ARROCHAR IN WARTIME
Elizabeth Carson (nee Findlay)
(My memories of the village in wartime are second hand and unable to be checked. As the years pass these family stories are embroidered, altered, edited and I cannot vouch for their truth. There may be many inconsistencies).
For me as a child, time was always defined by pre-war and post war. Pre-war was a time in which there were afternoon teas where you could eat as much as you wanted; there was no rationing and everyone ate bananas. Post war was ration books and blackout curtains and scratchy army blankets.
I was born in the back bedroom at 6, Admiralty Cottages by the light of a Tilley lamp and a coal fire. The district nurse smoked throughout my mother’s labour, which greatly annoyed her. The elections for the wartime coalition government were to be held on the 26th February in 1941 and my arrival at 7.14am allowed my father to leave for Dumbarton and the hustings. In later years I asked my father why they had had a family in wartime and he said that whatever is happening you have to get on with your life.
My mother spoke often of nights when my father was on Home Guard duty at the Range. She felt very much alone with a young baby and Joan, my sister. Lord Haw Haw on the wireless frightened her very much with his threats and detailed knowledge of local geography. She told me that there were three bombs dropped in Loch Long in March or April 1941 and she was terrified. Whether she leapt from her bed and had to give up breast feeding as a result, may have been a bit of dramatisation.
Like many other families we had our evacuees. In our case they were family members from Glasgow. My mother’s sister in law May Torrance and her two children lived with us and her sister in law Jean Rennie and her two children Mairi and Ann. As far as I know, the husbands came at weekends whenever they could, cycling down from Glasgow. There were meetings on Sunday evenings to discuss the housekeeping and my father said they were the most difficult meetings of his life to chair since the three women would argue about their use of paraffin and food. The local doctor told my mother she would have a breakdown if the sisters in law remained. May and her two children went to live with Mrs Wylie senior. Today with all our amenities, it’s hard to imagine three families with young children living with no hot water; one toilet off the kitchen; no electricity and the constant struggle with paraffin lamps and coal fires. The Arrochar weather must have made life even more difficult.
At one time we had a land girl lodging in our front room; Mary Hardie from Alexandria. She was courted by a conscientious objector Andy Keir who was working for the Forestry Commission and they remained our lifelong friends. There seemed to be no conflict between the Admiralty worker and the “conchie” but perhaps others felt differently.
On Sunday evenings, my father sometimes brought home young men from the submarines berthed at the Torpedo range. They were given tea and scones and pancakes – these staples of our childhood and in later years my mother spoke of her sadness looking round the living room at the young faces. She wondered how many of them would survive.
As the war went on the Americans came to the village, the local men showed some enterprise in growing extra cabbages for them. They complained of lack of greens and the large, long gardens of Admiralty cottages supplied them. One photograph shows our own garden given over almost entirely to cabbages.
In June 1942 my sister Joan died aged four of bacterial meningitis. The Medical Officer for Health Dr Harvey visited the village immediately to check on local conditions. There was no delay despite the war. She died at around 10pm on the 3rd of June and her death was registered by my father on the following morning. Life going on one supposes.
Doctor Rutherford the local GP was to be a great support to my mother in the years that followed. Once he called to see her and took us for a run in his open top car up the Rest and be Thankful to cheer her up a little. I remember this and that she still had her pinny on. These wrap round pinnies only came off when the men arrived home for their tea.
For Iain my brother and me the most exciting story was of the German passport found by my father at the Range gates and surrendered to the Range Officer. We always wondered who the spy in the village had been. This far surpassed the finding of a cwt of sugar, that wartime gold, behind the gates of Tighness Manse. My father found it while garaging his Austin 7 and it was handed into the police as far as I know. There must have been a black market contact in the village who had failed to pick up the booty.
The moral authority of the church in Arrochar during the war years has always interested me. On one occasion in 1942 my grandmother Carson failed to arrive on the Glasgow bus as had been arranged. There were no phones to check what had happened and my father sought the advice of the local minister Mr Wills on whether it would be right to use petrol to go to Glasgow since his mother lived alone. He made the journey and found her very ill having suffered a stroke. I asked my father whether he could not have made up his own mind but he insisted that in the circumstances he felt he needed guidance.
In the cupboard off the kitchen there were cardboard boxes filled with newspapers, bits of string and jam jars. Long before the Green movement was heard of, we knew that everything had to be saved for the War Effort. Brown paper was smoothed and saved to be reused for parcels. We sent and received very few parcels but when we did the great excitement was to watch the red sealing wax being melted to be dripped onto the knots. In another drawer years later, I found little stickers showing a woman and a child sheltering from a bomber and the caption read Don’t buy Japanese goods. Make Do and Mend was another slogan I knew of and my mother’s knitting bag was made from scraps of men’s suiting stitched together with blanket stitch. I threw it out a few years ago when I was flitting.
The end of the war is within my own hazy memory. We went up to the golf course opposite the village hall and there was a bonfire with an effigy of Hilter on top. I remember people talking about Hitler but to me he was another bogeyman. I had been wakened by my father to be told of the end of the war although I was only four and my response was that we would get bananas now. It was to lead to a lifetime addiction from the first one handed out in Wylie’s shop. At the Ross Hotel, the American Navy put on a film show for the children with Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck. A very tall man lifted me up and sat me on a front seat since I was so small. I can see his braided hat and jacket yet. The bunting was put up and John Bell was coming home. The war was really over.
MEMORIES OF EVACUATION
Frances Gillies (nee Marshall)
The evacuees who came to the village in 1939 were mainly from fairly poor homes in Clydebank – from the catchment areas of Whitecrook and Elgin Street Schools. Many of the fathers were shipyard workers and the mothers were torn between staying in Clydebank with their husbands or being evacuated with their children. I was kept well away from the hall where both my parents were working on the day the evacuees arrived but by evening we had our own quota – a mother and her five children. We made Dad’s study into a living room for them, and offered them a couple of bedrooms upstairs, but after the first night they were not too happy with that and chose to live and sleep together in the study – presumably they were not accustomed to so much space. The first evening they were with us they all set off after tea (mother and five children and our old pram) and we found later that, like many of their friends, they had been to Arrochar and Tighness in search of a chip shop. They returned much later footsore and weary and not at all impressed by the local amenities!
A few days later Dad was forced to send for the lady known as the ‘nit nurse’. She duly arrived and every child in the school had their head well examined and as a result many local families received postcards telling them that not only did we have evacuees but that they had brought something much less desirable with them. I well remember that evening for after tea the schoolhouse doorbell started to ring and ring, and ring – and our callers were locals who were quite unaccustomed to dealing with that situation. Medicated shampoos (or whatever they were called in these days) and nit combs sold well in the local shops and we were among the many children who had to suffer nightly hair washing and combing with that horrible bone comb. The evacuees also brought with them something even worse that nits – scarlet fever and diphtheria – which were to prove fatal to at least two of the local children.
The school doubled in size overnight and as a result it was not long before we were on part-time schooling – local children in the morning and evacuees in the afternoon. The secondary pupils stayed in school full time. Accommodation was tight and when a gym teacher arrived we all had to walk over to the hall for our PE lessons. Staffing was, to begin with, very haphazard, and I suspect that the teachers had simply been sent as bodies to escort the children and that no attention had been paid to the staffing requirements of the school. Mind you that would have been hard when Dad enquired about the various pupils it transpired that he now had pupils in everything up to a 6th Year but his teachers did not have the necessary qualifications to teach the more advanced pupils. For instance as well as English, History, Geography, Maths and Science (all of which he could teach to 3rd year level – but not above) he now had pupils studying languages which included French, German, Italian, Russian, Gaelic, Latin, Greek and Hebrew. His own French was good but he was not qualified to teach it and the only member of staff with any language qualification could have taught elementary Spanish! Eventually the powers that be tried to do what they could and we got a science teacher who could also teach maths (Miss Dall I think) and a teacher of French and German (Miss Peggy Davie from Clydebank who was billeted with Mrs Carmichael – Danny’s mother). The more advanced of the pupils soon either left for home or found themselves travelling to Hermitage in Helensburgh. We also, about that time, had several visiting teachers for PE, Music, Domestic Science and Horticultural Science.
Sadly most of the evacuees did not stay too long – I suspect that village life was too quiet for them and so they returned to Clydebank only to become victims of the Blitz.
In my estimation part-time schooling was a great blessing as that year we had lots of snow which lasted for a long time. The men from the Still Brae got busy in the field behind the Manse and built a toboggan run for the children. Danny Carmichael built sledges for Mary and I which never had less than two children on board, and the moon seemed to shine every night while the Tarbet children of all ages careered down the hill, and frequently ended up in the minister’s hawthorn hedge.
It was probably in the summer of 1940 that the school was used for a camp – as had been the custom for several previous years. I think that the children who came were probably top primary pupils and that they came from poor areas of the country. They would be accompanied by several teachers and by cooks who I think were students from the Dough School (the Glasgow and West of Scotland College of Domestic Science). They usually stayed for a week and were followed by other groups making a stay of three weeks in all. One group were finishing their time with a sports afternoon and I was invited to join them in the playground and we were all down on the grassy bit after the games and were drinking lemonade when someone said “look at the buss across the loch”. I knew there could be no bus but sure enough over near Rohish was something moving swiftly up the loch, very low to the water. A moment later something else appeared and then a strange noise. It took me a moment to realise what it was, and being then an avid reader of ‘Biggles’ I soon recognised the crosses on the wings of the first plane, and as I called out Dad appeared from our garden shouting at us to get under the hedge or into the holly bushes over the burn. A third fighter appeared and the two British planes chased the German overhead with their machine guns blazing, swooping up and down and providing us with a wonderful display of aerobatics. Eventually they all disappeared behind Ben Lomond and all we terrified children were able to come out of our hiding places.
By the time of the Clydebank Blitz we were living in Helensburgh and after it was over and we had suffered several sleepless nights Dad decided a spell in Tarbet would be a good idea. The Helensburgh schools were closed but he was running his as a rest centre and so Mum, Mary and I set off on the ‘push and pull’ for Tarbet and a few days rest with Mrs Gray up at Bencruach. Needless to say we slept very soundly that night but Miss Dodds, who by then had given up her home on the Still Brae and was now living with Mrs Gray, did not – she complained about hearing bombers and explosions which none of the rest of us had been aware of. (You may not know that the German bombers flying at night were said to follow the water – up the Forth, over by Loch Katrine, down Loch Lomond, pick up the Clyde and follow it to Clydebank or Glasgow. A bomber which was attacked would often jettison its load in an attempt to escape). As the day wore on Miss Dodds proved to be correct and we heard that a landmine had been dropped over towards Inversnaid killing and stunning many fish and numerous boats were to be seen heading up the loch to harvest the catch.
Evacuees admitted to Arrochar Primary School 1940-1942
( mainly from Clydebank)
MEMORIES OF THE HOME GUARD
Frances Gillies (nee Marshall)
It was the photo of the Home Guard that brought back the sight and sound of them parading in the school playground in the early months of the war – or maybe even before the war began? At any rate they were often in a position where Mary and I could overlook them from a bedroom window. At this time they had not been issued with rifles and instead were equipped with broom handles or something similar. Loud was the cursing that followed the slap of the handle on the ground, and loud too were the complaints about the midges. Even we realised that their drill left a lot to be desired. We enjoyed the entertainment until we were discovered by Dad who sent us on our way with threats as to what awaited us if he caught us eavesdropping again!
Sphagnum moss had been used as a wound dressing during the first war and some enthusiastic members of the Red Cross seemed to assume that it would be used again in the second. One day we were told to open the schoolhouse gates as some important visitors were coming to afternoon tea – but when the car came in and we shut the gates (to keep out the sheep!) we were to disappear and on no account come into the house till the visitors were gone. (Scruffy children!). When the car did appear it was a rather swanky one and driven by a chauffeur in uniform. Out climbed a tall lady and a little man – Mr and Mrs J Arnold Fleming from Helensburgh. (I am almost certain she was something in the Red Cross). The chauffeur unloaded several large wicker laundry baskets and after they had all taken tea and left for home it transpired that we were expected to fill the baskets with sphagnum moss. In time we set off up past the Cnoc, on the old military road, and did not take long to fill the baskets which were some later collected by Mr and Mrs Fleming – and the chauffeur. I do not think that they ever asked for more as I am almost certain that the use of sphagnum moss was very limited – if it was used at all.
Have I told you about the ARP? I do not know how many wardens there were locally but Dad was certainly one – a first war injury had left him unable to handle a rifle and so he was limited in what he could do. At that time neither the school nor schoolhouse had a telephone in spite of his efforts to get one – the Education Authority thought the ARP should provide it, and the ARP thought it was up to the Education Authority. Anyway he was a warden and when there was an air raid the planes often followed the water since navigation was a bit primitive in these days – up the Forth, up Loch Katrine, down Loch Lomond and up the Clyde to reach Glasgow. The air raid warnings came from Glasgow to Clydebank, to Dumbarton, to Helensburgh and finally to Arrochar. By this time Dad had been wakened by the planes passing overhead so he dressed and waited. In due course the policeman – he had cycled from Arrochar – and they got out the car and put the bike on top. Then they set off for Ardmay to pick up the other warden (was it Cecil Cameron?) and thence back to Arrochar. By the time they reached the police station the ‘All Clear’ had usually come through and so they then did the whole thing in reverse. One other thing – when Mrs Grierson and Aileen heard the planes they also got dressed in uniform – I think they both had a choice between WRVS and Red Cross – and they listened as the car went out. They waited for the car to come back before they went back to bed but it is said that on one occasion they did not hear the car return and consequently sat up till morning.
This is the roll of honour on display in the Arrochar Church.