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My Story of War Time in Cleland, Lanarkshire and My Time in the RAF

by Joseph J Brown

Contributed by 
Joseph J Brown
People in story: 
Joseph J.Brown
Location of story: 
Various pla
Background to story: 
Royal Air Force
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Contributed on: 
13 November 2003

My name is Joseph J.Brown I was born on the 7th December 1924 at 63 Omoa Road in the village of Cleland in Lanarkshire. I was educated at St Mary's school in the village and in 1935 successfully passed the entrance examination to Motherwell Higher Grade school when I was 11 years old.
The years up to 1939 had seen tremendous preparation for war, aeroplanes were to be seen most days on training flights, factories in Motherwell and other towns were being camouflaged. At school we had each been issued with a gas mask in a cardboard box which had a string to hang round your neck, it was supposed to be compulsory to carry them but we soon got fed up dragging them everywhere with us so they were left at home and by December 1939 they were chucked in a drawer and never used again. We never had any practice in their use.

Air raid shelters were being built in most of the big towns, we in Lanarkshire had very few of the corrugated iron Anderson and Morrison shelters. Cleland had no shelters of any kind, I suppose because we were out in the country and considered to be well out of the way of enemy aircraft and bombs etc. Quite a number of the men in the village were in the Territorial Army and were called up for active service. Uniformed soldiers and airmen were becoming a common sight but there were very few sailors around.

"Wills" the manufacturers of Capstan and Woodbine Cigarettes had brought out a series of Cigarette cards called Air Raid Precautions and most of the boys collected them. The full set of fifty cards were placed in an album and they became a reference for what we should do if ever an air raid came. We had been told by The Government that the Germans didn't have any aircraft that could reach Scotland so we were quite happy to know we would be well out of range of the German bombers. We were soon to find out differently.
Early in August quite a number of young men were called up for service and we only saw them when they came home on leave. The ones I remember were :- John MacConnachie (Oochie) , Alex Stewart, Henry Kane, Josie Lafferty, two of the Morrison Boys from Parkside, Richie Marshall, Patrick McMonagle, two of the Somervilles boys, and many others. On September 1st 1939 Hitler had invaded Poland and destroyed Warsaw.
I can clearly remember listening to Radio Warsaw on that fateful day when Paderewski the Polish pianist and prime minister played the piano "Chopin's Polonaise" and continued to play until the city had fallen and the radio fell silent.
The British and French Governments had issued Hitler with an ultimatum stating he had to withdraw from Poland by the 3rd September, as this did not happen war was declared by Neville Chamberlain on Sunday 3rd September 1939.

We had all been to church that morning and the famiy were seated at table for our Sunday Lunch on that fateful day. My father had purchased a new 5 valve superhet mains wireless and he told us that there was going to be an announcement by the Prime Minister Mr Chamberlain. The Ultra Wireless set was switched on and we all sat in silence and listened. I clearly remember the broadcast, he spoke very solemly, and said "as Adolf Hitler had not replied to the ultimatum requesting withdrawal of German forces from Poland we were now at war with Germany". I was fourteen years old.
The Miner's Welfare Institute in the Main Street became the Air Raid Control Centre for all air raid precautions and Mr Willie Burt the janitor was made responsible for managing the centre. He had a system of procedures for advising citizens of the various alert states. The Air Raid Wardens took it in turn to man the centre on a voluntary basis, ensuring that ample warning was given to the people of Cleland when a raid was imminent. The very first day of the war we had a warning, the sirens mounted on the Police Station were sounded and we were told to remain indoors. This was the first air raid on Great Britain and the Germans had dropped bombs near to the Forth Bridge without causing any damage. The propaganda put out by the BBC stated a rabbit had been killed and that was the only casualty. So much for the confidence expressed by the government that the German Air Force would not be able to reach Scotland, we found out the truth on the very first day of the war. From then on the ARP Wardens became very officious and patrolled the streets after dark and went around checking to see that every window had been blacked out. We used dark blankets hung on poles and my father made up our "black outs"from dark sheets pinned to light wooden frames. Every now and then we could hear wardens shouting to some unfortunate householder "put that light out"

The LDV Local Defence Volunteers were formed to defend the country against invaders after the Dunkirk fiasco in 1940, Willie Mc Murdo was chosen as the Sergeant in charge of the Cleland Company, poor Willie had a terrible stutter and it was quite an effort for him to give the various drill commands. It was also quite amusing to see the antics of some of these weekend soldiers with their pick-axe handles carrying out the drills. There were only about twenty locals in the outfit and what resistance they would have displayed against the Germans if there had been an invasion would have been interesting to see. Captain Mainwaring of Dad's Army would have been proud of the men from Cleland. The LDV name was changed to The Home Guard about 1942 but by this time the threat of invasion had disappeared as Hitler decided to attack Russia instead.

There were quite a number of local personalities in and around the village at this time, the most prominent was Jimmy Delaney the star of Celtic football club, he went on to win many awards on the football field and he became a regular membr of the Scotland International team. Other notables included the singer Robert Wilson, the film actor Simon Lack, young Billy Nicol who played a part in the fim "The Man in Gray" and later Sydney Devine the country & western singer. Sydney was given his big chance when he was discovered by Carl Levis and became very popular singing and whistling like a blackbird.

The years 1939 to 1941 were very quiet and this phoney war was much appreciated around Cleland, it just seemed as if the war never existed, the miners welfare hall was used to show some of the latest films and these were well attended. Saturday nights were the big dancing nights in the "Welfare" and Charlie Lafferty affectionately known as "Cousin" was the main organiser of all the "Late Nights" and dancing competitions.The cinemas in Wishaw were very much patronised and it was a common sight to see queues at all these cinemas particularly on Friday and Saturday nights. On Saturdays we boys walked the High or the Low roads to Wishaw to attend the matinees at the various cinemas where we followed Flash Gordon, Gene Autrey, Tom Mix, Errol Flynn, Humphrey Bogart, George Raft, Jimmy Cagney, Wallace Beery, Victor McLaglan, Carmen Miranda, Dorothy Lamour and numerous other popular film stars.

The air raids on Scotland had been very few and far between up to about the Spring of 1941, and we listened to the radio to hear of the terrible bombing of London and the Southern counties of England. We got all the News from The BBC and lived in the high hopes that the bombers would not come North. We had heard of the raids on Coventry. Manchester and Liverpool and it seemed inevitable that the attacks would soon be directed towards Glasgow. Lord Haw Haw was very popular on the radio and we used to listen to his propaganda broadcasts telling us of the destruction of the cities of England and that soon Glasgow and the Clydeside would soon be given the attention of the German Luftwaffe.
My father had taken up employment in the Rolls Royce Aero Engine factory at Hillington on the Western outskirts of Glasgow. Like everyone else in the factory he had to work a month on the night shift and then a month on days.This became quite a routine system throughout the war in the factories around Lanarkshire. Etta my sister was a nurse in Robroyston Hospital, near Bishopbriggs on the Eastern outskirts of Glasgow but later she too took up war work in an aero factory in Chapelhall, .
I shall always remember the nights of the 13/14th and 14/15th of March 1941. I had been playing billiards in the Miner's Welfare Institute and the janitor Willie Burt told us he had received a standby warning of an air raid, we didn't take much notice of his warning as we had on many previous occasions received air raid alert warnings and nothing materialised. This night was different, to begin with, he had been given information that there was something big happening. He therefore closed the billiard hall and told us to go home, it was about 9 o'clock in the evening. I thought about my mother being at home with my sister Mary and Gerry my young brother. My father was at work in the Rolls Royce factory at Hillington and Etta my sister was on duty in the isolation hospital at Robroyston near to Bishopbriggs on the northern extremity of Glasgow. I ran home and just as I passed the Police Station at the cross the Air Raid siren sounded the alert, this made me run all the faster. Before I got home I could hear the characteristic throb of the German aeroplanes going over in a westerly direction. When I got home my mother who was a bit deaf hadn't heard the siren so I put on the radio to drown the noise of the guns and the aeroplanes The blackout had been put up earlier and we listened to the radio expecting the raid would be over in minutes. It always had been in the past, it was usually always a false alarm, tonight was different, midnight came and still the aeroplanes came over, their distinctive throb and beating of the engines were easily identifiable as German. The BBC went off the air and my mother now realised there was a terrible raid on, she could hear the noise of guns and the distant thud of dropping bombs. She wouldn't go to bed and insisted on staying up all night with me. I went outside and the whole of the horizon beyond Carfin was a blaze of light, every now and then there was a terrible flash of light and many seconds later the thunderous noise of the bombs going off. This lasted all night until about 6 am when the all clear was sounded. My mother packed me off to Glasgow in the first bus from Cleland Cross to see if my father and Etta were alright. From Mount Vernon on the eastern outskirts to Clyde Street in the heart of the city the damage was terrifying to see, along Tollcross Road and all along The Gallowgate every building had suffered some damage, broken windows and broken walls. At Bain Square near to Barrowland a large school had been sliced in two by a landmine. When I got off the bus at Clyde Street the air raid siren sounded again so I ran across the suspension bridge to Carlton Place and got on to the same bus and went home. Needless to say when I arrived back my father was already home and he was very angry that my mother had sent me off to Glasgow. The next night was even worse and by midnight we were receiving evacuees from Dalmuir and Clydebank. these poor people had only what they stood in, night clothes and little else, they had lost everything. The people of Cleland took them in and shared what they had with them. The only family that I can remember by name were the McConville family. The raid went on all night and these two nights will always be remembered by the people who experienced them as the night of The Glasgow Blitz.

Near the end of 1941 a squadron of The Air Training Corps was started at my school in Motherwell, I do not remember the Squadron Number, I do however remember with affection some of the boys who joined with me. Michale Boylan from Craigneuk, Frank Flood from Hamilton, Sam Lynch from Motherwell and a class mate called Marley from Wishaw. Some of the Cleland boys who joined with me were my brother Gerry, Thomas Collins and James Lavery. We went on parade every Tuesday night and learned about rifles, morse code and navigation. Our Commanding Officer was the Rector of the school Mr Tom Lynch, The Squadron Warrant Officer was his brother Mr Pat Lynch The officers were Mr Paddy Walsh (my English teacher) Mr O'Donnell, Mr Willie Cairns (Headmaster of Chapelhall School) and Mr Hughes. The Squadron chaplain was Father Ward from Craigneuk. A number of camps were arranged for us during the summer holidays. We went to Rhu near Helensburgh on the Clyde opposite Greenock and it was there I first flew in an aeroplane a Walrus Flying boat. This was a unique aeroplane in that it had only one engine and the propellor was at the back behind the cockpit. It was also at Rhu when I first fired a shot gun at clay pigeons. We also went to Greenock on another visit this time to go aboard the cruiser HMS Nigeria. The only other camp I attended was at Dromore near Prestonpans in East Lothian where we stayed for a week, it was whilst I was there that the CO interviewed me and told me I was being promoted directly from Cadet to Sergeant. Needless to say this didn't go down too well with some of the other cadets.

I stayed on in the ATC until I joined The Royal Air Force on the 20th March 1943. My two pals Michael Boylan and Frank Flood also volunteered and we joined the RAF on the same day. We reported to the Aircrew Selection Board at George Street in Edinburgh and was given a number of aptitude tests, including Link Trainer, Morse code tests, a number of Mathematical test sheets and Logic problems to solve. We all passed these and were sent to another building in Queen Street for a medical examination. The only medical test I had a problem with was blowing into a small diameter rubber pipe which was attached to a Mercury scale. Blowing into the pipe raised the Mercury up the scale and you had to hold it there for 60 seconds. This nearly exhausted me, I found great difficulty with this test. I believe I passed it, as I was given the category PNB. (Pilot Navigator Bomb Aimer). I stayed in Edinburgh that first night with my cousin Willie Hart who lived at Merchiston about 2 miles from the City centre. Next day I was off to Arbroath to start my Military training, (Square Bashing , Rifle Drill, and Grenade practice, Route Marches, and PT, ) I disliked this part of my RAF Career intensely and was glad when it was finished after two months. On passing out I was posted to RAF Tealing near Forfar about Fifteen miles from Arbroath. There I came in touch with real aeroplanes Hawker Hurricanes of 53 OTU, Pilots were being trained for Operations. It was during my time her at Tealing I saw a Horsa Glider for the first time, an all wooden glider which was towed by a Whitley Bomber.
I stayed at Tealing until the 31st December1943 when I was posted to RAF Blackpool to start my Engineering training at Squires Gate. This lasted until April 1944 when I was posted to No 82 Operational Training Unit at RAF Ossington near Newark in Nottinghamshire. I trained and worked on Wellington Bombers.

I remember clearly the morning of the 5th June 1944 an announcement by the Station Cammander on the Tannoy system ordered every airman officer and WAAF indeed the whole complement of the station to parade at SHQ immediately after lunch.

We were lined up by flights and it was plain something big was on. In turn we were seated on benches in batches of 10 and we had to hold our identity numbers on the knees for photographs to be taken.Later on after the photos were processed we were presented with a new pink 1250 identity cards and our old blue 1250s were taken from us.
We were then given a paint brush and a tin of either black or white paint and instructed to proceed to our various flights where our aircraft had outlines prepared for painting the underside of the wings and the rear section of fuselage with the now familiar black and white D Day markings.
The following morning early we were awakened by the constant drone of aircraft passing overhead, the skies were filled with Dakotas towing Horsa gliders, Lancasters and Halifaxes and B17s ands Liberators of the 8th US Air Force were on their way to the battlefields, all travelling south and east heading for the landings in Normandy. We eagerly listened to every news bulletin to learn how the second front was progressing. The excitement and buzz on the station was immense and I will remember that week for as long as I live.
It was whilst I was at Ossington I received a letter from my pal Michael Boylan telling me he had been promoted to Pilot Officer and had joined a Canadian Squadron of Halifaxes 432(RCAF) at Topcliffe in Yorkshire. Unfortunately his aircraft was shot down and he was killed and is buried in Leopoldsburg in Belgium.
I stayed on at Ossington until August 1944 when I was posted to operations with No 15 Squadron of No 3 Group Bomber Command at RAF Mildenhall in Suffolk. On Good Friday 1945 I was grounded and transferred to RAF Yatesbury (No 2 Radio School) in Wiltshire. There I trained as an Airborne Radar Mechanic and passed out as a fully trained Radar Engineer in April 1946. The training was intense and very thorough, the systems I qualified on were H2S, Gee, Rebecca/Eureka and IFF. On completion of the course I was transferred to RAF Wig Bay, near Stranraer in the southwest of Scotland where we were receiving Sunderland and Catalina Flying Boats from all over the world.

Opposite Wig Bay the army engineers were building a railhead and piers at Cairnryan and near the end of 1945 and all of 1946 trains of ammunition shells and bombs were being unloaded and put on to barges to be towed out to the Irish Sea where they were dumped. On a lovely summer evening in 1946 there was a tremendous expolosion across at Cairnryan where a whole train load of ammunition blew up. We heard the explosion at Wig Bay. This incident was never reported to the public it was never talked about and we never got to know how many soldiers were killed or injured.

In October 1946 I was given the news that my other pal Frank Flood had been killed in a Mosquito flying accident over the North Sea, his body was never recovered and he is remembered in the roll of honour at the RAF memorial at Runnymeade in Surrey. Both pals who I joined the RAF with had now died. I was demobbed in March 1947, four years to the day from the date I joined the Royal Air Force.

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These messages were added to this story by site members between June 2003 and January 2006. It is no longer possible to leave messages here. Find out more about the site contributors.

Message 1 - What a story!

Posted on: 13 November 2003 by Mary

I have read your story and enjoyed every word. Fantastic! I am glad that it can be preserved by the BBC for future generations to enjoy. I am amazed at you having such an excellent memory for names and events. Well done Mary


Message 2 - What a story!

Posted on: 18 November 2003 by Joseph J Brown

Thank you Mary for your kind words, It makes it all worth while. I thought my story was just another of the many untold stories of WW2.

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