|Cleland in Wartime
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Joseph J. Brown
Posted 16 Oct 2006.
War Time in Cleland
The year 1939 had seen tremendous preparation for war, aeroplanes were to be seen most days on training flights from the Navy base at Abbotsinch (now Glasgow International Airport) or RAF Prestwick on the Ayrshire coast. All windows had to be blacked out and by August 1939 Air raid war-dens had been appointed and patrolled their own section of the street, searching for the tiniest chink of light. When they found one, they took great delight and rattled on the doors and windows bellowing to get the lights out and the blackouts fixed. Stories went about that the Gerries could see a lighted match from 10,000 feet so we were always keen make sure there was no escape of light from the windows after dark. My father made our blackouts using a lightweight wooden frame and nailing woolen blan-kets which my mother had dyed black. These were fitted into the window frames and held in place with butterfly swivels. Every night just before the lights came on my father would put up the blackouts and that was it until the next morning.Outside there were no street lights and on very dark nights everyone carried a torch as it was diffcult to find your way about. On moonlight nights it was much easier and we could play out until bedtime. Cars motorcycles and buses had 3 slots half inch by three inches wide fitted to their headlight masks but bicycles did not have any lights at all. It took some time to get used to the light restrictions but we got used to them and people took it all in their strides. We had been issued with gas masks, iden-tity cards and ration books about two months before the war started . The authorities issued strict instructions that gas masks were to be carried at all times to school and to church and if we travelled away from home we had to take them with us, also we had to carry our identity card everywhere, if stopped by a policeman or air raid warden we had to produce them to iden-tify ourselves. The gas mask had a tough rubber headband and fitted tightly over the ears . The visor was a type of hard cellophane and it steamed up easily particularly if it was cold outside. We soon found out that if we smeared the inside if the mask with water the steaming up disappeared. The mask was housed in a rectangular cardboard box with a push down lid, a string band held in holes on either side of the box was slung over the head and carried behind the back. We got fed up carrying these things every-where and soon they were left at home. By 1942 the gasmasks had disap-peared and were forgotten about. The Identity cards soon followed the gas-masks into oblivion and no one ever asked for them again. Ration books were a much different story, we could only get food, clothing and choco-late or sweets by using the RB. If your parents were well in with the butcher there was always a chance you could get a little extra. Things like kidney heart and liver were not rationed and we depended on the grapevine to know when these were being dished out. The same went for black pudding and haggis. Bob Davie was the main butcher in Cleland and Mr Forester who had the butcher’s shop near to us had a black market going in the non rationed items and the women folk could be seen queuing at the shops most days when the jungle telegraph had it there was extra going at the butchers. Butter, cheese, eggs, sugar and milk were very scarce and bread tasted ter-rible and was very dark in colour. We were told to grow our own vegetables otherwise we would not be able to get them from the greengrocers, they had all to be imported from overseas and the news from the Atlantic was grim most days, every day another ship would be sunk by U boats. My father and a lot of his cronies had allotments behind the co-operative just in front of the Midge bing so we had all the vegetables we needed. Surplus potatoes and carrots were put into earth pits so that we could have a good supply over the winter into the following year when the next seasons crops were due. Our family like most of the people of Cleland never wanted for any of the essentials items of food. Not long after Dunkirk the local authorities came round with ascetelene torches and removed all cast iron and steel rail-ings from houses and public buildings, to help the war effort and make shells and guns.
All road signs were removed and if you tavelled you relied on the bus driver knowing the way. Women folk in particular were asked to knit warm woolen garments for the troops at the front in France and they were organ-ised into groups in the various church communities.
Air raid shelters were being built in most of the big towns, we in Scotland had very few of the corrugated iron Anderson and Morrison shelters. Cle-land had no shelters at all, I suppose because we were out in the country and we would be well out of the way of bombs so we thought. Those men who were in the Territorial Army were all called up for service and uni-formed soldiers and airmen were becoming a common sight. WD&HO Wills the manufacturers of Player’ and Woodbine Cigarettes had brought out a series of Cigarette cards called Air Raid Precautions and most of the boys collected them. The full set of fifty cards were placed in an album and they became a reference for what we should do if an air raid came. We had been told by the government that the Germans didn't have any aircraft that could reach Scotland so we were quite happy to know we would be out of range of the bombers. We were soon to find out differently.
Early in August quite a number of young men were called up for service and we only saw them when they came home on leave. The ones I remem-ber were :- John MacConnachie (Oochie) , Alex Stewart, Henry Kane from Omoa Road, Josie Lafferty from Carrickvale, two of the Morrison Boys from Parkside, Richie Marshall from the farm across the viaduct, Patrick McMonagle from near the school gate in Omoa Road, two of the Somer-villes boys from Parkside, and a number of others whose names I do not remember.
By the 1st September Hitler had invaded Poland and destroyed Warsaw. On that fateful day I well remember listening to Radio Warsaw and the Prime Misnister of Poland Mr Paderewski (who was also a world famous pianist) playing Chopin’s Polonaise he said he would continue to play until the city had fallen.
The British and French Governments had issued Hitler with an ultimatum stating he had to withdraw from Poland by the 3rd September, this did not happen and war was declared by Neville Chamberlain on Sunday 3rd Sep-tember 1939. It was a Sunday and we were all seated at the table for our Sunday lunch on that fateful day, my father had told us that there was going to be an announcement by the Prime Minister. Our new 5 valve superhet Ultra wireless set was switched on and we all sat and listened in silence. Chamberlain started to speak he was very sombre, he said Hitler had not replied to the ultimatum requesting withdrawal of German forces from Po-land and therefore we were at war with Germany. I was fourteen years old..
The Miner's Welfare Institute in the Main Street became the Air Raid Con-trol Centre for all air raid precautions. Willie Burt the janitor was made re-sponsible for managing the centre and a system of procedures for advising alert states was installed. All the wardens took it in turn to man the centre on a voluntary basis, ensuring that ample warning was given to the citizens of Cleland when a raid was imminent. The very first day of the war we had a warning, the sirens mounted on the police station were sounded and people were told to remain indoors. This was the first air raid on Great Britain and the Germans had dropped bombs near to the Forth Bridge with-out causing any damage. The propaganda put out by the BBC stated the only casualty was a rabbit had been killed. So much for the confidence ex-pressed by the government that the German Air Force would not be able to reach Scotland, we found out the truth on the very first day of the war.
Arrival of Polish Soldiers
Not long after the war started those Polish soldiers who had escaped the German invasion of their country began to arrive in our area and were bil-leted in the hospital (Poorhouse) grounds. It became a regular occurrence to see these soldiers immaculate in their typical polish uniforms marching to the Church for Mass every Sunday. They were all great singers and formed a male voice choir and sang at high mass every week. The service always ended with them singing the Polish national anthem a very emotional and poignant melody.
The Local Defence Volunteers (LDV} were formed about this time to de-fend the country against invaders, Willie Mc Murdo was the Sergeant in charge of the Cleland Company, poor Willie had a terrible speech impedi-ment and it was quite an effort for him to give the various drill commands. It was also quite amusing to see the antics of some of these weekend sol-diers with their pick-axe handles carrying out the drills. There were only about twenty locals in the outfit and what resistance they would have dis-played against the Germans if there had been an invasion would have been interesting to see. The name was changed to The Home Guard about 1942 but by this time the threat of invasion had disappeared. Hitler had decided to attack Russia.
The Glasgow Blitz
The air raids on Scotland had been very few and far between up to about the Spring of 1941, and we listened to the radio to hear of the terrible bombing of London and the Southern counties of England. We got all the news from The BBC and lived in high hopes that the bombers would not come north. We also listened to Lord Haw Haw telling us of what was go-ing to happen in the next air raids and he was always near to the truth. He told us of the raids on Manchester and Liverpool andhe said it was inevita-ble that the attacks would soon be directed towards Glasgow. My father had taken up employment in the Rolls Royce Aero Engine factory at Hillington on the western outskirts of Glasgow. Like everyone else in the factory he had to work a month on the night shift and then a month on days.This be-came quite a routine system in the factories around Lanarkshire. Etta my sister was a nurse in Robroyston Hospital, near Bishopbriggs on the eastern outskirts of Glasgow, she lived in the Hospital.
Lord Haw Haw wasn’t far wrong because on the nights of the 13th and 14th of March of 1941 the Luftwaffe attacked Glasgow with massive air raids. I had been playing billiards in the Miner's Welfare Institute and the janitor Willie Burt told us he had received a standby warning of an air raid, we didn't take much notice of his warning as we had on many previous occa-sions received air raid alert warnings and nothing materialised. This night was different, to begin with, he had been given information that there was something big happening. He therefore closed the billiard hall and told us to go home, it was about 9 o'clock in the evening. I thought about my mother being at home alone with my sister Mary and Gerry my young brother. My father was at work in Rolls Royce and Etta was in Robroyston. I ran home and just as I passed the Police Station at the cross the air raid warning sounded, this made me run all the faster. Before I got home I could hear the aeroplanes going over in a westerly direction from us. When I got home my mother who was a bit deaf hadn't heard the siren so I put on the radio to drown the noise of the guns and the aeroplanes passing overhead. The blackout had been put up earlier and we listened to the radio expecting the raid would be over in minutes. It always had been in the past, it usually was always a false alarm, tonight was different, midnight came and still the aeroplanes came over, their distinctive throb and beating of the engines were easily identifiable as German. The BBC went off the air and my mother now realised there was a terrible raid on, she could hear the noise of guns and the distant thud of dropping bombs. She wouldn't go to bed and insisted on staying up all night with me. I went outside just to have a look and the whole of the western sky was ablaze with light from the fires in Glasgow. The flashes from the AA guns and the exploding bombs could be plainly seen and heard. The all clear was sounded at 6 am and she packed me off to Glasgow on the first bus to see if my father and Etta were alright. From Mount Vernon on the outskirts to Clyde Street in the heart of the city the damage was terrifying to see, along Tollcross Road and all along the Gallowgate every building had suffered some damage, broken windows and broken walls. The school in Bain Square had been hit with a landmine and the whole side of it had been blown away leaving the classrooms open to the night sky. I eventually got to Clyde Street and as soon as I stepped on to the pavement the air raid siren sounded again so I ran across the suspen-sion bridge to Carlton Place and got on to the same bus and went home. Needless to say when I arrived back my father was already home and he was very angry that my mother had sent me off to Glasgow. The next night was even worse and by midnight we were receiving evacuees from Dal-muir and Clydebank. these poor people had only what they stood in, night clothes and little else, they had lost everything. The people of Cleland took them in and shared what they had with them. The only family that I can re-member by name were the McConville family. The raid went on all night and these two nights will always be remembered by the people who experi-enced them as the night of The Glasgow Blitz.
Rudolph Hess comes to Scotland
Not long after the Glasgow Blitz there was a lot of commotion around Motherwell and Hamilton and rumours were spreading that Hitler had landed at Busby or Eaglesham and that a couple of farmers had taken him to the local police. We were then told in school that it was Hitler’s deputy Rudolph Hess who had come to scotland to see the Duke of Hamilton and get him to stop the war and for us to join Germany to fight The Soviet Un-ion. The incident was all hushed up and we never heard anything until after the war and The Nuremburg Trials.
Air Training Corps
Near the end of 1941 The Air Training Corps was started at the school in Motherwell, I do not remember the squadron number, I do however re-member with affection some of the boys who joined with me. Michale Boy-lan from Craigneuk, Frank Flood and Sam Lynch from Motherwell and a fellow called Willie Marley from Wishaw who was our Flight Sergeant. Some of the Cleland boys who joined with me were my brother Gerry, Thommy Collins, Peter Dougan and James Lavery. We went on parade every Tuesday night and learned about rifles, morse code and navigation. Our Commanding Officer was the Rector of the school Mr Tom Lynch, The Squadron Warrant Officer was his brother Mr Pat Lynch Sam Lynch's fa-ther. The officers were Mr Paddy Walsh (my English teacher) Mr O'Don-nell, Mr Willie Cairns (Headmaster of Chapelhall School) and Mr Hughes. The Squadron chaplain was Father Ward from Craigneuk. A number of camps were arranged for us during the summer holidays. We went to Rhu near Helensburgh on the Clyde opposite Greenock and it was there I first flew in a Walrus Flying boat. This was a unique aeroplane in that it had only one engine and the propellor was at the back behind the cockpit. It was also at Rhu when I first fired a shot gun at clay pigeons. We also went to Greenock on another visit this time to go aboard the Cruiser HMS Nigeria. The only other camp I attended was at Dromore near Prestonpans in East Lothian where we stayed for a week, it was whilst I was there that the CO interviewed me and told me I was being promoted directly from Cadet to Sergeant. Needless to say this didn't go down too well with some of the other cadets. I stayed on in the ATC until I joined The Royal Air Force on the 20th March 1943.