My dad passed away at Easter and took many of his stories with him. I was lucky to be able to go back to Scotland and spend some time with him, not enough time of course. His health was failing and he had Alzheimers. It was a bitter-sweet experience being with him; bitter because I knew it would be the last time I saw him but sweet because we talked a lot about the past and that was precious to me. Dad, of course, couldn’t remember what he had just had for lunch but he remembered everything very clearly from his youth and talked a lot about the war.

Here are two of my favourite stories.

Dad was born in Glasgow in 1925 so was around 14 when the Second World War broke out. When old enough he was balloted out to a coal mine in Newcastle as a “Bevin Boy”. He had been very angry as he wanted to be a soldier. The work was typical coal mining, usually more than a mile down dark, dank tunnels. Bevin Boys were supplied with helmets and steel-capped safety boots but no uniforms or badges, instead the oldest clothes they could find. “Being of military age and without uniform caused many to be stopped by police and questioned about avoiding call-up.” Life as a Bevin Boy wasn’t pleasant.

Dad worked with a pony called Claude who pulled the cart which I believe dad had to first fill then lie on top of while they found their way through low, dark tunnels to deposit the coal.
“Great pony,” Dad would remember with a smile on his face and a faraway look in his eyes, “you know, when I tried to pass him on the left, he would move over so I couldn’t get through. Then I would try to pass him on the right and he would shuffle over again so I couldn’t get passed.”
I let him remember and then I asked him why.
“Because it was very dangerous in front” he said.


Before the war broke out, my grandfather (dad’s dad) bought a plot of land and built a small hut in an area of Scotland called Carbeth, out in the country. He told people he was going to send his family there when the war came. Everyone laughed at him. Down the back of his house in Glasgow, he built an air-raid shelter and the whole street thought he was mad. When the bombs dropped on Glasgow, his neighbours were the first people to reach his shelter!

Dad told me their street was bombed. They were hiding in the air raid shelter when his older sister, Christine, remembered her brand new fur coat was in the house. She pleaded with my dad to go and get it and finally he did. He ran through the ruins to the house, went inside and retrieved the fur coat. Then he ran out towards the shelter straight into the arms of the police who thought he was a looter! Luckily after a lot of explanation they allowed him to pass.

As children we spent many holidays at Grandpa’s hut in Carbeth. The hut was tiny and dark but the setting was beautiful. From the garden we could walk down a short path to the loch and feed the swans. We did lots of walks in the beautiful countryside, swam in the very rough swimming pool there which had been built many years before and swung on the rope swing across the small river. My sisters and I had a “cubby” inside a beautiful old willow tree.

When Grandpa died, the hut was left to his youngest grandson (Dad’s nephew) who sold it without ever telling anyone he didn’t want it. I know it broke my dad’s heart as it was a special place to him and he would have gladly bought the hut back to keep it in the family.

1985, Braco, Perthshire, Scotland

Dad and me, 1985, Braco, Perthshire, Scotland