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> Refuge In A Storm, An evacuee's story
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Tommy Kennedy
post 3rd Oct 2010, 12:44am
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This is the article Alastair Barnett had published in September's issue of the 'Scots Magazine'. He's asked me to post it for him. Alastair is a freelance writer in Canada

Copyright 2010. All rights reserved. © Alastair Barnett

Fearnan ... A refuge in the storm
By Alastair Barnett

Some returned from the fields of gory,
to their loved ones who held them dear
But some fell in that hour of glory,
And were left to their resting there.

Glasgow, September 3, 1939, shrouded in darkness. Motorcars crawl through the streets with hooded sidelights, shop windows are blacked out and overhead barrage balloons hover ominously. Buchanan Street station is clogged with sleepy-eyed children roused from warm beds, each clutching a gas mask, and tagged with a luggage label. Older brothers and sisters console younger children, while anguished mothers; about to be parted from little ones look on with tear-stained faces. With a burst of steam and grinding iron, trains pull out, one by one, to destinations unknown. World War II and the evacuation of Glasgow had begun.

In the three days before the commencement of war on September 3rd. 1939, 1 &frac12; million people had been evacuated from the cities for rural billets in Great Britain. I was one of them.

Before the war my parents owned a shop in Glasgow and father, having joined the Territorial Army was among the first to be called up. Mother, left alone with two infants was forced to close the business.

Jim, my older brother and I were fortunate, as we were under school age mother was allowed to accompany us out of the city. We didn’t know where we would end up until the train reached Aberfeldy, Perthshire. Initially we were billeted in the home of Miss Lane, a retired schoolteacher, followed by a few days at Killiehassie, then we moved to the remote and unoccupied Bolfracks House. It was there where mother was scared out of her wits in the night by a prowler who stumbled over a pram in a dark upstairs bedroom. It was later discovered that the noisy intruder had plans which did not include the property being turned into a billet for refugees, war or no war. He made sure mother wouldn’t settle in. Next morning, we departed hurriedly for Aberfeldy where mother confronted the local evacuation coordinator.

Mr. Stewart, in charge of arrangements for evacuees, offered to house us within an empty schoolroom, whereupon my exhausted mother’s fear and frustration erupted. Angrily she advised him against further mention of a wood floor for her children to sleep on and vigorously recommended he make further enquires. He obliged and returned with the news that a cottage was available in Fearnan. Local benefactors, the Misses Parker Ness who lived at the east end of the village at Letterellen, had donated Thistle Cottage for a time, as part of their war effort contribution.

Fearnan lies at the junction of the road to Glen Lyon, with the road from Kenmore to Killin at Loch Tay. A vibrant crofter’s settlement, each stone cottage had a croft and most had a cow and hens and a pig or two. “Jock” and Mrs. Stewart who ran the hotel and shop, with two daughters Dolly and Mia, owned the Tigh-an-Loan Hotel, nestled at the foot of the Fearnan Brae. The schoolhouse stood a short distance to the west.

I was an infant therefore the details of the journey to Fearnan are from mother’s account of the events. My earliest memory is one of embarrassment sitting in Robertson’s Tea Room in Aberfeldy. I was three and my father, in Royal Engineer’s uniform, was fishing a cream bun out of my teacup with a spoon, where I had dropped it in the excitement of seeing him arrive unexpectedly on leave.

When we arrived in Fearnan the Butters family, Sandy and his wife Lucy and daughter Chrissie, were the first to welcome us and would become lifelong friends. Their home Springbank Cottage was next door, and would become my second home. Sandy, a veteran of WW1 had served in the Black Watch and on his return, had taken the job as roadman, maintaining the road between Fearnan and Kenmore. Observing Sandy from a knee-high position was intimidating, especially when he was provoked. He was a strong rowdy man and possessed an equally strong vocabulary. It has been said that when angered, Sandy’s untamed exclamations could be heard clear across the loch. But deep inside this ‘warrior,’ dwelt a gentle man.

The Kenmore minister, (retired), Kenneth MacVicar in his book, “The Wings of the Morning,” illustrates Sandy’s gentler side: “...the big strong Sandy had a soft heart. One day watching him, ‘edge’ the roadside with his spade and wondering at the neatness of his work, I was astonished to see him forsake his straight line to go round a primrose plant which was growing on the verge. ‘ That has spoiled your line Sandy,’ I suggested. ‘Ach man!’ he replied, ‘Ah widna like to hurt the pretty wee flow’r.’

That was the essence of Sandy, and his sensitivity became more apparent when my brother Iain was born at the Aberfeldy Cottage Hospital in 1942. Immediately, unlike his two bothers, Iain was accepted as a bona fide Citizen of Fearnan, and became the apple of Sandy’s eye.

My quintessential ‘outdoorsman,’ brother Jim, loved to fish. Early on, Sandy decided it was time he learned the intricacies of burn fishing and armed with a 14 foot salmon rod — mistakenly left behind by a summer visitor — some #2. Hooks, and a box of big red worms from the midden, they headed off on bicycles to the Lawers burn. Sandy, after demonstrating some casts — “always get yer worm into the back swirl o’ the pool at the foot o’ the waterfall” — hooked his prize and whipped the stout rod back with such velocity that the wee trout, all of six inches long, went whistling overhead only to dislodge and continue its flight over the heather. Jim had difficulty stifling his laughter as Sandy leapt about searching frantically for the ill-fated morsel. Jim fishes regularly at his home in Virginia now, but never forgot his first angling lesson from Sandy in Lawers.

I looked forward to summer with joyful anticipation. Young and old gathered to help each other at harvest time. Under Sandy’s direction I learned to “stook the sheaves,” after the Clydesdales had mowed the crop, and build hayricks and ‘muck oot the byre,’ and pick berries. “Keep whistlin’ when yer berry pickin,” Sandy admonished. “That way I’ll ken yer no’ eatin them awe.”

The work was hard but well rewarded when Lucy called us indoors for supper. Around a cheerful table we enjoyed tasty soups and roasted chickens, and mutton stews slowly simmered over a wood fire. Freshly churned butter and cheeses, ripened to perfection in the orchard’s shade — to Sandy’s strict standards — soda scones fresh off the girdle, pancakes and heavenly jams, and as a special treat on birthdays, a ‘clootie dumplin’ with silver three-penny bits inside. If we were poor, when we sat around that table we didn’t know it.

Mealtimes were social gatherings when all the village gossip was exchanged, but at six o’clock, Sandy silenced the chatter with a loud “wheesht,” as the BBC announcer Stewart Hibberd read the latest war news. This was of no interest to me but on Saturday nights, along with the rest of Scotland, my ears were glued to the MacFlannels. I loved Molly Weir’s character, “Poison,” Ivy McTweed, blethering away with the loquacious Mrs. McVelvet?

As children, with no concept of war, our life was in that regard, carefree. When on the odd occasion, tanks and Jeeps roared about the fields on maneuvers it was like an exciting game to us. One morning I awoke to the sound of horse’s hooves on the road. I peeked through the curtains and not a hundred yards from our front door; the road was teeming with turbaned, brown-skinned soldiers, immaculate in Sikh Cavalry uniform, riding magnificent Arab horses, with pack-mules alongside. It took most of the day for the column to pass. I felt I was dreaming and stood there for hours, spellbound.

For mother however, the war was real enough. She was stoic, but found country life hard and she missed her family. It was not, however without humour. Once, to alleviate the tedium, she planned a short trip to Glasgow and invited Lucy along; they would incorporate a visit to, “Auntie Nellie.” As they set off to the station in Aberfeldy, mother, who had kept her city clothes for special occasions, dressed in a black Astrakhan coat with a large-brimmed felt hat. Lucy on the other hand was resplendent in a MacPherson tartan kilt, brogues, a hand knitted green cardigan with matching Tam, onto which she had secured a nine inch pheasant’s tail-feather, with a large Cairngorm brooch. After lunch in a Sauchiehall Street café they emerged to see the Scotstounhill bus pull out. Mother took off with Lucy in steady pursuit, her grand pheasant’s plume gyrating in the breeze. As mother hopped onto the moving bus the conductor hoisted Lucy aboard with typically Glaswegian good- humoured banter: “Come on lassie, yer no’ in the Heighlan’s noo.” Once seated, Lucy leaned over to mother and whispered; “how does he ken I’m frae the heighlans? Ah’ve never seen him before in my life.”

The end of summer signaled the return to school. At a time when tyrannical teachers ruled many of Scotland’s classrooms and any creative self-expression on the part of students was promptly crushed, Fearnan School was no exception. My early school days were miserable. The teacher was a tall narrow woman with a pointed face and metal-framed spectacles. She was impervious to the pain, physical and emotional, she inflicted. Feelings ran strong in the village about her harshness, but despite numerous complaints to the authorities, nothing was done to remedy the situation. One day she announced to the class, that someone was terrorizing her in the night and we — all under twelve — should let everyone know that she slept with a Gurkha knife under her pillow and had purchased an Alsatian guard dog. No evidence of her allegations ever emerged and some time after I moved on to Breadalbane Academy, she left for Aberdeen. Inexplicably, she retired to Fearnan years later, and spent her last days in seclusion at the hotel. But for the upcoming generation of village children, including my brother Iain, the clouds had rolled away, and a breath of spring arrived in the form of her replacement, the benevolent and lively, Miss Maynard.

The war dragged on, village life continued punctuated by tragic stories from the battlefront. Then the troops landed at Normandy — D-Day — and a year later, on May 8, 1945, VE-Day!

“...Never... has there been a greater day... than this,” declared Winston Churchill, and the country went wild. The war in Europe was at an end. Father was coming home and mother was euphoric. But it wasn’t to be. Three weeks later on June 1, 1945, a telegram arrived from the War Office: “We regret to inform you...” Father had been killed in Greece in a work related motor-vehicle accident.

Despite the many lonely battles mother faced after the war, she had an

Indomitable spirit and sustained an exuberance and love of life. Among my treasured memories of her is a simple yet especially poignant moment, while vacationing in British Columbia many years later. We had met for a pre-breakfast stroll on the beach. The early morning sun was already quite warm and a breeze drifted off the sparkling blue Pacific. With an expression of gentle serenity she raised her face to the sun: “Isn’t life wonderful?” she whispered. Mother lived happily on Vancouver Island until she passed away at age 83. She was my hero.

Stories abound about the mistreatment of “evacuees,” during the war years, and for some it’s been said, the evacuation was a traumatic, sad experience that left a lifetime of scars, and for others, an exciting adventure. If I experienced any scorn as an “evacuee,” I’ve forgotten, although at times I felt uncomfortable with the word; in some vague way it conveyed feelings of alienation, and often I have experienced feelings of isolation — of ‘not belonging’ — then and since. Scars? Perhaps. But I was a child and my heart told me that my life began in Fearnan and I left it at that.

Young children are not altruistic by nature and it was later when I looked back at the Butters family, and all the villagers, that a sense of awe struck me; a profound admiration for the generosity of spirit indwelling the souls of these folks who embraced us — mother a stranger from the city with three young boys — into their homes and their hearts. It was a romance that would last a lifetime.

A hush lies over Fearnan now except for the songbirds. No cockerels greet the morning. The once abundant fields are barren; many of the cottages are used only for vacations and are shuttered in winter. The 100 year-old Stewart family dynasty at Tigh-an-Loan hotel has recently ended and the village shop, no longer profitable, is closing its doors. The school and playground lie deserted, and the children’s laughter —and tears— has faded into the mists of time.

Although my physical relationship with Fearnan ended long ago, the close spiritual bond has lasted a lifetime. This historic highland village not only provided a refuge during those stormy years, it invoked a sense of mystery, and yielded a kaleidoscope of vivid memories: Even today it is not difficult to visualize the village life as it was then, and when I close my eyes, just for a moment I believe I can see the white- capped waves on the loch and hear the children’s voices carried on the wind as they tumble from the schoolhouse at the end of the day: Wee Billy and Andy, Margaret, Mary and Isabel, Archibald, Jim, Donald, Elizabeth, Dochie, Jenny, the Grindleys ...

Mr. McLaren, the village tailor, like the Pied Piper, leading us wee “bairns” through the brilliant hedgerows of autumn to gather hazelnuts, and his kindly wife, serving us bowls of brambles and cream when we returned to crack open our harvest by the hearth.

Alastair MacDougall the gamekeepers son, who would “borrow,” his dad’s ferrets and eagerly share his expertise at rabbit hunting, and passed countless hours with me under a canopy of beech - trees in the cool, dark primrose dell behind the hotel, netting minnows and tadpoles, or daydreaming to the soft murmur of the burn and the distant larks and occasional cuckoo.

Freezing winter nights, ink black, when the wind raged off the loch, rattling the doors and ripping limbs off the trees. When snow drifts blocked every road for miles, and Sandy, smoking his pipe by the fire, kept me wide-eyed with heroic tales of his, “Big War,” of 1914, before I climbed the stairs to the wee bedroom beneath the eaves, with a hot-water bottle, a paraffin lamp, and the Beano.

On a visit from America in 1967, I knocked on the door of Springbank Cottage. It was a sunny April day, and just as I remembered from childhood, daffodils bloomed everywhere. The door opened and Sandy stood before me — his familiar worn cap set at a jaunty angle on his white head — it would be our last meeting. He seemed smaller now, his eyes a paler shade of blue. A collie nuzzled his knee. “It’s me, Alastair,” I took his hand. His eyes explored my face and then, filled with tears.
Several years later, while sitting on the garden seat in front of Springbank Cottage looking out over his beloved the loch, the gentle warrior took his final leave.

March no more, my soldier laddie,
there is peace where there once was war
Sleep in peace my soldier laddie;
Sleep in peace, now — the battle's o'er

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Tommy Kennedy
post 3rd Oct 2010, 12:58am
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Hello there,

I hope my story- above- in the Scots Magazine this September (My Refuge in the Storm) will rekindle memories of WWll as experienced in Glasgow. It should be in magazine stores now. September 2010

I'd love to hear from anyone who lived through this stormy time in our beloved Glasgow.

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post 3rd Oct 2010, 01:03am
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Lovely, poignant story. Loved the bit about Lucy and the conductor!! I'm slightly too young to have memories of the war, being born in '51, but I do know that we owe so much to the people that got this country through it.

Slainte Mhor
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post 3rd Oct 2010, 06:17am
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Give me the Kleenex,Im getting emulsional reading this.
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post 3rd Oct 2010, 08:34am
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Aw Tommy Kennedy whit are ye daein' tae me? sad.gif First thing on a Sunday mornin' and ah'm greetin'. Ah just loved Sandy and ah wanted Alistair's daddy to come back safely to them. I never realised before just how long those years of WW2 would be especially in the life of a child. I almost tasted that jam and cheese. Thank you for posting it.
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post 3rd Oct 2010, 01:26pm
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Pass they tissuses, tae me when you all done.. Lovely story Tommy I can't imagine what it must have been like to be one of those weans ...


You don't have to live next door, to be a friend !
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post 3rd Oct 2010, 04:00pm
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Lovely reading and although I was born after the war I felt every bit as if I was there with him, his writing is so descriptive.
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wee davy
post 3rd Oct 2010, 04:13pm
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Thanks for posting Tommy.
Alistaire's story was most deservedly worthy of an 'outing' on our thread.
What talent we have, throughout the world.

A storyteller has weel & truly done has done his job, when he takes you there

Walter Scott eat yer heart out! lol (That's me fell oot wie Big Sean Connery again! Ach well - he's nae story teller, Av jist read his last book, aboot 'Being a Scot'! Awe pictchurs , and little'warmth' and realism. Ah mean - who writes a book these days, wie a whole chapter devoted tae MacBeth!

Is it any wonder he says he will never settle back in Scotland until it gets back its full Independance? There IS a 'romance' aboot it - but he didnae get it right - like Alistaire managed it.

Well done Sir.


adversus solem ne loquitor

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post 3rd Oct 2010, 07:20pm
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Very nice posting Tommy...Spent lots of time in Aberfeldy and surrounding area over the years...great story!
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post 3rd Oct 2010, 07:20pm
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well done tommy, the writing is so descriptive, it was just like watching a movie, a really good one, i too was born after the hostilities, but got a better insight into that life after reading this than, watching some of these t.v. programmes. my hat is off to you Mr BARNETT.

i saw a coo upon a hill its no there noo it mustve vanished.
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post 3rd Oct 2010, 07:30pm
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Thank you, a beautiful little story. I somehow landed up in a miners cottage between Avonbridge & Standburn ( Staneyburn) with a miner and his two Grown daughters. I remember his moleskins "standing by the fire steaming to dry out for his next shift. The Galv`y tub baths. Taken to the kirk and "baptized in a wooden built in tank" Already baptised in St James`s Episcopal in Springburn.Trying to dye easter eggs at the outside Washing boiler and scalded my self from my knees to my feet. having to walk a couple of miles to have the Doc. treat my badly scalded and "SORE" legs. moved back to Glasgow the we got a wee place in Wallacestone Near Polmont. and an aunt and cousins next door, with more Aunts and cousins down the hill in Reddingmuirhead. , Things were much better as we could go back and forth between Falkirk and Springburn. We could also watch the Fighters taking off from Grangemouth and attack the Jerry Planes, watched some dogfights with them We kids had a great time doing all the Country things.Spent some time in Surbiton at an Uncle & Aunt. Learned to hit the deck when the engines cout out on the Buzz bombs (V1`s) then a V2 (ICBM) landed nearby and split my Aunts house in two.(in the wee Andeson Shelter in the back Garden).Weird scene in the aftermath. All in all an exciting and character building time. Sad too as you never forget the dead and the smell of burning flesh..Looking back thro the years I have lived couple of lives in one liftime. Seen the sadness of Mans inhumanity to Man and the beauty and kindness in Man. Seen places I`d only seen in Movies , Met people I`d only seen in Movies done things I`d only seen in movies.Married to same woman ( wub.gif ) for 57 years, wathched kids turn into good adults ,Grand kids, and Greatgrandkids.I will always be amazed at the kindness & friendship shown during WW2. The free Polish, free French and the Canadians And Americans. lots of good memories. Among the Bad there was a great many "Good Old Days"
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Scots Kiwi Lass
post 3rd Oct 2010, 10:10pm
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A very heartwarming story, Tommy - many thanks. I do love these old stories .

I was born in Glasgow in 1942. My dad was in the Navy and away for most of the War years. My mother lived in Maryhill with my sister (5 years older) and me. We didn't get evacuated and I've often thought how hard it must have been for mothers left at home to cope with the horrors of war and bring up their weans on whatever money they got from the Government.

I had another older sister, born in 1939, who died in 1941 of meningitis in Ruchill Hospital. How hard that must have been for my mother. My mother's mum (granny Walker) lived in Dennistoun and my mum and her 3 sisters all went home to the mother when it was time for them to give birth. Several of us cousins were born there, so that would have been a big comfort to them. My mum also had another baby girl, born in 1944.

How I wish I could have talked to my mother about those years and also after the War but sadly she died in 1953, leaving 3 girls. My dad lived till 1992 but we didn't talk about the war years, much to my regret. I hope to visit the Merchant Navy archives centre in Richmond, London, next year when I visit my daughter. Maybe I can find out something of his war records then - I hope so.


Kia mau ki to Maoritanga
.............. Hold fast to your culture
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post 3rd Oct 2010, 10:24pm
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I too, enjoyed reading Alastair Burnett's story of his evacuation during the war. I stayed with my grandparents at that time as my Dad had taken a job in Glasgow in 1939 and Mum and I joined him in 1940, but after the second Clydebank blitz I was sent back to Annan to stay with my grandparents. I hovered between being an evacuee when there were picnics, parties etc. and just being 'back home' where I had lived for most of my life except the almost year in Glasgow. Except for the rationing I wasn't affected too much by the war, my grandfather used to get eggs, butter, rabbits, etc. from a farmer friend. The worst time was at night when we would listen to the German bombers flying past to the Clyde and then return over us again about an hour later and then not knowing what had been bombed as my parents lived in Scotstoun. I do remember the night while I was still in Glasgow when, probably during the first Clydebank blitz in the March, my Dad was firewatching in the field in front of our house and he saw an incendary bomb coming down, it landed on the houses on Queen Victoria Drive across the field. Most of the houses were demolished and our windows at the front of the house were all blown in. As my grandfather was very involved in our Church we used to have people stay with us for a short time before moving off somewhere else, they were mostly adults but I remember clearly two young German Jewish children, Ernst and Irene who were with us for quite a long time before being sent off overseas for their safety. I can't remember their surnames but I still have photographs of us in our garden. I would love to know what happened to them. It is a long time ago but the memories are still very clear.
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post 3rd Oct 2010, 10:40pm
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A harvest of memories from the exciting and romantic past of a wee boy in a strange land in stranger times.
Thanks to Alastair for his recollections and to Tommy for letting us enjoy reading them.

"Destiny is a good thing to accept when it's going your way. When it isn't, don't call it destiny; call it injustice, treachery, or simple bad luck.”
― Joseph Heller, God Knows
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post 4th Oct 2010, 11:28am
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A lovely story and thank you Tommy for posting this on his behalf.

I was also born after the war, so have no personal memories of the sort, or of the war.

It just makes us think how lucky some of us were not to have lived through a world war.

I found the story poignant and sad, but as it came from the heart also very beautiful.

Thank you.

It is possible to fail in many ways...while to succeed is possible only in one way.
- Aristotle
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