The following is a personal account of the Clydebank Blitz, very kindly provided by Margaret Barton, published with the permission of her son, John Barton.

The Clydebank Blitz, Thursday & Friday 13th & 14th March 1941

It was a beautiful moonlight night that Thursday evening, so clear & able to see for miles, what a change from stumbling about in the blackout, when there was no moon to light up the sky. We know of course that it was likely to bring the German planes over, but it happened so often we got to the stage we took it all in our stride and carried on.

As usual on a Thursday I went to Elgin St. School to my First Aif Class, because by now I had joined the A.R.P. Most of the class were there & while we waited for our duty doctor to arrive that evening, some of us played table tennis, others cards or darts, our usual routine. Eventually Doctor Garret arrived (he was Medical Officer of Health for Clydebank), we all went into the classroom. It would be about 8:15 and the Doctor said he would only lecture us for an hour that evening as he was out on his feet owing to having been out at a confinement all night.

Just as our lecture was nearly over, sirens sounds at 9 o'clock. Well we all had to go to our posts, men to their ambulances, women to their posts, this was our usual routine when warnings sounded. I decided seeing it was quiet to risk runing home as we lived on about five minutes walk from the school. I wanted to make sure my mum and my twin brother were preparing to go to the shelters. Our tenement close in North Bank St. had been shored up and there were baffle walls & sandbags outside the entrance. When I saw they were preparing to go downstairs I said cheerio and set off to the school again.

On the way I met my Dad, who was in the Police War Reserve and he told me to hurry on and take care. I started to turn and was just near the entrance to the post, then the first incendiary bombs came down lighting up the streets even more in the moonlight.

By this time the sound of the planes was very frightening. and then the first bomb whistled down. Shop & house windows all exploded out onto the streets. I could not believe this was really happening. ACK ACK guns were going off and searchlights were flashing over the sky.

When I got into my post it was chaos, as none of us could believe it actually was happening, the time was 9:15. Our first casualty that night was an elderly gentleman who had been out walking his dog. He was walking past the shops as windows shattered and his neck & back was embedded in glass.

As we watched, I remember thinking we have had Mock Air Raid practices to teach us how to cope, but now this is for real.

Then all Hell broke loose...

Casualties were being brought in and the reports from our Ambulance men & dispatch riders was not good. The noise of the planes coming in, shutting off their engines then seconds later the whistling of the bombs was terrifying. There was a land mine fell in Napier St. just alongside our School, the whole side of our post blew in. By this time we were all trying our best to attend to casualties it was now 10:30, we had no water or electricity as mains had all been damaged. We worked with storm lamps to try to see their injuries.

I can remember every time we heard the whistle of the bombs, five of us women were in the drill hall by that time, attending to stretcher patients and we ran to the big tennis table & stuck our heads under for protection, it was ludicrous.

Doctor Garret came over to me and said, "Margaret, as you are one of our youngest volunteer workers, take this baby & go sit under that tennis table". The baby would only be about 10 minutes old, someone gave me a grey blanket that we used for the stretchers, and I wrapped that little baby in it, then sat huddled under that table terrified but still trying to protect her.

By this time the drill hall was like a battlefield, packed with people, some screaming in pain, some dead, it was sheer Hell, but this was early yet we did not realise the situation was going to get worse and carry on until 6:15 the next morning.

At about 2:30am I was still sitting under that table, cramped and sore when one of our women first aid workers crawled over to me and said the Salvation Army had arrived & were trying their best to give us tea. She took the baby from me and sat under the table, and I crawled along that drill hall looking at the dead & the wounded.

I managed to get a mug of tea which was like nectar to me. Back I went in to the school to work the best I could along with my colleagues, it was absolutely pitiful, we had so little water that we actually had only small basins of water to work with. One of our drivers told us that he had been told 3 of the other First Aid posts had direct hits, and we were the only one in our area active. Dead bodies by this time were being taken into classrooms and we were all trying our best to attend to the injured as quickly as possible & then they would be transferred by ambulances to hospitals.

During a slight lull I remember thinking how is my friend doing with that little baby in all this turmoil, so I cralwed back along the drill hall to the table & to my horror discovered that my friend had been wounded in the leg by shrapnel (she lost her leg because of that) but had saved the baby. My thoughts then were, "that could have been me as I had sat in that same spot for over 4 hours".

All this time the planes were still coming in & the whistling of the bombs was never ending. None of us by this time could think or say we were afraid as I think we were all too numb with what we were seeing and epxeriencing. My thoughts kept saying to myself, "how are my folks, my Mum and Dad, my brother, are they alive or dead?" We all knew that outside our Post, Clydebank was going to be in ruins.

Our post was also close to the Rothesat docks & I can remember the noise of the Ack Ack guns from the boats there, One ships' cargo was rubber & she was on fire which caused thick black smoke over us & many was the time I think that was the reason we did not get a direct hit, it protected us in a pitiful way.

I could go on & on, with the horrors we witnessed & endured, but it would make no difference to my story, it just seemed to never end. When the all clear went that Friday morning at 6:15am, we could not believe they were gone & we were still alive, then that naggning feeling, were my folks and friends the same, Alive?

We came out of that post, tired & dirty to see our town. I will never forget it. None of us could realise where we were as buildings & landmarks we had known all our lives were no longer there, only devastation, rubble, smoke & fires everywhere.

Before I went back into the post, I made up my mind, I must try & find out if my family were alright. As though it were yesterday I can remember running through that holocaust to where my home had been & meeting my mum & brother who were on their way to find out about me. We cried hysterically in each others arms, then a hundred questions : "were they alright? was Dad alright? our friends & neighbours?"

Tired & weary we stood there looking at the devastation & thinking what happens now, where do we go from here? Mum had been told that Dad was OK se we were all very lucky, considering that we had all been in different areas. Knowing that we were all safe, I went back to my Post which was a wreck by now. Doctors, Nurses, Ambulance men & women, A.R.P. workers & the Clergy worked side by side. I can remember lorries coming in to the side of our post & we spent two hours at least carrying the dead bodies. It was pitiful to see the bodies being tipped onto the lorries, one thing will always stick in my mind, young & old all looked alike as everyone seemed to be whitehaired & covered in dust.

By this time soup kitchens had been put up at the Town Hall & chruches that were left standing. We were so grateful to these kind people who came to help us in our plight & yet endangering their own lives as there was unexploded bombs & fires still burning all around.

The Military had arrived by this time & there were soldiers standing in the streets with fixed bayonets to stop the looting. It was hard to believe that some people could stoop so low. I can remember that morning a solitary German plane coming over, possibly a reconnaissance taking pictures of destruction & leaving a vapour trail shaped like the Swastika over our town. What did it mean we who saw it asked each other, was it a sign they were coming back or just trying to boast of their victory.

Looking around we thought "no, it is impossible, there is nothing left for them to destroy", but we were wrong, back they came, same time Friday night & it went on for another nine hours. If we were in a plight before, it was a hundred times worse now, no water to drink, nothing to eat & oh so very, very tired. There were vans coming to pick up the homeless and evacuate them to safe areas. All you could see were folks with tied bundles of clothes or some precious items they had managed to save.

My Dad, Mum, brother & I walked to the Renfrew Ferry to get over to Paisley, as we intended going to my Grandmothers Farm in Lochwinnoch, where my brother & I had been born. During our journey it was unbelievable what we saw, there were people coming over to gawp and stare at us & to see the ruins of once a fine town, how can anyone be as thoughtless to want to see all this after what we all in Clydebank had gone through. Anyhow, eventually we got down to the farm & oh what a welcome we got - tears, hugs, kisses, the lot. My grandmother had a huge boilerhouse for the milking utensils & she filled those boilders up with water to bild, so we could all have baths. After that a wonderful feed in her cosy kitchen, it was bliss, then all of us off to bed. We slept a full round of the clock until Sunday afternoon.

Recalling these horrendous nights I still think that the German pilots made a very big error in their attack. You see, on such a clear moonlight night they mistook the boulevard for the canal & the canal for the Clyde where all out shipbuilding yards stood. With concentrating on that area, Singers timber yard was ablaze & all the houses up the hill in Kilbowie Road, that was nicknamed the "Holy City" owing to the way it was built. They were the ones who suffered most as I don't think there were many houses left standing & hundreds perished, although the centre of Clydebank was still in ruins after the second attack. I sincerely hope & pray never in my lifetime to witness & endure such sorrow & grief.

Margaret Barton (nee Gillies)
North Bank St.
Clydebank
March 1941

Why not discuss this fantastic recollection in our
Discussion Forums?

As I'm not suitably qualified to comment on actual experiences during the Blitz (I was only born in 1970!) I would love to hear any stories, anecdotes, or even vivid memories and experiences that anyone may have.