- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Gavin Russell
- Location of story:
- Background to story:
- Royal Navy
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 10 November 2003
Men and women were all war-busy in Edinburgh, so we tiddlers became self-sufficient urchins. We were allowed to range our quiet streets and parks in wonderful freedom although my trip on the trike down through Tollcross to Princess Street with Michael Buchan on the back was pushing my luck. The police had to return us.
Over the wall at the back of our flats was our private playground, the estate of a big house under the care-taking of Michael Buchan’s dad. They lived in the lodge.
We came to no especial harm except later for Michael who pulled a dangling wire to bring a piece of stone coping down on his head. The solemn atmosphere impressed me as he battled to survive somewhere else. I wonder if he ever returned.
My attempt at blowing up a “balloon” I’d found behind a pillar of the Links Church seemed to do me no ill apart from my sudden fright at the shocked reaction of my mother. Nor did the piece of chocolate on the pavement which turned out to be doggie do. I can still taste it.
We all survived the danger brought by someone’s visiting relation, a nice fun New Zealander who made a mighty bow and arrow from a thick bamboo to fire curtain rods up into the sky. We all had to run for cover, including the bowman, as we couldn’t see where they were falling. No one was pierced.
In our bit of Edinburgh we were lucky to bombed only occasionally and distantly. The biggest setback we suffered was when we were all sheltering in the big kitchen cupboard and Dad poured blackcurrant puree into the hot milk and curdled it. The war did come to us though, in the most exciting way possible for a wee lad of 7 who, dadless for a lot of the time, was used to running riot under the lightest of parental control.
We lads had no concept of the war apart from the bad men; monkey Japs or goose-stepping Nazis from a couple of Lowe’s cartoon books. We’d have been very surprised to have been blown up or lose a parent.
There were, occasional sirens, nice shiny silver plane models and the occasional glimpse of a Hurry, Spit or Lightning but very, very best were the war games on the Meadows….
Once a year the army used to set up camp on the Links Meadows just around the corner. In a morale booster for the civvies, they had tanks, brown tents, fighter planes, barrage balloons, guns, and searchlights to overwhelm my senses with such a thrilling strangeness I can see and smell it all now, especially the amazingly exciting smell of baking bread that came from the army ovens.
For little lads who had only seen our fighters in aircraft recognition books or distant in the sky, the sight of these well-worn beasts close to (up the steps for a look in the cockpit of the proud Spit) was a visit to scallywag’s heaven or better. My heightened senses were awash with the reality of every aluminium rivet, the joystick with its gun button and black, oily guns, guns, guns. For our little gang; Ian Ashley, Peter Bowen and Michael Buchan, a wee Bren-gun Carrier was a killing machine and our morale was sky high as we invaded the khaki tents, crawling over, under and through any war equipment we could find. The soldiers were long suffering and we weren’t so protective of kids in those days.
The most exciting smells, noises and pure excitement were kept for the end of the week when war broke out right amongst us.
In our corner of the Links was a spinney where the putting green was, just across the road from the Depot where my pal, Michael Buchan lived in the gatehouse. To our consternation from the depot gates issued a terrifying force of Japanese soldiers - yellow faces, funny dumpy hats, lots of scowls and big guns and swords. They quickly merged into defensive positions in the spinney. We watched them crouching over their machine guns, helpless to warn our advancing “sojers” in the distance and waiting agonisingly for something to happen which it eventually did with the skirl of the pipes, distant bangs and flashes. Then came the most wonderful, stinky smoke which came rolling down upon us to choke us in its in orange and green swirls.
Fingers in ears, we watched the dreaded Japs open up with rifles and flashing machine guns as our tin hatted sojjers loomed through the billows, bayonets fixed. To our horror, one or two of our boys fell in a heap but the rest came on, unstoppable, to fall upon those horrible yellow men. They died with loads of bangs and screams,ours and theirs as we cheered ourselves hoarse.
And how we cheered as the remnant Jap force fled back into the depot and to make it even better, our dead soldiers got up and walked.
Of course we weren’t allowed into the Depot but there was another way in, over our garden wall and through the rhubarb beds. Not quite understanding, but realising that all was not as it seemed, we gingerly approached the yellow men who were sitting under the trees having a fag. “Are you rrreally Japs mister?” we enquired. No singsong here, “B____r off” they roared and we knew we’d been had.
© Copyright of content contributed to this Archive rests with the author. Find out how you can use this.