during World War II

Thank you to Frank Ferri, Newhaven, who wrote:

All Jock Tamson's Bairns

"During the war years, in Leith, most working class people were all Jock Tamson's bairns.  i.e. we were all in the same position.  We were heading aimlessly in any direction that our governments and people in authority would tell us to go. There was little, if any, civil disobedience then and there were few chances of trying to keep up with the Jones.

All material things, luxuries and essentials were scarce.  We became one of the most improvising and innovative nations in the western world. But our spirits at this time of year were never dampened."


"Christmas, to the children, meant clean starched sheets on your bed on Christmas eve and prayers to Santa for:

- a Roy Rogers Pony

his guns

real sweets

Cowboy outfits

model castle

-  train set

toy cars


board games


In the morning, reality presented you with:

-  an apple

-  an orange

-  some seasonal nuts

-  a few scarce sweets and chocolates purchased with precious food coupons, and

- home-made utility toys acquired from a friend who was a carpenter

You shrugged off your disappointments and got on with it.  No turkey in these days;   not even a chicken;  no Christmas tree. You  just opened your presents, hoped it was snowing To all extents and  purposes, it was just an anticlimactic day.

The only luxury we had and one up on the neighbours, was a display of pre-war colourful paper Christmas decorations, that my father had carefully preserved for years by gently pulling them down each year and delicately folding these fragile paper accordions and storing them away for the next year."



"Hogmanay, perhaps, was more exciting, as you watched and helped your mother as best you could, to clean the house from top to bottom, in preparation for the New Year.

Scottish people did not spring clean.  Hogmanay was the time of year to clean away all the bad luck and spirits of the previous year.

Some people, including my dad, would be putting up new wallpaper (when it was available) in the living-room on Hogmanay night. The rest of the house probably got papered about once every 5 years, but the living-room, the main focal point of family life, had to be done more frequently.

In the war years when wallpaper was scarce, walls were stippled.  A distemper paint (a powder base pain you mixed with water) was applied, using either a net cloth or a sponge to give an irregular pattern.  Then, the painted walls were boxed off using strips of colourful border paper.

I can still see my father at just approaching midnight - minutes before the church bells, ships and factory horns sounded off announcing the New Year - still putting the finishing touches to cleaning the windows."


"The bunker (the big sink surface you did your washing) would hold the drinks glasses:

pint size and Cowboy saloon type nip glasses

dark green screw top bottles of Imperial Pale Ale beer

Stout, Whisky, Sherry or Port

Lemonade and Cordial, American Cream Soda.

Soft drinks Sodas like Vimto, for the kids

- maybe VP or red biddy wine such as cheap rot gut Eldorado wine for the teenagers who would take this brew first footing and come home with the bottle still full.

Booze was scarce during the war, so mum used to buy currants and raisins to make sherry wine which she kept in a large pot to ferment and mature.  As a kid, we could not resist a wee swig from the pot when mum wasn’t looking."


"On the table would be the scarce food supply.




-  Madeira cake

cheese cubes

spam or salmon sandwiches if you happened to know someone on the black market, and

-  maybe a pot of stovies (corned beef and mash with onions and beef stock) or home made soup.

At Hogmanay and with food supplies short, if you took a pound of margarine and a bag of sugar, stood in a long queue at Bootlands the Bakers, just past Bangor Road, on Great Junction Street, he would make you a couple of rounds of Shortbread for half a crown.  That was 12.5 pence in today's cash, but a lot of money in 1943."


"At midnight, you waited expectantly for your 'first foot'  -  the first person to visit you after midnight.  We never had to wait long.  Usually, someone was right outside your door when the church bells rung, waiting to be your first foot.

Sometimes, a member of the family would stand outside moments before midnight just to make sure your house got a first foot. It was considered to be unlucky to be your own 'first foot'.

If the 'first foot' happened to be a black haired, dark-featured person, that was considered very lucky, especially if they brought with them a lump of coal.

Unlike today, there were no organized parties.  The key was left in the door and all were welcome.  Neighbours from all over the place just came and went as they pleased.

On many occasions, service men and civilians, all complete strangers came to your house and were welcomed without question."


There were no televisions. CDs, DVD players or music centres in these days, but if you were lucky enough to know a box player (accordionist) you had a great time.  If not, not you had a singsong."

Frank Ferri, Newhaven, Edinburgh:  October 27, 2009


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