First School by Christina Byrne
(The Clydebank Blitz, evacuation, coupons and going to primary school)
We had been blitzed out of our house and evacuated to Airdrie. There we lived with a family of two adults and four children in a three-bedroomed house. Whilst some folk in our street went to live in large mansion-type houses, our hosts had a four-in-a-block upstairs flat. I don’t know how we all managed to fit in since my own family consisted of my mother and father and five children.
My father had to leave very early in the morning to get to his job in Connell’s Shipyard; every day he travelled on the tram from Airdrie to Scotstoun.
We lived with the Martin family and I often stayed there during part of the school holidays. We kept in touch with them until they emigrated to Australia in the fifties.
We couldn’t have lived in Airdrie for long because Clydebank was blitzed in March 1941 and I started school back in Clydebank in the summer of that year. I think our house had all the windows blown in and damage to the ceilings and the repairs must have been completed by then.
My father had dug out a deep trench in the back garden for the Anderson shelter so it was buried under the grass and we had to go down steps to it. I don’t remember much about the bombing except for the noise and the fact that our shelter was crowded out with other neighbours so there was no room to move. One thing I do remember was that someone needed the toilet and did it in the shelter.
My first school was Our Holy Redeemer’s and I attended there until I was seven. It was several miles away from our house and I went on the bus every day with my big brother. We stayed for school dinners. I was a bit of a loner in those days and remember hanging about the playground watching the other girls playing tig and beds.
To play beds (also called peever) you drew boxes on the playground with chalk, numbered them one to eight and hopped from one box to another pushing a Cherry Blossom tin filled with earth. The really lucky children had a small piece of marble for their peever.
Although the school was a lovely sandstone building there were no indoor toilets. When you needed to go you put your hand up and asked the teacher if you could leave the room. It wasn’t too bad in the summer but in winter it was a horrible experience and sometimes I didn’t go all day. It meant I was bursting when I got off the bus and raced up the street to the house.
By the time my younger brother was five, the boundaries of the parishes had changed and he was sent to St. Stephen’s in Dalmuir. I was moved there so I could escort him to school. It was about a mile and a half from our house and we walked every day.
A lot of the children who lived in our street went there and I made friends easily. I enjoyed going there despite the fact that it also had outside toilets.
Many people say they hated school but I loved it. Always eager to learn, I drunk in everything. Learning to read was a big adventure but learning to write proved a problem. I am left-handed. Teachers tried to make me use my right hand but I just couldn’t. I’ve heard of schools where they tied a pupil’s left hand behind them and forced them to use their right but thankfully nothing like that ever happened to me. Eventually the teachers gave up and let me write with my left.
Whilst not a brain-box, I was clever enough at my lessons, in fact my spelling was so good that the teacher in the ‘Qualifying’ class (primary seven) used to get me to read out the dictation to allow him to get on with other things. He also used to send me out to the shop for his cigarettes! That wouldn’t be allowed nowadays and even then I don’t think it was right but how can you disobey a teacher.
However, the advantage of going was that I could spend a few of my own pennies on treats. I say treats, not sweets. Bacon, meat, cheese, butter and margarine, sugar and milk, jam and tea had been rationed during and after the war and sweet rationing continued even after the other things were widely available. Things that you could buy without coupons were liquorice root and ‘health salts,’ which we used like sherbet. The liquorice root could be chewed and some daring people even tried to smoke it.
Sweetie coupons were in ‘values’ of D’s and E’s and I think an E was double the value of a D. There was always a brisk trade in coupons going in the playground.
As a youngster I was never bothered about rationing but it must have been difficult for the mothers to eke them out. The weekly amounts were 4 ounces of bacon and margarine, 2 ounces of cheese and butter, three pints of milk and eight ounces of sugar. Each person was allowed one egg a week and meat to the value of one shilling and tuppence (just over 5p.) Tea and jam were also rationed and fruit was never available. When sent for ‘the messages’ it was customary to ask for ‘the rations.’
In the last year at primary the big thing that loomed ahead was the ‘Quali’ exam that virtually decided your future. If you passed at a certain level, you went to Senior Secondary School and could stay on until sixth year if you wanted. If you failed or didn’t get a high enough mark, you were sent to Junior Secondary School and left at fourteen (changed to fifteen around 1947 I think.)
I did well in the exam, even getting the School Dux medal, although it has always annoyed me that my name was wrongly spelled on the inscription. I can still remember the day it was announced in class. The headmaster had come in to let us know the results of the exam. The two cleverest pupils were Bridget and James and it was expected that one of them would get the highest marks. I am sure it was a surprise to everyone (myself as well) that I came out top.
So I left primary school in my blaze of glory.
This section: Christina Byrne, Writing
- Close Range Coulport – poem by Finola Scott
- Alan Sharp and From Greenock to Hollywood at the Glasgow Film Theatre
- To See Ourselves – film about the lead up to the Scottish Referendum in 2014
- Mary Irvine’s Blog: The Magic Scales by Paul Murdoch
- Cast A Cold Eye – Robbie Morrison
- Secret Wrapped in Lead by Braw Clan
- Glasgow Writers: Pauline Lynch
- Mary Irvine: Review of ‘Gods of the Crossroads’ by Robin Lloyd-Jones
- SCCAN Stories for Change – PLACE Workshop
- Mary Irvine’s Blog: Review of Warp and Weft by Ann MacKinnon
- Home Grown In Glasgow – a poem for International Women’s Day by Ruby McCann
- Le Vent du Nord, Celtic Connections 2023
- Best Laid Schemes – Dexter Gordon Place
- Mary Irvine’s Blog: ‘Blackbird Singing’ – an evening with Graham Morgan
- Spark My Words – Creative Writing Sessions with Lesley O’Brien
- Mary Irvine’s Blog: Review – The Way Home by Robin Scott-Elliot
- Roy’s West End View: History is bunk …and it ends just outside London
- Aye Write Three Debut Authors (interviewed by Matthew Keeley)
- The Literary Treatment of Racism – Lola Rose
- A Road Runs Through It by Frankie Gault