MY EARLY LIFE: 1927–1945

by John “Iain” Craig


I found this story on my father’s desk in December, 2015, at his home in Eight Mile Plains, Brisbane. It was handwritten on 37 pages of a lecture pad and rolled up with rubber bands. The pages were yellowing slightly, so it was obviously written some years previously. I vaguely remember my mother mentioning to me that Dad had begun writing his memoirs, but I don’t recall hearing any more about it. Given that Mum died in 1992, then I presume this story was written earlier than that.

I have typeset the entire story and illustrated it, mainly with photos from my dad’s collection. I have lightly edited the text for style, but it remains overwhelmingly as I found it. The headings, footnotes and photo captions are mine, but the story is my dad’s. I have also inserted some dates within the text to help with the chronology. These are the straightforward recollections of my father’s earlier days: the story of an ordinary bloke growing up in times that have long past. It’s a simple tale, but a compelling one.

NoteSince I published his story, my father has departed this world to join his ancestors. He passed away peacefully in the early evening of 6 November 2017 at his nursing home in Calamvale, aged 89. He will always be deeply missed by those who loved him. You can read the eulogy to my father here.

Alan Craig
December, 2015

A child of ‘Glesga’

In October 1927, the roar of the Roaring Twenties had died to a whimper, at least in Scotland. Glasgow, that ‘Second of city of the Empire’, was already on hard times. The General Strike had ended the year before with the defeat of the unions. This struck hard at such an industrial giant as Glasgow. The worst of the Great Depression was yet to come, but poverty, bad housing, sickness, and the “worst slums in Europe” made Glasgow notorious. “No Mean City” was the label, but the negative side was not the whole story. Even in the worst of areas there was a life, a bustle, a humanity about the streets, where a whole community rose above their circumstances to exude a warmth and joy of living that is only marked by the contrast to today’s empty and sterile ‘typical city’.

With parents, Mary “Sissy” Brown & Thomas Craig

With parents, Mary “Sissy” Brown & Thomas Craig

When I was born,1John “Iain” Craig, born Thursday, 6 October 1927 at 280 Westmuir Street, Camlachie, Glasgow. it was to an average Glesga working couple in an average tenement flat. My father,2Thomas “Tommy” Craig, b. 10 Jan 1903 at 28 Scott Street, Bridgeton; s/o James Craig & Jessie Littlejohn. an engineering worker (as were the great majority of Glasgow men), was inordinately proud all his life of the fact that had been able to provide and pay for a furnished flat for my mother (and me on the way). My mother3Mary “Sissy” Templeton Brown, b. 15 May 1907 at 22 Lime Street, Hutchesontown; d/o Annie Brown and an un-recorded father; research suggests his surname was Graham.  was, herself, a well-thought-of saleswoman, and became a window-dresser in Jewish shops in Cumberland Street, in the heart of the Gorbals. This area (in later years infamous) was at one time quite well-to-do, with some fine old houses, now run down, and architecturally laid out streets; and it still retained, then, a measure of times past. Whole communities lived and worked there—Jewish, Irish, Highland—and all were dependent on the world’s biggest ship-building industry, nearby on the Clyde.

Many factories abounded, like steelworks, chemical works and the North British Railway works. Therefore, the recession and world trade changes hit Glasgow hard, with the concomitant unemployment leading to a strong political mix within the ferment that was working-class Glasgow, known as the ‘Red Clyde’. The Labour Party was regarded as weak reformists, and Glasgow proceeded to elect the three wild men from the Clyde: Maxton, McGovern and McLean. Street meetings abounded, particularly on a Sunday when people would wander between Independent Labour Party (ILP), Communist, Marxist, and nationalistic groups—meetings were always well attended, often by the same people.

“King of the Kids” at 42 Fintry Drive, King’s Park

“King of the Kids” at 42 Fintry Drive, King’s Park

My Granny Brown 4Granny Brown had 5 children by her husband, Alexander Brown (a “Broon married a Broon”): Thomas, James, Alex, Annie (who went to Canada), and Elizabeth (wee “Bessie”). The husband died in 1908 from alcohol abuse and was separated from Annie from at least 1901. Later Annie had two illegitimate children: Mary (Iain’s mum) and Agnes; their father is thought to be a ship’s mate called William Graham. Thomas and James died in WW1. and unmarried son Alex lived nearby. At this stage (and for many years, and for unknown reasons) we were estranged from my father’s parents. My Uncle Alex,5Uncle Alex was born 8 Jun 1892 at 26 Lime Street, Hutchesontown; he died 19 Sep 1962 at Edgefauld Road, Springburn aged 70. a survivor of three brothers from the First World War, had been a regular soldier before the war in India with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. Although he survived the worst of the French trenches, when Alex came out of the army he became a dour, quiet, itinerant worker. More and more, over the years, he became dependent on the bottle. He was a hard, tough man; but with me, and for all the time I knew him, he was a gentle and dependable uncle—only, he would never discuss the war or his many medals.

Therefore, my earliest memories are of being baby-sat by my very Victorian Granny Brown, and watched over by my Uncle Alex. I remember being carried through wet, bright streets, always full of shops, people and noise; playing in backyards with gangs of tenement kids chasing through the closes; packets of half-penny broken biscuits, and wee [packs] of brown sugar.

Granny (Annie) Brown, 22 Nov 1934, aged 65 (1869–1943; d/o Annie Pinkerton & James Brown)

Granny (Annie) Brown, 22 Nov 1934, aged 65. (1869–1943; d/o Annie Pinkerton & James Brown)

Then, out of the blue (to me), we all of us—Granny, Uncle and all—moved to King’s Park. This was a transformation complete, for King’s Park was part of the ‘other’ face of Glasgow: semi-detached, four to a block, two up and two down; gardens front and back, green fields, tennis courts, parks and nice shops. Glasgow had ‘other’ faces, with some of the finest parks in Britain, and very close to open country—indeed, near world-class areas like Loch Lomond and Cathkin Braes (now to be my new bailiwick). The old man was now working as a tram conductor, sacrificing higher wages for the security of the Glasgow Transport Department, which ran the finest, most frequent and most colourful tram and bus service.

My mother was still a window dresser, and earning more than my father (a source of future troubles). Granny Brown and Uncle Alex were at home with me, Alex still only occasionally working and evoking my father’s scorn (again, to mount in future) for taking a day off work to collect his dole money! (Shades here of later years when, to the auld yin’s great delight, another family member couldn’t start a job because he had to have his holiday first!) All in all, we were a shade below the average inhabitants of King’s Park who were mostly foremen, small-business men, and detectives of police.

Golden years

Now was to start a golden period of my life—except for the deteriorating position at 42 Fintry Drive. Summers seemed typically beautiful, with long hot days; winters were snow and Christmas trees. Games in the ‘greenie’ park behind the houses were, in summer, forts made of new-mown grass; in winter, sledging down the slopes. We were envious of the ‘better class’ of boy with ‘bought’ sledges, but we used anything from homemade wooden sleds to ladders stolen from the Scout hall (which made a great multiple sled to sweep down the slope and, hopefully, avoid crashing into the iron railings at the bottom). A similar game in summer was to roller-skate down on your hunkers, forming a chain, the leader with a pole between his legs to sit on to provide a brake. Then, down Kilchattan Drive, again hoping to stop before the bus- and car-ridden Aikenhead Road!

Quickly, the local gang formed. Below us was the young, and a bit sooky, David Templeman. (I received an awful hiding when the Old Yin caught me mocking a locked-out David in tears.) Next door, and still a friend, was Archie Crawford, from a very Scottish family. Next again, Ian McKay and wee Jamie Jamieson. A little older than the others, I became King of the Kids, deciding games and activities. Slightly older again was Hector Macintosh, who became a good football player. There was also the tough guy of the neighbourhood and our little wooden school: George Johnson, who became a Sergeant of Police in later years.

Marvellous days in quiet streets. I remember standing one day, in the mid 30s, watching an airforce biplane performing in the sky above, and thinking how marvellous it was to be a boy in one of the better parts of the Second City of the greatest Empire in the world, and in Scotland, the greatest part—I truly felt on top of the world.

Grandfather, James Craig 1871–1949; married to Jessie Littlejohn 1869–1942. (Note the Orange Lodge “Keys of Derry” badge.)

Grandfather, James Craig 1871–1949; married to Jessie Littlejohn 1869–1942. (Note the Orange Lodge “Keys of Derry” badge.)

More sombre days lay ahead at home as relations between my mother and father deteriorated—apparently owing to my mother’s inability, while working, to manage the household finances. Theatrically, my father would hide the rent money, and make a great show of frugality. There was humiliation from noisy rows, and a shopkeeper who told me (a child of about 9) to “get my mother to pay her bills!” This all hurt me deeply and, I suppose, left some kind of mark in my make up. Rows occasionally flared between my shift-working father and my Uncle Alex, thought these were mostly one-sided, since Alex was a very quiet and deep man.

Still, life for a small boy was good, roaming fields and Jenny’s Burn,6Jenny’s Burn started on Cathkin Braes, ran through Castlemilk and Spittal, along the Quigley’s stretch, under Burnhill and Shawfield, joined Mall’s Mire and Polmadie Burn and entered the Clyde down through Richmond Park. and in the Cub Scouts. My parents had a good circle of friends, and relatives, like Agnes and Jimmy and my cousin Myra, were often coming and going. There was still little contact with the other Gorbals-living side of the Craig family, grandparents James and Jessie.7James Craig b. 26 Mar 1871 in Blackfriars; s/o Thomas [4] Craig & Sarah Norwood. Jessie Littlejohn, b. 15 Jun 1869 in Keith, Banffshire; d/o John [2] Littlejohn and Margaret [2] McLeay. Grandmother Jessie was a quiet and gentle soul, as was my Granny Brown, both Victorian women who were put upon uncomplainingly. My father’s brother Jimmy, his wife and a gaggle of kids,8James Craig b. 25 Jun 1907 at 350 South York Street, Hutchesontown. He married Mary Dean Walker on 28 Apr 1933. I have little remembrance of, although Frank and Betty Sandison [Rebecca Craig]9Rebecca “Betty” Craig, b. 16 Sep 1901 at 56 Rosebery Street, Hutchesontown. She married Frank Sandison on 28 Oct 1932. later became more contactable.

‘Doon the watter’ for the Glesga Fair fortnight was a great and jolly affair. Queues at Central Station, then off the train at Wemyss Bay and appalled at the enormous queues for the paddle steamer, all with their wicker hampers, but still managing to pack aboard. Then, sailing all the way down the Clyde past the greatest shipyards in the world to the shouts of the workers on the scaffolding, “Awa’ and work!”. There were bands playing and a knees-up on deck, and I had a notebook to fill up with ship spotting. Ships large and small from every quarter of the world would crowd the docks from Broomielaw to Port Glasgow and Greenock. Then into the broader Clyde, the glory of the hills of Argyll, and calling into pier after pier disgorging part of the happy holiday makers. There were stops at Dunoon, Helensburgh, Arran—and, glory of glory for the Glesga people, Rothesay on the Isle of Bute.

It was a marvellous world for two weeks: men in the harbour bars; the women on deck chairs; and we kids hiring row boats, that greatest of all pleasures when you’re young—just messing about in boats. My mother gave a ‘trip around the island’ motorboat skipper 10/-, a great sum then, and I spent two great weeks just going back and forth, lying on the little foredeck, hanging onto the Jack staff, and helping the trippers on and off at each end of each trip!

However, deeper clouds were rolling in. The navy, in the shape of the submarine depot ship Cyclops, with its attendant submarines, took up residence in Rothesay Bay. At home, in 1938, ack-ack guns, searchlights and barrage balloons dotted local open grounds and parks, while ‘corries’ came around depositing corrugated iron for the Anderson shelters. Other gangs of previously unemployed men (there were still two million after the outbreak of war in 1939) were erecting them in holes in back gardens—another great place for kids! For a year, anyway.

Sister, Joyce; b. 27 Jan 1937. Later married James Strachan.

Sister, Joyce; b. 27 Jan 1937. Later married James Strachan.

Things started to get serious when we all had to attend local halls to be fitted with our gas masks, and even 11-year-old boys were shocked to see babes in arms howlingly being fitted into Micky Mouse gas masks. The threat of gas attack on civilian populations was a fear little different from the nuclear worries of today.

About this time, there was a new arrival in the form of my sister, Joyce. She arrived to great astonishment and remarks that I remember to this day on the strangeness on my mother spacing us some ten years apart. Also, my Granny Brown and Uncle Alex departed King’s Park and returned to the more working-class background of Caledonia Road, in the Gorbals. My mother and I kept in touch with her there, and then in hospital until her passing some years later.10Annie Brown died 28 Jun 1943 at the Emergency Hospital in Lennoxtown, north of Glasgow in the Campsies. She was domicile at 166 Caledonia Road, Gorbals, and died of ‘Sleeping Sickness’, or post encephalitic Parkinsonism. It was that quiet, motherly, loving person, my Granny Brown, who, indeed, had mainly brought me up till that stage.

King’s Park School c.1936. Iain is 2nd from right, 2nd back row.

King’s Park School c.1936 (2nd from right, 2nd back row).

Meanwhile, my King’s Park schooldays were drawing to a close, hastened by the appropriation of my little wooden school by the Civil Defence, or ARP [Air Raid Precautions]. This event was slightly premature, as the new larger brick school was not quite finished, and lessons started in local halls with us perched on our schoolbags and our pads on our knees. It was just as well the family were to move downmarket to Batson Street in Govanhill. Before that, however, I was to see one teacher at the school full of praise for the developments and way of life in Germany, whilst, shortly later, the French teacher standing before the class with tears streaming down her face at the news of German troops entering Paris. During that last winter in King’s Park, the local boys stormed up and down the snow-covered slopes playing not British and Germans, who were then occupied with the ‘phoney war’, but ‘the heroic Finns’ defending their tiny country against the Russian attack in the winter of 1939.

121 Batson St (2nd level, corner). Calder St is on the right. Picture taken c.1970

121 Batson St (2nd level, corner). Calder St is on the right. Picture taken c.1970

Following the move to a large room and kitchen at 121 Batson Street, I remained at King’s Park School for some time, cycling back and forth, until I was registered at Strathbungo Secondary. The headmaster at the interview with my mother and myself, when told of my sister, said in amazement to my mother, “Ten years apart! How did you manage it?” I could have gone to the state school across the road in Calder Street (there was also a Catholic school opposite), but Strathbungo (where, unknown to me, my future wife, Pat, was to enrol a year or so later) was felt to be a bit ‘classier’ in that very class-conscious society. Even amongst the working class, social divisions were many and marked.

Also directly opposite our new home were two picture houses, The Calder and The Govanhill; and with a third one around the corner (The Majestic), these were the foundations, along with cafés and chip shops, of the entertainment in the area. Still too young for the other ‘attractions’ of rather sleazy dance halls, where danger lurked from the local ‘hard men’, I discovered a new lease of interest in cycling. I had, of course, had ‘bikes’ over the years, but following my mother’s purchase of a £3 very solid, second-hand cycle, I proceeded to roam far and wide on my trusty Hercules. One of my favourite runs was to follow the Matilda tanks, now being produced by the North British Locomotive works down the road, away up the gradual climb to the testing grounds on Cathkin Braes. The homecoming journey, back through the edges of King’s Park, swept downhill all the way. You didn’t need to pedal at all—but I learned a lesson once when the pedals got away from me. To avert a high-speed dash into the busy intersection lower down, I had to wheel sharply into the entrance of King’s Park where the wall brought me to an abrupt stop and left me with a few bashes and bruises.

The war was now proceeding apace. Dunkirk had come and gone [May–June 1940], and Britain stood alone—much to the relief, in a strange way, of most people. A mood of almost euphoria was abroad, as people felt that, at last, the decks were cleared for action. ‘Faither’ was enrolled in the Home Guard—where, surely, the ideas for the future programme of Dad’s Army were born! Following the heady days of the Battle of Britain [July–October 1940], my eyes were fixed higher; the air, and the airforce, became my ultimate ambition. However, it was still a bit of an impossible dream, in those early days, for a working-class boy of 14 from a relatively poor area of Glasgow to have an obsession to be a fighter pilot. This was the time when school came to an end. There would be no extra education for me with the war on, and war jobs in fully available. I celebrated by tearing my books up along the street as I left!

A working man

Faither was still in the trams, now a driver, and coping with driving in the blackout better at some times than others. The startled customers of a pub near Tollcross found that out when his tram crashed into the wall one night! Another episode to enliven family life was on New Year’s Eve when there was ‘dancing in the streets’, and a fair part of the Glesga population were abroad carrying a lot of whisky inside and out. There was an altercation on a tramcar platform ruled by a wartime conductress, and this led to my father being ‘belled’ out of his driving cab. While trying to adjudicate between the conductress and an inebriated citizen, the said “wee Glesga Ned” placed his brows squarely on my old man’s face. Fortunately, or not, my father had the brake handle in his hand, and the bloodied citizen was left in the street howling for a doctor. The resultant court case brought a Scottish verdict of “not proven”—meaning “we know you did it, but don’t do it again”—against (or for) my father, and he continued on his merry way in the trams.

One day, returning from work, I wondered what the hold up in the middle of the road was about. Not knowing who the driver was, I glanced out of the window to see my father engaged in a real old punch-up in the middle of the street. All we passengers remained seated, or hanging onto our straps, until, after a short period, we completed our journey. But, that was a little in the future.

I had, upon leaving school and through my Uncle Jimmy’s reference,11Jimmy Malcolm, married to Auntie Agnes Brown; the parents of cousin Myra. joined the old Glasgow warehouse of Campbell, Stewart & Macdonald—what a place, and what a job! I would never have it so easy again. The war was, of course, looming, and the Luftwaffe had turned its attention to British industrial cities, and Glasgow was not missing out. So, my days (1941) were spent in a nine-to-four job with one hour for coffee at ten o’clock, and again at three. It was home for lunch (when the tram drivers weren’t fighting), and some nights on fire-watching duty, where you were expected to man the firm’s sand buckets and stirrup pumps to overcome the German incendiary attacks.

The Campbell, Stewart & Macdonald’s warehouse on the corner of Ingram and Brunswick Streets. Iain would not have known that he was working just a few yards from where his great-grandfather’s family lived and worked.

The Campbell, Stewart & Macdonald’s warehouse, cnr Ingram & Brunswick Streets (just a few yards from where Iain’s great-grandfather and family lived and worked).

The reason things were so easy at work was that the warehouse supplied its customers once a month with carefully rationed goods; then, apart from that day, the time was our own, especially for the young ones—and that time was put to good use. Campbell, Stewart & Macdonald was an old building, full of labyrinth passages, both underground and through the walls; they were almost made for the activities pursued by the juvenile staff, especially as wheeled baskets were the mode of delivery for goods around the building. A vast skylight looked down into a large central area, with various departments lining the floors, and large metal chutes spiralled from floor to floor down into dispatch. Needless to say, parcels were not the only objects speeding down past startled staff and customers!

I started work in dispatch still wearing short pants; but, discovering the existence of the female sex, I rapidly changed from a schoolboy into one of the happy gang flirting and cuddling in and out of the nooks and crannies. In this regard, I was apprenticed by an attractive young woman who taught me to dance “in the old fashioned way” to the strains of Always. I was then promoted from despatch to the bedding department.

However, the influence of the war now raging away began to intrude into my idyllic existence within the confines of Campbell, Stewart & Macdonald. Going home by bike, I passed through the areas on the Southside, near the docks, that had been bombed out by blitz the night before. In Nelson Street, they were trucking in lorry loads of coffins. An aerial landmine had demolished two blocks of tenements, leaving only the bogie wheels of a tramcar that had been in the middle. Most nights in March and April 1941 were spent down in the shelters of the schoolyards opposite, while the double thrum of the German diesel engines came and went. The hiss of falling shrapnel from our barrage made it wise to stay inside until the ‘all clear’ was sounded. This often happened more than once; indeed, five times on one night.

The Clydebank Blitz, 1941

The Clydebank Blitz, 1941

Civil defence duties, working during the day, and trotting down, blanket-equipped, to the shelters most nights started to have some effect. My father was on shift work, and early one evening he staggered up before an amazed mother, sister and self around the fire. In a daze, and ignoring all queries, put on his uniform to leave for a non-existent shift, only returning when the blast of cold air from outside revived his senses.

Gradually, the areas of destroyed houses down near the docks grew. The target of the North British Locomotive works, now a tank-making works, led to gaps here and there in Govanhill. Worst of all, from a nervous-system point of view, was the anti-aircraft defences in the form of mobile, high-velocity ack-ack guns roaming the neighbourhood streets. If you had ignored (or slept through) the mournful siren’s wail, and gone back to an exhausted sleep, the sudden ‘crack’ outside your window sounded like the Gates of Hell slamming! It was enough to raise you horizontally about three feet into the air. If you had to go out at night for pleasure or fire-watching (a compulsory service at all work places), the pitch-black streets made rapid movement very hazardous (even for a 15 year old used to running everywhere), as brick shelters and baffle walls in front of the ‘closes’ sprang up overnight.

Meanwhile, at ‘Campbells’, life proceeded like a merry-go-round and cast up some astounding characters. A thick-set, well-spoken, well-dressed minister’s son from Kirkintilloch, Bobby McCracken, became a bosom buddy. He worked in the children’s-wear department, and a very smoothly operating Bobby quickly set up a racket in used clothing coupons obtained from the shop-keeper customers. He proceeded to flog off the used (and useless) coupons to the newly arrived allied soldiers, and later sold cold tea in whisky bottles to the Americans.

My ambition to be an RAF pilot continued apace, and this was when my lifelong habit of doodling aeroplanes started; these drawings covered every available space on counters and shelves. Since I was only 15, entry to the Air Cadets was still denied to me, so I had to be content for a time with Air Scouts until I eventually fiddled my way into the cadets. I sat for long hours on navigation sessions, making trips to air bases (for my first marvellous trips aloft), and being introduced to the pleasures of a bottle of beer in the toilets with new buddy Stewart Gold at the end of the evening lessons (a bit down-market from sharing a flagon of cider with Bobby McCracken at work).

A bright moment in the cadets came when our CO (a rather bumptious ‘Captain Mainwaring’ type who, in real life, was a mathematics teacher) led us on parade along the main thoroughfare of Victoria Road. All was fine, with our officer striding pompously along in front, and taking the longest way round to our sports ground destination. Unbeknown to our brave Captain, and the cause of great hilarity among the watching civilians, we marchers wheeled right to take the shorter route—while he, head up, arms swinging full of pomp and circumstance, proceeded all alone down the centre of Victoria Road. Some time elapsed, and a very discomforted and angry officer, pursued by gales of laughter, had to run after us with considerable lack of dignity. Needless to say, we collectively suffered.

Doodles done for his grandson, Ian, c.1990

Doodles done for his grandson, Ian, c.1990

The high point of my push for the RAF was, undoubtedly, the visits to the active service facilities. Here we spent time flying and ‘learning the trade’ under wartime conditions, if well away from the south of England front-line airfields. This was most exciting for a 15 year old. However, after a visit to the aircraft-carrier HMS Furious on the Clyde, and a fortnight at the fleet’s airfield at RNAS Machrihanish on the Mull of Kintyre, my heart was won for the Fleet Air Arm. The aircraft we were thrilled to bits to fly in during those days of the Battle of the Atlantic were the amphibian Walrus, the old string-bag Swordfish, the Oxfords, and the Rapier—all left me with an abiding affection for those old aircraft, as many a doodled pad or piece of paper would attest to in later years.

Then, a new and most poignant influence crept into my life, heralded by the enormous battles taking place in Soviet Russia: politics. As I have described, Glasgow, the Red Clyde, had been a ferment of radical politics fuelled by the General Strike, the Depression, and the Spanish Civil War [1936–1939], the latter an event for which large numbers of young men from Glasgow left, many never to return. As a writer in the press was to remark: “Many lovers of the West of Scotland sleep today in the High Sierras.” The youth, radicalised by unemployment and political struggles between the extreme Right and Left, adopted the cause of Republican Spain with enthusiasm. So, by the time of the great battles on the Eastern Front, the huge and swollen May Day parades in Glasgow had, as one of their largest contingents, ex-members of the International Brigades, some in British Army uniform, and calling for a “Second Front, now!”

Membership of all the left-wing parties burgeoned, and my father, once a member of the ILP, joined the Communist Party. This only lasted for a few years until his natural and native spirit of independence brought him into conflict with the party’s hierarchy. They turned out to be as bigoted, narrow-minded, and capable of astounding change in policies as any party of any ideology we had so far seen.

I left the ‘house of fun’, Campbell’s, at this time and took an apprenticeship as a marine engineer, along with most of the young males in Glasgow. For me, it was at a small engineering works, Curruthers, making marine pumps and parts, not far from where we lived, and just round the corner from the abode of my future wife, Pat, in Polmadie. On the ‘maintenance’ staff at Curruthers, I was tested a few times. The most spectacular was when a very tall lad, Derek van Heydren (from South Africa, and later to join the Palestine Police) poured sawdust down my neck. Not to be outdone, I retaliated with sawdust and oily grindings. A challenge ensued and, after work, we met in the local waste ground (Mall’s Mire) and, amid a ring of cheering spectators, proceeded to pound the hell out of each other. His height and reach gave him a punching advantage, but my superior strength came into its own when I could get in close. Eventually, some men from the oxygen company across the road intervened, much to the relief, I suspect, of both of us. Afterwards, I was accepted by the apprentices; and van Heydren and I became friends for the remainder of my time at Curruthers (I transferred to production fitting after my old workmate ground his finger off).

Another political development took place when arguing at work brought me into contact with Jimmy Purvis. He was a machine operator and a member of an old (pre-Labour party) socialist and Marxist group: the Socialist Party of Great Britain (SPGB). It was not long before I was attending some meetings at St George’s Cross, and many times, either alone or in arguing company, I trudged or trotted the distance between home and meetings. I attended interminable debates between the many political organisations alive at that time in Glasgow, and this took up almost all my evenings.

Lydia McKay … or Virginia Bruce? Iain’s first “serious” girlfriend.

Lydia MacKay … or Virginia Bruce? Iain’s first “serious” girlfriend.

By this time, American forces were arriving on the scene in large numbers, and I began the first of my serious heart-throbs with a fellow SPGB member, Lydia MacKay,12born in 1928 at Govanhill. who was an amazing double for the then Hollywood actress Virginia Bruce. She lived with her somewhat Bohemian family near St George’s Cross. Just before my call-up for the forces, I lost both my political and amorous ideals with the break-up of our little group.

Click here to go to Part 2 …



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