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Night bombs fell on Cardross

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Sergeant-James-RestonA 14 year-old boy endured a night of horror when World War Two bombs fell on Cardross. 

This is how James Retson recalled the evening of March 14 1941, the second night of the Clydebank Blitz . . .

My aunt Maimie, uncle Donald and cousins, Agnes and Barbara, had come that morning from Clydebank to my uncle`s farm at Cardross, still in shock — especially Agnes who had been totally terrified by the previous night`s bombing.

My mother, sister Una, younger brother John and I were already living on Barr`s farm so the place was pretty crowded.

Outside in the stack yard, Uncle Jim had marked out the site for our Anderson shelter. It was the safest place he could find, but the pieces lay, still unassembled, on the ground.

Most of us were in the kitchen when the sirens sounded. All too soon we became aware of the sound of the German planes, a  fluctuating hum that my uncle`s family had come to know only too well.

Agnes was already trembling when the first incendiaries dropped. Una suddenly took flight and ran out of the house. Despite our fear and the hellish noise, some instinct made us follow at her heels.

When we burst into the night the farm was alight, the horses and the bull, which had broken loose, were charging wildly between explosions.

My aunt Nancy grabbed a bucket of sand and rushed to the barn to put out an incendiary, but the rest of us stuck with Una who was running towards the local ‘big house’, Belmont, the only building so far untouched.

She battered on the door shouting for her friend whose family owned Belmont House.

How we got in, I can't remember, but I do remember the lady of the house being manhandled into joining everyone else huddled under the huge dining room table for safety.

Suddenly the bombing really began. Even with my eyes tight shut and my hands over my ears I was aware of the flash of flames and the thunderous, ear-splitting noise.

We all cowered together under the huge table and I felt someone`s warm pee soak my leg.

I thought we were dead for sure when I heard the next, terrible whistle growing louder and louder and felt myself being hurled across the room. The blast blew off part of the roof and soot from the chimney covered absolutely everything.

I can still remember that dreadful whistle and women screaming, and waiting to die.

The bombing went on into the night but we stayed put in Belmont House until morning. It wasn`t till then that we discovered what a lucky escape we had had.

Belmont was the only house left standing, its nearest neighbour a burnt out shell.

The bomb that had damaged Belmont`s roof should have wiped us out, but instead of landing on solid ground it had plunged deep into the midden diverting the blast skyward, away from the house and saving us all.

Later we learned that my aunt Nancy was peppered with shrapnel while trying to extinguish the incendiary and had been buried under a heap of rubble.

In the midst of the bombing, her brother Jim struggled to move the debris with no help from his injured sister. She said later that she was finally galvanised into helping dig herself free when Jim told her the rampaging bull was heading their way.

Afterwards she told me she was more afraid of the bull than any bombs.

Barr`s farm had been totally flattened. The Anderson shelter site was now a bomb crater and the stack yard completely destroyed.

When I think of it now, in many ways we were lucky but, at the time that wasn`t how it felt. Our home and livelihood had been torn from us in one fell swoop and the shirt tails I stood up in were my only possessions in the world.

Jim Retson later worked in the Blackburn Aircraft Factory in Dumbarton as an apprentice toolmaker. Since he was a tradesman, his entry into active service in the Army was deferred until November 1945.

He received his preliminary training at Perth from two sergeants, one from the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, the other from the Black Watch, both extremely tough individuals.

After six weeks basic training he was moved to Catterick for Signals Trade Training. Signalman Retson was then shipped out to Germany in January 1946 as part of the British occupying force.

On arrival at Buckeburg they were ordered to show no quarter to the Germans,who were a defeated enemy and should be treated accordingly. While the British soldiers walked on the pavement, the Germans were to be forced into the gutter.

There his job was laying telephone lines, assisted by forty German SS POW whom he guarded with three fellow soldiers. Their orders were to shoot the Germans if they made any attempt to escape. However, as time went by the British became accustomed to their prisoners, even allowing some of them to forage for food in the surrounding countryside before returning to work.

The British Signalmen, now relieved of the arduous task of laying cable and with a disciplined German workforce at their command, soon realised that they were on to a good number. The only problem was that the Germans' desire to rebuild their country, coupled with their hard work and efficiency meant that the job would be completed in a matter of weeks. A `go slow` was ordered immediately.

In June 1948, James returned home and finished his apprenticeship at the Blackburn Aircraft Factory.

  • This article, The Cardross Blitz by James Retson, comes from WW2 People's War, an online archive of wartime memories contributed by members of the public and gathered by the BBC. The archive can be found at www.bbc.co.uk/ww2peopleswar.
Last Updated ( Monday, 16 May 2011 17:20 )  

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Final Open Meeting

Rev-John-Anderson-29.03.17-wThe final Open Meeting of the season was on Wednesday March 29 at the Civic Centre, East Clyde Street, Helensburgh. The Rev David Clark spoke on the Kirk in the Square and the Rev John Anderson.

Winter Talks 2016-17

  • Wednesday September 28 2016 — Ewan Kennedy: The Leiper Legacy
  • Wednesday October 26 — The Rev David Clark: Helensburgh Boys Brigade Centenary
  • Wednesday November 30 — Ian MacEachern: The Luss Slate Quarries

  • Wednesday January 25 2017 — Bill Anderson: The Anderson (Local Collection) Trust
  • Wednesday February 22 — Dr Andrew Bicker: Recent Archaelogical Discoveries on the West Coast of Scotland
  • Wednesday March 29 — The Rev David Clark: The Kirk in the Square and the Rev John Anderson

Meetings in Helensburgh Civic Centre, East Clyde Street, at 7.30pm prompt.

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Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation
SC024603