- Contributed by
- BBC Scotland
- People in story:
- Margaret Mackinnon, Sheila McLeod (nee Mackinnon), Lachlan Mackinnon
- Location of story:
- Greenock; river Clyde; Inverclyde; Glasgow
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 10 May 2005
This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Matthew Lee of BBC Scotland on behalf of Margaret Mackinnon and her sister Sheila McLeod and has been added to the site with their permission. The authors fully understand the site's terms and conditions.
Sheila McLeod (nee Mackinnon) and her sister Margaret Mackinnon were both at school in Greenock during the war. Margaret (aged 11) was at Primary school at The Highlanders’ Academy and Sheila at Greenock High School when one day they each heard a terrible bang, it was a huge explosion. Looking down the street from their different schools both of them could see a ball of fire and thick smoke billowing out from just off the Esplanade in the Clyde.
A French warship, a heavy destroyer called the Maille Brise [or Brize] had been moored at Greenock, and while moving torpedoes (it is thought) on board an accident happened. The initial explosion in turn caused much of the ammunition on the ship to explode. A great many men lost their lives. The Esplanade at Greenock was closed, and those who helped to clear up afterwards were fishing limbs as well as debris out of the river.
The Mackinnons were a big family who stayed in Dunlop Street in Greenock. There was an Anderson shelter in the back garden, but it was damp, dark and musty. Margaret who was afraid of the dark stayed close to its entrance whenever they had to take shelter in there during an air-raid. From there you could hear the planes overhead and the whistling of the German bombs as they were dropped. People said if you could hear the whistling then it wasn’t meant for you.
One moonlit night, the blitz always seemed to take place in the moonlight, they were in the shelter and someone asked “Has Lachlan come out?” Lachlan was Sheila and Margaret’s older brother. He was at that time a typical teenager — he loved his bed and he knew best that the bombs weren’t going to get him. Then there was a massive explosion, a land mine had hit further up Dunlop Street. All the windows of our house were blown out, and Lachlan was thrown out of bed. He got into the shelter fast enough after that! Not everyone on Dunlop Street was so fortunate, and among the people killed one was found with their head blown off.
With the house in ruins our family moved in initially with our grandmother. Then we were evacuated to Paisley, but the bombers followed us there. So then we went to stay with friends in Skye, because that is where our family came from. We only stayed there a few months because our mother didn’t like it. So then we moved back to Greenock where the house had been patched up enough for us to be able to live there. It was very difficult living in the house in that state. Worse, our schooling was interrupted so much and we only went to school for half the day that the foundations of our learning were disrupted, while examinations weren’t given much priority. Houses can be rebuilt, but the effects of disrupted school days have lasted to the present time.
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