in World War II
This is my dad, Tom Reekie,
in WWII. His large lapel badge
with the crown atop signifies that he
is a local defense
volunteer and a designated Air Raid Warden.
In one form or another few
places in Britain escaped the effects of Adolf Hitler's wrath
including the village of Earlsferry.
The first air raid of World
War II occurred on the 16th of October 1939 when German aircraft bombed
the HMS Southampton which was laying alongside of the HMS Edinburgh as the two cruisers were laying at anchor alongside of the Forth Bridge near the
Royal Naval dockyard at Rosyth. The pride of our navy, the battleship HMS
Hood was at anchor within Rosyth dockyard but it was not attacked. That same day the
destroyer HMS Mowhawk was on escort duty in the Firth of
Forth. When the Mowhawk was operating in the shipping channel
and straight out from the Kincraig Cliffs at Earlsferry, it was dive bombed and damaged. On the Mowhawk
sixteen men were killed including
the captain of the ship, Commander Jolly.
by bomb fragments and flying debris.
I do not know the exact number of the wounded as I have read
differing accounts as to the number.
The ship limped to Rosyth for repair. One of the
attacking aircraft a JU88 dive bomber was shot down into the sea by
a Spitfire of 602 City of Glasgow squadron between Crail and the May
Island. This was the
second German aircraft to be shot down that day. Just 10 minutes
earlier a Spitfire of 603 City of Edinburgh Squadron, piloted by
Flight Lieutenant Patrick
Gifford of Castle Douglas, Scotland, shot down
a JU 88 German bomber that crashed into the Firth of Forth off
Port Seton. This was the very first German aircraft
to be shot down
over Britain during World War II. Seven months later on the 16th of
May 1940 Patrick Gifford was killed in
action in his Hurricane in the skies over Belgium. When 30 year old Patrick Gifford
died he was Squadron Leader Gifford, Distinguished Flying
First we had an imposed
blackout as it was reasoned that most air raid attacks would come
during the hours of darkness. All windows had to be covered so that
not one chink of light could be seen from the outside.
To prevent injury from
broken window glass all windows were crisscrossed with adhesive tape
to lesson the effect of flying glass fragments. All vehicle
headlights had to have an attached metal shield to prevent any light
being visible above the horizontal plane. In their gardens, many
in the village dug and installed underground Andersen and
similar air raid bomb shelters as a place to go to when the air
sirens went off to give warning that German aircraft were in the
The country went on a
severe austerity program. Ration books were issued to everyone
for all essential commodities such as food and clothing.
Children were assigned to walk the hedgerows to gather wild rose
hips. These were used to be processed into vitamin C as a source of
nourishment for babies. At war's
end there were few overweight people in the country. Austere
as our food supply was maybe that was
when we were at our fittest.
Fuel for cars was almost
unavailable. You had to have a very good reason in order to get even
a tiny allocation of petrol. Some ingenious individuals actually
made coal burning devices that they attached to the front of their
cars. The burning coal fire cooked other coal that produced coal gas that was plumbed
to the carburetor. In beating the energy crunch innovative Victor Boullet our baker par excellence was away ahead of the crowd and his
time. He stunned the village by converting his delivery vans to
World War II, in concrete emplacements, three large
naval guns were installed on top of the cliffs at
Earlsferry. During the days of target practice the
windows of the houses in Elie and Earlsferry rattled with
the concussion. The shells that were fired were so big that
they could be
followed in flight with the naked eye. Only once did
the big guns fire in anger. On the tenth of June 1940. on
the day that Italy declared war on Great Britain, an Italian ship was
in the process of leaving Methil Docks further up the Firth.
The captain decided to make a run for it. When
the ship was right abeam of Earlsferry, the big guns
on the cliffs opened fire. The first shell landed a half of a mile in
front of the ship's bow. The second landed a quarter of a
mile in front. The ship didn't slow. The third landed a few
feet in front of its bow. The captain knew that the fourth
would be right down his smokestack. The ship came to a
screeching halt and surrendered.
observation posts were built and manned near the quarry at the top
of the Ferry Road and also near the Elie Lighthouse. A
concealed machine gun nest was built into the sea
wall at the west end of the Earlsferry beach. If a landing had been attempted on the beach this
gun emplacement was capable of sweeping the entire length of the
beach including to the harbour. All around the shoreline of the
beaches heavy concrete blocks were built and spaced at just the
right distance and of a height such that vehicles that might try to
come ashore would become high centered.
Fairways on the golf course
and the farm fields had rows of telephone size poles implanted such as to
make the safe landing of German aircraft and troop carrying gliders
impossible. The Germans did the same thing on the fields of
France. After D Day these wrecked havoc with our
men who were onboard our
Horsa troop carrying gliders.
The call went out for scrap
metals to be converted into munitions. Many of the houses in
Earlsferry had decorative iron gates and railings around the properties. These
were all cut off and donated. Almost a quarter of a mile of closely
spaced heavy five foot high iron fencing rods that belonged to the Lilburn family of Craigforth House,
where it bordered
their field and the West Sea Road, were donated. The large heavy wrought iron gate
that barred the entry way to the Dome Park also went. Women thinned out
their kitchen cupboards and donated several of their aluminium pots
to be melted down to be made into aircraft parts. Between World War I and World War
II Isaac Newlands, scrap merchant, who lived at Pittenweem had
amassed an enormous pile of scrap metals. His scrap yard was swept
clean. No doubt the shrewd Isaac had anticipated this event. At the
Earlsferry chapel and at the Elie harbor were several old World War
I artillery cannons. These all disappeared in the name of the cause.
(Also read my "Shipwreck")
A large detachment of
personnel occupied the Golf Hotel where they trained as
At all times every man,
woman and child carried a gas mask that was slung on the
A Home Guard unit was
formed of volunteer men who also acted as Air Raid Wardens. A high
powered siren that could be heard for miles was installed on the
roof of the Earlsferry Town Hall. Another was placed near The Toll
Green at Elie.
School age teenagers
enlisted in cadet training services of the armed forces, of which I
was one and were
issued military uniforms. Trains started to arrive at
the Elie railway station that brought evacuated children from
London, Glasgow and many other cities that were likely to be
targeted for concentrated air raids. The local people met the trains
at the railway stations and one by one the children, who all had
pinned-on labels with their name and family information, found
foster homes for the duration.
Many of the local men and
women went off to fight in the various services, some never to
merchant ships that plied the waters of the Firth of Forth flew
barrage balloons for protection from attacking German dive
an attempt to augment the food supply the Dome Park at Chapel
Green was ploughed up and planted to potatoes. This was really an
exercise in frustration as at harvest time the yield was hardly
worth the bother of picking up. As I recall after the first year the
ground was allowed to return to it's original state of wild sea
As the Battle of Britain
raged at the time of our darkest hour Winston Churchill buoyed the
nation as he growled the words that made every man, woman and
child in the country stand taller, "Let us therefore brace ourselves
to our duties and so bear ourselves that if the British Empire and
it's Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say,
"This was their finest hour." It certainly was Winston's. Our
island homeland became his frontier of freedom.
Spectator" was to declare, "We are a free people because a man named Winston Churchill
Vera Lynn sang "We'll
Meet Again" and "There'll always be an
England." That was all right. For our
unenlightened English friends we used to add, "as long
as Scotland's there."
school children were influenced by the war. While I was at
Waid Academy my school class made a field trip to visit
the Henry Balfour factory at Leven. This factory made both
the left and right wings for Spitfire fighter aircraft.
First, on scrap metal, we learned how to use pneumatic drills to
drill holes in wing skin panels then correctly install rivet
fasteners. After we drilled a sufficient number of practice
holes and installed rivets in the holes and
we were declared proficient we each got to
drill holes and install rivets in a wing that would end
up on an actual fighting Spitfire.
I'm at the center of the middle row
I'm at the center of the front
Elie's Alan Mc.Roberts on my
Waid Academy field trip I went on was for the whole eight weeks of
one summer. Since most all of the men of military age were off
fighting the war there was a shortage of manpower for other jobs.
This field trip was to the village of Deskford near the town of
Cullen in Aberdeenshire. For the summer we stayed in the
village school where we slept on
straw filled mattress palliasses, (which we renamed "friendly
donkeys.") We worked as forestry workers.
After trees were felled our job was to cut off all of the side branches. These telephone pole size logs were
planted in level fields at places where it was thought that German
aircraft might try to make a landing. We were issued razor sharp axes and
sharpening stones. It's a wonder that none of us was seriously
injured although several quite large wounds were inflicted by
skidding and bouncing axes. This was in the day when the chain saw was yet to be
On nights that German
bombers headed our way the throbbing and groaning of the engines of the heavily
aircraft could be heard ten miles or more away. The primary target
in Scotland was Glasgow and the surrounding area where our heavy
industrial factories were located, the shipbuilding yards on the
River Clyde, the Rolls-Royce engine plant at Hillington, the torpedo manufacturing
facility at Greenock to name just a very few. The Royal
Naval dockyard at
Rosyth on the Firth of Forth was another prime target.
the air raid sirens would sound with a rise and fall undulating wail to
indicate that enemy aircraft were in the vicinity. Then the searchlights on the golf
course would stab the darkness and sweep the skies. As bombers were
caught and held in the glare of the intense beams of light the ack-ack guns, that were in place alongside of the
lights, would open up. A few bombers would turn back but the rest would
push on to their targets. Before morning many civilians in the Glasgow
area would die.
of the night that covers me,
as the pit from pole to pole,
thank whatever gods may be
my unconquerable soul.
the fell clutch of circumstance,
have not winced nor cried aloud.
the bludgeonings of chance
head is bloody but unbowed."
was always a relief when the monotone wail of the sirens signaled
the "All Clear" to indicate that the danger had passed.
It just so happened
that from the take-off airfields in Germany, Earlsferry and
the East Neuk of Fife lay under the flight path of the bombers that
were heading for Glasgow. When the coastal searchlights caught and
held an enemy aircraft the usual response from the aircraft was the
indiscriminate jettisoning of the bomb load and the fleeing for home
of the aircraft before being caught by our night fighters. One
night one of my best friends, a Waid Academy classmate who lived at
Crail, was shutting up his pet rabbits for the night in their hutch at the
end of his garden. A
jettisoned high explosive bomb took his life. Not one thread of his
clothing was found. Several
times Earlsferry and other of the coastal villages were the
recipients of these abandoned bomb loads. Small fire starting
incendiary bombs were held in large containers nicknamed Molotov
Breadbaskets. The incendiary bombs were made of a magnesium casing
with a core of phosphorus. After being dropped the doors on these
containers sprung open to shower the bombs in all directions. Many
fell on the Earlsferry golf course. On nights of air raid attack we
local boys scooped buckets of sand from the bunkers on the golf
course, to smother the intensely hot but slow burning bombs. At daylight after the
smothered incendiary bombs had time to cool off we collected the finned tail cones as
souvenirs and as boys will be boys we gathered up the half burned
out bombs, took them down to the beach where we made them into a
pile and reset them on fire till they burned out to nothing. Just
about every boy had a collection of shrapnel, high explosive bomb
fragments which made great boy type trading stock.
There were times that
German submarines attempted to penetrate the Firth of Forth. Our
destroyers on detecting one would race up and down the Firth as they
heaved depth charges overboard. When this happened the shoreline of
our beaches for miles became strewn with all kinds of fish that were
killed by the concussion of the blasts. Few fish went to waste as
the East of Fife residents ate as many as could be hauled home.
Our beaches became strewn
with flotsam and jetsam from deck cargo as our ships were torpedoed
by German submarines and sunk in
the North Sea. The saddest thing was the number of Royal Navy and
Merchant Marine hats that floated in to arrive on the tide lines of the
beaches - the only thing now visible of the men who had worn them
before they sank beneath the waves as the sea claimed them.
There was one high
explosive bomb that really ticked me off. Straight down from the
Cadgers Wynd was my favourite lobster hole. This rocky place was
inshore to the extent that even in a neap tide the sea would go far
enough out for me to get good sized lobsters. Until one day. I
couldn't believe what I was seeing. Where my fail-me-never
place had been was an enormous bomb crater. I never could decide if
this crater was caused by a high explosive German bomb or whether it
was caused by one of our own anti-submarine mines that had broken
loose from it's moorings out in the firth and had drifted in to the
shore where it had exploded as the waves threw it against the rocks. We
had several instances of our mines breaking loose from their
moorings and drifting in to the shore to end up
unexploded at the high tide mark. These were carefully removed by
personnel of the army's bomb disposal squad who took them to a remote area to
Even the Earlsferry
lobsters felt the brunt of the war.
When the winds of war blew
across the Pacific had Japan not committed
it's ultimate act of folly by attacking Pearl Harbor on December 7th 1941
I very much doubt
that I'd be writing this today.
The old Scottish
adage was verified. "
It's an ell wund that disnae blaw somebody some guid."
After two years and three months of Britain and it's allies fighting alone
against Germany, the USA declared war on Japan and Germany and joined us in our struggle.
Just before Pearl Harbor, Great Britain was in dire straits and there
was a high level of concern that the island homeland would be
invaded by Germany. As there were but few of us who could speak
German and could answer the question, Sprechen sie Deutsch ?, it's
more than likely that had we been invaded the streets would have run
red with our blood.
the United Kingdom, World
War II began on September 3rd 1939
Italy teamed up with Germany and declared
war on Great Britain on June the 10th. 1940
The United States entered the fray on the Monday after Pearl Harbor,
December 8th 1941 (Although, before Pearl Harbor, the USA was not in
this war, a
"Special Relationship" had been formed between the USA
and the UK.)
The conflict with Germany ended on May
The conflict with Japan ended on August
these years of war it has been tabulated that
over 60 million people died. Just one of the 60 million is one
both sides, war is the ultimate expression of mankind's failure.
To celebrate the end of the
conflict the people of the towns and villages all
over the country collected combustible materials of every type
imaginable to build enormous victory bonfires. The Earlsferry and Elie
bonfire was built above the quarry near The Ferry Road. Our bonfire was so illuminating
that night became almost like day. The heat was so intense that
onlookers had to move to a considerable distance from the flames.
Bonfires could be seen burning at each of the towns all
along both the southern and the northern shores of
the Firth of Forth. We sang "Roll out the
Barrel". Partying and merriment went on all
night long and right into the next day.
After daylight the remains
of our bonfire smoldered for over a week.
It seems like those who
want to dominate and subjugate others will never learn that,
in the long run, war accomplishes nothing but death, destruction, misery and poverty.
the world, cities, towns and villages acquired new war memorials
and "The bells of hell went ting-a-ling-a-ling" as the names of more of the
world's most beautiful young men and women got chiseled into
polished granite. The surviving maimed and disabled returned to
their homes to cope as best they could.
---to those who never made it home----
Lest we forget
"In Flanders fields the poppies blow
the crosses row on row"