miles range. Until the second stage was reached only people engaged in non-essential activity headed for the shelter. Then others, those in factories working for the war effort were contacted by telephone, and the workers were required by tannoy loud speakers to hurry to the relative safety of shelters.
|Air raid siren on the boiler house roof of the baths Riverford Road just before it was removed in 1992|
ANTI AIRCRAFT (ACK-ACK), ARTILLERY AND SEARCHLIGHTS
The real-life sights and sounds of war were with us long before it began, since 1938 in fact, as was related in a section about the tower at the Empire Exhibition in a previous part. There were a few ground based anti-aircraft defences scattered along the riverside in the form of guns of various calibre’s firing airburst ammunition, with the heavier batteries on land and lighter ones mainly on board ships. Both light and heavy ack-ack, as they were known, were sometimes heard practising occasionally with blank ammunition. Searchlight beams too were highly visible at night, one of which was located near us in Elder Park next to the barrage balloon unit described below. The searchlight was a large short cylinder four or five feet in diameter, mounted in gimbals so that it was easily turned through any plane, horizontal or vertical. Power for the light came from a generator truck that was part of the unit consisting of truck-and-trailer, the latter of which carried the searchlight.
The searchlight beam sometimes produced an incredible, almost supernatural phenomenon only recognised for what it was many decades later. When first switched on and as the brilliant beam of light settled down before the crew started searching, the carbon arc pencils that produced the light heated up during the initial second. This caused Interruptions in the beam as the operator adjusted the gap between them. Short breaks lasting perhaps a millisecond, less than the blink of an eye, caused the beam to flicker so that a break, a black section, appeared in the beam which seemed to flick up it at an incredible speed. It was the kind of event that is sometimes seen and not taken in because of failing to understanding what one is seeing.
Having on rare occasions during my life had visual experiences like this, so that I did not understand what I was witnessing, attention passed on simply because no rational explanation could be applied to the phenomenon. In the course of reading about astronomy a few years later the figure quoted as being the speed of light, in the region of 186,000 miles per second, was encountered. But the two items of information did not become connected in my mind until much later. Before then it did not occur on me that it would be possible, by any stretch of the imagination to detect with the naked eye anything travelling at such an extreme speed. Certain weather conditions, such as haze or thin mist, or gunfire smoke, made the phenomenon very visible, and those flickers or breaks in searchlight beams were just what I was seeing. At least if not actually seeing it at least being aware of, for it was moving too fast for the eye to follow.
Another ground based defensive measure against air raids were barrage balloons. Deployed by a unit of the RAF, the Balloon Barrage Corps (pronounced ‘core’), their job was to send aloft a thin stranded steel cable into which, it was hoped enemy planes would fly and be brought down. The balloons were enormous teardrop shaped, horizontally deployed bags of silver rubberised fabric filled with highly inflammable hydrogen. Made in the requisitioned Kelvin Hall in Glasgow, where apparently the supply for the whole of Britain was produced, they had bulbous rounded fore-ends, and tapered to a point at the tail. The tail had three fins in Y formation when viewed from an end. The balloon was tethered by a single cable run out from a drum mounted on a truck with a winch powered by a separate engine, from which the cable was paid out via a pulley wheel anchored in the ground about 20 yards away. The truck had racks on each side (or behind the cab?) which held the cylinders containing the gas. The photo below was taken at a display by parachutists in Pollok Park in 1992 with my wife and our twin grandchildren looking on.
If there had been a sufficient number of them, the balloons were supposed to be deployed fairly close together in a circle round cities and places of strategic importance. But the number available was limited and the only place to have such a screen, so far as can be discovered, was central London. Elsewhere they were scattered at random as the availability permitted. In our area there was one in Elder Park and another in Pirrie Park off Langlands Road. Of course, as a defensive measure their effectiveness was limited by the height they could reach and also by weather conditions. Not a single occasion can be recalled of hearing of a plane actually having been brought down by flying into a cable. Although there is only a hazy memory of this, the searchlight battery may have actually been part of this unit. Checking this on the internet it was found that four times as many friendly aircraft were brought down by balloon cables than enemy ones!
The balloons’ ceiling was about 5/6,000 feet, so that their effectiveness could only be described as fairly efficient at night and on days when the cloud base was near or below that height. Cloud would hide them, and in daylight pilots could not spot the cable until it was too late to take avoiding action. When deployed in clear weather their presence meant that raiders had to fly above that height to drop bombs which reduced their accuracy. Weather conditions governed the height to which they could be safely raised. A wind speed over 30 mph was another, but this was roughly in proportion to the effect on the bombers themselves. In tests before the war it was found that a tethered cable was usually ineffective in stopping a plane: the cable simply snapped. More successful was fitting weaker links in the cable near the balloon and at a height above ground level, which allowed the cable to break at these points. Small parachutes were attached to the free broken ends, which opened automatically and caused a drag that brought the plane down. A surprising number of them were brought down by lightening strikes.
Operating balloons and searchlights was one of the jobs in which members of a women's service, the ATS (Auxiliary Territorial Service), played their part, and there were a few among the local crews. We were able to stand and watch the unit in Elder Park in action, and I recall seeing a few balloons spread out over the city, but other than Elder and Pirrie Parks I have no recollection of where any of the others were stationed. They fascinated us young ones. We all wanted to join a balloon barrage unit when we grew up, imagining that it would be great fun to play with such an enormous toy. Part of the attraction was the manhandling ropes, a number of which dangled down about 20 feet from around the gas bag, for the crew of about six to hang on to when manoeuvring it on the ground. When tethered at ground level it was held down using sandbags hooked on to loops on the handling rope ends. The three tail fins were actually bags made of the same material as the balloon itself, but were open to atmosphere, and had louvres that depended on at least a breeze to fill them up, so that at ground level or aloft, on windless days the fins drooped in a sad way.
A major disadvantage with the balloons was that they could be punctured, or shot down with a tracer round from an aircraft machine gun, so that it caught fire and went down in flames. It used to puzzle me what made them burn, for it seemed that all that should happen was that the bag would deflate slowly through the puncture holes. Tracer bullets let gunners see if their aim is true, but when used on balloons their fiery element ignited the hydrogen. Another question that went unanswered at the time was why the Germans didn’t send a couple of planes over before a raid and shoot them all down? But planes over enemy territory had to fly high or very low to avoid flak (the anti-aircraft barrage), and while in the region in between they were at their most vulnerable to the guns. Also, they had to be on the lookout for a much greater danger, defending RAF fighter planes.
Pilots of both sides used to say that the time to be particularly alert was when the flak stopped, which usually meant that defending fighter planes were in the area. From that it will be seen that a plane flying low enough to shoot down balloons would normally be too busy manoeuvring about the sky trying to avoid flak concentrations and keeping a lookout for fighters and balloon cables to line up for a shot at a balloon. Of course hot shrapnel from bursting anti-aircraft shells was also a hazard, and I suppose that many balloons shot down in flames which were attributed to enemy action were actually lost in this way. By now, when a plane appeared in the sky the question on everyone’s lips, normally accompanied by apprehensive glances aloft, was 'is it one of theirs or one of ours?'
THE PHONETIC ALPHABET
The Armed Services wireless phonetic alphabet term at the time for anti-aircraft fire was ack-ack. Through repeated use outwith the service environment that alphabet came to be known and used by everyone, as eventually most people knew what the most common examples meant, and this became a habit that took decades to fall out of use. The need for the alphabet was to help clarify voice transmission in service wireless broadcasts, which at that stage of their development was still very much prone to atmospheric and other interference. In an effort to reduce errors when transmitting vital orders during periods of poor reception, each letter of the alphabet was allocated a word which, in instances where an order or important information was being passed, could be used to stress or clarify it, thereby reducing the possibility of error. A was ack-ack, of course, B: beer, C: Charlie, Dog, Easy, Fox and so on.
It became a form of slang, the initial letters of which were used in the title of a wartime BBC radio variety programme for the forces called Ack-Ack Beer-Beer. A complication arose when the USA entered the war because their forces used a different alphabet, and it has to be admitted the American version was better. The British phonetics tended to use rather obscure words, whereas the Americans employed simple words in everyday use like, Able, Baker, Charlie, Dog, Easy, Fox, George, How, Item, Jig, King, Love, Mike and so on. Apart from the first dozen or so the British version has long faded beyond recall. The American version is recalled more easily because as a signaller in the Royal Artillery during national service in 1949/50, it had been adopted by the British military authorities and I learned to use it during initial training.
THE FIRST BOMBS FALL
According to the civil defence records in Strathclyde Regional Archives in 2001 housed in the Jeffrey’s Room in the Mitchell Library building, the first bombs to fall on Glasgow were dropped as a ‘stick’ of four during a daylight raid. A list (SRO HH50/162) is available up to bomb number 228, showing where and when each one landed within the city boundary only between the 19th of July 1940 and the last on 25th of March 1943. However, even with my localised knowledge errors are evident in it, so there are reasons to suspect that it is incomplete. According to the list, on the first occasion four bombs were dropped on each of two locations within minutes of each other by a single plane. Numbers 1 to 4 of 250lbs landed in Yoker, and 5 to 8 of 50lbs fell on open ground off Craigton Road, Drumoyne close to the Glasgow to Paisley railway line between that road and Drumoyne Road.
The second 'stick' of four in fact landed in and around one of the two football parks at this location describe earlier. The home ground of the Benburb (the 'Ben’s') Junior’s football club was one. The other ground, Tinto Park, which I now think was the one affected, at that time was closer to the railway line and may have belonged to the Corporation Cleansing Department's nearby refuse destructor plant employees’ sports club. A destructor was then the term used for rubbish disposal plants which was done by burning. There are two 1930s aerial photos in the two collections of these books one, showing the area at top right bordered by Shieldhall Road, Drumoyne Road, Craigton Road and the Glasgow to Paisley railway.
Since that time I had heard and read of claims by other historians that the first bombs of the war on Glasgow fell on George Square. Perhaps what was meant was first in the city centre. Other archive material in the form of files of air-raid wardens' reports of incidents has enabled much of this detail to be recorded more fully and with greater accuracy here than would otherwise have been the case. Some of it is from my memory of these events of 70-odd years ago. According to the above official records, bombs one to eight were the first.
At the time of that first raid I was in room 11 on the middle floor of St. Constantine's Primary School (pictured below in 1992) about a half-mile away from Tinto Park. There had been previous raids along the east coast of the country, but this was the first time the siren sounded in the west for a real event. It was an unexplained mystery when, for the first time but not the last, no warning was given before the raid but did so shortly after, and the local authorities seemed to have been taken by surprise. The time was 10.20am on the 19th of July 1940, two months before the George Square event, a date that might seem odd as why was the school in session in July, but disruption to the curriculum had been ongoing since the evacuation.
The weather was clear and sunny, and we were in the course of normal classroom activity when the explosions of the first four bombs falling four miles away at Yoker were heard faintly. The class was disturbed and we looked at one-another another with apprehension and there was the sound of a plane approaching. Immediately there was a noise, the first time I was to hear it, the sudden whooshing of bombs falling followed by loud explosions that shook the building and set the windows rattling.
A picture of the event is clear. It is of our teacher who was seated at his desk, leaning off the high chair at a steep angle the more quickly to get to his feet, and dashing to the door with a look of alarm very evident on his face. He yelled 'Come on children, everybody out as quick as you can'. We were rushed out and along the veranda in a rapidly growing stream as the occupants of the other classes poured out urged on by other alarmed teachers, to the north wing of the building and into the cloakroom there. Most of the girls, and some boys, were screaming with terror and there was a general hubbub. As we were crammed into the barely adequate space, I felt more afraid of being crushed there than of the effects of whatever it was we were fleeing from.
THE MAKESHIFT SHELTERS
Apart from the crush, the cloakroom windows had been permanently covered over to comply with the blackout in winter, and illumination was by electric light that tended to heighten the sense of apprehension by making the atmosphere claustrophobic. The reason behind assembling children from six classes in one comparatively small room, of all places in the cloakrooms on each of the three floors of the building, teachers would be following instructions laid down by the authorities. The misguided idea behind this was probably that while the classroom windows weren’t covered, the windows of the cloakrooms were. They had in addition the stick-on-in-X-form gummed paper strips which offered a small amount of protection, and the occupants would be unable to see the horrors which might occur outside, and so spare them from that aspect of any destruction. The covering and gummed paper strips might help reduce the amount of flying glass and debris in the event of a near miss. The same authorities seem now to have ignored the effects of noise and vibration of said destruction, and the alarm it would generate.
Confinement in an enclosed space would quite likely heighten the terror. But most damning of all, surely they (the planners) did not think we would all be safer crowded together in the three rooms in that wing of the building stacked one above the other? Did they not think we would be at greater risk there than spread throughout the building? What would have happened if a bomb had hit it just there does not bear thinking about. Apparently the attitude then was that there was really nothing much they could do, but they had to be seen to be doing something - anything.
There were no other frights that day and there was much coming and going by staff as they tried to find out what had happened and what they should do. In truth, because it was the first time no one appeared willing to accept the most likely explanation, which was that the war had begun in earnest for us. After a while a teacher appeared and announced that we weren't to worry for 'the noise was caused by something heavy falling in a shipyard. The announcement was made with a half-frightened half-sheepish look on her face. It was as if she knew full well the older ones among us would be aware of the deception, with scornful stage whispers being heard among us along the lines of 'why are we all here then, more than half-a-mile away from the nearest yard?'
According to the talk among those nearest me, they were well aware what really had happened and what was said confirmed my own thoughts. Why do people who are considered to be of sufficient level of intelligence to be put in charge of and teach children, fail in the test of understanding the corresponding level of the intelligence of those very children? Distinctly recalled is hearing the staff in their discussions of what should be done, saying things like 'we should all be sent home to go into our own shelters', and 'but what if there's another raid?' etc. Further discussion took place openly in front of us, ignoring the obviously false explanation, conducted as if we were all deaf or didn't exist. After a time we were released with instructions to go straight home and report to our mothers without fail. On arriving home I found that my mother was concerned, up to high-doh was the expression used, because she was well aware that the sound of the explosions had come from the direction the school lay in.
In addition to the evacuation describe previously, school and daily life was severely disrupted in other ways by the war. Along with public user facilities, among which were cinemas and dance halls, schools were closed for about a week initially, while contingency plans were made about how best to continue the education of children and provide for their safety and the entertainment of the public in general. There was uproar and protests about the cinemas closing, a decision that survived only for a week, and when the schools reopened the next day different hours were formulated and tried over the rest of the year as things gradually returned to normal. A shortage of teachers had developed, brought on by the younger men being called up or volunteering for the forces. This meant half-time periods, mornings 9 to 12 for 50 percent of pupils and afternoons 1 to 4 for the other half, the two 'shifts' alternating week about which lasted for about a year.
A teacher who was very popular and who taught in the year ahead of the one I was in went away. We had heard reports that he was a good at his job, and were looking forward to being with him the following term. After a couple of months he came back wearing RAF uniform, then off he went and we never saw him again. Daytime air raids were infrequent even during the worst period in 1941, so there were only one or two other occasions when we had to go along to the doubtful shelter of the cloakrooms.
A SHRAPNEL HUNT
When I heard where the bombs had landed I wanted to visit the site. That same evening or the following one we had visitors at home. Accompanying them were others who had come from London on a holiday visit. Who they were is now long forgotten, but one was a boy of around my own age, and of course the talk was mainly of the air raid. Our guests were concerned and impressed by the event for it was before they had experienced anything like this in that part of the city where they lived, although they were soon to suffer far worse. Nothing can be recalled of him except that he was a friendly type.
Despite the brief acquaintance of that one evening, I subsequently regretted not being able to get to know him better. He agreed to my suggestion that we go on an expedition to look for the bomb sites. It was outwith the normal regular range of venturing with my pals, but I had previously gone there once or twice on train watching expeditions to the railway line at the top of Drumoyne Road. Here there was a low wall at a comfortable height to sit on alongside what were then the four tracks of the main line. Of the two lines lifted in the 1960s, one was re-laid in 2012.
When my friend of brief acquaintance and I walked up to Tinto Park, we found a couple of holes on the low terrace embankment of the south side overlooking the railway and two others on the playing surface. For bomb craters they were disappointingly small. Being 50 pounders as the bombs list revealed, they would have been not much bigger than a hole dug for transplanting a tree of medium growth. We raked around in the bottoms of the craters for what was the main aim of the expedition, to look for shrapnel, but found none. No doubt the local shrapnel collectors from nearby Teucharhill, Drumoyne, and Craigton had cleaned up long before us.
In subsequent years I had wondered what the intended target could have been. Apart from George Bennie's foundry and engineering works next to the railway then at the top of Drumoyne Road, there didn't seem to be anything worth aiming for in that neighbourhood. Surely, we thought, the plane, or planes would have found more worthwhile targets in Hillington Estate where the Rolls Royce Company was setting up a factory to build aero engines or almost anywhere along the riverside. Not far away, however, to the east on the other side of Craigton Road, there were the three large wooden cooling towers of irregular oblong outline of the Corporation Cleansing Department's destructor at Craigton Road rubbish disposal depot. For a time I had thought that these had been mistaken for some strategically important plant, such as a steel works or a power station, and they may have been the intended target.
But knowledge gained in later years indicated that as well as the engineering works in Drumoyne Road, on the other side of the railway and actually at the nearest point to where the bombs landed, there was a large factory complex involved in making ammunition. With the decline of industry in general during the 1970s and 80s, that area became derelict until it was partly refurbished to become Craigton Industrial Estate. Looking round here in the late 1990s it was obvious that a building of many bays once stood there, only a few of which remain that have been incorporated in the new development. But the aerial photographs referred to above show that a single large dark multi-bayed building covered the area.
We knew of it certainly, but wartime secrecy must have been very good in that it wasn't generally known what went on there, at least to those who did not need to know. In fact it had been taken over by the government to become a Royal Ordinance Factory for ammunition production. The size and purpose of the building meant that there must have been a large number of employees, which makes it all the more puzzling as surely there must have known someone who worked there who could have told us about it. It was built by the Ministry of Munitions in 1917 and was known as a National Projectile Factory. It was ideally sited next to the railway, and had a siding, which was used bring in the raw material and take the munitions away. After the war tractors were manufactured there. Somewhere in this area the Atholl car factory was built early in the 20th century, and it may have been in that area also.
Our expedition to view the bomb sites ended with another thrill, a short trip on a number 4 bus. The opportunity to travel by bus seldom happened to me, but as we left Tinto Park to made our way back to Linthouse and were about to cross Shieldhall Road, one appeared heading west bound for Balornock on the other side of the city, and my friend asked if it would take us home. My first reaction was could he pay because I had no money for the fares? However, he had a few coppers in his pocket so I said yes, but refrained from adding that it would carry us not much more than half way home. We were near a stop and boarded without trouble. The short journey to Langlands Road at Holmfauldhead Drive was for me as memorable as was the main objective of the adventure, in having the opportunity at the age of nine to actually travel on a bus for the first time for all of about six stops free from the supervising presence of a grownup.
HILLINGTON INDUSTRIAL ESTATE IS BOMBED
Five days after the Craigton bombs, on the 24th of July another exciting event occurred. It was just after 6.30am on a clear morning during the relatively uneventful period of eight months before the real blitz occurred, when a stick of bombs was dropped on Hillington Industrial Estate. The house was astir as Mum rose to make the breakfast for Dad before he left for work when we heard the sound of a plane, and this until it was identified as friend or enemy it generated apprehension. There was something odd about this one that made my mother open the window near my bed in the south facing bedroom, and lean out for a clearer view.
She scanned the sky then became excited and said with her voice rising. 'There is it, there it is, it's over Shieldhall'. I was lazy and rather resented having my final hour of slumber disturbed before getting up for school for what was probably a false alarm. Then, 'It's dropped something, quick, come and look!' That jerked me awake, and I leapt out of bed in time to catch the merest glimpse of the plane flying westward and about to disappear over the roof of the Burghead Drive tenement. As I did so there were crumps of explosions that fixed in our minds rather sharply that it was a raid, again with no siren warning but which again sounded immediately after.
Two families of relations lived in the Shieldhall housing scheme so my parents were worried. However, reports received soon after about where the bombs had landed were reassuring. A rumour went round that it was Hillington Estate that had been hit, and of course, we thought, that's where they would be aiming for, knowing well enough that Rolls Royce were tooling up to make the Merlin and Gryphon aero engines there (below). We were shortly to become well acquainted with the drone from the test beds which were clearly audible even at a distance of a couple of miles. The sound went on constantly night and day for a few years.
The next week-end Granda Joe Chambers suggested the he and I go along to Hillington and see for ourselves, and off we went to find out where the bombs had landed. If my memory serves me right there was the usual stick of four, and enquiring in the Estate we were directed to the south-east end of Montrose Avenue. Sure enough at the corner of that avenue and either Watt Road or Claverhouse Road, we found a factory building damaged but apparently with work continuing inside. This was despite there being some debris and large lumps of reinforced concrete lying around the building with the reinforcing steel rods showing. There were bomb craters nearby also on an open grassy space, but exactly where isn't clear now. Looking at a street plan today the location is hazy, but it could probably be identified by a personal visit. In a reference probably to this same incident, in his book The Second City, Charles Oakley states that he was involved with running a factory in the estate where tins of Jean McGregor's Scotch Broth were being produced when it was bombed, and this must have been the building we saw. Having fallen outside the city boundary this event isn’t recorded in the Glasgow bombs list.
Among the flood of information issuing from the authorities at this time, one was about identifying enemy planes. Visual identification would be difficult for the inexperienced, but one of the features we were warned to listen for was the noise made by the engines of their aircraft. Most unconvincingly as far as I was concerned, they said that while our planes made a steady drone, those of the enemy made a pulsating sound. I was doubtful about this. Surely with all engines, the volume and pitch sound they produced related to size and number of engines, and should be similar. However, that information was put to the test on an occasion in 1940.
Not long after the two above related incidents, in late August of that year I was playing ball with a group of pals on a clear sunny day in Hutton Drive during a quiet Saturday afternoon. We heard the faint sound of a plane, and as usual everyone paused to study the sky. Whatever it was, it was either far away or very high up, and a short time passed before somebody spotted it overhead. It really was high, I would guess at something like 15,000 feet which would make it appear about the same size as the jet airliners today travelling at between thirty and 40.000ft. cruising altitude. It seemed to circle around aimlessly for a few minutes while staying in our general area.
The weather was ideal, warm, dry and calm, and the engine noise though faint was very clear. As we became more aware of the sound immediately it was noticed by the most observant of the group that the noise seemed different. Someone suggested that it was making the wawaw noise the German planes were supposed to sound like, which made us concerned about the possibility of bombs falling on us, and were only partly reassured by the fact that there had been no air-raid alert. After a time it went away, but the following day there were reports in the press that a German reconnaissance plane had been sighted over central Scotland, and we were sure that was what we had seen.
The plane was probably taking photographs (below) that were used for the blitz of 13th and 14th of March 1941. In the photo all the streets are visible and I wondered if the original negative plates still existed, and if they could be enlarged sufficiently would a particular group of street urchins at play in Hutton Drive be visible. In 2007 I wrote to the Imperial War Museum to ask about this, but was told that the originals had been destroyed. Obviously this might have been wrong because Paul Harris must have been able to get his copy (below) from that source for his book GLASGOW AT WAR published in 1986.
The reason for the wahwah sound made by German aircraft was explained in Alfred Prices book BLITZ ON BRITAIN 1939-45. The phenomenon occurred only with twin or multi engined German planes like the Messerschmitt ME110, Junkers 88, Dornier 217, Heinkel 111 and Focke Wulf FW190, Experienced Luftwaffe pilots found that if the engines were run at slightly different speeds the radio location systems of the defenders found it much more difficult to trace them. Of course in turn, Allied pilots were able to use this practice when flying over Germany.
HMS SUSSEX INCIDENT
When the air-raid warnings sound, the procedure recommended by the authorities was for people living in upper floors of tenement buildings to make their way either to an air-raid shelter, remain in one of the houses on the ground floor, or stand in the close. They were regarded as being the safest place in the event of a direct hit, but that applied only if it was protected with bracing. In the early hours of the morning on 18th of September 1940, the sirens hadn't sounded (again!), when we were awakened by intermittent anti-aircraft gunfire, some of which seemed quite close, and were wondering what to do. Was it a practice shoot or a false alarm, or was it the real thing?
Shortly after this more intense gunfire and the sound of planes was heard, and as we prepared to go downstairs bomb explosions were heard in the distance. There were two distinct whooshes, the whistling noise they make, that came close together. The subsequent bangs sounded quite muffled, and although the sirens sounded the warning immediately after, there were no further frights that night. It was one of the occasions of during a raid, when Dad refused to leave his bed. He said that if he was going to die, he preferred to do so in comfort! These few references to ‘the sirens did not sound until during or after the event’ seem to indicate that the warning system was very inefficient. That could be explained by the fact that air raids occurred only infrequently in the west. If raids were happening more frequently then the Civil Defence authorities in the west would have had greater opportunities to get it right.
What had happened on this occasion was that berthed in Yorkhill Basin (the story in an internet article had it in Prince’s Dock but that was too far away from the rest of the stick) the heavy old cruiser HMS Sussex (below) was ready to leave having just completed taking on board a load of ammunition. A stick of four 250lb bombs (numbers 17 to 20 in the SRO list), and two incendiaries were dropped (which doesn't square with the two whooshes heard). One bomb landed on the Hayburn Street/Beith Street (Partick) bowling green and broke through the water-proofing of both Corporation Transport Department’s underground railway tunnels. This caused flooding from the river which put the system out of use until the end of January. The second bomb landed to the south of Castlebank Street and another hit Yorkhill Quay. But it was the fourth (probably number three in the stick) that caused the greatest upheaval. While the SRO list does not indicate this, it says simply Yorkhill Basin.,
|18th of September 1940|
Bomb number three had penetrated through the cruiser's decks and lodged low down in the hull, but failed to explode, which is different again from the internet story. Bombs like this were known as UXBs, and if it had gone off the ammunition would have been set off as well, causing immense damage over a wide area. It did however start a fire in the bowels of the ship which threatened to get out of control. It was obvious to those in charge that unless it couldn’t be put out as soon as possible it would certainly spread and set off the munitions. The order was given to open the sea-cocks which flooded the ship and caused it to sink and settle on the bottom of the dock. This helped get the fire under control quickly which saved many unknowing lives. Of course the event was hushed up at the time. But soon after this a story began to circulate that a bomb had gone down the funnel of a ship at Yorkhill, and oddly enough the subway was shut down just then, which indicated to us that something quite serious had happened in that area.
Another event that occurred around the same time as the above incident concerned a cargo ship of medium size with a wrecked funnel, which was brought into Merklands Quay. The ship lay there within sight of Linthouse for a few days then disappeared, probably having been taken elsewhere on the river for repairs. Those two events taking place so close together produced a confused story of mixed details, which was accepted but not understood at the time. But reading an account of the main incident almost fifty years later, brought out the true story set down above of what happened to the cruiser. I never found out what became of the ship with the crumpled funnel.
Hazy and contradictory details of these two stories were gathered from various sources in succeeding years, but it was another book encountered fifty-seven years after the event that gave an authoritative account of the incident. In CLYDE BUILD by John Shields, published in 1947, chapter 12 page 84, in his A Brief History of Alexander Stephen & Sons, he relates that it was an incendiary device which penetrated trunking leading to the fuel tank of the ‘County’ class cruiser. This was probably a pipe to atmosphere for venting during bunkering (refuelling). The incendiary started the fire from which the events related above followed. The account goes on: 'When she was raised it was found that the fire had caused so much damage that everyone expected her to be scrapped. But the nation was in such desperate straits for warships that it was decided to have it repaired. Stephen’s was given the job, but it took many months of work before she returned to service.
MY SISTER NANCY ARRIVES
In all of the writing about my family there’s little mention of my sister. However, the following story has great significance. In April 1940 the war situation was turning ominous and it was decreed by the government that all women in an age range which included my mother’s who were not in useful employment, except those who had children under the age of ten or were pregnant, were to be directed to an industry involved in war work. This meant they could be sent anywhere in Britain. Reading Churchill's THE SECOND WORLD WAR I noticed this and thought it seem that it could have been the reason why my mother's pregnancy occurred at this time. When I asked her about it towards the end of her life, she said nothing but looked me in the eye and gave a slight nod! Nancy was born in the Montrose Nursing Home staffed by nuns in Merryland Street, Govan on 1st of February 1941 six weeks before the Glasgow blitz.
THE NIGHT OF 13th OF MARCH 1941, THE LINTHOUSE LANDMINE
This next story will show how the appalling dangers of war can come close to individuals without having a direct effect of death or injury on them, which increased the constant feeling of apprehension. In 1940 the recently married aunt and uncle had moved from Renfrew to a ground floor house two closes along from us at 16 Skipness Drive. When the alert sounded, instead of seeking shelter in of one of the bottom flats in our own close or simply standing in the passageway, Mum with Nancy and me had got into the habit of going along to number 16 where we would usually be comfortable in their house, and on the night in question, when the alert sounded at around 9.30pm we went there. Dad was attending a political party meeting at the Independent Labour Party hall a mile away on Govan Road near the dry docks.
Of our neighbours in the two other houses on the landing on which we lived, a newly married couple called Frew had moved into the house opposite ours in the landing. When the sirens sounded, as we went out we met the Frews who were also leaving, to follow a habit they had adopted of going along Govan Road towards the Southern General Hospital, to the tenement block in Govan Road between Burghead Drive and Moss Road where a relative of one of them lived on the ground floor.
My aunts' house was a welcoming and popular place and we were part of a large crowd of neighbours. After a while the noise of explosions, gunfire and bombs began and soon reached such a pitch that the building was shaking and windows rattled and it was realised that this was going to be a bad one. The house was packed with probably twenty to thirty very frightened people, mainly women and children from the houses above in number 16. As the din outside increased there was a violent concussion which deafened everyone and filled the room with a thick haze. For many years this phenomenon puzzled me, for the bomb, or parachute landmine as it turned out, had landed about four hundred yards away, and other than some broken windows there was little real damage in our vicinity. It was eventually realised that the 'dust' was in fact whitewash used in the days before emulsion paint became available, shaken from the ceiling and friezes by the vibration of the blast.
The site of this explosion can be seen today, and must be about the last remaining evidence of wartime enemy action still visible in the city. Just after 10.40pm the parachute landmine (no.137 in the SRO list) like the unexploded mine below struck the centre of the Govan Road facade of the tenement block, completely demolishing three closes, 1249 to 1259, and two or thre shops, killing sixty nine people among whom were our neighbours the Frews. A powerful memory of their funeral some days later is being taken out to stand with Mum and Dad in our lobby with the landing door of our house wide open. We watched an emotional scene as the two coffins were carried out of the house opposite followed by a stream of grieving relatives. Since the 1960s the petrol filling station below has occupied the section cut out of the tenement. The mine in the photo below did not explode.
My father arrived within minutes of the traumatic event out of breath and white as a sheet with shock. Clearly remembered is the look of relief on his face when he rushed into the house and saw we were unharmed. When the air raid alert had sounded, the meeting he was attending broke up and everyone rushed off to get home as quickly as possible. ARP wardens were supposed to keep people off the streets to prevent them from becoming shrapnel casualties or the victims of bombs. The trams had stopped running, so before things started to hot up he hurried along Govan Road until he was opposite Fairfield Shipyard. At that time the shipyard office block fronting Govan Road on the north side extended westwards not quite as far as opposite Elderpark Street. The subsequent extension was added post war.
As he neared Elderpark Street another mine (no. 134 in the SRO list) crashed through the glazed part of the roof on the far side of the yard fabrication shed immediately opposite and exploded. He was on the south side of the road and was passing along in front of T. Austin Funeral Undertaker's premises, keeping as close as possible to the building for shelter. Fortunately he was far enough away to be safe from flying debris, but the blast caused the plate glass window of the undertakers to shatter and crash out on top of him. He was unhurt, and as he started to run along the long open pavement at Elder Park where there was no shelter, as he reached the main entrance gates of the park the land mine struck in Linthouse, and this was what caused his panic. He said that in the moonlight he saw the mine and parachute descending, but after the explosion, in the gloom the sight of the expanding dust cloud produced by the blast made him think it was our building that had been hit.
Next morning going round the corner from Holmfauldhead Drive into Govan Road, no words can describe the feeling induced by the sight that greeted the eyes. It was the still smoking heap of rubble in the section of the collapsed building of what the previous day had been people’s homes. Members of Civil Defence teams were swarming over the unstable mound, working frantically trying to find anyone buried there who might still be alive. The vision of ragged edges on either side of the demolished section generated terror, with rough masonry and hanging floorboards, and plaster lathing spread out like ragged fans. There were sections of apartments open to view, some with furnishings intact. There was not a trace of glass visible in any of the windows anywhere in the rest of the block. Strangely, what made the greatest impression for me was the sight of the wallpaper on the walls.
The thoughts at that time were what will happen now. Would we be next?' Were all our buildings going to end up as smoking rubble, with perhaps no one left to look for survivors among the debris. Of course scenes like that were common in some cities all over Britain by that time that were far worse than our local experience, with one of the worst affected places being Clydebank. The book by Ian McPhail THE CLYDEBANK BLITZ has the story. My maternal grandparents had friends living in Scotstoun which was much more severely affected, who were far worse off than we were. Life went on as far as was possible with us, and after the event, when things had returned to some sort of normality perhaps a couple of weeks later, with still no contact we set of to visit them on what was probably an ongoing arrangement of occasional visits. I remember having juvenile thoughts like 'We have plenty to tell them of our frightening escape from death'. But as the tram went along Dumbarton Road past Scotstoun railway goods yard we became aware of a change in the layout of the buildings ahead from previous visits.
It might seem strange in this age of almost instant communication that news of events of the war in relatively nearby districts most often could only be carried by word of mouth. Information on where bombs had actually landed, the number of casualties and how many people were affected and what damaged had been caused and other details considered likely to help the enemy, was strictly controlled by the authorities. A regulation on 'rumour mongering' and 'spreading alarm and despondence' had been introduced that carried stiff penalties. Air raids in particular were often referred to only in the vaguest terms by the media, like 'a town in Scotland', or 'a town in the north'. With a few exceptions this meant that little positive news of what was going on in the rest of the country was available. The media then invariably concentrated on the battles involving our forces in North Africa, and much later on the European continent. Photographs in the Paul Harris book, GLASGOW AT WAR p55/6&7 can best convey what we saw on arriving at Scotstoun.
Grandma’s friends the Jeffrey’s lived in Earl Street, a desirable area of one and two storey Corporation tenements less than ten years old, and while their building was still standing, it had the appearance of having been stripped ready for demolition. All around was devastation with nearby Balmoral Street where there was a tram terminus was closed. Many of the buildings were reduced to rubble, and even two weeks after the event the devastation was so bad that squads of men were still labouring to clear up. In the immediate area there didn't appear to be one house left habitable. We returned home and it was some time before the Jeffrey’s were located living with a member of their family, unharmed but with stories far more harrowing than ours to tell. The two events of the destruction of housing in Linthouse and Scotstoun can be explained by the fact that the German bomb aimers were probably aiming for Stephen’s shipyard in the former and Yarrow’s in the latter.
Looking at the records of the events of that time in the 1980s, and examining a map of the city in the Mitchell Library which plots where the bombs landed and the destruction they caused was enlightening. One surprising discovery, although it shouldn't have been a surprise except that these events are only now being examined more closely, is that away from the river, greater Govan escaped almost completely free from any destruction compared with districts like Scotstoun, Knightswood, Yoker, and of course Clydebank. Looking at the map and the records in the Strathclyde Regional Archives, it was for me an eye opener to see large areas of the districts mentioned above shaded with colour coded markings of destroyed and damaged property. Govan, on the other hand, had only that one example in Linthouse, one or two in the yards, and a handful of others scattered about away from built up areas, one or two of which were UXBs.
A surprising omission from the map held in the Jeffrey’s Room Archives, which purports to plot all the bombs and mines dropped on the city during the war, is the ordinance which landed on Fairfield, the explosion of which caused the undertakers window to fall out over my father. Although it is recorded on the list under the number quoted earlier, it wasn't marked on the map. One UXB landed close to Rigmuir Road, Shieldhall, probably on the Fifty Pitches. The copy of the bomb list in my possession was obtained from the same SRA source. It is strange the number of devices recorded in it as having landed within the city boundary but on farm land round the outskirts. There was one even in Pollok Estate and another on the boundary wall of Old Eastwood Cemetery off Thornliebank Road. It is extremely fortunate that the ordinances of that time were puny when compared with what’s available today.
THE ELDER PARK BARRAGE BALLOON BURNS
This spectacular event may have occurred on the second night of the air raids of 13th/14th of March. After the alert had sounded my recollection is of coming downstairs with Mum who was carrying my sister, intending to go as usual to her sister's house. Already the sound of guns firing and ack-ack shell and bomb explosions could be heard. As we approached the close exit, passing with difficulty through the crush of people sheltering there between the timbers of the bracing, a plane was heard flying past quite low down.
We hesitated for a moment, wondering if it was safe to dash along the few yards to number 16. Then the sound of machine gun fire was heard so we thought there were enemy planes around, and drew back for what we hoped would be a few seconds. Shortly after, again going to the close entrance, we became aware of a baleful glare that rapidly increased until the sky was lit up like daytime. In the space at the close entrance and restricted by the shoring, people were fearfully milling about trying to see what was happening and making it difficult for a youngster to get a sight.
Worming my way to the front of the crowd and straining to look south-east for the source of the light, I caught a glimpse of the terrifying sight. The remains of our barrage balloon were visible above the Linthouse Church of Scotland building as a brilliant ball of flame moving slowly westwards, collapsing and burning and going down as it passed across the line of vision. I wanted to go out for a better view but was grabbed and hauled back. During the next lull we hurried along to number 16 and joined the crowd in the bedroom, to be quizzed about '…that bright light, what was it?' They seemed to have missed out on the excitement. As the second night was less traumatic than the first, the balloon incident apart, it passed off relatively quietly.
Next morning, on going out into the street it was to find the balloon’s cable draped over the roofs of the tenements in giant ellipses that reached street level between the buildings. From the balloon unit's position in Elder Park, the cable hung across spring’s still leafless trees and the buildings in Drive Road, Hutton Drive, Kennedar Drive, Holmfauldhead Drive and beyond. How far it stretched was never discovered. But the natural curiosity of children caused street urchins, who were out early looking for shrapnel and spent bullets to approach it for a closer examination.
Nothing would have been better than to be able to boast to those not around the time that we had actually touched the cable, but those who did so soon wished they hadn't. It was smeared with black grease similar to what was encountered during our expeditions to Alexander Stephen's coup, which proved impossible to clean off the hands by the normal means of soap and water. It required a hard rubbing session with a paraffin rag and pumice stone almost till you bled. Some careless types managed to get it on their clothing so it could be assumed that they had a difficult time with their parents when they went home. Frustration was engendered when the cable was recovered soon after, as I missed seeing the operation which may have happened when I was at school.
EXPEDITION TO KNIGHTSWOOD
While lounging in the street with a pal early one afternoon a week or two after the above event, we were startled when a tipper lorry drew up and the driver called out to us. My friend immediately ran over and began speaking excitedly to him. After a moment he called me over and said it was his uncle, who was going across the river to where work was going on to clear bomb sites, and was offering to take us with him for the rest of the day. Trying to reconcile the memory of that event of seventy years ago with the fact that we ought to have been at school is difficult. It might have been a Saturday or Sunday or the Easter Holiday Monday.
Hesitating for only a second I eagerly accepted the offer. Thoughts of what might happen if my mother came looking for me to ‘go a message’, which was quite likely as she was occupied with looking after the baby, caused only a momentary pang, but I took the precaution of telling the aunt at number 16 where I was going. I could not turn down a golden opportunity like this, of actually getting to travel in a lorry for the very first time, on which we might venture into areas unknown and have who knows what interesting adventures.
While lounging in the street with a pal early one afternoon a week or two after the above events, we were startled when a tipper lorry drew up and the driver called out to us. My friend immediately ran over and began speaking excitedly to him. After a moment he called me over and said it was his uncle, who was going across the river to where work was going on to clear bomb sites, and was offering to take us with him. Trying to reconcile the memory of that event of seventy odd years ago with the fact that we ought to have been at school is difficult. It might have been a Saturday or Sunday or the Easter Holiday Monday.
Hesitating for only a second I eagerly accepted the offer. Thoughts of what might happen if my mother came looking for me to ‘go for a message’, which was quite likely as she was occupied with looking after the baby, caused only a momentary pang, but I took the precaution of telling the aunt at number 16 where I was going. I could not turn down a golden opportunity like this, of actually getting to travel in a lorry for the very first time, on which we might venture into areas unknown and have who knows what interesting adventures.
The truck was probably a 5-tonner, the cab of which was comfortable but warm, noisy and full of engine reek, but with sufficient room on the passenger seat for two ten year olds. Crossing the river to Whiteinch on the vehicular ferry in this novel way was savoured to the full. We then we went up Balshagray Avenue to Anniesland Cross and on into Great Western Road. Somewhere along towards Knightswood Cross we turned off to the left, and immediately were amid a scene of utter desolation where a large area of relatively new, good quality two and four-in-a-block council housing had been reduced to rubble. Squads of men were labouring among the debris for anything salvageable. Sorting out by hand lumber for reclamation or burning and the rest of the rubble was carried away by a fleet of lorries to a tip.
The lorries were being loaded by hands and shovels then departing. This was of course before hydraulics came into use, when a crank handle at chassis level behind the cab manually operated the tipping mechanism of lorries. A single trip was made to a coup on the south side of the river, not a glimmer of where it was remains in my memory. In later years a story that debris from blitzed buildings, reputedly from the north side of the river, was deposited at Pollokshaws on the south bank of the River Cart opposite Pollokshaws West railway station has been encountered. This may have been where we went on that occasion.
When out walking with Granada in Knightswood we came upon a most odd sight. It may have been in Lincoln Avenue where on the left there was a golf course. Lined up close together a few yards apart along the edge of the pavement for quite a long distance, were dozens of what looked like identical giant stoves of the single burner, paraffin heating/cooking type. They had bulbous bases that were the tanks that held the fuel from which tall chimneys with an eastern coolie’s hat type cowl stood to above adult head height. All along where these enigmatic but intriguing features stood, the pavement was stained dark by fuel spillage, and there was a strong oily smell.
Enquiring among passers-by we were told it was supposed to be a system of concealment for use during daylight air raids. When required the devices were lit, causing them to pour out thick smoke that became a blanket which drifted over the land. This was supposed to be an attempt to hide important installations. However, that story doesn't square with more recently gained knowledge. There was another system known as FIDO, Fog, Intensive Dispersal Of, which was deployed round airfields, the nearest of which then was Renfrew. Because of the vagaries of the wind this might have been difficult to achieve, or was it really meant to 'disperse fog', an ongoing feature of our winters?
THE HAND GRENADE IN THE DUSTBIN
Coming across a group of acquaintances a little younger than myself behaving furtively in Holmfauldhead Drive, who were standing with their heads together in a conspiratorial knot, and seemed to be examining something one of them was holding. As I approached the gathering opened up, and I saw that he held an object in his cupped hands, eyes wide with suppressed excitement. 'Look what we found in that ‘midgie’ through there!' He indicated the midden in the backcourt of the close outside which we were standing on the east side of the street near Govan Road. It was a dark metallic oval object similar in shape to a lemon but with a regular lumpy pattern over most of its surface.
It was immediately obvious it was a hand grenade with the ring-pull pin still in place. As far as what a hand grenade should look like, boys in general are fascinated by close encounters with some of the simple accoutrements of war, more so than today because of the circumstances then. Their furtiveness centred round a suggestion from one of them that they take it down Holmfauld Road to Alexander Stephen’s coup and pull the pin. Fortunately the boy in possession was more cautious about what the effects of doing that might have on the neighbourhood.
My suggestion that they should hand it in to the nearby ARP post was resented by the majority. They wanted to have some fun with it. Their attitude was 'they had found it therefore it was theirs to do what they liked with'. No doubt they imagined they had something that would go off like a squib while they stood round it. At the time I used to flatter myself that it was my greater age and knowledge that made them take up my suggestion. I pointed out that, as fireworks had been banned since the beginning of the war, an explosion was bound to alert anyone within earshot, and the nearby civil defence authorities would be informed, they would be sure to investigate and he and his friends might end up in the nick. That was the deciding factor. Once they were convinced about this we all marched across the street in a group, as I didn't intend being left out of the fame the episode was sure to generate. Heavens, I might get my name in the paper or even in the news on the wireless.
The Air Raid Warden's post was in shop premises near the Linthouse Café and the City Bakeries shop in Govan Road between Holmfauldhead Drive and Burghead Drive. The front window of the wardens post was covered with anti-blast tape inside and festooned outside with Government warnings and advice notices, and the set-back entrance was draped with drawn-back blackout curtains. Inside was a passage lined along the side with stirrup pumps and a row of red painted metal buckets, some full of water and others sand, rows of stretchers, picks and shovels, and long handled scoops for dealing with incendiary bombs. Wide eyed and full of our importance we marched to the post with the finder of the object leading holding it out at arms length, and the others following close behind in arrowhead formation.
The humorous side of that scene, which can best be illustrated by the following analogy, has always appealed to me. In dramas on film and television the situation can occur where a group of people have to walk together, and to get them all in the frame for a close-up the director has instructed them to keep together. Sometimes they are bunched up so close that it looks unnatural, almost as if they might be touching each other. That was how this group must have appeared on that occasion, as none of us wanted to be left out. Having passed by it often, the appearance of the post as seen from the pavement was familiar to me.
The passage with the above described accoutrements, narrow and dark and braced with wood like the closes, lead to a small dimly lit room at the rear with light-coloured distempered walls. The doorway of the room appeared when viewed from the pavement as a distant bright vertical rectangle of light. Inside the small room there was a trestle table at which a warden was seated, while two other individuals stood around in a cramped space, much of which was taken up by various other items of equipment. On the table were their gas mask cases and tin hats, pads of report forms and a supply of pencils. Clothes hooks and hangers round the walls held oilskin capes, to be used along with the masks in the event of a gas attack, but which also gave excellent unofficial protection in wet weather.
The scene then enacted was one of the biggest letdowns of my early years. When the seated gentleman caught sight of us, he bade us enter the cubicle and regarded the grenade without expression. Taking it carefully from the bearer, he laid it on the extreme edge of the table at the outer corner, then he and the other occupants studied it in silence for a few seconds. This lack of stir was a bit unnerving and we, me especially, began to wonder if we had done the right thing. Regarding us rather balefully he asked where we had found it. On receiving the answer the next query was 'Did you find anything else?' This seemed to change the atmosphere somewhat, for the group of boys began to stir restlessly and edge towards the door with a single thought in mind.
Finding the grenade had diverted attention from their original scavenging endeavours, and now the one idea was to return a.s.a.p. to the midden to see if there was anything else of interest there. Perhaps something more exciting, maybe even a gun and bullets, and what adventures could be had with them. But the warden was on to us immediately (by then I regarded myself as one of the group of pseudo-heroes), making us promise to go straight home and keep away from number 3 Holmfauldhead Drive, and, most of all, tell no-one about our find.
The expected stir of excitement which was absent at the ARP post, was enacted in full with rage added when, on returning home and disregarding the order I told my parents about it, although the object of their anger was rather different from what was expected. Who, my parents wondered with barely suppressed fury, could be so criminally thoughtless as to put such a potentially dangerous item in the midden, and anyway where could it have come from.
The answers to these questions, and what happened to the grenade and if there was anything else in the 'lucky' midden is a blank now. It might have been that an older woman had a husband or other family member who had returned from the 1914/18 war bringing with them the grenade as a souvenir, which had been put away in a cupboard and forgotten about, and such occurrences were not unheard of. Then during a clear-out, in the absentminded way of an elderly person unaware of the significance of the strange object, it had been thrown in the bin. It could have been simply a harmless practice grenade. One thing is certain. Whoever was responsible could not have chosen a period of greater awareness of such a lethal object anytime before or since.
The most unusual of road vehicles seen occasionally passing through Govan were the 60 feet long Queen Mary articulated aircraft transporter trucks. With their low-slung open bed and low fretted or wire mesh sides, they were used to ferry dismantled fighter planes that had arrived on ships from America between the docks and Renfrew Aerodrome. The wings were removed and secured alongside the fuselage on the bed of the transporter. They were an awesome sight passing along the road from Prince's Dock to the aerodrome. I can only recall seeing single engine planes being moved on these occasions, because anything larger would have presented a hazard with the overhead tram power supply cables. Larger planes would have been flown over the Atlantic via Gander in Newfoundland and Iceland. Most aircraft brought in by ship were offloaded at Shieldhall Dock and other temporary quays constructed at Braehead which were convenient for the Aerodrome, but if that accommodation was occupied then ships had to be taken for unloading wherever there was vacant quayside space. This was when they were seen passing through Linthouse.
Other military vehicles passing through were convoys of dozens of 3 ton army trucks which were sometimes full of troops being moved between camps. As time passed another exciting sight was when a troop-ship arrived from America, seeing trains of railway passenger coaches in the goods sidings at Shieldhall Dock where there would normally only be goods traffic. Once or twice tanks passed by after being unloaded at Shieldhall clattering along on their tracks on the cobbles and making the surrounding buildings shake.
POLES INSTALLED FIELDS
An odd sight recalled that’s never mentioned in any other historical accounts of the time, which endured for a while after the German invasion of Crete by parachute troops, was telegraph type poles planted in fields in certain wide open areas of the countryside. They were spread at out randomly to deter aircraft or towed gliders loaded with troops trying to land during an invasion.
As the war progressed many non essential but nevertheless popular items became scarce or unobtainable and the scarcities persisted for a few years after it ended. One item was women’s stockings. Then someone hit on the idea of using dye as a substitute on their legs. I started work in the Co-op grocery shop in Cowglen Terrace at Peat Road roundabout before Christmas 1945. It was a very busy shop with many employees, most of whom were young girls. When preparing for a night out, after closing time they used to apply it in the seclusion of the women’s toilet before going to meet their boy friends. This was two decades before tights came on the market, and the only stockings available then were manufactured and shaped separately from flat material and stitched up the back leaving a thin seam. Individual stockings reached the top of the thigh to be held up by a suspender belt worn at the waist.
A further refinement to the tan was performed in full view of everyone in the back shop. After the dye was applied to above the hemline with a cloth or a sponge, to simulate the seam the girl stood on a chair or a box, and had another woman draw a line down the centre at the back of the leg with a black copying ink pencil (below). Women were always concerned to get their stocking seams straight and were frequently heard asking others to check them - ‘check ma’ seams’ was the cry. The appearance of nicely shape legs could be spoiled if they were squinty! Nylon stockings were first produced in America during the war and only began to appear here after US servicemen arrived. With the restrictions on imports in general they did not become available for sale in Britain until some years later. Tights were to follow on in the 1960s. Before nylon appeared the best stockings available were made of silk and the cheaper ones were of a coarse material.
VE & VJ CELEBRATIONS
As the Allied forces steam-roller from east and west moved on relentlessly little was happening on the home front. When Germany surrendered, the 8th of May 1945 was declared a holiday and scenes of unparalleled joy and excitement were the order of the day. When the event was depicted in a TV programme on C4 called The 1940s House in 2001, while the celebrations were well captured, the main feature of which was like Halloween with bonfires everywhere. Contrary to the impression given no fireworks had been available since before the war, although they did re-appear soon after it.
Some reports mention the taking of photographs. I used to think that this was highly unlikely, because although photos taken around Britain during this ‘banned’ period have surfaced since the war, for security reasons the use of cameras other than by press or official photographers was banned, and film for family cameras had been unobtainable since the war began. It is strange that photos taken in prisoner of war and German concentration camps have appeared, so some people must have been able to conceal them successfully from the Germans or they were taken by them. Any private individual seen in the streets of Britain carrying a camera would have been stopped by officials and the camera confiscated. But cameras and film could have been brought from abroad by US servicemen and used surreptitiously.
As the war with the Japanese in the far-east ended, VJ day in August was similarly celebrated. Between those two dates of May and August, in July my family moved from Linthouse to Carnock Road Pollok, to a rented three-apartment Corporation (then the title of the City Council) end terrace house with a garden and a great view over open countryside to Pollok Castle and the Gleniffer Braes. The Nielston Pad above Barrhead could be seen from the upstairs bedroom window.