Well, it is so long ago I have difficulty remembering much about it now, but there are some things which will forever stick in my mind.
The one thing I always remember was the day that Poland was invaded and the war really began. It was Friday the 1st of September 1939. I can still remember what I was doing that particular day. I was helping at the travelling threshing mill on my grandfather’s farm in Drummuir. As a matter of interest, in those days the threshing mill was driven by a coal-fired steam powered traction engine.
That same Friday night the Sangers Circus was to be held in Keith, on the market Leys or Seafield Park. The circus, however, was one of the first entertainments to be cancelled. I had intended going to see the it, as in those days, it was a famous circus and a popular form of entertainment.
Two days later on Sunday 3rd September 1939 Britain entered the war; Neville Chamberlain was the Prime Minister of Great Britain at that time and he made the announcement on the wireless at 11 o’clock on that Sunday morning.
My father and mother didn’t have a wireless set at that time, but within a week father had gone and bought one so that he could keep up with the progress of the war. He had been a soldier in the 1914-1918 “Great War”. This wireless was considered a luxury so as you can tell we didn’t have a lot of the luxuries in 1939, no car, not many people had a car then, just a bicycle, or walk.
The first signs of war were that everybody got issued with a gas mask. But despite all the gloom, a comedian at that time composed a song about his little gas mask. Everybody had to register so that the “powers that be” knew what we worked at, what we did and where we worked. Therefore every adult and child was issued with an identity card which had to be carried around at all times. We were then issued with our ration books so that everybody got a fair share of the available food. Everything was rationed; food, clothing, sweets, cigarettes, petrol. By the end of the war whisky was issued to hotels and public houses on quota basis; beer seemed to be more plentiful.
And then along came the evacuees, mostly from Glasgow and Edinburgh to our area. The one thing I remember most about them was the sheer helplessness of people coming from big cities to try and settle down on farms and little villages. It must have been quite a shock to their system.
We lived in a big farmhouse at that time, so we had to take in two families; two mothers, one with 4 children and the other had 5 children. I remember the first night they arrived, one of the mothers wanted to send a telegram home to Glasgow so she asked my father where the nearest Post Office was, and he said it was in Keith, that was 5 miles down the road. I think she decided there and then that she was not going to enjoy living in our area. Within three weeks they had all returned to their city homes. One boy evacuee at the next farm to us stayed on for the duration of the war, and one lad down in Cairnie stayed on for a few years after the war working on farms before returning to Glasgow. He still visits Cairnie and comes to the British Legion in Keith once or twice a year. He has just written a book about his time in Cairnie. The title of the book is “A Wee Glasgow Loon” and his name is Johnny Walker.
One other thing which sticks in my memory of that years was the blackout and how we managed to cope. It was reasonably easy in your own local town and district, but in strange areas and towns it could be somewhat tricky finding your way around. The other extreme thing was the double summer time, which operated for most of the war years. In the long summer evenings it never seemed to get dark. A point of interest at this time was, that the RAF had encountered difficulties in the training of night flying for the pilots, so they came up with the idea of painting the cockpit windows with an amber coloured paint which simulated flying in moonlight. Speaking of aircraft reminds me of seeing a Wellington bomber going on fire while flying in our area in the spring of 1942. When I first saw it, the plane was flying in a southerly direction, then I saw a flash of light and it started to turn in my direction. As it got nearer I could see that its port engine was on fire. It was slowly losing height and disappeared over a wood towards Keith and crash landed near Tarmore farm just above where today the Keith whisky bond stands (at that time it was an oxygen factory). The aircraft was completely burnt out but the crew survived. I recently read a book from the Keith library, which was written by an RAF air gunner, who while doing his operational training at RAF Lossiemouth in 1942 mentioned that he had crashed near Keith in a Wellington bomber which had caught fire while he was flying it.
After the initial close down of most places of entertainment, all or most of the dance halls, picture houses etc opened up and there were dances on Friday and Saturday nights and the picture house did well as Keith at that time had a very modern picture house showing a lot of excellent films.
Speaking of entertainment brings me to a TV show which has stood the test of time, the programme being “Dads Army”, a show which for good clean comedy takes a lot of beating. It is my favourite TV comedy show. I did 2½ years in the Drummuir “Dads Army”. We had a lot of fun but it was taken quite seriously. I would say there were more boys than Dads in the lot I was in.
Around this time, about the end of 1942, a lot of interest was created by the arrival of Italian prisoners of war to work on the local farms and forestry. I don’t think they enjoyed themselves very much in our cold climate, after coming from the North African desert, where they had been captured. Also there was a language problem to add to their misery.
Then later on, the German POWs arrived in this area, but they were a different sort of people altogether; better workers and didn’t seem to mind the weather too much. Some of them stayed on after the war was over, and some of them married local girls and are still around this area today. Two of them were very good football players and played for the Keith football team. They were Frank Hucker and Vladimir Truks.
A lot of defence work went ahead in the surrounding areas in the early days of the war, such as the erecting of concrete pill boxes for use by machine gunners, had there been an invasion of this country. Some of these pill boxes can still be seen around the Keith area, one can be found on Alexandra Road on the right-hand side another down the Kyncairn Brae just beyond the Broomhill cemetery. The ones beside Tarnash and at the Bridge of Haughs are now gone and the last one can still be seen at Isla Neuk on the Drummuir road.
There were also some anti-tank traps and ambush points. Two such ambush points were just outside Keith on the old A96 road to Huntly. The one nearest to Keith was sited at the side of the road about 300 yards beyond the last house. It consisted of 4 x 45 gallon drums, two filled with petrol and two filled with tar which had been dug into the bank at the side of the road and covered with grass and branches. This would have been activated by troops hiding nearby in slit trenches. The outline of where those drums had been laid – all those years ago, can still be seen to this day; could this perhaps be the forerunner of the deadly napalm bomb? The remains of the anti-tank traps or “Dragon Teeth” can also still be seen on the pavement of the old A96 road to Huntly.
Well that’s some memories of when I was a young Lad living on a farm in Drummuir area during WW2 – more than 65 years ago!