The Toy Factory at the Manse
One day, about one o'clock, we were waiting for the news on the radio when a dreadful explosion shook our manse at Newmills, Fife and surrounding houses. We hurried outside and looked towards the Forth. All we saw was a huge column of water and smoke. We could smell cordite fumes. Each day at the same hour a barge of naval ammunition passed slowly down. This day it had blown up, probably the result of sabotage.
I was acquainted with a few bargees, so I hurried to a nearby village. There I found that a lad missing in the explosion was the son of people I knew.
The lad's father pressed the question, 'Why should it be my boy?' He had believed that his son was far from the tumult of war. 'To think it happened so near and so suddenly,' he said.
We suffered losses - bright young lads sacrificed in war. As new fronts were opened so too our units were moved around, some overseas. New faces entered the canteen, some very young lads. They were quite shy to begin with. It was the first time some had been away from home.
During the drab days of war many things made us smile. One day at Presbytery I saw two ministers with brown paper bags. I was told they contained tomatoes - and they told the secret of how to get them in Dunfermline. Follow the queue in the High Street.
'When you get to the counter put down 2s 6d and ask for one UTC (under the counter).'
Later I saw a queue and joined it. When my turn came I did as suggested and asked for one UTC. The assistant replied,
'They're in two's.'
'What?' I asked.
'Ladies' suspenders,' she whispered. Talk about a red face, the joke was on me.
One day our three eldest sons came to me with a proposal. In a shop in Dunfermline a box of good carpentry tools was for sale at £5.
'What about buying the lot, Dad?' they asked.
'Five pounds is a lot of money,' I said. 'What will you do with the tools?'
They gave me a long story and showed me plans of ships, planes, barrows and other kinds of wooden toys.
'We'll pay you back, Dad,' they chorused. I agreed. I discovered they wanted to raise money for a gift for their mother.
Soon we had a fine workshop in the attic. Local joiners gave me all sorts of 'off-cut' wood. The painter gave me paint. And, when I bought the tools, the ironmonger gave me a box full of wood ornaments, dowling, nails, fine wire and sandpaper. In return, he asked for a toy for a little boy who lived near him.
It was a red-letter day when the tools arrived. The first five toys were a ship, trolley, horse, engine and a plane. Then the boys set to with a will. My wife and Margaret, my daughter, were not to be outdone by my sons Sandy, Grant and Cyril. They sewed and knitted bunnies, teddy bears, dolls, squirrels and ducks. The toys made by the boys were very good - ships in warpaint, colourful engines, camouflaged planes and bookends. As promised, I took a toy barrow into the old ironmonger. He turned it over admiring the smooth finish.
'What are your boys charging for this?' he asked. When I told him 4s 6d, he just stared at me. 'Make as many as you like and I'll give you 10s each,' he said.
When I told him all the toys were to be offered to the soldiers in the canteen, to send home to their children before embarking at Christmas, he was disappointed and more than a little ashamed at his selfish motives.
Night after night the stock of toys grew. Six weeks passed. They received their final coats of varnish.
Then the sale! Ships 5s 6d, trollies 4s 6d, wood dolls 4s. The articles made by the ladies were low-priced also. The sale brought in over £30. Some soldiers paid more than was asked for. From various homes in the village came brown paper and string which were precious and scarce in wartime. The parcels were tied up and sent off to loved ones at home. Our family really worked hard and learned more about the joy in helping others.
They had started with a scheme to show their love for their mother and ended up helping over one hundred children to have a happy Christmas.
The work did not end there. The workshop was well-used during the long winter nights in making other articles and doing repairs especially on shoes which were scarce and costly and did not last long on the feet of our active daughter and five boys.
NOTE: Appendix (6), Part 6, 'Cynicus,' gives a brief account of a boyhood hero about whom we loved to hear as children.
This work, Going With God, is copywrited by Ronald R. Caseby, 1993. All rights reserved. Used here by express permission.