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Free French Nave in Inverclyde

by BBC Scotland

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BBC Scotland
People in story: 
LACHLAN MACKINNON 06/11/18.SHEILA McLEOD 24/02/1928. Interviewed by P7 pupils of Overton Primary School, Greenock as part of the national War Detectives project
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Contributed on: 
31 January 2006

This story was submitted to the People's War site by Catherine Garvie, Learning Project Manager at BBC Scotland on behalf of the Greenock War Detectives project and has been added with their permission. The authors fully understand the site's terms and conditions.

We met one or two of the Free French sailors when they were serving here because of our brother. He was a secondary school teacher, French was one of his subjects, and he got speaking to one of the sailors one day. He came to have tea with us a couple of times and as I recall his name was Julien Vandenkirken. I think he came from Lille. It was fun for us children, trying out all the wee French words we knew.

The Free French uniform was a bit different to our own. They wore a flatter cap with a red pom pom on top. I remember there being so many sailors in the town. You’d walk along the town and see servicemen from all kinds of places, not just France. But the French were one of the first lots to be here, so they were very noticeable.

I was in high school when the Maille Breze exploded. I remember the terrible bang. It was afternoon and we all wondered what this bang was. We were confused because when there was an air raid we would hear the planes in advance, the engines overhead. Then we learned the bang was nothing to do with an air raid and there had been a terrible accident. There were lots of wardens, police and ambulance folk out trying to help. They had a terrible time because when they went to the boat they found bodies and bits of bodies. Awful. We heard later on in the war about somebody whose father was an undertaker at the time and he had a terrible job trying to get the pieces and put the bodies back together.

It makes me sad now when I look out at the Clyde now. I remember seeing all the ships and the convoys. You could hardly see the water for the number of ships and now there’s hardly anything on the Clyde and there aren’t many shipyards left either. That makes me very sad.

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