An evacuees’ story …

We’ve been delighted to share a host of stories through 2022 as Cupar’s contribution to Scotland’s Year of Stories and, as the year comes to a close, we’re publishing a wonderful story that’s been shared with us by Andrea McMillan, Local Studies Supervisor, at Cupar Library.

Andrea told us: “I recently helped a lovely lady with an enquiry about evacuees in Cupar. She and her four siblings were all sent here. She has written about her memories of the time, sent me a copy, and is happy for it to be used on the CuparNow blog.” The lady in question is Doreen Carmichael (nee Clapperton) and these are her memories of the time she was evacuated from Edinburgh to Cupar …

I was eleven in the summer of 1939 when I heard talk of war. I knew about the first war of course, songs like Tipperary and Keep the Home Fires Burning were still played a lot on the radio alongside Lambeth Walk and Underneath the Chestnut Tree. This was way before Vera Lynn and the White cliffs of Dover. I knew about war from listening to adults or maybe from the Pathe News when I went to the cinema. I heard about soldiers coming home from Palestine and from the civil war in Spain. I’d read about Florence Nightingale and the Crimean war from a schoolbook. I didn’t know where any of these places were.

I remember that air raid shelters were being built, one in the meadows and some people were having one in their own gardens. I thought that our family were safe because my Daddy was not going to be a soldier – he was away in the Royal Navy. Well, as I’ve said, I was only eleven.

I don’t remember much about getting ready for evacuation day on September 1st and I find that strange because our usual routine must have changed. I wonder how my mum managed? She was 34. She wouldn’t have wanted to leave her home. Her husband was miles away and she had to decide whether to evacuate or not. The powers that be were telling her that her children should be sent to the country for safety. She would also be worried about her mum who was on her own and a bit needy. Once the decision was made, clothes had to be packed and older children had to have their own bundle.

We gathered at Sciences School in Edinburgh. A long line of mums, school children, toddlers, babies and teachers with bags, suitcases and gas masks. We walked to Newington Station and waited for the train. It was a “no corridor” train which meant we were locked in. Our carriage was packed, my mum and her seven children, another mum with a young baby and a music teacher. We weren’t told where we were going and the train stopped often, not at official stations and we didn’t know why. The carriage got smelly and the baby’s nappy was changed. The train reached Cupar although I don’t remember arriving.

My next clear memory is living with Mr and Mrs Lawson in a house at the top of Bishopgate and my young sister, Joyce, is with me. Mum and my other siblings were housed further down the road.

I don’t remember which day we arrived in Cupar, but I do know that come the first Sunday morning we were told that war had been declared so that was the 3rd of September 1939. It was a nice sunny day and it seemed all the adults were out on the streets chatting to one another. The Lawsons were kind to us and I remember they had a young man staying with them. Joyce and I got out to play and we met other children. The name Louise Plunket comes to mind. I think she was a local girl and lived in a big house further down the road. We attended Castlehill Primary School. I would be in P7, I don’t remember much about that time and it was only much later that I realised how very important the P7 year is in a child’s development.

I don’t remember how or why everything changed but it did. Mum and my younger siblings were now living with Mr and Mrs D J Bruce, at Mount Pleasant. I often wonder what Mum thought; it was a big house with oil lamps and an outside toilet. There was no hot water, the only tap was in the “lean to” kitchen. Joyce and I were still in Bishopgate and often walked up the South Road to see Mum. On one of these visits Mum noticed my head had nits and she wouldn’t let Joyce and I go back to Mrs Lawson’s which is why Mrs Bruce got landed with the whole Clapperton family. I later heard that Mr and Mrs Lawson didn’t want us back because she was pregnant. I hope all went well with that because they were nice people.

So, there we were at Mount Pleasant with Mr and Mrs Bruce, Mum and I, Lena, Joyce, Audrey and baby Percy. I remember Mr Bruce as being well into his eighties and in poor health. My brother Richard was billeted with a lady down the road. I only saw him if he was playing in the little front garden. Joyce and I were sure the lady in that house was a spy because she wore trousers. My other brother Jack was living at Tarvit Hill Mains Farm, along the road from Mount Pleasant and up a hill. I remember seeing him when he was coming back from school. Often over the years, I’ve felt great sadness at the thought of him making that journey and I don’t know why he and Richard were eventually sent to live somewhere in Springfield. So much was happening in our lives and I never knew why.

Back to life in Mount Pleasant and whilst I can’t remember the right order of events I recall, Mum went back to Edinburgh with baby Percy. Mr Bruce died and the Thompsons, Dorothy, Robert and Helen came to live with us. The Thompsons came from West Newington Place, Edinburgh. Later in life when living near there I met many people who remembered them.

Mr David James Bruce was quite tall and a little stooped, in his eighties and not in the best of health. I’ve often wondered what he thought about all of us being billeted in his house. I wonder, did he and Mrs Bruce had any say in the matter? He died soon after we arrived. I understand that Mount Pleasant had been his family home and was told that when his father was dying the road in front of the house was covered with straw so that it was quiet for him. Mrs Bruce must have been in the house because, as she told me, she nursed Mr Bruce’s mother. The details of that were pretty awful, it was the first time that I had heard the word cancer.

I don’t know what Mr Bruce did in his working life and I wonder if he always spent a lot of his time gardening. The garden was well laid out with fruit trees, apples, plums, and pears. Soft fruits such as black and redcurrants and strawberry beds, also artichokes (I’d never heard of them). There was always lots of lettuce and vegetables. I remember learning how to store apples, each apple was half wrapped in newspaper and laid with a little space between them on a shelf and in a dark place.

Mrs Sarah Henrietta Bruce was the daughter of Walkers the Bakers in Dundee and she spoke of a sister who lived in Ballater. Mrs Bruce was a little old lady, under 5 feet and very bow legged. Her hair was snowy white and as far as I can remember it was always neat.

There were some out houses at the back of the main house and one was used to store food for the hens. The hen house was at the top of the back field that sloped down to the river Eden. I remember mixing food for the hens and spreading it over the grass, soon the hens would be pecking all round me. Another memory is being sent to the hen house to bring in eggs. They were usually big and warm. Some of these eggs were sold, some were pickled in water glass and, of course, with six children and one adult, many eggs were eaten. (In general eggs were rationed to one a week or one a fortnight.) Did we ever eat one of our hens? I don’t know, but I do remember being told that a particular bird was past laying.

I don’t remember much about what we got to eat but a very clear memory is that the dining table had to be properly set. One of us would be sent to pick flowers for the table and just like at home in Edinburgh, we had to ask permission to leave the table.

As I’ve already said the kitchen was a ‘lean to’ at the back of the house. It had an ancient gas cooker, a stone sink and one cold water tap. Wet dishes were placed in a wooden rack above the sink. I can’t remember what was used to clean dishes; it certainly wasn’t fairy liquid. The floor was stone, uneven and always cold. The place had a smell that I came to know was mice, but I don’t recall ever seeing one of the little creatures. All of us washed at that sink and that is probably why I remember it always being so cold. What I don’t know is where the gas came from, I never saw a bottle in the kitchen and for a long time we were using oil lamps. As for the wireless, I’m guessing it must have been on an accumulator. At home in Edinburgh, we used accumulators before we got electricity.

We must have settled ok as I don’t remember any major upsets. Time passed and I went to Bell Baxter High School. Dorothy Thomson will have done also but I don’t remember.

On Sundays, some of us went to church (St James Episcopal) three times as I remember; Early morning service, Sunday school and the evening service. Mrs Bruce had some of us confirmed in the church. Joyce and I wore our Guide uniforms and some of the other youngsters wore the more usual lovely white outfits. Sunday evenings, we listened to the news on the wireless. We heard how many German planes had been shot and how many of ours were lost. I’m sure that there must have been more news, but the plane count was what we waited for. The programme ended with playing the anthems of different countries. Mrs Bruce and all of us children stood to attention for that.

I’m sure I didn’t dwell on “we are at war” but some events would remind me. When the siren sounded Mrs Bruce would get us all downstairs, then we would put our gas masks on and sit with her on her bed until the all-clear sounded. The masks were so uncomfortable, it must have been so awful for the wee ones. A nicer memory is going out for a walk in the dark and watching the searchlights playing across the sky, beautiful really.

I’m not sure how this came about, it might have been arranged by the church. A group of us children were introduced to some Polish soldiers. I do remember chatting to a young soldier who told me he’d had to leave his home just as I had. He gave me a book about wars, a wand and an eagle badge. I would have been about 12. I don’t know what happened to those lovely gifts.

Thinking about South Road again, across the road from us the Robertson sisters lived. I don’t remember meeting them, but I was told that their afternoon tea was bread and butter with jam, or bread and butter with cake. Jam or cake.

The Gordon sisters lived just up from the Robertsons. My young sister Joyce was often in their company. Joyce was friends with another family and I think their name was Nash. The Nash house was a bit up the road from us, it was a big house and close to the river Eden. I’m not sure if the family Nash were American or had just come from America.

Still on the South Road, up a hill was Tarvit Hill Farm (my brothers were billeted there for a short time) and not far away is Tarvit Hill House. I think it may be a hospice now. During the war it was the home of our Guide Captain, Miss Elizabeth Sharp. I read some years later that she became head guide for Scotland. She died quite young. Our Guide group met in Tarvit House and that was just up from the railway station. The grounds there were absolutely beautiful, a big garden with very many old trees. The garden needed weeding and some of us guides tried to help with that.

Some memories are so very clear. During my time at Bell Baxter, I was chosen to present flowers to a visiting dignitary. I don’t know what the occasion was, but the sweet peas I carried were beautiful. I also remember our one and only visit to a cinema whilst in Cupar. Dorothy Thomson and I saw a Gracie Fields film. I don’t know what the film was, but I knew that Gracie was no longer popular because she married Monty and went to America. (I must have heard adults discussing this before the war).

Over the years I kept in touch with Mrs Bruce and in 1950 invited her to my wedding. She was unable to come but sent a lovely present to me at my place of work, Elliot’s Bookshop in Princes Street. I hope that I wrote to thank her, my mum was very ill in hospital at the time and some things just didn’t get done as they should.

I went to Cupar in 1951 and found that Mrs Bruce was well and looked just as she had done in the early forties. We walked in the garden for a while and had our pictures taken.

I went back in the summer of 1953 and found Mrs Bruce was in bed, she didn’t say what was wrong however she seemed content with her wireless and a paper. There were other people living in the house and I suppose that they were looking after her.

Later in 1953 my husband and I went to live in Nigeria. I wrote to Mrs Bruce but didn’t hear back.

During the 80’s, my sister Joyce and I visited Cupar on a number of occasions. We would walk from the railway station up South Road, peek over the wall to see “our” garden and remember our times there. We couldn’t understand what had become of Tarvit House although I now believe that it was demolished and the land used for new housing. I do hope the builders managed to keep some of the lovely trees in place.

And so to the present time, 2022. In August my son, his partner and I took a trip to Falkland Palace and after we went on to Cupar. We went up the South Road, but it was pouring with rain and so didn’t get out for a walk. From the car we could see the fruit trees, laden with apples and plums. Would they be the trees that were there in the thirties? I don’t know. Once back home, I was thinking about Mount Pleasant and wondered if the present owners knew of its evacuee history, so I set myself the goal of finding out. It turns out that the lady who now lives in that house had heard about evacuees and had been looking for information. She wrote me a lovely letter and I hope I will be meeting her at some time.

Having shared my exploits with my good friend Sheila (a wizard on the computer), she kindly trawled the archives and found the obituaries for both Mr David Bruce in The Courier and Advertiser (02/02/1940) and Mrs Sarah Bruce in The Fife Herald and Journal (07/09/1955). I see now from Mrs Bruce’s obituary that sadly she was most probably in Methilhaven Care Home when I wrote to her from Nigeria in 1953 hence, I didn’t hear back.

I wonder how it is that not a hint of Mr and Mrs Bruce’s fascinating history was known to any of us children when we lived with them?”

Family group July 1939 (L- R) – Doreen, mum, Percy, Richard, Audrey, Jack and Joyce


Thank you for reading!


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