By Leslie Weddell
“We stood outside the cottage and looked up at the clear night sky. A carpet of stars spread across the heavens and the air was sweet with the smell of newly cut wheat standing in stookies in the fields. As ten year old boys, my brother Cyril and I loved living in the serene countryside of Scotland’s Midlothian, and life was wonderful living with our Parents on the farm.
In the 1940’s nothing was permanent for the whole World was at war, and the idyllic life we lived as children would one day abruptly end, and end in a way nobody could have predicted.”
We stood outside the cottage and looked up at the clear night sky. A carpet of stars spread across the heavens and the air was sweet with the smell of newly cut wheat standing in stookies in the fields surrounding the farm. Only our young eyes could just make out the shadowy form of the huge sprawling oak tree that had stood for generations in the field at the bottom of our garden.
Staring upwards in wonderment, we could see the aircraft clearly enough because the huge searchlights had locked onto a group of them in their bright crisscross of piercing light, as the Luftwaffe bombers weaved their way across Midlothian on their way to destroy Edinburgh and Glasgow docks.
The ack-ack guns opened fire from the defence artillery installations situated at strategic points around the countryside, and we could see the results of their futile efforts as the shells exploded in mid air, completely missing the bombers that continued relentlessly on their way to deliver their cargo of death and devastation. The Nation did not know it at that time but the Luftwaffe raids on the major Scottish ports were just a tiny part of Air Marshall Goerings plan to destroy the urgently needed food and supply ships arriving from the United States and Canada . Glasgow and Edinburgh were not the only docks to get a hammering, for London , Bristol , and Plymouth also got the full treatment. Goering was paving the way for his master, Adolf Hitler, to implement his grand plan to break the British Nations spirit before his master race strutted into England and spread its black swastika over the whole nation to seal the final stage of the Nazi domination of Europe.
As ten year old boys, my brother Cyril and I thought it exciting to watch those planes droning overhead. Being of such a tender age we had no comprehension of the pain and loss of life that was about to happen within the hour when those aircraft unloaded their deadly cargo of incendiary bombs on the docks and surrounding workers homes.
We stood quietly with our mouths open gawking up at the planes moving slowly through the sky, when suddenly we felt the pain of Dads hand clipping us both around the ears. Get inside! he roared What on earth do you think you are playing at? The kitchen door is wide open and they must be able to see the light do you want them to drop a bomb on us? He hustled us both through the door and the kitchen kerosene light was hastily extinguished. Silly little monkeys! Dad shouted just as Mum appeared out of the bedroom looking for all the world like Florence Nightingale in her long nightgown and floppy nightcap carefully stretched over her old fashioned metal hair curlers. With folded arms and a stern look on her face she hissed, Get to bed now. Ill deal with you two in the morning! Happily for us, she had forgotten all about by breakfast time.
In the 1940s we kids did as our Parents told us without question. It was not that they were unkind, for on the contrary, they were both caring and loving parents. They were strict, in the same manner their own parents had brought them up.
They just wanted to do the right thing and teach us to avoid the mistakes they had made when they were young. In reflection, I now know it did me a lot of good to respect my folks and other elders, for it taught me values seemingly lost to so many of the youngsters of today.
John Weddell was a taciturn man most of the time and good natured to everyone including his family. I never ever heard him use bad language, and he was polite and respectful to others at all times. But like any other father, if you went over the top being silly - watch out. He had a huge leather belt around his waist with a brass buckle and I felt that a couple of times when I deserved it, usually across my backside, but now and again on my legs if I did not move out of his way quickly enough.
I recall such an occasion when I felt the width of that belt. It was when the farm kids decided to play a dare game and yours truly came up with the brilliant idea of shoving my head in between the cross bars of a gate only to get it firmly lodged.
Of course all the kids were roaring with laughter, myself included, and it was only when I began to panic that little Cyril took the initiative to go and get help. He brought back mum, carrying a half pound of lard which she used to grease my neck and sides of my head, but to no avail, for I was stuck fast.
You can imagine the look on the Farmers face when he had to drop everything he was doing to bring a saw and cut the gate spar, so I could be freed. He was not amused, and took the cost of replacing the wood spar out of my fathers wages for that week. In return I felt the wrath of my dad and his leather strap and was grounded for a fortnight with no pocket money. It certainly taught me a lesson not to show off in front of the other kids without first thinking of the consequences.
Although he had served in the Royal Horse Artillery in WW1, Dad was not selected for service in 1940 because he was too old at fifty one; and also because he was one of only three older men allowed to stay and work with the owner on the large farm, supplying grain, beef cattle, sheep, pigs and poultry to the national food chain.
Even now, after all those years have passed by, I can still see him sitting in his favourite chair; wearing his working clothes of collarless shirt and brown corduroy breeches, all held together by the aforementioned thick leather belt with that huge brass buckle securing it all to his wiry frame. Every evening he would walk wearily into the house after a hard days work, kick off his unlaced large hob nailed working boots near the back door ready for work the following morning, then strip to the waist, and picking up the hard slab of red carbolic soap he would go to the kitchen sink and wash himself in the hot water boiled up on the stove for him by our mother. Sitting down at the large oak kitchen table he would then enjoy his evening meal, and then afterwards he would walk through into the small front room and sit in his favourite chair besides the old fashioned ornately decorated radio with its accumulator batteries supplying the electrical current, and listen to the BBC six oclock news, after which he would open, and read his Scotsman newspaper.
Father followed this same routine day in and day out. The only time he strayed from it was when he would send us boys and our sister out of the room for an hour and have a good scrub in the tin bath in front of the fire place, and then put on his best suit to take our mother to a dance on the last Saturday night of each month. Those were the days before most workers homes in Britain had indoor bathrooms and toilets. The ablutions for the whole family took place in a tin bath in front of the fire place in winter or in the larger kitchen in summer. The only lavatory was outside the house at the bottom of a very long garden. This was fine in the summer months but in winter it was like visiting the North Pole, and we spent as little time as we had to in that cold and drafty little shed. We never knew why such an important facility should be so far away from the house except, perhaps, that somebody had bungled it up in reading the plans and had laid the sewerage pipes in the wrong place for all six cottages.
On the occasions when Mum and Dad decided to go for a night out to a dance we were left in the care of our 22 year old sister, Jeannette, who used to boss us about. But we did manage to dodge around her most of the time by playing out with the other kids whilst she was with her boyfriend snogging in the front room! We used this as ammunition when she started to boss us, for we would tell mum and dad if she did not buy us an ice cream when the van came up the little road to the cottages two nights of the week in the summer months.
Cyril and I knew when we had pushed Dad too far with our constant messing about and wrestling around on the floor, for when we saw him put down his paper and start to unbuckle his belt we were off like a pair of hares and out the door for a couple of hours, until we thought it safe to return and sneak into the kitchen. Mum knew the score, for we always got a cuddle from her and a glass of milk and maybe a scone or home made biscuit before the mandatory scrub in the tin bath and bed.
Dad used to keep several packets of his favourite Woodbines cigarettes on the high mantelpiece behind the graceful looking old wooden clock. It had a glass cover that opened with a little clasp, and Father would adjust the time to the six oclock pips given just before the news on the radio every night.
One day late in August, when the Adults were all working the harvest in the fields taking advantage of the long hours of daylight, Cyril and I, who should have been doing our homework, decided we had to try these things called woodbines that Dad loved so much. Being the tallest, I stood on a chair and reached up with my hand towards the clock, all the time with Cyril standing back and giving me directions. I found a new packet of the magical woodbines and brought them down for inspection. They looked harmless enough in the packaging, and we carefully broke open the cellophane covering and removed the silver paper inside.
Hearts pumping, we knew we were doing something we should not have been doing, and being boys, we loved it! We took only one cigarette out of the packet and prepared to light it up. It looked easy, for we had seen our Dad smoking many times and surely it could not be that hard. We wondered in trepidation what the sensation was like; would it be tasty? Nice smelling? Surely it must be one or both of these things because Dad seemed to enjoy it. Finding a box of matches on the shelf I decide as the oldest brother that I should go first, and between mucking about and laughing our heads off I finally managed to get the cigarette lit and having watched my dad, I took an almighty drag on it. Urgh! It was horrible, for my head suddenly began to spin and I could see in the mirror that my face had turned a kind of puce colour. I had never experienced a sensation like that before and suddenly felt violently sick. I handed the cigarette to Cyril as I galloped to the back door and threw up on the back garden near the rain barrel. After what seemed an eternity of wrenching my guts out I turned to go back into the house and see what Cyril was doing, but he was standing right next to me and asking if I was alright. I had not heard him in my misery of vomiting. He still held the burning cigarette in his hand, and grabbing it, I asked if he had tried it and got a firm no in reply. I threw the offending weed on the ground and pushed it with my foot deep into the soil of the potato plot. In disgust, I asked Yuk! How can dad enjoy those horrible things?
When I felt a little better we went inside the Cottage and made sure the woodbines were put back exactly in the place I had found them. The next day Dad reached up on the Mantle piece for a new pack of Woodbines. Opening the packet he shouted Jeanette, have you been at my fags? Our sister felt hurt, but replied truthfully that she had not. Dad called out to Mum in the kitchen. Jean, have you had one of my woodbines? Again, there was a negative reply. Dad looked stumped for an answer to the mystery, and left it at that. Even as a child I could not tell a lie. I felt guilty as hell, and the next day I blurted it out to my Mum. She said Your Dad will go mad if he finds out. Dont you do that EVER again!
She was wonderful, for she kept our little secret.
The big, old fashioned cast iron cooker was a wonder of engineering in those days for it was reliable and sturdy, and housed not only a roaring wood fire that heated the water cauldron as well as the house, but ample sized hobs on which pots and cauldrons could stew away for days. There was even a facility to place the flat iron to heat up for use when Mother or our sister decided to iron our clothes. And there were two great ovens at the front of the stove with heavy cast iron doors, with brightly polished brass handles. In those ovens Mum would bake her bread, scones and cakes, pastries, roasts and stews, and of course those oh so memorable Christmas Dinners. I remember the gleaming brass handles that she used to open with a couple of dish clothes because they were invariably too hot to open with the bare hand. Dad bypassed it all by using the fire poker to knock the handles upwards and open the doors.
As an ex horse artillery man my father knew a thing or two about horses, and that was one of the main reasons the Farmer took him on to work. He was placed in charge of the four Clydesdale horses used to pull the ploughs, harrows, corn thresher and other heavy duty equipment on the land. They were huge gentle beasts with long tails and shaggy hair hanging down from the sides of the neck and with bushy white hair looking comically like gaiters, on the bottom of the legs .The feeling of their soft pink lips nibbling sugar lumps from your hand was an experience that was not to be missed. When my Parents first started on the farm I would be about six, going on seven years of age. This was just before the tractor started being introduced to the land, and I remember sitting up there on the back of one of the team of four horses that pulled the four bladed plough through the corn stubble, my father yelling yup, yup, Ginger! to the lead horse. I could feel the animals muscles bulging beneath my bottom as he walked along, and although it was an awful long way to the ground, the experience of being a small boy up there on that great Clydesdales back was exhilarating.
All four animals had names of course; Billy, Ginger, Smithy, and big Grey. Although they were docile enough it was wise not to get too close to them, for they could be clumsy, and anything that spooked them could have all four moving about nervously whinnying, and if your foot happened to be in the way you stood a good chance of getting a quarter ton of clod hopper on it.
When the days work began early in the morning my father would lead the four Clydesdales out of the stables into the yard, where they would stand quietly whilst he placed the harness on each of them. Then he would be off to the fields, maybe a mile away from the main buildings, to start the long day of ploughing. As soon as he had hitched the team up to the plough and lined them up in the direction he wanted to go, Dad would pull on the lever to lower the gleaming V shaped steel plough shafts into the golden stubble of the corn field and shout his yup, yup, boys, lets go! Those horses knew the routine, for they would start pulling effortlessly on the plough as they walked forwards into the field. On the return trip they would rarely vary from the newly ploughed furrow, resulting in a straight line that would make a Sergeant Major proud. The view of the rolling countryside was breathtaking, with the fields gently sloping away into the horizon and the green hedges marking the boundary line between other farm properties. The wonderful smell of fresh flowers, and a hint of the sea in the air from the coast just a few miles away, made you want to fill your lungs to the maximum and feel the exhilarating enjoyment of being alive.
Seagulls would appear as if from nowhere in their dozens, all swooping in circles around the back of the plough as it exposed the rich brown soil and an opportunity for a free feed. When Father took me out in the fields once in awhile, we would stop work for about ten minutes usually about 11 am , and he would take the bucket of water swinging from the back of his seat on the plough and give each of the horses a drink. They would nudge his arm, trying to get to his jacket pocket for they knew he carried sugar lumps in there that he gave them as a treat now and again. Then we would sit down on a tuft of grass and rest. I would have my little bottle of water and a piece (a jam sandwich) that mum had prepared for me, whilst he would have a woodbine, and then a drink of his tea from a coal miners enamel jug, with a top that served as a cup as well as an airtight cover that clamped down with a metal clasp.
Then off we would go again until 2pm when Dad would arrive at the end of a furrow and unhitch the horses and let them feed from their nose bags. We did the same; for either my sister or mother would appear with a cheery Hello Guys, are you ready to eat? A basket full of wholesome food would be opened and we would all sit and talk whilst we enjoyed the wonderful food and the view for half an hour.
The idyllic scene of man and horse and plough lasted not for very long after that for the tractor arrived on the farm, and the gentle giants were retired to pasture. As I grew up I made it a point to visit my four faithful old friends at least a couple of times a week.
Living on a farm in those days had its compensations, for we often had extras that city and town folks could not have. There was the garden behind the cottage that was more the size of a small field, in which we grew every conceivable vegetable and fruit, as well as keeping a sizable number of chickens, geese, and turkeys. But like everyone else we had a ration book issued to us for essentials such as meat, flour, butter and exotic fruits such as oranges and bananas. The sight of a banana was a rare treat. They only appeared every five weeks or so because of the scarcity of supply, thanks to the German U-boats sinking merchant ships bringing supplies to war torn Britain .
You might think that living on a farm would mean you had an endless supply of red meat. Not so. This was strictly controlled by a Government official who made weekly visits to all the farms in the area, meticulously listing all the animals in ledgers. When any live stock was waiting to be taken to the abattoir, they were counted, and immediately after slaughter, taken away in official Ministry of Agriculture trucks to government depots to be prepared and distributed into the national food chain. So, like everyone else we had to line up with our ration books for red meat. I dont remember exactly how we were allowed to keep poultry, but it must have been legal, or the official from the department of Agriculture would have found out, since all the cottages kept hen runs, plus a few ducks and geese. So we had eggs, and we ate either a goose or a fat chicken or two, sharing them with our good friends the neighbours at Christmas time. On such occasions all the cottage doors were open to be welcomed in, share a glass of home made wine or beer for the adults, and homemade stone ginger pop for the kids, and all guests were expected to sit and eat with the family.
Once a fortnight Cyril and I would join the other farm kids to sit on the top of the grassy bank to watch the provisions van labouring up the little hill to the farm. The attraction was oranges, for we had not seen one in many a month, and were ever hopeful the man would have a few this time around. I dont know what make of van it was or even the colour, but I remember it was tall and long. (Everything was tall and long to me in those days!)
As the men were out in the fields working, it meant only the wives and kids fresh back from school, were surrounding the van in expectancy of that rear door opening, the counter gently brought down into place on the hinge, and the fat grocer man with the red face booming out his jovial spiel; Now then ladies, have I got something good for you today. Bananas! Yes, and also a few oranges too. Just arrived at Glasgow docks and I know they are fresh because Ive just been and picked them up right from the ship with my own fair hands! The women would giggle and tell the grinning grocer what a fibber he was.
That provisions van was a Pandoras Box to us kids. We wanted to see inside, but it was so high off the ground that all we could ever see was the fat grocer in his brown overall leaning on the counter chatting up our mums. We tried to imagine what lay within those magical walls; for there was an overall concoction of smells from paraffin to candles mixed in with the strong smell of accumulator battery acid and beeswax; disinfectant, fire lighters, and other aromas we could not identify, and a few miscellaneous items such as broom heads, handles, stoves, coal shovels, all placed neatly in the racks on the side of the van, or piled into two shinny new metal dustbins near the door.
As I say, I have a special today ladies. Lovely Jaffa oranges or a few bananas, and Ive saved them just for you. Only two coupons and two bob for two oranges or four bananas. Two bob was slang in those days for two shillings, a lot of money to spend on what was really nothing more than luxuries. I dont know if he was a good salesman, but in such circumstances when exotic fruit or any other scarce item was available to him he could soon do brisk business. In the end, most mothers bought one large orange or two bananas, after bartering with the grocer to reduce the asking price. Later the fruit would be carefully cut into equal pieces for each member of the family to enjoy a morsel of the tropical fruit.
Often the woman would do a little un-official business bartering with him to get something they knew he kept hidden under the counter. The mums would magically produce a much sought after portion of home cured ham that had been hanging for months (before ration books came in) from hooks in the kitchen ceiling, or a couple of freshly killed chickens; in exchange for 200 cigarettes, or a bottle of whisky or brandy.
As the months of the war rolled on and the Navy began to beat the U-boat packs, more supply ships arrived in British ports and hitherto scarce items became more readily available, and the Grocery Van had more to offer.
Then there was the time when Uncle George came back to the farm. He was in the Argyle and Southern Highlanders regiment and had been granted seven days leave.
He was always good to us boys, and one Saturday afternoon he had taken my mum and dad and sister into Edinburgh on the bus to do some shopping. Cyril and I had been left in the care of a neighbour, whose kids we were always playing with, so it was fine by us. When they eventually rolled back home around ten at night, they were singing their heads off as they walked into our neighbours house; for a few visits to the local pubs on the way home had capped their great day out for them. Seeing us two lads, Uncle George called us over and ruffled our heads with his rough hands.
Ive a wee present for ye both. With a big smile on his face he told us to follow him to our house. Now Cyril, I ken ye was wantin a bike, so here you are laddie! He opened the wood storage hut door and there stood a gleaming new Hopper bike.
Cyrils face lit up as he said Cor, look Leslie its got five gears on it! I could see my brother was impressed, even though I had feelings of being left out. He gave Uncle a big hug and said Thanks Uncle, its great! Uncle George had a twinkle in his eyes when he turned to me and said Go in the house Leslie and you will find your present waiting for you. I really wanted that bike. But I loved my brother and was happy for him. With mixed feelings I slunk into the house and looked around. I could not see anything out of the ordinary in the room.
Look in your bedroom laddie! Uncle George roared.
Entering the bedroom I saw a small cardboard box in the corner. George had followed me in with my mum and dad close behind. Open the box, Leslie, your present is inside!
Not knowing what to expect I opened the box with trepidation, and out popped the little head of a Collie sheepdog.
Eeoow! I cried, A puppy dog! I was suddenly on cloud nine.
Do you like him? Mum asked.
I had picked the dog up and was holding him close to me and he was licking my face. Oh yes, he is lovely! I said happily, and thanked Uncle George for his generosity. Now remember Leslie you have to look after him. Nobody else will, for he is you dog. And you must take him for walks and feed him and wash him too, as well as clean up after him until he is house trained. I was so happy to do all these things without question for I always wanted a dog of my own. There were several dogs on the farm but none of them were mine. They were working dogs that the farmer used to gather in the sheep and cattle. Now I had my very own, and I was in heaven.
What are you going to call him? Dad asked.
For some reason I knew the answer. I dont know why, but it just came out.
Jed! I exclaimed.
Oh yes, a great name for a male dog. Mum said with a big smile, for she could see I was so happy. Cyril was delighted too, for he loved dogs, and we decided in bed that night that we would share the bike and Jed between us.
To get to school, Cyril and I joined the other four farm children to walk together across five fields. I distinctly remember the number because we did the journey every day of every term for at least three years. I cant remember how long it took, but it must have been around half an hour in good weather. With the inquisitive nature that all children have, we explored the hedges for bird nests and small animals, often finding a lonely hedgehog and prodding it gently with a twig to see it roll up into a ball. We knew the names of most of the species of wild birds that habit that region, and of course rabbits, hares, field mice and voles, moles, weasels, fox and badger.
We gathered leaves from the ground in autumn on our way to school and would then trace or press them onto paper in our art class sessions. In summer months we ate our way to school and back with all the wild raspberries, blackberries, and gooseberries we could find. During these nature feasts we would often get stung by nettles when we climbed through them to get at the berries, but that was not a problem either, for we had the time honoured country folk cure for the sting, by rubbing dock leaves over the inflamed parts to bring relief. In December through to late February we often had heavy snow falls but this rarely deterred us sturdy country children from attending school, no matter how deep the snow drifts were that we had to climb through to reach the warm classrooms.
As Jed grew larger he followed us everywhere, even to school. We could often see him through our classroom window, lying on the grass with a grin on his face as his tongue lolled from the side of his mouth. At break times the caretaker would take him a bowl of water, and now and then give him a biscuit or piece of his lunch sandwich, even though we pleaded with him not to, for Jed was going to be trained as a working sheep dog. Well that was my plan anyway. It was only when he was about six months old that we realized he had a limp in one of his back legs and asked the farmer what we should do, for he had three working sheep dogs and was experienced in these things. Aye, hes limping alright. Ye better bring him in the mornin when the vet is due to see my cows for cleansing. But mind this. He is a busy man, so dont be botherin him whilst he works!
The vet did examine Jed and told us he was born with a weakness in his left hind leg and that he would never be strong enough to be anything other than our house pet. So that was that. Jed did not seem to mind, for he was always bounding about and barking, with that silly grin on his face as though he was laughing at you.
When he was in the mood, he would often sit quietly next to Dad whilst he was reading his paper, and after awhile he would put a paw on fathers leg to indicate he wanted to go for a walk. Dad always went for a walk with Mum in the nice evenings and Jed was good company running around them and stopping here and there to either sniff something, or urinating to leave his scent on a tree or bush.
Every night he would sneak into our bedroom and lie quietly on the floor, until mother popped her head round the door to see if we were asleep, then she would point at Jed sternly with her finger, and he would get up and sleek out of our room and into the hallway to his basket. In the summer months he lived outside at nights, sleeping contentedly in the wood shed with the door ajar.
One sunny day in April of 1944 a truck pulled up outside the farm house and out of it jumped 6 men. They could not have been more than eighteen or twenty years of age and were all dressed in the same new working clothes and wearing shinny new boots. Having just returned from school, my brother and I joined the other children and collectively made our way up to the farm house, curious to find out who these new people were. One of them smiled at us and said Bambinos! His friends turned and with huge smiles on their faces, waved at us all. The farmer was talking to the driver of the truck, and when he finished, he spoke briefly to us children.
Boys and Girls, these lads are Italian prisoners of war and they are going to live with us for a few weeks to help with the harvest. They do not speak much English so I dont want you to bothering them, you hear? Be nice and dont call them names!
They were soon billeted in the spare cottage in the middle of the row, and the neighbours all went in doors, no doubt suspicious of POWs coming to work on the farm. After all, they were foreigners and were our enemy. Two days went by without even a murmur from the Italians, who must have felt the tension from the neighbours, and simply appeared at 6am each morning in the cow byre for the farmer to allocate work duties to them. They were hard workers and did their work well without supervision, and were always singing in the fields, in the cow byre, or in their cottage after work. They smiled at everyone and said in broken English Gud Morning, itsa greata day! or words to that effect. Then within the week they came knocking on all the doors, washed and smartly dressed in the new clothes they had been given. In broken English, one of them explained that they were all farm workers back in Italy before being rounded up by Mussolinis henchmen and forced into the army.
They were going to have a party on the following Saturday in their cottage and wanted everyone to come, and on the appointed day it was a fine evening and they welcomed the few neighbours who had bothered to come. I am pleased to say that the entire Weddell family including Uncle George, who had been demobbed by this time because he had returned to his former essential job as a coalminer, was present. That was our first introduction to pizza and spaghetti, and several other Italian dishes. They were good cooks, and the house was spotlessly clean. Communication was a problem at first, as everyone was trying to stutter out a few words in broken English or Italian, the latter mostly from Uncle George, who fancied himself as an interpreter, although I suspect the Italian lads didnt have a clue what he was trying say most of the time, and just smiled and bello, bello, bello-ed a lot. Having only arrived on the farm, and still trustee POWs, they were not allowed to go off the farm for any reason and had to muster twice a day at the Farm House to ensure there were no absentees. So they apologised for not having any vino and that was soon understood, for bottles of home made wine from neighbours soon appeared, much to their joy, for they had not had any alcohol since being taken prisoners. In retrospect, I dont think the farmer or the military would have been impressed with this blatant breach of the rules.
But they were gentlemen and behaved themselves, and as more wine was consumed the singing got louder, and we all danced around in the back garden, for by now everyone in the cottages had turned up to join the party. As the party got into full swing more food magically appeared from houses carried in by the women, and the Italians were aghast with surprise at the generosity of their new neighbours when they saw the cured ham and home churned cheeses being placed on the table. Mamma, Mamma! cried one of the goggled eyed lads who had dropped to his knees clasping his hands, and as Mrs McGregor put her arm around his shoulder he began to cry unashamedly.
Poor wee bairin, I reckon hes missin his ma! she exclaimed. That party was the first of many to come, and they got better when one of the Italians was given an old accordion by my Uncle George. It was a bit out of tune, and several of the ivory keys were missing, but the lad fixed it up and turned out to be a fair musician on the instrument. We had many traditional Italian and Sicilian songs and dances, and he even learned to play a few Scottish reels by listening and learning to play them from the radio.
The door to their kitchen was always open and anyone was welcome in, always with a genuine smile and a cup of tea and a home baked scone or biscuit, Italian style of course. Then there were the washing lines hanging in the sitting room. But instead of clothes, their home made pasta was hanging up to dry! We had marvellous parties after work in the summer; all sitting in the garden with coloured lighting rigged up now that air raids had long ceased on the mainland and the blackout restrictions lifted.
They were there on the farm for six months and never in all that time did they say a cross word or did anything to upset anyone. They were eventually taken away by truck to be repatriated back to their homeland at the end of the war, and for many years afterwards we used to remember those wonderful and happy days when the Italians lived with us all on the farm.
It was early on a Sunday morning when a car drew up outside our cottage and a man and a woman got out, and knocked on our door. Still in bed and sleepy, my brother and I just turned over to go back to the land of nod, when we heard loud arguing between Mum and the female stranger. Both of us got up and went into the living room and looked through the window. The strangers were getting back into the car, and the woman was shouting at my mother. Ill be back with the police! You are not keeping them!
Neither of us understood that statement, but we both had a strange feeling that something was very wrong, and went to ask Mum. She was crying, and Dad was trying to console her. She grabbed both of us boys and held us close to her. She is not getting them back after all this time its not fair!
Well, it happened. It was not until the following day, but on that fateful Monday mother came to school to bring us both home early. We had to get dressed up in our best suits, and went with her and Dad to the town of Haddington , in which the courts were situated for the Lothian Counties at that time. We sat in the waiting room nervously looking around and wondering what was going on, for our parents had still not given us an explanation. Mum was constantly hugging both of us and dabbing her eyes with a handkerchief. Then I noticed the two strangers sitting at the other side of the waiting room. The man just looked straight ahead but the woman kept glancing at our mum and smiling at us. I tugged on his sleeve and asked Dad why that woman kept staring at us. You will see in a minute, son. He replied hoarsely.
The door in the middle of the room opened and a woman came in. Would both parties please come in? A man dressed in a dark suit sat at a table facing us. He was studying the papers on the desk in front of him. After what seemed an eternity to all of us he lifted his head and removed his spectacles and spoke. Neither I nor Cyril understood what he was talking about, except that it seemed to make my mother cry, and say Its not fair, for we have looked after them since they were babies!
Even at that age I had a bad feeling that something serious was about to happen to our lives. And I was not wrong, for two women appeared wearing some sort of uniform and came over and asked Cyril to go with them. He began crying and shouting Mum! Where are they taking me? Dad, help me! Leslie, please help me why are they taking me away? It was heartbreaking, for I tried to get up from my seat but dad firmly held me down and I could see he had a tear in his eye too for he was trying to also hold my mother, who was wailing in despair and shouting for Cyril.
The strangers stood up, and without saying a word followed the women taking my brother Cyril away through that door.
I never saw him again.
When we returned to the farm my parents tried to explain to me and my sister why Cyril had been taken away from us. Before coming to live on the farm both John and Jean Weddell had lived in Craigmiller, a district in Edinburgh . He was working at the Theatre Royal as a stage hand, and Jean worked in a café as the cook. In those days many people lived in poverty and cramped conditions, and Craigmiller was a new estate to try and relieve some of this misery. Because Mr & Mrs Weddell had jobs and a young child (Jeanette) they were lucky to be given an apartment in the new estate. Getting to know many of the other tenants they befriended the Addis family. They had six children including two baby boys, and neither parent had a job and depended on small hand-outs from the Salvation Army and the state. The welfare department decided they just could not care for six children and were asked to find foster homes for the babies so that the mother would be free to go out and work while the other older children were in school. So the Addis family agreed to let the Weddell family take Cyril and myself and foster us until such time as the Addiss were able to satisfy the state that they could take us back and bring us up properly.
On that fateful day Cyril was torn from us in the Fiscals office, it had been agreed that only one boy should be returned to the original parents, and as Cyril was the youngest, he was chosen. Why there was never an agreement of visitation made I will never know, but we tried everything to find the Addis family and my dear brother Cyril, all to no avail for the court would not reveal their address and we could not find them, even though we tried every means available to us. We visited Craigmiller but they had long moved away from there, and the housing office had no records as to a forwarding address, as the Addiss had left owing a month rent.
It took a very long time to adjust to my new life without my brother. It felt like he had died, and in reality it was much the same thing, as I would never see him again.
Life on the farm went on for another year, and my only real friend was trusty old Jed. He seemed to know Cyril was not coming back for he slept on my bed were Cyril used to sleep, and never left my side for weeks on end, following me more than ever before. In the first weeks after my brother was taken away from us Jed was constantly with his paws up on the window sill looking in the hope that Cyril would suddenly appear once again.
Jeanette got married and moved into a council house with her new husband in a small village near Edinburgh , leaving just the three of us on the farm. Then in late 1946 more tragedy struck the family when John Weddell took ill and was admitted to the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary. He never came back to the farm again. He died from lung Cancer within a month, and heartbroken, my mother took me south to live in England with her sister in Walsall , in the Midlands , where she had been born.
I have always looked upon John and Jean Weddell as my proper parents for they looked after me and Cyril and loved us, and to me they will always be Mum and Dad. I have tried several times over the years to contact my brother but have never succeeded to this day.
And Jed? Well, we gave him to the Farmer since he spent most of his time galloping around with the other dogs, and he was far better off staying there than leaving the freedom of a farm to live in a Smokey town.