During World War II

Thank you to Frank Ferri, now living in Newhaven, Edinburgh for sending me these memories of living in Leith during World War II.

Between 1939 and 1958, Frank lived in Ballantyne Road, Leith, opposite the State Cinema.

Frank sent recollections 1, 2 and 3 below.


Frank Ferri
Newhaven, Edinburgh

Mini Blitz


Frank Ferri
Newhaven, Edinburgh

In the Bomb Shelter


Frank Ferri
Newhaven, Edinburgh

The Morning After the Blitz

Thank you to others below for sending me their recollections of growing up in Leith during World War II ...


E Young
Fife, Scotland

Prince Regent Street - Bombing


Archie Meldrum
Elgin, Morayshire, Scotland

Chocolate Warehouse Fire


Archie Meldrum
Elgin, Morayshire, Scotland

Chocolate Warehouse Fire

... and thank you to Arthur Williams for sending me his very full and interesting memories of growing up in Newhaven and Leith during World War II.

I've done a little editing of Arthur's comments, but even after the editing they may well be the longest recollections that I've ever added to the EdinPhoto web site.


Arthur Williams
Musselburgh, East Lothian, Scotland

Growing up in Leith, 1935-50


John D Stevenson
Trinity, Edinburgh

Question:  Munitions Factory


Reply 1

Bob Sinclair
Noosa, Queensland, Australia

Reply:  Munitions Factory


Bill Hay

Three Bombs on Leith

Another Raid


Bill Hay

Wartime Memories

How did Grandma Cope?



Frank Ferri

Newhaven, Edinburgh

Mini Blitz


"On the night of April 7th 1941, my area (Ballantyne) was hit by a mini blitz. German aircraft heading for the shipyards of Clydebank on the west coast were intercepted by our RAF fighters and in an effort to get away as fast as they could the German bombers unloaded their bombs indiscriminately to hasten their exit."


"The bombs they released in our area were two land mines, suspended from parachutes, which silently fell from the sky, giving no warning until they reached ground level and exploded.

One bomb fell near Largo Place/ Keddie Gardens park, destroying the corner of a tenement and killing at least two people, at the same time badly damaging the Town Hall in Ferry Road (now Leith Library).

Running parallel with Ballantyne and Largo Place is the Water of Leith and the then railway embankment. The second bomb fell in the deep embankment, thus forcing the blast in an upwards direction, had it fallen on more level ground, Ballantyne and other areas would have been levelled to the ground."

At Home

"That night is indelibly imprinted in my mind. It would have been  about nine o’clock, and I aged six or seven was sitting by the fireside reading my comic before going to bed.  We were never early bedders, even as children, sleeping on many nights with our clothes on in anticipation of the air raid sirens going off.

My father heard an aircraft passing overhead.  We were, to a degree, used to hearing the sounds of different aircraft engines and if the sirens went off, we knew it had been a German.  So frequently did aircraft fly over our house, we learned to differentiate between the engine sounds of friend or foe"

Damage to Our Home

"On this occasion my father was right at guessing it was a German, but this time there was no siren warning, the bomb parachutes fell silently, and then there was this enormous blast, which lifted me right off my chair and flung me across the room into the lobby (hall).

The complete window had blown in, the plaster on the ceiling and walls fell off, with furniture, dust and glass strewn all over the place."


"My father grabbed me, placed my two year old brother in an all enclosing gasmask that resembled a deep sea diver’s helmet and made for the door and balcony.  Feeling the rubble of the balcony under his feet in the darkness, he shouted to my mother, 'I think the balcony has gone, we may be trapped.'

Meanwhile, he realized she had gone back into the house to retrieve her purse and had got trapped behind the living-room door that had been jammed by falling debris. He went back for her.

The balcony as it turned out was safe and we gingerly made our way down the turreted staircase to the sound of  exploding shells, shrapnel and tracer bullets and the sweeping bands of light from our ack ack gun searchlights scanning the skies."

Frank Ferri, Newhaven, Edinburgh:  April 1, 2008



Frank Ferri

Newhaven, Edinburgh

In the Bomb Shelter

Finding the Shelter

"On arrival at the brick built shelters in the quadrangle, we found they were all full and had to make our way through a pend (a large entry) leading to Ballantyne Place and The Piggery where there were underground earth shelters.

These were also quite full, but we got in. The Shelter had bunk beds and chemical toilets, with some other basic needs.  The whole shelter stank of some kind of disinfectant like Lysol or Carbolic.  The smell made you wretch.


One of the first faces I recognised in the shelter was Mrs Geddes, our next door neighbour, having fragments of glass removed from her head. People had brought with them some basic belongings and some old ladies had brought along their budgerigars, canaries, cats and dogs.


For a while not much conversation went on.  People just huddled together for warmth and comfort in the damp, smelly and cold of their environment.  Then the door burst open with some new residents and a couple of Air Raid Wardens, some drunk.

As it turned out, Jamiesons the grocers in Junction Street halfway between Ballantyne and Bowling Green Street, had the shop front blown in and some of the people had purloined the booze, hence their condition and the exaggerated stories of drama.


One of the stories was (untrue) Mrs Gillespie with her 10 children at No 3/21 top flat was trapped with her family; their part of the balcony had blown away.

There were stories of people with their heads blown off, heroic deeds of someone thinking the parachuted land mine was a German Pilot and someone getting blown up running towards it to arrest the enemy.  All were untrue of course.  War does have its macabre yet unconscious sense of humour.

As each story unfolded, the children agog with a mixture of fear and excitement, would scan the adult faces for some kind of reassurance or reaction whether negative or positive.

Quiet Evenings in the Shelter

On other nights we went to the shelters, without the bombing, quite looking forward to it, because it meant you met your pals, played Cards, Ludo or Snakes & Ladders and would certainly have the day off school the next day (all very exciting for a kid) but this time it was real and very different.  We experienced real fear. We detected it from the adults; it was their and my first experience of a real air raid.

George's Ice Cream Shop

George DeFlice's Italian ice-cream shop, at Junction Bridge had been pillaged during the night.  This was assumed to be in retribution for the Italians under the rule of Mussolini who supported the Germans at that time. 

As kids, on cold winters nights, we would go into George’s and sit in, buy a cup of hot OXO or Bovril and a couple of water biscuits to dip, or a bowl of hot peas and vinegar (bad for flatulence)

Frank Ferri, Newhaven, Edinburgh:  April 1, 2008



Frank Ferri

Newhaven, Edinburgh

The Morning After the Blitz

Return Home

"At about nine next morning, we exited the shelters, blinking in the early spring sun and made our way back to inspect the damage to our properties.

Gingerly climbing the stairs through the rubble to our flats, not knowing how structurally sound the stairs and balconies were, we entered the house.

Plaster from the walls and ceiling was completely stripped, furniture lay on its face, glass, clothes and crockery were all over the place and there was no sign of the window or its frame. Fortunately the explosion had not fractured gas supplies and started a fire."

Wind and Rain

"For many months, all we had to keep the wind and rain from blowing in the window space was a bright yellow oilcloth sealing up the windows, severely restricting natural light.

After the raid, we stayed off school for a few days, and people came from far and wide to view the damage, making us feel even sorrier for ourselves.

Sweets and Toy

The bright side of the blitz for the children however was the receipt of a parcel containing sweets and a toy from the people of Culver City, Burbank California USA signed by the mayor. These gifts in the deprived war years were great and treasured luxuries to us.


The major negative side to the raid for me anyway, was, for some considerable time after the event, I suffered (undetected by anyone) post traumatic stress and developed a stutter.

I would run out of the house, no matter what state of dress or undress, if a flake of lime or plaster was shaken down from the ceiling by the footsteps of our upstairs neighbour

I ran out of the house totally terrified.  No treatment was given for that in those days."

Frank Ferri, Newhaven, Edinburgh:  April 1, 2008



E Young

Fife, Scotland

Thank you to E Young who wrote:

Prince Regent Street - Bombing

"My mum was a baby and lived in Prince Regent Street, when area was bombed during World War II.

The stair in which my grandmother lived was badly damaged, and they were evacuated to Bonnyrigg until repairs were made to the building.

Apparently, my mum was covered, head to toe, in soot and had to be cleaned up in hospital.  Obviously, she was too small to remember (8 or 9 months old) but my gran must have told her."

E Young, Fife, Scotland:  Message posted in EdinPhoto guest book, December 6, 2008




 Archie Meldrum

Elgin, Morayshire, Scotland

Archie Meldrum asked:


Chocolate Warehouse Fire

"Does anyone recall the fire that destroyed the small warehouse in Leith between Lochend Road and Easter Road which was 'full to the gunnels' with chocolate bars, boxes of assorted chocolates, toffees, etc.?
I was at Leith Academy school at the time.  It would have been about 8.30am as we descended like a pack of wild animals to get in past the firemen who, realising the sweet ration was still very active, stepped aside to allow the 'pack' to raid the remains.
That day remains in my memory as a special day.  It was spent sitting in class, scraping burned and singed smoky chocolate off our booty to allow it to be eaten.  Ah, happy days!

Archie Meldrum, Elgin, Morayshire, Scotland:  December 13, 2012




 Archie Meldrum

Elgin, Morayshire, Scotland

Thank you to Archie Meldrum for replying to the question that he asked in Recollections 5 above.    Archie wrote:


Chocolate Warehouse Fire

"I think the site of the chocolate  fire was in Lorne Street."

Archie Meldrum, Elgin, Morayshire, Scotland:  December 14, 2012




Arthur Williams

Musselburgh, East Lothian, Scotland

Thank you to Arthur Williams for sending me his very full and interesting memories of his childhood,  growing up in Newhaven and Leith from 1935 to 1950.

I've done a little editing of Arthur's comments, but even after the editing they remain by far the longest recollections that I've ever added to the EdinPhoto web site.

Arthur wrote:


 of a

Reformed Reprobate


My Earliest Memory

"My earliest memory is of standing in a room looking into a hole in the floor and seeing water flowing underneath.
This was my room in a house in Trinity Crescent in Newhaven. It appeared that a subterranean stream had altered its course and decided to run through the foundations of our house.
The resultant dampness was blamed for my developing asthma which was to plague me throughout my early childhood."

My Family

"Prior to living in Trinity Crescent, our family had lived in a house in the Crewe area of Edinburgh where one of the most bizarre incidents in my life was to take place.
According to family history, most of which was hidden from me as a child, my mother married Michael Docherty, an Engineering Blacksmith from Loanhead.
He was a Roman Catholic.  This was anathema to the Matriarch of the family, my domineering maternal grandmother, and shortly after my birth my mother was pressurised into leaving my father, I suspect, against her better judgment."

Baby Snatching

"Shortly afterwards my father left home in 1935, I was snatched from my pram in the front garden of our house in Crewe by his family and taken to a house in Loanhead."


"My grandmother then contacted an extremist organisation in Edinburgh known as the 'Protestant Action'.  This was headed by an Edinburgh town councillor, one John Cormack who could be found every Sunday night at the Mound in Princes Street, preaching his gospel to anyone who would listen.
A large group of members of the Protestant Action went to Loanhead armed with firearms and, after what has been described to me by people who were present at this incident as 'a serious battle', I was re-taken and returned to my family."


"I was then immediately taken to St James’ Episcopal Church in Leith and baptised by Canon Black at 7pm.
Ironically, this was to no avail, as I found out many years later that I had already been baptised in the chapel in Loanhead and was already, what a Catholic friend has described as 'one of the Pope's Men'.


"Most of my childhood was spent in the Bonnington area of Leith. We lived on the second storey of a four storey tenement at the corner of Anderson Place and Bonnington Road."
Anderson Place
looking towards Bonnington Road
    Anderson Place  -  Looking south towards Bonnington Road ©

Our House

"Our house consisted of a living room with a bed recess and two bedrooms.  A small room off the living room held a coal bunker and a cooker!
The house also boasted an indoor toilet.  Although we had no bath and no hot running water we were considerably luckier than those in the tenements further down the road who had toilets on balconies which were shared by six or eight families!
 I can only assume that the local Co-op had a plentiful supply of chamber pots, especially in winter."

Leith in 1940s

"Life in Leith in the 1940s was so different from now.  The pace of life was so much slower."


"Horse and cart was still one of the modes of transport, although I do remember seeing the last of the steam driven lorries which were owned by Todd’s flour mill in North Junction Street.
These were fascinating to watch as a child as they chuffed along the road with a huge chain drive underneath to the rear axle and a boiler in the cab which was stoked frequently by the driver.
The mill itself was destroyed by a massive fire which burned for three days."

My First School

"My first school was almost opposite our houseI distinctly recollect telling the headmistress, when my grandmother took me to register at the school, that 'I would probably be late on Thursdays as that was the day that my Dandy comic was delivered'!
Such precociousness seems to have stayed with me throughout my life, as my friends will no doubt agree."

Illness at School

"My school life was uneventful, but quite trying because the recurrent asthma lost me quite a lot of time.  Indeed I only managed to attend one school Christmas party in seven years at primary."

Achievements at School

"However, I achieved top marks and subsequently went to the Mecca of Edinburgh Corporation Education Dept., Broughton Senior Secondary School.
In spite of this, my academic achievements were mediocre with the exception of an aptitude for science and mathematics in which I excelled  -  but as I had no desire to follow an academic career the full potential of this did not manifest itself until later years at college."

Our Tenement

"My home life was, I suppose, unremarkable for the period.
The tenement block in which I lived consisted of three stairs or closes, housing a total of approximately fifty families, none of which owned a car.
Changed days, now"

The Streets

"Indeed the level of traffic was very low considering that Bonnington Road was a main thoroughfare.   This resuylted in a game which nowadays would be courting suicide, that of hanging onto the tailgate of a flatbed truck as it proceeded up the road and letting go as it reached the traffic lights.
I do recall one serious accident right outside our school when a young boy ran out in front of a lorry and was killed instantly. I heard the bump and turned round and was confronted by a figure lying in the road surrounded by a pool of blood from which the steam was rising.
That was quite traumatic to see, as a child, but I survived without the need of counselling which would be the norm today in our 'nanny state'."


"As children, we learned to amuse ourselves without resorting to mobile ‘phones and computers.  Street games were popular, one of which was known as 'Levoy'.  It consisted of two teams, one of which was given time to 'escape' and after a set period the 'searchers' set out to seek and catch.
As this game was played over an area of about ¾ mile square of busy, tenemented streets, it could take some time.
In summer I played cricket in Pilrig Park, sometimes with a litter basket as a wicket if the lad with the stumps didn’t turn up.
We never resorted to vandalism as we had respect for other people and their property. Of course we stole apples (out of devilment, not hunger)."

The War Years

"Although I was very young at the time, I have vivid recollections of the war years, - the second world war, not the first!
I remember quite vividly the sound of the sirens and being hustled to the air raid shelters in the school grounds opposite our house. The main targets for the Luftwaffe were the shipyards of Henry Robb Ltd, which was engaged in building warships, and of course the Forth Bridge, which at the time was the main artery North on the East coast.
If my memory serves me right Leith sustained several bomb hits, one which damaged part of Leith town hall. Because censorship was being applied at the time, we did not know until later that there were quite a few civilian casualties. 
Leith links were taken over by the army for the storage of military vehicles, possible to fool the Germans into thinking that we were about to invade Norway."


"When we holidayed, it was usually in Fife.  I remember standing on Leven Beach and looking out to the Forth and seeing dozens of ships at anchor. These were convoys to Murmansk in Russia.
It just so happened that my aunt Dorothy was engaged to a merchant seaman whose ship was sunk on one of those convoys.
I remember going down many times to his mothers’ house in Newhaven to see if there had been any news from the Red Cross that he had been picked up. This, of course was a forlorn hope as the survival rate from these convoys was negligible."


"Food was scarce during the war, but we never went hungry. Sugar, butter, eggs and meat were all rationed but the latter was supplemented with rabbit and the suchlike.
I still remember tucking into tripe and onions cooked in milk with potatoes. It is still one of my favourite foods
My grandfather had joined the army at the age of fourteen as a boy soldier in the late-1800s and was immediately sent to India where he spent many happy years serving in the Indian 'Raj'
When he returned, he was stationed at Leith Fort and met and married my grandmother whom he taught to cook Indian food. I can still recollect walking into the house at lunchtime to the evocative smell of dhal.
 I must have been the only kid in Leith eating Indian food at that time as there were no ethnic groups at all, other than a few Italians who had the ice cream shops and the chip shops."


"My secondary school education had broadened my interest in music to which I owe a lot to my grandfather who loved classical music.
As a complete contrast I joined the school pipe band and became a tenor drummer and occasionally, Drum Major.   It was quite a thrill for a thirteen year old to be marching in front of the band twirling the very large mace.  Still, I've always been a bit of a show off!"

Leaving School

"Much to everyone’s surprise, I let school at the ripe old age of fourteen without any formal qualifications and took a fill-in job.
I had for a few years, been very interested in photography and at the age of fourteen was developing and printing films.
I decided to pursue this as a career and finally, after much badgering, I got an interview with the managing director of Francis C. Inglis, the top professional photographic company in Edinburgh - but to no avail.
Then it was a severe blow to discover that I was colour blind so, instead of photography, I decided to take up engineering as a career."

Henry Robb Ltd.

"I started in Henry Robb Ltd as an apprentice engineer."
Henry Robb Ltd.
Please click on this link to read Arthur Williams' recollections of the time when he worked for Henry Robb Ltd.


"In my late teens, I developed an interest in climbing and on a Friday night, after rushing home from the shipyard, I would clean up, have a quick meal, grab a bag of gear and get a bus to Stirling. There I would hitch hike and end up in Glencoe, late at night.
The following day, after sleeping in one of the 'bothies', I would team up with a group and spend the day climbing the peaks and ridges of Glencoe.
My companions would include 'hard men' from the Gorbals in Glasgow but they were interested in climbing not fighting and a great sense of camaraderie grew between us, based on need for mutual dependence which is paramount when climbing.
It is a pity the youth of today does not seem to have the same incentive to occupy their spare time in worthwhile pursuits rather than resorting to vandalism and other anti-social behaviour."

Technical College

"During the five years of my apprenticeship as an engineer, I attended part time courses at the W. M. Ramsay Technical College.  This was to open my eyes to the science of applied mathematics.
I was later invited to teach  engineering at the same college and became one of its youngest part-time technical teachers at the old Education Corporation Education Dept.  Eventually, I taught  at the old Napier College at Colinton Road."


"At around the age of 23 I went into Ferranti’s as an inspector, firstly in the Machine Shops and finally in the Electronic Assembly Units.
The work was interesting as we were working on attack radar systems to be fitted into the nose cones of fighter aircraft."


"It was at this time that I bought a small dingy and taught myself the rudiments of sailing.  I then decided that it would be a good idea to learn how to swim.  This subsequently led me into the world of skin diving which was an absolutely wonderful experience."

Arthur Williams, Musselburgh, East Lothian, Scotland:  December 17, 2013**
** Arthur tells me that he is now aged 77, but his recollections of his childhood are still vivid.




John D Stevenson

Trinity, Edinburgh

Here, John D Stevenson (a regular contributor to the EdinPhoto web site) asks a question on behalf of a lady who has contacted him from USA.

John writes:


Leith Munitions Factory

"This lady's mother lived in Leith and worked in a 'Munitions Factory' there prior to her marriage to an American soldier in early 1946.  (This all according to her Marriage Certificate.)
 I can find no mention of any specific firms/buildings that might have been involved in the production of munitions in Leith during World War 2.
Can anybody help?  Any tips or links, no matter how small will be gratefully received, no matter how smal, l will be gratefully received!"

John D Stevenson, Trinity, Edinburgh:  July 4, 2014

Reply to John Stevenson?

If you'd like to send a reply to John Stevenson, please email me to let me know, then I'll pass on his email address to you so that you'll be able to send a message direct to him.

Peter Stubbs, Edinburgh:  July 4, 2014






Bob Sinclair

Noosa, Queensland, Australia

Thank you to Bob Sinclair for replying to the question in John Stevenson's Recollections 8 above.

Bob wrote:


Leith Munitions Factory

"Might the munitions factory in Leith have been Brown Brothers in Bonnington Road?"

Bob Sinclair, Noosa, Queensland, Australia:  August 8, 2016




Bill Hay

Murrayfield, Edinburgh

Thank you to Bill Hay who wrote:

Three Bombs on Leith

"My family were almost almost ‘bombed out’ one night when 3 landmines were dropped on Leith, badly damaging nearby tenements.
I recently photographed the three sites as they are today. Two sites have new tenements built on them, one is on the corner of Largo place and the other in George Street (Leith).
Very fortunately two of the landmines fell into soft ground, a railway embankment and a small garden area in the grounds of David Kilpatrick' school.  The George Street mine hit the road which I understand resulted in loss of life.
These three locations are in a straight line suggesting the one aircraft was responsible Our flat suffered with windows being blown in and lots of interior damage. I clearly remember a shard of glass embedded in the side of a piece of furniture."

Another Raid

"On another daylight raid, I actually saw the flash of the bomb exploding when it hit the road at the foot of North Junction Street. The tenement here was also demolished and a new building now occupies the site."

Bill Hay, Murrayfield, Edinburgh:  13 July, 2016




Hugh Gray

Murrayfield, Edinburgh

Thank you to Hugh Gray for also writing:

Wartime Memories

"I think that photos of the past and the history around them.  make the story for future generations.    I'd like to hear some stories about the ration books  and how people managed.

 How did Grandma Manage?

My Grandad Edmonston was killed In the 1914 18 war, aged 39.    My Grandmother  lived in  Mulberry Place, Leith and still managed to  live  happily to the early-1950s, doing her shopping every day.

 I'm  currently  writing a book called  "How did Grandma Manage”

-  Her milk came from a churn at the dairy in the basement on the corner of  Pitt Street, Leith.

-  Her bread came bread from Lyons' bakery.

-  All her cooking was done on  the old highly polished  black grate,  which always had a big black kettle on it  with a marble inside,  rattling away.  It was always on the boil.  

-  She had no washing machine,  TV, phone or radio.

-  She had. a front room and a back room.

-  Her back room had the fire and a bed recess and was the one used all the time.

-  Her front room was a different world, spotless like a palace and had a baby grand piano.  How she got it delivered up 3 flights of stairs beats me.  But that was  her world. and that was her time.

- in those days, they would sit down and write  letters  that may have taken all day and have 5 or 10 pages.  

-  There were no computers, tablets or mod cons.

  I'm always looking for more material  of some of the trials and tribulations from the old ways."

Hugh Gray, Murrayfield, Edinburgh:  15 February 2016 (2 emails)



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