Memories still haunt nearly 70 years on

BISHOPBRIGGS during World War II was a very different place, finds Donald McDonald.

Despite Britain having been at war for over a year, April 1941 in Bishopbriggs was quite unremarkable.

The Herald reported that the first bumble bee had been spotted in Bishopbriggs and Blondie Brings Up Baby was showing at the Kenmure Cinema.

A local councillor was also looking for more stirrup pumps to be given to local schools to extinguish any incendiary bombs that might be dropped from enemy planes.

Bishopbriggs had already suffered during the Clydebank Blitz the previous month, but nowhere near as badly.

But everyone was still on their guard, not knowing that the imminent invasion of Russia by the Germans would draw away the Luftwaffe and the nightly threat of Junkers bombers heading for Glasgow and its important wartime factories.

Keeping watch over Bishopbriggs was a young Ellen Hendry (pictured with Donald McDonald).

She worked for a company of caterers and was approaching her 18th birthday, but she was still responsible for the safety of the houses from the Colston traffic lights to the bridge on Kirkintilloch Road, beside Kenmure Parish Church.

Here the Edinburgh to Glasgow railway ran under the road, and the tunnel helped to form one of the many shelters available for local civilians.

Whenever the air-raid sirens sounded it was Ellen's job to make sure everyone headed for shelter beside the railway.

Ellen still remembers Mr Burns, the senior ARP warden, shouting at people to make their way to the shelters as quickly as possible.

Early on the evening of Tuesday April 7, 1941 – well before Luftwaffe planes had taken off from their airfields in occupied Europe – Ellen was making arrangements to meet James Walters at the Kenmure Cinema.

He lived across the road from what is now Bishopbriggs Library, but in 1941 was the Bishopbriggs Higher Grade School . . . and at night a first aid post where any air-raid casualties would be taken.

The name of the film she was hoping to see with James has long been forgotten, but not the events that stopped her meeting him at the cinema the next Saturday.

As the air-raid sirens howled their ominous warning Ellen helped youngsters and elderly folk get down to the shelter.

Once everyone was safe inside she took up her post at the top of the stairs leading down to the shelter. From here she had to keep an eye out for any incendiary bombs that might start fires after landing unnoticed on rooftops.

Suddenly she saw a flare dropping down from the dark sky. It was quickly followed by an explosion from the direction of Bishopbriggs Cross.

When the all-clear eventually sounded, Ellen, along with the rest of the people in the shelter, headed home to bed.

It was not until the following morning that news reached her of the terrible events that had befallen Bishopbriggs.

Bishopbriggs School had received a direct hit – killing five people at the first aid post.

The building damaged was one of three that made up the school at that time – it was behind the building we know today where the car park is situated.

Ambulance drivers Catherine Flockhart and Jessie Parker were injured when the bomb hit and died the next day in Lennox Castle Hospital, along with fellow first aider Janet Primrose.

Alexander Bauld and James McIlwain, whose homes were only yards from the school, were also killed.

However, one member of the first aid post had a narrow escape – Harry S. Fox returned from checking that his wife was safe to discover the bomb-damaged school building.

But for Ellen worse news was to follow.

Just across the road from the school on South Crosshill Road, several houses were hit, including that of James Walters.

James, the boy she had planned to meet that Saturday evening at the pictures, was killed along with his mother Rose at 15 South Crosshill Road. He was only 23-years-old.

The next day Ellen tried to see the damaged school building, but a cordon had been thrown up around it.

She was able to see the damage to the clock tower and the now-frozen hands stopped at one minute to midnight, the time the bomb had landed.

Even now, nearly 70 years later, Ellen still asks: "Why wee Bishopbriggs, we were just a wee dot on the map?"