Tomorrow morning, 11th November, you will wake to find your television full of pictures of politicians by the score, members of the Royal Family, and various other booted and suited individuals all laying wreaths to those who fell in the two world wars and subsequent military campaigns.
There will be solemn and sombre music, moments of reverential silence, accompanied by deep mournful and respectful voices giving commentary to the nation.
Men and women in uniform, both young and old will be seen marching with medals as the nation — whether that be The United Kingdom or the potentially Independent nation that is Scotland— supposedly pays its respect to those that are no longer with us as a result of such conflict.
I, for one, will not be watching.
This will not be a break from past practice– in fact that will be the repetition of an automatic annual reaction to the Armistice — what do I call it?— Celebration? Commemoration? Remembrance?
Whatever it is– it is not– and never will be for me!
Now before some reading this throw up their hands in horror at that reaction, let me explain precisely why I am turned off by the parades, the politicians, the solemn voices and all that pomp and circumstance shit! Because shit — real fake, insincere, horrible, two faced, disgusting shit is how I see it.
A few years ago I had my four Children in Normandy. Not unnaturally my boys wanted to go and see the museums that housed tanks, landing craft, Big Guns and all that sort of thing. I refused to take them, and explained that the only thing I was prepared to do was to go to the graveyards– to see the lines of endless white crosses or fields of poppies which represent the fallen men ( and women ) who were sent to war on a political whim, and who were never given the chance to take their kids on a holiday to anywhere.
I wanted my children to see the consequences of these mechanical relics which were now housed in the museums and to realise that war is a truly horrible awful thing that should never be the subject political posturing for the sake of it.
Guns, bombs, bullets, pomp and circumstance to the tune of Edward Elgar is not for me. I was brought up on watching the Armistice Sunday event from the Royal Albert Hall where the army, navy and airforce teams dismantled a big gun and dragged it over fences before putting it back together again with the first one to fire their gun being declared the winner! Oh how the crowd roared and cheered on the teams.
Yet moments later, here comes the the last post and thousands of poppies falling from the sky with the television showing the great and the good who had to be seen to be there before heading off home. The gun race and all that phoney pomp did not seem respectful to me.
Nor is the customary race by every Tom Dick and useless Harry on the television to see how early and how quickly they can appear on the small screen sporting a poppy. It is crass and disrespectful rather than a show of any long-lasting intention of reverently remembering the war and those who died there.
In a few weeks, the annual poppy wearing crew replace the red flower with a Santa hat and red ermine because the poppy is out of season and Santa is in — and that sickens me to the quick. It insults the intelligence.
If you want to remember the war victims, for me it takes a touch more than turning up on the Sunday closest to November 11th with your best mohair coat and po-faced fake expression of solemnity and sincerity. It takes far far more than that.
However, let me also add that the very sight of a red poppy on someone’s jacket brings one thought to my mind– one word — one emotion and one sense of anger that can all be summed up in one word.
There are those who believe that the poppy is the sole preserve of the earl Hague fund for fallen soldiers or indeed for Erskine Hospital. It is not, and in my mind, whilst I support all that the Hague fund and Erskine Hospital do, I cannot help but ask the question:
And what about Clydebank? What about the people of Clydebank? Where is the fund for them? Where is the facility which provides help and succour for them, for their children and their grandchildren?
Before 1870 there was no such place as Clydebank.
There was just an area to the west of Glasgow on the North Bank of the Clyde which in the main was rural, and agricultural. It consisted of some villages ( (Hardgate, Faifley, Duntocher, Dalmuir, Old Kilpatrick), farms and estates, with some small scale mining operations (coal, limestone and whinstone), several cotton mills and some small boatbuilding yards.
However, the shipyards and factories of Glasgow were overflowing and in 1870 J&G Thomson the shipbuilders purchased some suitably flat land on the “West Barns o’Clyde”, from the estates of Miss Hamilton of Cochno. The ground was on the north bank of the river, opposite the point where the River Cart flows into the River Clyde. The land was situated close to the Forth and Clyde Canal and to the main road running west out of Glasgow to Dumbarton, and so was conveniently positioned for transporting materials and workers to and from the shipyard. The position opposite the mouth of the River Cart was also to prove important as the shipyard grew, since it enabled the company to build much bigger, heavier ships than would otherwise have been possible that far up the Clyde. Construction of the new shipyard started on 1 May 1871.
Initially, the company transported workers to and from the shipyard by paddle steamer. However it was not ideal, having to ship workers to and fro all the time, so the company also started building blocks of tenement flats to house the workers. These first blocks of housing became known unofficially as “Tamson’s (Thomson’s) Buildings”, after the name of the company.
Gradually, as the shipyard grew, so did the cluster of buildings grow nearby. More houses, a school, a large shed which served as canteen, community hall and church (known as the “Tarry Kirk”), then finally two proper churches in 1876 and 1877. As the resident population grew, so did the needs and problems associated with a growing population. Other manufacturers and employers moved into the area, and by 1880 approximately 2,000 men were living and working there.
In 1882 a railway line was built running from Glasgow out to the new shipyard (the Glasgow, Yoker and Clydebank Railway). This was followed by the Lanarkshire and Dunbartonshire Railway during the 1890s. Between 1882 and 1884, the Singer Manufacturing Company built the massive sewing machine factory in Kilbowie, less than half a mile north of the Clyde Bank shipyard.This factory was to be one of the wonders of the industrial age as they could manufacture everything on site. Singers forged their own steel and iron, created their own moulds and could carry out every known industrial process within the walls of the plant. It would later be regarded as the most efficient factory in the world.
More people moved into the area, and finally, in 1886, the local populace petitioned for the creation of a police burgh, on the basis that the area now qualified as a “populous place”. The petition was granted, and the new town was named after the shipyard which had given birth to it – Clydebank — the risingest burgh on the Clyde.
However, Thomsons were not alone in seeing the benefits of moving down the Clyde. William Beardmore and Company was a Scottish engineering and shipbuilding conglomerate based in Glasgow primarily at Parkhead Forge. The Forge had previously been the home of Reoch Brothers & Co but by 1886 Beardmores had taken over and would eventually employ up to 40,000 men in the plant.
In 1900, Beardmore took over the shipyard of Robert Napier in Govan. This was a logical diversification from the company’s core steel forgings business. In 1900, Beardmore also began construction of what would become The Naval Construction Yard, at Dalmuir in west Clydebank; the largest and most advanced shipyard in the United Kingdom at the time. HMS Agamemnon was the yard’s first order to complete in 1906 and was seen as such a huge deal that a street was named after the great Ship.
And how Clydebank would come to dread the very name Agamemnon Street in years to come.
Beardmore eventually sold the company’s Govan shipyard to Harland and Wolff in 1912. Other notable warships produced by Beardmores at Dalmuir include the Dreadnoughts, HMS Conqueror (1911), HMS Benbow (1913) and HMS Ramillies (1917). In 1917, Beardmore completed the aircraft carrier HMS Argus, the first carrier to have a full-length flat top flight deck. Beardmore expanded the activities at Dalmuir to include the manufacture of all sorts or arms and armaments, the site employing 13,000 people at its peak.
However, the post 1914-18 war recession hit the firm hard, and the shipyard was forced to close in 1930. Part of the site and some of the existing buildings later became incorporated into ROF Royal Ordinance Factory Dalmuir, and part was used by the General Post Office for their cable-laying ships.
Beyond the Shipyards, Clydebank and Dalmuir would have biscuit factories, distilleries, the co-op and various other large scale employers.
The population of the area went from virtually nil to circa 40,000 in just over 30 years.
Clydebank was Britain’s first — and model– New Town.
People were drawn to the town– Irish Immigrants, Higlanders and others from without the West of Scotland.
Whilst there were great big industrial factories and plant, by the 1930′s work was sometimes scarce for many with thousands of men reporting each day as casual labour looking for daily work as they could not secure a permanent job. To ensure work you had to keep on the right side of the union man and the bosses — and sometimes the housing wasn’t the greatest.
However, Clydebank and its people had a spirit, a sense of identity and perhaps most important of all an industrial workforce knowledge that was second to none anywhere on the planet. In short, if it could be built– it could be built in Clydebank— and The Government knew it!
Accordingly when the second world war came, it took a matter of weeks to convert the massive Singer sewing machine plant into a munitions factory. That remarkable factory and its workforce simply took delivery of plans and set about making moulds and casings for the manufacture of munitions instead of sewing machines. No Problem. More casual labour was hired for the war effort and the other employers similarly took on more Bankies.
The shipyards produced incomparable ships and the populace– like any other between 1939 and 1945– sent its youth off to war to fight the Nazi threat that had devastated Europe.
Then came the nights of 13th and 14th March 1941.
Everyone has heard of the Clydebank Blitz or at least I hope they have.
But in my opinion, successive Prime Ministers, Cabinet Members, Politicans of all parties and all the pomp and circumstance merchants have never ever understood it– and its consequences,
First it has to be remembered that the news of the very events of that night were suppressed on the instructions of Winston Churchill. To reveal the true extent of the devastation would have been to damage the nations moral. Accordingly the absolute truth of what happened that night and subsequently is not as well known as you might think.
For days before the bombing German reconnaissance planes had been seen in the sky. The Clyde coast was fairly well prepared for war with Anderson shelters, defence guns, air raid sirens all in position. However nothing would prepare Clydebank for what was to come.
At around 9pm on a crisp clear March night the Sirens went off and the people sped for the Anderson Shelters as they had done before.
However, unlike any previous night, this time the air was filled with the sound of the repetitive drone of Hundreds of planes from the elite German pathfinder force KG100. The planes flew low– so low that the Swastikas could be seen on their wings. They flew in a spread out formation with the result that out of thousands off passes only two planes would be shot down by return fire which was aided by a Polish Warship which was berthed at John Browns.
Imagine the scale of this air assault.
Those planes flew over Clydebank for NINE HOURS!
NINE HOURS OF INCESSANT BOMBING!
They threw down countless incendiaries, thousands upon thousands of tons of bombs for hour after hour with the result that the emergency services were deprived of communications, water, lighting and so on. Theirs was an impossible task against such constant bombardment.
Such was the ferocity of the bombing that in certain areas the oxygen was bombed clean out of the air with the result that many died– not from shock and blast but from suffocation because there was no air left to breathe– it had been bombed out of the atmosphere.
NINE HOURS this went on for. Despite the bombing going on all through the night, the light out side was brighter than brightest daylight– as the town literally burned and burned.
The entire Rocks family were wiped out — all 13 of them— including 13 year old Tommy who only weeks before had stood on the opposite side of a boxing ring to my dad who cowered down in an air raid shelter for the duration thinking literally that the world was about to end at any minute—- FOR NINE HOURS.
The Gorbals Fire brigade lost a man. Firefighter Crerand– father to Celtic’s Paddy would not survive the night and would never get to see his son were the green and white hoops or the red of Manchester United or the European Cup.
Overnight the entire town became homeless and when the people emerged the following day they found that there was nothing but sheer devastation. Essentially, in a space of 9 hours, Clydebank had become a population of refugees who were completely and absolutely destitute. There are many who tell horrific tales from that night– tales which would scar them for life.
Throughout the following day, worn and weary survivors were put on buses and evacuated to anywhere. My own father’s family were taken to Airth after waiting hours for a bus. Few whom they met could believe what they heard.
However, others couldn’t make it out that day and so they were still there when the bombers returned for a second night!
Another NINE Hours of incessant bombing.
Some have theorised that the operation was a military failure for the Luftwaffe because relatively few of the factories were damaged and the ship yards remained in tact in the main. Some say that the pilots mistook the Clyde and Forth canal for the river Clyde and that this was why they missed the shipyards in part.
I do not buy into that theory at all.
This was a crack airforce unit who had flown over half of Europe just to get to Clydebank. They had crossed major rivers and passed many other major shipyards and rivers below them. They could tell the difference between a river and a canal quite easily.
No– on those nights they did not come to target steel and metal– they came to target Clydebank’s greatest asset– possibly Scotland’s greatest asset in the war effort– the people of Clydebank.
Up Kilbowie Road far away from the banks of the Clyde stood a housing development called the Holy City– so called because the houses all had flat roofs and stood on the hill so resembling Jerusalem. Not a single stick of that estate was left standing!
Out of the 12,000 houses in the town only 7 remained undamaged. 9,500 houses were totally destroyed or severely damaged.
Officially 48,000 people were declared homeless as the entire town was evacuated, but in truth that number might be nearer 60,000.
There was substantial industrial damage. Many industrial targets received direct hits or severe blast and incendiary damage; Beardmores, The Royal Ordnance Factory, John Brown’s Shipyard, Arnott Young, Rothesay Dock, Tullis Engineering and Singers Factory, were all hit and the massive Singer’s wood yard destroyed. Many large schools and churches perished. At one of the primary targets – the MOD oil storage at Dalnottar, on the periphery of the town – eleven huge tanks had been destroyed, others severely damaged. Millions of gallons of fuel were lost in the resulting inferno. When the site was finally cleared, 96 bomb craters were counted with the craters measuring 30 ft wide and 20ft deep.
Officially, 528 died with thousands severely injured. I say officially 528 died, but if you extend the definition of Clydebank for that one night then apparently the tally doubles. I have read one story which tells the tale of someone returning after the bombing and asking for a death count. When they are told that the number is 500 and rising their reaction or answer is revealing:
“500? 500 died? In which street?”
There were not enough coffins in the entire area for the dead and there are those who believe that the true death toll has never been released and has been deliberately understated.
Yet, in my opinion, the worst for Clydebank was still to come.
My Grandfather like many others stayed away for only a few days. He wanted to get back to what had been his home and to get back to work to help the war effort. Accordingly he returned to his home in Burns Street Dalmuir and did what he could with the house putting Polythene over the window frames, clearing the rubble and trying to make the house as habitable as possible. He was one of the lucky ones– half the street was no longer there.
Then he went back to work– in Agamemnon Street!
Agamemnon Street– named after Beardmore’s great ship and home to the large grey steel factory of Turner & Newell’s Asbestos Factory!
Asbestos Manufacture in Scotland was not a new phenomena, but the new factory was massive and took Asbestos Cement manufacture to a new level.
Yet, By the time Turners started operations in Clydebank in 1938, the British government had introduced measures aimed at regulating the asbestos hazard. The Asbestos Regulations of 1931 were a response to growing medical evidence from 1924 of confirmed deaths from asbestosis (though a female factory inspector had recognised the problem as early as 1898).
In short, the British Government already knew that those working with Asbestos were being subjected to effective death by poisoning– and in Clydebank Asbestos was everywhere. It was in the Shipyards and in every major plant and building. Shipworkers had Asbestos snowball fights and Turners even had a football pitch made with Asbestos ash!
For years after the blitz many Bankies were terrified when they heard the noise of a commercial jet engine in the sky and of course the town was on the direct flightpath to the airport at Inchinnan. Many were terrified of finding an unexploded bomb. Many simply did not return after the events of 1941 and left the town forever. For Clydebank, the war did not end in 1945.
However, far far more returned to try and make a fist of the town that had once been their happy home and were completely unaware that they had returned to the Asbestos capital of Europe where there would be record numbers who would effectively be poisoned to death.
Further, after the war the rubble from the blitz was simply swept up into piles… and left.
The priority for the new Atlee Government was the establishment of the “New Towns” of Glenrothes, Cumbernauld, East Kilbride and so on.
Clydebank…. was left. Deserted. Abandoned. Discarded and Ignored by the same people who year after year in the years to come were to be found on the televisions and newsreels each Armistice Sunday wearing the solemn expression, the big coat and the compulsory Poppy someone had pinned to the lapel for the cameras!
But what did they do for Clydebank?
The answer, in my humble opinion, is nothing!
Yes Singers reopened, the ship yards returned, and the Goodyear Tyre Factory towards Drumchapel provided employment but relatively soon it became plain that the town was not going to be rebuilt and that the infrastructure that had once made Clydebank the risingest Burgh on the Clyde was not going to be replaced.
Yet there remained an amazing sense of community.
There was a Cafe Society– Singers Cafe, Simeone’s cafe and many others. I know of Catholic men and women who first met at Masonic Hall dances and later married– something that was, I suspect, unheard of in other towns.
There were football teams– Clydebank, Duntocher Hibs, Yoker Athletic as well as Boys Guild, Boys Brigade and other teams.
There was Dalmuir park and the fantastic illuminations.
There were concerts and entertainments and a real sense of togetherness among a people who had suffered greatly — yet successive governments seemed blind to all of this and literally left the town alone.
But the town was dying. There was no investment from Industry, no great interest from politicians of all parties ( despite valiant attempts from local counsellors, MP’s and union leaders ) with the result that people moved away and more importantly their sons , daughters and grandchildren moved away as well.
Despite what Clydebank had been and what it had suffered in the second world war there was no attempt at making it a special case for investment bar lickspittle lip service. By the time we get to the dozen years covering the late sixties, the seventies and the early eighties Singers, Goodyear, and much of the shipyards were gone– so were the people– and a sense of hope.
Worst of all— all the potential that had existed in the early part of the 20th Century was gone.
As the number of claims from Asbestosis grew, the owners of Turners and Newells sold their plant and assets and declared the company bankrupt in an attempt at avoiding the claims.
In the end they were forced to put some money into a trust with the result that anyone making a claim for mesothelioma ( asbestos cancer ) as a result of working in Agamemnon Street receives roughly 29 pence in the pound. The number of claims continues to grow and grow as there were still people working in Turners right up until 1970. Whatsmore many of the victims never worked there at all. They were women like my grandmother who washed their husbands overalls by hand and so fell victim to the deadly asbestos dust without ever setting foot in the place!
Today if you go to Clydebank you will see the strangely short rows of tenements on Kilbowie Road and Dumbarton Road– remnants of what used to stand there before that March night in 1941. You will see a town that was never rebuilt, never acknowledged as having suffered any kind of calamity or tragedy in any real or meaningful sense and where a shattered people were simply left to pick up the pieces of a prolonged tragedy that no one else experienced or could understand.
The people who remain are Bankies and proud of it.
However 20% of the population is officially described as “employment deprived” and for years the town has cried out for a new beginning– and at long last that new beginning is starting to emerge with the new College and Clydebank and Dalmuir regeneration projects.
But it has taken an awfully long time to start turning.
For me, I spent the first few years of my life in Clydebank before my parents like many others moved to Glasgow. However, spiritually I am still a Bankie even though I do not live there. I deliberately try to go to Clydebank and spend a few quid in the town when I can, and I have been known to go and soak up the history– the memorial to that Polish Warship in Solidarity Square, a drive up Kilbowie Road, Dalmuir and Burns Street where my dad lived, and even a walk about the former singers factory site and where stood the once famous clock which caused so much distress when they took it down.
So tomorrow– when you see the po-faced officios on your television with all of their wreaths and poppies– think about Clydebank and its people. Those who died, those who had to leave, and those who were forced to leave due to economic and social genocide presided over by successive occupiers of 10 Downing Street.
The Germans did much to damage Clydebank and its people– sadly the Conservative Party, The labour party and those who held office and march to the Cenotaph in Whitehall did more.
In short they practised the Violence of Silence and looked the other way for far too long.
Yet these same types will give speeches tomorrow, praising soldiers and those who are buried abroad in Flanders Field or elsewhere and the reverential newsreaders will put on their most solemn faces and voices right on queue— like cheap actors playing their part.
And none of them will think of Clydebank for a nanosecond.
Below I have attached a couple of links to some photographs.
Tomorrow I will not sport a poppy- I prefer to sit quietly and look at these images and say a we prayer to the man upstairs.
And if you can, take a wee wander round Clydebank and look closely– really closely– and you will still see the effects of March 1941 and the years of Government neglect.
And if you are a poppy wearing apologist for a politician of any party or none at all who has never been to Clydebank or done anything to assist in or support its regeneration — then please get a pen and paper write out your resignation today and retire from Public life.
You will be doing a great service on behalf of many people as to paraphrase Winston Churchill:
Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed to so many, and never have so many had so little done for them over so long a period.
With an acknowledgement to Tom McKendrick and various others as the source of the images below
Lest we forget