There are a few stories here submitted by different people. The first are my father's memories:
My father lived in Yeaman Place in North Merchiston and was evacuated a few days before war was declared. He was sent to Tillicoutry along with 3 school friends and stayed with a couple but the husband was soon off to join the fighting. They were made welcome at the local school and he enjoyed his experience but his mum and dad missed him terribly despite frequent visits. After about a year and with little danger in Edinburgh he made his way home. It was then that things started to happen. He went to North Merchiston school in Bryson Road, which was knocked down only a few years ago, and remembers being issued with a gas mask there.
At Yeaman place at the height of the war in 1942/43 air raids went off almost every night. They would go down to the shelters which were located in every back green. They were brick buildings half buried in the ground with a concrete roof and everyone in the tenement went there until the all clear sounded. It was mostly old men, women and kids but there was a great communal atmosphere. His father, who had served in WW1, was an air raid warden and as well as checking that all the lights were out in the neighbourhood, would sit in a concrete box on top of the dairy in West Bryson Road with binoculars looking for planes. There were sandbags placed at the entrance to every stair to minimise the blast of any bombs. As it was very dark at night the few cars that there were had covers over their headlights so the light pointed down.
Although food was scarce he remembers that there was never a shortage of fish and chips in the chippy - amazingly that chippy is still there today. He doesn't remember the chippy closing at any time and is unsure what, if anything, happened to the Italian owners. I was surprised to hear that the pubs did a roaring trade despite the fact that most men were away fighting and women didn't normally go into them. They did,however, regularly run out of beer.
The worst thing that happened in the area was when a bomb hit a brewery in Duff Street in nearby Dalry. It happened at 5am on a Sunday morning in September 1940. The explosion caused the gable end of the building at the bottom of Yeaman Place to collapse. My father slept through it but was wakened by his father and remembers looking out of the window and seeing the flames from the brewery. He reckons the Germans thought it was a munitions factory as it had a wavy roof but the Germans would off load their bombs anywhere after a raid on Clydeside. People flocked to the scene with all sorts of implements to catch the whisky that was running down the gutters. It was looted then the police and fire brigade sealed the area off but rumour has it that they stole anything that remained. Viewer Finn Fenton's grandfather told him, regarding this incident, that " when he worked for the electricity board during WW2, he was called to the bombing (aerial mine) of a distillery in Dalry. This involved him and a colleague pulling a cart by hand to the site, then isolating the power while live. He told me that when he got there, everyone including the police were off their heads on whisky. He also said people were filling their bath tubs with it."
My dad remembers,quite late on in the war, walking near the old Palais dance hall at Fountainbridge and hearing machine gun fire. Looking up he saw a Spitfire chasing a German plane just above the rooftops. The Germans were always trying to bomb the rail bridge and 603 squadron based at Turnhouse were deployed to stop them. He said that no one ever thought the nazis would win the war - it just wasn't possible, wouldn't happen.
My mum and aunt lived in Murieston Terrace Dalry and although weren't evacuated, they spent a few weeks at a time with their grandparents in Broxburn. Murieston park was where their air raid shelters were located - 4 in all. My grandfather remembered Murieston around 1915 when the area was wasteland near the railway and the park was a large pond. My aunt was only 10 when the war finished but remembers carrying gas masks and ID. Their school was closed every so often as it was used as a temporary medical facility. My grandfather was exempt from the army because of his job as a mechanic.
My uncle remembers watching German planes flying over the city. One night they hid in their box room and the whole building shook as a plane came down in Gilmerton. He also saw one with smoke trailing from it which crashed in the Pentlands. His father was an air raid warden and when the sirens went off, he used to usher people to the shelters but the old and infirm used to get helped into their box rooms. His aunt who lived in Marchmont was in bed in the recess in the living room when a bomb fell down the building between flats setting fire to the butcher shop below. No one was hurt but she complained about the terrible noise.
He was in the scouts at the time and they were used in mock raids as casualties with bandages and fake blood. He was happy to get the free tea and biscuits.
There were guns around the crags by Hunters Bog on Arthur's Seat which were used by the home guard. Also beaches such as Portobello had barbed wire and wooden crosses along them to stop landings. There were manned bunkers to keep lookout and you can still see some on Cramond Island today.
A submission from a viewer regarding his father's Hogmanay experience in Edinburgh:
It was a bitterly cold, second week in December and we decided to go into a little pub in Princess Street for a shandy; it was cheaper than beer and the old problem of financial embarrassment still plagued us.
Two men, they would be in their early forties, came and sat next to us and upon hearing our accent started to chat. As they were Scots, I brought up the fact that I was in 50th Division and that we always fought alongside 51st Highland Division. That really set their tongues wagging and they wanted to know all about the 51st, during which time they bought us a whisky, which almost burnt my throat since I was not a drinker of spirits, anyway. When we said we would have to be going they insisted upon shaking hands and almost in unison said, ‘Tell ye what, laddies, can ye nay come to oor Hogmanay on New Year’s Eve?’ Well, at that time, I don’t think I knew what a Hogmanay was and they laughed and gave us a detailed explanation of what it was all about. It sounded OK to us, but we would need a little time off from camp, which was most likely impossible. We said we would meet the Scots in a couple of days, same pub, same time.
Next day, I spoke to our NCO who seemed to have softened a little towards us. I discovered that he was not a bad sort at heart and he said he would speak to the Captain to try and fix an interview for my mate and me. I was sent for next morning and I told no fibs, just the facts, telling him about the Scots in the pub and I asked if we could be allowed to stay out overnight. He was silent for a while, then suggested that since we were due for a three-day pass anyway, he would grant permission, simply on the grounds that one night off camp would not be enough to recover from a Hogmanay and were we sure we knew what we were doing? We had found a chink in the rigid routine at Glencorse; it was not so bad, after all!
We made the trip into Edinburgh to meet our two friends, who arranged to pick us up outside our camp during New Year’s Eve, which they did. We first went to the same little pub for a drink, where the atmosphere was warming up ready for the festivities. The drink over, our host took us to one of their houses, where we were introduced to his wife. As the evening wore on, more folk turned up, just enough to make a sociable gathering. We were the only foreigners present and some wanted to know about us; just to mention the 51st and 50th Divisions pleased them enormously. To cut a long story short, by the time it was midnight we were just a teeny-weeny bit so-and-so, but not too far gone to hold hands and sing Auld Lang Syne. What happened after that I hadn’t a clue.
The mood of everybody was marvellous - all those Scots taking us two English lads to their hearts, and they looked after us for the three days, then took us back to camp. I had a very strong feeling that our Captain knew all about Hogmanay! It was now 1945.
If you want to learn more about Dad’s memoir, go to
www.grimdetermination.co.uk/#/the-book/4535338132 where you can read the first chapter, located on the beaches at Dunkirk. There is plenty of interesting stuff on the site, including lots of photographs and a huge list of names of Dad’s comrades and contacts for those people seeking out relatives who may have fought in the war.
Paul Cheall (son of Bill Cheall)
Here are some stories from viewer Finn Fenton's father regarding his grandfather:
We stayed at 102 Craigleith Hill Crescent in Edinburgh during the war. Like everyone we had an ' Anderson Shelter ' in our back garden, which was constructed from ridged galvanised steel and covered with earth. It formed part of our rockery. My abiding memory is of its dampness. It must have been a very uncomfortable place to spend a night.
The First Story
The night in question must have been one early in the war. According to my father there was an Anti Aircraft Rocket Battery somewhere close to Crew Toll. Rocket Batteries were the cheap alternative to Anti Aircraft Artillery. The rocket launchers were placed in a dispersed fashion and were intended to saturate an area of sky when fired simultaneously.
Dad decided to leave the shelter that night as everything seemed to be utterly peaceful with no sound of enemy aircraft. He told me that he was anxious to demonstrate to my mother that there was absolutely nothing to fear. When he reached the end of the path, the rocket battery was discharged for the first time. He said that the noise was so terrifying that he fell to his knees in shock. When he recovered his composure he made his way back to the shelter, a much wiser and a much paler man !I understand that rocket batteries were used for a short time during the London Blitz, but they had such an unnerving effect on the population that they were quickly withdrawn. They probably made an deafeningly loud shrieking sound !
My Mum and Dad soon decided that if they were going to be killed it would be far better if it happened in the comfort of a warm bed. So the shelter was quickly abandoned !
The Second Story
My father was a Cable Jointer, so he found himself in a ' reserved occupation. ' and was not required to join up. He was sent one day to do some electrical work at Edinburgh Castle where German Prisoners were being held. The prisoners, who my Dad described as '' very arrogant, '' were exercising nearby when one of them made a run for it. My father caught him by the leg as he tried to jump over the Castle wall.The German prisoner turned round, looked at my Father and said.
'' Gie us a break Jock. ''
My father was so taken aback by this statement that he released his hold. The ' German ' prisoner leapt over the castle wall, then slid and clambered down the nearly vertical face of Castle Rock at amazing speed. He was recaptured in Princess Street Gardens. The ' German ' prisoner was in fact a Glaswegian Commando who was being held in the Castle at the same time as the other prisoners of war and who had decided that captivity was definitely not for him.
My Dad found the incident very amusing !
The Third Story
My Dad joined the Home Guard and soon found himself serving at Portobello Power Station. I believe his first weapon was a pick shaft, then a shotgun, then a Lee Enfield Rifle which was issued with 5 rounds of ammunition.Eventually they were given Sten Guns.During training he was shown how to use Mills Bombs, Sticky bombs, ( a type of anti tank grenade ) and they were also shown how to operate the Boys Anti Tank Rifle. Military training was done two nights a week after work !
Guard duty was done the next day following training, from 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. During this period the guard worked 2 hours on and then 4 hours off, which must have been quite exhausting. Each section was given a Bren Gun.
My father would make his way by public transport from Craigleith to Portobello and then make his way back home the next morning at dawn. During raids Dad said the guard would hide in large concrete pipes at the station and play cards until the all clear sounded. He told me that he often used to meet the daytime guard officer who was leaving the power station as he arrived to join the night time guard.The officer would turn round, look at the building, then look at Dad, suck in his breath and say.
'' By God, that place is going to cop it one night ! ''
The most dangerous incident happened during an inspection. This inspection was carried out in a concrete building with no windows. One of the Home Guard inadvertently fired his rifle and the bullet ricocheted around before exiting through the only tiny ventilator, much to my fathers relief. It wasn't all serious though as my Dad would bring home my older brother interesting items of ordnance like sticky bomb cases. Dad could also be prevailed upon to procure and lob the occasional ' Thunder flash ' into the back garden for the families amusement. ( The Thunder flash was a training grenade.) I remember once seeing my Dad sitting dressed in his uniform and greatcoat and holding his rifle in our living room at 102.The image stays with me.
It occurs to me that WW 2 must have been exhausting and stressful, even for those who were only civilians and part time soldiers in Edinburgh, like Nana and Granddad.
They just got on with it and didn't complain.
God bless them !