I was working nights in Drysdale when Bessie was expecting Helen. My mother came up to stay overnight the last week of the pregnancy and sure enough, labour started in the wee sma' hours. My mother walked from Lasswade Street up to Drysdales to tell me to cycle up to tell the midwife, which I did, and then returned to Lasswade Street. My mother then wanted to leave me there, so she could go to Dalmuir to make my dad's breakfast, but I persuaded her to stay, so I went to Dalmuir to make his breakfast! Helen was born almost as soon as the midwife arrived!
So there we were, in 1939, with two kids and a war imminent, and by September 3, we were in it. Everything blacked out, every night. We never knew when we would have a real air raid. We did have a daylight bombing less than a mile away in the summer of 1940, when three blocks of flats were demolished at Blawarthill at 11 a.m. with a major loss of life. This served to alert us to what could happen.
This started us on a hard worrying existence for six years. Helen had come along in February, 1939, and was only seven months old when war started. So we had two babies to worry about, and every night a total blackout on the streets. Every window had to be absolutely free of chinks of light, or the wardens would come knocking at the door. We had many false alarms of air raids in the beginning, until they were able to more accurately pinpoint where the planes were heading, and it did ease off a bit. However, it was a time when everyone was on edge, especially people with families. We had contingency plans for getting the kids up and dressed to get to the air-raid shelters, which were large, brick boxes with a concrete slab base and a rounded heavy concrete top.
As I mentioned before in this story, we saw the effect bombing could have when one plane dropped a "stick" of three 250 lb. bombs on Blawarthill Street one sunny day in 1940. Each bomb took out a "close" with almost equal spacing along the length of a three-floor tenement building, with approximately eight families to a "close." The bombed sections were right down to ground level, with rubble blocking the street. A man in my squad at work lived in a close between where these bombs fell and the windows of his house weren't even cracked! The blast of these bombs could take a queer zig-zag path along a street or road, smashing up one side and sparing the other. So we learned what we could expect if we ever got a real air raid.
Cities around the country were being pounded at night. Every week, we heard of places like Portsmouth, Southampton, and all along the south coast from Dover to Cornwall. Then we heard of London being bombed incessantly and raids creeping north to the Midlands. Christmas 1940 was marked by Coventry being nearly wiped out and the beautiful old cathedral there destroyed. Then Liverpool, Manchester, and Tyneside, Newcastle, all had a turn. So it was inevitable that Clydeside and, in particular, Clydebank, would be on the agenda, and on Thursday March 13, 1941, they struck.
I had been working late and was just eating dinner at 9 p.m. The BBC news came on the radio, heralded by the tones of Big Ben from London, and we heard the announcer say, "This is Bruce Belfrage from the BBC in London." Just then the radio cut out and the sirens started warning us of an impending air raid. We got the children out of bed, dressed them and put our emergency plan in gear. As we lived on the ground floor, it had been the custom for the upstairs people to gather in the hall of our flat before we ever had shelters out on the street, and they all did that again that night.
We soon knew we were in for a rough night, when we heard bombs going off every minute or so and discovered incendiary bombs blazing in the back yard. Although at first we didn't know it, the top floor of our building was alight. Then there was a tremendous banging and crashing and the entire place shook. The lights went out, the kitchen door was blown to shreds, windows were breaking and glass was flying. We found later that the kitchen light switches had been sheared right off the wall and our little bird died in its cage.
Just then an auxiliary fire team of four men in a car with a trailer pump unit came on the scene and helped move everyone out to our brick box shelters. They rigged hoses, and, fortunately, the water mains were still working. I, along with some of the younger men, assisted them in manning the hoses. I was wearing my working clothes, which included a very greasy old machine shop cap. During the night, the bombs continued to fall. We didn't know where they were falling, but we heard them from various directions. We were on one side of a rail embankment which was about 20 feet higher than the street, and a bomb blast from that area made my old cap blow off and my hair was blown every which way. I have no idea where my cap went, but very shortly after, another explosion nearby sent something which hit me on the back. I looked to see what it was and discovered it was a spanking new cap and it was just my size! I wore that cap for years afterwards, and I've had many a laugh telling the story of the caps.
Anyway, that night did come to an end. In daylight, we could see many broken windows. The top floor had burned out, but our efforts with the hose saved the building, and, eventually, it was restored and can be seen today. We had to evacuate, of course, and after walking (with Margaret and Helen in the pram) up to Revoch Drive, we found Kit and Albert's house intact. Kit gave us breakfast and then we set out for Clydebank, which was in a dreadful mess with gaps in buildings, others still smouldering, and devastation everywhere. We had to make several detours to get through to Dalmuir, but eventually, we found Nairn Street, which was more or less intact and the family unhurt.
After being awake all night and walking so far, we were really whacked, but the local authorities had ordered Clydebank evacuated, except for Civil Defense people and police. Every available vehicle was pressed into service. We got a ride in a laundry van from Dalmuir to Milngavie, where my Aunt Annie bedded us down on floors and sofas and whatever beds she had. We stayed there for a couple of days, but obviously, that couldn't last, so our little family set out to find better accommodations. We spent one night as guests in Milngavie police station, where the local cops fed us and treated us royally. The next day, we were billeted in the basement of a large house in Bearsden, and we stayed there most of 1941.
After the night of March 13, 1941, the bombers returned the next night,March 14, and did a lot more damage, but casualties were minimal because of the evacuation. Clydeside and the surrounding areas were hit with severe and prolonged air raids on the nights of March 13 and 14, 1941. On the night of the 14th, Clydebank had been almost completely evacuated, except for firemen, police and other essential communications personnel -- including telephone operators and repairmen, such as my dad, who was a maintenance mechanic at the docks. The 14th was a Friday night and, like the previous night, there was a brilliant full moon. We had been evacuated to Milngavie and when the air raid sirens went off, Eddie Fraser and myself went outside the house at Milngavie, where we stayed that first night. We were watching for any stray fire bombs which might come our way. Actually, apart from the thump and crump of bombs in the distance and anti-aircraft guns all around, we had an uneventful night. We were somewhat encouraged by the rapid-fire Bofors guns and the slower, less frequent crump of a heavier gun which sounded fairly close. A Clydebank family who had been evacuated to Strathblane, a mile or two away from us, were not so lucky, and a stray bomb landed on the cottage they were staying in and wiped out the family.
In Clydebank and parts of Glasgow -- Scotstoun and Govan -- the Germans were dropping land mines on that Friday night and they were different from bombs, in that they didn't whistle on the way down, because they were delivered by parachute. The mines themselves were large, rectangular-shaped boxes with fuses on the bottom, and had to hit a target absolutely level to explode properly. If they tipped over on their side, they did not go off. They were still extremely dangerous and volatile for the bomb disposal engineers who were called in to defuse them.