Ardeer the War Years
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'WW2 People's War is an online archive of wartime memories contributed by
the public and gathered by the BBC. The archive is at: bbc.co.uk/ww2peopleswar
By Helen Ritchie - Born Helen McConnochie 1919
Everybody in the seaside towns of Stevenston and Saltcoats used to call the munition factory of Ardeer "The Dynamite". I don’t know how they refer to it now, because it hardly exists. Passing by in the train coming from Largs, and looking out of the window, you are surprised to see the tall chimneys are all gone, and the cooling towers and cordite huts are all away.
When WW2 broke out, I was a happy-go-lucky girl of 19, travelling into my job in Paisley, as a letterpress feeder every day by train from Beith (North). This tranquil way of life was soon to change, because everybody was being called up, to help the war effort. My sister May had already got herself a job at Ardeer, and purported to like it, so she used her influence on me to give up my work in Paisley, and join her down there in Stevenston. Which I did. But only because I thought she and I would be working together, and we would be good company for each other. That never happened, because it turned out to be Company policy not to let two sisters work together, in case of a fatal accident. So, while May was in a job at the Centrificles which she enjoyed, hard work though it was, I found myself on the cordite huts at New Hill, and right from the start I didn’t like it. We were 12 girls to a hut, and our job was to blend the sticks of cordite, walking round and round the huge boxes called blenders, lifting a few sticks from each, and depositing them all in the end blender. The fumes and the peppery smell of the cordite when the doors of the hut were closed, made you very drowsy, and it was worst of all on the night shift, when big black shutters were put up on the windows, so that not a chink of light could be seen from the air. None of us liked the night shift. When the harvest moon was in the sky, we felt that the German planes had the advantage. And one night it happened. It was actually on the night that Clydebank was bombed, and the planes were making their way over the factory (Ardeer). We heard the heavy droning of the engines, as we walked round the blenders, but we weren’t allowed to leave our posts to seek shelter until the air raid siren sounded, and in this case it never did, because our anti-aircraft guns opened up, and I heard that later the last two German planes detached themselves from the pack — turned, and came back, knowing they were onto something. Later, sitting in our underground shelter, it was a night of mind-numbing horror. For hours on end we heard the scream of the bombs descending, and when this happened you leaned forward on your bench because the corrugated iron shelter rattled back and forward and would in itself have caused you an injury. To begin with, all the women sang war time songs "Roll Out The Barrel", "Bluebirds Over The White Cliffs Of Dover", stupid songs which irritated me, because indeed it was a nerve shattering situation we were in — but the singing all stopped when an incendiary bomb rattled down the steps of the hut and made its flaming way right in among us. Some people threw — or tried to throw — sandbags on top of it, but the hero of the hour was an old inspector who actually got rid of it by kicking it out. Then word came in to us that a barrage balloon was on fire. Horrors! We were so near the TNT plant that the mind boggled as to the damage it could cause. And yet, nearly everybody trooped up the steps and out into the open, to stand and watch that balloon falling in pieces to the ground. It was a miracle nobody was killed that night, or even hurt. Two unexploded bombs were found the next day on the seashore at Stevenston — 2 duds, and subsequently they were put on display (Admission sixpence to view them) by the Red Cross at the gates of the Ardeer. I was sorry I had gone into see them, as up until then I had imagined bombs to be quite small, but these were massive.
When the all clear sounded that morning, we were all glad to get out of the shelter which had served us so well, and when we went to our hut to retrieve our outdoor clothes which we’d left hanging in the porch, we found our cordite hut smouldering, and we had lost all pieces of clothing, because the hut had got a direct hit. Later they all claimed for what they had lost, and got new clothes. I didn’t bother. Two nights after the air raid, Lord Haw Haw claimed on the wireless "We know what lies behind the Arran Hills. ARDIR (he called it ARDIR). We’ll be back".
But they never came back.
And so our lives continued on a more even keel, and it wasn’t all doom and gloom. I look back on those days and sometimes smile at the memories. One of the girls who worked beside me was May Wilson (I have changed her name) who lived in Lochwinnoch, and who was known to our family. She presented herself as very demure and modest in the village, and indeed my mother used to say to me "Try and be demure and lady-like like May Wilson".
Well, I got to see a different side to this young lady in the factory. The men whose job it was to be runners (pushing bogies outside, loaded with cordite) used to come into our hut on the night shift when their runs were finished and they would get an hour’s sleep at the end of the hut on the re-work bags. May took great delight, when they were fast asleep, to slip up there, and OPEN THEIR TROUSER BUTTONS, thereby exposing their privates to all and sundry. It only happened a couple of times. These two men stopped coming in.
We were a mixed bunch — 23 women from all different parts of the country, but the war was a great leveller and we all got on fine. May Wilson amused us and irritated us by turns. She had a very low boredom level, as they say nowadays, and on the back shift (3-11) she used to get fed up, and sometimes she would say "och, I’m away to get a Pass Out, to go to the Ardeer Rec". This was the dancing. It was almost impossible to get a Pass Out — once you were in, you were in, and it entailed paying a visit to wee Cocky Roberston, the Chemist, in his office along the line. He was the Head Lad, and so important you nearly had to touch your forelock when you met him. And so we would all tell The Fed Up One that she had no chance at all of getting her Pass Out, but over her shoulder, on her way out, she would call "Well just wait and see". And sure enough, maybe half an hour later, she would come back laughing, and triumphantly waving the precious Pass Out, with everybody asking what she’d had to do in the Office to get it. Ribald laughter and dirty suggestions would follow her retreating figure down the line to the railway station, and a good night at the Recreation Hall.
Mrs Cameron was another of our fellow workers, a different type altogether. If you kept in with her, she would bring you yards of lace, because her husband was an undertaker and this was what he used to line the coffins with. I myself got enough to stitch the hem of two petticoats, and I felt as if I had won a watch.
Ruth was older than all of us, a real lady, and working in the factory in order to gain experience to write a book. Rumour had it she wasn’t interested in the money, and that she gave it to charity. I knew this to be true, because walking behind her one day I saw her drop her unopened pay packet into one of the big boxes just inside the gates of Ardeer, which was there to collect money for the war effort. Her husband was a Captain at sea, and she never really mixed with the rest of us, or told us her business, but I remember her confiding in me that her husband told her that when his ship was in action against the enemy, our guns back-fired, and this was because the cordite hadn’t been evenly blended. This was a practice that I detested, that the girls in all the huts had got into. We were making our own pay — the more you produced at the end of the week, the better your wages — it was called the BEDOIS system, and had something to do with a Frenchman.
We were all given wooden contraptions that fitted onto our right hands, and this opened to lift about six sticks of cordite from each blender, thus giving an even blend. But because they were on ‘piecework’ this method proved too slow for them, and when they knew there were no inspectors about to see what they were doing, they lifted great bundles of cordite, and just dumped it into the end blender. Ruth told me that when the guns back-fired they could kill a man. Doesn’t bear thinking about.
At the beginning of each shift, the foreman would visit each of the huts, and decide where the labour was to go. If he was short of bogey runners for instance, he would just pick out the required number and tell you to go and get equipped with the proper clothing for the job — big coarse navy blue fire-resistant trousers which rub your legs raw when they touched, and big Charlie Chaplin boots. I only had the ‘pleasure’ once, of being picked — me and another girl, and it was on the night shift, so it was really a mixed blessing, as I didn’t fancy the idea of a possible air raid. Well, that didn’t happen, but that night I did have an unfortunate experience.
With the passage of time, I forget what we were delivering that night on our bogey, but I remember that we were being sent to another part of the plant, maybe three miles away. So there was Liz, a girl from Kilmarnoch that I had just met for the first time that night, and I, pushing our bogey away along to the building where the men were employed in polishing bullets with black powder. After we had disgorged our load of whatever it was, and were ready to leave, one of the men asked if we would like a packet of the black powder to take home to our Mothers to "polish the grate with". Apparently if the said black powder was mixed with methylated spirits, it made a grand job of polishing a grate. So, nothing loath we each accepted some powder, wrapped up inside some white waxed paper, and I felt happy to be going to present something to my Mother that she couldn’t get in the shops. I remember it was winter, and the snow was lying thick on the ground, and I remember too, that I started to get very apprehensive about having to smuggle it out of the factory. I always was a "Big Fearty". But you see, at the end of a shift when you were all going home, they had searchers waiting at the gates to search you, and these ladies standing in their little boxes could pick you out at random for what they called A DOUBLE SEARCH. I had hidden my packet of black powder down my bra, but as I neared the gates I was suddenly overcome with fear, and I dipped into my bra, pulling out the packet in order to throw it away in the snow, and in my nervous yellow-bellied haste, I managed to rip the wretched packet, and it spilled all down my stomach. What a mess, and the searcher never even looked at me. My Mother was mad at me. Mad angry at my underwear being spoiled because it never washed out. Moreover, it was no use anyway for polishing grates. Liz told me so, a few days later.
There were lots of hazards on the night shift — real and imagined. The toilets were situated quite a long way from the huts, and to visit them in the middle of the night, and in total darkness wasn’t a very pleasant experience, especially as you were stumbling over tufty grass growing on top of the sand dunes. These toilets were very primitive, and they consisted of a pail inside a little hut. A rumour went round the place that a girl had been attacked by a weasel on one of these forays, and that it had clung on to her bare bottom with its wee sharp teeth until they drew blood. Commonsense told us that this was hardly likely, but then you thought there might be a modicum of truth in it, as weasels did run about the place. There was a lot of wildlife in Ardeer. It was the only place that I ever saw the cuckoo, a notoriously shy bird, and in there, I saw several of them. My father told me that in his young days, they employed game keepers to control the wildlife in the factory. And so I was always very chary of using their makeshift toilets in the night, just in case a weasel was lying in wait to spring up at a bare bottom.
Many memories of those days come to mind. We got a tea-break in the middle of the night, and when we got "the SHOUT" we all scrambled out of the huts and down the line to the Mess Room. On two nights a week they served mutton pies, but they were in short supply, so if you wanted one, you had to be smart, and run all the way to the Mess Room. They were a great treat, and eagerly sought after, in the days when our carried pieces were becoming more unpalatable. The bread was brown — or rather, it was a yellowish brown and we hadn’t had much to put on our pieces. If our meagre ration of cheese was finished for the week, my Mother used just to spread margarine and her own home made jam on the bread. When you opened your poke in the wee sma’ hours it would all be soaked in, and the bread would be hard. So a hot mutton pie was a treat. Then a rumour spread like wildfire that a girl had taken the lid off her pie and to her horror she was confronted by a SHEEP’S EYE lying there!! They sold no more pies after that. You could always get soup — 4 pence a bowl for thick white mutton soup with pieces of leek floating on top. But we had learned not to be too choosy in wartime, and on a cold winter night we were pleased enough to get a warming bowl of soup.
To make up to myself for the lack of nice things to eat, I learned to smoke at that time. It was the fashion. Everybody smoked. But as the war progressed, cigarettes became very scarce, and you had to be "in the know" to obtain any at all. A new brand appeared on the market, PASHA by name and they were easily obtainable, and that was because nobody bought them. You had to be very desperate before you lit up a Pasha, because they were the pits. I think they were filled with Turkish tobacco, but I’m not sure. I knew the girl who worked in Tally’s Shop in the main street of Beith, and sometimes she kept me a couple of packs of Capstan under the counter. My mother had very strong views on women smoking and her proud boast used to be "I’ve got four girls and none of them smoke". Well one of them did and that one was me! She nearly found me out, because one day, when she was up the town for her messages, she went into the tally shop for her special lemonade. Krystal Clear was made over in Lochwinnoch by Struthers, and this was the only firm which used sugar, and not saccharin in their soft drinks, all during the war. So, here was my mother buying her two bottles over the counter, when my friend in all innocence said "Oh, will you tell your daughter her cigarettes are in?" CALAMITY!
When my mother was recounting the incident to me later, she said "The cheek of the girl in the main street telling me she had cigarettes to give me, but I soon let her know that NONE OF MY GIRLS SMOKE". When I managed to go up to Beith on my day off, I was anxious to know how my friend had got out of a very volatile situation, but she said it was easy. She had just said "Oh, I’m making a mistake, I always mix you up with Mrs Barnes at Low Station, she gets them for her daughter". This information did nothing to quieten my nerves because Mrs Barnes was another one who was very much against smoking, and if Bessie (the daughter in question) had known that her secret was blown, she would have had a fit. My mother was ever suspicious of me after that. Nearly all my work mates smoked, and a cigarette was something to look forward to in the mess room if your "piece" had been particularly awful. A girl who used to sit beside me at the table, Lily Marshall, was in lodgings in Stevenston, and her landlady made up some awful sandwiches for her. Quite often it was potato crisps spread over bread and margarine, but I thought she had reached a new low when the filling was HP sauce. Lily never complained about it, but I felt she was a victim rather than a casualty of the war, because she wasn’t being properly fed, and she developed TB. And died, aged 21.
It wasn’t all doom and gloom though and we enjoyed many a good laugh. Big Jean Bell worked beside me, and she was full of complaints and moans. Certain rules and safety regulations governed every hut, and we were all very conscious about safety, because working with cordite was dangerous in case of fire, and all sorts of friction had to be avoided. A double search at the start of every shift made sure you weren’t wearing anything abrasive, no rings, broaches, suspenders or even kirbigrips were allowed. As the girls walked around the blenders gathering up the purple sticks of cordite inevitably loose sticks would drop on the floor and had to be picked up, before our feet trod on them.
We had a rota in which each girl in turn had a full shift of doing nothing else but continually bending down and clearing the floor of cordite. This was indeed a tiring job and nobody liked it, because you finished the shift dead tired and with aching bones. When it became Big Jean’s night to do it, she always had an excuse to get out of it. She was a big stout lady with lots of chins and no teeth, and she didn’t like hard work, but she needed the money, and sometimes I felt sorry for her, and took her turn. One of her excuses was that she had a big boil on her stomach, just at her belly button, and it was ready to burst, so she couldn’t bend down to pick up cords, because the friction of her knickers against the boil was agony. Amid ribald shouts from the other women "well take them off then" she would say to me, "will you take my turn Hen, and ill see you right wi’ some clothing coupons when you get married". This was like a carrot to a donkey to me, because clothing coupons had indeed been introduced, and we got so little of them, that Jean’s offer was tempting, and I did as she asked. I didn’t reap my reward right away. No I had to wait ‘til I was leaving Ardeer to get married and go and live in Paisley. She kept her word, and handed me an envelope on my last day there, which I didn’t open ‘til I was on the train going home, and I nearly exploded. They were all the old margarine coupons cut from the ration books at the very start of the scheme. They were still valid, although when things were better organised, we had proper clothing coupons. I was in despair (and rage) when I saw them, because they were all cut up in singles and said MARGARINE of them, and apart from that, you were supposed to present them as a whole page, inside your ration book, and some of the shops could be really sticky about this. So I was spitting feathers, and felt that Big Jean had really pulled a fast one, but it turned out alright, because when I told my Mother my problem she said "I’ll take them up to the Beith Clothing Company and the Wee Jew knows me". That was a big relief. He was ever so nice, and she came home with a peach satin cami for me and some French knickers too, and I felt that all my efforts in the hut for Big Jean had borne fruit.
We had a foreman in there, whose name was Robert Boyd, but he was commonly known as Bertie-Bad-Fish. This was because some of them had known him before the war when he pushed a wheelbarrow selling fish round the streets of Irvine. To avoid joining the forces he had jumped in to Ardeer, known as Reserved Occupation and now wore his peaked cap and uniform with great authority. I doubt whether they would have taken him anyway in the Army, because he was a white faced, shilpit looking character. I think he fancied me, because several times he invited me out for a night at the pictures, but I was never remotely interested although I would have liked to have seen "Nellie Kellie" when it was showing in Irvine. On one occasion Bertie Bad Fish said he was thinking of putting my name down for promotion, because he thought I was forewoman material, but after my umpteenth refusal to go out with him, he told me one day in very short terms that by "application" had been turned down, because I was too young!! Well, I didn’t want it anyway, and I hadn’t applied so — nothing gained — nothing lost.
I have mentioned before, that at the start of our shift, the foreman came into each hut, and selected girls to be sent elsewhere in the plant, to fill the places of those who hadn’t turned up for work. Mostly it was for the press houses, about a mile away from New Hill, and nearer Ardeer. This was my one dread that I would be one of the girls sent there, and it only happened once. If the fumes were bad in the huts, they were a hundred times worse in the press houses, because the cordite was carried in sacks, warm and reeking, and we had to take it out and put it in a machine which turned the dough-like mixture into the cords, which would eventually go to the huts, once they were dried out in trays. Some of the girls became addicted to the smell, and no one was kept in there on a permanent basis. One girl that I knew, had been overlooked. These fumes were like a drug to her, and she lived for the moment that the men bought the bags in full of warm steaming cordite. I saw it myself of the night that I was there, how she ran forward and opened the neck of the sack, and inhaled deeply.
Maybe this went on for several weeks — I don’t know, but it finally came to an end of night when they were all drinking their tea in the mess room. Mary undressed herself until she was stark naked, and got up on to a table and did a dance. DRUNK ON FUMES. She was very quickly removed in an ambulance up to the Red Cross, just at the gate. I heard later that her stomach had been pumped, and she had recovered alright. In fact, after a lengthy period on the sick, she came back to her work, but she was given an outside job, so in a sense you could say her halcyon days were over. We also heard about a man in the presses, who was afflicted in a similar way with these noxious fumes and he had received the last rites in the ambulance going to Kilmarnoch. I don’t know if he lived or died.
One of the girls we travelled with in the train, worked by herself in a big building at the end of the bogey line, and her name was Violet — a street-wise young woman, originally from Glasgow. She, it was who gave out stores, as they were required, such things as stencils, shellac etc — and she really enjoyed her job, especially as she got the name of entertaining the young soldiers camped up on the hill, keeping look-out for enemy planes. It was a well known fact that if you were on the wee stretch of line going up to the Stores for requisitions, you had to call out her name in good time — VIOLET- just in case she was giving TLC to one of the lads.
In time, she bought herself a fur coat in Glasgow, and she wore it to work with pride. We all professed to admire it, but behind her back we said it was rabbit fur.
When days were darkest and things weren’t going well for us, the voice of Mr Churchill put new life in to us all. I held him in the highest regard, and I firmly believe he won the war for us. My Auntie May in Prestwick knitted him a pair of socks and sent them to him in London, and in return she received a letter from his secretary, thanking her for her gift, and saying that Mr Churchill would wear them in the day of Victory, riding through London. She framed this letter and hung it up on the wall. I can’t knit, but if I could, I too would have made him a pair of socks, because in my estimation he was a leader of men.
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 been me.
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