Despite the war and the government campaign to spend one's holidays at home, we did go away for a holiday every year of the war. While I was young the venue was Campbeltown, my parents' home-town. Getting to this small town situated almost at the tip of the Mull of Kintyre in Argyllshire was a major problem. The old steamers, the Davaar and Dalriada, ceased sailing from Glasgow at the start of the war and went off to fight for us; the passenger traffic had to be handled by bus over 137 miles, many of them over twisting, turning, mountain roads, from Glasgow. There were of course fewer buses than there was demand for and this, together with all the other problems stemming from the war, made the whole trip an exciting adventure.
The most memorable trip occurred in the summer of 1942. Our family plan was that my step-mother, my sister and I would travel down by bus and my father was going to cycle all the way by road at a later date.
As was usually the case, my step-mother anticipated the problems of getting on a bus and we were at Robertson Street up near the Broomielaw, well in advance of the departure time of the buses: we arrived at the bus station at about midnight and the buses were not scheduled to leave until 8 am. Despite being early, there was already a considerable number of people formed in a queue at the point on Robertson Street from which the buses left. There was no well-appointed waiting room in these days - we simply formed a queue, a custom at which we were all very good, on the pavement and waited.
Sometime in the middle of the night a suggestion was made that we try and get something to eat. There were of course no cafes or shops around darkened Robertson Street in the middle of a wartime night in Glasgow, so if something were to be obtained then someone would have to hoof it to the only place where it might be possible to obtain food - Glasgow Central Station.
I and some other happy holiday-makers went to the station. We walked along the blackout shadows of the Broomielaw passing rather a lot of unsavoury looking characters both civilian and in uniform. Going up Oswald Street to Hope Street we followed a marching column of sailors. It seemed odd that these sailors would be here in the middle of the night. They were the scruffiest bunch of sailors I ever did see. There were no tally bands on their hats and they wore no three-stripe collars. All of them carried their kit bags and hammocks. Perhaps they were some ship's company going on leave; anyway, we followed them to Central Station.
The station was very much a busy place even at this time of the morning. At the London platform there was a queue which went right out of the station and onto Union St., and I don't know where it ended. There were servicemen of every description all over the station. Some were drunk and singing, others were with girls, and every seat and corner in the darkened station accommodated sleeping serviceman and their kit. Polish sailors appeared to be all over the place; a bunch of Royal Marines slept on a mound of kitbags piled around a small station truck; a group of red-pom-pommed Free French sailors stood around a gate jabbering in French to the great unconcern of the Glaswegian porter. The company of sailors that we had followed into the station sat on their kitbags without the usual nattering and bantering and looking very sullen and fed up to the teeth. A naval shore patrol paraded around the station; pairs of military and civilian police kept watchful eyes on all that was going on.
To me the whole scene was exciting and I walked around the station gaping in awe, listening to snippets of converstaion, identifying uniforms and badges, absorbing everything I could see. I stood for a while watching an Irish navvy and a soldier rummaging in the soldier's kitbag. I don't know what they were looking for, but they finished up fighting.
We stayed in the station much longer than we had expected. However we did manage to get some cheese rolls and with these we headed back to Robertson Street. The whole episode of the visit to the railway station in the middle of the night kept me stirred up for the remainder of the wait. I kept wondering where all these servicemen were going, where had they been, what would they be doing tomorrow when I was in Campbeltown; and the column of sailors whose scruffy appearance rendered them so mysterious... what story could they tell? I had been in many railway stations, but never at 3 am nor in one that didn't have trains coming and going, and certainly never in one with so many servicemen of so many nationalities. It was an experience I enjoyed very much.
Since most of the people in the bus queue were going on holiday their spirits were high and the wait was typically jovial for a Glasgow Fair Saturday crowd. The rest of the nocturnal wait passed uneventfully and ended more or less with the arrival of four big red "McBraynes for the Highlands" buses. The buses were jammed with people in no time at all. We did manage to get on a bus, but my sister and I, as we had expected, had to stand. This of course was no great problem and just added to the adventure. My step-mother had the first seat inside the bus and we were able to sit in the bus stair-well, right at the big window and had a bird's eye view of whatever there was to see.
It was quite some time before the buses left, and despite the buses all being full, room had to be made for all members of the armed forces going on leave. When the portly figure of David McBrayne himself came to our bus with some sailors and soldiers, all the passengers had to squeeze further into the bus. However my sister and I were able to retain our door-step vantage points.
The buses lumbered along Argyle Street and Dumbarton Road with a great deal of difficulty because I suppose, of the extra weight we were carrying. Going through Yoker we saw the first signs of the bomb damage from the 1941 Clydeside Blitz - gaps in rows of tenements and many recently-formed gable ends. Clydebank, after the dreadful hammering it suffered from the Luftwaffe, still had enormous heaps of debris and rubble, smashed and burnt-out houses all over the place. The streets of course had all been cleared and the rubble was tidily heaped. However it was surprising that so much evidence of the blitz still remained. There was further evidence too among the oil-storage tanks on the hillside at Bowling and Old Kilpatrick - a number of blackened mangled shells of tanks still dotted the hillside.
The day was beautifully sunny and warm. Loch Lomond shimmered on our right as we sped along the quiet twisting lochside road through Arden towards Luss. Beyond Luss, probably about 3 miles from Tarbet, our bus stopped and pulled onto a grass verge. The driver told us that the bus had broken down. We all disembarked and headed for the shore of the loch.
It seems to me we were there rather a long time. I thoroughly enjoyed myself around the shore of the loch and for a long time most of the other passengers did too. Time passed however, and mumblings of discontent could be heard from the older passengers and servicemen. A naval petty officer picked up his gas mask and left in the direction of Tarbet; there was little or no traffic on these wartime roads, so I didn't think he'd get very far. The other buses had long since left.
A repair truck arrived, but after a short while we were informed that another bus was on its way from Glasgow and would be arriving shortly. I don't know exactly what was meant by "shortly", but I do know it was almost 2 o'clock when we boarded another bus and set out on our merry way up Lochlomondside.
Normally buses going to Campbeltown had a scheduled rest stop at Arrocher on Loch Long, but our bus stopped only long enough to pick up our petty officer passenger who by this time was absolutely plastered. This small village was the headquarters of the Royal Navy's torpedo-firing range for submarines. There was a submarine in the loch at the time and as the bus passed round the head of the loch we had a perfect view of it diving into the deep dark water.
We left Loch Long and headed through Glencroe towards the "Rest and be Thankful" (at this time the road wound its tortuous way to the summit over some grades which had a slope of around 1 in 5!). Our big red McBraynes bus with its claymore-wielding, targe-bearing kiltie emblazoned on its side, drove for the hill with a determination the kiltie would have been proud of. Halfway up the hill the engine started to stutter, and so did the apologetic driver as he asked us to kindly leave the bus and walk the rest of the way up the hill!
Out we got for the second time on the trip and started walking up towards the top of the hill. The bus passed us, labouring to get round the steep bends, amid cheers and jeers from the not-too-happy Glasgow holidaymakers and servicemen. And, weaving his drunken way from side to side up the steep mountain road, our leave-bound petty officer cursed and blinded David McBrayne and his big beautifully coloured bus with every spare breath.
I did not mind the walk at all; in fact I quite enjoyed it and looked upon it as a continuing excitement of the wartime holiday. At the top of the hill we boarded the bus again and were off in the glorious sunshine over the switch-back part of the road to Loch Fyne.
Driving around the sigma-shaped head of Loch Fyne towards Invereray provided much to interest the passengers. The loch itself appeared to be absolutely jammed with landing craft and boats of all shapes and sizes. There must have been exercises going on as the landing craft were coming right up to the shore and disgorging screaming steel-helmeted soldiers armed with all kinds of weapons amid cracks and bangs from lots of explosions in simulated battle. The village itself was just seething with servicemen and military vehicles of all kinds. In particular I was fascinated by the uniforms of a large number of the men: they wore the khaki battledress of soldiers and hats of sailors. I could not understand what they were and never did find out. In retrospect, I suppose they could have been members of the crews of the landing craft.
All around the village there were Nissen huts; not just a few, but hundreds of them. I don't know how many members of the forces were around Invereray at this time, however I would guess the numbers to be in the thousands. It was a massive Combined Operations camp.
We should have stopped here, the half-way point from Glasgow, for a break, but only the drunken sailor wanted to stop so the driver pushed on heading for Campbeltown. We were held up again near the village of Clachan by a convoy of army lorries. The convoy eventually stopped and the bus was able to pass it and get on his way. We arrived in Campbeltown at 10pm after a journey which took 14 hours to cover a distance of only 137 miles! The joy of a wartime Glasgow Fair holiday.