When war broke out, the Railway Company put on a train
which would start at Beith (North) and take the munition workers to
Stevenson. This was very convenient for us all, and it served the three
shifts 7-3 — 3-11 and night shift, and over night the train lay at our
station at Beith.
One dark winter night when I was getting myself ready
to go over and join it, a knock came to the door, and when I answered it,
the driver of the train was standing there with a face as white as a
ghost, asking "Is your father in?". My father was a porter at the wee
country station but he wasn’t on duty that night.
When he went over with the driver a terrible task
awaited them because there had been an accident, and the other man working
in the engine was dead. It was while he was coupling the carriages onto
the engine that the accident had happened, and he was impaled on the
buffers. While the two men were trying to get home down by the light of my
Father’s lantern, the air raid warning sounded and the German planes
passed overhead, also in the midst of all the horror, the light had to be
extinguished and the grisly task conducted in darkness.
So the train didn’t move out of the station that night,
and all our thoughts were with the unfortunate man and his wife and young
family. Another casualty of the war.
Ardeer was a learning experience alright. I can’t say I
was ever too happy in the two years I worked there, but I made a lot of
friends, and some of the friendships lasted for years.
Wee Ana Murphy was an English girl, staying for the
duration of the war with her Auntie and Uncle in Kilmahew Street,
Ardrossan, while Jimmy, her husband was on active service abroad. Ana
became my best friend. She had a lovely singing voice, and I only have to
hear "Ave Maria" on the radio, or even "When The Deep Purple Falls Over
The Shady Garden Walls" for the memory of Ana to come flooding back. She
worried constantly about Jimmy, her husband, because he suffered from
asthma, and she didn’t think the climate in the Middle East would do his
breathing any good. She was a dear, good wee catholic girl, and she too
died young, just like Lily Marshall. But at least she saw the war over,
and Jimmy home from the fray with never a scratch, and they went back to
Manchester and set up home there. This should be the happy ending to their
story, but life’s not like that, and the terrible irony is that Ana died
in childbirth with their first son. When the letter came to me with the
Manchester post mark, and the unfamiliar writing, it was from Jimmy,
giving me the terrible news that Ana had passed away. It was to have been
either her or the baby, the letter said, and the two of them, Ana and
Jimmy, had agreed that the baby was to be saved at all costs. I remember
being seized by a blind rage when I read all he had to say, and I couldn’t
even bring myself to answer him. What a dirty trick fate had played on my
wee friend. Jimmy with his asthma had come home unscathed from the war to
give my dear wee friend a child which killed her.
I left the factory in the summer of 1942 to be married
and live in Paisley. On the day I finished I was quite sad, because I was
leaving behind all these men and women who had been close friends for two
years. They presented me with a magnificent silver water jug, tea pot,
sugar and cream, and I still don’t know where they managed to get
something so exquisite in wartime. Some speeches were made in the mess
room about how we’d all had our ups and downs, but — one thing — I had
finished up without ever having been delegated to the HONEY BOGIE. It was
a standing joke in the place that if you got into any kind of trouble, you
were demoted to the Honey Bogie. An explanation is needed here, The girls
on the Honey Bogie, dressed in special clothes, went around emptying the
pails in the dry toilets, and taking away the contents!
Well somebody had to do it, and if I had been caught
that night with the black powder down my bra it might just very well have
One lovely hot summer day, a month after I left my
work, Archie Ritchie and I were married in the Anderson Hotel, Beith, and
some of the girls from Ardeer were there to enjoy our happy day with us —
even Ann Howard who had sustained a terrible accident a few weeks
previously. Ann lived in Glengarnock, just at the railway station and her
father was a carter, working for the railway. We travelled together in the
train, Ann and I every day, but we parted company inside the factory, as
she worked in the Ardeer proper, and I walked down to New Hill, a mile
away, but we were always on the same shift, so we were company for each
other. In the early hours of the morning just as my night shift was
finishing, a message was brought into our hut, a very cryptic message
which frightened the life out of me "Helen McConnochie has to go at once
to the Ambulance Room at Ardeer". I was given no explanation at all, and
with anxious steps I hurried the mile to the Ambulance room, where all was
made clear. Ann was the casualty. She had been out pushing her bogey in
the darkness of the night when she had heard another bogey coming in the
opposite direction on the same single line, and very quickly realised that
somebody hadn’t changed the points, and the two bogeys were in imminent
danger of collision. Acting on an impulse she ran forward and put her hand
on the other bogey to stop it, and when the inevitable happened and the
two bogeys collided, her arm was broken in three places.
She was taken to the Ambulance Room, when she should
have been taken to Crosshouse Hospital in Kilmarnock, and her arm was only
patched up, and she was being sent home!! She was receiving very scant
attention, because she wasn’t even being run home to Glengarnock in the
ambulance — she was only being taken to Stevenston railway station where
she was to stand on the platform and wait for our usual train. They had
asked her in the Ambulance Room if she had anybody who could accompany her
and help her and she’d said yes, Helen McConnochie at New Hill, and this
is when they had got in touch with me. I’ve never seen anybody looking so
ill. The pain in her arm must have been agony.
The rest of the story casts a very bad light on me.
After the ambulance had put us down at the station and Ann was standing
with me on the platform, discussing the accident, everything turned black
before my eyes and I fainted! The train was just coming in, and Big Sam
Harrison from Beith had to pick me up, out of the puddle in to which I had
fallen, and carry me over his shoulder into the train. Every time he told
the story afterwards, he was sure to add that when I was lifted, my arm
had knocked off his new bonnet into a puddle, and he’d just paid good
money and coupons for it.
As far as I know, Ann was never paid any compensation
for her terrible injuries. Never even got a commendation for her bravery
and quick thinking. It took months and months of treatment in Crosshouse
to get her arm sorted, and finally she had to get a gold plate inserted
just above her wrist. There were a number of things that she would never
be able to do after that — I remember two of them — she wouldn’t be able
to turn the handle of a door — or play the piano! After a long, long time
she went back to her work, but she never expected to gain any money from
her accident, and neither was she offered it. We live in changed days.
Everybody claims compensation now, and Ann could have been a millionaire!
I went over to see her on my day off, a couple of weeks
after the accident, and sitting in her mothers living room drinking tea I
wondered what the knock-knock-knocking was that I could hear. As it became
louder and more insistent I was constrained to ask Mrs Howard what it was.
"Oh it’s the horse! She said. Mr Howard was the carter, and the horse’s
stable was all part of the same building, and they were used with it
kicking its big foot just through the wall from where they were sitting.
It’s a very old building, but its still there, because
I can see it from the train when we stop at Glengarnock station. It is no
longer inhabited of course. I think farm machines and implements are kept
in it now, and I wonder when I look over at the red sandstone building
what became of my friend Anne and her Father and Mother. She confided in
me that whenever a tragedy happened in her family, one of them always had
a dream the night before, of as big black stallion horse rearing up on its
hind legs, and she herself had had the dream the night before she had
tried to stop the cordite bogeys.
However, to end my story on a happy note, Ann attended
our wedding day, smiling and happy, and it was good to see them all and
share our special day with them. Only one thing marred the occasion for
me. Rationing was just at its height in 1942, the year we were married,
and there were ever so many restrictions and rules. For instance, there
was no such things as wedding cake, and brides just had to "make do" with
a slab of fruit cake, over which went a shaped card-board with icing and
favours printed on it. At the time of booking the hotel for the reception
I had asked them to provide this cake, not knowing that my Mother had gone
to the Co-op (where she knew the girl) with the same request!
I only got to know about this on the day of the
wedding, and I was anxious throughout the whole meal, always watching the
door to see if an Inspector from the Ministry would appear, to ask what we
were doing with two wedding cakes!
But all went well and nothing happened to spoil our
day. We all enjoyed simple pleasures then, and I was surrounded by all my
dear supportive family, parents, three sisters and their wee families and
the war wasn’t to last much longer.
One the day of my wedding I wore the peach satin
cami-knickers that my Mother had talked the "Wee Jew" in the clothing
company into selling her, so you see, even Big Jean who’d given me the
clothing coupons, contributed to my happiness.
Archie’s Mother used to quote "Where Is Now The Merry
Party?" Where indeed?
All are parted, and the days of yesteryear are over,
but we look back with nostalgia, and no regrets. END