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- Archie Bell
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- 23 November 2003
"The day war broke-out", I was a six year-old pupil at Broughton primary school in Edinburgh along with my older brother Ronnie who would have been eight.
I was the youngest boy in a family of six, my eldest brother Tommy was called up to be a driver in the R.A.S.C. (Royal Army Service Corps) and was stationed in the south of England for most of the war. He also assisted in the testing of such secret weapons as the midget submarine and the folding motorcycle for paratroopers.
Next in line from the top was Bert, he was a volunteer bren-gun carrier driver with the Lothian and Border Horse Yeomanry (an Edinburgh Cavalry Regiment). He was sent to Germany with the B.E.F. (British Expeditionary Force) but was unfortunately pushed back by the Germans to St. Valery where he and his comrades had to swim for a boat back to ‘Blighty’. He was then posted to N. Africa with the Eighth Army (Desert Rats) where he helped to push Rommel (Desert Fox) and his Afrika Corps back to where they came from.
My two sisters Helen (A.T.S.) and Lily (W.R.N.S.) both did their bit for the war effort, which left Ronnie and ‘Yours Truly’ to look after the Home Front.
Before being evacuated, I recall the first air-raid on the Firth of Forth (the first air- raid of the war in U.K. I believe)...German bombers trying to bomb Rosyth Naval Dockyard and ships in the Forth, they were chased by Spitfires and/or Hurricanes from 603 Squadron (Turnhouse) and R.A.F Leuchars (Fife). After the raid I remember picking up squashed and bent bullets from our local school playground, I don't think they were German bullets, more likely from our boys who I think were shooting down on the bombers from above because the Germans were flying so low over the city in order to avoid being shot at (lucky I'm still here!).
I remember being evacuated to a big mansion house in Dirleton, East Lothian. It turned out to be the Manse, just across the road from Dirleton Kirk, this would be towards the end of 1939 in fact it would be around Oct. because I can remember having great fun trying to knock conkers off a big horse-chestnut tree in the grounds of the Manse and memories of spending Christmas there, I got a red indian suit complete with tomahawk and feather headdress which allowed me to gallop through the long grass without being stung by nettles (great fun).
It must have been into Spring/Summer ’40 when I had my first experience of eating honey from a honey-comb as there were several bee-hives in the somewhat large expanse of garden, also the lovely smell of apple pies being baked by the resident cook, and me swatting dozens of wasps which also liked the smell of baked apples. Some weeks later we were moved from the Manse to a house called “Ingleneuk” not far along the road in a cul-de-sac, we couldn’t have been there long because I don’t have any memories of staying there except for one only, I happened to be in the garden when a tall soldier came walking down the path toward me, I took fright and ran inside because I didn’t recognise the man in uniform was my eldest brother home on leave and had come to visit us.
Drem airfield was very close to Dirleton and it was there I think they trained pilots in night flying, in any case for whatever reason (sabotage was the rumour) there were quite a number of plane crashes in and around Drem and whenever a crash occurred the police and R.A.F. usually had the area roped-off fairly quickly but that didn’t stop us boys getting a small piece of the wreckage for souvenirs. One of the more popular pastimes was to aquire a small piece of perspex from the cockpit, bore a hole in it with a red-hot poker then labouriously rub down all round the hole by rubbing against a wall until we made a perspex ring for the finger, we would polish it with brasso to give it a shine and make it look nicer.
During our stay at Dirleton my brother and I attended the school there, I don’t recall having any sad memories although there were occasions when we would feel home-sick at any given time, we also joined the cub scouts where most of us evacuees learned how to tie reef knots and granny knots, etc.
From there my brother and I along with some other evacuees moved once more nearer to N.Berwick to another great big house called “Quarry Court”, almost right on the beach (the last time I paid a visit a few years ago it was still there with the same name) it was here I recall more memories of military activity eg. lots of soldiers on the beaches one of whom shot a seal with his rifle, another two swam out to fetch it. The coast was covered with tank-traps (massive concrete blocks) and what looked like telegraph poles, spaced-out and planted in concrete to deter the landing of enemy aircraft.
Around this time my mother was staying with us, probably looking after groups of evacuees. There were rumours that german paratroopers might be landing, anyhow the story goes that the resident cook in this house was terrified and panic-stricken during the frequent air-raids which we had and worried sick about gas attacks which were always a possibility, my mother gave her my gas mask to console her but as she was a rather large lady I doubt if my gas mask would have fitted her, however it served the purpose of calming her down, poor lady.
I don’t remember the exact dates but it was in 1940 we were assembled along with what seemed like hundreds of other school children in the Waverley Station ready to embark on another journey into the unknown, we had our gas masks and some haversack rations (sandwiches, apples, etc.), when the train finally pulled out of the station there were quite a few tears I can tell you. This time we were headed for the granite city of Aberdeen, on arrival there we were taken to various restaurants for a hot meal, I remember it being my first sight of an electric trolley-bus in this strange city. Once fed and watered we were loaded onto buses to take us on our final journey to a place called Aberchirder, pronounced (Aberhirder) or as the locals called it, (Foggy-Loan), where we were assembled once more in the local school to await distribution to the various houses in which we were destined to live for the “duration of the war”, aarrgh !
At first my brother and I were split up which was a bit worrying, but fortunately some official put it right and we were soon re-united at the home of an elderly couple, Mr.and Mrs. Gibb. The villagers were so excited that they took their respective evacuees in hand round the village showing off their new “Loonies and Quinies”,…(boys and girls) in local Aberchirdian lingo.
Life was a totally new experience for us up there in Foggy-Loan, we had only been there a few nights when at supper time it was so quiet with only the big clock on the wall going tick — tock — tick — tock,…I took a fit of the giggles at the supper table and when eventually I couldn’t control it - - - -whack !! old Mr. Gibb gave me a clout on my head and sent me upstairs to bed without supper,…he must have thought that I was laughing at him. After a while Ronnie came up to the bedroom with some buns in his pocket for me, so I didn’t starve that night! (brotherly-love).
During the next week or so we explored the surrounding country-side to discover such delights as hazelnuts and blaeberries which we picked in their hundreds on Blaeberry Hill as it was called,…we always came down from Blaeberry Hill with our faces and hands purple/blue from eating so many berries. During the summer days we would see and hear such a variety of birds but the ones I always remember most were the yellow-hammer and sky-lark. Sometimes in the early evening we might see an owl and later still we would see the bats,…dozens of them.
It was late one night just as I was about to go to bed when I saw another kind of bird,…one I never expected to see,…a big black German aeroplane which I thought was a bomber but it could also have been a night reconnaissance plane, anyhow it was so low I could plainly see the iron cross on the underside of the wing and on the fuselage,…my second encounter with the enemy!
Some of the evacuees got so homesick (I remember the feeling) they tried to run away, some got as far as Aberdeen railway station but were picked up and brought back, I remember my Dad coming to visit us, I thought he was coming to take us home but he was just visiting and brought us both a pair of football boots each, which kept us busy in a nearby field for a day or two, another new experience was rabbit hunting, we bought some copper wire and and made wooden staves with which to make snares for catching rabbits,…I wasn’t very successful I’m glad to say.
There was a lot of military troop activity in and around Aberchirder (Highland Division) and Norwegian soldiers, we used to help with the war effort up there too by helping to fill one gallon petrol cans which were loaded on the back of 15cwt. Trucks,… looking back now I can see it was a dangerous and irresponsible job to give young school children like us but we were all too keen to help. I was unfortunate enough to be helping to stack the full cans on the back of the truck when one of my classmates, (Leonard Wells I think, where are you now?) happened to be holding the nozzle of the pump too close to the neck of the can and the other boy who was keenly pumping the hand petrol pump didn’t stop pumping in time,…the result being a spray of petrol coming from the neck of the can right into my eyes,…well I was howling, I thought I was blinded, as it happens I couldn’t open my eyes for an hour or two,…I was taken back to Mrs. Gibb who was a kind and gentle lady and she nursed me back to near normality by gently rubbing my eyes with believe it or not, petrolium jelly !(vaseline) however it seemed to relieve the pain and anguish and after an hour or so of sleep I was able to go and see some of the Festival Parade which was taking place that very afternoon.
Eventually I think we all got a bit fed-up and homesick, so we managed somehow to persuade our parents to bring us home to “Auld Reekie”. The ironic end to this story is that I eventually went to live for a few months with my Aunt in Chingford (London E4) where I saw doodlebugs (V1 flying bombs), heard V2 rockets landing, and watched the hundreds upon hundreds of aeroplanes towing the gliders with their “D-Day” markings flying overhead towards the invasion,
The Longest Day !! Some experience !!
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