George's story

From Fife to Italy to Eastbourne

By George Bell

Farm days

George speaks about his love of the farm

Photo:George and friend in the army

George and friend in the army

Photo from WRVS Heritage Plus Archive

Photo:Handsome George in his dashing Army uniform

Handsome George in his dashing Army uniform

Photo from WRVS Heritage Plus Archive

George's memories

Having shared his memories of his youth in Scotland, George talks about how he came to join the Scots Guards and eventually end up in Eastbourne.

Declaration of war

As the years rolled by we were no longer teenagers, and as always happens attitude to life changes. Charlie and Mary (one of the girls) started courting seriously, eventually married and went to live in Auchtermuchty. George became friends with a girl from Dunshelt, they married and by that time he had changed his job so they went to live in Dundee. Bobby married a Strathmiglo girl. That left Stuart and myself. By this time war had been declared. Stuart, I am led to understand, married and went to live in Ireland . Declaration of war caused tremendous upheaval of life, so sadly I lost touch with my four friends. After some enquiries I made, I am led to believe that I may be the sole survivor.

The Scots Guards

In December 1939 I passed my medical and volunteered for the Scots Guards. I asked if I could stay at home for the New Year's Eve, it was granted. I reported to Chelsea Barracks on the 4th January 1940, a date never to be forgotten. What a transition from a quiet, peaceful countryside to the centre of London. I settled down to this difficult life, having no option but to enjoy what you could. I left Chelsea having become accustomed to the noise and bustle of London, and was posted to Pirbright Training Camp.

Drafted

After a few months I was drafted to the 1st Battalion at West Norwood, South West London, in June 1940. We were the London defences. I was then transferred or attached to the Guards Brigade Headquarters, which the Battalion was a member of, we were stationed just outside Croydon. We still had bombs dropping but nothing like inner London.

Parents granted permission

In May 1941, I was fortunate enough to meet Pearl who lived in Croydon; we became very good friends spending every free time together. I met her parents, all the relatives and friends and I seemed to be accepted although they were suspicious of Guards. Guardsmen used to go out in Croydon on a Saturday night to pick up girls, and they worried that I was one of them. Nice girls didn't go into Croydon on a Saturday night. I had leave to come, so invited Pearl home to Scotland, after our parents had written to each other and permission had been granted.

Home visit

Whilst on 'leave' I took Pearl to visit the Maiden's Bower, to show her where I had spent many happy hours and days. It had a great attraction for me. During that leave we decided to get engaged and bought the engagement ring in Princes Street, Edinburgh. With the families approval we got married on the 15th February 1942, our son John was born just before the Guards Brigade sailed for North Africa in late January 1943, so I saw nothing of his early childhood.

An ancient story

Bombing being at its worse, our parents thought it advisable that Pearl and baby, her young brother Peter and cousin Mary should travel to Scotland and live with my parents who had at that time moved to Gateside, a little village near to the West Lomond Hill and Maiden's Bower. Pearl and Mary, when they meet to chat and gossip, their conversation always comes around to "do you remember when we used to walk with Dad and Jim (Jim was a family friend for many years) to Maiden's Bower on a Sunday afternoon", so that was also their favourite spot. One of the ancient stories passed on was that if you make a secret wish within the cave at the Maiden's Bower it would come true. Pearl says that she always made her wishes when she visited the cave.

North Africa Service

Having departed for North Africa in January 1943 my tour of duty lasted until June 1946 being on active service from Algiers to Tunis, then the length of Italy to Trieste on the Austrian-Yugoslav border. Having survived the strife and rigours of war, the atrocious weather conditions up and down the mountains and hills of Italy, perhaps my experience of the Maiden's Bower and the West Lomond Hills stood me in good stead, or was it the wishes that Pearl made in the cave? I do think that being so fit from walking in the Highlands was what kept me alive in the war in Italy . Each of the villages that we had to 'take' in the war was up a hill, so we had to get up the hill before we could do so.

Back to Scotland

Pearl and I visited Fife last year, which we think will be our last visit to Scotland. During our stay at Strathmiglo, one day we drove up the 'Dryside' by car, stopped at the gateway that should lead to the Maiden's Bower. The gate had the appearance of not being opened for a considerable time, the well trodden path that we well remembered was completely over-grown and had completely disappeared. We carried on the short distance to Lappie Farm, everywhere there seemed to be uncared for and somewhat dilapidated, and the farm had been annexed to neighbouring farms.

Whilst in Strathmiglo I met some friends that I recognised, but few of my age group, the years had taken its toll. We visited most towns and villages around Fife especially around the beautiful coast where it had never lost its character and style. We found Drumley Farm but it was similar to Lappie, another disappointing sad story.

From West Croydon to Normans Bay

When I was demobbed from the Armed Forces after the war, we had to start from the bottom, so every penny was precious. We struggled on and after four years we were able to buy our first house at West Croydon . We were there for some time. When the opportunity came to change my job after 18 months I was on the move again. More hard work but more prospects. Pearl was working hard as well with two boys in school. Then the time came to buy a car. Soon afterwards we made another move by buying a house in Orpington. Following this I took management of the Bedding factory at Mitcham in London where I was for the next 16 years. A great deal went on in those years. One of the most important events were that our granddaughter was born and that was the day we bought our caravan and placed it on the caravan site at Normans Bay so now we were in Eastbourne, or very near.

Moving to Eastbourne

We were there for some time, when a friend who had a plot of land on the beach allowed us to join him. We became very settled in with two caravans, a chalet and a separate toilet and shower room built alongside, and fishing from the beach anytime. Pearl's mother had an unfortunate accident. She was knocked down by a hit and run driver, seriously injured and taken to Purley Hospital. Because it was a long trip every day to visit her, we decided to move, and bought a house in Shirley, East Croydon. When she died, and coming up for retirement, we made the decision to move to Eastbourne and now live in the town, having done so for the last 20 years. We really enjoy it!

To listen to George and view some of his photos click here

This page was added by Susan Morrison on 31/12/2007.

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