Heavy industry and shipbuilding naturally made Clydebank a target for the German bombers when the war came. It was the only location in Scotland to be subjected to intensive Luftwaffe bombing. Thousands were killed over a period of only two days in March 1941. This account of the bombing was published in the local press a month after the raids. Wartime censorship is evident, and the approved message is put across - universal heroism, the bestiality of the enemy, but no accounts of actual blood or bodies to dismay readers. This is the kind of reporting the government thought was fit for the home front.
In a Clydeside town it was a clear night of radiant moonlight and twinkling stars, just such a night as poets and lovers dream about when romance and happiness and the sheer joy of living go hand in hand. Home from work and with my hunger appeased, I was washing myself in keen anticipation of a quiet, studious evening after the tedious toil of the working day. Half in jest, half seriously, I thought, as I listened to the warning, of the speech by Macbeth: 'It is a knell that summons thee to heaven or to hell!'
When the raid began my impression was it was another reconnaissance flight by one or two German planes and I decided to stay in the house until the all-clear signal sounded. But the loud drone of bombers and the reverberating reports of anti-aircraft guns made me soon realise that not a moment was to be lost if I valued my life. Even then, however, I could not visualise the dreadful havoc and wanton destruction that was so soon to rend our hearts and bring ruin upon us.
My mother and young sister were already downstairs and, still in my working clothes, I, too, joined them. Several neighbours were there together for we had no shelter from air-bombing save our strong stairway and a kindly providence, if there is such a thing. Yet at the back of my mind I harboured the hope that we might all manage through safely and see our homes preserved.
Incendiary bombs rained down, flashing up the brilliant sky, shells from the guns lit the heavens, loud reports echoed fearfully and over all, menacingly, hovering like many ghoulish, mechanical birds of prey, droned the bombers scattering death and desolation. Amid shouts and frantic gesticulations, we all cowered low as the whistling sound of a bomb was heard near at hand. Then followed a deafening explosion and the falling crash of falling masonry, and clouds of choking dust and the cries of women and children. Miraculously, in that dark hell of horror caused by brutish man, not one of our party was killed.
Across from us a church was burning furiously and cottages and tenement buildings were also a mass of red flames. Accompanied by another man, who went upstairs in a vain attempt to do something, I went back to my home and hastily snatched an overcoat and hat and had sufficient presence of mind to cram some money I kept in a drawer into my pocket. Down I dashed again and found our party herded together in a corner of the stairway, brave and apprehensive.
The merciless mission of destruction continued hour after hour. Each blast and terrific crash and whistling bomb seemed to herald our approaching end and I felt my heart wrung to its depths when I contemplated the kneeling women and children and heard their prayers. Most of them were praying aloud, a few were stonily stoical and thus they crouched.
Their homes were gone, their possessions burning to ashes, and the terror of aerial warfare was let loose upon them; and all these inoffensive, peace-abiding people, like their counterparts in every land, asked little of their rulers but the simple boon of being left alone to live out their days upon earth in a certain frugal comfort and pleasurable anticipation of things to come.
This I saw for myself: that no man in our group behaved like a craven soul. They were dazed, bewildered, baffled, furious at their impotence to fight the desperate situation, but fearless in a night of death and destruction. Outside in the streets the fire-fighters pluckily and heroically fought with the all-conquering flames which, leaping and spreading into the air, burned and burned, a red hot, living mass of consuming wrath and ravagement. The scene vividly recalled to me my early innocent impressions of the end of the world by fire and the fury of an almighty Power.
So rapidly and dangerously did the flames burn that we were compelled to seek a safer shelter, if one could be found, out in the open. Despite remonstrances and protests from some of our little group, we went round by the debris-strewn backyard and stood awhile in the brick wash-house. It was a perilous place to hope for sanctuary but it afforded us a few moments respite.
As long as I live I shall never forget with what bitter anguish and desolation of heart I watched the red flames blazing out of every window of my home. There went the fruits of long years of study and concentration, the tie-beam of my life, the one great, finest thing that had spurred me on through adversity and misfortune. All my pictures, all my drawings, sketch books, writings, treasured volumes, and all the creations of inspired moments totally destroyed and lost for ever! I wished then to die where I stood, for the aim and strenuous endeavour by which alone I lived had been wiped out. My years had been spent in vain.
Clothes, furniture, worldly goods, all these were nothing; but this other thing was my very self, my innermost me, a fine spirit that could never be replaced.
I made no whine of complaint yet, in my soul, I was, like Christ, in Gethsemane. I thought of all the poor people who were enduring the full force of the German blitz; how they were being killed and injured, and rendered homeless wanderers if they escaped death; the men, women and children sitting in Anderson shelters and the surface shelters, those unfortunates, so many of them, with no protection save their tenement closes and houses, and blind chance, everyone of them hoping to escape from this fiendish, murderous tornado of modern warfare. Hell was let loose upon Clydeside that night.
Lives were being wantonly sacrificed in this mad, insensate lust to kill and destroy, and hearts and high hopes were being ruthlessly shattered. With a heavy heart I turned away with my mother and sister on either side of me, to seek a shelter from the hail of death that descended from the sky. Somehow, in a providential manner, we came through the ordeal waiting and watching for the dawn amid the thunderous reports, the crashes and heavy explosions and the blazing, crackling buildings.
Brave deeds were done by fearless souls, men and women everywhere, and miraculous escapes from death were chronicled through the night.
The cold, red dawn saw parts of Clydeside a smouldering mass of ruins and heaped-up masonry and debris where death hovered, a place of stunned, questioning people, homeless and penniless, dimly trying to fathom the meaning of it all. The once proud, prosperous homes were laid low, families killed or ruined, careers senselessly shattered, toil, blood, tears, the destiny of the people. There was left to them the distinction of knowing that their sufferings and heroic fortitude had thrilled the world and, let it be added, made their habitations a haunt for countless, curious sightseers.
Never was there a time in which this same world was so full of noble talk about God and religious ideals, the sacredness of holy things, and vibrant with the eloquence of orators imbued with lofty aims of freedom and brotherhood and a better way of living once the war is over.
And there may be still more drastic and more devilish methods of extermination in prospect for the peoples of all countries.
O, you poor dead and wounded, innocent victims! You shall yet be avenged! You shall not have died and shed your blood in vain!
Clydebank Press, 25 April 1941.