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Two left gumboots!

by BBC Scotland

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Archive List > Royal Air Force

Contributed by 
BBC Scotland
People in story: 
John Morrison McLeod, Murdo McLeod
Location of story: 
Edinburgh, Stronoway, Arbroath
Background to story: 
Royal Air Force
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
21 September 2005

This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Allan Price, of BBC Scotland, on behalf of John Morrison McLeod and has been added to the site with his permission. The author fully understands the site's terms and conditions.

Having sat my Highers in the Nicholson Institute, Stornoway, in March 1943 and while recovering from measles I received a communication from the RAF ordering me to report to an address in Edinburgh at 9am on the 12th April, 1943. Tickets for the journey were enclosed. I boarded the Lochness in Stornoway and we sailed shortly after midnight on the 10th April. Fortunately the Lochness was a good sea boat as it was stormy.

The railway journey to Edinburgh was not very comfortable due to overcrowding and delays. We arrived in Auld Reekie about midnight. As there was no reception committee, and as the hostels were closed, I just flopped down on a wooden bench in the railway station. I set an inbuilt alarm system incorporated in my body for 8am and sure enough I woke up there or thereabouts. When I arrived at my destination I found many other recruits assembled there. We were told to sit on long benches at long tables to undergo an aptitude test. I am afraid that my strongest aptitude at the time was my strong desire to sleep! After the preliminaries we were posted to various stations, my destination being Arbroath.

There we were billeted in a ramshackle old mill known as Stalingrad for obvious reasons. Having spent our last night in “civies”, we were issued with uniforms the following morning. No fitting room was provided, we simply passed in single file that a number of stalls behind which various articles of uniform were stacking in varying sizes. The dispersers of these articles (mostly WAAFS) signed up each recruit and threw them an article of uniform she thought would fit him. Apart from being issued with two left gumboots I was fortunate in obtaining a good fit in most articles. Next day I went back to exchange one of my left gumboots for a right one but was flatly refused by the Sergeant WAAF in the store.

On receipt of our uniform we had to put our civilian clothes into the empty suitcases we had been instructed to bring from home and leave it in the Equipment Store with a label bearing our home address. The Equipment Officer, Flight Lt Murdo McLeod, himself a Lewisman, was married to a lady who used to live two doors away from my home before she was married. The FL used to peruse his list of new recruits when he was sending home their “civy” clothes and saw my name and address. I was summoned to his office and given a hearty welcome to Arbroath. Furthermore I was invited to a meal at their home the following Sunday and when in conversation I mentioned the incident of the gumboots. He was furious and asked me to bring my gumboots with me. This I did and was again refused. I raised my voice in protest (as instructed!) and he appeared from his office and asked what was going on. I saluted and explained. The ensuing scene as he castigated the WAAF somewhat relieved the pain in my ingrowing toenail.

After completing my basic training I left Arbroath feeling fitter than I had ever felt before or ever felt afterwards.

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