An Interview with Catherine Drummond

Catherine Drummond, in the company of her daughter, recounts her life growing up in Scotland and enlisting for the Women’s Royal Airforce (WRAF) at the age of nineteen. Catherine talks about her experiences as wireless operator during the Second World War and meeting her husband, John Boyd, during his wireless telegraphy training. John was killed in an air accident near Italy when they had been married just ten months and Catherine was eight months pregnant. Their daughter never met her father, whose body was never recovered, and Catherine recalls the challenges she faced after John’s death, including seeking financial support, the physical manifestations of grief, loneliness, her visits to the war memorial in Malta. This interview was conducted by Dr Melanie Bassett on 21 February 2019.


This is Melanie Bassett, recording for War Widows’ Stories project. It’s 21st February 2019. Could I get you to give me your name and your age and what you do now?

My name is Catherine Drummond and my age is 96. I’ll be 97 next month.

{Daughter} April.

April, sorry.

And can you tell me about what you do with yourself these days? What do you do with yourself, do you have any hobbies you pursue?

No, now, no, because my eyesight’s going. I’m registered as partially blind now. So I don’t … I’ve lost all … I can’t read and I can’t see my own mail. Isn’t that right Catherine?

{Daughter} But you’re going up to the Scottish War Blinded in Edinburgh though, Mum?


{Daughter} You’re going to the Scottish War Blinded in Edinburgh Mum?

Yes. I’m registered blind, partially blind, and I’m registered also with War Blind, because I was in the Air Force.

{Daughter} You’ve got things in Edinburgh.

I’ve just joined the Scottish War Blind now and I go every Thursday. I’ve already been twice. And they have everything there for all … I never knew about it, for all the men and women that, you know, are losing their eyesight. They’ve got computers and they do pottery, and woodwork. The men make lovely toys, wee barrows for children and wee tables and chairs, and big benches for the garden. They can buy them but they only pay for the wood that they use. We go and we get a cup of tea and a biscuit when we arrive, and then we get a lovely lunch. Then whatever’s on, they have a … What do you call it? Maybe games or entertainment. Then we get a cup of tea and a cake, then we get a bus home. It’s quite good.

I’m meeting a lot of … I know a lady who goes on a Thursday, seemingly they go on a Friday, so I’m with all these men so all I hear is football, and football, and football. [Laughs]. So I know all the football teams.

 Can I ask you about your early life? Where did you grow up?


 Where did you grow up?

I was born [coughs]. Excuse me. I was born in Coatbridge in Lanarkshire. I went to school there. So I was about 12, then my mother and father came through to Stirling and we lived with my gran and grandad. Then we got … We moved to Bridge of Allan and the house was called ‘The Children’s Hotel’ and we got the cottage. My Mum was a cook there, and I, when I was 15, I helped with the children. There were children whose parents went abroad, you know, worked abroad. So they maybe came home and had their baby, then they had to go and leave the baby and maybe came home a year later to see their children. From there, at the beginning of the war, we moved up to Crieff. By that time, the Crieff Hydro was taken over by the Army. So I used to be the only one on the bus among all these soldiers and men from Bridge of Allan, Stirling, who’d been called up, you know.

Then I saw this advert in the daily paper that the RAF were looking for women for motor mechanics. Well anyway, I said, I wrote away for it. [Laughs] It was funny. I think I went to somewhere in Stirling and had an interview, then I got my calling up papers. I was only 19, never been away from home. They told me I had to go to Gloucester, which is the end of the world to me. So I got on the train, travelled all the way to Gloucester and got there about 10 o’clock at night, got off at the station, and here was this huge army lorry sitting waiting for … Like a herd of cattle going in. And taken to the camp, which was called Innsworth. She took me into the hut and there was the iron bed and what we called … There was a mattress in three bits, but we called them biscuits, and a sheet and a pillow. She said, “Just make up your bed and you won’t have to get up early in the morning because you’re late tonight.” And that was not true. 6 o’clock in the morning: “Everybody up!”

They told me to bring a pair … A flat pair of black shoes, lace up shoes, which I didn’t have so I bought a pair. They were far too small! Anyway, we got up and got washed and went for breakfast, and then we started. We got inoculated. We got vaccinated. I had my periods; pains in my stomach. I went out marching and I ended up with a sore arm, a sore tums [stomach], and two beautiful skinned heels. And I was wanting my Mammy.

So we were interviewed and they said, “We don’t need motor mechanics, we need wireless operators. So if you can spell, we’ll see how you get on.” So I spelled every word until it came to the word “cycle” and my mind went blank. He said, “That’s alright.” So I was there a fortnight and I was sent to Newcastle. Longbenton, outside Newcastle. 9 o’clock in the morning. We had to be there for 9 o’clock in the morning so we got the electric train from Longbenton into Newcastle and arrived at the GPO [General Post Office]. And I didn’t feel well, I’d taken vaccine fever so I landed in sick bay. I was lying in sick bay feeling sorry for myself and the bombing started at Newcastle. So whoever it was said to me, “If you’re frightened, get out of bed and get underneath the bed.” I said, “Indeed, I will not. If they’re going to hit me, they’ll hit me on top of the bed,” because you didn’t get that claustrophobic feeling. So that was that.

So I went back to the school, the man there gave me a wee bit extra tuition because I’d lost out because of that. That went on for six months and we all passed. It was great. But going home at night on the electric train. The Germans would come over to bomb Newcastle, and the train would go in darkness, and you would just sit there until the train started again. You’d crawl along and when you came to Longbenton, you’d go into the station and run down the hill into the air raid shelter. I got claustrophobia with being in air raid shelters – I didn’t like it at all. Then you went back to your billet. This went on for six months, then we were posted to Blackpool, pending posting, and I was there. We stayed in a house; 22 Read Avenue, I’ll never forget it. And she was horrible. The landlady was horrible. She didn’t want us. We froze but she said, “If you want a nicer blanket, you can get if from the Air Force – you’re not using my blankets.” So that was that. I got lice in my head, my hair and I had to go to the medical thing.

I came back to the billet with my … In those days, if you had long hair, you rolled it up, and I came back to the billet and everybody knew that I had lice in my head and I was black affronted. I was really … Oh, I wasn’t well. They were thinking, ‘oh, she’s a dirty person, got lice in her hair.’ Anyway, I got over that. So we paraded back and forward along the front for war drill and we … What was I going to say? Yes, and we went to the ballroom in Blackpool, to the dancing, and we got in for eight old pence. Eight pence, not ten pence, just eight pence. I was saying to Catherine, I never saw the dance floor. The dancing was on the television, what was it?

{Daughter} Strictly.

Strictly Come Dancing. Because there were so many men pending to go abroad that you never saw the full, you just saw the, you know, from there [indicates shoulders] upwards. It was funny. So that was that. So from Blackpool, we … By this time, I’d met my friend, Margaret, and we were told we were posted to Oban. So we arrived at Oban. But as our train stopped at Stirling, we got off and got on the bus and went home. My mum gave me half a crown, which was a lot of money in those days, and I just put it in my great coat pocket, and we arrived on Oban. Our base was the Argyle Hotel. We were taken in and interviewed and they told us where our billet was. When I put my coat on again, my half-crown was gone, somebody had pinched it. So that was that. Then we were taken up to our digs, which had been a hotel at one time. It was called Burnbank House.

I was taken upstairs to the drawing room. There were only about four or six beds and a dressing table that was it. [Laughs]. Oh dear. That was that. There was Bessie and me, and Chris, and Dorothy. It was quite good. And the bathroom was just outside. So we were taken up to Dungallan House to where we were to work, and we worked 8 ‘til 1, 1 ‘til 6, 6 ‘til 12 and 12 ‘til 8 in the morning; that was our shifts. So when we came off nightshift, we had to, you know, we went to bed. But the WRAF officer used to come round and check you were keeping your place tidy. She objected to us lying in bed so we had to complain and say we’d been doing night duty so we were in bed, so we got a wee notice on the door. Then you had to get up and make your bed and clean the floor. We had no dusters or anything so as we’d got sanitary towels given to us, we just used those as dusters. [Laughs]. I know, it’s funny! Oh dear. I loved it, it was a good life.

As I say, all these Canadians and different flyers came up to keep in practice for when they went flying. And that was that. We had a fireplace with a fire and we used to buy a loaf, get a fork and toast it, and make tea, and have that through the night. Then when we got off in the morning, we went to one of the big hotels for breakfast. Then we went to bed. The first time we did night duty, we didn’t get up, and it came to 12 o’ clock and they were looking for us. We were still in our beds, sleeping. We never got up. [Laughs]. I’d never been up all night in my life. [Laughs]. It was funny. Then my husband came in. But he wanted to be a Wireless Operator Air Gunner, so he was there until he got accepted for that post. So that was that. He lived in a hotel and the woman that owned the hotel was called Mrs Boyd, and he was called Boyd too, so they got on well together.

Then from there he was posted to different places, for his training as an Air Gunner. I remember going to the Isle of Man – I was terribly seasick … When he was there. Then I went to … I can’t remember. I remember he came up to Alness when I was there. The people there were so, so … What’s the word? Narrow-minded. They’d say they wanted to see my marriage certificate before she’d let us have bed and breakfast. But there was a lot of that went on. So the first night he came, he got a bed in the Sergeant’s Mess and I went back to my digs. It was a dreadful place, oh my goodness me. As I say, I found out that I was pregnant because I fainted on pay parade, and the WRAF officer we called the “Queen Bee” – oh, she was nasty. And she didn’t want us to go and in the end … I think I fainted again and then she, as I say, she sent me to the hospital in Invergordon, to this naval officer who was a doctor and confirmed that I was pregnant.

And then took me into a room and gave me a lecture on how the Government had spent all this money and I had gone and got pregnant. Oh, he went on and on. I was saying to myself ‘I’m a married woman. I shouldn’t have to go through this.’ And Alness and Invergordon, I think it was three miles, so I had to cycle there, and then I had to cycle back. They’d given me a letter and I steamed it open to see what it said but it just confirmed that I was pregnant. Oh gosh, the WRAF officer, she was not chuffed at all I think maybe they were short of wireless operators, I don’t know. It was a very responsible job. I must have been a wee bit clever, eh? So anyway, that was that.

Margaret and I had got our bicycles up on the train, it was half a crown, 5 shillings, to get your bike up. I remember this Airman had said to me, “Can I borrow your bike?” I said, “Yes.” Dungallan House was off a steep driveway, wasn’t it? We used to cycle … Run down the driveway on our bicycles, and at the bottom of the road was mirror so you could see what was coming. My bike wobbled when I got to the bottom. I said, “There’s something wrong.” Do you know, it was split? And I nearly went into the wall and got killed. From that day to this, I never saw him because he never let on that he’d broken my bike. Oh, it was terrible. Where we were in Dungallan House, we were in this wee room with … What do you call it? Doors out? Glass doors out. And then we went along the passageway and up the back stairs. This was the maids’ quarters. And the toilet was there. The house was supposed to be haunted.

Oh, to go to the toilet through the night, I was scared stiff. It was pitch-black, you weren’t allowed a light or anything and it was pitch-black. I said, “I’m not going up that toilet again. So up the front stairs was a wee toilet, I said, “I’m going to use that one for the officers.” So I goes into the toilet and I’m ready to come out when I hear these footsteps back and forward. I thought oh, that’s an officer, so I stayed in as long as I could then opened the door and came out to face him, and he never said a word and I never said a word, and I went down that stair like a bat out of hell.

But he never said anything. Because, you know, there was a difference between officers and the lower class. But anyway, he never said anything. I was put on a charge because, I was in the Argyle Hotel to collect mail and you took your hat off. And I was coming down the stairs, I put my hat on, and there were two RAF police and they said, “You’ve come out without putting your hat on.” So they put me on a charge. I got an hour’s gardening, and there were no tools. I just got a poker and poked around for an hour. [Laughs]. It’s funny, looking back now. Then this big boat came in with these Americans on it, hadn’t seen a woman for six months. And boy oh boy, they’d even come into our digs at night. We had to get to the police to come and chase them out and lock all the doors.

They would chase us up the road. Oh, it was fun. I’d never been chased like that before. I don’t … As I say, Margaret and I were on duty one night and the Duke of Kent’s plane was to take off from Oban Bay. I don’t think the weather was good, but it was for Royalty, and everything was being done to a schedule, and off he went. And the next thing, the wireless started … The Morse Code started coming through. Of course, we didn’t know that the Duke of Kent was on board, or on thingamy, until it came through. Oh boy was there a panic. I’m sitting there sending messages; and all these ‘scrambled egg’ folk[1] with their caps standing behind me. But we never got a mention. We were the only two on duty that night and we never got a mention. But it doesn’t matter. So that was that, there was a great panic then. Then they discovered that when I was posted up to Alness, that’s where a plane had come down, away up in the hills there. But nobody ever said anything. I’d forgotten … We’d forgot all about it.

Another time, there were big Sunderland planes, we had 28 Squadron, and the Bay [Bay of Oban] … In came these huge planes all around for about 11 hours, and they would come down into the bay and go whoosh! Right down. Margaret and I were going on duty this day and there was a wee shed outside our work place, and the guard on the door said, “Don’t go in.” We had our bikes and that’s where we’d put them in. He said, “Don’t put your bikes in there.” So being us, we looked in the windows to see what was wrong, and there were the dead bodies lying on the floor, and you could see their watches. Their plane had gone down. I’ll never forget that, I can still see them all lying there in their uniforms, and that was another military funeral. We lost quite a lot of planes in the Bay in Oban, [which] I’m sure are still down there. Another time, we were in contact with the islands like Colonsay, and what was the other one?

And if we weren’t busy, we’d practice sending English … You know, not Morse Code but English, and these boys over in the Island asked us if we would come and visit them. They arranged it all and we got on this RAF boat, got out into the bay into the open sea. Oh boy, the rain came down and oh my stomach was … So somebody said, “Go downstairs.” That was the worst thing to do. By the time I got to the island, we were like drowned rats. Our hair, our uniforms were soaking, our hair was hanging down. You know, the boys never asked us back again. [Laughs]. That’s about all; we just cycled around at night-time when we weren’t working, changed into civvies, a jersey and skirt, and cycle round about Oban. So as I say, I went up to Alness. I remember, I bought New Year in Perth train station. I don’t know what happened to the train but I thought, ‘oh, I ‘m going to be marked absent.’ So for a shilling, I got a bed with the Salvation Army and they wrote me a chit to say that … I don’t know whether the train didn’t turn up or what happened, so I was alright, I wasn’t put on a charge, because I would have been late you see?

So I got a nice wee bed for a shilling at the Salvation Army. I don’t know what else I can say? As I say, I was brought up in Coatbridge, went to school there. I remember the school went on fire. And I thought, “Hurray, we’ll get holidays.” We did not … We were sent to the Academy and got educated there. Then I came to Stirling, went to Riverside School. Then I got a job and I joined up and that was that. Then I came home from the WRAF, got my discharge and came home. By this time, I was beginning to show and I attended the Royal Infirmary. My friend, Margaret, came through for the weekend, and the last bus from Bridge of Allan to Stirling was quarter-past nine, so we got that into Stirling station and the guard said to Margaret: “Where are you going?” She said, “I’m going to work.” “Not tonight, you’re not, he says. There’s no train. The first train is 6 o’clock in the morning.” Well, there was no transport to get home so we walked from Stirling to Bridge of Allan, which was three miles.

It must have jiggled her [her daughter Catherine] because my brother came with us, and my mother. And my brother Charlie walked on and ordered a taxi. So the taxi came to the house, dropped Margaret off at Stirling station, took me to the Infirmary, and by the time Margaret got to work, Catherine was born. That was that. I don’t know what else? As I say, I got word to say, a telegram to say that my husband was missing, presumed killed. Then I got six months, well whatever it was time, to say that he was presumed dead, and that was all. When I was in the services, I paid into the RAF Benevolent Fund and they said, “If you ever want anything, get in touch.” So Catherine was 10 years old and the Queen and the Royal Yacht Britannia and all the Mediterranean Fleet were doing the rounds. And she was calling in at Malta, because my husband’s name was on the war memorial in Malta because he’d no known grave, and the Queen was opening it [the War Memorial in Malta].

So I had, fortunately, I had an insurance endowment out which paid for me, but I didn’t have enough for Catherine, which was £17. But that, with a pension of £4, was a lot of money. So I wrote to the RAF Benevolent Fund and asked for their help. And unbeknown to me, they had put it in the hands of the British Legion. And I was going home for lunch this day and I met this Bridge of Allan fella and I just said hello to him.”By the way,” he says, “Your name came up at a meeting last night.” He said, “You’re asking for money.” He said, “Well you’re not getting it because you’re able to go out and work.” Well! I was never so ashamed in all my life. And I went home down the road with tears running down. I was so, so, what’s the word? So [Pause] taken aback, it broke my heart. And so that was that. So Catherine didn’t get … But my brother came with me. My mum, my mother and father couldn’t do a thing because my dad wasn’t working at the time, you know. During the war there was no work for anyone.

So we travelled to Venice and we got on the boat at Venice and sailed up the Grand Canal and then on to a Greek boat to take us to Malta. Boy, were we seasick! Oh God were we seasick. And we stayed and slept on the boat. And I always remember there was all the big wigs there, Lord Mountbatten and his wife, and the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh and all the big nobs and what have you. And there was a service in the church and Lord Mountbatten spoke from the pulpit. It was really, you know, it was beyond us because we didn’t know any better. But it was nice. And then we came home. But … So we wrote, Catherine [Johnstone, her daughter] wrote to the British Legion in London but to this day they never answered your letter, eh, no? And that was my experience of the British Legion, which I thought was dreadful to treat anyone like that who’d served the country and whose husband had given his life for his country.

They couldn’t even help me. So I got no help whatsoever. The only help I ever got was when my eyes began to go and I went to the hospital in Dunfermline and he said to me, “You’re, you’re partially blind.” And he said, “But you’ve got all the benefits that you want, that you need.” I said, “I never had any benefits in my life.” And right enough, I haven’t. The ladies came to the house, didn’t they? And told me all about the blind and that. And then I happened to mention that I, it came in the conversation that I’d been in the Services, “Oh well, you should be in with the blind, the War Blind.” And that’s how I came to, and that’s what I’m doing now. I get a bus from here, from door to door and in to Edinburgh. And as I say, they’ve got all these amenities that you can do. Swimming, what do you call it? The arrow, with the arrow?

{Daughter}  Archery?

Archery and, did I say swimming? Woodwork, pottery, um, oh I don’t know … Gym. I’d like to do the gym but I’ve got to wait until I get a doctor’s line. I’d love to stand in this, you know the roly-poly thing, you know, your feet going like that in the gym and … But they haven’t got that one. And the entertainers, when I was there last Thursday they had a lady singing. What a beautiful voice she had. But as I say, I’m the only women there among all these men but the patter is good.

So if I could take you right back ’cause we’ve had a, a potted history of quite a lot there. I was gonna ask you about your family when you were growing up. Did you have brothers and sisters?

Yes, I had two brothers, Charlie and John. John joined the Navy and Charlie joined the Black Watch and he wore the kilt. And I always remember him saying, when he came out of Redford; Redford Barracks in Edinburgh, he had to stand in a mirror to see if he had pants on or not under the kilt [laughs]. I never forgot that. I thought that was awfully funny. But John joined the Navy and travelled everywhere and Charlie went to Egypt and oh, I don’t know. And you, you grew up with them, Catherine. They were like a father to her and I just carried on working. I joined a dramatic club. [to her daughter] You seen me learning my lines. And I went to Scottish country dancing, dramatic club, Scottish country dancing and, as I say, I went out working at the night time.

I used to go up to the Allangrange Hotel at 7 o’clock of a Saturday night and you had a dance till early in the morning, you know. I and all I got was a pound. So I worked hard, believe you me and I got nothing from anyone. [To her daughter] And I worked hard, didn’t I, Catherine? And I had many, many, many sad, sad times when I used to go out, you know, dancing and everybody had a partner. It was, it was hard, very hard. And och, I, that’s it, so now I’m, I’m 96 and I’m, touch wood, I’ve still got my health. I’m not on any medication so that says a lot, just that my eyes are going. That broke my heart. I mean I can see across the road but it’s [a] blur. And then I went deaf. Old age doesn’t come alone. 

Can I ask you about your education as well?

Och, I just went to school and that was that. I remember I got the belt for running along the corridor. But och, I just passed and that was that. I wasn’t … I was just educated and I mean I could have gone further but I just didn’t … My brother Charlie was very clever. I suppose in a way we’ve all got a wee bit … I think people think I’m clever because I did the Morse Code and that, which was very, very difficult to begin with. Then as I say, I left school at 15 and got a wee job in ‘The Children’s Hotel’ in Bridge of Allan and then moved up to Crieff at the beginning of the [Second World] War. Then I, I says to myself, “I’m gonna join up,” so I did and that was … I was happy. I was happy then but after that, no. My Mother was very strict and she only had two sons, didn’t care about her daughter at all. She turned against me when she got older ’cause once her sons got married, they didn’t have the same time.

And I used to say to them, “For God’s sake, will you come in the front door and go out the back door so that she sees you.” But that was that. So I looked after my mother for over 30 years, didn’t I Catherine? So I didn’t have a very happy life really but I’ve survived. I’ve got my health and that’s everything. And now with the War Widows’ [Pension], I’ve got a good pension which goes up every year. And, one thing the War Widows’ Association did was we didn’t have to pay income tax on our pension, which was great. It made an awful difference. So now I have my War Pension and my Old Age Pension. I’m not well off but I’m not poor, if you know what I mean. And this is it, I don’t know what else to say.

I was gonna ask you about when you first met your husband.

Oh John, John, yes. He … As I say, went … He travelled all over England to different places to learn to be an Air Gunner. He was posted to Melton Mowbray and I went down there to see him, and that’s the last time. And I remember standing at this house we lived in, I was standing at the back door and his plane came over and it dipped and that was the last I saw of him. His plane came down somewhere in Italy. And we’d only found out recently that he … The plane came down and; the Pilot was Canadian; he was killed, John was killed and the … There was a stranger on the plane but the, what do you call them? The Navigator wasn’t on the plane. And it only came down and landed in so many fathoms of water, didn’t it? And, they recovered one body, two bodies and … But John is still lying at the bottom of the water.

So he went away abroad on the 25th of May and he was killed on the 25th of August. And Catherine was born on the 25th of September. And that was that. There was communications between the War Office and me, and then one day … One morning the post came to the door and handed me this book, log book belonging to my husband – five years later. Never said it’s coming or anything about it, [claps] “That’s it, take it.” So that was that. He was a nice lad. He was a very nice lad. His mother and father lived in Londonderry and his father had a tailor’s business. But I found out recently that he had written to the Air Ministry, as I say, and asked what had happened. But they said, “You’re not next of kin, you won’t know.” And, well Grandpa Boyd [her Father-in-law] died coming out the bank in the street and they just, they never told me, they just said he’d died and that was that.

And then Granny Boyd [her Mother-in-law] was left on her own. And she never mentioned her son’s name to me from the day he was killed to the day she died. I was just … It was just as though Catherine and I didn’t exist and it caused a lot of heartbreak, [To her daughter] didn’t it, just recently? And, this is what knocked me ill and I had to go to the doctor and my blood pressure was up and I had to get pills, which I’m still on, to quieten me down. It wasn’t very nice of course. The family all think that the reason why I brought it up was because I wasn’t left anything. Money was not at all … It was because I wasn’t told anything, I wasn’t given anything belonging to Cath for her dad. And that’s what got me. She never got a Christmas card, or a postcard, or a birthday card from her grandparents. I went over there when she was 18 months old and she [her mother-in-law] didn’t … You know, she just didn’t bother about Catherine and that, bother about me. It was just, “I’ve lost my son,” and that’s that. So it was … Life was hard.

 Can I ask you about how he attracted your attention? What was the first …?


How your husband first attracted your attention, how did you start to get to know each other?

Oh, he came into to work in the Wireless Room, pending posting to go to wherever he was getting posted to learn to be an Air Gunner. And we got married, I can’t remember, was it 6 o’clock at night we got married in the church? And I always remember we went to Edinburgh for our honeymoon. We travelled on the bus from Stirling to Edinburgh on the bus and got into these digs and then we went back. And when I went back I was … My friend Margaret was away. She was posted up to Wick and I was posted to Alness and that’s when … It wisnae good. They weren’t nice up there at all. I worked underground and I had to, that bothered me as well. I got this claustrophobic feeling being under, under the ground.

{Daughter} Mel’s asking you how you first got attracted to my dad and how you got together?

He just asked me out.

{Daughter} Sorry.

He came in one day and the next day I went out to wash the cups and he came and asked me out to go to the pictures. I said, I said I didnae want to go, but anyway I went and that’s how it came about.

Um, so how did he propose?

Just, I don’t know, just, he just says we’ll get … He was, he was pending a posting abroad and that’s how we came to get married. That’s right, that’s it. So I had, I bought a pink suit and got married in that. I should have got married in my uniform but … And we had a wee reception in one of the hotels in Stirling. I think it cost my mother about £5 or something. And that was that. There was certainly a few … There wasn’t many at the wedding. I remember it cost me £4 something and I had to pay so much to get the hem put up. Fancy buying a nice wee pink jacket and skirt for £4? But that was a lot of money then. I didnae imagine going to stand and salute and get my shilling a day and pay … And you had a Ration Card and you could get sweets and cigarettes and that; your ration. Then you’d go to the canteen and the woman there made nice scones. You got a cup of tea and a scone. You had to pay for it.

And then we played table tennis. Margaret and I were a dab hand at table tennis and that was our life, as far as I remember. There were no … That’s all I can remember. As I say the … We lost a lot of airmen in the bay in Oban. We were never, Margaret and I never ever got a mention that we were on duty. A lot of people are saying they were on duty that night but they weren’t in our room. It was lonely and, I didn’t … Well I didn’t bother, neither did anybody else bother. Of course you see I never took my wedding ring off so they all thought I was married. I remember my friend Winnie and I used to go on holiday together and she got asked up to dance. She came off the dance floor and she says, “Have you ever danced with an octopus?” [laughs]. When I retired, Winnie and I went on a cruise to New York on the QE2. Oh I was terribly seasick and it cost me £7 for an injection to stop the seasickness.

It was the first time the QE2 … It was sailing after the … You know she [the QE2] came back from – wherever it was – so the workmen were still on board. And so the ship wasn’t just as it should have been. We were awfully seasick. And Winnie and I were in this cabin, there was no window but there were curtains up, supposed to be a window you see. And every time the boat went that way, the curtains came out and then the boat would go that way and the curtains would go back to the wall. I’m lying bed oh, oh. Anyway, we got up and they said, “Now don’t be eating too much.” So there we were in the dining room on the QE2, beautiful tables and they were all eating caviar and what have you. Winnie and I had scrambled eggs [laughs]. It was funny. Oh dear. What comes into your head, eh?

So can I ask you about your, um, how you found out that your husband was lost at sea and what happened?

I got a, a tele  … I got a letter, a telegram. I remember I was outside the door of the cottage where we lived and up comes the telegram boys, in those days, and up comes, I can’t remember his name. And I said, “Oh, hi.” And he handed me the telegram, never thinking as I opened it … And I just screamed. And that was that. And then, just they communicated after that, just said that they would let me know what to … That my allowance would stop and I would get a pension and they’d tell me how much it was, and that his belongings would be sent back to me and … It mostly was just letters that I had written and, whatever it was. [Pause] You know, just whatever he’d left in his locker. And that was all I got.

And, then now and again I’d get some communication either about a pension or about something else. But nothing, nothing really helpful from the War Office, nothing. Um, I forgot to tell you that when I came out of the WRAF my ration book and coupons to buy furniture and coupons for clothes and [laughs], and I had to go and stand in a queue and the fruit came in and the rations came into the shop and you got your coupons out and you got your sugar and your butter. Thinking back now, I’ve even got the wee, the wee cards that I got when I attended the infirmary going for Catherine. You got a wee green card to say that you were there. I always remember the … With me being pregnant with Catherine and getting that news, it must have upset all my innards. I couldn’t stop, my periods went on and on and on and on and I kept attending the infirmary for eight years.

I attended the infirmary and they wouldn’t do anything. And latterly this doctor … I crawled to the infirmary and I crawled up to the table and I said, “I can’t take this anymore.” He says, “We’ll give you a hysterectomy.” And they did. So I went back to the hospital. They had at the top of my page, “Husband missing.” My initial doctor had a big family and he says to me, “And why have you not had any more family?” I said, “If you look at the top of my paper you’ll see why.” That put his nose on a plate. They weren’t really nice to you. They just didn’t bother, you know? It was heartbreaking the things you had to go through just because you were a widow. It was dreadful. I’ll never forget it, the way I was treated, it was horrible.

Can you tell me about Catherine’s birth then and about when your daughter was born? Was someone in the room with you or did you, er …?

Well I was in the infirmary yes and then I bought her home. And we didn’t have a bathroom, we just had a toilet in the house. So we got out the tin bath, you know, and bathed her on the floor. But she was a … She wouldn’t eat. She wouldn’t eat [laughs]. But she eats now, don’t you? But, that was that. I remember I bought a second hand Marmet pram, you know, the big prams like that and I paid, was it, what did I pay for it? I either paid £12 for the pram, or £12 to get it re-padded. And I thought this was great; wheeling this big Marmet pram. I thought I was the whole cheese but then I swapped it for a folded pram later on. That was about all. I just brought her up. She took was it Scarlet Fever? When she was two and a half and they took her into hospital and she was in for six weeks but you weren’t allowed to see her, you know, because in case she contaminated people.

And when she come out, she wouldn’t look at us. She wouldn’t have anything to do with us because she’d been in the hospital for six weeks and forgotten all about us.

And how old?

Or we think that anyway.

{Daughter} Two and a half.

She used to go and huff [laughs]. So you were brought up there till you were two and a half and then we moved to a house in Cawder Gardens and you went to Bridge of Allan School and then Riverside School. You did ‘not bad’ and then she got … When the children were [grown] up you got a job in the Police Headquarters in Stirling, didn’t you? Ah-ha. And my grandson joined the Police as well. He’s just retired at 48. He’s done 32 years and came out as a Superintendent. So he’s done well, better off than his old Gran. So that’s about my life I think unless you …

Well I was wondering about … One of the things we didn’t touch on was how you got from being in the WRAF to then coming … And then coming out. And you said you lived with your husband. So how was it, how was it arranged? Were you in married quarters or did you just …?

No, no. No, he was away abroad, as I say, somewhere in Italy and I just came home. That was all there was to it. No, no married quarters or anything, no, ’cause he was away most of the time. We were only married ten months.

And did you know what he was doing in Italy?

No. Flying. Um, I don’t know. They didn’t tell me. No, it was all secret. In fact it was not so very long ago, Catherine, we found out where his plane came down and how many fathoms of water and who was in the plane. I don’t understand whether they were out in a … I don’t understand this person, stranger on the plane. Nobody tells you anything. You’re just left in limbo.

And was he shot down or was it an accident?

No. Seemingly it wasn’t, we don’t know. We took it; it was the plane just broke down and went down …

{Daughter} Engine.

… But we don’t know. They don’t tell you anything.

So did they tell you about where he was going to be commemorated? When did you get the news that he was going to be commemorated on the Valletta War Memorial?

What, in Malta? Well Catherine was 10, so that would be just before that because as I say, the Queen was opening the memorial. So that was a long time.

And how did you feel about him being commemorated so far away?

I was very, I was very pleased that his name was up and his pilot’s name, he was Canadian. He’s on, [to her daughter] your dad’s name is on Panel 14 and the Canadian pilot is on another panel. Their names are all down on panels like that [indicates direction of the panels]. There was nothing there except the war memorial but I went back since and it’s all surrounded with flowers and trees. Nice, eh? It’s the Sunday … What was the paper that … ?

{Daughter} The Mail, Sunday Mail, no?

The Sunday Mail or something like that wanted to do a … I’ve got it [finds the article]. Oh sorry, I think I’ve pulled it out. The War Widows’ Association …

{Daughter} The War Widows Association have been very good, haven’t they?

So that one’s in Scotland on Sunday?

That’s it.

And that’s your … That is November the 9th 2008 and that’s your story on there. We’ll get a, I’ll try and find a copy of that.

 [Pause in the recording]

 {Daughter} You don’t realise just how much there is that you can go into, eh?

Yes, whole life story, whole life. You’ve had a long life as well so there’s a lot to talk about.

You reckon so?

{Daughter} Loves to travel, don’t you, mum?

Oh, I love to travel. I’m on my fourth passport. I’ve been to Australia nine times. We go every two years. Well I’m not going back again.

{Daughter} Well not for the moment anyway.

Yes, I have travelled far and wide; Canada three times, San Francisco, Los Angeles.

{Daughter} Bali.


{Daughter} Nice.

You like Bali?

I’ve been there, yeah.

A poor country but it was nice, eh?

{Daughter} Lovely.

And, where else? Malta, many times I’ve been to Malta.

{Daughter} Hong Kong, Singapore.

Singapore, Hong Kong.

{Daughter} Hong Kong is actually where my Dad’s squadron, 114 Squadron was sort of  … They had an affinity with Hong Kong, didn’t they? And we love it there, eh?

Singapore, Paris. I didnae like France. Then I’ve done the whole of Scotland from top to bottom.

{Daughter} Yugoslavia.

[Pause in the recording]

Okay, so if I could just ask you about what support did you get from friends and family when you became a war widow?

Nobody ever said anything, I just took it for granted. Nobody ever mentioned it or anything that I was a widow or anything. They just took me as they, as they found me. In fact, nobody ever mentioned it. Neither did I. So we just carried on as we’re doing now.

Did anyone ever assume that you were living in sin or you’d had a child out of wedlock?

{Daughter}  Mmm-mmm


{Daughter} I think there was.

I can’t hear you.

{Daughter}I think there was that. There was that, Mel, sorry, uh-huh.

I can just re-say the question again. Did anyone ever assume that you had a child out of wedlock?

No, no, because I didn’t you see. I was married. No, they just, they just led their own lives and let me get on with mine and that was that. I never … Mind you, I didn’t have many relatives left living. The ones that just bothered was my two … My brothers and my parents say, that was all.

Did you get any help with childcare while you were out at work?

Did I get any help?

With childcare when you were out to work?

No, no. In those days you didn’t get family, Family Allowance if you’d only one child. You had to have two before you got it. So I never got anything. No, I never got anything. I just went out to work and lived my life and that was that. Nobody ever said, “Here’s £1,” no. Anything I earned I worked for, everything.

So who looked after your daughter when you were at work?

My mother. My mother and father ’cause I lived at home you see, so Catherine stayed with my mother and father and my two brothers. And I just saw her at, when you went to school you … I saw you at … I didn’t see you at lunchtime, no, ’cause you were away at school, just at night time. And who? … I think my brother, was it my brother Charlie that did your homework with you? That was all. Nothing startling. No, nobody bothered.

And so were you living in the family home?

Yes, all the time, right up until we, as I say, my mum died and once before I retired. And then Catherine lost, well you lost George [Catherine Johnstone’s husband], hadn’t you? Lost George, her husband. So then, well I knew Alistair but then we got together and, as I say, we got married. And Catherine, when Alistair died, you came to live, eh? And that was that. So I’ve had to put up with her ever since [laughs].

Recorded for posterity as well [laughs]. No, no, it’s fine, I’m only joking. Um, so can I ask you … You’ve thrown me now [laughs]. Um, can I ask you about the effect that the grief had on you and your physical and mental wellbeing?

What the grief had on me? All my, my innards, they said that was the cause of the hysterectomy I had to have, that upset me. That was a hard time. Mmm-hmm, no. That was it and just I wasn’t happy, you know. I was, I missed a lot and Catherine missed a lot not having her dad, very much so. I mean I couldn’t give her whatever, I was working. I couldn’t … I mean she never wanted for anything but, we could have had a better life let’s say. It wouldn’t have been so lonely. I had girlfriends I went out with and that but none of them, they weren’t married. Margaret was, but Winnie and Annie; they all never married so I was just a spinster like them. Good times and bad times, especially all the hours I had to work. I was often glad to see a Sunday morning when I could get a long lie [laughs]. Ah dear.

Did you do anything special for Armistice Day Remembrance services or do anything on his birthday or commemorate the day the plane went down? Is there anything that you do or have done?

Just, um, through the War Widows’ [Association] putting a poppy down but other than that, no. Um, once a month I used to go up to Edinburgh. There were three of us, or four of us, used to go but they all died and I didn’t go [by] myself. But that was what? Eight years ago, wasn’t it? When we stayed in Dunblane?

{Daughter} Longer.

Longer. Oh aye, 12 years we’ve been here [current home], that’s right, yes. That was that.

So when did you join the War Widows’ Association? When did you become involved?

I joined the War Widows’ Association not long after it opened. I’ve been a member for many a long day. I used to go to the … Well once or twice I went to the Annual General Meeting but not anymore. Those nights it was very nice. That was when I had someone to go with, you know. But as I say, they’re all away now. We’re all about the same age which made a difference, you know. We had a nice time.

{Daughter} I take you now. I take you to the things now.

I don’t know what she’s saying.

{Daughter} I take you to them now. I take you to the War Widows’ things now.

Oh yes. Aye, yes, sorry. Aye, Catherine takes me to the War Widows’ if there’s a lunch. We were up in Dundee not so long ago and we were at Dunfermline not so long ago for a lunch and there’s the Provost … One of the days we were at, the Provost was there. And the War Widows took us to Falkirk football ground and it was lovely, wasn’t it? They gave us a lovely tea and … But they didn’t sign me up [laughs]. And, when you came out from the under the stand there was a blue carpet put down and I said, “That sound be a red carpet for us,” [laughs]. But they didn’t, they wouldn’t, they had lovely footballs but they wouldn’t give us one. I felt disappointed I didn’t get a football. Um, it was nice though. But the War Blind is going to, in April, is going to the House of Parliament in Edinburgh. And I said, “Oh, I’d love to go.”

They said by the time I joined it was all booked up but if there’s a cancellation or someone doesn’t want to go, they’re going to put my name down. I’d love to go to the Parliament in Edinburgh, see all these green-faced MPs [laughs].

Can I ask you about how you met and married your second husband?

Alistair? Well my friend Isa, who lived just across the, the houses there, her husband and … Isa’s husband and Alistair were fishermen. So they used to go away for a weekend and I always visited, Isa in the house and most times he was there so that’s how we got to know [him]. But we didn’t really get to know together until I retired. So that was how it came about. Alistair had been a widower for 17 years and he had one daughter and … Rosemary. And we got on alright. I don’t get on with her husband but that’s beside the point. [Whispers] Horror.

So did he move in with you and your …?

Yes, I had, when, they built flats in the main street in Bridge of Allan and we had this big four apartment house with a huge garden and there was only my mum and I and it had no central heating. And it was far too big and cold and so I applied for one of the flats. And there was one with … A one bedroom flat, but it was nice, wasn’t it, Catherine? It was up a stair and it had a balcony and you could hang your washing out. And it had one bedroom, one bathroom, one kitchen and a sitting room. And, the ex-Provost, Robertson, the Provost woman, she said, “Oh but there’s two people, not very good for two people in a one bedroom.” I said, “If you go to a hotel there’s two people sleeping in one bedroom.” And so anyway, they gave me, they gave us a thing and we had two single beds in the bedroom which was big enough, wasn’t it? And I got them to … These people that, what do you call them? Sharp, to put the built-in wardrobe, you know, with mirror doors and that made the room look bigger as well.

So we had that. So my mum lived there and she could look out the window and see what’s going on in the main street and that. But one time I came home and the Police! She’d put potatoes on and fallen asleep and forgotten all about them, nearly set the house on fire. Oh, what a mess it was. So after that she was forbidden to touch the cooker or cook. And it took me ages to get the smell of burnt out. It was terrible. These things are all sent to try you, aren’t they?

So did Alistair move in to the one bedroom?

Yes. He was, Alistair worked on a farm away outside Dunblane and when he retired, he got a flat further along the road from me but in the same building. And that’s how we came to get together, you know. And he moved in with me because, well I never thought of moving out to his flat. His flat was ancient. I was more modern [laughs].

And so was your mum still alive at this time or?

No. No, I didn’t get married to Alistair till after I was retired. Um, I think it was about a year, was it?

{Daughter} Two.

Two years? Oh well, two years. So that’s my life history, not very interesting.

I wondered if you lost your War Widows’ Pension at that point?

I did. I did. Then the War Widows’ [Association] brought it out that if you, you know, you could be reinstated and I was and I’m very grateful because I think they do marvellous work.

So how long did you lose your pension for?

What was I married to Alistair,17, 18 years? I only got it, did I get it when we were in Dunblane?

{Daughter} You got it after he died I think.

Aye, that’s right. I applied for it and they gave it to me, which was good. So now you get a decent pension.

Was it a consideration that you would lose your War Widows’ Pension when you married?

Yes, they tell you that, yes. Oh, that’s all written down in black and white. And then, as I say, it came out that you could reclaim it so I did. And I was lucky. But there’s not many of my age left, although you see quite a few when you see the Armistice in London. But there are a lot of the young ones. I have been to the Albert Hall in London to the Remembrance, didn’t we, Catherine? And it was lovely. The Albert Hall is great. And Alfie Boe sang. We were, we got a wee box to ourselves, didn’t we? The steps coming down were there and we were here and the Royal Family were up, all the high hedrons were above us. And I wanted to … That was when the war widows were allowed to go down the steps and I asked and she said, “Er, there’s too much standing about. You wouldn’t be able to do this and do that.” I said to Catherine, “She’s never seen me in my life. She doesn’t know me like I am.” I didn’t get to. I got, as I say, I got a seat in the Albert Hall so that was nice, wasn’t it?

Was that paid for by the War Widows’ Association?

No, no, you pay yourself. Actually you’re just paying, you’re just paying for your digs down in your hotel, ’cause the rest of us all, er … But it was very, um, I mean you were searched going round and your handbag. I says this is, I says to the policewoman, “This is like going through the customs.” But oh, it was, I was glad. It was interesting. I quite like London. I’d only been through London in a taxi, and saw Buckingham Palace but we didn’t see it this time. We were … When was that? That was years ago, five, six?

{Daughter} It must be.

I can’t remember.

So can you tell me about your trip with your daughter to Malta that was funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund?

Oh yes. It was … It was really, they did very good but after all we got there for nothing, didn’t we? You had to write a wee story of how, you know, just like I told you what happened and we got taken. We got  to go to Malta. And, the newspaper reporter came with us to see and told us to point at my husband’s name and it was very interesting. The digs weren’t very good but that doesnae matter.

How long were you out there?

{Daughter} One week.

Seven days. A week, yes.

{Daughter} It was lovely.

It was lovely, mmm-hmm.

{Daughter} We had been before but it was, it was when …

We had been before but we took the chance.

{Daughter} The young photographer that met up with us through it all, um, he was lovely. He took some nice photographs.

Can I ask you as well, Catherine, as someone that is a daughter of a war, er, a war widow and, you know, you lost your father, you never met him, what it was like to see the memorial?

{Daughter} It was lovely. It was, what would you say? It, it made you wish there had been, he’d been found and he had a grave. But it was nice that his name was somewhere, you know.

That’s right.

{Daughter} ‘Cause his home town doesn’t have anything.

His name’s not even in his home town.

{Daughter} It’s not in his home town. They only have, with all the trouble in Ireland. It’s Londonderry, they never did a World War Two memorial, it’s just for the First World War, which is lovely. But it was nice that his name was somewhere. And Malta was the nearest part to where his plane came down just off, it was just off, er, Piombino I think, across from Elba. That’s where the plane came down so Malta was the, you know, the best place for it. And it’s in a lovely spot in Valletta, it’s just outside the sort of city walls and it’s … It’s lovely. It’s a lovely big memorial, very difficult going there. I went with my husband and my children in 1980. That was the first time I had gone to see it. And it was nice. It was really nice to go and see it.

I always said I’d go one day under my own steam when I didn’t go with mum and then we’ve been a few times after that. And then this was a bonus going with the Lottery Funding. It was, it was lovely. Um, and we did a lot of …

It was good to be chosen, wasn’t it?

{Daughter} Yes. And they had a young photographer there that wanted to take some pictures as well because it all had to be sort of, you know, all tied in with the Lottery Funding and they wanted to know what we were doing. And we actually went to see some other places in Malta. In actual fact, we had one hilarious week that time we went ’cause a lot of things, funny things happened which made it light hearted as well. It wasn’t all doom and gloom.

Was there a big group of you that went that were funded or was it …?

{Daughter} There was people from all over Britain. There wasn’t any from England I would say though. And, um, we didn’t really get to know anyone.


{Daughter} They recommended this hotel, which turned out not to be a very good one, but it was fine for the time we were there. And it was in Sliema. And so there was a lot of people there in the same circumstances. But a lot of them, there had been groups that got together and gone but Mum and me, we just done it on our own, because I don’t think there was any groups up here that were sort of going, were there?


{Daughter} So, um, we visited quite a lot of historical places so that when Mum came back she could put it altogether and, and let them know what we had done, you know. So it was really, it was fantastic.

So for the tape I’m interviewing Catherine’s daughter, Catherine, about her experiences as a child growing up the daughter of a war widow, having never got to see or meet your father. Um, can you tell me a little bit about your experience from your childhood and what it was like?

{Daughter} Yes. It was difficult at times. We stayed in a sort of crescent of houses. There was about 25 or 26 houses, wasn’t there, Mum? And each house had been allocated to families, so there was lots of children there and they all had their mums and dads and I didn’t have my dad so I was picked on a wee bit but I still had good fun, you know. And I remember, when I saw a plane above, just as a wee one, I thought my Dad was coming home. I always thought he was coming home, you know? I couldn’t, I don’t think I really understood why I didn’t have a dad, in a sense, until I was a wee bit older. It would just be a wee thing by then, you know. And I remember a lady, well her daughter, I keep in touch with her on Facebook. I remember telling her this day, it’s just wee things you remember. There was a plane flying overhead and I said, “That’s my daddy coming home.” I don’t know how old I was.

And I think she had mentioned it to Mum, you know, but I mean it wasn’t, it wasn’t. I just must have had this inside me that he was going to appear some day because everybody else had their daddies and I didn’t, you know. And then the fact I hadn’t brothers and sisters, which as I say to mum is not her fault, you know, that was a wee thing as well. I’d have liked to have had an older brother or a sister or that as well. So I got close to my cousins. Mum’s two brothers had two girls each and there was two in particular that I got close to when they were born so that helped. And then my cousins in Ireland they were more like brothers and sisters so although I didn’t see much of them …

They’re all in Australia.

{Daughter} In Australia now but they were part of, you know, helping the process as well. But, I don’t think anybody understands until they’re in that position, you know, how a wee girl feels and not really knowing what happened to him for all these years too. Um, and then it was my grandparents basically, my Gran was always there when I came home from school at lunchtime and at night, eh? And, my mum was home some nights, you were after 6:00pm before you come home, weren’t you? So she was tired. So my uncle, my mum’s youngest brother, my Uncle Charlie, you’ll see his photograph out there with mum and dad.

He was the oldest brother.

{Daughter} He was the one that had the time because my Uncle John was mostly away in the navy, wasn’t he? And he had a dog, Sailor, a lovely spaniel, Springer Spaniel. So I had the dog came into my life and my uncle used to take me on long walks with them and we climbed one of the hills, the Stirling Dumyat, and he took me to the cinema. And he kind of, before he got married, he was … I never called him Uncle, he was “Charlie” and my Uncle John was “John” because they were more like brothers in a way, older brothers, you know. So my Uncle Charlie was the one that, he did step in quite a bit when I was little and done some things with me, which was nice. And then he got the dog. Then he went away. Was he away, he went to Mandeville and then he went away to Cyprus for a year. Well I was the one that took the dog to the vet on the bus and just I suppose he brought a wee bit of, what would you say? Not normality but he brought a wee bit of a father figure into my life, which was good, you know. And I think there was quite a good bond between us, wasn’t there?


{Daughter} Um, my Uncle John was, oh, he was a navy man and he was, he was, what …

He as hilarious.

{Daughter} Aye, he was. They were both good, er, what would you say, good sense of humour but my Uncle John was the more hare-um, scare-um one, wasn’t he? He was the younger one. So my Uncle Charlie was this sort of strong father figure that helped out when he could, you know, so that, that was good. Um, but I think you do miss out, like Mum did. You do, you miss out on lots of things but I was fortunate to have my two uncles and my grandparents. I mean my grandparents were good with me. I was very close to my granny, wasn’t I, Mum?


Were you aware of the relationship with your other grandparents? Did you ever feel that it was off or did you …?

{Daughter} When, yes, I sensed it very much so. In fact, Mum and me were just talking about that when we came back from Australia, weren’t we?


{Daughter} Um, I didn’t realise that … There was a remark one of my cousins made that my grandparents had bought her, she was good at drawing, my grandparents had bought her a drawing book and colouring and things and that. I said to Mum, “I never got anything.” There was, I did sense it, I did sense it very much so, yes. I only saw them for a fortnight every year but I never got cuddles from her, either of them. There just was no, she was, she was far back from me. I can remember that as I grew older. I sensed it more and more but, quite sad really. I mean they were, they were a lovely … They were lovely people. They were church goers and very, my grandfather was a very upstanding man, wasn’t he? Um, my grandmother just lived in the past I think.

That’s all she did.

{Daughter} But she never seemed to, it was my dad, I think, that was a loss and although my cousins said, “Oh, she loved you very much, she never showed it.” And I think that didn’t help growing up either. And you do sense these things, don’t you, really? Um, but having said that, Mum worked really hard and she bought me nice things, didn’t you? You got your car and I remember having a tricycle. Not that you were looking for anything like that. You didn’t a way back then. You don’t get as much as the children get. Children get such a lot now. But what we had, everybody shared their things, as I was saying earlier on. The girls up, further up from me got a two-wheeler bike and we all learnt to go on it and had good fun, you know. So the children that I grew up with helped as well. Although they weren’t my brothers and sisters, they helped as well.

Do you think you were always aware of the fact that your dad had died? When do you remember being told or being more cognisant of the fact that your dad had died in the war?

{Daughter} I think I was, I think I was well up in the primary school before it … I was well up I think. I can remember, because I remember I was at the school when I told Mrs McLennan the plane above, I thought that was my dad coming home. I think I was quite well up before it really dawned on me he wasn’t coming back, you know. Because that’s what some of the upset we had when we came back from Australia because we found out that my father’s sister and her husband had thrown things out belonging to my dad. Like I said to the family, his little school books and wee toys and I said, “You know, when I grew up, that would have helped me if I’d had some things belonging to my dad that I could associate with.” And I didn’t know my grandmother had them because as I said, there wasn’t that closeness. She didn’t go and get these little things down and say, “They were your dad’s.”

And I mean as the years have went on, I’m now what? Nearly 75 and to find out that I could have had things belonging to my dad when I was little or if she’d shown me them … Maybe understand well, it would have helped, you know, just to see something, that he was a person. So it’s upsetting.

Do you feel that you’ve been able to deal with your grief because it’s something you were born into I suppose?

{Daughter} Um, I don’t know if I had grief. I don’t think I understood that then.


{Daughter} Sorry. Um, latter years, yes, eh mum? And more so for what happened in Australia last year too. The feeling of being left out by my grandparents when they could have helped me to understand I had a dad; he had things, he went to school like me. They didn’t materialise.

But they never sent you a present when you were born or went across and they never mentioned that I had a husband, and how was I getting on or anything. It was dreadful, looking back.

{Daughter} Worse for mum though, you know. But that’s what grandparents do; they show you photographs, don’t they? Um well, you know, they show you things or they talk about, they would talk about your; your dad maybe growing up or your mum, “They used to do this. He was a little rascal. He done that and that.” I never got that from them. I don’t know what he done when he was young.

Neither do I. They never said to me. Well we’re in a different position.

{Daughter} My grandmother could talk about things that my two uncles done as little boys. They were a couple of tearaways. I never knew what my dad done to this day so …

Whether he got into mischief or not.

{Daughter} So late in life to even be still, you know, not knowing so much. It’s quite hurtful. So I don’t think …

Aye, just as though you didn’t exist.

{Daughter} I think, I don’t think it ever really leaves you but I don’t, I don’t know. It’s, it’s a funny kind of feeling. I always wished I’d known him but, er …

It wasn’t meant to be.

{Daughter} It wasn’t meant to be.

Your life’s all mapped out when you’re born.

{Daughter} I don’t know if that helps you or not? I’m not getting at my grandparents because they were my grandparents, but they could have helped me too, you know. They could have. They could have helped mum just to talk about him. Maybe they couldn’t. Maybe they found it too hard to do it, I don’t know. Maybe they did, you know, or maybe that’s just how people were all these years ago. But I mean I had a good, we had a good life growing up, eh? Mum worked hard, did her best. I went to visit my family, and maybe a different life from what some of my neighbours and friends that I grew up with had, but it was fine, you know. We had a good, a good life. Bridge of Allan was a great place to live in, you know. There was the river, the woods. We used to have some great time playing hide and seek, things that children couldn’t do nowadays, you know.

I had a good, good life in Bridge of Allan. It was, the freedom was there, you know. A crowd of us just taking off and going away up and watching the trains go under the bridge, the railway line and places you shouldn’t have been but you went anyway, you know. It was good. I don’t know if that helps you, Mel? You can cut a lot of it out [laughs].

No, thank you, that’s lovely. Um, so if I could ask you a few roundup questions. “Catherine One,” [laughs], um, can I ask you, do you think in your perception there is a change in war widowhood from when you became a war widow to more recent war widows and what would you say they are?

Um, I, I think it was harder for us in World War Two than it is nowadays although mind you I don’t think that the war widows today, it’s just the same, they wouldn’t get the same help I don’t think. I don’t know. I haven’t spoken to any of them ’cause it’s nearly all my, well my age that goes, that I come in contact with. I don’t know whether they’re … I don’t know. No, I think it was more difficult then because, I mean although their men went away to Afghanistan or wherever it was – a war – they were here in Britain where it’s peaceful, whereas during the war it was war here, if you understand what I mean. I’m sliding down [the sofa].

What would you like other people to know about war widows that they don’t? Are there any myths that you think is misunderstood about war widows?

Well I think, I don’t think that they get enough help. I mean as far as I was concerned, I didn’t get to … They communicated with you maybe, like for instance sending that book five years later out of the blue. Um, I don’t think, they just sit there and say, “Oh, we have to send a letter to so and so,” and off it goes. There’s no, no feeling, no, no nothing, if you understand what I mean? That … I don’t think even this day that they, they get help. Maybe they do, I don’t know. Have you done any … Oh, of course it’s war widows you’re after, eh? I don’t know. I just know that I had a very hard time and, and missed such a lot in life. But no, I can’t really say. I need to be talking to some of the young widows to see how alike it is.

{Daughter} It will be hard for them in a sense though, won’t it, just as hard, the husband doesn’t come back.

You can’t really explain it. And there’s, to tell you the truth, nobody is interested. They’re just, “Oh, what a shame,” and that’s that. That’s all you get. They just don’t understand just how hard and painful it is to be left like that, but that’s life. Life goes on.

And just one last question. Is there anything that we haven’t covered that you’d like to say?

I don’t think so. I think we’ve done very well.

You’ve had it all [laughs].

{Daughter} Your questions have been very good.

I think we’ve done very well. I can still picture myself up in the services. I mean I thoroughly enjoyed it. Of course I had freedom from my mother. I mean she was good enough but she was awfully strict. She used to batter us, “It wasn’t me, Mammy. It wasn’t me,” “Aye, well I’ll hammer the three of you and then I’ll be sure I’ve got the right one,” [laughs].

{Daughter} But she was good with me.

When we lived in Coatbridge, you know, it was an outside stair and you went in and it was just gas lamps, you know. You bought a wee mantle for two tuppence and it was what do you call them – billet and beds – you know. You come in the door and the two beds were there and then it was the fireplace and then it was the window and the stove and your table. The table sat at the bottom of the … And if we were doing, if we’d done anything wrong, we would have got underneath the beds, away to the back and my mother would get out the brush and poke you out, “I’ll get you. You can stay there all day but I’ll get you when you come out,” [laughs]. It was murder for us but still, I was happy just to see my two brothers. They were, they weren’t  bad, they were just, just boys getting up to mischief and of course I got with them you see, I got the blame as well.

I never done a damn thing. It was funny, “I’m gonna tell your father when he comes in tonight what you’ve been up to,” as though you were frightened of your dad, you know. Dad never said a word. He was easy. But it was a different world then. No, there was no murders or drugs or knives or guns or anything. My day you could go out … I remember Charlie and I went away out and we walked from Coatbridge to Airdrie, only wee tots. And we got lost. Well going from Coatbridge to Airdrie would be like going from Stirling to Bridge of Allan, three miles. We landed on the Police Station. My mother nearly had a fit [laughs]. That was the sort of thing she did, you know, innocent things that in those days. I mean not like nowadays where there’s so much abuse with children, you know. You never heard of it then but, oh aye, it was good.

I remember we lived in, the road was on a hill you see and we were here and you’d just go down near the main road and the chip shop was there and across the road was the cinema. And my brother Charlie just went out the chip shop and across [makes a crashing sound] and he got run over and I had to go home and tell my mother. I thought she was going to flatten me. These sort of things, you know, it all comes back to you. It’s funny. He didn’t run across the road again I can tell you that. He wasn’t badly hurt but he was knocked down. I can’t remember if we got the fish and chips. No, we didn’t. I was frightened to go home and tell my mother.

{Daughter} Then you went out in a rowing boat, didn’t you?


{Daughter} They went out in a rowing boat, didn’t they, mum?

Oh aye, the River Forth in Stirling. My Aunt Mary who lived beside my Gran, Granny Colme was coming home from her work and she sees these two wee boys in a rowing boat on the River Forth. Oh jeez God, I think my mother nearly … I think she was too shocked to do anything but believe you me they didn’t do it again. These were the sort of things, you know, that not bad things, just what would you say? Just children’s …

{Daughter} Just boys.

Aye. You know, when you look back sometimes, it’s … Where my Granny stayed there was this bit went down. We called it The Gulley and at the bottom was the railway; a train going through. And we used to play on the railway gates and everything. Och, you think of it, hey? We thought nothing of it. They used to go down that way and across along by the railway to go to Riverside School but it’s all away now. Where all the big shopping centre is now used to be the tip for all the rubbish, you know. So they’re all built on. We used to go and play there. God, it was, when you think of it eh? Yuck!  Going to the … But that’s life. Then you grow up and get a wee bit more sense.

I could talk to you for hours [laughs].

{Daughter} Have you enjoyed doing this, Mel?

Brilliant, yeah. I will stop the recording now and say thank you to both Catherines.

 Will you cut half of that out?

{Daughter} You are very welcome.

[End of Recording]



[1]           ‘Scrambled Egg’ is a slang term for the leaf-shaped embellishments found on the visors of peaked caps worn by military officers. It evolved into a reference to the senior officers who wear them.

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