10 January 2013
Scottish Memories reader Michael Wilson looks back to the 1940s when his kind father gave a lift to a soldier or two as they marched back from Dundee to their coastal army camp. ...
The eastern coastal artery out of Dundee is colloquially known as the Low Road to Arbroath. About seven miles outside Dundee, the road passes an area of coastal downs with an army training camp and firing ranges used during and after World War Two to train army recruits. Although there are now golf courses and caravan sites on part of the downs, the training camp and firing ranges are still there and used regularly by the army.
A group of soldiers were marching ‘at the double’
thumbing a lift…having missed the last bus out of Dundee,
and were trying to get back to camp before midnight
During the 1940s and early 1950s, our family car was a 1936 Austin 10hp drop-head coupe. Bus services weren’t frequent and each morning, as my father drove my brother and me into town to school, he’d always offer lifts to people waiting for buses.
In 1948, when I was ten years old and my brother twelve, we were on our way home one Sunday night after visiting our grandparents. A group of soldiers were marching ‘at the double’ along the road, thumbing a lift. My father stopped to enquire and they said they were returning to camp from leave and, having missed the last bus out of Dundee, were trying to get back to camp before midnight. They had six miles to go and would never have made it in time.
My father, of course, offered them a lift to the camp.
The problem he was faced with, however, was how to get seven soldiers into our small car together with my mother, brother and myself.
Undaunted, he began supervising the loading of the car as follows:
• My brother sat on my mother’s knee in the front
• I sat on a soldier’s knee in the back behind the driver’s seat
• Two soldiers sat in the back at the other side, one on the other’s knee.
• My father then put the hood of the car down to enable two soldiers to stand in the back.
• The remaining two soldiers stood on the running boards at the side of the car holding onto the top of the doors.
The rear boot lid of the car opened to create a horizontal luggage rack to which the soldiers’ kit bags were strapped securely.
We had a hearty singsong as we drove
along and must have resembled the
Keystone Cops of the old movie days!
We made it to the gates of the camp with only a few minutes to spare.
I often wonder what became of those soldiers.
They were so cheerful and so grateful for the lift to camp that I’ve never forgotten them. The car survived the ordeal too and served our family well for a further seven years.
For many years, we had picnics on the downs in the summer but kept well away from the camp when the red flags were flying to warn people that they were firing on the ranges. Even today, a community cycle path and footpath runs through the downs along the perimeter of the camp and, when the camp is occupied, one can hear the sound of the guns as the recruits practise their weaponry skills.
Michael Wilson, Dundee
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