Always Remember

The last century saw millions die far from their own countries in conflicts scaled to a global level. In the Commonwealth and other nations, we commemorate that first great war’s armistice each year. November 11 is a day we remember and honour those who never returned and those who came home changed for ever from war’s horrific toll.

1922445322_1cbc83b8aa_bPhoto credit – Maureen Flynn-Burhoe. License – (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

War can also exact a fierce price on kids. Fathers, brothers, uncles lost forever. Homes, villages, towns destroyed beyond recognition. And, in heart wrenching incidents children themselves are killed, maimed, orphaned or pressed into bearing arms.

In the early 1940s, kids throughout the UK were evacuated from urban areas because of the Luftwaffe’s sustained bombing raids. In Glasgow, 120,000 kids were evacuated in a three day period in September 1939.

My folks were then primary school age and lived in shipbuilding towns on the River Clyde on Scotland’s west coast – Greenock and Port Glasgow. In addition to the shipyards there were other industrial targets including foundries, munitions factories, a rope works, a sugar refinery and a distillery.

In May of 1941, the Luftwaffe carpeted their towns with bombs for two consecutive nights. The industrial targets were practically unscathed but there was large scale damage to civilian housing and hundreds of deaths. The Greenock Blitz spurred on the evacuation of kids along this stretch of the Clyde.

Greenock blitzCraigieknowes School Playground, Greenock, Scotland. Photo credit – Ruth Kelly.

My father remembers being taken by his parents along with his two brothers to an assembly point for evacuation. At that time, he was 7, or 8-years-old and the middle child. When the time for departure came, he was separated from his older and younger brothers who were sent off together. That day he left with a group of other kids from The Port and wound up in Dollar, Clackmannanshire home of Castle Campbell.

He adjusted to his brothers’ absence and a new found family of 40 or so kids who lived and went to school together under the same roof. He met an older boy in Dollar a wild spirit sparked with mischief, charm and adventure – a natural born leader. Alexis Smith was the lad’s name and he made a lasting impression on my dad.

One day the burning spark took a bunch of the kids up to the attic full of armour and other treasures to explore and clatter about. He and my dad reconnected years later when they both worked briefly in the same co-op grocers. Alexis subsequently emigrated to the US and died in combat wearing an American uniform. Always remember…

7699921664_7f943aca66_bCastle Campbell, Dollar, Scotland. Photo credit – Mr. Evil Cheese Scientist. License – (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

Dad thinks he was at this 3 or 4 story estate for nearly a year. He remembers a summer and winter passing and occasional visits from my grandad. The boys and girls at this home for evacuees were looked after by women in blue uniforms wearing nurse like caps. They were warm and caring with their charges helping to comfort tears and homesickness away.

The large grounds had woods, a marvelous garden and a fountain with goldfish that my dad fell into on several occasions. The rural setting would have been a change from the more urban schoolboy life in The Port. He was very happy when my grandfather came to bring him home. He was the first of the three brothers to return and would have been glad to have his parents’ unwavering attention for a short interval.

My dad shared some of these memories when we spoke last night. He visited Dollar a couple of years ago on one of his annual trips ‘back home’. It was smaller than he remembered and a little worse for the wear some 70 years down the road. The fountain was still there but the goldfish were long gone.

He knew it must of been hard for his parents to make the choice about which of their sons they would separate from the other two. My father was never angry, or disappointed with them regarding this decision. He accepted it as his path, the one less traveled by, and carried on never looking back.

Alex, Dad&Beaumont

This is my dad and I looking pretty suave posing with the new ’66 Beaumont Acadian back when I was about 8-years-old. My lad Noah-David is just 8 now. I can’t imagine either Noah or I at that young age being taken away from the warmth of parents, family and home. But kids are resilient and the unimaginable can make them quietly extraordinary.

Don’t forget the fallen heroes, or the broken spirits but let’s always remember the children. Many kids from my dad’s generation were lucky enough to be removed from harm. In today’s world there are too many still suffering from the heartbreak and terror of war.

UNHCR, War Child International and a Canadian organization, Playground Builders are some of the groups hard at work to help kids who through no fault of their own find themselves in war zones. Check out the fine work that they do and give them a hand if you can.

Always remember…

I don’t know how we find truth in war but this poem by Wilfred Owen has spoken to me since I first read it more than 40 years ago – DULCE ET DECORUM EST

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9 responses to “Always Remember

  1. Thanks Alex

    I will remember this one and the poem was quite a good one. I forgot to mention last night when talking about Lexie Smith, there was this very beautiful girl in the store we worked on and lexie was always trying to put the make on her, I think I may have had a crush on her name was Annie Robinson any way when I met your uncle John and Sandy at a Salvation army morning tea, I heard this voice shouting Bobby, I went over to meet the woman that was calling and she introduced herself as Annie, what a surprise that was out of the blue, she seemed well preserved and in the few moments we had she told me she had never married and that she recognized me as soon as she saw me. What a coincidence

    RD

  2. Wonderful story about your dad, Alex! Thanks for sharing and giving tribute to those who experienced WWII.

  3. My mum and her twin brother and older brother were also sent to Dollar during the War. My mum told stories of living with a minister and his wife. They were evacuated from Edinburgh. I hope to visit this summer and see if I can find the Manse where they lived.

    • Jacque thanks for your comment. It was a tough time for young boys and girls to be taken away from their families. My Dad has some good memories of the place but he truly missed the rest of his family. It brings tears to my eyes when I think how young they all were when they had to experience this separation.

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