WORLD WAR 2 1939-1945
Written by Wilma Bolton.
Despite the carnage of World War 1, the 1930’s brought war clouds gathering again over Europe and on the 3rd September, 1939, Britain once more declared war on Germany.
As the country mobilised for war, notices appeared in the Hamilton Advertiser informing the civilian population on issues such as gas masks, the blackout, evacuees, rationing and registering for National Service. The intimations page also underwent a change in content when the headings, Deaths on Active Service, Missing in Action and Prisoner of War were added.
May and June 1940 saw 338,226 troops rescued from the beaches of Dunkirk. Many Lanarkshire soldiers were killed or captured during this evacuation of the British Expeditionary Forces, or when fighting with the rear guard protecting the troops on the beaches. Among the soldiers being evacuated were Eddlewood brothers Owen and Charlie Lawless. Owen was killed in action. Charlie survived and fought throughout the duration of the war.
Two High Blantyre brothers, Robert and Jim McCulloch of Stonefield Crescent were also among the survivors. Unable to re-embark at Dunkirk the brothers who were in different units, both managed to reach Brest where they were picked up by one of the hundreds of vessels involved in the rescue. They were overjoyed when they met on board. Robert was lucky to be there, a wallet tucked into in his breast pocket had stopped a piece of shrapnel which undoubtedly would have killed him.
During the nights of the 13th-14th and 14th-15th March 1941, German bombers flew over Hamilton heading for Clydeside. The sky was lit up by searchlights and the town echoed with the noise from the local anti-aircraft guns firing at the planes, as they flew overhead. Aided by the light of a full moon, the bombers discharged a cargo of 105,300 incendiary bombs, bringing death and destruction to Clydebank.
Within two hours of the air raid starting, a large convoy of Hamilton first-aid ambulance and rescue vehicles, fire engines and mobile canteens left for the blazing town. Among the rescue teams were highly trained First Aid Party (F.A.P.) personnel including John Anderson, house factor; Andrew Adams, Portland Place; Gus Le Blonde, Scott Street; John Henderson, lorry driver, Portland Park; Paddy King winding engineman, Arden Road; Guy Lang, newsagent, Morgan Street; Johnny Logan, Alness Street and Bob Roxburgh, optician. It was to be four days before they returned home. Three men from the rescue teams were injured; Samuel Wright and Frank Bebbington received crushing injuries when bombed buildings collapsed on top of them and John Paul received a serious knee injury.
Blantyre also sent a substantial number of rescue personnel in a convoy of eighteen vehicles, nine of which were destroyed during the bombing. Among the rescue teams was Thomas Limerick a former miner and trained first aider from Bairds Rows. Two of the Blantyre rescue team were injured. Vincent McInerney suffered a compound fracture of his arm and David Paterson sustained serious back injuries.
On the 16th March, seven hundred Clydebank refugees arrived at Hamilton and were transported to sixteen previously earmarked rest centres at churches and halls throughout the town. Most of them had lost everything they owned and arrived with only the clothes they stood in.
Among the many families to take refugees into their homes were the McCrums of 54 Mill Road, Hamilton. Mrs Isabella McCrum had been helping with the refugees at Low Waters School where she worked as a cleaner. On returning home, she informed her husband Robert that all the refugees had been found accommodation with the exception of one family of five adults; a mother, three daughters and a son who did not want to be split up. Feeling sorry for them, they went to the school and brought the family back to their home. This family, the Langs, were to stay with the McCrums for the duration of the war. They were living in two bedrooms; one of them normally used by the McCrum girls who were hastily moved down into the living room to sleep. The other bedroom had been used by the four McCrum sons who were away fighting with the British army. One of them John; a Gordon Highlander fought at El Alamein and was wounded by shrapnel in Sicily but survived his injuries. George, a paratrooper also survived the war as did Robert, who fought with Wingate’s Chindits in Burma, but William, a Royal Scot, was killed fighting in Burma.
There were many local soldiers engaged fighting the grim battle against the Japanese in Burma. Another one was Cameronian, James Spiers one of three Earnock brothers, all of whom were regular soldiers fighting for their country. James was killed in Burma and has no known grave, Alexander, a Seaforth Highlander was captured at St Valerie while defending the soldiers being evacuated from Dunkirk. The third brother John, fought in Europe with the Cameronians. Both men rose through the ranks, Alex to become a Major and John a Captain.
On May 5th a bomb fell on the railway sidings behind Whitehill Road, Burnbank. Luckily there were no casualties.
The country was stunned when on 24th May; H.M.S. Hood was sunk with the loss of 1,417 men. Three young Hamilton sailors, William Pennycook, John Mullen and John Kirkland were among the dead.
In October,May Baillie a young Hamilton nurse, survived 8 days in an open raft after her ship was torpedoed 700 miles from land. She married two weeks after returning home.
Also in October, Lance-Corporal Jimmy Welsh, 6 Neilsland Drive, Meikle Earnock found himself in the thick of the fighting at El Alamein. During the bombardment he heard a sound which brought a lump to his throat. Rising and falling above the thunder of the guns he could hear the pipes of the gallant 51st Highland Division playing the soldiers into battle. The battle of El Alamein was won, resulting in the retreat of Rommel’s Afrika Korps and eventually the surrender of 250,000 German and Italian troops in North Africa.
By November the Government was calling on all “patriots” to give up disused articles of copper, pewter, zinc, lead, brass, bronze, aluminium to make munitions. Collection points were arranged and the people started clearing out their unwanted ferrous metal. The children of Russell Street, Hamilton helped, by having a door to door collection for scrap. Every piece of scrap paper was also collected and recycled.
All over Lanarkshire, people organised back door concerts, whist drives and other forms of entertainment to collect money for the war effort. Prisoners of war were not forgotten. Weekly lists appeared in the Hamilton Advertiser naming contributors to the Red Cross Prisoner of War Fund for food parcels and clothing.
Many local men were decorated for outstanding bravery and among them was Second Officer John Inglis of Burnbank who was awarded the George Medal in December 1942 for his courage when his ship was attacked by enemy aircraft.
1943 saw a turning point in the war and the country was now on the offensive instead of the defensive and winning major victories.
Sunday 26th October was designated “Battle of Britain” day and ceremonial parades and thanksgiving services were held all over the county. The same week saw the repatriation of 790 prisoners of war and civilian internees. Among the men repatriated were James Steel and Matthew McDonald from Burnbank and George Hall, Graham Avenue Eddlewood. Welcome home parties were held for all three men.
In February 1944 there was great excitement in Burnbank when Mrs Lily McGauchie proprietrix of a newsagents shop telephoned the police about a suspicious customer. It was just as well she did; he turned out to be an escaped German prisoner of war.
Among the mighty armada crossing the channel on D-Day June 6th were many of Lanarkshire’s sons. The Death on Active Service columns in the Hamilton Advertiser told of the high price of freedom being paid by local families. Among the dead were Earnock man Brian Cameron and Arthur Russell from Blantyre.
September saw the lights go on again after blackout restrictions were relaxed. This delighted the local children, many of whom had never seen the streets lights on.
In December the Home Guard held a “Stand Down” parade in Hamilton, three months later on May 7th 1945 the war in Europe ended and Hamilton celebrated with flags of all shapes and sizes flying from buildings and windows. Banners were thrown across streets, fairy lights were connected up and by nightfall the town was a mass of colour. Thousands of people danced in the streets and fires were lit on the top of Earnock and Neilsland bings.
At Larkhall there was cheering and singing around a bonfire at the “Old Cross,” after the official announcement that the war in Europe was over. Music was provided by Larkhall Home Guard Pipe Band and reels were danced at Charing Cross. In Blantyre the celebrations lasted three days, with bonfires, music and dancing.
The war with Japan continued for three months after V.E. Day but at midnight on August 15th, Larkhall folk were wakened by the sound of Trinity Church bells ringing out the news that the war with Japan was over. The bells were soon joined by hooters and sirens all loudly announcing the welcome news. By half past twelve bonfires were blazing all over town and spontaneous street parties were being held in Hamilton Road, Hareleeshill, Old Cross, Raploch Cross and Strutherhill.
Thirty minutes after the midnight announcement of the Japanese surrender, victory fires were lit all over Hamilton. The Old Cross was thronged with delighted citizens who danced eightsome reels to the music of pipers. Eventually most of the crowd made their way to the Council’s open air dance floor and danced the night away to the music of Tommy McLaren’s dance band.
In Blantyre’s Morris Crescent, there was a fireworks display using fireworks formerly employed in A.R.P. exercises. In High Blantyre, an effigy of the Japanese Emperor was burnt on one of the celebration bonfires after it was paraded throughout the village by children shouting “we want Togo” and all over the village, street parties were held to celebrate the end of the war.
Ⓒ Wilma S. Bolton. 2018.
A pencil of light hovered over the sky,
The moonlight revealed each passer-by,
Slowly the beam travelled westward, then
Clear-cut as crystal, compelling as youth,
Between two tall houses, then over the
Roaming the skies with a careless ease,
Touching as lightly as the wind on the
Who would have thought it was searching
Ref. Hamilton Advertiser. 27/4/1940. Page 4.