David's Boyhood Diary.


David WoodsOriginally I lived in a gas lit flat over the Kenilworth public house in Rose Street Edinburgh. I still can hear the hiss of the blue and gold flame of the gas mantle although I was only six years old. The gas ran at a peep to save money and gave off a kindly light. My brother was nine at the time and it was a big event when we moved to Craigentinny. The housing site was new and my parents thought they were lucky. The house was at 16 Loganlee Terrace. My first memories were of walking down the avenue and along the road. The road was still unpaved and must have been extremely bumpy for a mother with a Pedigree perambulator holding a baby and housing utensils. It would have been more suited to a tractor or heavy tank.

 Compared to the old place number 16 was huge, still holding the new wood smell with faint whiffs of paint. The wood had been recently varnish and the floor fresh with linoleum. Electric light switches were a target for me and my brother. I remember my father giving us a dressing down for switching them off and on continuously. My Gran asked for the light to be switched down to a peep like the gas in the old house. During bed time I was still tempted by the electric switches and played with them when my parents left the room.   

  My father brought a large box home one day and we were delighted to find inside a Black Eco wireless. It was near Christmas and he could not resist buying it from the Clydesdale shop in Leith. Every one in the street was interested in the Eco set and we were known as the Woods with the electric wireless. Making us a wonder for a week or so. In the back bed room there was a large wardrobe with a bottom drawer. It contained gramophone records and was taken out to shuffle the records to the living room. My mother would put the records on the table next to the window. Unfortunately the sun streaming in the window would warp them. Dad was a great fan of jazz music played by the legendary Louis Armstrong, Arthur Tracey, Richard Lawler and Jim Boles, now gone forever.

To a boy like myself and new friends the whole area was an adventure playground. While the houses were being built large heaps of sand were ideal fun places. Across the road in the drive next to the waste ground and school was a partly built house. We would climb the skeletal stair way and jump out of a window on to the soft sand below.

The old watchies hut became a challenge to climb and show our daring. Looking back at our antics we must have been completely mad.

 Further down Fillyside avenue a small farm lay between the rail road lines and the golf course. When we first arrived the farm was in full swing but gradually fell in to disrepair. On the farm there was a pond that leaked to a rail sleeper and fall to another small pond below. It made the ground marshy and clingy.

The old front door of the farm made an ideal raft to sail on the pond. We instantly became pirates and explorers braving the stormy seas and capturing Spanish gold ships.

In the winter we had a ready made slide to skate and sledge downhill. Down the banks we would go and speed recklessly on to the ice. I had a pair of skates that I had acquired from a merchant who had bought them from a Russian sailors at half price. I tied them to my old football boots and became a skater of sorts. Surrounding the dilapidated farm were fields we called Coo Park as they were occupied by herds of mooing cows.

  On the bottom edge of Fillyside avenue an incinerator as built on the left of the bridge. It was used for scrap and salvage. Everyone in the area was encouraged to bring old pots and pans. Before long we were going around the doors collecting throw outs and taking them to the incinerator. Due to the increase of business and shambles the incinerator people appointed a superintendent. He soon had us organised into street teams to compete with each other. Mostly we collected pots, pans, first world war bayonets, bullets, grenades, shells, pails and chamber pots. I wonder now how much we would have made in Flog It. Some very old Napoleonic arms and metal trinkets may have been valuable.

We were more interested in receiving a Savage Collectors Badge. The leader of the teams would hold the rank of Salvage Leader or Captain inscribed on the badge. To us this was a great honour and held some sway in our territory.

  The war was on and we had to accumulate money for the Spitfire Fund. To do this we held concerts in the Terrace collecting tuppence a head for admission. The response was wonderful and the neighbours flocked in.

Some would watch from their terrace windows and throw their tuppence down. The concerts were mad up of sketches. Stage coach hold ups, Indian fights, sword play and music. John Keating would play on his piano accordion for the sing-alongs. We made the props by ourselves from wooden swords, bows and arrows to guns. The costumes were made of canvas and tended to scuff our necks and arms. Local seagulls supplied the Indian feathers and a barrow with pram wheels the stage coach. It may be, we never made enough to make a spitfire but we wanted to help in any way possible.

My unforgettable friends were James, Bill, Eddie, Benny, George, Eric and my brother Jim. Not forgetting the girls who helped when they could.

 The war did not miss the small town of Craigentinny.

At the beginning in 1939 the children were evacuated to be sent to safety. They gathered at the high school and were given a bar of chocolate and a tin of corned beef. 

The parents were left to their own devices as the casualties of war became apparent. Many lost sons at sea and others captured by the advancing axis forces. On an august night in 1942 a German raid on Leith docks took us by surprise. Somehow, bombs intended for the docks landed in Castle street and several of the locals were killed. At this time David was 16 years old and a Air Raid Warden Messenger. This was a sensible use of boys organisations such as the Boys Brigade, Scouts and Clubs. Each volunteer was given two shillings and six pence to help with the upkeep of the much needed bike.

 On that night of the 6th august David and his young brother were safely in bed. The first note of danger was the sound of a plane directly overhead. David explained, his father ran into the room shouting it is one of theirs. The noise was stunning as the plane was very low. My father put his head out of the window and was met by the thud and resulting concussion of the falling bombs. In the room we could not see the bombs striking but felt the vibrations that caused the window to close and trap my fathers head.

The air itself seemed to turn blue as my father expressed his dislike of the Germans bombing near his home.

 Wanting to see the damage caused by the bombs I trooped down the lane. The earth was thrown all over the place leaving sizeable craters. Burst pipes allowed water to flow freely down the street. Walls of the houses nearest to the blasts had fallen exposing the insides. Pictures on the walls askew and doors pushed open or slammed shut.

I could see a table hanging over the sides of the top most flat. The men on the scene were busy holding up fallen beams and digging for all their worth. As far as I could make out a railwayman and a bus conductor were involved. A policeman arriving at the scene told them to stop their efforts as the buildings may topple on to them and smother those trapped underneath. This they did leaving it to the ARP Rescue Service.

 They arrived shortly, one was shouting that women and children were under the rubble. One of the on lookers thought the woman and kids were on a caravan holiday at Port Seaton. Sadly the this was not to be and the worst was true. There were reports of four bombs dropped but I was sure I heard only three.

One landed in the Castle area, one on Loaning road and another in the lane. The tenements looked undisturbed but must have been damaged as they were later demolished.

Rumour of an unexploded bomb in the garden at number 2 and 4 of the crescent proved to be just a steel girder. It had implanted itself causing a crater not unlike a bomb.

After this event we were told to stay in the Anderson shelters erected in our back greens. But this may not have been such a good idea as one of the shelters was struck

by a direct hit from a large bolder. The stone lay on top like a huge egg.

 We messengers helped in the evacuation of locals to St Ninian’s School where they were given tea and biscuits. We supplied those luxuries to those still in the Anderson shelters.

David hoped they enjoyed the tea and biscuits.

Story with kind permission from David.

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