A Second World war propaganda poster depicting rearmament industries on Clydeside.
Morag Mossawirrecalls wartime austerity in auld Glesca Those Brown Legged Days
By the spring of 1942 and almost ‘all over the world’(a line I recall from a then contemporary Vera Lynn song), wartime conditions had become a way of life. For me,my brother and our friends,it seemed to have lasted for most of our lives - it was not just the war,it was our childhood! Back at school in Glasgow’s East End,my teacher’s class load was 42 children,all seven to eight year olds.We had one of the few male teachers left. He had flat feet and spectacles as thick as bottle bottoms,so of course we called him Tojo after General Hideki Tojo,the despised,speccy leader of Japan. These deficiencies kept him out of the forces but this did not stop me complaining to my mother that he still did not know my name,even after months of teaching,only to be told firmly that I was there solely to learn and we were very lucky to have him at all. I have a photo of my brother Alistair’s first year class,smiling away fixedly,not knowing that 47 pupils was an awful lot to be crammed into one classroom. Occasionally somebody would come to school with a black band on their arm because they had lost a father or another relative to the enemy. I remember feeling bizarrely jealous that I did not have anybody to sacrifice nobly for the cause - or was it even then just my nagging longing to grab attention,regardless? The closest relative we had in ‘the fighting’was my Uncle Duncan and 8
I certainly did not want to lose him. He had been rescued at Dunkirk, had fought in the jungles of Burma and was at this point indefatigably fighting Rommel in the deserts of North Africa. He had come through so far with nothing worse than a dose of malaria and a demotion for flirting with an officer’s lady:but,being a useful squaddie,he was soon rising through the ranks again. I practised wearing a band on my arm and walking slowly and solemnly, like David Copperfield after the headmaster had told him his mother had died,just in case. How shallow I was:but then we were constantly hearing about death and I suppose we were innocent of the reality and finality of it all. Food rationing got tighter and gratitude to our grandmother was boundless when a sack of new potatoes and a freshly killed chicken arrived at the door. My only problem was with the dead fowl. It had to be hung in the bathroom for two days before being plucked and cooked and during that time I was scared to enter because I sensed its accusing soul still lingering around as it hung there. Folk tried to help themselves by taking over sections of the parks and dividing them into individual so-called victory gardens where they grew their own vegetables. The urge to till the soil ran deep,especially when rationing became more stringent. There were chicken coops and rabbit farms in back gardens as well;and a thriving black market if you had the money,which we did not,but I doubt if my parents would have dabbled