Archie Bell’s Memories
One evacuee to Aberchirder, Archie Bell, tells of his experiences here in a reminiscence published by the BBC on ‘WW2 People’s War’. He lived in Edinburgh and was aged 6 when war broke out. In the early days was evacuated to various places in East Lothian, then he and his fellow children were sent to what was thought to be a safer place further away from Edinburgh.
This is an extract from Archie Bell’s article in the BBC archive ‘WW2 People’s War’. For the whole article visit http://www.bbc.co.uk/ww2peopleswar/stories/00/a2073700.shtml
I don’t remember the exact dates but it was in 1940 we were assembled along with what seemed like hundreds of other school children in the Waverley Station ready to embark on another journey into the unknown, we had our gas masks and some haversack rations (sandwiches, apples, etc.), when the train finally pulled out of the station there were quite a few tears I can tell you. This time we were headed for the granite city of Aberdeen, on arrival there we were taken to various restaurants for a hot meal, I remember it being my first sight of an electric trolley-bus in this strange city. Once fed and watered we were loaded onto buses to take us on our final journey to a place called Aberchirder, pronounced (Aberhirder) or as the locals called it, (Foggy-Loan), where we were assembled once more in the local school to await distribution to the various houses in which we were destined to live for the “duration of the war”, aarrgh !
[Note that Archie’s recollection of travelling by bus does not match the newspaper account of the evacuees arriving by train.]
At first my brother [Ronnie] and I were split up which was a bit worrying, but fortunately some official put it right and we were soon re-united at the home of an elderly couple, Mr.and Mrs. Gibb.
[Alex Gibb, an army pensioner from World War One, lived at 54 South Street – now 61 Southview Terrace – which was one of the council houses built in the late 1930s. Charlie Anderson recalls they had sons who served in the armed forces, including Alex who was lost at Singapore.]
The villagers were so excited that they took their respective evacuees in hand round the village showing off their new “Loonies and Quinies”,…(boys and girls) in local Aberchirdian lingo.
Life was a totally new experience for us up there in Foggy-Loan, we had only been there a few nights when at supper time it was so quiet with only the big clock on the wall going tick — tock — tick — tock,…I took a fit of the giggles at the supper table and when eventually I couldn’t control it – – – -whack !! old Mr. Gibb gave me a clout on my head and sent me upstairs to bed without supper,…he must have thought that I was laughing at him. After a while Ronnie came up to the bedroom with some buns in his pocket for me, so I didn’t starve that night! (brotherly-love).
During the next week or so we explored the surrounding country-side to discover such delights as hazelnuts and blaeberries which we picked in their hundreds on Blaeberry Hill as it was called,…we always came down from Blaeberry Hill with our faces and hands purple/blue from eating so many berries. During the summer days we would see and hear such a variety of birds but the ones I always remember most were the yellow-hammer and sky-lark. Sometimes in the early evening we might see an owl and later still we would see the bats,…dozens of them.
It was late one night just as I was about to go to bed when I saw another kind of bird,…one I never expected to see,…a big black German aeroplane which I thought was a bomber but it could also have been a night reconnaissance plane, anyhow it was so low I could plainly see the iron cross on the underside of the wing and on the fuselage,…my second encounter with the enemy!
Some of the evacuees got so homesick (I remember the feeling) they tried to run away, some got as far as Aberdeen railway station but were picked up and brought back, I remember my Dad coming to visit us, I thought he was coming to take us home but he was just visiting and brought us both a pair of football boots each, which kept us busy in a nearby field for a day or two, another new experience was rabbit hunting, we bought some copper wire and made wooden staves with which to make snares for catching rabbits,…I wasn’t very successful I’m glad to say.
There was a lot of military troop activity in and around Aberchirder (Highland Division) and Norwegian soldiers, we used to help with the war effort up there too by helping to fill one gallon petrol cans which were loaded on the back of 15cwt. Trucks,… looking back now I can see it was a dangerous and irresponsible job to give young school children like us but we were all too keen to help. I was unfortunate enough to be helping to stack the full cans on the back of the truck when one of my classmates, (Leonard Wells I think, where are you now?) happened to be holding the nozzle of the pump too close to the neck of the can and the other boy who was keenly pumping the hand petrol pump didn’t stop pumping in time,…the result being a spray of petrol coming from the neck of the can right into my eyes,…well I was howling, I thought I was blinded, as it happens I couldn’t open my eyes for an hour or two,…I was taken back to Mrs.Gibb who was a kind and gentle lady and she nursed me back to near normality by gently rubbing my eyes with believe it or not, petroleum jelly (vaseline) however it seemed to relieve the pain and anguish and after an hour or so of sleep I was able to go and see some of the Festival Parade which was taking place that very afternoon.
Eventually I think we all got a bit fed-up and homesick, so we managed somehow to persuade our parents to bring us home.