Helensburgh Holiday 1916 Style

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Andy-Stewart-cutout-wTHE train roared and panted its way through the tunnel at Dalreoch, the sulphurous smoke wreathing past the closed windows. Silent, and not a little apprehensive, I sat in the corner gazing out into the void.

"Will this never end?" I thought as a feeling of claustrophobia made me close my eyes. At last the engine noise changed perceptibly and opening my eyes again I saw a flicker of daylight.

I could make out the sheer walls of a cutting through the smoke then, quite suddenly, we were in daylight again with green fields, blue skies and sun sparking across the water. It reminded me of one of those transformation scenes I had seen in a pantomime.

Someone opened a window and, immediately, fresh air with a slight salt-water tang filled the carriage. It seemed to act like a tonic to the passengers who smiled and began to talk to each other.

The year was 1916. 1 had just passed my eleventh birthday and was on my way to spend a holiday with an aunt in Helensburgh. A virulent type of scarlet fever had left me not a little 'wabbit' so it was decided that a week or two in Helensburgh would be just what the doctor ordered.

The train stopped at Cardross and I could see groups of people picnicking on the shore. The pungent smell of seaweed mingled with the wood smoke from their fires came drifting into the carriage.

On again, past Ardmore, looking dark and mysterious on its wooded peninsula, to Craigendoran where all was bustle as passengers alighted for the steamers.

I could see two steamers at the pier. Their funnels were red with a white band and a black top. Someone said that one was the Talisman and the other the Lucy Ashton.

At last the train drew into Helensburgh and I was met at the station by my aunt and my two cousins. Mary was a year or two younger than I and David was still in his pram. Soon we were at the house in James Street where my aunt lived.


My uncle, like most of the men at that time, was in the army. Although we knew all about the war — the newspapers' placards informed us daily of 'Heavy losses on the Somme' or ‘Bloody fighting near Soissons' — it didn't affect us too deeply or perhaps we just did not allow it to. After all the war was an adult affair.

I soon found pals in Helensburgh. That very day I was playing on the swings on James Street with them as if I had known them all my life.

I can still remember their names. There was Ada and Tom Sinclair, Bella Rennie, Alec Murray, and Cathie McKenzie. We had a great time together.

The swings were suspended not on chains, but on steel rods, which made standing on the seats an easy ploy. I spent a lot of time on these swings, so much that I eventually made myself violently sick and gave myself a life-long allergy to swings of any sort.

I remember the girls being very fond of 'Pot'. I hasten to add that ‘Pot' was a ball game played on chalked out 'beds' on the pavement.

Peever too was popular along with the other perennial favourites like Tig, I-spy, Release, and Kick the can.

We spent hours on the beach of course. The girls made little shops in the sands while we paddled about and pretended not to be interested.

Eventually however, we were scouring the sands looking for 'money' at the girls' request. This currency consisted of small sea-washed pieces of china or crockery, blue pieces being coppers and the white bits became silver.

The boys also procured, under protest, goods to stock the shops. Dried seaweed became vegetables, while stones of suitable shape and colour appeared as potatoes, tomatoes, apples, oranges, sweets and almost anything imaginable.

The law of supply and demand was very much in operation here! To the childhood imagination anything is possible!


If the weather was suitable, we made an expedition to Craigendoran where we donned bathing gear and swam at the old jetty. Afterwards, we kindled a fire and picnicked on the shore.

We went out to see the steamers of course. The Marmion, Waverley, and Kenilworth were away on war service, but the Talisman and Dandie Dinmont were there along with the Lucy Ashton.

One day we were taken for a sail on the Talisman to Dunoon. Another trip we had was to Garelochhead on the Lucy. As the steamer called at Rhu, Rosneath, Clynder, Shandon, Rahane Ferry and Mambeg, the return trip to Garelochhead was a long drawn out affair.

I bought hooks and line and tried fishing at the end of the pier but all I caught was a crab now and then. The fishing nets which festooned the railings along the pier seemed to give the place a touch of atmosphere I thought, although I never saw any catch being landed. Maybe I was never there early enough.

I soon learned that West Clyde Street was always referred to as the 'Front' and I wondered why most of the shops were painted black with gold sign writing.

Another thing I learned was that the dogs' water bowls placed strategically outside the shop were not there primarily to assuage the doggy thirst.

We played football in the public park and quenched our thirst with lemonade from Reid's 'Lily Springs' in James Street.


Often we listened to the Pierrots at the bandstand opposite the Imperial Hotel. I can almost hear them singing the chorus of "Calais, Calais; where I would like to be, just across the sea from Dover".

Two other favourites we heard there were "Moonlight Bay" and "Who were you with last night?" All good romantic stuff . . .

On Saturdays we all went to the Cine House in John Street. The admission fee was one penny and we were armed with bags of sweets. Sweets were a problem with the scarcity of sugar and we bought toffee at Eman's which wasn't the famous Helensburgh variety by any means.

However, we found one wee shop where home made milk chocolate could be got. As the chocolate had evidently been poured into cocoa tin lids as moulds, it bore the name Cadbury or Fry and it tasted marvellous. Pure ambrosia, in fact!


On Sunday afternoons we went for walks. We walked along to Kidston Park and looked across at the training ship ‘Empress'. She had a rather sombre appearance as she lay at anchor there with her black and white hull, bare rigging and no sign of life aboard except maybe a whiff of smoke from the galley chimney.

Perhaps it was the stories we heard about bad boys being sent to the ship which caused us to look on it with some uneasiness!

Sometimes we walked up the hill, and along the Highland Railway to Rhu — or Row as it was spelled in those days.

We discovered the Highlandman's Road and the Old Luss Road.

We explored Hermitage Park, drank at the Hermit's Well and examined the flywheel of the Comet. We listened to the bands playing in the old rustic bandstand in the park. During this time Hermitage House in the park was fenced off and was used as a military hospital.

We often visited the station. What a wonderful place it was for us! Apart from the engines, there were a variety of amusements there.

There was the cricket machine, where you put in a penny and automated the batsman by means of two levers. There was also a football game on the same lines.

There was a rather mysterious machine called the Gypsy, but the favourite was the name plate machine where, for a penny, you could stamp out your name in raised letters on an aluminium strip. Great fun!

And it was at the station that, bronzed and fit again, I bade goodbye to my young friends when the time came for me to go home again. We had had a wonderful time together, and it had been a holiday to remember.

When the train drew out and I was well on my way, 1 could still hear their cries of farewell ringing in my ears.

  • Andrew Stewart, who was born on June 3 1905 in the Vale of Leven, was the eldest of seven children. His father returned from World War One an invalid, so Andy had to leave school and go out to work as the sole breadwinner.
  • He worked in a variety of dead-end jobs in the textile industry, but later on, when financial circumstances improved somewhat, his mother offered him the chance of a return to education.
  • By that time however, Andy had a little money in his pocket, and as he also had an active social life, he preferred not to take up the offer. Nevertheless, he did well for himself as time went on, and was for many years the staff photographer at Burroughs Machines in Dumbarton.
  • After his retirement he worked for several years as an editorial assistant at the Helensburgh Advertiser office in East King Street. He died on December 29 1995 at the age of 90.
  • He wrote a lot of poetry, much of which can be seen here.