Reminiscences on war-time life from Portsmouth to the Scottish Borders

How did a young boy from Portsmouth end up spending two years at a stately home called Springwood near Kelso in the Scottish Borders ? Let us begin at the beginning.
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My mother and father hailed from Leith, Edinburgh. Dad was an expertt plate-layer and built metal ships. Marriedd before the Great War and began to build a family but after the Armistice the Admiralty recruited ship-builders to construct a new fleet and my parents became "economic migrants" and moved to Portsmouth to begin a new life having purchased a house near the Royal Dock Yard. I was born in1934 the ninth of the family shortly before my father died.

In 1940-41 Portsmouth endured some heavy bombing raids during which Mum and the five smallest children (the other four were already serving) in an Anderson Shelter at the bottom of the Garden. One morning at dawn after a particularly heavy raid we surfaced from the shelter to discover that our house was a pile of rubble no more than six feet high.

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Without more ado my mother swept us up and after contacting her cousins in Leith, entrained for Scotland. We moved into a flat in Leith and despite lack of clothing, furniture and utensils we "survived". My mother ,however, lived in fear of the Blitz descending on Auld Reekie which turned out to be groundless , applied to the Corporation to have us evacuated. Given our history my brother and I were accepted and soon found our way onto a bus bound for Kelso for places in Springwood Park. We arrived in the main square and all three set off on foot for the Springwood where we entered the main gate and followed the drive to the house which is where my story begins.

The house was a majestic pile on four floors including a basement and attic.with many windows the whole facade covered in ivy. Not ivy on brick but ivy on ivy on ivy full of birdlife, bats and insects.

The entrance hall was a place of wonder being festooned with all sorts of weaponry fans and swathes of halberds broad swords assegais and cutlasses ,daggers dirks shields and targs.on the tiled floor were a number of elephants feet leather and brass bound acting as foot stools. For a seven year old a place of wonder.

inside was the main hallwith rooms off with kitchen and dining rooms and a wide stair case with an ornate bronze banister leading to bedrooms and bathrooms for staff. Anothere set of steps led to two large dormitories for girls and boys...this was to be my home for two years. All ornate paintings, drapes and tapestries had been removed to storage. To the rear was a small Lazeret for the odd case of measles or mumps. The basement was substantial and originally designed to house stabling but now given over to storage and a suite for Matron.

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The staff comprised a handful of young women and two older men later to be joined by two Malaysian ladies who were refugees from Singapore. The "Alumni" were about thirty in number all under ten and an even mix between boys and girls. Schooling was inaccordance with Scottish rules and equally strict. Classes were often held outside on the large gravel apron using slate boards and slate pencils. On Sundays we walked to church in Kelso in the morning and again for Sunday School in the afternoon.

During our free time we were allowed to roam freely over the substantial grounds beautifully kept by a group of German PoW's who were forever hoeing, hedging, mowing trimming and pruning. Much preferable to taking part in the awful war raging elsewhere. We were allowed also to explore the woods , ruined kiln and the Mauseleum reached down a beautifully kept ride lined with high yew hedgies sprinkled with red berets. The grave site with its ornate wrought iron and bronze door was out of bounds and a place of fear and respect for us. From the open spaces round the house it was possible to view the Teviot with occasional flashes of silver as a salmon forged upstream to its spawning grounds.

The home farm was run by Miss Gillane (Gullane?) always to be seen with her sheepdog and bearing her ever-present crook. She was tall, blue-eyed ruddy-cheeked and topped witha great shock of blonde curls. She also akted as "Akela" and ran the Cubs and Brownies. She was full of fun and showed us how to fashion bows and arrows and swords and taught us to recognise edible berries and fungi. She ran a herd of 80ish blackfaced sheep one or two now and again being added to our meagre larder. I idolised her.

Occasionally the staff led us on a foraging expedition in spring for fresh nettles gathered by the basket full and in autumn bramble berries and mushrooms. Any minor injuries such as nettle-rash, bee or wasp stings graized knees or sniffles were sent down to Matron, a jolly and kind lady, who believed in "Time will heal" and would administer a small glass of black currant cordial or in extremis a large spoonful of Malt Extract which caused the jaws to stick shut for a half-an-hour or so.

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Suddenly without warning we awoke to find a Canadian Military Unit camped among the open woodland at the front of the house. They all were tall, bronzed and friendly and would allow us to sit in the jeeps and trucks they had and occasionally a large piece of white bread covered in Maple Syrup or jam was gratefully received......After a while they were gone as suddely as they had appeared no doubt in the final rehearsals for the great adventure of D-day. Soon after it was judged safe for us to return home leaving behind wonderful memories and friends.....

Over forty five years later when I finally retired from the army I decided out of curiosity to make a pilgrimage to Springwood so I set off to kelso and having parked in the main square I made my way on foot crossing the bridge nd following the wall to the main entrance. I noted that the distance appeared a great deal shorter now !and as I turned in to the grounds I was shocked and surprised to find that the grand house was no more. A passing tractor driver had little memory of it and no recollection of Miss Gillane either. I went to where the house had once stood and was amazed to find no trace whatsoever.

I retraced my steps to Kelso and on the way I mused that it was as if the history of this grand house, with its comings and goings and to-ings and fro-ings, was gone as if written on the surface of the Tweed and Teviot and dissolved on the eddies, currents,whirls and wavelets to be lost forever.

Springwood was my "Tara"and had "Gone with the Wind !"

And so it had.