National Geographic : 1943 Jun
Scotland in Wartime BY ISOBEL WYLIE HUTCHISON <' OU'D better take cover! That's the siren!" The siren! Take cover! Be wildered, I looked down the long straight road. From the village on the hill to my home a mile away by the river it stretched bare as Mother Hubbard's cupboard between fields of ripening wheat. There was no cover to take. Not so much as a tree. And anyway, who was going to take cover from the Ger mans on a Scottish Sunday morning, and on the way to church, of all places? The whole thing was fantastic. Scarcely an hour before, Mr. Chamberlain had announced over the air that Britain was at war with Germany. Now, just as the beadle had gone round to ring the old church bell (cast in Edinburgh in 1687), just as the children were trooping out of Sunday School and their elders converging on the gray kirk which the Crusaders had founded 800 years ago, the siren from the distillery, at the bottom of the green brae where the forefathers of the hamlet slept their quiet sleep, had sent forth its raucous, intermittent pant, the agreed sig nal for German raiders! "They havena' lost much time!" A man on a motorcycle had stopped beside me. In the perturbation of the moment he broke a Scot's natural reserve and addressed himself to the only other person in sight. The A.R.P. warden, shouting out a hurried invitation to go into his house, had dashed off again shouting, "I can't wait. I'm on duty." "Thunder; Bright Intervals" It was a symbolic cry, symbolic as the weather on that fateful morning of September 3, 1939, which is registered in my diary as "Thunder; bright intervals." For the next four years "Duty" was to be the stern watchword for every man and woman in Great Britain, and "Thunder; bright inter vals" their wartime barometer. Fortunately the thunder on this first morn ing of wartime proved to be a false alarm, at least so far as Scotland was concerned. But it served to put us on our mettle, and when the raiders did come a few weeks later we were ready for them. On October 16, 1939, the Auxiliary Air Force Fighter Squadrons of Glasgow and Edinburgh had the honor of being the first squadrons to intercept enemy bombers at tempting an attack on Britain. These squad rons consisted of young Scotsmen who, long before the threat of war, had become flying enthusiasts and had spent their spare time learning to become accomplished pilots. It was only because of their exceptional keenness and thorough training in peacetime that they were able to cope with the Luft waffe. Though Scotland's contribution to the war effort may be measured in statistics, far more important than the impressive figures is the spirit behind them. From the beginning, Scotland had no illu sions about the nature of the conflict and all that depended on its successful outcome. Her people have played their parts in the strug gle with resource and resolution. Nor should it be forgotten that it was on a Scot's cottage in the distant Orkney Islands * that the first bomb fell on October 17, 1939, and the first civilian in the long list of civilian casualties in the British Isles was killed at Bridge of Waith, Orkney, in March, 1940, six months after the outbreak of war. Raiders over the Firth of Forth When, in October, German raiders also visited the Firth of Forth area, no one in our village could at first believe that the puffs of white smoke, budding like guelder-roses amid the clear autumn sky, could be other than a practice raid. A shopkeeper came to his door and stared up; village urchins, arrested in their play, greeted the spectacle with shouts of delight. Not till one of the enemy planes far off flashed like a silver streak across the sky and disap peared-it fell into the sea-did the village folk, like Cortes' mariners, look on each other "with a wild surmise." "What's yon lying there?" someone asked the storekeeper, pointing to a cylindrical ob ject lying a few yards off on the pavement. "Yon" proved to be an unexploded shell from one of our own guns. Stories of that morning are still told in our area. There was the dear old lady whose daughter had taken her for a little turn in the car after delivering some messages. The ladies suddenly found themselves just under neath a plane bearing an unmistakable swas tika. So close did it swoop over the hedge that they could see the pilot plainly, and presently the Irish "tattie howkers" in a near-by field were scattered, for the rest of that day, by a burst of shrapnel! "Dear me," remarked the old lady placidly, * See "Map of Europe and the Near East" supple ment with this issue of the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE.