- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Mrs. Jean Pringle
- Location of story:
- Galashiels, Scottish Borders
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 19 October 2005
Mrs. Jean Pringle, born 9th March, 1919
I had a two week old baby when my husband went away…. The first thing I remember about the war was the gas masks that ye had to put babies in and it was quite terrifying. You were supposed to practice but I didn’t practice very much. Anyway this night, the raiders came over, on their way to Clyde Bank. You heard the drone of the planes, many, many planes, and I went downstairs because we were up in a top flat, to see and put the baby into the gas mask. He wasn’t in there long because we realised nothing was going to happen so I took him out again. I was a bit frightened of it, in case he suffocated — it was quite a contraption!
I lived in High Buckholmside, we were on the A7 and I can remember lifting my son up, standing him on the window sill, to watch the tanks when the Poles were in Galashiels, and not only that but at night you got the convoys and it was quite mysterious and a wee bit sinister. They seemed to go on forever, the men and the munitions, and it lasted a long time. That was quite an experience.
It was a very hard winter in 1940, of course. It was a case of thawing out pipes, and of course then, the only heating was to light the fire in the morning before you could get the living room heated. You can imagine having to pour water on the pipes outside to unfreeze them.
Food shortages — through the grapevine you would hear somebody saying ‘the store’s got bananas in’, so it was a case of ‘on wi’ the coat’, dumpin’ the baby in the pram and running all the way down to Channel St with the fruit shop, and you stood there with bated breath, wondering if you would get bananas, because they might suddenly say ‘oh, they’re finished’. And that was it, your journey might be in vain. People were desperate for anything extra — especially fruit. One time I didn’t have an egg for six weeks — I gave mine to Iain (my son). Once when my husband came home he used to walk at least four miles to get eggs from a farm, and all the way back and sometimes in the winter when he went of course the hens weren’t laying, so he had all that journey for nothing, but he religiously went across to get us extra eggs — it was nice.
I quite liked dried egg, funnily enough I liked it scrambled, but it would have been nice to have had some cheese with it. Sometimes we got two ounces, that’s all it was. We mixed the egg with water and with milk and scrambled it, and I must say, it was a wee bit rubbery but I liked it. As far as milk was concerned, I got a quart of milk because Iain was under five, and was allowed a pint you see, so that was doubled and we got a quart. There was a lady across the road, she fairly laid into the milkman - poor Jim, he used to come round with his horse and cart with the milk - because her daughter was over five, and she couldn’t see why she couldn’t get milk for her girl. The poor milkman was standing there having to take it, it wasn’t his fault - but you see, people were desperate.
They tried to get as much as possible. Mind you, the rations were meagre. I can’t recollect the meat being bad, it was really just the amount.
Eventually my sister in law persuaded my Mother in law to come and look after Ian on a Tuesday night, so we could go out to the pictures. That was the highlight of my life! With bringing up Iain I was hardly ever out other than that. I used to enjoy mystery films, not violent ones , but actually they didn’t make very violent films then. We had two cinemas in Gala —the Playhouse and the Pavillion. I expect, if there was a choice we went to the one with the best film on. I can’t remember what sort of films we saw though. We used to go for long walks, miles and miles, pushing the pram.
You had to make do with what you had — you had to make do and mend. 'Make do and mend' was a catch phrase during the War and I certainly carried it out to the letter! To this day, I still mend things. Putting up the blackout was a great thing — down onto the street to make sure not a chink was showing. I never put it up in the bedroom because I never put a light on . I got some habits, like mending things, that’s the result of the five war years — brain washing you might say!
I had my hair with a roll in the back round the band. I had curly hair so that helped, otherwise I expect you would just have to pin it. I don’t think I bothered very much about my hair — occasionally I would try a style, but I was so rarely out I didn’t bother. My sister in law used to put her hair up in rolls — of course she was a free agent at the time, she was single.
I’ve always liked classical music — I had a big wireless, a clumsy big, sort of Heath Robinson sort of thing. You had to get batteries, and get them charged. I used to listen to Myra Hess, a world famous pianist, live from the Usher Hall on the radio. She had lunchtime concerts, and they were very enjoyable. I used to like plays too. I also used to knit a lot, and sew a bit. I remember making pyjamas for Iain, sewing by hand.
My husband was called abroad in 1942, he was away for two years and then he was invalided home. He had spots on his throat and he could hardly walk. He was in North Africa and then they were transferred to Italy and he was at the raid at Bari. They all ran into a ditch so he managed to avoid the worst of the raid — it was a bad one, all the ships in port were blown up. I wrote to him every day, but you got what were called Green Letters, and the letters were censored. When he was abroad there were times when there were no letters from him for two weeks or more, and ye didnae want tae think the worst, but there were times when it was really quite terrifying. I would think’what can have happened’ and then ye would get a bundle of five or six all at once. So, that was the only sort of lifeline — letters. Later on he was transferred to Ballochmile Hospital, Ian would be about four then. We went to see him, and we stayed in Mauchline, to be near the hospital. Eventually he was transferred to Peel (near Galashiels), with a blue uniform on.
He got leave to visit home when he was walking. One rather nasty thing happened; he was limping, and we went to the bus to get him back to Peel, and the bus was just passing, and I waved to the bus driver to stop, and he didn’t even though he saw us, so of course I had to get a taxi to get him back to the hospital to report back in time.
When he was on his way home in the boat, he used to measure the porthole and wonder if he could squeeze through it to get home — don’t know how that would have been much use! But getting home was always in his thoughts, and he had a good pal with him at that time who came from the Gorbals in Glasgow, and let me know what was happening to Tom. Tom couldn’t write, so what a relief it was to know he was in this country!
After his convalescence he was called back in again, and he was given a posting — the commanding officer said to him ‘Do you know a place called Selkirk?’ Tom couldn’t believe it! He said ‘oh, yes, I certainly do!’. He didn’t say how near he was to Selkirk, so he was transferred to the stores at Linglie Mill in Selkirk, so eventually he got a sleeping out pass so it was just like going to work in the morning and coming home at night. He wangled a sleeping out pass — that was one of the army expressions, to wangle something. So, that was a really nice end to everything. It was Army linen and boots in the stores, and Tom was in charge and making sure that nothing went missing — they would find boots and things up on the roof, with folk hiding them there until they could get them away, so he had to keep on eye on things.
I remember when the war ended, we took Iain into the garden and we took a photo of him standing with his wee Union Jack — so that was our celebration. I remember being terribly shocked about the atom bomb. I did think at the time it was a really shocking thing, but I didn’t really speak about it to anybody.
It was quite a long time after the war until things got back to near normal, we still had rations and things.
(Collected by SBC Museums)
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