World War 2: A Memorandum
Family Memories: Alexander M Craig (1911-1993), fisherman and Skipper of The Trustful, ME 132 of Gourdon, and Elizabeth Craig (1915-1994), recounted by Celia Craig (1943- )
I have been told the earliest of these, rather than actually remembering them.
The Bulging Kitbag – presents from America
I was born Wednesday 10 November 1943. At the time my father, Alexander Mowatt Craig, was in the Navy, on Atlantic convoys ( also seeing service in the Mediterranean and North Africa) and because my mother, Elizabeth Craig, had lost her first baby in a home confinement, he was determined that nothing would go wrong this next time. I was safely delivered in the nearest Maternity Home, the Fyffe Jamieson Maternity Home in Forfar. I believe I was about nine months old before I saw my father and according to my mother I was at first rather wary of the navy uniform, perhaps particularly the hat! There is a rather sweet picture of me, my father, out of uniform on leave, crouching beside me as I clutch in my hand the locket he had brought home for me.
My father later told me about his struggle with his final, going-home kitbag, nurtured across the Atlantic, I believe, via Liverpool/Bootle and various trains to Montrose in North East Scotland, then on to our home village of Gourdon, a kitbag bulging with presents for all – mother, father, close family, grandparents, aunties and so on. I still have and use to this day some of the then innovative American Pyrex casserole dishes given to my mother and used so often in our family meals. They were particularly strong and hard-wearing and came complete with their own Pyrex clip-on handles which I also still have.
The Sea was in their blood – the Navy tradition – Kirkwall, Orkney
My father came from a fishing family who had long gone to sea out of the small Gourdon harbour, some 25 miles south of Aberdeen – the sea was in their blood. My grandfather had bought a boat (several boats) and eventually so did my father who enjoyed being skipper – but that was later. At the age of 18 or 19 my father went down to Portsmouth to “do his drill”, joining the RNR. I believe he may have gone more than once – perhaps for a refresher? I do know that as a result of being in the RNR, the Royal Naval Reserve he was among the first to be called up when war was declared, possibly even for the earlier 1938, “Phoney” War. I am sure he was off at the toot for the real thing!
My father served as an Able Seaman on various ships, often mentioning The Trouncer, The Royal Sovereign, The Iron Duke: he was also the sail maker, very clever with his hands, responsible for covers for the ship’s guns and all equipment, including personal items for the Captain that needed covers, e.g. binoculars, I think. I have kept some of his books with his drawings and calculations and measurements. He told me too that while he was stationed in Kirkwall, Orkney, his ship was reviewed by Churchill and there is a postcard from the time with Churchill on deck and one sailor standing by a line of sailors, in charge of that particular group, that sailor being my father. He was also “rigger” on the pier at Kirkwall. I feel very proud of him and of the part he played. I have looked out a few of the old photos from the time and have tried to insert them into this memorandum, rather inexpertly, I fear.
A lucky escape
One particular story my father told me may have been typical for other service men while being potentially fatal for my father! While stationed in Kirkwall, my father had been assigned to escort duties – a ship called The Lily was due to be escorted to Liverpool or perhaps Bootle. I am now unsure of its destination. Another seaman who came from Bootle asked my father to exchange duties with him to allow him to visit home. This was agreed. However, on the way south The Lily dragged her anchor and I believe all were lost. A lucky escape for my father and a terrible fate for the other sailor! Had the exchange not gone ahead my father would in all likelihood have been lost and my future very different!
Loss of loved ones – brother Joseph – pal, Willie Cargill
Like so many others, my father and family experienced the loss of a loved one in the War, in our case my father’s youngest brother, Joseph, a cook on the HMS Beverley, an older ship my father and uncles swore was a death-trap, unfit for active service.* My mother recalls the dreaded telegram of those days which they received whilst stationed in Kirkwall, Orkney (where wives had been permitted to join their husbands). She avers that my father’s face turned chalk white as he read the telegram, telling of Joseph’s death in action. He returned to Gourdon on compassionate leave, finding the family, in particular his mother grief-stricken. The women of the family in those times in our culture did not cry in public but my granny had a terribly sore heart and was never the same after the death of her youngest child.
Another memory of my mother’s in this connection was of Joseph’s last home leave. She had a particular affection for Joseph who had looked after her whilst at home – she was pregnant with me at the time, and my father, as noted, was on convoys then. When Joe was due to report for duty, somewhere down in England, I think, the weather was truly dreadful. It had been snowing heavily and the roads were almost impassable. The family home in Gourdon was situated at the foot of a brae and no buses were running and no car was available in those days. The family were urging Joe not to go but to send in word of the difficult conditions, to delay his return. Joe was resisting, knowing the consequences of being rated AWOL but also tormented with fears of imminent death, struggling against a sense of duty. He ordered a taxi but said to my granny, “Farewell, mother, I will not see you again”, with a terrible kind of premonition, of knowing his fate was to be killed. My mother describes the red rear lights of the taxi disappearing in the snow and the next they heard was of Joseph’s death.
Another sad loss was of my father’s best pal from boyhood days, Willie Cargill who was killed on the Carnarvon Castle. My father had been writing poetry during the War and both these deaths are commemorated in his poems.
* The Beverley was an American ship, a destroyer, built in 1918, launched in 1919 at Newport, Virginia, commissioned by the Royal Navy in 1940. On April 9 1943 she was in collision with a merchant ship and (ominously) “took station in the rear of the convoy”. She was torpedoed in the early morning of 11 April by U-188, south of Iceland. There were only four survivors out of a crew of 155. Other torpedoes were launched and hits recorded but records show that only The Beverley was lost.
Long lasting friendship - chums
During most his time in the Navy during the War, my father’s best chum on the same ship was a Scouser from Liverpool, Jim Jesson, usually affectionately referred to as Scouse or as Jesson, while my father was, of course, Jock. We kept up with Jessons long after the War till I was a young woman and even later. The present at Christmas in those early days was always a Scotsman Calendar which the Jessons looked forward to and loved
Elsie Jesson, Jim’s wife was always very generous with her gifts to us. My father and Jesson were good mates and it has predisposed me to be pro-English even to the extent to supporting England at football once Scotland is knocked out, as often happens, greatly to the chagrin of my pupils who apparently would support any team apart from England!
I have tried here to include a photo of my father’s messmates – my father at the very back and Jim Jesson in the row in front of him, third from the right.
Rationing – Utility furniture – blackout – bombing - singsongs
There are so many more stories I could add. I myself remember rationing which, of course, went on after the War into the fifties. I remember in particular needing sweetie coupons to buy sweets at the village shop. I remember the wee squares that had to be cut out.
I also remember the term Utility furniture – special items made to serve their time in war conditions, serviceable, solid enough without being fancy or specially stylish. Of course I recall stories of wartime conditions too – the blackout with my mother apologising for bumping into a sandbag in the blacked out streets of Montrose, of buses with covered windows, preventing you from knowing where you were or when to get off! There was one occasion when a German plane scared her and her family (maternal grandparents this time at Hillside, near Montrose) by dropping a bomb or perhaps jettisoning it before heading home, on the local mental institution, possibly mistaking it for an industrial site of some kind, worth destroying. They later found the crater blocking the hospital driveway.
My father played the violin, the banjo, the guitar, the flute and vamped the piano – I was sent to piano lessons and achieved Grade 8 later – and the family enjoyed many singsongs “around the old Joanna”. I particularly loved the songs of my mother and father’s generation, by Vera Lynn or better still Bing Crosby. We had loads of sheet music from the war time era as well as up- to- date items as I grew up. I have been told I was lulled to sleep in my maternal gran’s arms to the sound of her singing, “Bless ‘em All”. I also loved the funny songs such as “Kiss me Goodnight, Sergeant Major”.
From Poetry by Alexander Craig
A selection of my father's poetry related to his wartime experiences.
In my Lonely Moments, 1941...
The Fall of Belgium
Like an increasing peal of thunder
Came the rumble of tanks and guns.
The noise broke the stilly summer’s night,
And once again the Belgians
Were being crushed by Germany’s might.
On they came in their tens of thousands
Hoards of tanks, guns and men.
Bedlam let loose upon the land.
Like troubled waters in the Golden Strand
King Chaos reigned again.
The mighty arm of misery,
With one sweep did descend
On Belgium’s sons and Belgium’s soil,
And thus a kingdom did end.
This hoard of men, war-minded
Will prosper but all in vain,
For like the rising tide, it must
Rise to its height, and linger there,
Only to ebb again.
My heart is sad and full of grief
In my eye there springs a tear
When I remember my old pal,
A friend I loved so dear.
It was on board the Carnarvon Castle
Down South Atlantic way
He was killed by a piece of flying shell
And buried at sea that day.
It seems so hard, but it’s true
We will ne’er see him again.
They buried him in a watery grave
Somewhere on the Raging Main.
He was so young and full of life,
An ideal blooming rose.
That flower was plucked while in the bud
And now rests in sweet repose.
There will always be a spot, dear Bill,
Left in my heart for you.
The world may, but I’ll ne’er forget
A pal so good and true.
In memory of my brother Joseph, killed in action – 11th April 1943
We do not need forget-me-nots
Or your picture on the wall
To remind us to remember
Or your youthful days recall.
You will always be just as you were
You will never older grow
As the years go by we’ll remember you
As our faithful brother Joe.
As we grow old and our eyes grow dim
Our memory may sometimes fail
But love in unforgetful hearts
For you, will ever prevail.
When that day the sad news came
It rent our very hearts
And life’s blood seemed to trickle down
From souls half torn apart.
Grief and anguish rent our souls
Our wishes were in vain
Alas, alas, upon this earth
We’ll never see you again.
We loved you well, you loved us too
And wherever we may go
The engraven memory in our hearts
Will go, Dear Brother Joe.
We hope you are in the Happy Land
Away from earthly strife
Where God is good
And Jesus Christ, gives everlasting life.
I was leaving a lovely girl at home
But the parting was not sad
Cos it was only for a day or two
Because of that I was so glad.
It was over a job to guard a ship
That came in just that day.
She was under suspicion, therefore held
Captive, in Kirkwall Bay.
But e’er I was away an hour.
My heart was longing for,
The girl that I had left behind,
The girl that I adore.
As I went on guard that night,
Guarding those foreign men,
The only pleasant thought I had,
Was, I’ll soon be back again.
Now I am back on watch once more
But ‘tis the setting sun I see.
‘Tis the same said sight but not so good,
As when watched by you and me.
As I watch I feel all alone,
For without you here my dear,
This lovely sight is wasted
For you and me, I fear.
So hurry on, you dreary hours.
Let’s see what tomorrow will bring
For I long to roam with the girl I love
O’er the fields where the skylarks sing.
Two sailors running up the street
Made people stop and stare.
They had never seen the like before
They ran just like a hare.
They had no coats to hinder them,
Their hats were in their hand.
They cleared a path through all that crowd
As they charged along the strand.
But as they charged their pace grew slower.
Jock whispered to his mate,
“Run on, old pal. I am almost through.
I know I shall be late.”
“Remember me when you get there,
Good luck, old pal of mine.
Tell them I did my best
To be there with you on time.”
“Okay, old pal, I’ll do my best”.
He ran as he had ne’er run before
And just before the clock struck nine,
He charged right through the door.
There were some sailors sitting there
But their song he did not hear.
He pushed his way up to the bar
And yelled, “Two pints of beer!”