- Contributed by
- People in story:
- W. L. HUME
- Location of story:
- EDINBURGH - TRINITY
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 01 October 2004
WHAT DID YOU DO IN THE WAR ?..............SONNY
Early War time memories, in and around a busy sea-port, in the jargon of official censorship, wall have ears, you never know who`s listening.
Almost against our somewhat infantile vision, day schooling continued apace, with great difficulty, due in part to much upheaval caused by the government evacuation program which sent hundreds of pupils from city schools to locations considered safe from the inferno about to wreaked on areas such as Scotland's capital city, this undertaking seemed to peter out after the initial surge in September 1939, the cost of running two homes soon brought economics into the equation, plus the further disturbance when the entire first floor of our erstwhile seat of learning, Trinity Academy, was taken over, nay, commandeered as a First Aid Casualty clearing station, complete with a full time trained Civil Defence staff.
Our class-room work became re-arranged to accommodate a relatively depleted pupil intake, coupled to an acute loss of teaching staff who were rapidly called up to serve in the different branches of the armed forces, the remaining teachers undertook additional duties, as indeed most people did during the war, we as supposedly responsible pupils were encouraged to `do our bit` for the war effort and volunteer our services to any one of the numerous civilian support agencies, known then as His Majesty`s Civil Defence of the Realm, a good number of young people did engage in various activities, First Aid, Air Raid Wardens, Civil Defence Messengers, Auxiliary Fire Service, these people turned out for duty without question when the mournful Air Raid Sirens wailed to warn the population of imminent danger, sometimes extending throughout the entire night, then carrying on the next day with no thought of -`I’ve been up all night and need a rest` - people at that time, generally, just did not think along those lines, the constant cry of “don`t you know, there's a war on” was thrown back at anyone who dared to dissent or even complained.
Frequently, we were asked to be (arm twisted volunteers) make believe casualties suffering from assumed bomb damage in an Air Raid, an exercise to help the Auxiliary Fire Service, First Aid'ers, Rescue Service and Air Raid Wardens how to deal with possible real incidents, this was always influenced with the inducement (`bribe`) of Tea and Biscuits, after the event, they, the Civil Defence organisers, (politically, even then) never, ever said anything about said volunteers being strapped — wrong -, rightly, tightly, secured - on a steel stretcher, with a flesh crippling wire mesh - complete with an officially printed identity label, appropriately written in red, tied prominently to depict some gory medical problem - (1) one or more, very bloody broken limbs, Tourniquet applied with name of applicant, or, (2), ah hah, person found unconscious, no apparent injury observed - could be inebriated !!!, the laughs were numerous, until — a voice is heard, now just lay back on the stretcher laddie, whatever happens, do not struggle — [ooh lor` what have I let myself in for, gulp,] - after being lifted on the stretcher by an assortment of older, elderly but not quite decrepit men, up to window level, a mere 80-ft above the playground, with no hope of escape, amidst much animated discussion (a pleasant euphemism for argument), much jolting and jooglin, then,…. ‘haud on tight, sunshine yer on yer way doon’, the great descent started, and to be fair, the in-between bit is not remembered, happily and (thankfully).
Slight bump, then gently grabbed by the willing helpers below, a `chief`, I assumed as much as he announced to all in a `chief` like voice, ahem, ah`ll just read the label to you all to keep you in the picture - as for myself I never felt better having reached the ground, albeit still bound to the stretcher - this one for the hospital, so again lifted up and put into the back of an ambulance, a converted Rolls Royce hearse !!!, no less, round the block to casualty reception (Tea Bar), untied and allowed to get up to de-briefed by the senior Civil Defence bods, did they treat you with care and sympathy ?, would you be prepared to volunteer for another exercise, right laddie go and get your tea and biscuits, only to discover that time has run out, tea was finished and only dry water biscuits left, rationing and all that, jeepers just my luck.
So glad to get home, hoping for a quiet night in without the sirens going off to call us out, heaven help us if we had to undertake some of the exercise bit for real, in the middle of the night.
An Auxiliary Fire Station had been established in the grounds of a new school under construction, temporarily halted, just along the road from our own school first floor First Aid clearing station, most of the Firemen being over the normal call up age, most of us lads being fit and keen were encouraged to turn out as a second string crew, usually at week-ends to allow the full timers a brief respite. The vehicles were mostly requisitioned large cars, unable to be used by the owners because of strict petrol rationing, trades vans or lorries, although there were two Bedford custom built fire engines, box shaped, the early original version of the present day `Green Goddess` machines kept for emergencies, all of these motors towed a two wheeled trailer pump with lots of large diameter hose, mainly to draw water from any available source, in the event of hydrants or water mains being bomb damaged, huge steel open topped tanks were built at strategic points, containing many thousand gallons of water, which gathered rain in addition to all sorts of usual domestic rubbish.
Our nearest area for fire drill with these suction hoses was over the sea wall or harbour, all treated very seriously, and in the event gave our roads a good wash, the day being finished, back at the station with rinsing everything through with fresh water, hard work but we all seemed to enjoy the task, happily, for the sake of reality we, very young enthusiasts, were never called to a fire, for real.
Being fully accredited, with warrant cards, Civil Defence Messengers, all properly equipped with battledress uniforms, adorned with gold coloured badges and shoulder flashes - supply and maintain your own cycle, for which we received the princely sum of two shillings and sixpence per month (12.1/2 p), well lets face it, kept us going, with puncture repair kits, and, more importantly in the all sustaining fish suppers.
Some of the early air-raids, especially at night, like the Clydebank blitz when the German bombers flew in droves directly over Edinburgh on their way to attack the shipyards, during the nights of 13th and 14th March, 1941, were very scary, not so much on account of bombs, no it was our own anti-aircraft guns, the batteries were dotted all round the city, together with lots of searchlights, when these guns put a barrage the fall out of shrapnel was considerable, the need to wear a steel helmet became apparent, some of the jagged shards of hot metal hurtling to earth were quite large, enough to force people to take cover, it wasn't all doom and gloom, on occasion we, with chest puffed out in full regalia, had to go on ARP patrol, ensuring the blackout regulations were being correctly observed, when we flaunted our pseudo authority if a mere chink of light could be seen, over harassed housewives complaining of being `spoken to` by overgrown school kids - happily it did not last too long as enforcement was relaxed as time wore on.
Generally these early years of war for the civil population became an inconvenience, more than a strict imposition, at least to us youngsters there was more adventure than hardship. A long time ago now, but not forgotten.
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