Tom's Wartime Reminiscences

 

 Here is a school photograph taken just after the war

This photograph shows myself front row second left, and William ('Famous Sorbie') top row first left.

SCHOOL

I am guessing at the year the photograph was taken and I would say 1947-48, you will see that William and I are wearing army jackets which was common at that time.   You may ask why there are more boys than girls. Around the age of eleven pupils had the choice of going to Larkhall Academy (considered to have a higher standard). At this school you could leave with "Highers" but not Stonehouse School. The girls would be sent off to Larkhall and the boys were destined for trades, as I was. 

 

Typical leather School bag carried on the shoulders by Girls and Boys

The present day children use one strap shoulder bags which I understand can cause back troubles in later life

When William Sorbie and I were at school our teacher used to get us to quote the poem "The Twa Corbies," and it was so near to our name that some of the class used to say, when the teacher was not listening "The Twa Sorbie's" (The Two Sorbie's).

I went to one school Stonehouse Junior Secondary which was known as Townhead school, there were two annexes Camnethen Street, and Greenside School.  I started school 1940 and left in 1950, my main teacher was Kit Small, you will see her in John Young's second book on Stonehouse (Page 2) which is dedicated to her, a wonderful teacher, I was friendly with her until she died in June 1999 at the age of 93. Kit served the community of Stonehouse as a teacher in three of our schools from 1926-1971.

A typical gas mask and box

Being wartime everyone at school had to carry a gasmask contained in a cardboard box, supported on our shoulder by a thick cord, the Teacher instructing the class how to get the gasmask on as quickly as possible. I can still to this day remember the smell of the rubber mask and the viewer steaming up and trying to write on a "slate board" The School almost doubled in pupil numbers due to the evacuees from the city of Glasgow sent out to the country to avoid the bombing.

One of my earliest recollections of Stonehouse is my first day in School, winter 1940, my mother and I struggling through a very heavy fall of snow up to the school at Townhead, about half a mile from our home in Argyle Street.

A class of 6 year olds at Stonehouse school, 1947

Jessie Sorbie is front row far left and Robert Mitchell, a Sorbie descendant, 3rd from left, front row.

Bob is now a Dentist, living in Grand Valley, Ontario, Canada.

One evening I was under the blankets when the German planes were overhead on their way to bomb Clydebank shipyards, between the siren, guns and bombs, it was quite a night, and has remained in my memory as a terrified small boy.

If we misbehaved the Teacher brought out the "Taws" a 1/4 inch (6mm) leather belt about two feet long having two tails which was brought down with a heavy blow on to the palm of the hand. If you needed a greater punishment you received a "crosshander" or several. This was where the pupil crossed the hands and the strap caught part of each hand, sometimes going up the wrist which tended to swell up slightly. It sounds cruel but we didn't have the vandalism we have now. We were taught discipline the hard way. Spare the rod and spoil the child was the motto.

The Taws or Strap

The recent cold weather brought back memories of attending the Greenside School Annexe which is at the top of Green Street and now the Masonic Hall. When I attended Greenside School is was for Woodwork A two classroom School, the other classroom was for the girls being taught Housewifery (Home Economics). The class room's heating was a coal fire in the corner where the teacher stood blocking the heat, before we started woodwork, physical exercises were required to heat up our hands, this was done by banging our arms across our body. A pencil case I made in the School is in my garage, I am surprised it lasted so long.

The main School in Townhead Street was being rebuilt when the war started, all work was stopped after they made temporary timber corridors linking the old to the new, the old part that was left was the original Hall which was used as the Dining Hall. Toilets were outside, no heating, The cubicles were the only area that were roofed over. Winter brought on frozen pipes and a reluctance to use the very cold toilet seats.

One of the subjects I remember was Scottish Country Dancing, the music was an old gramophone. My teacher said, "you will never be a dancer", she was right, other than modern dancing.

The classrooms had a loudspeaker that was connected to a radio in a room adjacent to the Head Teacher's room. This was used to hear the BBC Children's programmes. I was the person who tuned in the station and switched through to the correct classroom, I was at that age showing an interest in radio, my pals on occasions gave me the name of 'Professor'.

HOME

Like all the other families with a set in bed we had a "Kist" which held all the family belongings (Kist is Scots for chest which was like the pirate type chests). The set in beds were large with a curtain across the open end, from memory the mattress sat on boards and it was about 3 feet in height with a deep board to the living room side to keep you from rolling out, the three solid sides or walls were papered as the living room. To get into the bed you had to stand on a chair, and over the bottom full length was a curtain, this covered all the family storage under the bed.

Talking about wallpaper - during the war wallpaper was almost unobtainable and the alternative was to paint the wall with Distemper which was the old equivalent to emulsion and using a sponge dipped in different colours, patterns could be produced, as a boy I had to do this as my father had ill health. I can clearly remember doing the red and blue patterns on a light coloured background.

 Water was a "Jawbox" a deep square sink with a brass cold tap (spicot)(spigot) - no hot water.

A set-in bed shown on an upper floor in Camnethan Street

Our radio was a work of art with bakelite slow motion drives, it ran on a large HT battery, a grid bias battery and an accumulator which I had to take down weekly to a garage to get charged up, the loud speaker was made of thin cardboard varnished, with this radio I remember listening to all the wartime programmes and Lord Haw Haw, from Germany.

I remember a story of two women talking about what they could receive on their “Wireless”, one lady said she could hear Athlone in Ireland, Lord Haw Haw etc, the other lady said I don’t get that, its is very poor with a lot of interference. The first lady said I know what’s wrong, its your Wullie I see him bringing the accumulator from the garage and he’s always swinging it round his head, the stations will be all mixed up.

Before we had electricity it was a gas mantle that hung above the fireplace high mantelpiece, how we managed to see beats me. The fire was also a work of art which my mother had to black lead frequently and light each morning, to this day I miss hob toast, a slice of bread held on a large fork against the hobs holding the fire, similarly an apple toasted.

When I went to see my grandfather he smoked thick black tobacco and with the smoke and the gas light it was like the smog. 

I was a real expert at chimney cleaning in my teens done with brush and rods from the fireplace. At 14 I swept the chimney it was a Chimney Sweeps job but as we had little money a chimney brush was kept in the house, my Father was an ill man so it was left to me.

Canvas bags joined together to cover the full width of the fireplace and over the hearth something heavy held it on the mantelpiece. A hole in the canvas allowed the brush to go through and as each screwed section was pushed up the flue, I had to remember to keep turning it to the right or it would have unscrewed. This was done until the brush popped out of the chimney pot.

All the soot that fell down the flue collected on the hearth bags which were carefully lifted and carried out to the garden. It was common to have a fall of soot which indicated that the flue was needing swept, the soot left a mess in the living room.

One thing I remember is the smell of a chimney fire the sooty smell which I thought was not unpleasant, as children we ran down to the fire shouting “A Lums on fire”. What we could see was a funnel of smoke and an odd flame, when the Fire Service arrived they climbed the roof stuck a hose down the chimney, what a mess down below.!!

Chimney fires were normally caused by people trying to light the fire and to get a draw they put a newspaper over the opening causing a greater draught ,the paper frequently caught fire and was drawn up the flue setting the soot alight.

Drying clothes was on a pulley in the middle of the living room; when I say the living room that is the right word for it, families were lucky if they had another room.

Traditional tin bath

Toilets were either outside or in our case two toilets in the entrance 'close' shared with 3 other families. Toilet paper was newspaper cut into squares, it left an imprint you know where! In the winter months the toilets could be frozen, or the walls were running with condensation, the only light was a torch.

For a while before tiled fireplaces came in we had a black range fire with built in oven with a “swee” a hinged arm to support the cooking pot over the fire, this had to be cleaned out and lit every morning, toast was made by fixing the bread on a large wire fork held against the fire, similarly toasted apples. Above the fire on a projecting arm was a gas mantle, the only light in the room, made a slight hissing noise.

No Bathroom it was a baby type bath that you stood in for a stand up wash in the other room, not many choices of soap, usually Lifebuoy. I often came into the house living room to find a Miner sitting on a chair with my Mother bathing the Miners neck, she had a knack of being able to remove boils which was common with Miners especially on the back of the neck, no Antibiotics in these days and it was a relief to have the boils removed.

The thing that makes me smile now living in a bungalow is that we accepted this as our life and we never complained.  Would the present generation accept that type of life?

PLAY

Children mainly spent their time during the summer down at the Public Park which in my time was a well managed public amenity, with the Chute (Slide) being the main attraction, the chute which is no longer there, was around 150 feet long running down the hillside. The boating pond also was a good attraction.

Just after the war children were asked if they would be interested in "Tattie Howking" (Potato Lifting) and we worked on farms for around two weeks which was great to get away from school. The horse drawn machine turned up the potatoes and we followed along with baskets lifting the potatoes. When the baskets were full they were emptied into a cart. Hard back breaking work, when it rained we continued with canvas bags over our heads like a hoodie jacket.

If you were down wind from the horse we had to suffer strong aromas at times. Near the end of the War we were standing in for workers who were still in uniform. The Farmer fed us but being tight fisted it was potatoes and turnip, with a glass of milk every lunch time.

One of my main pastimes was on the banks of the River Avon "Snibbing Beardies" (a small fish). This type of fish lay under large rocks and if the rock was struck several times the Beardie came out a few inches and was lassoed, using the root of a plant formed into a noose.

At hay-time it was most enjoyable to go with the farmer to uplift haystacks with a Rucklifter, this was a horse drawn platform with rubber wheels, the platform tipped down at the rear and the horse and platform was backed on to the Rick or Ruck, the haystack being winched on to the platform. The kids hung on to the ropes all the way to the farm, in many cases through the streets. Think of that now with all the cars..

Stonehouse Park showing the 'big chute' and boating pond, taken around 1950

Note the River Avon and Linthaugh Bridge in the middle distance

The weather seemed much better then, or was it that we enjoyed life so much the weather was not remembered. Happy days.

During the Summer (we had hot summers) off came the boots or shoes and we ran about with our bare feet, running on the tarmac roads the feet were covered in tar, this was removed by rubbing margarine or butter which cleaned up the mess. Frequently we received a Stotted Tae (Thump or trip with the big toe) It was sore.

I went for long walks in the area around Stonehouse and collected Elderberries or Brambles for jam making, I knew all the good fruit areas in my walks. 

Boys played Bools (Marbles) in the Street as there was little traffic, mainly horses. The bools were brown coated, and we thought we were somebody if you could produce glass bools. Girls played a lot of Pever on the pavement. This was a type of Hopscotch still played in children's playgrounds today. An odd time we were mischievous in that we found two doors opposite each other tied a tight string to each door handle knocked the doors and ran.

RATIONING

During the war most things were rationed, the only exceptions were bread and potatoes. Bread was rationed just after the war for a short time. Petrol was only available for essential use. 

A ration book was a must which allowed children to buy a quarter of sweets per month and normally barley sugar, empty shelves in the sweet shops. There was a cheese ration, and mothers had to go to the Government Food Office to obtain a small bottle of concentrated orange. Everything you bought had a utility look about it and women's skirt hem lines were made high to save material. 

We were fortunate in that my father had pigeons which we ate at times. Pigeon Stew and eggs are very tasty. A few times we had whale meat which was a bit oily, never had to eat horsemeat. Oranges and bananas were never tasted or seen. I can remember my first banana. I knew what they tasted like as my mother boiled turnip or parsnips until they were tasteless, then added banana essence, which was spread on our bread.

Wartime Ration Book

Railings were removed from house garden front walls to be made into tanks, Aluminium pans were collected by school children and were presented with a coloured cardboard medal - Gold, Silver etc. depending on the quantity. 

During the summer it was common to go for long walks along the country roads collecting brambles, Elderberries,which the Mothers turned into Jam or Elderberry Wine, also Rose Hips which was brought to a central point to be made into Rose Hip Syrup by others.

Old knitted woollen items were unpicked to knit into other items such as balaclava helmets to keep us warm and also sent to the troops. Carpet was also hard to come by and my mother like other mothers made rag rugs by cutting up old clothes into strips they were made into patterns of different colours. Recently I found my mothers hook which she pulled the cloth through the hessian bag base. The hook is now in the Hamilton Museum.

Sheets were repaired until the could not hold together and at that stage made into bandages. Some ladies made nightdresses from white flour bags or if the could lay hands on parachute material that was ideal.

There was little choice in soap - Persil soap flakes, Oxydol and Lifebuoy soap - a tin of cake toothpaste. 

Sweets were rationed and I think from memory it was a quarter pound per month and barley sugar sweets, I don’t know how the shops kept going. During the War and for a number of years after certain workmen were given an extra ration of cheese, orange juice was given out for children from what was called the Food Office, in Stonehouse this was the Registrars Office. 

Cheese was scarce and even after the War if you worked in the building industry each workman was allocated an extra ration. Eggs were also scarce although being in the country we had numerous Farms around. In my own family we could supplement our meat ration as my Father had Pigeons. I liked drinking the eggs raw with milk, sugar and a pinch of salt.

Around Stonehouse were Small Holdings with Greenhouses who grew lovely tasty tomatoes and during one school holiday I worked in a greenhouse picking the tomatoes, that was a great job warm and dry  Have you tried a tomato dipped in sugar? A lovely fruit.

Mothers could go to the food office and collect Rose Hip Syrup (rich in vitamin C), concentrated orange juice and dried baby milk. But could be wrong on the milk though I remember the large tins with Ministry of Food markings. 

When it was harvest time the threshing machine was driven by a traction engine. A great day watching what was going on. No smart phones in these days we had to make our own enjoyment and our own wee effort towards the War effort.

The children then were healthier than they are now and we did recycle the little we had.  

HOME GUARD

Stonehouse Home Guard during the War

The Home Guard (volunteers unpaid) consisted of mainly men who were not called up for service due to their age being under 18. I am not sure of the upper limit but think it was 45. Also miners and others who were in essential work and had the time. They were there to guard the town and country side from an attack by the Germans and took part in limited practices. Some had WW1 experience. For a short while after Dunkirk in 1940 they had no rifles to drill with, only wooden ones. Sometimes they had to make do with brush shafts.

All the roads coming into Stonehouse and all towns had large concrete obstacles circular about 6 feet in diameter and about 4 feet wide, sitting ready to be rolled in place and turned on their flat side. The Home Guard would have been responsible for getting a tractor or something to get these obstacles in position to block the road. The ideal place was a bridge. They did have some liaison with the Observation Corps spotting planes and some I am sure they would be sent to Clydebank, Glasgow to help out in the bombing blitz. 

It was common in Stonehouse not to give a married man his own name he would be known as Jennie Smith's Man, etc. In the case of the man third from the left front row, with the light colour to the lining of his jacket, he was known as Connie McNaught's Man. His real name was Jimmy Brown!

A man of the Home Guard when out one night on patrol. He heard a noise and shouted "Halt who goes there" after saying it a few times without an answer, he fired a shot and heard a loud thud. On investigation they found a dead cow.!!!! In a way they were very much like the 'Volkstrom' that marched out to meet the Russians when they surrounded Berlin - old men.

 The A.R.P. set off incendiaries and practised extinguishing them with stirrup pumps and pails of water. It is just as well we were not invaded!!

A Stirrup Pump

Stonehouse Cross had an air raid shelter which was near the middle of the Cross, it was built of one thick brickwork with vertical and horizontal metal rods laid in the beds of mortar which was designed to move without falling apart if a bomb blast was nearby.

The two doors had blast baffle walls which was built out and around the two entrances.

The black out was something I think everyone who went through the war will remember. Every window had to be blacked out, in our house we had lightweight frame shutters which were held in place with turn buttons fixed to the window frame. If you had the slightest bit of light showing outside, the A.R.P. warden who patrolled the streets soon told you to do something about it.

One morning I looked out of the window and saw strips of Aluminium foil all over the road. This had been dropped from German planes, they called it Duppel, our equivalent was called Window or chaff. All the kids in the street thought it was great fun playing with the strips. They were cut to the same length as our Radar frequency aerial, this reflected the Radar signals back to the ground and made our Radar useless. The British were the first to use this jamming method

My Grandmother when it was dark needed to see where she was going and I as a small boy was sent to my grandmothers to shine a torch on the pavement or road to show her where she was walking. She was a lovely lady who had very long hair which she combed as it hung over her shoulder she pinned it up in a bun at the back of her head.

On one memorable occasion the six platoons of the Stonehouse Home Guard led by the Commanding Officer on a fine horse made an admirable sight as they marched through the village and up past Stonehouse Hospital. When clear of the Hospital the horse chose its moment to "backfire" loudly and emit an aroma which stung the nostrils of the troops following on. The Sergeant Major was heard to mutter in a loud gasp "Don Gas masks!"

The Government passed a law to allow war workmen to requisition and remove the iron railings from dwelling house front boundary walls to help with scare metal. The stubs of the railing uprights can still be seen on some walls, unused aluminium pots were also added to the scrap collection. 

Car headlights had their lights covered over leaving some slots to let the light shine on the road. This gave a poor light. Few cars were on the roads. Pedestrians walking in the dark carried torches.

Car Headlight covers

Mainly Public Buildings had their glass windows reinforced with strips of sticky apaper to lessen injury should a bomb go off, shattering the glass. I dont recall seeing any home glazing being treated this way. Maybe smaller panes.

In Stonehouse an Air Raid Siren was located on the roof of the Police Station giving warning of possible bombing. Take Cover and the “All Clear”

HEALTH

Children were scolded if they left anything on the plate. It was actually illegal to waste food. Some of the food that needed sugar to sweeten had to use carrots as sweeteners due to the scarcity of sugar. Some people complained about American dried eggs but I thought they made good scrambled egg. We were rationed to one fresh egg per person in a week.

A good number of Stonehouse resident had hen runs out the back of their  houses. The government didn't encourage poultry farmers as they thought it was a waste to give grain to hens.

Children were encouraged to go out and collect rose hips which was collected and sent somewhere to make rose hip syrup, high in Vitamin C. Impetigo was common, this was pustules around the mouth. The treatment was gen shin violet, which showed as bright purple around the mouth. No antibiotics in these days, if you had a fever the treatment was bed and M&B tablets.

At School we had a periodic head lice examination by a Nurse. We all stood in a long queue listening to the Nurse telling a pupil that she had found lice. Schools don't do that now, they cant tell a pupil even if he or she is scratching all day.

My mother like others didn’t have a great deal of money coming into the house, so to save money I was instructed to go to a shop for one item and other shops for single or a few items, she knew where to save money. Going for bread was not like today wrapped, I carried a basket and the Scottish loaf was hand lifted by the Shop Assistant and placed in the basket. Cheese was cut on a marble top and weighed and placed in a thin piece of waxed paper. 

If we ran out of milk I went to the Farm at Stonehouse Cross where the milk was in churns, not pasteurised, a pleasant fresh smell, I carried the milk in a metal container which had a fixed lid that slid down the handle. Our regular milk was delivered by horse and wagon, owned by Wull Richardson, the Coop also had a horse and Wagon, and the Wagons were well decorated.

It was common to see horse manure lying in the Street, and if near our house at night I could hear a keen gardener a Mr Dowling who had a wooden leg thump his way up the Street to shovel up the manure for his garden. 

Directly after the War there was an epidemic of Polio which is crippling disease at this time, there were no vaccinations, one theory was that it was water borne from rivers, we were told not to play in the local River Avon. Scarlet Fever was common, my sister did have fever and I was sleeping in the same bed and never caught it I am pleased to say,  I was told as I don’t remember anything of this. 

If we had a Dentist visit it was to Nathanial Leiper a very old man who attend to you in his front room, the other front room was for waiting, as a frightened boy I can remember an old Wagity Wa clock on the wall with a loud tick. For a few days we were instructed to cover our mouth with a scarf to keep the cold from getting into the wound, we don’t see that now. 

What I remember of Mumps was a swollen jaw which was painful, and the scarf this time was wound round the head to keep the side of the face warm. 

MONEY

When I see my Grand children getting an X box and Wee’s for Christmas I think back to my early days when I was lucky if I got a second hand teddy. Not having a lot of money coming into the house my Mother was given cast offs for myself. I remember on pair of shoes I hated, they had ribs that ran round the sole which I did my hardest to scuff and ruin them.  

To save money my Father cut my hair with hair clippers which left me rather baldy, with a tuft at the front which was my “shed” combed back, I hated it, I was glad to be out as a paper boy to get some money for a decent haircut. I wasn’t the only boy with this style of hair, money was scarce. 

Here is a photograph of me about 1942, my sister Margaret, and friend from Glasgow at Stonehouse boating pond

You will see my Baldy haircut, although you cant see the tuft at the front. It was known as a ''Barlinnie" after the Glasgow Prison   

Also my short trousers!!

Meat was hard to come by and on occasions we had Pigeon stew as my Father had Racing Pigeons which never raced, again due to the lack of funds. The stew was very good; my Father was allocated extra feeding by the Military so that in an emergency the birds could be used for message carrying. In the Garden we grew a number of vegetables which were very good and tasty which was put down to the pigeon manure that was in the soil.

The four neighbours took turn about to clean the “close”, toilets etc and the use of the outside washhouse where the washing was boiled scrubbed and put through a mangle. Lots of steam and hot water about the washhouse.

ENTERTAINMENT 

About the only things the you could escape from the Wartime misery, with rationing, blackout etc. was to go to the Cinema or in Stonehouse called “The Pictures” in the village was the Rex Cinema which inside was sumptuous all the internal fitting were removed from an old German passenger ship, the evening was usually a main feature with a trailer Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck and on occasions a series with the Hero getting into a tight spot when the film stopped with “Come and see what happens next week.”

The grand interior of The Rex Cinema - opened 1937 now unfortunately derelict

To keep up with what was going on in the war you could see the news showing where our military was fighting. Home Radios only allowed one to imagine what things were like. 

An old time Harry Lauder singer held concerts on a Sunday night for war funds in the cinema or Town Hall. The Miners Welfare had a number of billiard tables. I spent a great deal of time watching;  being on the young side to book a table. 

One enterprising young lady called Jessie Logan set up a dance floor in a yard and held a concert for war funds.

MISCELLANEOUS

When I was a boy I saw in a few Stonehouse houses floral displays made with wet coal, I even had a go at it myself with my father's help. I remember using Jay’s Fluid and red ink as colouring along with water, salt and ammonia. The contents had to be in the dark for some time to form the crystals.

Growing flowers from coal might sound impossible, but it is actually an easy procedure. Although the so-called flowers are really only crystals, they look like dainty snowflakes and are thus called flowers. In the late 1800s, some coal miners' wives, having access to lots of coal, came up with a way to decorate their homes using flower displays made by a chemical reaction to coal.

Good project for a School to take up.
 

I was talking to a lady who was reminding me of the years around WW2. One thing that rung a bell with me was visiting an aunt, I had to walk round the linoleum surround to keep the central carpet clean. No double glazing - a single pane of glass which ran with condensation.

My Uncle home on leave from the Desert Campaign brought me a German forage cap which was a wonderful gift to a wee boy that saw the Desert Campaign on Newsreel in the Cinema. It had a very strong smell of petrol which they used to clean it. They had more petrol than water. Playing with my pals I was the German having the hat.

 On occasions my mother, sister and I visited relatives in Thornliebank near Glasgow and it was a thrill for me to sit in the living room watching the RAF planes coming and going from Abbotsinch Airport, which is where Glasgow Airport is now located. Could be corrected on the exact location.

On one occasion my Aunt gave me a small metal castle around 9 inches square made by German Prisoners, the castle was very well made with small secret drawers all beautifully painted. It was made from old Mess tins.

My Aunt took four German Army Prisoners into the house for a meal which gave them a feeling of home rather than the camp. I am not sure where the camp was but the nearest according to records was Johnstone Castle camp. It was at the end of the War and they could have been working on a nearby farm. The Germans also presented me with a wooden Spitfire mounted on a bed spring fixed to a timber base. Whoever made it knew how to work on wood.

My regret is that I lost them.

 

 

 

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