I was called up during the Second World War. I knew that I did not want to join the ATS and have to salute people and call them Ma’am etc and do square bashing. Likewise the WRNS and the WAAFS, so what was left?
I felt that I would prefer to be in the open air and feel free. I did not fancy farm work. Luckily I was in the tramcar one day going up the Bridges in Edinburgh and I saw a girl in Timber Corps uniform and right away I thought: “That’s it”! It certainly was the right decision as far as I was concerned because I loved it, every moment. The fresh air, the countryside, the company. So when I was asked, “What do you want to join?” I said without hesitation “The Timber Corps”, and luckily there was no argument.
A new training camp had just been set up at Park House at Drumoak near Banchory and I reported there with the first batch of trainees on 23rd March 1943. What a beautiful place. What a lovely house overlooking the Dee. There were wooden huts with bunk beds (about 20 in each of three huts) and another hut for ablutions. Some trainers lived in the house and one to each hut to supervise. We went over to the house for our meals and there was a large room on the ground floor which was used as a Recreation Hall. The fireplace was boarded up so it would not be damaged. There was no furniture at all in it except for a piano as the place had just been opened.
We had to report there the first morning after arriving. I remember us all sitting on the floor while Mrs Ironside and Mrs Duncan spoke to us. Then they wanted us to sing a hymn and say a prayer every morning and do keep fit before the day’s routine commenced ie learning how to be a Lumber Jill.
They asked if anyone played the piano. Everything went very quiet for a while and when I saw no-one volunteering I thought I should. I knew I would be wanting to play the piano sometime. The end result was that I had to play for hymns every morning before keep fit and after I had completed my training I was asked if I would stay on at Park House as pianist. I was assured that I would have the same privileges as the trainees and would live in the house.
I liked the place so much that I agreed and was there until the 29th July 1943 when I asked for a transfer as I had gone home for the weekend when all the trainees left for home, but when I returned I was told I should not have gone.
I requested a transfer and was sent to Beachans Camp at Dunphail with three other girls who had just finished their six-week training course – Jenny, Chrissie and Betty Wilkie, who was a great singer. I looked forward to working in the woods again. When we arrived at the Beachans they took one look and said there was no way they were staying there. I said: “Well, I’m staying”.
The camp was about nine miles from Forres, situated right beside a viaduct, two wooden huts and a wooden dining hut, a wooden shed for ablutions and dry lavatories. They changed their minds when I said I was staying and settled in.
I think we all quite enjoyed being there actually between the dancing in Forres and in the village hall at Edinkillie a mile away. I think back on it and remember seeing the snow through the floorboards of the hut. Our boots were soaked through with standing in the snow all day and were still soaked in the morning when we had to put them on again. We asked for wellingtons and were told that there were none, they had been given to the Italian Prisoners of War.
I remember that was the camp I was at when the farmer who provided us with milk was fined for watering it down. One day when we had finished our meal after a hard day’s work one of our mates sat laughing and when we asked what the joke was she said that she had dropped the mince in the muck but of course she hadn’t had any.
I remember being asked to a dance at Kinloss aerodrome by a boyfriend in the RAF. He promised me I would get a lift home in a truck but when the time came there was no truck going my way and we walked back to my camp a mere 16 miles, then he walked a mile back to Edinkillie to get a train.
One day a notice came round asking if anyone wanted to go to Park to train as a lorry driver or tractor driver. I went on the tractor course just so I could go back to Park. It was a two-month course. I returned to Park on 17th March 1944 ‘till 17th May 1944 then I went back to Beachan’s Camp to await a posting as a tractor driver.
There was no piano at Beachans when I went there first, but one day we were told one was coming. You should have seen it. There were at least ten keys broken. It had to be played in octaves all the time so that perhaps with luck one of the notes would sound, however we were all pleased to get it and had many a good singsong round it in the dining hall. That is where I heard Betty Wilkie sing. She was good.
One evening out of the blue a truck arrived with some soldiers on it. We had never seen them before. They offered to run us to Forres, so off we went. They took us to a local café in the Square and bought tumblers of tea for everyone (cups were scarce). There was a 5/- deposit on the tumblers which was returnable. I married one of these soldiers and when we were back at Forres lately we tried to find the café but it was gone and it is not easy to pick out the exact shop. Even the locals couldn’t help.
There was a big house in Forres which catered for the Forces and we could go there and get a lovely cup of tea and biscuits etc. It was usually crowded with WAAFS and ATS. There was a grand piano in another room which I was lucky enough to be allowed to play. I remember one of the WAAFS asked me to play the Warsaw Concerto. I said I didn’t have the music, but she produced it. Fortunately I was familiar with it.
On 16th June 1944 I was posted to Muckerach Lodge at Dulnain Bridge as a tractor driver. I enjoyed it there too sharing a room with Ina Brash whom I met at the reunion in Perth in 1992. I am pleased to say that we are keeping in touch. We used to go to the dances at the Canadian Camps at Carrbridge and Nethybridge and to the pictures and dancing at Grantown on Spey.
I got my discharge on 21st June 1945 with back trouble caused by lifting heavy logs. I loved working in the woods. I’m glad I joined the Timber Corps. I loved every minute of it. It was great. I often return to Banchory on holiday. I go back to the woods we felled. The trees are fully-grown again as if we had never been there. It is a pity we never got a gratuity. So few people have heard of us that we have never felt we were appreciated.
Scots at War 1998