Approaching war

Much of the detail escapes me, but at some point the horse-drawn coal wagon was replaced by a motor lorry. And Mr and Mrs Alec Laird, Helen and Sandy moved to a house on Port Glasgow Road. The flat was taken by Mr and Mrs Shields who had a Riding School, so Annabel and I had lovely ponies to look at and felt envious of the girls who were riding them. One of the ponies, our favourite, was called Jubilee. He was mid-brown with a light coloured mane and tail. We knew we would never have a pony, but some years later we were able to ride both Jubilee and Blackie who was a more spirited pony. When the Shields retired, the Scotts at Margaret’s Mill Farm, just a short way past the Green Farm our Granny grew up on, bought Jubilee and Blackie and hired them out. I can’t remember if it was 2/6 (two shillings and sixpence) or 5/- (five shillings) for an hour. Anyway, I bought a pair of slacks and spent the rest of my life savings on blissful hours along paths and fields on one or other. Jubilee wasn’t keen to exert himself so, much as I admired his good looks, I usually chose the black pony who at least cantered. They were probably quite elderly by then. When Annabel was older she did the same.

It was probably in 1939, before the war actually started, that we all had to get our gas-masks in a square cardboard box with shoulder string attached, and carry them everywhere with us. Evacuees came to the village with some teachers and were billeted in people’s homes. We had a girl called Irene – which her mother told us was pronounced ‘Iraynay’, so we tried to remember. They had just come from abroad and she was only with only for a short time.

Young men joined the Forces, and later they were conscripted. People my age found it all exciting, and we had Current Affairs lessons in which we learned what was happening. As time went on, we realised the horror of it all when young men we knew were killed and when the bombing started in earnest. When Greenock was badly bombed in 1941 the only way we could find out about the family members there was to go and see. None had a telephone. On the Saturday morning, Dad took me with him. The bus could only go as far as the east end of the town and we had to walk as best we could to the west end. Fires were burning and buildings destroyed. Rescue people were digging to get people out. When we got to the Town Hall I saw a big heap of rubble where Coltart’s shop should have been. One of Dad’s family, Doris Stroud, worked there. It was all unbelievable: many people were killed and injured and any romantic ideas of war I had were gone for ever. None of the Stroud family was injured, although Cousin Charlie and his wife had a narrow escape. They were running down Antigua Street, after the sugar mill had been bombed and the boiling sugar was streaming down the hill, with their first-born in the carrycot between them. One of the planes machine-gunned the street and the heel of Charlie’s shoe was shot off.

Kilmacolm had only two bombs, as far as I remember, and they fell on fields and left not very big craters. Mum, Annabel and I, plus Dandy the Springer while we still had him, all stayed together in the downstairs bed and Dad would be down in the entry to the lower flats. He’d have his tin hat on and be watching out for incendiary bombs. They had buckets of water and stirrup-pumps to deal with fires. We could all recognise the sound of German planes’ engines when they passed over the village. They never managed to bomb the Torpedo Factory and we were glad of that because Dad was eventually on permanent night shift and the raids were mostly at night.

Village Centre

Village Centre (during the Referendum)

Kilmacolm School has been beautifully made over and is now the Village Centre. There is an excellent café/restaurant and rooms for meetings. Next door, in part of what was the school hall, is a great wee Library. In the vestibule of the Centre is the Board which commemorates those who died in the armed forces in the two wars. Many of the names are familiar. There were 22 names in the 1914/18 part of the board which still featured in the village when we lived there, out of a total of 78 deaths. A large number for a small population. Many of them would be the fathers or grandfathers of people we knew. On the 1939/45 board I personally knew seven out of the 26 deaths recorded, including the brother of my friend Elma who was one of the servicemen I wrote to as part of my ‘war-work’. These also included relatives John Gibson, Canadian Army, three Australian McPhail boys, all in the army, an Australian Stroud cousin, Jim Lindsay plus his friend Peter who was in the RAF in England, cousins Tommy Metcalfe, Royal Navy, Duncan Sinclair, RAF and Bill Stroud, Royal Artillery. What they thought of having a young girl writing to them I don’t know, but they always replied and all survived the war and got home to their families.

By then Granny had passed on her baton to me to keep in touch with her daughters abroad – Meg in Australia, and Bell and Jen in Canada. My Stroud Auntie Elsie Lindsay, who had escaped from Hong Kong just in time, was on my list too. Cousins Jim and Ian were at boarding school on mainland China. When the danger came, they quietly slipped out of school and made their own way to Hong Kong, also reaching Australia safely. Their father was a Chief Engineer MN and after the war they settled in Australia. They had gone to China when I was about four, and I was given Jim’s wee red wooden pedal car and other toys. I vividly remember coming off the train and pedalling up the street. I can’t remember what happened to it but remember enjoying playing with it.

This seems to have run away with me so I’m going to come to an abrupt stop! Till next time………….

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