The Polish Soldier Paid With a £100 Note
The Valleyfield disaster brought a great sense of unity to the whole parish. On Sundays the many churches in the district had a spiritual revival. Unfortunately it was short-lived. The increased tempo of air raids, Sunday activities of the Observer Corps, air-raid women joining the armed services and weekend employment in fields, mines, factories and Rosyth Dockyard caused depleted congregations.
One day I was called to Rosyth Dockyard for an interview with the Senior Welfare Officer. The question of our big manse was raised. A billeting officer had called on me the previous week, asking for two or three rooms for evacuees. I explained I wasn't very fit, we had six children and it was impracticable to expect my wife to look after and feed several evacuees. But we were willing to assist in any other direction with senior serving personnel belonging to the services, or civilian technicians.
My offer was accepted. I had a clause inserted in our agreement that alcohol would not be consumed in the manse. On the whole the plan worked well. Only twice was a complaint lodged, once when a Rosyth technician arrived without luggage, very drunk, a bottle of whisky in each pocket.
As Welfare Officer I had to provide reports on the sixteen men boarded in the area. During the whole period of the war I submitted about sixty reports and only five were unfavourable. Troops of various units came into the district - Royal Ordnance Corps, Pioneer Corps, Royal Army Service Corps, an Anti-Aircraft Unit and a Polish Corps. Two unit commanders asked me to act as their Chaplain. I was happy to accept. I kept two evenings apart for interviews. The soldiers made good use of my time. They had many problems of a nature they didn't want to discuss with their officers. These concerned the withholding of passes, too much 'bull', family problems, pay deductions, bad food, poor accommodation, lack of entertainment and service conditions.
I had a code number for every man, wrote down every complaint, no matter how trivial and discussed them with the officers concerned. All the officers were sympathetic and, over a cup of tea in my study, most of the grievances were resolved. It's pleasing to record that my investigations set a pattern of understanding between officers and servicemen. Quite a number of soldiers could neither read nor write, so I provided the link between separated families by writing letters home for them.
I remember one wife writing to her husband saying: 'Get yon bloke to write again. He knows what to write. Just the things I want to know.'
Another wife wrote to her husband: 'You big cheat. You couldn't write before. How come you write so well now?'
The need for letter writing help grew as more servicemen passed through the evening canteen I had opened in the church hall for them and many of my congregation helped soldiers, sailors and airmen of many nationalities to put down on paper what came to be for so many fine young people their last fond thoughts to loved ones. This was a harrowing and sad event for the willing helpers but a comforting and somehow ennobling one for those helped who seemed, as a result, to become more resigned to the death or injury they fully expected to be their future.
For me and the others with front-line experience of the 1914-18 War, it was a devastating time for we knew of the unbelievable carnage they would soon face and the seeming futility of the individual sacrifices made to the loved ones left behind. My own faith was sorely tried and my heart was heavy for all concerned. So I started brief interdenominational services in the evenings after the canteen had finished. I was astonished at the favourable response from the servicemen and their fervour and faith in the goodness of God and in the ultimate victory of Christ over evil inspired me and all visitors who attended. I doubt if Sankey and Moody hymns and choruses were ever more meaningfully sung or so many tears of joy shed by so many tough soldiers who previously showed so few signs of faith.
One evening a Polish soldier came into the canteen. He had tea, cakes, twenty cigarettes and a 6d bar of chocolate - and tendered a £100 note! - None of the canteen helpers had ever seen one! - I was notified. I hadn't seen one before, but the visitor let me see nine others! Having large denomination notes and big sums of money were giveaway signs of a possible German spy. Posters, visiting Government cine-film vans and the radio told us to watch out for such signs. I telephoned the bank manager, explaining the size, wording, signature etc on the note and he confirmed that it was genuine. I gave the Pole his note back, asking him to look in the next time he was passing and pay his 2/9 bill. He called next evening to square up. He was the first of many fine Poles to visit our canteen who we all came to admire and respect in our little community.
We had a few rush periods outside of normal canteen evening hours. One forenoon a dispatch rider called to let me know a column of marching soldiers was about three miles from the village. They were to be picked up by transport vehicles outside our area. I sent word to as many people as possible to boil kettles and bring them to the canteen. My wife got out all the cups and saucers, bowls of sugar and jugs of milk. Within minutes hot water arrived and was poured into the tea urn. Sandwiches were hurriedly made, biscuits and cake produced and twenty volunteers were ready to serve the marching men.
An officer in a staff car arrived at our gate. A Norwegian Colonel, he could speak only a few words in English. He was surprised when he heard of our arrangements. He spoke to his men, who cheered. Then the tea brigade went into action. Over four hundred cups of tea disappeared, plus all the food within twenty minutes. Villagers brought out precious sweets, cigarettes and fruit and handed them around. The colonel and his men were overjoyed. We were proud to do our little bit for brave men who had scorned the dangers of the North Sea to help in the war.
Later that evening a man stopped his car in the village and spoke to me. He had heard about our welcome to the Norwegian soldiers. Then he asked me if we were out of pocket.
'It was an act of faith and generosity. As a minister, I find faith always pays,' I said. The man praised our good deed before handing me an envelope. It contained £4 - more than enough to square our outlays.
The man, I only knew him as a chemist in Dunfermline, then shook me by the hand before going away.
One afternoon a young New Zealand airman called at the manse. He told us his grandfather was once minister of Newmills.
'Your name must be Lundie,' I said. His father had told him about Newmills manse and an enormous stone-built underground tank under a bedroom window near the back door.
The airman explained his father and two uncles had been put to bed at eight p.m. and the bedroom door was locked. When all was quiet the boys tied a rope on the huge four-poster bed, opened the window and slid down to the ground. The boys would romp round with pals until nearly ten o'clock then shin back up the rope to bed.
One night the boys were nearly caught. They hid in the tank, up to their knees in water.
Young Pilot Officer Lundie was familiar with every corner of the manse. He loved going over every room relating stories his father had told him. He had lunch with us, then wrote a letter in my study to his parents in New Zealand about his visit.
The lad's uncle, Dr Lundie of Cupar, called on us a fortnight later to say his nephew had lost his life on an air mission over Germany. I wrote to his parents in New Zealand. Some weeks later we had a reply saying the last letter they had received from their son was a precious one - that written in my study.
A number of Land Army girls took up residence in hostels created to house them in the area. The girls did mainly the heavy manual work on various farms normally done by strong country lads who had all been called to military service. They needed good feeding to help them do the work and were allowed extra rations which went to the hostel owners.
One harvest morning I spoke to three girls. They were anything but cheerful. I asked what was wrong. Hesitatingly I was told they had a slice of bread and a kipper between two for breakfast that morning. One of the girls opened a small bag and showed me two meat paste and two jam sandwiches, plus a biscuit which was her lunch. The meal the night before had consisted of one sausage, potato and some turnip as the main course, then rice with raisins and tea to complete the meal. Hardly sufficient to keep them working well or to keep them fit.
That forenoon I telephoned a few farmers, who had Land Army girls and asked them to find out quietly about the meals. All confirmed what the girls had told me. A friend took me in his car to the authorities in charge of the hostels. They were furious.
That evening, two members of the committee called at the hostel in question at meal time. They just could not believe what they saw, a group of girls toying with a meal similar to the one of the previous evening. Swift action was taken and the matter put right. The food meant for them probably finished up on the Black Market.
This work, Going With God, is copywrited by Ronald R. Caseby, 1993. All rights reserved. Used here by express permission.