- Contributed by
- Bob Gibb - WW2 Site Helper
- People in story:
- Bob Gibb
- Location of story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 13 November 2003
MY SECRET WAR
MY war was full of action and secrets. I was a child of 10 in Aberdeen when it started and the action was immediate with one of the first German bombing raids shattering a tenement and a butcher's shop in Torry. And the first secret was passed on to us at the local Play Centre, which we attended twice a week in the early evening.
There we were visited by RAF officers who taught us how to identify the raiding German planes; we were shown how to use rifles and light machine guns. And then we were sworn to secrecy — if the church bells were to ring during the night, signalling an invasion, we were to report immediately to the school where there would be transport waiting to take us to the hills, where we would be hidden and taught how to fight the invaders. We were to take no luggage, get there just in our pyjamas if necessary. Don't even tell mum and dad.
My parents died some years ago now, and they went to their graves never knowing of my Big Secret.
Other secrets? My cousin Walter and I were inseparables and got up to all sorts of adventures . . . all to do with challenging our own defences. Granny lived down by the shore in Fittie (Footdee). The beachfront was lined with ack-ack guns and layer upon layer of barbed wire. On one memorable day we managed to squirm our way through the wire and made our way up the beach. And what did we find? A German sea-mine washed up on the sands.
We'll get rid of it, we decided. We dug a deep trench with our hands, built up a sand wall and then started to lob stones in order to detonate the mine. We'd been trying, unsuccessfully, for about ten minutes when we were grabbed from behind by a couple of khaki-clad figures armed with bayoneted rifles. We were frog-marched up to the Aberdeen Beach Ballroom, which had been requisitioned to house hundreds of troops.
We were given a massive telling off and then served with tea and buns! But as we were escorted out, I was kicked in the backside and told: "Tell naebody that you got through the wire!" That was Secret No. 2.
UNDAUNTED, Walter and myself roller-skated the three miles to the airport at Dyce, occupied by RAF Fighter Squadron 712 (I think). Again, we made it through the wire. And at the back of the airfield we came across a completely unguarded two-seater bi-plane. We climbed aboard. Walter was the pilot and I was the gunner. We had a great half-hour, but obviously made too much noise. Again we were marched off at gunpoint into the officers' mess. Tea and buns again! Another telling off and again warned not to tell anyone how we got through the defences. That was Secret No. 3.
THE HOME GUARD
THIS time, Walter and I cycled the 20 miles to Collieston, a wonderful, wee, rock-bound North-east harbour. We were going fishing. But . . . barbed wire again.
Not to be thwarted, we wriggled yet again through the wire, snagging our jumpers time and again. I was just about to throw my line into the water when . . . BANG! BANG! And splinters flew off the rocks around us. We dived for cover. "Hae you twa! Fit div yae think ye're dae-in? Get ye'r han's up!"
There they were, two members of the local Home Guard, armed with bayoneted rifles. And they had fired them! Hands up, we clambered with great difficulty over the rocks to give ourselves up. No tea and buns this time. Again I was booted in the backside. And again, was given the message: "Dinna tell onybuddy that you got past us!"
That was Secret No. 4.
It was April 1943, the night of the Aberdeen blitz. I was blown out of my bed and under the table Our budgie, Jocky, was thrown around his cage and never spoke another word after that. As Ma ran down the lobby trying to get out, Da threw himself on top of her, shouting: "Annie, keep doon!" As we fled down the stairs through smoke and dust, heading for the back-garden concrete air-raid shelter, the door on the bottom floor opened and we were dragged inside. "Dinna gae oot! They're machine-gunnin' the place!" And there was a bunch of us lying on a lobby floor covered with coats. Outside, at the front door our elderly lady ARP warden was standing screaming with fright.
It went on for hours, the noise. Big bangs, the double-droning of the German planes, shuddering impacts. But I was unworried, because I had identified the sound of a Mustang fighter. "Dinnae worry," I said. "Rufus is up. He'll get them!" Rufus? I don't know how it came about but all we kids knew for an absolute fact that a fighter ace called Rufus was at Dyce, and he could deal with anything!
It ended eventually, but in the morning I discovered that two bombs had hit my school, Middlefield Primary. It was wrecked. One of my favourite teachers, Miss Spicer, had been on fire-watching duty. As she tried to flee the attack, the keystone above the main door fell on her and she lay trapped all night. She lost a leg. (She came back, complete with wooden leg, to teach for many years after.)
But what about the secret? The school had been wrecked. Actually, my Room 19 was still almost intact, but my desk had been shattered by the impact of an unexploded incendiary bomb. Anyway, we were all asked to go through the ruins to salvage anything we could. We spent a whole day at the job gathering together books, pens, blackboards . . . the lot.
But we also gathered up straps. Straps? They're known in other parts of Scotland as the tawse — vicious, thonged leather belts used for corporal punishment. We found dozens of 'em. We buried 'em. Secret No. 5.
But when we eventually got back to Middlefield, we found that all the teachers had been issued with new, and even more vicious, straps.
I enjoyed my war. Sometimes a wee bit scared, but usually excited. And why did those church bells never ring? We'd have been delighted to take to the hills.
I have just been reading Walter Kress's 'Assimilation and Life' story and it brought back to memory yet another secret.
Walter wrote about the day the German bomber smashed into the ice rink that was being built at Bridge of Dee. I was there, too!
It was a school holiday and a beautiful sunny day. Cousin Walter and I had bought all-day bus tickets, allowing us to roam Aberdeen by bus and tram. We were on our way to Hazlehead when the air-raid siren sounded and there was action in the skies. We leapt off the tram to watch.
There was a German bomber (if I remember, it was a Junkers 88) trying desperately to get away from two spitfires from the Dyce squadron. But the spitfires were being thwarted because of the barrage of ack-ack fire coming from trawlers in the harbour. They were in danger of being shot down themselves!
Eventually, one of the fighter pilots fired a red flare signalling the guns to stop firing, then honed in on the target. In desperation, the Junkers jettisoned its two bombs in a bid to escape. Unbelievably, the bombs (later we were told they were actually sea mines) exploded on the corner of York Street in Fittie, where hundreds of Hall Russell's Shipyard workers were gathered during their lunch break. Many died.
But the fighter pilots finally did the job and the Junkers crashed into the ice rink.
Walter and I immediately headed for York Street. It was where our granny lived. Complete carnage. But at least Granny had escaped with just shattered windows. We went up York Street and into a shattered flour-mill building. I made a gruesome discovery . . . a severed finger. I actually picked it up, but hurriedly threw it away, wiping my stained fingers on my shorts.
(I never told anyone about that finger. Secret No. 6.)
Then we headed for the Bridge of Dee. And there was the crashed plane. Again, carnage. One of the crew had obviously tried to bale out and met his death trapped in the bomber's half-open door. The police were everywhere, but we managed to sneak past in a search for souvenirs.
I picked up a number of cartridge cases, a couple of pieces of parachute harness, and a small piece of the wreckage.
Still in my pocket was the paper bag from Mitchell and Muill's Bakery, which had contained a couple of rowies (morning rolls) we had bought to sustain us throughout the morning. In it I put my souvenirs. They remained in that bag for many years. I remember having a look into the bag when I returned from Malaya after doing my National Service.
The wreckage of the bomber was brought down into the centre of the city and displayed in the quadrangle of Marischal College — a memorial to the Hall Russell's dead, and also to the German crew, who were given a decent burial. I can't remember whether the Germans were buried in the Trinity or the Grove cemetery.
Incidentally, the building of the ice rink was never completed.
© Copyright of content contributed to this Archive rests with the author. Find out how you can use this.