Residents take trip down memory lane with city’s wartime roadshow

Amy Aitken with a variety of wartime items at Oaklands Care Home
Amy Aitken with a variety of wartime items at Oaklands Care Home
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Times were tough and money was tight, but that did not stop the young women of wartime Edinburgh from looking their best.

Tales of how they would use Bisto gravy granules to tan their legs, and a match or soot to draw a stocking-like seam up the back, are among those to have been shared in the Capital on a trip down memory lane.

Children at South Bridge Primary don their gas masks in 1939

Children at South Bridge Primary don their gas masks in 1939

As part of the launch of the city council’s Museums Alive project, older people in Morningside’s Oaklands Care Home have had access to wartime collections from the city’s archives.

Museum staff brought in the likes of hair brushes, handbags, gloves and shoes, as well as ration books, to encourage older people to share stories of an era that may be vivid in their memories.

Resident Amy Aitken, 77, originally from Gorgie, said: “I remember women using Bisto on their legs, mixing it with water to achieve a tan. I suppose they had to do something, we all had such white legs back then and there was no such thing as fake tan.

“I never used to do it though, never fancied it at all.

“I think it was because I would see a lot of these women lying on the grass in Princes Street Gardens with American soldiers. I think that’s how a lot of them eventually got stockings as well.

“I used to think it was disgraceful, but I was only 15, just a young girl really and I had been brought up well.”

The project will now be rolled out across the city to give other older people greater access to a variety of museum collections. Its aim is to stimulate sharing of conversation, memories and new learning.

Culture and leisure convener, councillor Deidre Brock, said: “We are committed to making culture accessible to residents of all ages.

“Outreach officers are engaging with communities right across Edinburgh and introducing, or reintroducing, them to fascinating artefacts relating to our own unique heritage.”

An old tin of Brylcreem from the 1940s brought back many memories for Oaklands resident Richard Venner, 82.

He said: “I was in the RAF, based down in Norfolk, and I remember the Brylcreem Boys as they were known. I wasn’t one of them though – never used the stuff in my hair.”

A selection of ration books brought in to Oaklands also sparked many memories. They are now on display in the centre, along with a collection of wartime cookery books and fashion accessories.

Mrs Aitken, a retired telephonist who worked at the exchange on Rose Street, said: “I remember my grandma managing the family ration books. She lived out in Broxburn and I will always remember the time I was asked to collect a dozen eggs for her, I was about seven or eight, and I fell on the way back and smashed them all.

“I thought I was going to get in so much trouble, but she was such a kind woman and told me not to worry about it.”

The project is a joint venture between Edinburgh Museums and the council’s Older People’s Services.