Boyhood Memories

I was only nine years old when war broke out and I think it seemed that a great adventure lay ahead. While not appreciating all the international politicking, I do remember hearing Chamberlain`s declaration of War on our Cossar radio, the accumulator of which required regular charging at the garage.

We lived at 81 High Street, better known as the Monifieth Police Station. This was a desperate place to bring up a family, mainly due to the lack of privacy. Both of the bedroom windows were within scrutiny of everyone visiting the office, as was our kitchen and backdoor. The kicking of a ball against the wall was severely discouraged. It was also assumed that the sergeant`s sons were `paragons of virtue`.

As the country geared up for war, so the duties of the police increased dramatically and the building through the roof of a 10 / 12 foot platform to house an air raid siren, while interesting ensured we did hear the warnings.

An air raid warning `yellow` was a standby message and merited a yellow light on the panel, red signalled approaching danger, when the siren wailing was motivated. Green the `all clear` was set off a continuous blast indicating the danger was over.

In the event of total electricity failure large coloured rockets were kept in our garden shed, they were to be fired in the absence of the siren.

Extra police called specials were engaged to support the regular force, contributing such time as other work allowed. The two most remembered police names of my generation were John Duncan or Death and Colin Longmuir.

John Duncan was a very ambitious and fit man, certainly earning his nick name. During his dayshift duty, he walked his beat twice rather than the required once. He wore out his boots at twice the rate of his colleagues to the delight of Will Kinnear, the local cobbler. At one time posters were displayed on bill- boards showing a wrecked bicycle under a motor car, with a slogan “Keep Death off the road”. This was quickly amended to read “and Longmuir too”. To the relief of many Death joined the RAF.

A benefit of living at 81 High Street and there were not many, was the large garden, which was very steep but very productive.

Four large Victoria plum trees occupied a rectangular area, their fruit was delicious. Perhaps the reason for their deep red colour and fine flavour had something to do with this ground being used as a dogs graveyard.

Strays were kept in the kennels in our back garden for, I think, a week, when they were shot and buried beneath the plum trees.

It was not unknown for the Dundee City Police to drop off their strays at the boundary and chase them in the direction of Monifieth. One stray a Labrador was thought to be a good dog and avoided the plum tree cemetery for a few weeks , when it became a favourite of the policemen and our family alike. However, an Army Officer from Buddon, at the office on business took it away with him to War.

The front of the building was separated from the pavement by a wall, which carried railings and the view from our windows suggested we were the ones behind bars. However, the call for scrap metal to be converted into arms came and there went the railings. To this end the Boy Scouts cart was mobilised and we lads went from door to door collecting all manner of pots, pans, in fact anything that looked like it had some metal content. We really felt we were contributing something to the war effort.

Such food scraps as there were, also were collected for feeding to the pigs, which were housed in pens at the top of Ramsay Street.

Some may remember `Hill 60`. If not, this was a largish sand hill reached by turning left at the tunnel on the `Sleeper Roadie`, directly in front of the Panmure Hotel. Early blast defences of entries, closes and some large windows were filled with sand filled bags. Volunteers mustered at Hill 60 , to fill these sand bags , age being no barrier, along with our elders we helped fill up bags considerably reducing the size of the hill. Bobby Dick, son of the builder of that name, driving the firm`s lorry, transported the filled bags to places where they were required. His high speed driving led him to the RAF, sadly he was lost in action, an early Monifieth war casualty. At this time I understand Dundee jute mills were producing a million bags for sand each week.

Buddon Camp was now a very busy training ground, with among the more memorable, was a troop of Indian Cavalry, complete with Turbans. It seemed that many of them sported large moustaches and beards. They lived under canvas at this time. The shooting butts were extensively used resulting in the spent bullets being recovered from the sand in front of the stone wall. They made excellent ammunition for our catapults but sad to say this soon became out of bounds to us. This did not keep us lads from a large section of the beach, where we watched Swordfish aircraft practice bombing a triangular target anchored offshore.

Will the `butter boat` ever be forgotten by all who lived near the Tay estuary?

A cargo vessel carrying butter, cheese and tins of ham, struck a mine near the `bar`. Anyone who could walk was on the beach hoping to find something to augment their food rations. Shades of “Whisky Galore”.

A Uboat was also mined in the same area and is now a designated war grave. This was about the time Dundee also suffered some bomb damage, which included several homes in Rosefield Street.

Several years later I was strongly attracted to a young lady, who lived next door to the bombed area. She is now my wife of over fifty years.

Milton Mill was converted into an army barracks. The troops held boxing matches to which members of the public were invited. Sadly, the mill was hit by a stray bomb from a German plane lightening it`s load on the way home, killing several soldiers.

Ashludie was converted to a Military Hospital where quite a number of local ladies served as nurses and domestic staff. Men in military hospital `blues` became a familiar sight in the village.

After a hard shift the walk home in the `black out ` could not have been a pleasant thought for these ladies, who looked forward to nights when the moon was full.

Both foundries were converted to war production and it was common to see the locals, of all ages, watching the shipments of bomb casings also nose caps for planes leaving from the goods outward door , at the bottom of Station Road. On the corner of Station Road and South Street was a water reservoir for use should the foundry be bombed or on fire. It is interesting that despite houses having been built all around this area some time ago, this corner has only recently had two homes built on the reservoir site.

Not all injuries were caused through direct enemy action. One local lady carried a hole in her neck, where molten metal splashed on her, when working in the foundry. Sadly she died very recently. As many workers travelled to work in the foundries as there were residents of Monifieth.

The Courier published names and pictures of casualties, events such as Dunkirk received massive publicity with more bad news than good. The blitzing of Clydebank brought the war nearer to home. Even when the tide turned in our favour casualty figures remained high.

Perhaps fortunately television was not available then.

Rationing was introduced to ensure a fair allocation of food for all, which despite the shortages, the health of the country improved. The weekly ration varied with on average 4oz.bacon/ham,

4oz. sugar, 2oz. butter, 2oz. tea, 1oz. cheese, 2oz. jam, with meat when available. Fortunately at this time potatoes were not rationed.

A Junkers bomber had been hit by anti-aircraft fire, subsequently it crashed in woodland above Cunmont farm. That week-end the gang made it`s way to the crash site in search of treasure, particularly perspex from the windshield and gun turrets. This was much sought after for the manufacture of rings etc, in the foundry. The bulk of the plane had been removed by the time of our arrival leaving lots of small pieces of debris for inspection. Looking upwards to a burned tree, I spotted a glove in the joint of a branch and the trunk. I was determined to have it. Slowly I climbed the scorched, sooty tree to pull at the glove. It resisted but eventually came away, complete with the late owner`s hand. My joy was short lived ,as it was confiscated by RAF personnel.

Around this time reporting of nightly blitzing of English cities made horrendous reading with Londoners living in the Underground stations suffering badly as did the people of Coventry. Continuous nightly attacks ,in particular when the Cathedral was bombed resulting in around one hundred and fifty people being buried in a common grave. Such reports made us wonder about the effect of sticky tape criss crossed over the glass of our windows. Those with homes having `upstairs` , sheltered under the stair during air raids. We moved next door and into a cell, this having a concrete roof. There were public air raid shelters, a few homes having had Anderson shelters dug into their gardens. Recently I visited one in a garden in Princes Street.

A radio feature was `Music while you work`, which was broadcast from factories up and down the country. This lent cheer to workers who were perhaps doing monotonous repetitive work.

Vera Lynn was a national celebrity, most probably best known for her “We`ll meet again”.

Chalked messages on bomb shells and tanks all wishing Hitler a short life, were frequently shown in newspapers and on posters.

Posters were very popular and varied in style & ,content, for example `Dig for Victory`, `Join the Land Army`, `Be on your Guard` `Your duty is now work“. As goods in the shops diminished such posters were used to cover windows in place of displays.

Lord Woolton, as Minister of Food, was a popular target of the peoples frustrations, with scant rations, the following ditty expresses this — “ Those who have the will to win.

Cook potatoes in their skin

Knowing that the sight of peelings,

Deeply hurts Lord Woolton`s feelings.

Many Polish soldiers were billeted in the area making themselves very popular with the ladies, with several remaining in the district after the war. One interesting tale is told of the Victory Parade in which Polish forces were not to take part, because of a deal between Churchill and Stalin, over the post war occupation of Poland. When news of this reached the RAF they refused to participate in the fly past unless the Poles were present.

At the event a Polish Squadron took centre place in the flypast.

17000 Polish servicemen were lost fighting with our forces.

One local man was shattered when called up to the mines to become a miner in a Fife coal pit. On weekends off duty, then when released from service he suffered much abuse from people with `loved ones` in the forces, who felt that he was a draft dodger.

The abuse lasted for a long time, creating an interesting thought,

`There were not too many volunteers for the pits`

Gas masks were provided for all, when for a time these had to be carried on your person with you everywhere. The idea of putting a baby into the infant style mask must have given parents nightmares.

As the war drew to a close, service men and women returned to their families, sadly many did not. I remember a widowed lady who was overjoyed on hearing that her son Billy was on his way home from the Far East. Sadly after a few days at home , he was confined to bed , dying shortly after.

Her happiness was short lived.

Not all heroes were in uniform. Pre war Monifieth had a thriving pigeon fanciers club. As the air raids over Germany increased the Royal Air Force appealed for homing pigeons. Quite a few birds left the village for war service and flew back to Britain with messages from air crews. Among the lofts who donated birds was Bob Sturrock, from the Downs, who subsequently received certificates of thanks from both the Dutch and British governments

A recent TV programme recognised a bird from Broughty Ferry, which was awarded the Dicken Medal.

As in most communities there were several characters and worthies. In Monifieth these included the Heilandman Farquhar McRae, who freely gave of his services as a piper.

The local postie Farquhar, who on a Saturday night could be seen in full highland dress, along the street , to collect his Sporting Post.

Jock the Tink who lived in a shelter down the `Hawfin Roadie`.

Jock would help out in any rough work situation.

Jimmy the Pud, who scoured the golf course for golf balls to resale.

Will Rew who kept a rowing boat in the gas works yard. Will pulled this heavy craft down to the water to fish. His knowledge of the river Tay and it`s currents was legendary. He was often called upon to advise where a body lost in the river would turn up. Mrs Broon, who lived in Tay Street and in the company of friends every Saturday night entertained passengers on the last bus home from Dundee, by singing requests.

On leaving school, I was employed by Monifieth Town Council. One of my duties being to read gas meters. Two people were required, when emptying the pre payment meters. I carried a small sack for the pennies, also a smaller linen sack for the shillings .A lady colleague carried the paper work. As I counted the money she calculated whether there was a balance in the customers favour, when a refund was made.

Mrs Brown was recognised `Teahouse` and having finished my tea I was asked to leave and come back in ten minutes. I did this , then we carried on with our work. It was some time later I discovered Mrs Brown `read ` the tea leaves. Obviously she did not want me to hear what romance was in store for my work mate.

Shortly after this experience a brown envelope containing an OHMS letter arrived for me. The contents, was an offer of work in the Royal Navy for two years. It also promised lodgings, clothing and food an offer I could not refuse.

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