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Blitz Memories

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My family were living in Ayr because of the war. On theThursday,  13th march 1941, they came back to their house at 191 Langholm Street in Yoker, not knowing what lay ahead of them that very night....the start of the Clydebank Blitz. My two oldest sisters, Mary & Nancy, recall their memories of that night and of the war.

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At the time of the Clydebank Blitz, Mary was nine years old and Nancy was seven years old. This is their story, recorded on the 23rd February 2011.

Nancy:  "We were staying at Ayr at the time..."

Mary:   "Yes..."

Nancy:  "And mother decided to come home and see the house in Langholm Street, and because, during the war, if you left your house, you let it out to somebody..."

Mary:   "War workers...aye. We had all sorts of people staying."

Nancy:  "It was an English couple who came to stay in it at the time. Is that right?" 

Mary:   "That's right."  

Nancy:  "And we came home..."

Mary:    "We had a bath..." 

Nancy:  "Got ready for bed, into bed..." 

Mary:    "And then the sirens started." 

Nancy:  "The sirens started."

Mary:    "So mammy said "We'll wait to see if any bombs drop or the guns start." So the guns started, she bundled us all down the stairs into the lobby, downstairs, the wee press, the wee cupboard." 

Nancy:  "All the children were put into the cupboards, one on either side. All the doors were left open for blast. Our legs were sticking out of the cupboards."  

Mary:    "Even the front doors were open as well. We were there, then the incendiary bombs started falling and one fell in the back court and somebody shouted "Somebody bring out sand!" and mum ran out with it and she got such a fright when another fell, she lost her voice. She came back in; she was quite a bag of nerves. I can't remember much after that. I remember next morning..."

Nancy:  "It was the English man; he knew how to put out the incendiary bombs. Lots of incendiary bombs landed and mammy went out to help him. Of course, I had to pop my head out to see it, there were bombs everywhere and this man was trying to put them out."

Mary:    "Now, I can't remember if there was a wall built at the back of the close or no, there wasn't one at the front because there were gardens."

Nancy:  "When I looked out you could see that man putting the incendiary bomb out, so there couldn't have been anything right in front of that back close anyway."  

Mary:   "It seemed to be all incendiary bombs where we were. It was dark when the bombing started. It was like fireworks, just like fires. Between that, and the bombs falling elsewhere, you know. You were hearing the bombs, and it must have been frightening to us, you don't realise it now, we were wee..."

Nancy:  "Too young, but you don't realise you were getting bombed at the time, and the noise was deafening, hard to describe, terrible wasn't it, like steel girders dropping and banging together." 

Mary:   "You didn't realise what was going on..." 

Nancy:  "Too young...I don't know how long it lasted though."  

Mary:   "No..."

Nancy:  "Because they would go right on to Clydebank, they would spend all their time bombing Clydebank."  

Mary:   "My mammy started smoking then, her nerves were that bad. She had a couple of cigarettes off somebody. I canny remember if the sirens went off again. We went upstairs, but I know we were banged off quick enough, and back on the tram to Ayr."    

Nancy:  "On the tram, all the folk from Clydebank were coming that were bombed out, and they were just sitting in the tram and not speaking, carrying bits and pieces." 

Mary:   "Even the bus, the bus was full of folk going away, leaving." 

Nancy:  "Bits and pieces with them, very quiet, terrible shock."  

Mary:   "All the windows were broke, Pelosi's windows were broken, all the shop windows were broken in Yoker."

Nancy:  "Our windows were OK, we were hidden behind, but the bombs did land there in the back court. I don't remember any damage to the building. Did you?"

Mary:   "No, I think the incendiary bombs just catch fire. You don't realise what happened till you got older, I mean at nine years old..." 

Nancy:  "I don't think we heard any more about it till after the war." 

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Mary:   "And we went back to Ayr that night, the sirens went again and mother was so anxious because of the night before. We heard the planes flying over but nothing happened. They must have been heading for Clydebank again."   

Nancy:  "The ARP Warden came up..."  

Mary:   "He came up, aye, chapped the door..."

Nancy:  "He helped us down..."

Mary:   "He helped us down to the library, I always remember sleeping on top of these big books they had in the cellar of the library."

Nancy:  "Big shelves, not just ordinary shelves. It must have been where they kept mabye special big books or something and they cleared it and then of course, people from the..."  

Mary:   "The cinema across the road." 

Nancy:  "They all came in, so, there we were sitting with blankets round us in our pyjamas. I suppose anybody that was about could come in. I don't think there was any air raid shelters about."

Mary:   "No there wasn't. We were right at the river and I couldn't see any shelters there." 

Nancy:  "I don't think Ayr was ever bombed. I think they built one in the back court but I don't think it was ever used." 

Mary:   "Where was that?"  

Nancy:  "In Langholm Street."   

Mary:   "You're right, there was one but I think it was used for other things. The ones at the school were used for everything I think."

Mary:   "I think we moved after that. We moved to another place."  

Nancy:  "Did we not go back to Prestwick after Ayr?"   

Mary:   "I don't think so Nancy."

Nancy:  "See, I think we went to Maybole."     

Mary:   "We went to that many places, Mauchline..."

Nancy:  "Mauchline and Daly was the last one, then we came home and then we moved back to Ayr, then Prestwick was the last one, because dad was in the Prestwick aerodrome. We just travelled around with him until we moved further away and that was that." 

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Mary:   "That's right. When the war started I was seven, my granny took me to Ireland..." 

Nancy:  "You were nine, I was seven..."

Mary:   "Oh, I was nine, I'm sorry. My granny took me to Ireland every summer, and we went away and war started. It took us three days to get back because everyone was trying to get back to Ireland and the boats were all mixed up. So, we got back to Clydebank anyway, up to Yoker, and we couldn't find my two sisters and my mammy, and my dad was called up right away because he was in the 602 (City of Glasgow) Squadron. So, we hunted everywhere for them, went everywhere to see where they were. They were in Ecclefechan, Hoddom Castle, Ecclefechan."

Nancy:  "We were evacuated there."

Mary:   "We were evacuated there, and then went to Gullane, that just outside...where's this?" 

Nancy:  "It's North Berwick."

Mary:   "Aye, North berwick, went to Gullane, and then went to Drem. We stayed just facing the aerodrome and it was great. Every friday, we got to the NAFFI and they handed out sweeties. You were allowed to go to the NAFFI, the canteen." 

Nancy:  "We had to walk miles to school..."  

Mary:   "Aye, we weren't allowed to take lifts. The RAF men were going by but they weren't allowed to give us a lift, so we walked into school and walked back from school."

Nancy:  "There was a story at the time that the enemy were putting sweets, poison sweets in the hedgerows, of course, needless to say..."  

Mary:   "We found sweets, we found a stash (giggling) and we ate them! (giggling). Because sweeties were rationed then, we ate them. I think it was macaroon bars or something. Someone must have been hiding their sweeties, you know. We had some good times. I remember we used to go into this house, you always seemed to, in somebody's house, you had one room. We went to the beach. You weren't actually allowed onto the beach, but this bit, you were allowed on and we used to follow the rabbits paws, you know, the rabbits paws and that."

Nancy:  "Ayr harbour had barbed wire all the way round it. You couldn't go onto that bit there, but when we stayed in Ayr, we were sent down to the harbour to get any herring that fell off the boats from the men taking fish off the boat, at that time it was big nets."

Mary:   "Mind the time we got a big pile, they came and moved us."   

Nancy:  "And then they would wiggle the net a wee bit so some fish would fall out so the people waiting could take fish home."

Mary:   "We brought the fish home, and somebody had been and we were evacuated again, it must have been to Daly or someplace." 

Nancy:  "We just moved around with our dad. I don't know if we were evacuated, I think they just found accommodation for us."  

Mary:   "Then Nancy and I found a dead body in the harbour, mind that?"    

Nancy:  "Well, we saw it, we didn't find it."  

Mary:   "It was closed off, the harbour, but you could walk down to the bottom, he must have been a pilot or somebody, you know. Can't remember much about the bombing."   

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Nancy:  "We went to school everywhere we went. Everytime we moved to a new school. Prestwick we stayed the longest."  

Mary:   "I liked Prestwick. We went to the protestant school, they sent us out at the prayers. We used to go to the lane and get a hot roll." 

Nancy:  "In Prestwick, we went into the church, it was a big room in this church, and you know those old-fashioned benches you got, there were two together and the desk came round like that, and each of those row of benches was a different class. This man had to teach from the infants up to the age group that was there. The playground, remember, was the actual church hall itself because there was nothing outside where you could go and play. The older children went through to Troon, to school there. At lunchtime, we went over to the British Restaurant." 

Mary:   "Just across the road, wasn't it?"

Nancy:  "The British restuarant, they started these British restuarants everywhere, I think because of the food shortage you know and people working thereabouts, and things like that..."  

Mary:   "Nothing was cheap..." 

Nancy:  "And all you did was give them what money you had..."   

Mary:   "They give you a token."

Nancy:  "You got soup or a pudding or whatever and you just handed it to a person and they gave you something."  

Mary:   "Instead of dinner money, we got tokens."    

Nancy:  "This was out-with ration coupons. Your parents had to give you the money. it was at lunch time at school." 

Mary:   "I canny remember what I was taught at school (laugh)."

Nancy:  "And then we went round to the sand dunes across from the golf course."  

Mary:   "Aye, we used to have a great time there..." 

Nancy:  "And we were playing away one day, we came across this crowd of men and we found out it was the Polish soldiers that had come across and were practicing manoevres there, commandos or something..."   

Mary:   "We were surprised we were allowed on the beach."  

Nancy:  "We came upon them unexpctedly but they were only practicing, then they started doing a wee bit of showing off to us."  

Mary:   "We went everywhere round Prestwick."   

Nancy:  "It was good."    

Mary:   "We used to walk from Prestwick into Ayr. You could do anything there. You could walk anywhere. There wasn't anyone bothering you. Then, I remember when they took away the barbed wire, Madge, our friend,would go down and listen to the Salvation Army playing. And you used to see in the sea, not walrus's, they were like wee old men peeping out the water, wee old men with moustaches... seals."

Mary:   "See when the yanks had a dance, we got all the stuff the next day. They had closed the swimming pool, they made it into a canteen, that the Americans had. Mum had knitted me a swimming costume, so we're all there, swimming in the pool quite the thing, and all the yanks are standing leaning over the rails watching us, you know, and I gets up to come out of the pool, and the costume lands at my feet! (laughing)."  

Nancy:  "It was a knitted one (laughing)."  

Mary:   "A knitted one (laughing). We used to ask for the 'Gum Chum'. My mother used to give us fits for asking for anything."  

Nancy:  "'Don't you dare!' she would say."  

Mary:   "It was that chewing gum that tasted of... it wasn't mint or anything, it tasted of..."

Nancy:  "Spearmint?" 

Mary:   "No, it tasted of Kaolin poultice. Aye, one time we came back with a couple of coppers in our pocket. My mother thought the Americans had given us it, oh, she had a fit. She was very strict, so she was, like that. She didn't like you to take things from the Americans."

Nancy:  "I made my First Holy Communion in Prestwick."

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Mary:   "Aye, you made your Communion in Prestwick." 

Nancy:  "And the Americans supplied all the food, because food was rationed, for a wee breakfast in this hall, it was their kind of NAFFI type place."  

Mary:   "And your dress was made of silk, the woman we stayed with had been engaged to a sailor, a captain or something, but he got killed. So all her stuff, there was this great big, big wardrobe, it must have been the size of this wall, and she had that much stuff in the drawers. In fact Billy had a beautiful Christening shawl, it was from India, and the silk, your dress was made out of silk."

Nancy:  "It was her trousseau."

Mary:  "There were gooseberry bushes in the garden. Nancy and I slept up in the kitchen, we never slept in the bungalow. We always remember Joyce, she slept in a bed settee and there was this big king size bed, it was all velvet and everything, it would hold five, yon way."

Nancy:  "They must have built the house round this furniture because it was an enormously huge big wardrobe..." 

Mary:   "And a wee stove in the corner, and our Joyce was always no well..." 

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Nancy:  "When we finally came back to Langholm Street, mum was a smoker by then. I remember when cigarettes were scarce, and mum would get everybody up early in the morning, have us away round to the paper shop, Henderson's I think it was, and you would stand beside all the men that were going to their work. 'Cigarettes please'. We would get five." 

Mary:   "You could get Pasha, Turkish cigarettes." 

Nancy:  "If they didn't have cigarettes, you could get some Pasha. I think they were horrible. We used to walk from there to Blawarthill trying every shop to get cigarettes for her. It was her nerves, she got such a shock from the Blitz." 

Mary:   "The war past, we grew up, we got married, we had famillies and we lived happily ever after (laughing). We've had our ups and downs..."

Nancy:  "We got our bus pass at 60 (laughing) and our pensions (laughing)." 

Mary:   "And we've been on lots of holidays." 

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My two oldest sisters, Nancy and Mary.   23rd February 2011


 Link to website with more information about the Clydebank Blitz.

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