Part Four - Gunnister School and the Home Guard

Charlotte: Did you tell me once that you used to walk or cycle to Gunnister to teach?

Bertha: Yes, well after the bombs had been dropped at Sullom, everything seemed to escalate then. And the people who lived at Gunnister had 4 children and they refused to put them back to Sullom. They kept them home and then the education authority made a small schoolroom at the end of the old Gunnister hall, it was just immediately above their home. So the children were taught there. A friend of mine, this was before she married and she was living at home, but she’d been at the Anderson High School when she was young. They asked her if she would teach this family. So she taught up to the time that she got married. So after she got married, she resigned from the school and then the education authority asked me if I would do it.

By this time the war must have been on a couple of years or so because by then I was the right age to be called up. I got my calling up papers and I had to describe what I was doing. And of course I was working on the croft and looking after the animals and we had people staying and my father was doing war work. They had started to make the aerodrome and the place was busy. You know where Mavis Grind is, Charlotte? They were moving all the stuff from there with lorries and taking it to Scatsta and that was the beginning of the Scatsta aerodrome. So everyone was terribly busy, and to my amazement, I got the offer of this job! Which suited me ideally because it meant that I could be at home helping my parents, looking after the animals, at the same time I could go to the Gunnister Hall to teach these children. Well, I was there for 2 years, I think. That was surely when the war finished.

Charlotte: Was it about 6 or 8miles from Sullom?

Bertha: No, it was just 3 miles.

Charlotte: Was there just a track there, not like the road now?

Bertha: No, it was a narrow road for cars. I had a bicycle and I cycled every day. Agnes did the same, we had no other transport. And I always took a sandwich with me and something to drink. Shall I tell you about an incident that happened while I was working there?

Charlotte: Please do.

Bertha: Well, I cycled to Gunnister as usual and I noticed that there were not many cars about, but I never thought anything about it. And I came down to the hall and I came in and went in to the little classroom and the children were all there. So we got started with the lessons and then all of a sudden I heard this shooting going on and I looked out of the side window and lo and behold, the place was a mass of soldiers carrying rifles, crawling on their stomachs, and it was commando training practice. The people had all been told to stay inside but they forgot about me! So I’d rolled up just before the shooting started!

Anyway, I said to the children – pay no attention, it’s only soldiers crawling up the burn there. So they carried on with what they were doing, then all of a sudden I heard the outside door of the hall open and I thought, “Oh my!” I said to the children, “Keep quiet,” and then a little while after, about 6 big red faces appeared at the window. And it was the soldiers and they began to sing ‘Mary had a little lamb’! So ignored them, but I was a bit annoyed, I didn’t know what to do because I had the children there and I had to get them home. So I said to the children, “Now, will you go home quickly.” The shooting had finished and I would get the bike and go. My bike was in the hall so I let the children out and then I got the bicycle and when I came out, there was nothing but a solid wall of soldiers outside the door saying nursery rhymes. And they split up and left a path for me! It was a bit annoying, I just bolted!

Charlotte: Were these the Home Guard?

Bertha: No, this was the real Commandos. They were training, because as I came in over the hill to Sullom that same day, I got mixed up with a whole lot of army tanks.

Charlotte: Where were they stationed?

Bertha: Were some of them not stationed at Hillswick or somewhere? They weren’t in Sullom. We had soldiers at one time out past the shop, there was a camp there but they didn’t stay long. I don’t know where they came from but they had their tanks that they were practising and they were whizzing up and down the road and up one of the hills. It was just pantomime all the time! (Also there were two anti-aircraft guns stationed in the camp.)

Charlotte: But there were tank blocks, weren’t there? Weren't they put up to stop the Germans?

Bertha: Oh, the tank traps? To stop them landing, yes. I remember when they were built at Mavis Grind. The man next door to us was a man from south, and he was a sargeant in the Home Guard. My uncle was in it, the younger men had been called up you see, they were usually in the merchant navy or forces or whatever. 


Keep reading: Part Five - Careless talk costs lives