Strathard Heritage Archive

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Inversnaid in the 1940’s

The harsh winter of 1939-40 was probably not the wisest time to undertake a flitting but, for the McDiarmid family, it was a case of necessity. My father, Archie McDiarmid, had been appointed by the Corporation of Glasgow as Estate Manager for the area covered by the waterworks at Loch Katrine and Loch Arklet, an area which was owned by the Corporation.   The flitting from the island of Tiree was quite an undertaking from a tree-less island with numerous sandy beaches to a mountainous snowy area with scattered houses and farmsteads.

The family home was Arklet House, the larger of the two houses built at the end of the massive 350 yards long dam which had been built across the Glen which, up to then, had housed the much smaller Loch Arklet, effectively damming the then Snaid burn which flowed from Loch Arklet and which was completed in 1914.   The house itself was large with a large kitchen with built-in glass fronted cupboards, a large range which required black-leading every so often, and a maid’s room to the side; the stone-floored scullery housed two large sinks, the deeper of the two being the sink in which the clothes being washed were steeped. As an aside I can remember being awakened one morning by a loud scream emanating from the scullery area.   My mother had looked in the large sink, picked up what she thought was a scrubbing brush only to discover it was a mouse which had drowned in the sink overnight.   Beside the back door was the larder and, just inside the scullery door, was the flour bin, a large wooden construction which, if the flour was not used quickly, was a happy hunting ground for maggots.   Also on the ground floor was the dining room with the telephone sitting on top of a large desk (tel.no. Inversnaid 209).   This telephone had an extension to the house next door occupied by the McDougall family.

Then the lounge at the western end of the house, but not forgetting what we called the sun-parlour leading off from the dining room, I suppose nowadays it could be termed a ‘conservatory’!

Upstairs (14 stairs to the turn, 5 other stairs to the top) were the four bedrooms and the smallish bathroom. Heating throughout the house was by making use of the fireplaces situated in each room; lighting was by Aladdin or paraffin lamps, or simply by using candles. In extreme winter conditions use was made of large upstanding paraffin stoves in several of the rooms. Cooking was done on the range or by using a primus stove, especially for a quick breakfast in the morning.

Outside the back door, but attached to the house, was a shed in which were stored wood blocks for the fires, paraffin, bikes etc.

Next door was the McDougall family – father Dugald a joiner, Mrs. McDougall along with children, John (who served in the war with the 6th Airborne Division), Patricia, Dugald jnr and Jean. What always intrigued me was the fact that, whereas our house boasted a piano, Mrs. McDougall had a harmonium. 

The only other family employed by Glasgow Corporation were the Mackies who lived in a house beside the bothy and outbuildings at the end of a private road leading in from the road to Inversnaid. Workers were housed in the bothy, these buildings also contained the joiner’s workshop, a garage for my father’s Austin 10 car (SB 6214), an open area for the carts etc., and a stable unit. Across the grit road was the trout hatchery, an eternal source of interest for a small boy!

Between the bottom of the slope at the back of Arklet House,and the burn, which at times took the overflow water from the dam, was a most magnificent garden shared between ourselves and the other families in this group. White currants, red currants, black currants, strawberries, raspberries, and all sorts of vegetables were grown. This of course proved invaluable during the war years.   Manure for the garden was brought by horse and cart from Corriearklet Farm – two journeys per day with the one-eyed horse, Major, being stabled each night in the stable which was part of the outbuildings.   It was tempting to eat too many fruits all at the one time from this garden – the result, inevitably, was a sore stomach!

Inversnaid is a scattered community. Our nearest neighbours, down the road towards the school, were the Brodie family. John Brodie, a retired gamekeeper, Mrs. Brodie and daughters Diana and Hettie.   Next to the Brodies was what we called the tin house, with corrugated roof, in which stayed Arthur Roberts and son, Andrew, an excellent pianist who served in World War II.   Of Mrs. Roberts I have no recollection. Next, the primary school with attached schoolhouse occupied by the teacher, Mrs. Sarah Baird, husband James and two daughters.  James, with his trusty Vauxhall car, did the school run every morning collecting pupils from as far afield as Stronachlacher  along with Jean McDonald from Corriearklet Farm.  The pupils from Stronachlacher were probably the Gillies family – Neil, Robbie and Trena from the Crossroads (the other half of that house was occupied by John McArthur, the Gaelic-speaking gamekeeper).

Beyond the schoolhouse a track led to the Manse occupied by the Braden family.   John, who was the preacher in the local church and who left to go firstly to Edinburgh and then to Dunoon. That family was followed by the Thomsons who were still in residence at the end of the 1940’s. Communion was taken by the Rev. Fulton from the Parish of Buchanan Church at Drymen.   My mother used to provide the accompaniment for the hymn-singing on the small harmonium in the church.

Beyond the church, on the hill down to Loch Lomond, stood Inversnaid Lodge occupied by Mr. and Mrs. Maddocks. I do recall our family being invited to lunch one day at the Lodge where home-made ice-cream was provided.   My small sister, aged four at the time, promptly turned up her nose after the first spoonful and refused to take any more!

During the war Inversnaid Hotel was closed to visitors which, as events unfolded, was probably just as well.   It was looked after by Arthur Roberts, although owned at the time by the Blair family. I can recall the two Bedford buses, based at the hotel, being driven away as they were no longer being used to transport tourists on the ‘Trossachs’ tour which included the journey between Inversnaid on Loch Lomond and Stronachlacher on Loch Katrine.

Last, but not least, was the Garrison Farm occupied by George and Annabel Buchan and family of Helen, George jnr, Marion, Annabel jnr and Alex.   What always intrigued me, as a small boy, was the hand-powered butter churn situated in the scullery just off the kitchen.

As a primary one pupil it was a big adventure for me to be starting school.   Fortunately it was an enjoyable walk down the road with the McDougalls.   In later years the journey was by bicycle. The single schoolroom had two rows of double-seater wooden desks, the smaller desks at the front facing the fireplace, the larger desks at the back.   In 1940 there were probably about 14 pupils in the school – by the time my sister was eleven the roll was only three.   Teaching followed a set pattern – each class reading in turn standing beside the teacher’s table, then doing ‘sums’ where, if a new section of work was being shown, eg. short or long division, an example was shown on the blackboard and, if you did not understand it first time, then it was hard going.

Because of the distances involved most pupils had packed lunches with them – so it was a case of ‘swapping’ – one of your sugar sandwiches for one of my jam ones and so on.   In the afternoon it was writing, for example M is for Malta, written by the teacher in each jotter and copied neatly by the pupils underneath on the lines on the page.   Thereafter it was Grammar – usually for the older pupils it was Analysis with vague memories of such as Principal Noun or Adjectival Clause and so on. If we managed to sort that out it was on to handwork – I don’t know how many dish cloths I turned out in Primary 7!   Each pupil jealousy guarded their bottle of water and cloths which were used for cleaning the slates which were neatly stored in the slot at the front of the desk.   When it came to writing in ink it was a case of whose pen nib scratched first!

During wartime the great fear was that some attempt would be made either to breach the massive Loch Arklet Dam or, more ominously, that an attempt would be made to poison Loch Arklet and thus affect the entire Glasgow Water Supply.   To try to avert any attack by air on the Loch Arklet Dam a whole series of trees in large earth filled tubs were placed along the length of the dam as an attempt at camouflage.   Should the dam be breached two large wooden boxes were constructed and were partly hidden in the plantation of trees along the Loch side, the idea being that, should a breach occur, the boxes would then be floated to the dam, filled with earth and sunk in the breach. Fortunately this practicality never arose.

What did happen was potentially more serious.   It was the habit during early spring to burn the large areas of dead bracken on the hillsides to allow the young grass to grow for the sheep to feed upon. This continued, even during wartime. Unfortunately one local farmer, George Buchan, chose the evening of Thursday, March 13th, 1941, to set alight the dead bracken on the hillside across the burn from the school house.   That was the evening of the first devastating German air attack on Clydebank and its surrounding area.

The next morning, 14th March, two small children, who had slept soundly through the night in Loch Arklet House, awoke to find, exactly opposite their house on the hillside across the road, was a massive bomb crater.   It transpired later that this was the first of three bombs dropped by a German bomber as it crossed Scotland from the east coast pursued by a British night fighter.   It is possible that, on seeing the blazing hillside, the enemy pilot thought he was over the target and jettisoned part of his load.   The second bomb detonated on the hillside above the local church, and the third bomb scored a direct hit on Inversnaid Hotel on the eastern shore of Loch Lomond.   Fortunately the hotel was closed during the wartime so no one was injured.   Remarkably, however, this bomb came straight down the central staircase of the hotel exploding in the central hall area. Even more remarkable was the fact that the blast from the explosion blew out the windows of the bar area at the same time blowing an entire crate of beer bottles out into the roadway with not one bottle being broken  – much to the relief, it has to be said, of some of the locals!

All of this time the local Home Guard Unit was busy perfecting its skills.  Most of the Unit was made up of the workers in the employ of Glasgow Corporation.  One day a week the Unit met, usually at Stronachlachar, with my father in command as, I think, the captain, the only reason for that being that he was the Estate Manager!   Instruction was given in how to handle Mills bombs, or hand grenades, and in the use of Sten guns, or the .303 Browning rifle.   The firing practise took place in the fields at the foot of the brae leading into Stronachlachar where new houses were built in the late 1940’s or early 1950’s to house more workers.

Throughout the 1940’s petrol was severely rationed and coupons were made available only to essential workers.   Every fortnight my father had to travel the 40 miles from Arklet House to the Water Department offices in John Street, part of the City Chambers in Glasgow, to collect the wages for all the workers employed at Loch Arklet and at Stronachlachar – no such thing as Securicor in those days – although I seem to recall that he was always accompanied by one of the workers on this journey.   In winter time, should snow make the roads treacherous, this journey was undertaken using the lorry which was housed at Stronachlachar.

The road between Aberfoyle and Stronachlachar was narrow and twisting in many parts.   In the latter part of the war it was even more dangerous due to the presence of many large army lorries busily engaged in transporting all sorts of ammunition to and from the many ammunition dumps which were situated for several miles along the length of this road.  How there were not many more accidents on this road I shall never know – perhaps because of the lack of traffic is possibly one explanation.

Provisions for the various houses and farms along this road usually came from Aberfoyle, either via D.& J. McEwan’s lorry which had a tarpaulin draped over a centre pole along the back to shelter the message boxes from the elements, or via the Co-operative van which was fitted out like a travelling shop.   Post van delivered not only letters and parcels on a daily basis, but also the newspapers.   If Sunday newspapers were desired they normally came via the ferry across Loch Lomond to Inversnaid where they would be collected by whosoever was on hand and then distributed to the various households.

The one exception to the delivery of provisions was the supply of milk.   There certainly was a dairy at Stronachlachar but, for those who did not buy, or have a source of milk close at hand, then one of the workers from Loch Arklet would cycle to Corriearklet Farm, collect cans of milk and cycle back with them.   It was then up to me, when I graduated to cycling to school, to take the can of milk for the manse and leave it inside the main door of the school from where it would be collected and then returned empty to me for the next day’s supply of milk .  All went swimmingly until one particularly icy morning when the bike and I parted company with the milk pouring out of the can in all directions.

Signs that the Second World War was reaching a decisive stage were becoming more obvious – even to the people who were some distance removed from the areas of action.   Before D-day, June 1944, units of the U.S. Army would use the stretch of road between Loch Lomond and Loch Katrine as practise stretches for route marches.   This small boy found himself more than once the recipient of handfuls of chewing gum as the troops marched past his house.   One more alarming episode involved the local Home Guard Unit when word came through one weekend that paratroopers had landed near the water tunnels at Loch Katrine.   After the initial flurry of action it transpired that these were units of the Free French Army exercising for D-day, but without bothering to inform anyone of this fact.   (I still have the lapel badge with the Cross of Lorraine and initials F.A.F.L [Forces Armèee pour France Libre] emblazoned on it which was presented to my father on this occasion.  One other event, which indicated that the war was indeed at this crucial stage, was the decision to allow car owners to remove the cover from one headlamp in order to allow better vision – or to see the potholes even more clearly!   Eventually the second cover, each cover with four slits to allow some light through, was removed completely to a collective sigh of relief.

School work continued.  One of the highlights of the year was the Christmas treat for the pupils.   The day was marked by the making of a fire outside on the road and boiling up a large iron pot which contained the Christmas pudding (in wet weather the pot was boiled up in the teacher’s house).   At 6 p.m. the pupils assembled in the school for their meal followed by games, then at 9 p.m. on came the dances for the adults – music provided by violinists,  Callum Gillies and Donald Ferguson with Andrew Roberts or Garry Ferguson on the piano.

At long last came V.E. Day, 8th May, 1945.   Those households who had flags displayed them.   I fixed a small flag to the front of my bicycle and proudly rode round the paths and tracks near our house.   The effect on one worker was instantaneous; seeing the flag on my bicycle he enquired in his rich Irish brogue ‘is that the war over?’ On being informed that was the case he promptly declared unilaterally that he was having a three day holiday and marched off depositing his scythe by the roadside.

So events drew to a close.   Senior pupils went to Secondary School in Stirling, or to Balfron High, or to McLaren High, Callander, but that is another story.

POST WAR in INVERSNAID

By Primary 7 I had graduated to the high desks at the back of the classroom with my two other classmates and felt rather superior to the likes of my younger sister sitting in one of the smaller desks at the front of the classroom.   Every month or so large boxes filled with books would appear at the back of the classroom and, occasionally, the door would open and some adult would enter, look through the books, select a few, and then quickly disappear.   This was part of the community library service provided by Stirling County Council.   One other much more unwelcome event, which was not looked forward to, was the visit of the school dentist.   The entire school would be sent outside to the playground  – the large area of grass in front of the school – with each pupil being summoned in turn ‘to have their teeth polished’.   Seeing the dentist setting up his foot-pedal driven drill before we exited the classroom soon disabused us of that fairy tale!

Those were the days of D.B.S.T. (Double British Summer Time) and, although we youngsters revelled in playing out late in the evening it was, at the same time, extremely difficult to get to sleep in the evening and even more difficult to get up in time for school in the morning.   Still, the last year at Primary School was treated with gay abandon whether digging for peanuts in the old graveyard behind the school, or simply getting our feet wet trying to cross the burn.   Then came the dreaded examinations at the end of the school year – the Intelligence Test, followed by the Control Examination, then by the Qualifying Exam.   I can still see the teacher’s face after we had undergone an oral test and she checked my paper to discover that the word ‘cauliflower’ did not occur in my vocabulary, but that ‘collieflower’certainly did!   Then prizegiving when all three of us in Primary 7 were announced as equal first!

Normally pupils moving on to Secondary School went to McLaren High School in Callander.   Because the road round Loch Katrine had not been completed budding pupils were taken by early morning boat on a Monday from Stronachlachar to a point on the eastern shore of Loch Katrine where the existing road stopped.   There they joined a bus for Callander where they stayed in a hostel until returning home on Friday evening.   

The exception to this arrangement was myself.   It had been the custom during the previous summer or two for two groups of senior pupils from Allan Glens and Albert Secondary Schools to spend some time learning the rudiments of cutting bracken, using a scythe, on the steep hillside around Loch Arklet and Loch Katrine.   The boys from Allan Glens School were billeted in the bothy behind our house and, lo and behold, I was pointed in the direction of Glasgow to attend secondary school there, staying with my maiden aunts in the Croftfoot district of the city.

By this time the Home and Forces programmes broadcast by the B.B.C. had given way to the Home and Light programmes.   Reception in these mountainous areas depended on the situation of the wireless receiver – our trusty old Murphy wireless only let us down when my father forgot to take the wet battery (what lasted only a few days) to Stronachlachar to be charged up.   The larger dry battery, on which the receiver also relied, lasted several weeks longer.   Provided these batteries were in place when I was home from secondary school for the weekend to receive the football results, followed by the McFlannels and then Henry Hall’s guest night on a Saturday, then peace reigned in the McDiarmid household.

On occasion, getting home at weekends from secondary school could be quite an adventure.   Every fortnight my father would collect the wages for the staff at Stronachlachar and at Inversnaid from the offices at John Street in Glasgow.   Then it was a simple task of walking down from school in Montrose Street to meet him at the Water Department offices.   Sometimes, on alternate Friday afternoons, it was a case of waiting after school in Cathedral Street, like a forlorn waif, waiting for a lift from the Corporation lorry which had been in Glasgow to pick up stores and being taken home by that method.  Were neither of these modes of transport available it was a case then of walking to the bus station in Killermont Street and boarding a bus for Aberfoyle to be met there, or by taking the 4.15 pm bus to Oban which, in those days, travelled the entire length of Loch Lomondside to eventually reach its destination.   Then it was a case of getting off the bus at the jetty opposite Inversnaid Hotel and hoping that John McKinnon, the ferryman, had been briefed about my expected arrival on the opposite shore of the Loch.   From the Hotel it was a good one and a half miles hump up the steeply winding road to Arklet House.

If the winter of 1940-41 was cold and snowy then that of 1946-1947 equalled it in ferocity.   Deep snow and bitterly cold days posed problems for the inhabitants of the scattered community.   Efforts were made to clear the road between Loch Arklet and Stronachlachar by using a wooden snow plough attached to the Corporation lorry.  Unfortunately, as the snowplough was dragged behind the lorry, it meant that men had to clear a path in front of the lorry to allow it, and the snowplough, to progress further.   Staff and workers went unpaid for weeks as the furthest the lorry got, on its way into Glasgow to collect the wages, was to Loch Dhu, and that after four hours of digging.   Loch Arklet was frozen solid for weeks on end but, when the ice gradually began to break up, massive sheets of  ice toppled over the dam’s overspill and created a huge stationary ‘ice floe’ at the foot of the overspill – a unique sight.

By contrast, the summer of 1948 was hot and, for weeks on end, without a drop of rain.   The water supply for the houses at Loch Arklet came from a reservoir tank built into the hillside to collect water from a burn.   When that burn ran dry it was a case of trying to coax pools of water further up the hillside into the tank.   Somewhat ironic, with a loch full of water for Glasgow’s use only, a few yards away!

Inversnaid Hotel was now open for business after the war.   My recollection is that it was sold by the Blair family to a family from Edinburgh – the Schofields, who then sold it on to the Neish family – Mr. Neish, a pilot in the First World War, Mrs. Neish, a formidable lady and excellent card player and their red-haired daughter, Lucy, who soon attracted the attention of one young gentleman from the local area.

Although steamer services had continued for some time after the war, mainly via the paddlers, Prince Edward and Princess Mary, the breakwater at the side of the pier where the ferry boat lay, was in a poor state and an effort was made to improve the breakwater by building it up and strengthening it.

To this end a disused quarry, just above the entrance gate to the lodge, was opened up and rock blasted to use for the breakwater.   A large digger crane was brought by road from Glasgow to use in this construction.   The result was the breakwater as it now appears today.

The hotel also boasted the only petrol pump for the area, the next nearest being fourteen miles away at Aberfoyle.   This served to supply the needs of the local populace, although serving the petrol was a back-breaking business.   The pump was hand-driven with sixteen strokes up and down to fill the glass bowel at the top with one gallon, which then drained slowly into the car’s tank.   All went well until one day when an American, driving a large Buick, arrived at the hotel and asked for the car to be ‘filled up’ with 37 gallons of petrol.   As a later Depute Director of Education for Strathclyde, then serving as a student porter at Inversnaid relates ‘my inability to pump 37 gallons into this car, and thus depriving the hotel of a sizeable profit, having been witnessed by daughter, Lucy, I was immediately dismissed from service the next day.   

By this time cooking by Calor Gas had appeared in our household making life so much easier for my mother. Holidays from secondary school were especially looked forward to, especially in summer when sheep clippings were a source of pleasure, particularly when assisting with filling large bags of wool with the fleeces from the sheep.   It was a case of into the huge bag, first with the wool piled on top, and your job was to tramp it down firmly into the bottom of the bag.  Unfortunately, with the wool, came certain undesirables – especially ticks, which had the nasty habit of attaching themselves to all parts of the body and did prove extremely difficult to remove without leaving the head firmly embedded in the skin.

One particular episode remains in my mind.   Along with Alex Buchan the two of us had been exploring the bed of the burn which runs past the school house.   On spotting a large black stone we carefully unearthed it to discover a large cannonball, no doubt fired from the Garrison Farm up on the hill – but at whom?   The last time I recall seeing this cannonball was on the occasion of the sports held at Stronachlacher on the day of the Queen’s Coronation in 1953 when it served as the shot in putting the shot!

So it was goodbye Inversnaid to a house much nearer to the Estate Office where my father held court, and the beginning of another chapter in my life.

Duncan McDiarmid