Authors: Millie Gray
This book is for my husband, Bob, who in 2008 believed I could write a book that people would wish to read. Now, seven years on and a bestselling author, here is my seventh offering.
This story tells of one family's life in Leith during the Second World War. Although it echoes some of the writer's experiences and personal feelings, and uses the attitude and spirit of the people of Leith, the characters portrayed in the book are wholly fictitious and bear no relation to any persons, living or dead. Many of the street names, localities and other details from that period in Leith's history have been preserved, however.
Firstly I must thank Rachel and Alastair Donald for allowing me the extended loan of their precious copy of
Leith-Built Ships on War Service
, which is the wartime history of the firm of Henry Robb Ltd.
I also acknowledge the contributions by the following that assisted me in my research for
: Alice Lauder, Margaret McIntosh, May McIntyre, Mary Gillon and Jack Martin.
I am also very grateful to Diane Cooper for her initial editing of the work.
Finally I wish to thank the team at Black & White Publishing, especially Karyn Millar for her excellent in-depth editing, Laura Nicol for her PR, and Campbell, Alison and Janne, who give me such wonderful support and advice. Without their assistance, 100,000 people would not have read a Millie Gray book.
Johnny Anderson, who was eager to hear the news broadcast, was annoyed when the radio started to splutter and crackle so loudly that it distorted the newsreader’s voice. After viciously banging the top of the receiver, which only served to enhance the interference, he turned abruptly. ‘Kitty,’ he roared through clenched teeth, ‘for goodness’ sake, can you no keep that bawling bairn quiet? Och,’ he continued with disgust, ‘does nobody in this house understand that I want to listen to this broadcast?’
‘That right?’ his sister Kate chuckled.
‘Aye, it is,’ was his impatient retort, as he waved his hands in the air. ‘I mean, do I have to spell it out to you just how very important it is that I hear exactly what Winston Churchill said to the parliament today?’
‘Important to you, is it?’ goaded Kate. ‘Well let me tell you, sonny boy, all he said was that he’d nothing to offer the whole country except …’ She hesitated so as to savour the moment before slowly simpering, ‘Blood – toil – tears – and – sweat.’
Johnny’s jaw dropped. ‘He never did,’ he slowly drawled.
‘Oh, but he did,’ was all Kate replied.
Turning to his mother, Jenny, he suggested, ‘She is joking, Mammy?’ Jenny shook her head. ‘But she just has to be,’ was his emphatic reply.
‘No I’m not,’ Kate almost sang.
‘And I hope you bawled right back at him through this broken-down contraption that cost me a fiver – aye a whole bloody fiver, and me a man that breaks his back working sixty-five hours a week.’ Johnny now looked around the room before continuing. ‘Aye, sixty-five hours, that’s what I toil each week to come out with less than a bleeding fiver in my hands.’ He now turned back to the radio and viciously thumped it again. ‘Now where was I? Oh aye, that you told that Churchill, in no uncertain manner, that we more than welcome him, and all the rest of the bloodsucking blinking upper class, into our world – the world of the fucking working class.’
‘Language, Johnny!’ Jenny exclaimed. ‘You are in your home, not standing with your feet in the sawdust of some downtown pub.’
Johnny gave a contrite nod to his mother before she said in a more conciliatory tone, ‘As you know, son, I don’t often agree with you, but you’re right: we in the working class will cope because we’ve never known anything else but blood, toil, tears and sweat.’
‘But now we have a wireless are we no … ?’ eighteen-year-old Bobby tentatively asked.
‘Have I no already explained to you, Bobby, and everybody else in this bleeding house,’ Johnny emphasised, his eyes challenging everybody in the room, ‘that when I asked you all to chip in to buy this second-hand Defiant radio––’
‘Which is well named because since it came in here it has decided to be defiant and only play when it suits it,’ mocked Kate.
Ignoring Kate’s observation Johnny continued, ‘That now we are at war with Germany it is essential that we are – and that means especially I am – kept up to date with all that is going on.’ Johnny began to strut about the living room. ‘And what is also of significance is that this war is an opportunity for us workers to get off the bloody dole and get proper recognition for what we contribute to the wealth-making of this country. That means we should all be singing from the same hymn sheet and that is why I am urging all the workers to join a trade union.’ He sniffed deeply before adding, ‘And no just them that are employed in the shipyards, like me a plater, or the riveters, fitters, turners, shipwrights, hudders-on, blacksmith strikers, catch-and-fire boys, welders, painters …’
Johnny paused to think and make sure he hadn’t missed a trade out. This gave Kate an opportunity to suggest, ‘And the draughtsmen and management?’
‘Aye, the draughtsmen, but no the bloody management that always try to hold us hoi polloi down and keep us in the place they think we should be.’
‘Come on, Johnny,’ Kate expounded. ‘Do you ever stop to consider that your continual hassling of the management and threatening them with walkouts might have a bearing on the dichotomy that forever exists between you?’
Johnny’s response to her was to snort before responding, ‘Well, Kate, unlike you I’ve not been well educated and then swallowed a blooming dictionary so I dinna ken what dichotomy means – but what I do ken is that the management and us trade unionists just cannae get on the gither.’
Kate sighed long and loudly, allowing her rolling eyes to survey the ceiling.
‘So back to what I was saying,’ Johnny jubilantly went on because he thought he’d got one over on Kate, whom he judged to be in Leith Provident’s management’s pocket. ‘So that means we need to get all the workers – ye ken the actual ones that will be doing all the back-breaking toil, so we can win this bloody war – into a trade union.’
‘So that’s the real reason that we all had to chip in to buy the radio, and by the way its union seems to have told it only to work when
and their like come on,’ insinuated Kate.
‘I like that Molly Weir, Kate. Ye ken, she’s the one that plays Poison Ivy in
.’ Jenny chuckled.
‘For heaven’s sake, Mammy, surely you ken fine we didn’t get the wireless so you could be entertained while you’re doing your ironing.’
‘That wasn’t what you said when you asked me to chip in so you could buy it.’
Johnny ignored his mother’s comment and went on to further point out to her and Kate, ‘No. We got it because we could be told things first hand like.’
‘They’ve put a penny on a pint of beer and one and threepence on a bottle of whisky to help pay for the war effort?’ teased Kate.
‘And here, did you ken that from next week meat’s going to be rationed?’ Jenny chipped in.
‘Aye, right enough that’s going to happen,’ Johnny agreed, nodding his head. ‘But on the bright side I did hear, from a reliable source in the Steamboat pub, that we will still be able to get as much tripe as we like,’ he added with a knowing wink.
Kate’s laughing response to the tripe was to flash her eyes to the ceiling before following her niece, Kitty, who was trying to soothe the now hysterical one-year-old Rosebud, as she dragged her out of the living room.
Frustrated, Kitty viciously kicked open her bedroom door before she bent down and lifted the screaming infant up. Without warning she then tossed the toddler on to the bed.
‘Careful, careful, Kitty,’ Kate remonstrated. ‘She’s still just a baby and what’s for sure is that she, poor wee soul that she is, didn’t ask to be born.’
Kitty, who was now slumped down on the floor with her arms around her knees, surprised Kate when she became convulsed with sobbing. ‘You’re right, she didn’t,’ Kitty spluttered through her tears, ‘but can’t you understand that I at fifteen didn’t wish to be saddled with her and her puking and her shitty nappies?’
Getting up from the floor, Kitty began jabbing her index finger towards her aunt while she mouthed vehemently, ‘The prime minister says we can expect nothing else now but blood, toil, tears and sweat and here was me hoping that somehow I could break free from my bloody awful life.’ To vent her anger she lifted her foot and kicked out at a rag doll that was lying on the floor. ‘Aunty,’ she continued, ‘can’t you see I’m nothing in this house other than a drudge – a wretched slave that’s ignored. It’s as if I don’t count. Don’t have an opinion. Nobody ever asks me what I think. I’m just the invisible one that does the cleaning, shopping and cooking. And now that everything is going up in price I won’t even be able to skim enough from the paltry housekeeping Dad hands me to get my weekly visit to the pictures with my pal Laura.’
Rosebud, who had been picked up by Kate, was now snugly cuddled up against her breast and the child’s beautiful little face relaxed into a smile as sleep overtook her. Deciding that it was Kitty, her beloved namesake niece, who now required consoling, Kate gently laid Rosebud on the bed, and once she had wrapped a shawl about her, she then turned her attention to Kitty, who had plonked herself down on the floor again.
‘Look,’ Kate started as she patted Kitty’s head, ‘Churchill was right to say what he did. But he should have started with, “No matter what, there will be some silver linings along the way, there always are. In reality, however, we are facing a satanic foe and all I can offer, as we wrestle with it, is nothing other than blood, toil, tears and sweat.” Now come on, Kitty, admit it, we have always had some silver linings even in our darkest days. It’s how we survive it all.’ Kate lovingly patted Kitty’s face before adding, ‘Remember back to a few weeks ago when Rosebud took her first steps, she walked towards you and we laughed when she called you “Mama”.’
Instead of Kate’s advice having a calming effect on Kitty all it did was upset her further. Eventually, when Kitty’s tears were exhausted, she sniffed. ‘See next week, I won’t even have my pal Laura because she’s going down to Coventry to work in a munitions factory – and before you say I could go with her, they wouldn’t be taking on a lassie with a snotty bairn tugging at her skirts.’
Kate wanted to say something to ease Kitty’s suffering but when she said, ‘Be honest with yourself, Kitty, you wouldn’t really be happy if you gave up on Rosebud, now would you?’ Kitty’s response was to wail even louder.
Eventually the scalding tears started to subside and, wringing her hands, Kitty whined, ‘Oh, Aunty, I turned sixteen today and nobody has even said “Happy Birthday”!’ Tears started to well again and spilled over before she continued. ‘I know you can’t understand how bad a sixteen-year-old like me can feel. You’ve never known the feeling of being trapped and your life somehow over before it really began.’
Kitty’s words jolted Kate into reminiscing back twenty-five years to when she had been a happy-go-lucky sixteen year old. Staring directly into the mirror that fronted the wardrobe, she saw nothing. Not even her own ghostly reflection. Reluctantly her thoughts slowly drifted to summon up the secrets of her heart – to look back to the wonderful carefree hours she had spent with the love of her life: handsome and charming eighteen-year-old Hugh Brown.
Their close friendship had developed throughout their childhood. Kate’s mum and dad were great friends of Hugh’s parents. Every Thursday night the two couples played cards at each other’s homes, and the children were encouraged to keep quiet and get out the Ludo and Snakes and Ladders boards. For years Kate and her brother Johnny and Hugh and his brother Matt had played together and enjoyed each other’s company. But life had to move on and childish games had to be put by. This had meant that the older boys, Johnny and Matt, no longer stayed at home on the whist nights. Johnny’s interests were in the trade unions and he was forever at evening meetings held in offices just round the corner from the tramcar depot in Leith Walk. Matt, on the other hand, had started to court a green-eyed lassie from Blackie Road. Up in the world he’d gone from Glover and Ferrier Street, where the Andersons and Browns were housed.