The Wartime Memories of Laurie and Mabel Gordon

Interview of Laurie and Mabel Gordon with their daughter Christine by Shane Greer for WARGEN.

(SG) When and where were you born?

(LG) Dundee, 17th October 1927.

(MG) And I was born same Dundee, 15th March 1933.

(SG) Ok so tell me about your parents. What kind of jobs did they have?

(LG) My Father was an engineer…Milling machine in a foundry which he went to when he was demobbed after the First World War and he worked there until the Second World War and then, I was working away at the time I was in the Air Force at the time, and I got a letter to say ‘Your Father had left Black Ness foundry and had gone to an American firm, the National Cash Register in Dundee’, so instead of going out in his dungarees in the morning he went out in a collar and tie…first time in his life and finished when he retired in the NCR.

(SG) Who did he serve with in the First World War?

(LG) Royal Horse Artillery and then the Field Artillery. Horse Artillery first and then the Field Artillery.

(SG) Smashing. What about yours?

(MG) My Mum worked in the jute mills she was a weaver and Dad had various jobs driving this that and the next thing or working in jute mills.

(SG) How large was your family? Did you have brothers and sisters?

(LG) My one brother only five year older than me…well four and a half to be technical…older than I was.

(MG) And I had four brothers.

(LG) Well my brother’s name was Austin. I suppose after Austin Chamberlin that was the only Austin we knew.

(MG) What was your Father’s name?

(LG) Oh sorry my Father was Austin!


(LG) He was after Austin Chamberlin! My brother’s name was Austin after my Father!

(SG) Fantastic! So did you have a happy childhood?

(LG) Yes aye…as everybody in the 90’s who was working class had a very ordinary childhood we didn’t go to dancing classes and things like that but happy enough childhood. Same as all the kids round about as far as I knew we all seemed happy enough. They all seemed well enough fed I can’t remember any who were obese as we all are now!

(MG) But your Mum held down two jobs…more than two jobs sometimes.

(LG) My Mother had originally worked in the same keelers but she had worked in the factory and then she worked in the shops later. Later than that she worked in evenings as a cashier in the picture house in the Kinnaird Theatre…Kinnaird Picture House rather in Dundee and after that finished working in a coffee shop, Braithwaite’s, in Dundee next door to Castle Street.

(SG) What about yourself Mrs Gordon did you have a happy childhood?

(MG) I’ve never thought about it, it was just normal. Two outstanding stories…at least one that I can remember now, at Christmas time, some Christmas time before I was about twelveish my Father had found a doll for me and dolls were not easily come by at Christmas time in these days and on Christmas day one of my brothers were testing the powers of this doll to swing in the air…CRASH! That was the end of that dolls face!

(LG) Many of these dolls were China faced or…

(MG) Yes this one had a porcelain or whatever kind of face but I mean it wasn’t cloth it was beautiful and it got itself all hashed up.

(LG) You were different from where I was because we had lots of kids. I lived in a kind of a land you know. It would have been a back land and a front land so we had plenty of places to play and there were quite a lot of families in this land you know…not a tenement, plenty of greenery and gardens and a back road where there was no traffic so you could play football and cricket and that sort of thing but plenty of kids. I think you would probably…

(MG) A bit different in that we were a ground level wee house and then upstairs was two storey and I think they did ticking and boarders…

(LG) They didn’t have children.

(MG) They had one or two children but only one or two and then there was us downstairs well there wouldn’t be five of us then there would have only been three of us then at that time and but no children were there because I can remember, it’s a police story which some folk might want to shut their ears to and we were in the park which was just across the road and one policeman was walking along the road and somebody had the temerity to shout ‘Hey chisel chin!’ and chisel chin came after us and we ended up at the top of the loch and chisel chin had long given up.

(SG) So basically you had a happy childhood growing up in Dundee. What were your interests as a child?

(LG) Playing football I suppose that’s all.

(MG) Broke your arms…both arms at the same time. One arm and then the other?

(LG) That was growing up at that time. I was in second year at the Morgan I think.

(MG) How did you break the first one?

(LG) Fell off my bike going home at lunchtime…well the roads had been repaired and they had chuckage you know over the top and they were all loose so I’m cycling along and fell…got on my bike again and got home and had my dinner and had a look at my arm and it would have been my aunt maybe my Mother would have been there…that’s a longer story… but my Mother had been brought up by two maiden aunts, no one was a maiden aunt the other had married but the maiden aunt and the married girl lived in the same house and we as a family lived in the back land and my brother and I usually got our lunch in the front land because my Mother would have been working and my Father would have been working at the other end of the town. He was in the west end we were in the north end so we had lots of contact with the front land and I had shown my…my Mother could well have been there I can’t remember but I had arm like this a green stick fracture only bent so I had to go and get a plaster on this and about a fortnight later I was playing football with the laddies…

(MG) With a broken arm.

(LG) And then I went down on the other arm but I heard a crack so I had a collar and cuff bandage on this side…

(MG) Did you not have to go and find your Mother at the picture house?

(LG) Aye, that’s right my Mother worked in the Kinnaird at that time and I had gone down at tea time and said ‘oh’ and that was me up to the hospital collar and cuff bandage. Not very exciting.

(SG) So what about yourself, what kind of interests did you have as a child?

(MG) I can’t remember I must have done something. The only thing I remember when you said ‘bike’ was Dad was often off work with serious rheumatics I mean he just could not move and the doctor was due to come into him to see him one day and I was in the park with my bike and some horrible boys shouted bad words to me so I was hurling myself away…and when you came out of the park you are immediately on to this main road well ha ha main road compared to now is nothing but onto this so I had to chose to run up the pillar at the end of the park gate so of course the bike went up and I came down and then when the doctor came Dad was crippling about the house and he was cosseting me because I was sore here sore there but I don’t remember the outcome I don’t know, I don’t remember I got anything probably the doctor said, ‘stupid person’.

(Christine) But you spent a lot of your time looking after your brothers did you not?

(MG) I suppose I did but I don’t remember it was just something you did. If Mum wasn’t there then you just saw to them if they would allow you.

(Christine) And then there was the story about not being able to afford the doctor?

(MG) Oh yeah well that was 3s 6d. 3s 6d was a lot of money but I mean Dad was often off with rheumatics quite sore.

(SG) Can any of you remember the build up to war?

(MG) No.

(LG) No.

(Christine) Come on you can remember where you were when war was declared?

(LG) I can remember but that wasn’t the build up to the war. Not really I mean I was what…ten/eleven…eleven I mean there was the radio there was no television you didn’t get stuff thrown at you day by day by day…very difficult to remember now whether you remember Mr Chamberlin coming back actually because you didn’t see him on television. I’ve seen him umpteen times on television since. You might have seen him on the movie hall news…

(MG) Because you went to the pictures every week.

(LG) Because you went to the pictures every week with my uncle on my Mother’s aunties husband you know he wasn’t on our side of the family if you know what I mean, Taylor…Taylor,  James Taylor who came from Aberdeen. But yeah he took me to the Odeon well it was The Vogue initially when I was act school first it was a blacksmiths shed shop and then they knocked that down and they built the picture house. I don’t remember any build up to the war but I remember the day war was declared that was Chamberlin speaking, ‘Herr Hitler has not answered…’.

(Christine) What were you saying about where you were sitting or something you were telling me?

(LG) I was sitting on a wee stool with my foot on it and I pulled this, well not pulled this I had a bandage on it because I had been playing football the day before and the nail for one of the studs had gone into my heel you know so I was sitting there in my auntie Mary’s.

(SG) And you heard on the radio?

(LG) Heard on the radio that’s right.

(MG) I remember nothing.

(SG) Just a bit too young maybe?

(MG) Well you think you would remember something I had to be six or seven.

(Christine) Did you know the war was happening?

(MG) Not really.

(Christine) When did you first realise there was a war on?

(MG) I don’t know, I have no idea. I think probably…well I mean I must have been aware of it because we used to go to the Forest Park Cinema once in a blue moon.

(Christine) Do you remember your Dad going?

(MG) No.

(Christine) because he went and came back do you remember that?

(MG) No I don’t remember that. I don’t remember Dad going to the army but he was in the army because he was then kicked out of the army again because of his rheumatics but I don’t remember him going. I remember seeing a picture of him in his army uniform but no I don’t.

(SG) See a lot of people remember because of the Battle of Britain that’s sort of the first experience they have like seeing the enemy planes but like Dundee was relatively spared during the Battle of Britain?

(LG) We had nothing. One or two bombs…

(MG) We did make preparations in case we were bombed because we went…we had…we were a street level house with a kind of a cellar downstairs and part of the cellar was rigged up should we ever need to go into hiding from the Germans or anybody else.

(SG) Like an air raid shelter build yourselves underneath?

(Christine) And you also got sent to Old Portlethen?

(MG) Oh that’s right yes I was evacuated to here for our safety to Old Portlethen right down on the water last row of houses and the last row in and that was Granny Patterson who had a daughter Margaret who stayed in some of the houses before but that’s about all I can remember.

(SG) Did you have a happy time here or was it like you wanted to be back home?

(MG) I don’t know. I know that it wasn’t very long because by that time Dad had been sent from wherever he was…what’s the word…wherever he was working in the army…stationed that’s the word. When he was moved out to wherever he was he was moved to Edinburgh Castle because part of it was turned into a hospital.

(SG) That’s right it’s now Hospital Square in Edinburgh.

(MG) I have never confirmed it but that’s what I was told what I remember and he was there and Mum had to go one weekend and she was in the Jute Mill all week, Monday to Saturday, and one weekend she went to Edinburgh to visit him in the hospital and then came up here the other weekend and it couldn’t go on so it we were the ones that were moved because it was much easier but then I don’t remember him coming home from the hospital.

(SG) Ok so as I said with the Battle of Britain Dundee was largely spared there more attacks in Montrose because of the airfield there.

(LG) I think we probably had as far as I can remember about half a dozen bombs there was one in the rose fields…

(MG) I can remember…well I don’t remember, I remember the hearsay from it where Dad went to the front door our house was on the road to Lochee and Dad went to the front door because there was a little bit of commotion and later we heard that the bomb had been dropped several streets back there and this is just…nothing happened to us.

(SG) This was the rose fields street?

(MG) Yes.

(SG) I thought there was actually pictures of that house that was hit by the bomb, I’ll see if I can…

(LG) I can’t remember ever seeing it. There was also a bomb dropped outside our Science Masters’ house on the other side of the town. Why it was dropped there goodness only knows…We reckon he was targeted but they missed him…(Laughter) That’s not very nice but…there was a hole in the road right in the middle of the road outside his house…no names no flat door.

(SG) So was any of your family, any of your extended family in the armed forces during war?

(LG) My brother was Merchant Navy who got away in a sense by accident because he was serving his time as an engineer like my Father but he would only be about seventeen then and he was applying to get away to the Merchant Navy was too young to be called up obviously and one day telegram arrived saying, ‘report with full kit to Greenock’ and of course what’s full kit etcetera so my Mother obviously phoned the office the telegram had come from, this was Salvesen of Leith who in pre-war days had been a whaling company who discovered it was just a mistake Austin’s name and address had been lying and the telegram had been sent to him rather than Willy McDavershire or whoever it was it should have gone to. However, they invited him through to for an interview I remember the whole family going through to Leith and Austin going up for his interview and going off to the Merchant Navy just after that and he was torpedoed 1943, March 1943 the height of the Atlantic Convoy War.

(SG) Did he survive that?

(LG) Yeah.

(MG) He went on to be a captain of a BP tanker.

(LG) Went on to be Master Mariner.

(SG) What ship was he on?

(LG) Southern Princess which had been a factory ship for whaling.

(Christine) And I can’t remember where I found it at one point I was trying to find it just now but I Googled him at one point in time and a bit of information, and I think it was to do with the Southern Princess, says that he ran away but that’s nonsense.

(LG) No idea. He never spoke about it to my knowledge he was just torpedoed and picked up.

(Christine) It’s the bit of information that I found at some point in time that he ran away to join the Merchant Navy like ran away but that’s nonsense?

(LG) Oh no he worked in McLean’s, he worked in an office first of all a Jute office when he left school, he left Glamorgan he must have been about fifteen/sixteen he worked in a Jute office but he didn’t like that he wanted to be…he wanted to go the Merchant Navy and he went to McLean’s in Fairmuir to serve his time and that’s where he was when he was writing letters to get away and this thing from Salvesen came.

(Christine) Why did he want to go do you know? Why did he do that?

(LG) Well you know I mean my…another great uncle that’s the best I can put it, Carnegie was Merchant Seaman and when Austin was at school, Glamorgan, aged thirteen/fourteen that’s before the war obviously Carnegie used to take him away coasting. I can’t remember who he was with but Austin would go to Holland and France just coasting around and that obviously put him in touch with the sea and I suppose at thirteen/fourteen or whatever he just was attracted to the sea. I mean nobody else had any sea connections in the family.

(SG) What about yourself did any of your family serve in the armed forces?

(MG) As far as I know only two of Dads’ brothers served in the armed forces I don’t know which, one was army one might have been air force but I don’t know.

(SG) Did any of your family or friends join the home guard?

(LG) No.

(MG) No.

(LG) I had various cousins because my Father was of a large family well large now but not so large…there must have been nine of them brothers and sisters…I had various cousins…I am the youngest, I am the only one left to the best of my knowledge of that generation…I am definitely the only one left of that generation but various of these were called up in the army. One was…the one nearest to me age wise was prisoner of war when the Black Watch was taken at St-Valery…a lot of folk like that.

(SG) Yeah especially in the North East.

(MG) Who was that?

(LG) Jim. Jim and Hilda…I don’t know that you would have known them?

(MG) Think they stayed in Blairgowrie didn’t they?

(LG) No that was McRichie (sp?)

(MG) No Chick.

(LG) No Chick McRichie he married…oh I can’t remember…May Gordon that was Uncle Alex’s daughter.

(SG) So we’ve learnt you were a young age when war broke out. Was it a shock to the system I mean you obviously didn’t realise you were at war, the country was at war…

(Christine) That’s just my Mum, that’s my Mum in general! The world goes on around about her…totally oblivious.

(LG) No I can’t remember it being a shock at the age of eleven as I was. I wasn’t evacuated my Mum would let me go! ‘If you all go, we all go together!’ but they dropped the bombs at Aberdeen.

(SG) Yeah that’s right yeah. That’s what makes it bizarre that you were like ‘we’re from Dundee’ which was relatively lightly bombed through the Second World War…moved to Aberdeen which was the second most bombed city in Scotland.

(LG) Especially being down near the water.

(SG) In those days what was camaraderie like in the community? Obviously you would have friends who’s Fathers were away fighting or whatever. Was there any like community spirit more so than normal?

(LG) Difficult for a youngster to speak about community spirit amongst the adults because we wouldn’t know, we all played together. I wouldn’t say that anybody ran to their neighbours for a cup of sugar… I mean I have heard all these stories from.. I don’t remember anyone being in desperate need like that. It was never down to that level that I can remember. As I say you hear the…some tea or a cup of sugar or this or that…

(SG) Like rose tinted spectacles maybe…looking back?

(MG) We did get bananas. They didn’t come from local community. Mum had I think it was cousins and they were abroad in the war and they sent…and I can remember the cigar box, it looked like a cigar box to me and in it they had one or two or seven bananas in and they were all as black as coal! I don’t know…no it was a box that length I don’t remember size wise.

(Christine) Who worked at the docks and took stuff there?

(MG) That was granddad.

(LG) He was a stevedore.

(MG) He was a stevedore and he got some bits and pieces like…

(LG) Pomegranates…once in a blue moon…I mean who would grow a pomegranate during the war? That probably was after the war?

(MG) It might well have been.

(SG) So day to day living conditions…comfortable?

(LG) Yes.

(MG) Different to know.

(LG) Oh well obviously anybody who’s going to be watching this would know that.

(MG) One of the big things was having electric put in was it not? I couldn’t remember that even in Lochee Road so that was before 1945.

(LG) That’s right I remember my Mother fighting with a factor or something.

(MG) And the man Rosen came in…

(LG) Johnny Rosen on the Hilltown…he put our electric in Lochee and he put our electric in Clipping Road the other end of the town, Johnny Rosen and I remember my Mother having to or my Father but it would have been my Mother would have had to do it probably had to promise the landlord…you had to sign a line saying that if you left the house you wouldn’t take the wires with you! That’s true and probably heard it umpteen other places or you should have done that’s what folk had to do in those days. There was something on the wireless the other day…or was it on the wireless or was it here…that in this missive of light or whatever you call it you weren’t allowed to put out washing in your back garden…

(MG) It was on the wireless…no I think it was in the Saga magazine.

(LG) On a Sunday.

(Christine) You’re still not allowed to do that in Inveralochie! You’re looked upon!

(MG) You’re looked upon yes with disdain.

(LG) Well that’s a different matter this was in this let.

(SG) You weren’t allowed to hang washing out?

(LG) (MG) On a Sunday.

(SG) On a Sunday ok.

(LG) But this was on the wireless.

(MG) Look I think it was in a magazine I don’t think it was on the wireless I think it was in a magazine.

(LG) Last month’s Saga.

(MG) Someone had parked her caravan or something like that and restricted someone’s view and they wondered…I mean I’m just doing this from rusty memory…they wondered if they could cause this thing to be moved as it was a nuisance to them and said ‘blah blah blah blah blah’ and part of it was this business putting out clothes on a Sunday you were not allowed to do that but because of modern movements the caravan might been a different position to get at.

(SG) Bizarre. A typical day in your life. What were your schools like wherever’s you were at school?

(MG) Mr Murray and Mr Duncan I can remember them heady and the second and I can’t remember the teacher….Miss R…I can remember her, I can nearly draw her when I think about her well…

(Christine) What schools did you go to?

(MG) well some folk would say a bit of a hatchet but no she would…’I’m the boss I tell you what to do and you do it end of story’.

(Christine) That would be where she got her teaching abilities from then. Did you model yourself on her?

(MG) Miss Rutherford that was her.

(LG) That was Mitchell Street.

(MG) Yes Mitchell Street School yes which…

(SG) Mitchell Street School?

(MG) Mitchell Street yes which was on route from Lochee and in the some part of the war I don’t remember when we were not in Mitchell Street we were up Rankin Street in what was a clinic eventually but that was where we went for school.

(SG) They actually moved the school?

(MG) But I don’t remember its story. I don’t remember how many of us were moved because the school building was yon size was biggish…

(LG) Must have moved part of it nearer…

(MG) They must have moved a bit of it but I can remember Rankin Street as part of the school at sometime during the war.

(SG) Were you given gas masks?

(MG) Oh yes we had gas masks and the baby got a baby gas mask.

(SG) And what about yourself what school did you go to?

(LG) Butterburn School, Strathmore Gardens, Strathmartine Road rather and my first teacher was Miss Keel and my second teacher was Miss Cook and I think there was a Miss Davidson and there was a Miss Speed who died in her thirties. She lived in Seafield Road down in…off the middle of Perth Road. Only male teacher apart from the head teacher was a Mr Murray and the head teacher was Mr Brown…perfectly happy. I used to run home dinner time up Roberts Road trying to catch up my great uncle, my aunts husband wouldn’t be a great uncle would it? Not sorry my Mother’s aunt so it was great uncle…my Mother’s aunts husband the one who came from Aberdeen and he worked there at Butterburn School and he got off at dinner time at 12 o’clock and he was halfway home for his broth and I got out at 10 past 12 or something and everyday tried to catch him up. I never managed it. I think I never realised I would never do it and got home everyday had my dinner and went back to school and was perfectly happy. I was able for school therefore I had no qualms…two of the laddies were poorish souls not mentally but…

(MG) Intellectually.

(LG) Intellectually you know. I can remember one or two of them by name. I remember one lad he was killed, Robert Love, killed by a bus in Strathmartine Road just along the road from the school. Can see him…nice lad.

(Christine) Canne be much chance of getting killed by a bus at that point in time eh? Pretty unlucky.

(SG) So can you remember any particularly funny incidents from your childhood? I think you’ve pretty much covered your dolls getting smashed and cycling up the wall!

(MG) That’s the one that comes to mind the doll!

(Christine) You dropped your brother at the front steps out the pram.

(LG) No that was…

(MG) That was hurtling up the road down at the Black…not Blacks Croft the other side of town The Burn down The Burn and they were heading back up…

(LG) The Burn was Scourin Burn which is now called Brook Street.

(MG) Brook Street that’s right.

(LG) So the Burn and the Brook right but the Scourin Burn would have been where folk in the old old old days went to do washing and things like that you know.

(MG) I had been given charge of the child whether I’d been sent messages as one was…I was sent messages because Mum didn’t have time to do family, do house, do work and do shopping as well so quite often I was sent shopping and I was sent complete with a pram and this infant child and I mean he was wee…he wasn’t a sitting up child.

(Christine) Was this Kenny or Stan?

(MG) Kenny…Kenny and I was pushing a pram and then running after it and catching it. I think it hit a chucking and the whole thing…

(LG) I did almost the same thing in Lochee funnily enough. My Mother had one younger sister, Laura or Laurie and Laura had a son Lawrence.

(Christine) Not of Arabia.

(LG) And my Mother and I used to go on a Tuesday afternoon to Laura’s for tea and Laura had a thing for keeping butter soft…she was five years younger than my Mother so things had changed…you had this butter cover and you poured hot water in the top bit and put it on top of the butter plate and it kept the butter soft. She must have got it for a wedding present. Anyhow, this Tuesday we had gone for a walk through Lochee for some reason or other and there was this tramway depot which had obviously cairns there was no such thing as wee slopes for prams and things and I’m hurling this not ..Laura was quite posh and she had a thing like Silver Cross…she’s gone, her husband’s gone, Lawrence is gone and I’m pushing this thing as I say like a Silver Cross up and we’re coming to the tramway depot and of course the first two wheels gone down and I’m hanging on like this and everybody’s chasing behind so that Lawrence doesn’t fall out on his head! Which is of no consequence other than if she had a pram count, I had a pram count too!

(SG) Fantastic! So where were you when the war ended? Obviously it’s six years on.

(MG) I must have been in the same place but I don’t remember that.

(Christine) That’s a surprise!

 (MG) Because at the end of the war we had a neighbour who came from Glasgow and for some reason or other they had two girls who came from Hungary, they had adopted and they had a son of their own, maybe they had other family I don’t remember it and they hide off to Luton. I don’t know why my Mum and Dad were persuaded that we should go to Luton.

(LG) Emigrate for a better life.

(MG) But this house in Luton there was the two whatever they were called, the Mum and Dad, and the two girls and the boy who was sort of eightish and in the same house which was an up and down stairs not, not big were my Mum and Dad and two brothers and me. So how did we all get into this house?

(SG) Where was this, in Luton? Just outside London?

(MG) 7 Devon Road, Luton…yes and we were there but that was the very, very…I think the war had finished and we went down on the January after…

(SG) So ’46

(MG) And we were there for six months…ish and the said brother who was toppled out of the pram years before he took lumps on his legs so Mum took him to the doctor and the doctor said, ‘The best thing you can do is take that child home and by home I don’t mean Devon Road I mean in Scotland, take him home because he will be ill if you don’t.’ Whether this is true or false the story was the children couldn’t understand his speech and he couldn’t understand the English twang and he worried about it. Well the mind boggles now if you say Ken worried about that but that’s what the doctor said and Mum took him home back to Dundee and then by the end of June/July, I think July the end of July, we were all back home in Dundee staying with Granny and the house was one living room one bedroom and there was Granny and GrandDad, Mum and Dad and me and two brothers.

(SG) All thanks to the doctor!

(Christine) That’s one way of getting rid of the Scots out of England.

(LG) And there were a few pomegranates in that house as well.

(MG) But once he came home he went to a…a thing on the Sidlaw Hills, Auchterhouse I think was a sanatorium in the Auchterhouse and he was there for some shortish time and he just recovered there was no problem so the doctor must have been right he was harassed and couldn’t cope with their language and they couldn’t cope with his language and…weird.

(Christine) Where were you when the war ended?

(LG) When the war ended we had moved from Fairley Place to a council house in Kerrsview, I’m not telling you how we got that council house.

(Christine) Come on tell us how you got that council house.

(LG) Well my Mother had been applying for a house or had applied for a house well it was over twenty years and because well Austin was away by this time…well it must have been about twenty years let’s say and nothing ever came of it then now when she was working in the Kinnaird Picture House the under manager who was an elderly man was speaking to a man coming out of the pictures and this had been a man who had worked in a factors office, I’m not saying he was a city factor but he must have had a good job because my Mother then spoke to the under manager of the picture house and said, ‘That was so and so wasn’t it?’ So the upshot was she had to go down to see about why she hadn’t heard…they had a fire in the office you know the story. They had had a fire in the office and our records had been burned this had happened some three weeks ago…lost the records…anyway we were sitting in our own house I remember having some lunch one day or dinner…was dinnertime anyhow if I’d of said we were having dinner he might have thought it was 7 o’clock at night…we were having our dinner one day and as they say a knock come to the door and this was a girl about I don’t know twelve or thirteen or fourteen maybe and my Mother says, ‘If you…’ to the effect of, ‘If you want the house you will have to come down and see it.’ This was the first we heard of it so we ended up with a council house not very far away, five minutes walk away in Kerrsview  by that time no not by that time after that I left school. I left school early, in a sense stupidly but not because I’d had this eye trouble since I was at Butterburn in fifth year, highers year, I was in hospital or was it…a forestry camp…’DOIING’ doing our war effort during our holidays with the school at the same Auchterhouse funnily enough and the eye flared up again and I was in hospital until, I don’t know, October or something and I was adamant I wasn’t going back to school because I wasn’t going to do anything in the highers and what was I going do? Well I was sent down for an interview to the couriers and nothing came of that never heard anything about it. I was sent for an interview to Smedley’s you know Smedley’s…

(MG) Tinned peas.

(LG) Tinned peas which who had a factory in (???) Road funnily enough other end of (???) where I had lived and I was told to send my Father up to more or less sign for this job. This was done in the office obviously but on the way to the office to see this man who was English I can remember and you went through the factory and water and leaves and stuff lying everywhere so I said to my Father to go up but I didn’t want the job and that was the end of that but the only thing I had an inkling about doing was baking because for years the maiden Aunt of these two Aunts used to take me up to see friends in Forfar who were bakers. He was a baker his brother owned the shop in Forfar and this man would take me to the bake house on a Sunday when my Auntie was up visiting and see him preparing for Monday morning or late Sunday night  early Monday morning and I don’t know stupidly I had an inkling to go to the bakery so I ended up in Keiller’s as well which was about half a mile from where I lived in Kerrsview halfway between the house and the school was Keiller’s bake house so I ended up there until I was called up.

(SG) What year would that have been?

(LG) Well I was called up at the end of ’45 so that would have been ’43 roughly, ’42/’43, called up after I had done maybe a couple of years, two and a half years, served at the time.

(SG) So when you were called up was the war actually finished?

(LG) Yes, I was called up, well I got my letter it must have been the November or so…it’s all there if you want to see them, imagine keeping all that rubbish. They must have been November or so when you went for your medical maybe October/November and I got a calling up end of December. I had to report on the 5th February ’46 so called up at the end of 1945 and my two pals one was in the marines the other was in the Scot’s Guards they were home on New Year’s Eve and they came to the station on the Sunday night to see me off.

(SG) How many years did you serve for?

(LG) Just two and a half. Yes it was before National Service.

(Christine) What did they make you do? What’s the story about what you ended up doing?

(LG) Well I mean when I went you had an interview in Dundee and my wife said, ‘Oh baker you will be a cook.’ Well I mean what did I know if they wanted me to be a cook I’ll be a cook and then when you were actually called up you had another interview and this man said, it was a redundant air crew being the end of the war there were air crew everywhere sergeants, flight sergeants, pilot officers…all looking for jobs you know so this lad was I can’t remember if he whether he was a flying office or a flight lieutenant but he was an office anyhow and he had a wee card table desk thing and you had to report there and he said, ‘Cook? You’re not want to be a cook are you?’ I says, ‘Well what do I know about it! What say have I got?!’ He says, ‘Oh a cook you’ll be up all hours of the morning and the night and things. I’ll put you down for an electrician.’

(Christine) For the one that’s blind in one eye.

(LG) Well I wasn’t as blind in one eye at that time…put me down for an electrician I thought fair enough I’ll be an electrician and then it must have been a couple of days later I was called back again and he says, ‘Oh they reckon with your bad eye you might be colour blind or something and get all the wires mixed up so we will put you down as radio.’

(Christine) He has got great ones for cutting half the wrong wires when he’s trying to wire plugs.

(LG) So I ended up in the radio section. RTO, Radio…I’ve forgotten…Radio…

(Christine) Transmission Officer?

(LG) Well I wasn’t an officer.

(Christine) But you went to India?

(LG) Yes, aye. I’ve got it in a book here where I went because this is my story of being in the RAF. To me it was a holiday nothing more or less and it was a holiday in the sense that I was never in a camp more than a couple of months at a time you know you just went from here to there. I went to the bother of writing it down at one time and I canne read it now.

(SG) So that would have been ’46/’47? Just before it kicked off in India?

(LG) Yeah. These are the places I had visited from the RAF camps.

(SG) I see you have been to Southampton, Bombay, Peshawar,  Delhi, Agra, Lahore, Karachi and then you end up in Hull.

(LG) Luffenham.

(Christine) Were you in India at Partition or were you home by that time?

(LG) Oh no I was in India during Partition. I landed in India by the end of March 1947 and I was home beginning of December 1947. Nine months, it was just a holiday and England was a holiday seeing different places.

(SG) There was a lot of ex service men as you say from the end of the war trying to find work as well after they had been de mobbed. Back to the…do you remember actually where you were…do you remember hearing about the war ending? How did you hear about it?

(LG) 1945 well I would have been at home obviously.

(SG) Were there street parties or anything like that in Dundee?

(LG) You were in…

(MG) I’m not very sure of dates but I think there was some kind of celebration in London and we were at that time in Luton because I can remember Buckingham Palace was there and we were there. Within walking I mean when I mean walking distance I mean crossing the road kind of distance but then there were hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of others round about but certainly I remember being in London for that.

(Christine) When was that? Was that VE day or something?

(SG) VJ Day maybe?

(MG) I don’t know. I don’t think we went down to London until I think December ’45 or January ’46 and then we were home six months later….

(LG) The war was over by then.

(Christine) The war was finished by then.

(MG) Well we didn’t go from Dundee to London.

(LG) You’re lucky to get from Dundee to Lochee!

(Christine) Can you not remember Dad?

(LG) I can’t remember where I was…no well I was at home.

(Christine) Can you remember anything round about you at the time? Was there a reaction? Did anybody care?

(LG) I suppose everybody was just that fed up with the war that they were just…

(MG) There were street parties I remember them. That would be a kind of community thing that sort of edged out a wee bit.

(Christine) What was the name of the street?

(LG) Bernard Street

(MG) Bernard Street. Bernard Street was famous for its after the war parties.

(LG) Oh aye Bernard Street was just a cul-de-sac of tenement houses which were poorer than we were I would have said.

(MG) Not poorer than we were because we weren’t in a tenement.

(LG) It was west end of Dundee but not the west end…the working west end.

(MG) But I have to say at our house the cooker was there and the toilet was there. It was a door into the toilet and if we are talking of levels of living well I don’t think they would let it go now.

(LG) But no Bernard Street had parties…I don’t know if there is a Bernard Street now I mean we will have photographs in the house of old Dundee and Bernard Street and flags everywhere. Where the folk got the pennies to buy the flags goodness only knows but the same flags were going up any time anything happened. Bernard street was just famous for that but other than that…

(SG) So it just passed you by?

(LG) Well I would say thank God that’s passed.

(SG) Do you have any words of wisdom to offer people of today? I like closing with this!

(LG) No.

(SG) None at all?!

(LG) Well words of wisdom I can remember…one of the things I remember about India, well there was lots you went to the Taj Mahal and had a photograph taken outside the Taj Mahal and that sort of thing well an awful lot of folk wouldn’t have seen the Taj Mahal you know when I saw it in 1947 and as Christine says there was Partition and being in the air force you saw airplanes landing and by that time I was in what was Pakistan. I was in India at the time of Partition and then we were moved up to Pakistan and I was in Karachi and in Karachi you saw folk coming off the airplanes you know the Muslims coming back to Pakistan and largely it was Dakota’s because Dakota’s were the transport plane of the time and all the seats were taken out and mattresses were put in and the folk were packed into those things to get home. The one thing I remember about Karachi was going to buy a shirt, now that’s interesting isn’t it, I was going to buy a white shirt for civvy. Khaki shorts and a white shirt and I went to this place in Karachi and i’ve forgotten he was either ‘Cheap John’ or ‘Honest John’ was above the shop. I would have suggested ‘Cheap John’ because they would have taken cheap as being inferior as we speak about ‘Well that’s cheap’ you know. Well I went into the shop and I must have been paid the day before or something and whatever the shirt cost I had handed over a ten rupee note and got change and went out, there was another lad with me I don’t remember who he was, when we went out and we were walking along the road and this young lad came charging after us and handed me a ten chip note there must have been two stuck together. He gave me this one and I said, ‘Thank you very much’ and I mean I was what eighteen at the time and you think it’s just cheaper isn’t it. I mean how much wage is that to him…weeks and weeks.

(SG) And he was honest.

(Christine) So maybe it was ‘Honest John’. India is what made my Dad become a minister and I never knew that until last week, the week before because I had never asked him why he became a minister and he had gone to India and seen all these people who needed help and he came home and he went back to the bacon and he sat there thinking what am I doing, doing this?

(LG) And I decided I cannot be a minister. No I cannot be a minister. I’ve got a teaching.

(Christine) Because he wanted to help people.

(LG)  They were needing teachers. I’m wasting my time here getting up at 2 o’clock in the morning and going in at 12 o’clock at night on a Friday etcetera,  etcetera, etcetera. I had been brought up at Sunday School…

(Christine) And they met through the BB. The Life Boys didn’t you that’s how you met through The Life Boys?

(LG) I remember going out of the picture house one evening, The Regent, the top of the Hilltown. The other end of  Strathmartine Road  from The Vogue, The Odeon, I came out of The Regent top of the Hilltown and there’s Mains Road and Provost Road and this way there was Strathmartine Road and Butterburn School and then Caird Avenue and they meet at the top of Provost Road so you come out and you either wait for a bus or walk home so we just started walking. We can go that way or we can go that way and this is the first house of the picture so it’s half past eight and I decide I’ll go Strathmartine Road and I go along Strathmartine Road and I meet a girl with a Life Boy uniform. A girl who was brought up beside me in Fairly Place the old land before the war and she says, ‘Oh you’re the very person I want to see, would you like to become a Life Boy Leader?’ Well I’d grown up in the Life Boys. Didn’t grow up in the BB because the BB…my age was eleven going on to twelve where I would be going to the BB. Two of the BB officers were called up at the beginning of the war and the BB closed down…the Boys Brigade closed down because the Kirche I went to was like me was in the country at that time was in the country right and there were no…well there were gas lamps every half mile or something so the evening things that youth were stopped. You still went to the Life Boys but it was on a Saturday afternoon and this girl said to me, ‘Would you like to be a Life Boy leader? We need a man…’ because it was one girl and me and one girl that played the piano, ‘And we need a man in the Life Boys’, so I joined the Life Boys and just rolls on from there. I was not going to be a minister, I’ll go teaching you see but I had to get to university so I had to do what do you call it pre elevens?

(MG) Pre elevens.

(LG) Well it was entry anyhow. I had to get highers and when I started I was going to be teaching I thought, ‘Ach in for a penny in for a pound’ you know you can just do ministry but at that time Mabel was in my life.  Do you remember when I said I was going to do ministry? Anyhow that was it. Started off…

(Christine) Would you like to get married to a minister or a teacher?

(LG) It did start off…

(MG) That was a question!

(LG) But I remember not saying to the lad, ‘Oh here’s a chip, here’s a rupee.’

(Christine) Something back.

(LG) I think of him often.

(Christine) I’m sure he’s fine if he’s still alive.

(LG) I remember I went to another camp and you had Berers you know somebody who cleaned your boots and made your bed and put up your mosquito net…it doesn’t bare thinking about. I remember arriving at this camp and I was on my own and we had get a billet and there were about sixteen beds…a dozen or sixteen depending on the billet…a dozen or sixteen and this lad came in and was looking for a job as my barer for which he got 1 and 6 rupee a week you know and he says, ‘Christian Saab, me Christian.’ And I remember thinking it didn’t make any difference to me if he was Christian or Muslim you know but it meant something to him and presumably he thought it meant something to me that he was Christian. He got the job but when you think about what these blokes did…did your washing either took it down to the…to the wash house place and went back and collected it, brushed your boots, made your bed, oh Christ some lads wouldn’t even wash their dishes after them you know if they got something in the hut. However…

(Christine) That’s not words of wisdom for the next generation.

(MG) Well some people have not learned from it have they.

(Christine) They don’t know history. They don’t care. They don’t know why things happened. Why people did things.

(MG) I care when I just sit there the other night and watched that Syria thing on, two nights of Syria how it can happen is beyond me. On the other hand I’m not in Syria involved in this side or that side. It’s different when you are there. From the outsider you don’t understand how people don’t learn from history.

(Christine) Power and money probably.

(SG) Indeed. That’s a good place to stop I think. Thank you very much.


Transcribed by Zoe Booton 7/10/18


Author: shane

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