Apart from Granny’s illness, the biggest event of 1939 for us was the trouble in Europe and the start of the War. The Air Raid sirens sounded right away, the horrid up/down wailing of the warning and the straight screech of the all clear. So we knew what they meant. We heard them quite often in the years that followed, but the bombs that fell on Kilmacolm made craters on farm land and hurt nobody. Life went on as usual except that it was both exciting and scary. We all had our ‘war work’, for instance I had an area which I went round weekly selling Savings Stamps which were 6d (sixpence) each. Once someone filled their book with stamps they could put it in a Savings Account. Meantime their money helped the war effort. We collected old saucepans and other metal stuff to help build aeroplanes! Nothing was ever wasted or thrown away.
Once rationing got going in 1940 we became a nation of make-do-and-menders. In spite of the food rationing we were healthy, and mothers did a great job at making good meals with dried egg. Mum remembered having dried eggs called ‘Cooks Farm Eggs’ in the first war. Each person was allowed per week: 2oz tea, 8oz sugar, 4oz jam, 3oz sweets, 2oz lard, 2oz butter, 2oz margarine, 4oz cheese, 4oz bacon, ¾ lb meat and one egg (sometimes!) Think of your weekly shopping now and compare! Eventually fuel and clothes were also rationed.
Everyone had a torch for going out in the ‘blackout’. The summer time extra hour was made permanent, so in Scotland in the depths of winter it was dark soon after 3pm until about 10am. Housewives made blackout curtains and woe betide anyone who was careless and allowed light to show! The wardens would bang on their door. We had to carry our gas masks everywhere, but never had to use them except to practice how to do it quickly. The barrage balloons were in the sky over towns and cities. The News Broadcasts on the radio were listened to every day and we began to hear about the blitz and so many people being killed. But we children were quite sure we would be the victors.
Many children were evacuated to the country areas, some soon went home and others spent the war with strangers who soon became their friends and deputy parents. Kilmacolm had quite a number of evacuees. Some teachers accompanied them and helped out at the village school. There were queues for everything. Just a whisper that the baker or butcher had something you didn’t need coupons for and it went round like wildfire and a queue would form! People started digging a hole in their gardens to make an Anderson Shelter for air raids. Mum, Annabel and I went under the kitchen table with blankets draped round to keep the draughts out. Eventually we just stayed in bed. The Springer Spaniel we had hated the sirens and the noisy planes and barked and whined so much the neighbours complained about it. So Dandy had to go. Although Annabel and I were very upset he was sent to a farmer across the Clyde who wanted a Springer to train to the gun.
In London, hundreds of people spent the nights in Underground stations with sleeping bags and flasks of tea etc. Dad was on permanent night-shift soon after the war began. On the nights he was at home he took turns with our neighbours being the Warden with a tin helmet and a stirrup pump ready to douse fire bombs. He had to use the pump several times. We listened to the planes and could recognise the German ones passing over us. They did terrible damage in Greenock but never managed to get the RNT Factory. For us, life went on as usual, a lot of it spent at the Toll. Grandaddy dug up the green and planted potatoes, leeks etc. so they always had plenty Golden Wonders and the makings for broth. And Annie battled to keep their fire burning!
In 1941 Annabel became 8 years old and I left school at 14. Although I had been top of the Qualifying Exam I had been adamant that I didn’t want to go to a big school. Mr. Steel, the headmaster, spoke to my parents and said I ought to continue my education. However, they let me have my way for better or worse. In later years I thought I might have made more of myself but I’ve enjoyed all my life so much I never really regretted it.
To be continued…