- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Mr Lachlan Mackinnon
- Location of story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 02 July 2004
I enjoyed life in 39, I had a job, hoped to go to sea and see a bit of the world, I had friends and leisure to enjoy.
The outbreak changed all. My friend Andrew Lang and I had been promised jobs together as junior marine engineers on the completion of our apprenticeships but by that time we were in reserved occupations and were not allowed to leave our jobs. This did not stop us sneaking off on an afternoon and trying the shipping offices for a job. On one occasion he tried on his own and got a berth .On his first trip his ship was sunk and Andy was lost. When I read his name on the memorial I see his face and laugh with him again. Life was always good for a laugh with him.
Many of my friends disappeared into the forces, and I now had very little leisure .On the plus side I had more money, but goods were disappearing from the shops, and food and so much else was rationed At times I felt jealous of my friends in the forces but recollections of how the heroes of the first World War had been treated, put that thought from my mind I had a bed, food and a job. I was well off. For some the war made life a bit easier, the unemployed who had been begging for work for years now found themselves much in demand, and all the jobs now insisted on overtime, so it was great to have a little money in your pocket, and buy the kids a sweet. For the young who had been looking to the world opening out for them, found that they were tied to their present employment and had to work much longer hours. Then so many of their friends were missing, called up into their territorial units
The war dragged on with very little excitement. The river filled with ships and a great variety of foreign troops paid short visits to the town. My brother who had just graduated from the university was called into the navy as an ordinary seaman, that’s how they valued his knowledge of languages and geography. He did not enjoy it. We had bombing raids of one sort or another but they have been well documented elsewhere, the civilians who had the worst time were the housewives begging for little more in shops and doing without, to try and nourish their complaining families. I did not think to thank my mother for all her sacrifices. It is the neglect I regret most in life. I have complained about how miserable I felt because of long hours and lack variety. I have given no thought to people who worked much longer hours, often with little thanks for their efforts, dealing with shortages and queuing for the often-absent rations. It must have been hellish for housewives, like my mother who was enduring her second war after “The war to end all wars” Did anyone ever thank them?
The war had been on for about two years when we learned that the unskilled workers were on piecework and were earning twice as much as the skilled workers when I learned this I changed my job to auto-setter where I could earn a bit more. I had an assistant a pretty bright girl whom I immediately fancied, a month or so later I was taking her out and a year or so later I married her. We lived in her mother’s house though it was over crowded, but when our first daughter arrived this became impossible. This was not a pleasant time, we were living in stranger’s houses sharing the house with them, and this was not an unusual experience at that time and for several years after the war was over
I was introduced to the poet W. S. Graham in the Torpedo Factory early in 1940. He invited me to his home where we drank tea and he read and talked about poetry. When I went to talk to Graham a few days later, I was told that he found the work and his workmates intolerable and he had absconded from his employment. This was an offence as was avoiding call up. A few weeks later I bought Grahams first published work “Cage Without Grievance”. I left it in Lusaka in the late seventies.
I cannot say the outbreak of war was a surprise, I was puzzled; our government was right wing and supported Hitler, their refusal to sell arms to the legally elected Spanish Government, as they should have according to League of Nations agreements was the latest example. But I could not see the man in the street accepting war on Hitler’s side. I was sure the Government would try to stay out of it. Then again there was this great puzzle, our rulers who had consistently supported Hitler and his kind in Europe were now at war with them, then we were being told that only man in Britain had opposed Hitler, what had all these young men been doing going of to Spain, was there no International Brigade?
Like lots of other young men, I knew about Hitler and I knew about the Concentration Camps full of all the people who had any sort of left wing leanings and had opposed Hitler in Germany.
Our present day experts tell us that Churchill was the only man in Britain to oppose Hitler. The cream of our young men lying buried in Spain, the working class from the industrial areas refutes that. Churchill’s greatness was in his speeches. The Dardanelle’s is a measure of his planning. I had no faith in him; I believe Roosevelt was his saviour. We eulogise our leaders; they won the war. In my view they spent the war in the same luxury they had always been used to and been on a ship to America if an invasion had taken place no doubt cheering us on from the sidelines.
After Dunkirk, w hen it became obvious that there was a possibility of invasion I became concerned about my collection of left wing books. I was a member of “The Left Book Club” and when I had money often spent it on books. I dumped all my political books and even it seems most of the books of poetry in my collection. Two of the books I would wish to have again are “Fallen Bastions” by R.E Gedye and a collection of poems of Padriac Column. I think that is the correct spelling.
Nowadays we watch Dads Army on T.V. and enjoy a smile or even a laugh. What I was told in the 1940s it was no laughing matter. The expectation was that the recruit would work all day, parade and drill at night, spend the rest of the night manning the Anti-Aircraft guns on the Lyle Hill and after stand down report back for work in the morning. As you can imagine I had no desire to join this merry dance, so when H.M.G. calling up papers arrived, I persuaded my father, whose name was exactly the same as mine, that he was the householder and that he should fill in the details. I enjoyed my nights in bed
Eventually I was called up, I had been told how much worse I would find it than life in Civvy Street. After a few weeks square bashing which I found no problem I attended a series of classes to prepare me to deal with Navy electrics. I was passed out as an Electric Artificer and as before I found life on a mess deck much preferable to life in a factory. One little incident I found interesting .On a carrier sailing from Portsmouth to Sidney we called in at Tricomalee in Ceylon. We took on several planes of American manufacture and after a couple of days en route we used the catapult to fire the planes into the ocean. This amazed me, the explanation on the mess decks was that now they had been lost in action and Britain would not have to pay America for their use. From soldiers I heard much the same story about artillery pieces being dumped in the Mediterranean. It has been suggested that we did not have to pay our allies for weapons lost at sea.
The delay in my call up was very lucky for me. By the time I got to sea the fighting was over and I achieved, if only for a short time, my ambition to sail the seas and visit foreign lands as so many Greenockians had done before me.
I set off for my first posting to Golden Hind and was shocked to find it was a group of desolate brick buildings twenty miles from Sydney. Happily I was not there for long and joined the submarine depot ship Adamant lying under the coat hanger in Sydney harbour
We stayed anchored under the bridge for a couple of weeks and were ashore every second evening. The locals made us very welcome. Only one thing marred our stay, under the influence one rainy night I passed an unfortunate remark to a shipmate and received in return a blow on the chin. My head hit a doorstep and I had several stitches put in my head along with a lecture on the evils of drink from the doctor. My saviour that night was my best mate; all the time I was on the Adamant a Glaswegian called Jock Black a regular navy man, my assailant did not return to the ship.
The ship sailed along the coast and anchored in Jervis Bay where we were joined by several T-class submarines we remained there for a while. We could go ashore but there was no town to encourage such visits, some of the crew fished from the stern and caught at least one large shark, I often wonder what they did with this large specimen, we had rowing races and other competitions to keep us amused the only other item of interest was a rainbow which formed a complete circle on the bow of the ship.
Our next port was Brisbane where we were told that we were going to show the flag through the Pacific Islands and it was necessary for us to receive several injections so as not to carry any European diseases to the remote islands. We anchored of one of the Solomons and we went ashore first on a motor boat then moved to a small boat and paddled the last part on our bare feet.
Our first surprise on meeting the inhabitants was the women wore only cotton skirts, but no one seemed to find them particularly attractive it seemed in most cases that our shore party outnumbered the locals. . Exhibitions of dancing, I found of little interest, pottering along the shore looking at the multi-coloured fish and lifting rocks to see what we could find, on one occasion we found what I now think was a very aggressive sea snake we threw a couple of stones at it and watched it slither into the sea. We visited the Solomon’s; the New Hebrides, the Carolinas and the Marianna’s finishing up on Suva in the Fijis. Suva was much larger with its Gold mines its large plantations; its shops and its Indian population. On Guadalcanal on the Solomon’s, where one of the most decisive battles of the Pacific took place we were taken to see the huge American cemetery. A big party was put on for us at the Indian club.
The journey from the Islands was pleasant, the seas smooth, the flying fish always preceding us. Surprise was the erection of a screen and the showing of films - what could be better? We had only a small pool on deck so at times the ship hoved to and “hands to swim at their own risk” was piped. I went over the side like the rest of the crew but kept very close to the side, I am a very poor swimmer, on the last occasion there was a pipe of “clear the water”, we all scrambled aboard as the rifle shots rang out and we could see their impact in the ocean beside the triangular fins heading for us.
We tied up at Kure on the inland sea; there I was told I was to go home to be demobbed. On a Greenock built merchant ship carrying two-man subs I sailed to Hong Kong where we remained long enough to have a good look at Hong Kong then it was off to Singapore, then Portsmouth. The demob experience was the most unpleasant experience of the war it was made very clear that we were a nuisance to be got rid off.
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