- Contributed by
- People of the Nothe Fort and Weymouth Museum
- People in story:
- Alisdair Murray
- Location of story:
- Canada, USA and North Atlantic
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 09 March 2005
At my desk as Curator of the Nothe Fort
I have been the Curator of the Nothe Fort in Weymouth, Dorset, since 1984. Previous to that I spent 20 years in the Royal Marines and 14 years as an artist.
WW2 started for me, aged seven, in 1939 when my Father was recalled to the army. He had retired in 1937 from the Gordon Highlanders and settled in Dorset. My first wartime memory was of helping my mother to push Dad into a train at Aldershot on his way to France. He was wearing his kilt and had so much stuff attached to him he could hardly fit through the door, shotguns, fishing rods etc. The Lord only knows what sort of war he was expecting. He was to return through Dunkirk, his only possession his kilt.
The Army took over our house in North Dorset and my Mother moved us into a tall thin house on the beach at Lyme Regis. My memories of Lyme in the early days of the war were of soldiers training on the beach, of waves thundering at our front door, of climbing the hill to the shops to buy Dinky Toy tanks and of a rumour that swept the town that a German submarine had been sighted in Lyme Bay.
I was packed across the Atlantic in early 1940 when Dad came back from France. My Mother was a Canadian and my Father’s Grandmother American. I was to stay with cousins in Connecticut. With loads of other children I was put on board the Canadian Pacific liner, the Duchess of Atholl, sunk by a u-boat on the next voyage. All I remember of that trip was my first sight of the New Continent, Green Island in the St Lawrence, north of Newfoundland, and arriving in Quebec, the city on cliffs overlooking the docks
I spent the first year in Connecticut and, except for my time at school, I really did enjoy myself. Americans are very kind people. I was sent to my American cousins as my Grandmother in Canada was elderly and lived on her own. However in 1941 my Aunt and her two children came out to stay with her and I moved up to join them in Hamilton on Lake Ontario. Whilst they were there life was rosy but they did not stay long and moved down to Bermuda leaving me alone with my rather severe Grandmother. I did not find the Canadians as friendly as the Americans. I hated the school I was at and had very few friends. However the summer holidays were tremendous spent with an Uncle and Aunt. He was a New York surgeon with a holiday house on the St Lawrence where we would fish and explore the wild country to the north.
My problem with schools was that I was always having to play ‘catch-up’. I attended five schools between 1939 and 1945 each in a different country and each with, not only a different syllabus, but also different ways of spelling, different maths and different currency.
My Grandmother had a very sweet tooth and, as she was frightened that the Canadians would introduce rationing, she filled, in 1942, two enormous trunks in her attic with sugar, still there in 1944 when I left to return to UK.
The Battle of the Atlantic was over by 1944 and the escort carriers that had played a vital part in defeating the u-boats were given a new role, shipping aircraft for D-Day and the battle for North West Europe. The carriers were stuffed, in hangar and on flight decks, with cocooned fighters, and there was thus no need for aircrew. This freed up accommodation which was offered to returning evacuees.
So, early one morning in July 1944 some twenty young lads were mustered in the foyer of the Waldorf Hotel in New York and placed in a coach for the docks to join HMS Stalker, an escort carrier. We all had different North American accents ranging form a southern drawl to the distinctive grating of the Bronx, and immediately we started to tease each other. Life on board one of Her Majesties warships in time of war was ecstatic for twelve year old boys. We had the freedom of the ship, except at night when a very large fat Marine sentry guarded the door to our air crew quarters. We played with the oerlikon anti-aircraft guns and rampaged amongst the aircraft on the hanger deck. Our ‘action stations’ was under the wings of these aircraft.
Our convoy was enormous, stretching as far as the eye could see, and for us the eleven days of the crossing was far too short. We arrived in Liverpool and the Navy had the unenvious task of getting us to our homes and parents. My Father at the time was stationed in Inverness and my Mother was working with the American Red Cross in London and it was decided that I should go to school in the safety of the wilds of the Highlands. (I was to hear a guarded, coded remark that “Veronica’s second daughter had arrived” — the V2s). Thus I was put on a train for Scotland and I was astonished by the size of the carriages. I had spent a lot of time on North American trains and these British ones were minute in comparison.
This train, however, did one thing no WW2 train was ever supposed to do, nor any train since. It arrived at its destination early. The result of this was that there was no one to meet me. An even greater disaster was that there was no sign of my luggage. So there I was, alone, with only the clothes I was wearing and a small bag with a tooth brush. I was terrified. I was to stay with some friends of my Father. It was school holiday time and my Dad would collect me later to deliver me to my new school. Somehow Dad’s friends managed to persuade an official to issue me with emergency clothing coupons and my trunks turned up three months later in Perth Lost Luggage Office, still labelled ‘A. R. Murray, New York’! - so much for the efficiency of the Royal Navy; but I ended up with a double ration of clothes!
I supposed I was pushed around as a child from pillar to post, few friends, hardly any possessions. People these days would say how damaging this would be, but the main effect on me was to make me self-sufficient. I believe our generation had some advantages over the younger people of today.
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