Meeting date: Wednesday, March 17, 2021
Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid) 17 March 2021 [Draft]
Agenda: Human Right to a Healthy Environment, Portfolio Question Time, Scotland’s Railway, Testing Strategy, Business Motion, Domestic Abuse (Protection) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3, Domestic Abuse (Protection) (Scotland) Bill, Scottish Land Commissioners (Reappointment), Standing Order Rule Changes (Urgent Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body Questions), Standing Order Rule Changes (Public Petitions System), Standing Order Rule Changes (Equalities and Human Rights Committee Remit), Business Motion, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, Clydebank Blitz (80th Anniversary)
- Human Right to a Healthy Environment
- Portfolio Question Time
- Scotland’s Railway
- Testing Strategy
- Business Motion
- Domestic Abuse (Protection) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3
- Domestic Abuse (Protection) (Scotland) Bill
- Scottish Land Commissioners (Reappointment)
- Standing Order Rule Changes (Urgent Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body Questions)
- Standing Order Rule Changes (Public Petitions System)
- Standing Order Rule Changes (Equalities and Human Rights Committee Remit)
- Business Motion
- Parliamentary Bureau Motions
- Decision Time
- Clydebank Blitz (80th Anniversary)
Clydebank Blitz (80th Anniversary)
The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-24111, in the name of Gil Paterson, on the 80th anniversary of the Clydebank blitz. The debate will be concluded without any question being put. Members who wish to speak in the debate should press their request-to-speak button; if they are contributing remotely, they should type R in the chat box.
That the Parliament recognises that, on the evenings of 13 and 14 March 1941, Clydebank was extensively and systematically bombed; acknowledges that the Clydebank Blitz saw 99% of all houses in the town damaged or razed to the ground and that the devastating and tragic event caused 528 deaths, left 617 seriously injured and resulted in untold numbers of walking wounded; believes that, although the targets were reputed to be shipyards and the substantial industrial complexes in the locality, it was the town that bore the brunt of this intensive bombing; acknowledges and commends the action of the many in the emergency services and the general public for their considerable bravery; expresses its gratitude to the crew of the Polish Navy destroyer, ORP Piorun, who courageously and voluntarily drew fire on the vessel as it was docked for a refit at John Brown’s shipyard, and notes that this act of selfless bravery is recognised by the people of Clydebank who have dedicated a civic space in their honour, which is known as Solidarity Plaza and is adjacent to the town hall, where an annual service of commemoration is held to both thank and acknowledge the brave contribution of the Polish Navy.18:36
This is my final speech to Parliament. Before I turn to the substance of my speech, I take the opportunity to say a few words of thanks.
First, I thank my wife, Sheila, my son, Glen, and my daughter, Lucy, for all their support, which has allowed me to be here in the first place. I also thank my hard-working staff members, who have had to put up with me since 1999, and the very able and friendly parliamentary staff, at all levels, who have been a pleasure to work with.
I am sure that the Presiding Officer will allow me to say that I started my journey to Parliament early on, at the age of 16. I came from a strong political family but, at the time, I was the only one who believed in independence for Scotland. It is amazing how things change; I never thought that I would be a trendsetter for my family, but I have since convinced them all about Scottish independence.
Of course, devolution is not independence, but this Parliament has done sterling work—on inequalities facing women, domestic abuse, the definition of rape in rape trials, how the courts deal with sexual assault victims, and much more. To prove the point, tonight the Parliament passed a terrific bill on domestic abuse.
I set up the first cross-party group on men’s violence against women and children in 1999, which was almost exclusively made up of women. With hindsight, I should have set up the same group, but for men, because all the issues are really men’s issues. However, I am gratified that our cross-party group has gone from strength to strength.
We have had very fine debates in the Parliament. One of the best that I recall was the debate on the Iraq war. Speeches across the political divide were outstanding. Coincidentally, just a week ago, another fine debate—on hate crime—took place. Again, no matter what side members were on, the standard was superlative.
The Parliament has also delivered good outcomes. I represent Clydebank, where the asbestos used in the shipyards and many other workplaces has caused devastation to people and their families—devastation that continues to rage. This Parliament courageously took on the House of Lords and won, securing compensation for those suffering from pleural plaques, which is an asbestos-related disease. I was involved in that campaign, and the result was gratifying.
It is fitting that my final speech is about Clydebank and the 80th anniversary of the Clydebank blitz. Although Clydebank was one of the first towns to be deliberately targeted for aerial bombing, it was not the first, nor, sadly, will it be the last.
As a result of German General Ludendorff’s 1935 book “The Total War”, which argued that no one should be spared during modern warfare, General Franco ordered an aerial bombing attack on Guernica, the defenceless ancient capital of the Basques, on 1 April 1937, during the Spanish civil war. Pablo Picasso’s painting, also called “Guernica”, records the event and is regarded by many in the art field and beyond as the world’s most moving and powerful anti-war painting.
Prior to the Clydebank blitz, the general opinion was that the German Luftwaffe bombers would target only the shipyards and other industrial facilities. No one imagined that they would indiscriminately bomb the civilian population of the town, randomly killing women, men and children, but that is exactly what the Luftwaffe did to Clydebank on 13 and 14 March 1941. The targeting was carried out by the Germans’ elite Luftwaffe pathfinder group, which makes it difficult for me to believe that the bombing of the town was not deliberate.
One cannot imagine the horror of those two nights in March 1941, when more than 1,000 bombs and mines were dropped, along with thousands of incendiaries. It was reported that night turned into day due to the sheer number of firebombs falling across the town.
I ask members to imagine for a moment the terror that they would feel, knowing that they and their family lived below the flight path in accommodation that offered practically no protection, and that, should a bomb hit their home, they would be extremely unlikely to survive. Many of those who did survive recall the fear as they listened to the bombs falling all around them, and many were traumatised for the rest of their lives by that experience.
The Clydebank blitz was most devastating attack on civilians in Scottish history, and the raw statistics do not do justice to the despair and loss felt by the Clydebank community. Among the 526 recorded deaths were many families that had been completely obliterated—whole tenement closes of families vanished. Many of the 617 who were seriously injured died prematurely because of their injuries or were left disabled and unable to work. Among the thousands of walking wounded, many saw their health adversely affected and their life potential reduced.
As a result of the bombing and the fires, 99 per cent of houses were destroyed or badly damaged, with only seven remaining intact, and 35,000 people were made homeless. It is estimated that more than 4,000 residents left the town, never to return.
Stories of the bravery of the people of Clydebank during the blitz as they tried to put out fires and rescue their neighbours are legend. The population’s stoic resilience in the aftermath must be admired. The emergency services worked themselves into a near standstill, with many firemen and ambulance crews continuing to carry out rescues even though they had severe injuries.
Still commemorated is the great courage that was shown by the crew of the Polish destroyer ORP Piorun, which was undergoing a refit at John Brown’s shipyard, who voluntarily opened up their anti-aircraft guns to try to draw the blitz fire from the Luftwaffe bombers away from the town. As a tribute, the people of Clydebank built Solidarity Plaza in the centre of Clydebank to commemorate the bravery of the Polish Navy. Just last Saturday, a new granite plaque, which took 10 men to lift, was unveiled in the plaza in a small ceremony that involved three people. I was privileged to be one of the participants.
The rebuilding of Clydebank took years, and many people had to survive in appalling conditions, facing food shortages and having to travel many miles every day to work. We can therefore understand how important community spirit was, and still is to this day, in the town; I can bear witness to that. However, very few people know that the United Kingdom Government only loaned Clydebank Burgh Council the money to rebuild the town. As far as I am aware, other towns that were blitzed were given grants. That reverse reparations money was added to and collected from household rents, and repayment continued for 50 years, until 1995.
Many events were planned to mark the 80th anniversary of the Clydebank blitz, but they were, unfortunately, cancelled due to Covid-19. However, I thank the First Minister, the Presiding Officer, Jackie Baillie MSP and Martin Docherty-Hughes MP for marking the occasion by contributing to the booklet of commemoration. We should not forget to thank Bailie Denis Agnew and the organisation committee of West Dunbartonshire Council for all their work in organising everything that has taken place. I also thank the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, which commissioned the composer Christopher Gough to write a piece of music called “Clydebank ’41” especially for the 80th anniversary.
I will finish by thanking, on behalf of the people of Clydebank, the Scottish Parliament for allowing me to have this debate on 17 March—the 80th anniversary, to the day, of the laying to rest of 22 unidentified victims in an unmarked mass grave.
Many thanks for listening to me. [Applause.]
I will take first two members who have commitments. I know that Mr Corry has to get to his cross-party group.18:48
Thank you very much, Presiding Officer. I apologise to Gil Paterson and other members for having to leave after my speech and before the end of the debate.
On behalf of the Scottish Conservatives, I wish Gil Paterson well in his retirement. I know how hard he has worked in the Clydebank and Milngavie constituency. I have heard many wonderful reports about that, and I sincerely thank him for it.
It is a real privilege to take part in the debate, and I thank Gil Paterson for securing it.
Eighty years ago, over the nights of 13 and 14 March 1941, one of the Luftwaffe’s most intense and destructive air raids of the second world war took place from the skies above Clydebank—a town vital for its wartime industry. It would result in the loss of 528 people and serious injuries for hundreds more. That death toll, which is believed to be higher in reality, speaks to the overwhelming tragedy that that community was forced to endure in the sudden destruction, which was far reaching in its impact.
The Luftwaffe sought to strategically attack industrial, mainly naval, targets—munitions factories and shipyards across Clydeside, including the famous Singer and Royal Ordnance factories—and in doing so, it was partly successful. Although it was the concentration of industry that drew the enemy action, it was Clydebank’s housing that took the biggest hit overall, with dreadful consequences. Out of a total of 12,000 houses, only seven were unaffected and 4,300 homes were completely destroyed. Tenement housing closest to the industrial centre, packed with wartime workers, suffered the worst casualties. There was barely a street without damage and multiple generations of entire families were lost in an instant. On Jellicoe street, one family lost 15 members, with one sole survivor. Identifying victims proved very difficult—understandably—and in many cases took months. Some people were never accounted for.
The damage and destruction were extensive and severe. Thousands of buildings were destroyed—and schools, churches, railways and power and water supplies were not excepted. Emergency rescue efforts were hampered by the seemingly unending fall of bombs and the resulting road blockages.
Following hours of irreparable and grievous destruction over two nights, we can only imagine the terror and shock awaiting those stepping out of their air raid shelters for the first time, as they saw the town damaged beyond recognition and their homes having disappeared. At that moment, the sobering reality of war and the horror of loss must have weighed extremely heavily on their minds.
For many, the devastating bombardment left nothing to return to, and it forced the displacement and emergency evacuation of thousands: the sudden wave of homelessness saw 11,350 people urgently needing accommodation. The community would not return to what it had been; following a second night of bombing, out of Clydebank’s 50,000 residents, only 2,000 remained.
There are many stories of courage and gallantry in the rescue effort. Perhaps the most well-known story is the part played by ORP Piorun—as Gil Paterson mentioned. The boldness of the Polish destroyer’s crew was matched by many others on land, who raced to find survivors and victims as the raids continued.
I recognise, with regret, that we cannot commemorate this anniversary as we would wish, with large public gatherings for the whole community to remember alongside one other. However, that does not stop us carrying out our own personal acts of remembrance to remember those whose lives were cut short and paying tribute to the many who joined the response efforts. We should not forget the resilience of the community and its workers and their resolve to persevere in a war effort that had already claimed so much from them. Tonight, we remember all those who paid the ultimate sacrifice in the Clydebank blitz as well as those who sustained life-changing injuries.18:52
I congratulate Gil Paterson on securing the debate and I am glad to take part to mark the anniversary and to pay tribute to those who lost their lives in the Clydebank blitz and those who fought to save them.
Before I start, I want to say a couple of words about Gil Paterson, whose motion we are debating tonight. I understand that Gil is not seeking re-election after a long and illustrious career, and that that was one of his final speeches in the Parliament. It will certainly have been the final members’ business debate that he will lead.
Gil Paterson and I have been colleagues in the Parliament since 1999—we all started young. Since 2011, we have been neighbours, representing the bordering constituencies of Clydebank and Milngavie, and Dumbarton. I am sure that Gil Paterson would be the first to tell you that he and I do not always see eye to eye, but I am sure that he will agree that we have always enjoyed a friendly relationship. On issues such as asbestos and St Margaret’s hospice, we have been of one mind. I wish him all the best in a well-deserved retirement and I thank him for his years of service to the west of Scotland and Clydebank and Milngavie—it just proves that Bankies and sons and daughters of the rock can, after all, work together.
Despite taking place 80 years ago, the devastation caused by the relentless bombing of Clydebank is still felt by many today. Debates such as this one are vital. It is important to remember the extent of the devastation and destruction caused and to honour the dead. Such debates remind us that, collectively, we cannot allow such a war to happen again.
Following the raids, towns across the United Kingdom mourned with Clydebank, each knowing that it could be them next. As Gil Paterson rightly pointed out, 99 per cent of all houses in the town were damaged, hundreds of innocent members of the public lost their lives, and many more were left with terrible lifelong injuries.
The bombing raids destroyed homes, and many businesses, and therefore livelihoods, were lost too. We know that the shipyards were the target of the raids, but it is widely acknowledged that the longest-lasting damage was suffered by local civilians and the town of Clydebank. It is important to pay tribute to the bravery of the emergency services and the many local people who worked together to fight fires and take care of the wounded over those two fateful nights. Local volunteers put themselves in harm’s way in order to save others. Such a level of selflessness makes those people nothing less than heroes. If it were not for their bravery and determination to get injured people to safety, even more would have lost their lives.
I pay tribute to those from my community of Dumbarton who also lost their lives during the bombings. As some members in the chamber may be aware, on those fateful nights, one raid missed its planned target of Clydebank and instead kept going to Dumbarton and hit homes in Clydeshore Road, which is just a five-minute walk from my house. The raid was not expected, and appropriate cover and shelter had not been sought out. Yet more innocent lives were lost.
Commemorating the anniversary is a poignant way of remembering all those who lost their lives, both during that blitz and throughout the second world war, in Clydebank and across the UK. In the face of adversity, Clydebank came together, and it is right that we should do so again now to remember them.18:56
I thank my friend and colleague Gil Paterson for securing the debate. I also pay tribute to him for his years of public service, and as a supporter of White Ribbon Scotland, I recognise his tireless campaigning to end male violence against women. On a personal level, I thank him for his friendship, advice and counsel over our many phone call conversations over the past year. I wish him the very best for his retirement.
Gil Paterson spoke of how the attacks on Clydebank turned night into day. I was reflecting on that, because Johnstone, in the western part of my constituency, is about 6 miles south-west of Clydebank. The approach via Gleniffer Braes is an elevated part of Renfrewshire. I can only reflect that, 80 years ago this weekend past, it would have been possible for the residents in Johnstone—who were not sheltering as the air raids were taking place—to have seen the glow from Clydebank.
I will focus my remarks on another part of my constituency—Barrhead. As Jackie Baillie illustrated in her speech, although other areas suffered nowhere near the level of devastation that Clydebank suffered, other areas faced attack by the Luftwaffe that night. A parachute mine and incendiary bombs fell in Barrhead. I will recount some of the experiences of people in Barrhead that have been shared with me indirectly by children and grandchildren of those who remember that night. In particular, I thank my constituent Matt Drennan for sharing with me some extracts from his book with Keith Fergus, “Barrhead and Neilston: Then & Now”. There is some conflict about whether the attack in Barrhead occurred on 13 or 14 March, but there is consensus that it took place at the bottom of Adelphi Brae, otherwise known as Springhill Road, in Barrhead. A pub there was destroyed and the publican, a 56-year-old gentleman named Gavin McKinlay, was killed. From speaking to people who were there that night, I know that shops further along were severely damaged as well, with the glass plating of the co-operative, now Barrhead Housing Association, at the top of Cochrane Street being blown out.
I will share some of the reminiscences of constituents, who are sons, daughters and grandchildren of those who remember that night. Jim Mcgauley notes that
“My mum’s hairdresser shop was blown up by the bomb, and the publican of the Arthurlie Inns was killed by it.”
Mari Kuhn notes the account of her late father, William Edgar, who stated:
“I lived in Barrhead in a complex. I was about 14 or 15 years old and enemy planes were going overhead. I remember the noise they made ‘chug, chug, chug’. They were going to Clydebank and Yoker to blitz both towns. A bomb dropped in Barrhead on the way back to Germany. They dropped it to lighten the load; they dropped the remainder of their bombs to get home quicker. Two or three of the air raid shelters in Barrhead got bombed and the stair collapsed in a local pub and killed the landlord.”
Joan Carlile notes:
“My late father, William Ferguson, was a paper boy for Shepherds newsagents ... at this time, he would have been 13yrs old. The morning after the bomb he arrived at the shop to collect his papers and found all the shop windows broken and ‘sweeties’ strewn everywhere. My late mother, Joan McIlreavy, spent that night sleeping with her grandma Isabella Reid, in Cross Arthurlie Street, she was 8yrs old. They were wakened by the explosion and my mum said there was broken glass all over the bed, very frightening for them.”
Those testimonies are powerful. I would like to share one final account from a constituent, Janet Walton:
“my grandparents lived in Levern Crescent. No 44, a 4 in a block. They had an Anderson shelter at the bottom of the garden backing onto Kelburn St. They brought my Grans, Aunt Jessie over to Barrhead from Clydebank thinking she would be safer there. On the night of the Barrhead bombing my Grandfather and upstairs neighbour, John Ross were out the back door when they saw something coming toward from above. They thought it was a German on a parachute. They shouted to those indoors to get under the dining table and he and Mr Ross would deal with this paratrooper. They grabbed garden forks and got ready for action. However the German quickly turned out to be a landmine that blew my Grandfather back into his hall. Blew the windows out and brought the ceiling down. Apart from superficial cuts and bruises the men were fine, and all of those under the table were fine, just badly shaken. My grandparents were rehoused temporarily in Carnock Cresc., and the Ross family in high Levern until the block was made habitable again. I think it was a few months. Aunt Jessie’s town of Clydebank was devastated that night. Gavin McKinley was killed that night when his public house was bombed at the corner of Spring Hill Rd. and Main St. My Grandparents were Janet and James Coleman.”
Many of those voices are now receding into the distant past, but it is important that we remember them. When we commemorate, it is not just an act of remembrance and honouring the dead; it is learning the lessons of what humanity is capable of doing. Within living memory, our fellow Europeans took off from one part of the continent and came here in aircraft laden with explosives, with the intent of dropping them and killing other human beings. It is important that we have debates such as this to commemorate and remember and, most important, to learn those lessons. Peace, security and stability, our first duties as politicians, are so precious.19:02
I am delighted to contribute to the debate; my friend and colleague Gil Paterson’s valedictory speech dealt with the most far-reaching event in the history of his constituency, and I congratulate him on securing the debate. I said to Gil, whom I have known for more than 40 years, that he is too young to retire, given that he is only 11 days older than President Biden, who is just starting his first presidential term.
The blitz came relatively late to the west of Scotland. The first aerial attacks were made on England in the summer and autumn of 1940, but the Luftwaffe focused on Scottish targets only in the following year. Before March 1941, the war had brought high levels of employment to communities in Clydebank after the depression, and many found work primarily in the armaments factory at the Singer sewing machine works, or at John Brown’s shipyard. However, the high number of factories and shipyards, surrounded by more than 12,000 packed homes, also made Clydebank a prime target for German bombing raids.
Brendan Kelly of Dalmuir, who was nine years old when Clydebank was blitzed, said that before that night he
“didn’t really understand war. I didn’t really think that people could get killed and blown to pieces and never ever come back again. I never thought about that until the 13th of March.”
Brendan had spent that day playing football on Jellicoe Street with his neighbour and best friend, Tommy Rocks. It had been a sunny day. Winter was drawing to a close and, with bedtime approaching, both friends ended their game and sat in their tenement close contemplating the full moon, which started rising over the industrial town. “‘Look at that moon,” said Tommy Rocks. “If Gerry comes tonight he cannae miss.”
It was a bomber’s moon, and Gerry did come that night—a night that would change Clydebank forever. Over two nights, 439 Luftwaffe bombers dropped more than 1,650 incendiary containers and 272 tonnes of bombs on Clydebank and its surrounding areas. When the sirens screamed, Brendan was sitting in the living room. His father was reading the evening paper while his mother was next door at the neighbours, knitting a pullover for him.
There were up to 40 false alarms in the months leading up to the Blitz and, on 13 March, many thought that it was just another false alarm; that included 11-year-old Betty Norwood, who had been attending a concert at the Co-op hall in Hume Street. Ignoring the sirens, the concert continued until the windows fell in and the balconies started collapsing. Betty and her mother were pulled from under the rubble and headed to the basement of the Co-op hall, where they remained until 7.30 the next morning.
Brendan Kelly and his family took refuge in one of the communal shelters. The last bomb fell on Clydebank at 5.47 am. The all-clear was sounded half an hour later and survivors came out from wherever they had sought protection to discover the town in a state of utter devastation. Although Brendan’s tenement was still standing, all those to one side had been destroyed and his friend Tommy was one of 15 members of the Rocks family to have died next door.
Tens of thousands of people were without homes or possessions and wanted to escape Clydebank as soon as possible, while those who stayed behind in the wreckage of their homes and church halls prepared themselves for a second night of bombing.
Throughout the town, only seven or eight buildings, including Brendan Kelly’s tenement house, remained unscathed. German bombers had destroyed 4,000 houses and severely damaged a further 4,500. According to an official count in 1942, the raids had killed 1,200 people that night and seriously injured many more, while another 35,000 people had been made homeless.
Unable to give a proper account of what had happened due to wartime censorship, the press published vague reports of the dogged blitz spirit following
“some bombs on a town in the west of Scotland”.
Unaware of the true devastation, soldiers would subsequently return to Clydebank from military bases across the country to surprise their families, only to discover that their home town had been reduced to rubble and that many of its inhabitants were gone forever.
Thirteen and 14 March 1941 are among the darkest days that this country has seen. Today we remember all those who perished, as well as those who lost everything as a result of the bombings. We must do all that w can to prevent war, wherever it might rear its ugly head.
I again thank my friend and colleague Gil Paterson for this debate. He will be sadly missed by all of his colleagues.19:06
I also thank Gil Paterson for bringing the debate. I have not known him for 40 years, but I have known him for almost half my life, including the time that I spent as member of the Scottish Youth Parliament for Clydebank and Milngavie. We have not always agreed, but I have enjoyed our work together. In fact, I have enjoyed it more when we have disagreed and could have a good rammy, not least during the independence referendum, when we disagreed not about the eventual outcome but about the dreary details of which streets to leaflet first.
I am grateful to Gil for bringing the debate, which is a deeply personal one for me. My gran passed away almost two years ago. Her name was Nancy Greer, but on 13 March 1941 she was five-year-old Nancy McGuigan and she lived in Clydebank. She had already been evacuated to Ayr—both my grans were evacuees, one to Ayr and the other to Drymen—but, in what was probably the most spectacularly unfortunate timing in her whole life, my gran and her mum returned to Clydebank on 13 March. She witnessed the near-total destruction of her town over the following two nights.
Despite her age, my gran remembered that for the rest of her life. It was something that she shared with us and with the occasional interviewer. My gran told me of her vivid memories of being one of the children hiding under the stairs at the bottom of the tenement close, of all the adults leaving to fight the fires that engulfed most buildings not obliterated by direct impact and of the orange glow that she saw through the windows as those fires came to every street.
In about 36 hours, Clydebank was destroyed around my gran. It was the only town in the United Kingdom to suffer such a fate during the war. My gran and her family were able to go back to Ayr, but more than 35,000 people were made homeless during those two nights. Residents of Bearsden further east and in Knightswood to the south woke in the morning—if they had managed to sleep at all—to see snaking lines of refugees making their way along the main roads with whatever possessions they had left.
Around 1,200 people died and more than a thousand were seriously injured but, as Kenneth Gibson said, that number was not known until the Sunday Post managed to evade the censors to publish it a year later, after which it was officially acknowledged. At the time, the Government insisted that about 500 people had died during the raids across all of Clydeside, despite 647 having died in Glasgow alone, a figure entirely separate from the Clydebank death toll.
The Government’s lack of support went as far as a failure even to supply a sufficient number of cardboard coffins. Many people were buried in mass graves, which the Sunday Post had photographs of, although it could not get those past the censors without cropping out the bodies.
The intensity of the bombing is impossible to imagine for anyone who did not live through it. A member of my church congregation told me last week that she remembers seeing the glow and the smoke from Perthshire. People heard the bombs in Bridge of Allan.
Of course, Clydebank did not go undefended. The British anti-aircraft defences in the Kilpatrick hills and elsewhere had little ammunition and they ran it dry very quickly but, as has been mentioned, they were not the only ones to answer the Luftwaffe that night. The ORP Piorun, a destroyer of the Free Polish Navy, was in dry dock for repairs. Ships in dry dock are not supposed to have ammunition on board, for obvious reasons, but it is clear that the Piorun’s crew had decided otherwise. Despite being under no external orders to do so, they returned to their ship and, for two nights, returned fire on those who set out to destroy Clydebank. The Piorun and her crew, who went on to play a role in sinking the Bismarck—they spotted the Bismarck and began the final pursuit—are rightly remembered at a memorial opposite the town hall.
It was not just Clydebank that suffered on those nights. As I said, the death toll elsewhere was terrible, although nowhere was it as completely destructive as it was in Clydebank. Another reason why the debate is so personal to me is that my church, the then Bearsden South church, was directly hit by incendiaries and completely destroyed. The building in which my parents were married and my brother and I were baptised, and where I now worship, was built on the very same spot in the early 1950s. You can tell that it is a post-war building, because it was clearly built with whatever was available—a fact that causes our property committee no end of grief to this day.
Some members might know that I lead our church youth group. A few years ago, I was privileged to arrange for the members of that group to interview a member of our congregation who had also lived through and remembered the events of 1941 in Clydebank. His memories and those of my gran mean a huge amount to me.
Eighty years and two generations on, it is almost inconceivable that we faced the threat of total destruction on this island and that, within living memory, a force of true evil was intent on our defeat and conquer. I have a copy of the Bearsden Invasion Committee instructions from 1942, which were shared with me by the kind gentleman from my church who had experienced it all at first hand. I want to highlight just three of the 12 do’s and don’ts in the event of a German invasion:
“If you hear church bells ringing, it is a warning to the local garrison that troops have been seen landing from the air”.
In the case of Bearsden, that would have been the garrison at the Maryhill barracks.
Number 5 was:
“Hide away your maps, money, valuables and food.”
An important tip was given:
“Several small places are better than one large hiding place.”
Number 10 was to completely immobilise your car or your motorcycle. Even now, in an era in which the Government is issuing what we would consider to be unprecedented instructions on how people are to live their everyday lives, instructions such as those that I have just read out are completely inconceivable.
Eighty years on, I think that it is only right that we reflect on the terrible events of the blitz. Many of the people who fled those bombs never returned, and Clydebank was never the same, but some did come back and rebuild, including members of my family, and I am grateful for the opportunity to share their stories tonight.
Because of the number of members who still wish to speak in the debate, I am minded to accept a motion without notice, under rule 8.14.3, to extend the debate by up to 30 minutes.
I am delighted that we can now see Mr Paterson on screen, and I invite him to move the motion.
That, under Rule 8.14.3, the debate be extended by up to 30 minutes.—[Gil Paterson]
Motion agreed to.19:13
I want to put on record my thanks to Gil Paterson for securing the debate and for his brilliant valedictory speech, his friendship and our many chats, and for giving me the opportunity to explain why an Aberdonian like me is compelled to speak about the Clydebank blitz. The reason for that is that my grandparents and great-grandparents were Bankies and lived through the blitz.
My papa, Tommy Sanders, was an engineer. Like many young men in Clydebank, Tommy had to stay at home and work in Barr & Stroud’s, Singer’s or Beardmore’s for the war effort, rather than join the forces. My papa never spoke of the blitz, except once, which I will come on to.
As many members have said, the bombing was initially aimed at the munitions factories and the shipyards. The German bombers were largely unsuccessful in devastating those targets, and the bombs fell mostly on family homes. One possible explanation that some have given is that the pilots were not very good, but that is not entirely true. The fact is that the men and women who kept the factories running were targets, too. That was proved to be the case on the second night of bombing, when it was deliberately concentrated on the people of Clydebank.
At the time of the blitz, my father had not been born. He did his apprenticeship at Singer’s in the 1960s and went on to work in John Brown’s shipyard until he took his family to Aberdeenshire. He told me last night on the phone about stories that he had heard about the Polish sailors moored on the Clyde who manned guns to take down the German planes, as many members have mentioned; the decoy lights in the moors made to look like tramlines to fool the German pilots; the village of Inversnaid near Loch Lomond, which was decimated as homebound German planes unloaded their unused bombs; and the burning woodpile made up of materials for sewing machine cabinets at Singer’s that lit up the whole town as the bombs fell.
My mother—also on the phone—was at pains to tell me that our families were lucky. They lived when whole Bankie families were wiped out, such as 15 members of the Rocks family who my gran Jessie knew, as she was friends with the daughters.
On the mornings of 14 and 15 March 1941, my family—the Taylors, the Browns, the Jameses, the Sanders and the Loudens—came out of shelters and made their way back to where their homes once stood. The only family member who went back to an intact house was my great-aunt Margaret, who lived in Agamemnon Street. Her relief at still having a home for her three wee boys was short lived. An unexploded bomb was found and it had to be detonated, completely destroying the house. Indeed, Bankies were finding unexploded bombs for decades afterwards. My brother has an early childhood memory of us standing at our doorway in Wells Street to listen as one was detonated.
Like thousands of people, my papa was made homeless by the blitz. His family home in Bannerman Street was flattened. His parents were moved to Dumbarton, but my great-grandmother Margaret Sanders never recovered from the trauma of those nights and died of a stroke within weeks. My papa was taken in by the people who would become his in-laws in Yoker. During the blitz aftermath, he helped his future father-in-law, Laurie Brown, who was an ambulance driver. The two of them spent days and nights rescuing people and collecting the bodies of the many people who did not make it to shelters.
I said that my papa spoke only once about what he saw. He told my father that many people he recovered looked like they were still alive but sleeping. The flying debris did not kill them—it was the oxygen being sucked out of the atmosphere by the explosion.
As oral histories go, it is scant but devastating. Many Bankies like him who lived through those dreadful nights felt enormous trauma as a result of what they saw and the grief for those they lost. They could barely speak of it. Gil Paterson’s speech has been a fitting tribute to them, and I wish him all the best as he steps down as a true champion for all Bankies, past and present. As a Bankie who became an Aberdonian, I thank him.19:17
I, too, thank Gil Paterson for lodging the motion. He had a specific reason for doing so, which is not widely known: Gil was the role model who was used for Private Pike in “Dad’s Army”. Members can add the years together and work it out for themselves.
Although the devastating aerial attacks against the United Kingdom in the second world war started in 1940, it was not until March 1941 that the Luftwaffe focused its efforts on some of Scotland’s large industrial towns.
On 13 and 14 March 1941, more than 200 Luftwaffe bombers devastated the town of Clydebank. The first assault was against the factories but, as has been said, on the second night, the workers’ houses were most terribly hit in the blitz. Of the 12,000 homes in Clydebank, fewer than 10 remained undamaged, and 4,300 were destroyed when 90 tonnes of high explosives and hundreds of incendiary bombs fell, all on a densely populated area of just 2 square miles.
The main factory targets included the armaments factory, the Singer Machines sewing-machine works, the John Brown and Company shipyard, and the William Beardmore and Company engine works, all of which employed large numbers of people from the nearby area of Temple, which is now in the Anniesland constituency, where much of my family comes from.
My granda Davie Gray built a large Anderson shelter round the back of his home, as was fitting for someone with 13 children. He also took in neighbours during wartime. In fact, it is well known within my family that, at this time—on 14 March 1941—when the family had retreated to the Anderson shelter, an old man who lived in the close came running in, in a state of undress, and said to my granda, “Davie, they’re really throwin it doon the night. We might no be lucky this time.” My granda said to him, “Yer right, Willie, but A’ll tell ye, there’s a lot o weans in here—away and put some bloody troosers on.” That story is well known within my family. My granda was a stone mason, so his language is not quite suitable for the Parliament, so thank you, Presiding Officer.
The official death toll from the bombings was 528, but it is widely believed that the number was higher than that. On 17 March, 11,350 people were recorded as being homeless and were allocated alternative accommodation. The German bombing campaign on Clydebank resulted in more death and destruction than happened elsewhere in Scotland during the second world war. Many of the survivors left the town to seek refuge; of the 50,000 residents, only 2,000 remained in town after the second night of bombing. Despite that, for the sake of the war effort Bankie workers made their way back to the town to work in the hastily restored factories—bar the engine works, which was completely destroyed. Many people slept in bomb shelters and churches, and returned to see their families only on weekends.
Those efforts ensured that, within a few weeks of the bombings, industrial output in Clydebank had returned to peak levels. Workers in Clydebank factories were vital for the war effort, producing battleships, arms, munitions, and even Singer sewing machines, which sustained quick production of army uniforms. The outcome of the second world war was determined by the resilience and efforts of people like them across Scotland and the rest of the UK.
The collective response of people who were faced with extreme adversity saw us rise from the ashes to keep on fighting until the war was won. It is that spirit that we remember today, alongside the many lives that were unjustly lost. We should draw lessons from that resilience as we find ourselves in another time of significant challenge from Covid and the loss of family and friends.19:21
I thank Gil Paterson for securing this members’ business debate to mark the 80th anniversary of the devastating events that took place in Clydebank.
It is only right and proper that we have come together to reflect on what was the worst destruction and loss of civilian life in Scotland during the second world war, especially because the planned commemorations have been so impacted by the pandemic. Before I address that, as other colleagues have done I acknowledge, on the occasion of his final chamber speech, Gil Paterson’s contribution to the work of this institution.
Gil is another one of the class of 99 who is standing down at the coming election. He has been a mainstay of Parliament since he was first elected, serving as a list member for the Central Scotland and then West of Scotland regions before winning the Clydebank and Milngavie constituency in 2011. He has served his constituents with great diligence, and I wish him well in what I hope will be a long and enjoyable retirement from front-line politics.
What is clear from the debate is the widespread recognition of the formidable spirit of the people of Clydebank, and of the bravery and commitment that they showed in rebuilding their community and lives under such terrible circumstances. As we have heard, over the course of two nights more than 400 Luftwaffe bombers dropped more than 1,000 bombs and incendiaries on the town. Ironically, neither of their principal targets—the John Brown shipyard and Beardmore’s diesel engine works—were seriously damaged, relatively speaking, but the devastation otherwise was unimaginable in its scale and impact.
The first raid lasted nine hours; the second, seven and a half. The terror that was visited on those who were caught up in the raids is completely unimaginable. It is horrifying to think that of approximately 12,000 houses, only seven remained undamaged by the blitz, leaving—as we have heard—more than 35,000 people homeless and so many families devastated by loss and injury, with more than 500 residents being killed and in excess of 600 being seriously injured. As Gil Paterson and Gillian Martin highlighted, the health legacy was substantial.
Even in those catastrophic circumstances, the blitz did not break the spirit of the people of Clydebank, whose unwavering courage in the face of the Luftwaffe was evident in their remarkable deeds over the course of those two nights. Confronting utter devastation, they pulled together and worked continuously for three days to rescue trapped victims and minimise losses. The vibrant community that we see today is the very best legacy of their unwavering determination and courage.
Not only did the people of Clydebank pull together, but, as colleagues have noted, the brave crew of the Polish Navy destroyer ORP Piorun played a significant role in the town’s defence while she was docked for a refit at John Brown’s shipyard, firing a sustained anti-aircraft barrage at the attacking force. Coincidentally, prior to the Polish Navy acquiring her, the ORP Piorun was constructed in that same John Brown dockyard at Clydebank that she defended during the blitz.
On 14 March 2009, a monument that commemorates the civilians who were killed during the blitz was unveiled in West Dunbartonshire, with the names of the people inscribed on a bronze plaque. That memorial sits over the remains of Clydebank’s unclaimed dead to ensure that we never forget those who lost their lives, and that we allow current and future generations to learn from the events of the past.
Another memorial—known as Solidarity Plaza—is located directly opposite the town hall and serves as a fitting tribute to the bravery and selflessness of the Polish crew of ORP Piorun. It is very appropriate that we have such tangible reminders of the events of 80 years ago.
I am delighted to contribute to the debate and to pay tribute to Gil Paterson as he calls time on his lengthy stint in Parliament. It is testimony to the subject matter and to the esteem in which Gil is held that so many members have stayed so late to make speeches—some of them memorable and moving and, in Bill Kidd’s case, rather colourful.
That concludes the debate. I thank members for informed, personal and extremely interesting contributions.Meeting closed at 19:26.