The Story of a House, part 5

After the war, a family called Campbell made their home at 8 Kersland Street. All I know about them (from the electoral register) are their names – James, Catherine, Hugh, Mary, Jane. So, possibly a mother and father and at least three children old enough to vote? They stayed a good long time, from 1947 all through the 1950’s, until, in 1960, the house was bought by William and Fay Darling. And this, dear reader, is a very significant moment!

If you have been following this story you may have noticed that up until this point all the residents of 8 Kersland Street have been tenants. It turns out (now that I’ve procured a copy of the historic title deeds from the Land Registry) that through all these long years the landlords, the owners of the property, were named Blackie and were in fact members of the famous Glasgow publishing firm, Blackie and Son. The firm ceased business in 1991, but you may be familiar with some of the iconic childrens’ books they published, including Cecily May Barker’s Flower Fairies books.

flower fairies

The Blackie we are interested in is John Blackie Jnr, whose father – John Snr – founded Blackie’s in 1809. He had originally been in business as a weaver, but was persuaded that money could be made by selling sizeable books in monthly or quarterly instalments, by subscription. Money could indeed be made and the enterprise developed and prospered for another 180-odd years.

Blackie_John jnr

John Junior entered the business with his father and from 1831 the firm became known as Blackie and Son . But John’s sphere of influence would grow wider when in 1857 he was elected to the Glasgow City Council and in 1863 became Lord Provost and served a term in that position. He proposed the City Improvement Scheme, a major plan to improve the quality of life in the poorer areas and was also involved in bringing water to the city from Loch Katrine.

The 1861 census shows John and his wife Agnes living at Lilybank House, Hillhead with their three young sons, John, William and Albert. His profession is given as “Publisher employing 20 men and boys”, a proud declaration one feels, and by this time he would have also been involved in city politics. But… Lilybank House…?

Lilybank House was built sometime around 1830 for the merchant Robert Allen. This would have been quite early in the evolution of the suburb of Hillhead, when James Gibson was selling off plots of land for development as villas and terraces. When John Blackie took on the tenancy in 1857, Lilybank House was a small Georgian villa with a large walled garden and greenhouses.  Once he actually purchased it in 1864, he commissioned architect Alexander “Greek” Thomson to add a new wing to the south end and relocate the entrance. During his term as Provost, Blackie had the satisfaction of entertaining both William Gladstone and young Prince Alfred, son of Queen Victoria, at his newly enhanced residence.

Lilybank_House_1
Lilybank House has undergone various additions and alterations over the years. In 1894 it was converted to a Hall of Residence for women attending Queen Margaret College, known as Queen Margaret Hall. It was taken over by Glasgow University in 1924 and after it ceased to be a hall of residence in 1966, it has been used to house various departments of the University. It has been the subject of further refurbishment and conservation work and is now part of the Thompson Heritage Trail.

Lilybank House is of particular interest to us because it is situated in Bute Gardens, which is more or less a continuation of the other end of Kersland Street from number 8. So James Blackie Jnr would have been ideally placed to witness the streets of Hillhead emerge and grow before his very eyes, indeed it’s not unlikely that he and James Gibson would have been well acquainted with each other. Which probably explains why in 1871 Blackie purchased a plot measuring 738 and four ninths square yards of ground on the West Side of Kersland Street and, I think, other plots which I can’t identify.

upstairs

Did John Blackie then take a daily stroll down Kersland Street to monitor the progress of the construction which was growing into the 4-storey tenement building which became numbers 8 and 10 Kersland Street (for he was the owner of both addresses). I’d like to think he did, it’s what I would have done, wouldn’t you?

But John did not survive long to live to appreciate his investment. His health had been undermined due to overstrain during the years of his Provostship and he finally succumbed to a sharp attack of pleurisy on February 12th, 1873, in his 68th year. John Senior outlived his son and he died the following year at the grand old age of 91.

John Jnr’s widow Agnes moved out of Lilybank House and took up residence nearby at 6 Wilson Street, now known as Oakfield Avenue, and only four streets away from Kersland Street. In her household were her coachman and two female servants, so her “private means”, including the rental from numbers 8 and 10 and possibly other properties, seems to have left her comfortably off. It tickles me to think that Agnes Blackie and her tenant Madame Stewart might have actually known each other. But I’m probably being fanciful – presumably a woman of property and a tenant would have moved in different social circles, especially as all the actual renting out and collecting moneys and property management would have been done by an agent. It’s not impossible though, is it?

Inkedhillhead 1860
This 1860 map neatly illustrates the proximity of the site of 8 Kersland Street (#1) to Lilybank House (#2), Hillhead House (#3) and 6 Wilson Street (#4).
hillhead 1894
By 1894 the whole area has been transformed, and Hillhead House is no longer there, having been demolished in 1878.

On the death of Agnes in 1887, the Kersland Street properties were passed on to William Gourlie Blackie, John and Agnes’s middle son. One gets a feeling that after the death of his father in 1873, life hadn’t been particularly easy for William. He had married Katherine Rankin in 1875 and their son William R was born in London the following year. Two daughters, Agnes Mary and Ruby Katherine, came along over the next couple of years, both born in Kirkcudbrightshire, and then it’s back to London where another son, John Herndon was born in 1880. William was only 21 when his first child was born – could it be that he left Glasgow under a cloud? Why didn’t he join the family firm? Of course it could be that he just wanted to strike out on his own…

The 1881 census shows William to be an “unemployed printer” living in Clapham with his wife and four small children. Very sadly, they lost the youngest, John, the following year when he was only 2 years old. We find the family still in London 10 years later and William is now working in the publishing industry. There are clues which put the family in Canada in 1901 – indeed Blackie’s had an office there, so perhaps William did after all come to hold down a position with the family firm. But whatever dreams took William and Katherine to Canada, they didn’t last, for the next we hear is the report of William’s death in 1905 at Ballantrae in Ayrshire, at the age of only 51.

Katherine and her daughters then seem to have lived on their ‘private means’ in various places in the south of England until Katherine passed away in 1911 at Hastings in Sussex. She was then 57.

Agnes and Ruby would have been in their early thirties when they inherited numbers 8 and 10 Kersland Street. The sisters never married and as far as I can tell had set up house together and were living in Tunbridge Wells when their mother died. I don’t know that they always lived together – at one point they seem to have had separate houses in St Leonards on Sea and at another time are recorded as residing in Stirling, where I think they may have had relatives. I’m picking up these tiny tidbits from the title deeds and, to be honest it’s a miracle you can pick up anything from them as they are written in that arcane legal language so beloved of solicitors and their ilk. Here’s a wee snippet to show you what I mean (this is one of the clearer bits!)

deeds snippet

Anyway, the years rolled by and the rentals rolled in, until Agnes Mary passed away in 1929, age 50. Ruby Katherine carried on as sole proprietor and at some point in the mid nineteen thirties came to live at 24 Hamilton Park Avenue in Glasgow, a rather nice looking terraced house not a stone’s throw away from Kersland Street. (Hamilton Park Avenue is indicated by the blue arrow on the map below, and Kersland Street by the yellow one). The tenement properties were being managed by agents, but I can’t believe that Ruby wouldn’t have been familiar with them. She could hardly have avoided them whenever she passed by on her way to the Botanic Gardens, or the shops of Byres Road.

So what brought Ruby to Glasgow? As far as I know she’d never lived there, hadn’t known her grandparents, who had died before she was even born, hadn’t known the imposing house where her father had been brought up. I think that once again geography can come to our aid here. When you place 24 Hamilton Park Avenue (then known as James Street) on our 1860 map (#5) and realise how it fits in to the general scheme of things, I think it’s not unreasonable to conclude that this property must surely have been another acquired by the far sighted John Blackie Junior, and that in taking up residence there, Ruby was doing no more than coming home.

inked ham park ave

I’d like to think that Ruby felt a sense of belonging when she came home to Hillhead and got to know the area her family came from and the various locations which were part of her own history.

Economic conditions became more difficult after the second world war and the title deeds show us that Ruby, through her agents, began selling off the various flats at 10 Kersland Street in 1949, and that this continued throughout the 1950’s, culminating in the sale of number 8 in 1960. This no doubt enabling her to maintain herself as she became older and frailer (she’d have reached her 80th birthday in 1958). Ruby eventually moved into a nearby old folks home (Henderson House) and then possibly one in Edinburgh, where I think she lived out her days and died some time in the mid sixties.

My mum used to say that before us only one family had ever lived in our house, which, as we’ve seen, isn’t right. But she WAS correct in thinking that only one family had ever owned it in the previous 90 years. I wish I could tell her she was right, but she probably knew that anyway; she knew things, did my mum…

 

 

 

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The Story of a House, part 4

Let’s continue from where we left off…

The MacCulloch sisters lived at 8 Kersland Street until about 1926 or 27 and then we see the arrival of Mr and Mrs Smith, Ivan and Elizabeth, who only stayed for about three or four years. I think there was also a son, Alexander. I’m afraid I know next to nothing about the Smiths – there aren’t census returns available beyond 1911, so, paradoxically, it can be easier to find out about people from the 1800’s than the 20th century. So we’ll just have to go with these bare facts from the electorial register.

I’m pretty sure that neither the MacCullochs nor the Smiths would have owned a car, but if they had, they could have parked it around the corner in the Botanic Gardens Garage in Vinicombe Street (opposite the Salon Cinema). The Garage celebrated its 25th anniversay in 1929.

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A_Brouhot_car_in_Paris,_1910

When the Botanic Gardens Parking Garage was built in 1912, parking in the streets was not permitted in the UK, and besides, the paintwork of motor cars of the time was highly sensitive to weather and sun and had to be protected. This garage was one of the first such structures to be built in the UK and to this day remains of great architectural interest as well as being a reminder of the exceptional wealth of Glasgow at a time when cars were generally considered an extravagant luxury.

BGG 02

The architect, David Valentine Wylie, had spent his prolific career building tenements and factories, and was experienced in the design of warehouses and stables. The Garage was his last project and it feels to me as if he poured his heart and soul into his final structure.  It was a new concept, this ‘warehousing’ of cars. Even the word garage, taken from the French garer, to shelter, hadn’t come into use until 1902. Garages have become a mundane feature of our daily lives, but it’s rather nice to look back on a time when everything was fresh and new and an architect could indulge in a flight of fancy and build one in an ornate Beaux Arts style with a glazed cream and soft green faience facade punctuated by large glazed arches.

The Garage highlights the complete revolution in road transportation that had taken place in the 60 or so years since the tenements of Kersland Street first saw the light of day in the early 1870’s.  When Madame Stewart had lived here, horse transport reigned supreme and at the end of the 19th century Glasgow was ringed with a large number of stables to provide horses for literally hundreds of passenger and goods vehicles. Perhaps a rather smellier world than we are used to now…?

horse tram 1890's
Horse tram no. 324, Kelvinside to Dennistoun, 1890’s.

Between 1898 and 1901, the Macgregors would have seen the electrification of the tramways, with central poles and tramlines being laid all along Great Western Road. The old trams used to run down the middle of the road, which meant that alighting passengers had to run the gauntlet of any traffic running on the inside lane. There are many newspaper reports of the time detailing accidents and near-misses due to this rather hazardous arrangement.

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Phase 1 Standard Tramcar
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Tramlines & poles at Kelvinbridge, 1904

I always imagined Mrs Isabella Millar, our resident during the Great War, as being someone who would have travelled in a hansom cab or a tram to her daughter’s house in Great Western Road. But actually, I’m now thinking that daughter Ada and her husband Fred the writer, living comfortably in their big house, might have been just the sort of people who would have been early adopters of the motor car, and that Isabella could have enjoyed a rather more modern mode of conveyance.

Of course the year that the Botanic Gardens Garage celebrated its 25th anniversary, 1929, was also the year of the Wall Street Crash.

280579a New York Wall Street
Hunger marches were held in the UK throughout the 1920’s and 30’s as the economy slumped and more and more men and women were left without the ability to feed their families.

In the latter half of the 19th century, fuelled by the industrial revolution, Glasgow had been a place of exceptional economic buoyancy and urban growth. Indeed we’ve already seen how the well-appointed district of Hillhead itself was a product of this growth. Hillhead was never as exclusive as the adjoining areas of Kelvinside or Dowanhill, though it attracted a sizeable population of middle class professionals such as ministers, academics, merchants and managers. And of course there was also the rather more artistic and bohemian section of the community, no doubt partly due to the presence of Glasgow University in the neighbourhood. 

When the great slump came, Hillhead was less affected than other areas, such as the Gorbals, which started from a lower rung on the ladder anyway and were more dependent on shipbuilding and heavy engineering. But times were hard in the inter-war years and I have no doubt that 8 Kersland Street, being at the more artisan end of Hillhead, saw its share of hardship as the years rolled on and the Smiths were replaced by the Bremners in around 1930. Again, I have only the bare facts from the Electoral Register – Elizabeth and James Bremner, and two daughters, Mary and Mima.

But then we come to 1937. And at last, we can put a face to our new residents, for Mr John Brown and his wife Euphemia come within the living memory of their grandson, Hugh Ritchie, who vaguely recalls visiting his grandmother as a very young child. I came across Hugh on the Ancestry website and he has not only given me permission to use material from his family tree, but has also kindly shared further family memories with me. John and Euphemia’s sojourn in Kersland Street was quite a short one, but thanks to Hugh, we can tell their story.

john brown and euhemia

John Brown and Euphemia Logan were married in January 1908 in Edinburgh, where their first child, Ishbel, was born later that year. John and Euphemia were both teachers, but in those days, women would have been expected to give up their profession on marriage, so no doubt Euphemia turned her energies towards bringing up their fast-growing family. By 1910 the family were living at Windsor Cottage, Shotts, where their son Hugh was born, closely followed by a daughter, Anne, who tragically died in 1914 when she was only 2 years old.

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John taught in Shotts until the First World War saw him signing up, in his late thirties, with the Royal Garrison Artillery, where he served in Mesopotamia, India and elsewhere for about three years. For much of this time he was a quartermaster, probably a quartermaster sergeant or similar. With John away at war, Euphemia and the children went to stay with her brother Donald in the Western Isles. When Donald got married, Euphemia took a cottage in Glen Borrodale, where she taught at the school there for a few years until John came home from the war.

school

I imagine that Euphemia must have been quite an intrepid, enterprising type of person to have taken a post in what is a rather isolated little village on the west coast of Scotland. And one notices that the normal rules about married women working don’t seem to apply in times of war! This is the old schoolhouse which was eventually put up for sale after it had fallen out of use as a school.

Family life resumed and two more daughters arrived in quick succession, Helen (known as Lala) in 1920 and Joan in 1921. When John got the headship of Braidwood School, the family moved there in 1920, followed by a move to Airdrie seven years later when he became head of the newly built (and much bigger) Clarkston Primary School. His final appointment, in 1933, was to the headship of Dalziel Public School in Motherwell, a large secondary school. At this time the family still lived in Airdrie and John would commute to Motherwell every day by bus.

JB obit (1)

Sadly, the First World War had left John Brown greatly diminished in health and in 1936 he fell ill and was off school for an extended period. To reduce his commuting burden, the family moved to Cambuslang. Unfortunately, after only a few days back at work, John took a stroke and had to retire in October 1937. The Browns had lived in Cambuslang for a year. In view of John’s ill health and the position of their house on a steep hill, the family moved to Glasgow, to a ground floor flat, 8 Kersland Street, where John died at home only a few months later on the 15th of July 1938. He was 61 years old. 

hugh brown, sonEuphemia and her daughters stayed on at Kersland Street, and saw the start of World War Two the following year. Son Hugh seems to have spent some time as an evacuee schoolmaster in Northamptonshire, before joining up like his father before him and serving in Italy, where by 1943 he had reached the rank of Lieutenant.  

Back in Hillhead, Euphemia and the girls would also experience WW2 at first hand. In March 1941, the shipbuilding town of Clydebank, a mere five or six miles up the river, was the target of one the most intense Luftwaffe bombing raids of the war. 1,200 people were killed in the Clydebank blitz and the town itself suffered extensive damage with many buildings destroyed. Joan later recalled how, as the bombers flew overhead,  the family would shelter in the basement of their flat along with other residents from the upstairs flats in the next door close. Hillhead escaped relatively unscathed, but the terrifying threat was there.

The Brown family moved out of 8 Kersland Street in 1943 and lived at Park Road, not too far away. One by one the daughters got married and left. Once they had all departed, Euphemia took to staying with them each in turn until in 1951 she eventually got a place of her own, also in the West End of Glasgow. This is probably where the young Hugh Ritchie remembers visiting her. After her health started deteriorating in around 1957, she once again stayed with her daughters while they looked after her. She died on 31st December 1961, in Newport-on-Tay, Ishbel’s home. Here are the sisters, Ishbel, Lala and Joan. 

John and Euphemia are long gone now, as are their children. But the family story carries on in the shape of Hugh and his brother (Ishbel’s sons), and their cousins (Joan’s two sons). Not to mention their children and their children’s children, the 13 surviving descendants of John Brown and Euphemia Logan.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spean Bridge, a very Highland Village

I’ve made quite a few passing references to Spean Bridge in this blog, largely because it was home to cousins of my father John, and George, his father before him – at various times in their lives both John and George were close to their Spean Bridge cousins. Indeed it is to Spean Bridge that we must turn in order to delve further into my family’s roots, so let’s set the scene.

lochaber map

Both Fort William and Spean Bridge are located in the area known as Lochaber, originally an ancient province of Scotland, and seeped in its myths and legends. There’s a possibly mythical association with St Columba who is supposed to have blessed a poor man’s five cows, which caused them to multiply into a herd 100 strong. Another legend tells of a glaistig, an evil goat-woman, who once lived in the area, not to mention Shakespeare’s Banquo, described by the Bard as Thane (Chief) of Lochaber

The rugged mountains, lochs and valleys of Lochaber formed the backdrop to many of the most dramatic episodes in Scottish history. Perhaps one of the most famous being the Jacobite rising of 1745 when the small hamlet of Glenfinnan saw Bonny Prince Charlie, the ‘Young Pretender’ raise his standard by the shores of Loch Shiel and claim the Scottish and English thrones in the name of his father James Stuart.

It is interesting to note that the first engagement between Government troops and clansmen loyal to Prince Charlie took place at Spean Bridge when a small number of MacDonalds routed a company of government troops on their way from Fort Augustus to Fort William. Dubbed the Highbridge Skirmish, it marked the commencement of hostilities between the two sides. However, despite initial success, the rebellion was doomed to failure and ended ignominiously on the field of Culloden some eight months later.

I’m not going to go any further into the troubled history of conflict between Scotland and England here – just google ‘Jacobite rebellion’ or ‘Highland Clearances’ if you want to know more. You only have to look at the map and see names like Fort William, Fort Augustus and, further north, Fort George to realise that these forts, called after English kings and princes, were built there for the purpose of the subjugation of the troublesome natives. As were many of the spectacular feats of engineering – roads, canals, railway lines, intended initially for military purposes (e.g General Wade’s military roads), but also as an attempt to address the problems of depopulation and open up the Highlands to development.

glenfinnan monument
The Glenfinnan Monument by the shores of Loch Shiel, commemorating the raising of the Jacobite standard in 1745.

glenfinnan viaduct
The Glenfinnan Viaduct, built 1897-89 by Robert McAlpine, ‘Concrete Bob’. The ‘Jacobite Steam Train’ has featured in several films over the years, including the Harry Potter franchise where it takes the guise of the ‘Hogwarts Express’.

great glen
The magnificent scenery of the Great Glen, a geological fault line between Fort William and Inverness. The Glen divides the Highlands in two and provides a natural travelling route from east to west, utilised by road, rail, and the famous Caledonian Canal, constructed in the early nineteenth century by the Scottish engineer Thomas Telford.

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Commando Memorial outside Spean Bridge, remembering the Commandos who trained in the area during WW2. Based at Achnagarry, 7 miles away, the training of this elite force was intensive and often involved live ammunition. Today, many families of those who have perished in more recent conflicts come to scatter their ashes in the remembrance area.

achnacarry
Achnagarry Castle 1943, with French Commando forces being put through their paces. Prospective Commandos would alight at Spean Bridge Station after a 14-hour journey, then speed march the 7 miles (11 km) to the training centre in full kit with weapon (total 36 pounds/16 kg). Anyone not arriving within 60 minutes was immediately returned to their unit.

Arisaig-Morar
The view from Arisaig on the west coast, near to the spot from which Bonny Prince Charlie escaped over the sea after his defeat at Culloden in 1746.

Of the thousands of visitors who are drawn to the Highlands every year, many come in search of their roots. They are the children of the diaspora, since the Scots, like the Irish, are a people who have dispersed to the four corners of the world, sometimes to escape poverty and famine, but often in a spirit of adventure and enterprise to seek their fortune in distant lands. The Spean Bridge MacFarlanes are no exception – like many Scottish families, they have fetched up in far flung places throughout the globe, including England, South Africa, Canada, the United States, Argentina, Norway, Australia.  However, for the moment I am more interested in those members of the clan who stayed at home. So we’re going to zoom in on the village once again in order to discover more about their story. This is a screen shot from Google.

spar 2016

Anyone heading for the Commando Memorial just a mile or so outside the village will no doubt pass this Spar shop on the way. Perhaps they will even stop to stock up on provisions. It is this very shop, and the adjoining buildings, which have been associated with the MacFarlane family for some 170 years, providing six generations with a home and a living. Though the current encumbents don’t run the shop any more, but lease it out to Spar, they still live in the house. The self same house that my Dad visited in the 1930’s when he would let himself in and play the piano in the parlour. (See blog entry ‘Tribe of Cousins’, 27 May).

In my next post I’ll share with you some fascinating old photographs which track the shop’s development over the years, as well as the changing face of the various proprietors. They were sent me by my cousin Robert (settled in South Africa) and constitute for him memories of his childhood home, which he is drawn back to Scotland to visit every so often. I am looking forward to meeting him one of these years!

To whet your appetite, here’s a view from around 1875, the earliest picture we have. As you can see, the building has undergone almost a complete transformation since then, but look carefully – could that be the very same porch as the one in the modern screenshot? They didn’t sit still these ancestors of mine – as the Highlands developed, so did they…

Shop 1 001

Travels with my Parents – Dad, part 1

My parents, John and Nellie, both had periods in their lives when they travelled to the four corners of the world, though never together! The biggest journeys they made during their marriage were two trips to Ireland, to Mum’s home in County Mayo. I’ve already shared accounts of these trips, as well as the many car and camping excursions we took as a family, mainly to Dad’s old stomping grounds in the Highlands of Scotland. Here are some pictures of a cycling holiday he took with some mates in the late 1930’s when they were 17 or 18. This may possibly have been to mark the end of their school days.

But it was World War II, perhaps only two or three years later, that first took John rather further afield. His time as a radio officer in the RAF saw him in Italy and Africa, and then later, service in the Merchant Navy meant voyages to all points of the compass. As ever, the faithful box brownie recorded these travels and we have two meticulously organised leather bound albums to tell the tale. The first one, the wartime one, begins with this spectacular shot of a high tension lightning strike over the city of Queenstown in Cape Province, South Africa. It must surely have been an event like this that inspired the poem John wrote that I featured in a previous blog (“A Poem from Wartime”, 16 Mar 2017).

lightning storm

Leafing through John’s albums gives me a compelling impression of the young man who would become my Dad. I find it interesting to realise that he did in fact spend most of his life in uniform – his 20’s in the RAF, his 30’s in the Merchant Navy and the remainder of his life in the service of the Corporation of Glasgow Transport Department. I can’t help feeling that perhaps something in John responded to the structure these institutions gave him, helped him cope with the eternal feeling of loss that never quite left him after his mother died when he was 11.

Whatever the truth of the matter, the John who emerges from the pages of his wartime African adventures is a very handsome young man in his early twenties, at ease with himself and his companions. The album is an intriguing mix of snaps of him and his buddies; of the various camps where they stayed; of the places – and people – where they were stationed. It’s almost as if, just for those few years, they were living in a slightly surreal bubble, clearly engaged in the all-engulfing reality of war, and yet also taking advantage of every second of free time to explore the sights and sounds of the surrounding towns, villages and countryside. As they say nowadays, living life to the full. In these pages the story really tells itself…

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Next time, we’ll have a look at my Dad’s sea voyages, but for now, I’ll leave you with some more images from his days serving in Africa (the captions are – mostly – Dad’s). For me these are beguiling glimpses of John as he was just before he came back home at the end of the war and met Nellie. And both their lives changed forever.

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A Poem from Wartime

I mentioned before that my father was in the RAF during WW2. He was a radio operator and was posted to South Africa, Italy and North Africa. These are his service medals.

medals

Dad never really talked much about his war experiences and the photographs he brought back are mostly of his pals – Tommy, Vic, Skip, Roy… Here’s a slightly hazy one of him in Egypt in 1945, still managing to look quite dapper in those shorts.

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Going through my mum’s papers, I found that she had kept a poem he wrote when he was stationed in South Africa. It was written in pencil and rather faded, so she copied it out, noting “Poem written by my darling John during a thunder storm in South Africa during World War 2”

The sun is hidden, undecided;  /  The clouds torment the trees,  /  Thunder lurks, loose, yet undivided  /  By the faintest breath of breeze.

The coming storm is longed for, hoped for  /  To ease the electric atmosphere,  /  There is no time now to stop the downpour,  /  Let it come, yet still I fear.

Long streaks of light create a chaos,  /  Rivers swell and oceans roar.  /  Death, destruction, killing, fire,  /  The earth is shaken to the core.

Filled with dread, yet never doubting,  /  This terror comes in the murk of night.  /  But after night will come a dawning  /  Of beauty – breathless, fresh and white.

Another thing he gave her from those days was this little plastic aeroplane (it’s just a couple of inches long) which he had made. I found it safely tucked away along with the half crown he put in her hand at their wedding.

little plane