The bombing of Kirkton Farm

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MAY 5 1941 proved to be a traumatic night for the residents of a Cardross farm as Nazi bombs rained down.

The first bombing raid on the village came on July 13 1940, when stick after stick of incendiary bombs fell mainly on the shore and around the railway station.

Later high explosives fell and made large craters in a field at Walton Farm. These raids were not accidental, as a German propaganda broadcast afterwards said that among targets bombed was “the ancient harbour of Cardross”.

The story of the May 5 bombing at Kirkton Farm, as told by the farm’s owner at the time, James Weir, has been edited and printed by Stewart and Gillian Macdonald, who have lived in what is now Kirkton House since 1984.

This is Mr Weir’s account of that night . . .

The air-raid sirens were heard on many occasion without incident, but on the night of 5th May the wailing notes were immediately followed by the crash of gun fire from the anti-aircraft battery on the Clyde shore, a sure indication that the ominous drone of engines overhead was from enemy machines.

It seemed at first as if there was only a single plane, and it was after a terrific burst of gunfire my second son, Alex, whose acute hearing detected a different note in the beat of the engines, exclaimed “that machine has been hit!”

The words were hardly uttered when there was a whishing noise and immediately fire after fire was seen on the Barrs Farm, which faces Kirkton. To watch the illuminations — as if from many candles – was a fascinating spectacle.

Part of the Plantation at Kilmahew West Lodge was next seen to be alight. By this time my eldest son, Willie, had come up from his own dwelling (now Kirkton Farm Cottage) at the foot of the farm road, to inquire if his assistance was required.

As the incendiary bombs fired the undergrowth my immediate thought was “What a target for other planes.”

I sent Alex and Jim over to assist my brother Bob and his son David in beating out the fires in the wood, for by now the Nazi aeroplanes were passing overhead as if running to a timetable.

Just when the first high explosive bomb fell escapes my memory, but I well remember seeing earth and rock being hurled into the air as the bomb did fall, in a line with Kirkton and Geilston Farms.

More incendiaries were dropped in other directions and, though the crop of hay and undergrowth at Slewan Wood were green, it had now the appearance of a raging furnace.

Nothing so far happened at Kirkton, but the suspense was nerve racking, hearing, as we did, explosions all around the area. I remember remarking to my sons, Willie, Jim and Alex, “How remarkable it is that none of those incendiaries has fallen on Kirkton?”

I had always impressed upon my wife that in the event of an air-raid the safest place to shelter would be the small lobby between the living room and kitchenette.

It was here that she and our grand-child, Eric, went, and now and again one or other of us took a run in to encourage them and to see that they were all right, and, incidentally, to let them know that we were still safe.

With droning planes, bursting bombs and gunfire, the noise became terrific and it was no surprise when the ‘thud, thud’ of incendiaries was heard around us.

As they burst into flame, Alex and Jim jumped the wall and got busy with spades, extinguishing the bombs which endangered the front of the house and others amongst the raspberry bushes and newly-braided oats.

I chanced to see one burning near the byre, snatched a spade and ran to the spot. I made a swipe at it, only causing the flame to leap upward.

Then the A.R.P. instruction, that incendiaries should be smothered with dirt or sand, came to my mind, and a few shovelfuls of earth soon made that bomb harmless.

The attention of Alex was next attracted by the flare from another at the rear of the house, so he rushed to find it and deal with it. I heard him shout “Come quick, Jim, the hayshed is on fire.”

I rushed to the scene and found his words were too true, two incendiary bombs having penetrated the roof. Not only was the hayshed alight but a huge stack of bone-dry wheat straw, which was reserved for thatch, was blazing.

I cannot speak about the sequence and nature of what was happening round about, but, undoubtedly, things were happening in the village of Cardross and there was a glare from burning buildings on Barrs Farm, Mollandhu Farm and Badyen Farm.

To deal with our problem was a difficulty, knowing that the blazing stack was an ideal target for the bombers.

In the hope of getting assistance, I sent Jim off to the village, only to discover that they had more than enough there to merit the attention of the fire-fighting squads. There was no alternative to letting the stack burn itself out and take our chance.

Alex got a hose rigged up, and Willie, after releasing the horses and putting them into a field, began to haul out the implements, allowing me to operate the hose on the fire in the shed.

Our fears were that the flames would spread to the house where the women folks and children were huddled together, as by this time Willie’s wife and children had been bombed out of their own home and had come to the farm for shelter.

Their house had been badly damaged by concussion and the debris from the bomb or land mine which fell about fifty yards away. A crater was made in the rock 40 feet in diameter by 12 feet deep.

To add to our difficulties, we also had to deal with two more incendiaries which had fallen on the roof of the barn, one of them settling in the rhone and threatening to set the barn and hay loft ablaze.

Jim seized a ladder and mounted it, carrying with him a bucket of water. The cold water when poured on the hot rhone broke the metal and the incendiary fell at my feet, to be quickly extinguished.

We had tried to hide from those inside that the buildings were on fire, but Willie’s wife had seen the situation when she arrived and had informed my wife.

Fearful for what might have befallen us outside she rushed to the telephone to seek assistance, but she failed to get connection with the Exchange — the old telephone exchange at 2 Muirend Road — the wires being severed.

To add to the terror of the women and children, the electric light failed and left them in darkness. As Mrs Weir was returning from the telephone, a bomb fell in close proximity to the house.

The door in the room she had just left was blown from its hinges and it struck her on the back. Other bombs followed, tremendous concussion bringing down walls and ceilings, and causing the doors to cave in.

We outside were very conscious of the nerve-shattering strain those inside were experiencing, shut in and helpless, while debris was falling all around.

My ‘hunch’ that the small place they occupied was the safest was justified, for it was the only part of the house undamaged, being double thickness of tunnel wall between the farmhouse and byre.

Outside, the efforts of my sons and myself were meeting with reward. Getting the blaze under control, we managed to prevent it from spreading to the other premises.

While Alex went for a spare piece of hose to attach to that already in use, I took the opportunity to run around the house to let Mrs Weir know we were all right outside and to ask her how it was with them.

It was a big relief to me to get the reply “We are all right — are you?”

Just when stepping from the doorway another whining was heard and I knew a bomb was coming close to the house. Instinctively, I threw myself to the ground against a wall.

There was a terrific explosion and debris of all kinds thudded against the wall opposite, the one I cowered against, as well as on the roof. It fell close to the tomato houses, where Alex now was.

Fortunately, he too had heard the bomb coming and had time to jump into one of the furnace pits.

Rock hurled into the air descended on and smashed the roof of that furnace pit, one piece breaking the water tap clean off the boiler front.  Alex was unharmed, save for a cut on the wrist from flying glass.

Making my way to the fire in the hayshed, I had almost reached it when I heard another bomb coming. This time I threw myself face down on the ground and put my hands behind my head for its protection.

Again, there was a loud bang as the missile exploded. The earth shook, and I wondered just how near I was to the crater it must have made. None of the large pieces of rock, which hurled into the air, fell on me.

All sorts of thoughts flashed through my mind as I lay for the short period listening to the rattling of the debris falling on the roofs. I attribute my escape from serious injury to the fact that I had lain down just inside the shed entrance, the overlapping roof serving as protection.

“What about Willie?” I wondered, for I knew he was engaged hauling out implements.

In the darkness, the fire having died down, I could not see him, but I had heard a shout from Alex when on his way round with the extension hose.

He also had dropped to the ground as the bomb exploded. “You should see the size of the crater in the orchard,” (pictured right) he said, and a reply came from Willie: “Look at the hole that’s here.”

The miraculous thing is that Willie was, at the time the bomb exploded, only ten yards from the point of its contact with earth, but he was unharmed.

There he was, standing on the edge of the crater – incredible, but true. For myself, I was only twenty yards away, lying flat on the ground.

While playing water on the fire, I had time to look round occasionally. I happened to see a pillar of smoke ascend from the roof of Glenlee and drew the attention of my sons to it. They thought it came from a house in the village.

My fears were confirmed when the flames burst from the roof of the house and the building soon became a roaring furnace.  I wondered how the occupants had fared, but next day I learned all had escaped injury.

We could see houses in the village burning furiously – Hope Terrace, Tregarthen, and one of the County Council houses, combining with other houses in the east of the village to light up the scene.

Our own fire had now been got well under control, but we looked and listened while planes continued to pass overhead.

I can remember a shout “Quick, get down!” which accompanied the falling of another bomb, and a reply, “That one’s passing us” or “It’s not coming our way!” Then from the darkness would come the inquiry “Is everyone alright?”

Then came another deafening roar and we knew another bomb had fallen nearby, midway between Kirkton and Sunnybrae.

Debris from this bomb did not reach us, but the next one, which fell in front of the steading, threw up debris and shrapnel which made holes in the corrugated iron at the place where we had again thrown ourselves to the ground (pictured left).

Stones were displaced from the front of the house and one fragment of the bomb passed clean through the trunk of a fir tree on the lawn.

Anyway, the ‘stack yard’ fire having died down and danger to the house averted, our anxiety for those inside, was reduced, and, as the blitz was now tapering off and bombs had ceased to fall, we had a look round at the fires which were casting their glare on the sky in all directions.

Our surmises were correct in some cases and wrong in others. There was really nothing now to do but wait for daylight, and the opportunity was taken to break open the door and get into the house.

It was a great relief to find that, despite their terrible ordeal, all had escaped serious injury.

Injuries to myself and sons were slight. Jim had hurt his hand when he fell into a bomb crater, Alex had his cut on the wrist, and Willie escaped without a scratch, although a bomb had burst at his feet. His nerves were badly shaken. I myself had a slight wound on the back of my head.

We could only ascribe our miraculous escape to the guidance of a Divine Hand.

We waited anxiously for daybreak to break, that we might discover the full extent of the damage done to the property. When this was possible, nothing but chaos and destruction met our gaze.

The thickness of the stone walls had saved the dwelling house from complete demolition. Walking from room to room was done under the crunch of glass and plaster.

In some of the rooms the ceilings were down and others partially down; doors were blown from their hinges; glass was shattered. In one room the ceiling fell in a piece and settled on the bedstead.

Every roof at the farm was shattered and walls were so damaged that they had to be demolished. It was a depressing and disheartening experience and the one thought in my mind was “Will we ever be able to stay in our house again?”

As the morning advanced we had a visit from the local A.R.P. Warden, who expressed her astonishment not only at the destruction which the bombs had caused, but also at the fact such could have happened with no serious casualties.

It was the opinion of many, who had been eye-witnesses from a distance during the blitz, that life could not survive at the farm with the pounding it was getting.

From the farmyard, the tomato houses, or what was left of them, looked a pathetic sight, and it was with some trepidation I went to make an inspection.  My worst fears were confirmed – hardly a pane of glass left in the whole range of structures, heating pipes cracked and broken, and the boiler smashed.

Huge blocks of rock had been hurled from the middle of the orchard to crash through the stoke-hole roof, with shattering effect on the furnace. Though cracked, the chimney stacks were standing, one in a particularly precarious condition.

And what about the promising crop of tomatoes? The plants were a grievous sight, many cut clean with flying glass and many others crushed with the weight of glass and wood. Trusses of tomatoes coming to maturity littered the whole ground.

I discovered that the heating pipes and boiler in one of the blocks was intact and it came to my mind that with ‘first-aid’ where the glass had been shattered, and with the heating still on, I might be able to save that part of the crop still hanging.

Accordingly, as a protection from the north wind, brattice-cloth was fixed round to the height of the gutters. It is remarkable that, despite the fact that on a night later on, there was a fall of snow with a hard frost which seriously damaged the tops of the plants, we were able to gather one ton of tomatoes.

Returning to make a more minute inspection of the bomb craters around the farmhouse, I was appalled at the terrific power latent in a bomb.

One had only to see to realise the extent of penetration, even in rock, and the radius over which fragments of the missiles and debris were scattered.

One bomb which fell 150 yards away hurled stones and pieces of iron through the corrugated iron of the hayshed and pierced holes in the stonework of the front of the house. One piece of shrapnel was driven right through a fir tree on the lawn.

My next trek was to the house of my son Willie at the entrance to the farm road. Here again I was speechless at the sight which met my gaze.

The roof of the house was lifted as a whole and moved a short distance — great gaping holes appeared in several places, and this as result of a bomb which exploded 50 yards to the rear, sending huge pieces through the roof, windows and doors.

It made us thankful that Willie’s wife and family had ‘braved the storm’ to take shelter at Kirkton. The condition of the furniture, covered with dust and exposed to the elements, compelled me to act.

I immediately set off for Helensburgh, and there secured a supply of glass substitute, known as Windowlite.

With this and what material could be salvaged at the farmhouse, we managed to block up the windows and doors, and, using slates which had been dislodged, and sacking, tried as best we could to make the roof rain proof.

This work took us most of the day, and when night came we had so far succeeded in making it possible for the male members of the family to remain at Kirkton.

The women and children had been badly shaken by their experience, and, with the prospect of ‘Jerry’ making a return visit, they felt they could not remain at the farm and made preparation to go to the hills and sleep in the open.

Blankets, coats and other warm garments were collected and put into a pram, ready for the road when darkness would fall.

When the time came for them to go it was to me, and also the others, a most painful experience, as we had no conception of what the results would be of another air-raid and we wondered if we would see each other again.

There we were, faced with a situation none of us could ever have pictured in our minds. Yet, my faith had never wavered; faith that God Himself would deliver us. My faith was well founded.

The trek that evening from the farm and village reminded me of pictures I had seen of refugees from the invading Germans in Belgium, France and Holland, and it touched me deeply.

But we had no time to brood, knowing that preparations had to be made to back up our determination to make a stand and save what was possible should another raid materialise.

Sure enough, when the black mantle of darkness descended, and was later partly dispelled by a ‘Bombers moon’, the sirens wailed, giving warning of the approach of the enemy.

It was somewhat different this time. The previous night we had been taken unawares and much was done in a mechanical manner. This night we were keyed up and wondering what would happen.

The drone of the aircraft engines broke on our ears and grew more distinct as they approached. When and where would the bombs fall, we wondered, as we waited with a tenseness that hardly permitted breathing.

The planes seemed to be circling overhead, but someone shouted, “Look!  Greenock is the target tonight.”

Fires were seen to have broken out over that town, and it was not long till a ruddy glow in the centre of it indicated that matters were serious. Gradually the glow increased.

From our vantage point in front of the house, a front seat view, we could see the outline of buildings, vessels and cranes in the shipyards. As bomb after bomb exploded, we could see the conflagration quickly spread over an extended area.

As more incendiaries were dropped, more fires broke out on the hills. So concentrated did the bombing appear to be that we knew danger to life and damage to property must be serious.

There was a fascinating picture when a high explosive bomb fell into the Clyde.  It entered the water in line with where we stood and the raging fires on the opposite bank.

The bomb exploded underneath the water and threw out a huge circular wave, a column of water being thrown up from the centre which seemed to hang in the air at a great height in the form of a gigantic umbrella, until it gradually dropped.

During all this time, we were waiting in suspense, not knowing when one of the planes passing overhead might disgorge its cargo in our vicinity, but the droning of the engines faded in the distance and the countryside seemed peculiarly quiet.

With the coming of daylight, our thought was “How have the women and children fared?”

We knew that no bombs had disturbed them, but we felt that their experience on the hillside must have been awesome. Judge our relief when we beheld familiar forms approaching.

They said that when they reached the hillside, they laid out their blankets behind a wall, hoping to get some protection from the cold, and possibly some sleep before the planes arrived.

But one of the children became so frightened that my wife suggested trying to make their way to the farm of Blackthird, and there to seek cover.

Willie’s wife and her family had by this time got separated from my wife. They had managed to make their way to a hut where, with others from the village, they spent part of the night. A friend, who resided nearby, kindly took them to her home.

Meanwhile, my wife and my daughter with her husband, family, and a girlfriend, after traversing the moor with the pram bumping over tufts of heather and with crying children walking alongside, located Blackthird Farm.

Here they were kindly received by Mrs Paterson and invited to pass the remainder of the night at the farm, an invitation most thankfully accepted.

The condition of the house at Kirkton was so bad that, in their nervous condition, my wife and daughter, with the children, could not remain, and, for a second time, turned their backs upon home and went to Carluke.

They remained there for some days until, with help of tradesmen, I managed to effect temporary repairs to make the house habitable.

Now that Kirkton has been permanently repaired, the memories of our bitter experiences of the Kirkton Blitz remain – memories that will never be erased from our minds.

Kirkton today

Kirkton Farm is now known as Kirkton House. After James Weir’s death in the 1970s the farm was expanded and modernised by the conversion of the cattle byre/dairy (west of the courtyard) and the stables (east of the courtyard) into part of the dwelling around the courtyard, between 1978 and 1982.

During this time, the granary/hayloft out-building to the north east (in front of which had been the “stack yard” described in the narrative), was expanded and converted into a separate dwelling, now called Kirkton Granary. North Kirkton was also built at this time in the old orchard and where tomato greenhouses to the rear had been.

From 1984, Kirkton House was first a B & B, then a licensed hotel, known as Kirkton House Hotel, until 2010. In 2012 a major renovation, restoring it to a private residence, was undertaken.

It was expanded and re-modernised, with a cathedral type sun lounge being added to the southern aspect, replacing the modest porch of the original farmhouse. The 360 degree stairs (apparently commissioned by James Weir) were also replaced.

At this time the west wing (originally the byre and dairy) had an extra floor added by raising the roof 1.3m, to create a separate four bedroomed property, now known as Kirkton Byre.