One Fifty at One Seventy | 5. A Second World War

Even as Mr Scott was being introduced to his new congregation at 170 Queen’s Drive, the horrible clouds of war were again looming. Most people had vivid memories of the Great War, only twenty years before, and were petrified by the thought that it all might happen again. In 1938, Britain and France held meetings in Munich during which they tried to appease Nazi Germany by permitting the annexation of parts of Czechoslovakia. But these talks proved in vain. Exactly one year later, on Sunday, 3 September 1939, at 11.15 in the morning, people across the nation sat round their radio sets to hear Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, with the heaviest of hearts, deliver devastating news that their worst fears had been realised:

This morning the British Ambassador in Berlin handed the German Government a final note stating that, unless we heard from them by eleven o’clock that they were prepared at once to withdraw their troops from Poland, a state of war would exist between us.

I have to tell you now that no such undertaking has been received, and that consequently this country is at war with Germany.[1]

During the war, what people feared most was a gas attack, and gas masks were issued even to babies. This author remembers going to school with his gas mask in its cardboard box hanging round his neck. Great was the fuss if one mislaid it or played with it! The carpet bombing of Warsaw by the Luftwaffe served as a terrible warning of what might lie ahead, and in the spring of 1940 this was further underlined when the Third Reich launched a ferocious raid on Rotterdam.

Air Raid Precautions (ARP) were taken very seriously. Thousands of people received basic training to prepare them for the eventuality of an air raid. Among the first to volunteer was Mr Scott, followed by many of his Kirk Session. Session minutes record the precautions to be taken during Sunday morning and evening services. It was the duty of one of the elders to stay outside in the street, ready to run inside to warn the minister if enemy planes were sighted. The minister would then warn the congregation to remain in the church ‘and sit on the floor of the pews’. The Kirk Session also formed a Safety Squad to deal with any casualties. Shovels, pails of sand and first aid equipment were provided and ‘the possibility of purchasing a stirrup pump was considered.’ At Govanhill West, printed instructions were issued to the congregation which outlined the procedure in the event of a daylight raid during a church service. The instructions concluded with, ‘the service will be resumed when we hear the “All Clear”.’[2]

Fortunately, there were no daylight raids in 1940. But when the Clydebank Blitz occurred in March 1941, the bombers came at night, leaving hundreds dead and thousands injured. But mercifully, our part of Glasgow was spared the worst. However, there were bombs dropped locally and there was loss of life when tenements in Prince Edward Street and Torrisdale Street were hit. It is not known whether any of the casualties were members of our historic church family. A bombed tenement near Deanston Drive in Shawlands did result in the death of a ‘Miss M. M. Hyslop’, the two-year-old daughter of James and Helen Hyslop, members of Queen’s Park High Parish Church. Marjorie Marian Hyslop is the only woman to appear on any of the war memorials in the building at 170 Queen’s Drive.

On the morning of Sunday, 19 May 1940, orders came to prepare the church hall at 170 Queen’s Drive immediately for the arrival of refugee children from Guernsey in the Channel Islands. The children were confused and disoriented, they had been separated from their parents with little warning, the evacuation had been chaotic and some of the youngest spoke only Norman French. However, Mr Scott and other members of the congregation were equal to the task of finding food and other necessities. The children came with very little and all that awaited them at first was a sleeping bag on the floor of the church hall. Most churches in the area, including Queen’s Park High Parish Church, St Ninian’s Scottish Episcopal Church and South Shawlands Parish Church, had a quota of refugees. After a day or two, the authorities gained control of the situation and people came forward offering a home for frightened children. Little did they know that in some cases these temporary homes would be theirs for five years.

In 2010, on the seventieth anniversary of their arrival in Glasgow, a large group of these refugees still living came back to Glasgow. South Shawlands and St Ninian’s acted as hosts and mounted an interesting display, which was visited by several members of our congregation. There were afternoon teas and cèilidhs, and memories came flooding back. (In the 1980s, when this author was on holiday in Guernsey, he met a woman called Mrs Browning whose younger sister and brother had been sent to Glasgow during the occupation of the Channel Islands. The little boy had limited vision and his sister clutched a letter in which her parents insisted that on no account were they to be separated. They were ‘adopted’ by a kindly couple in Deanston Drive and remained with them until the liberation of the Channel Islands in 1945. Mrs Browning told me that the parents found that they had, in their own words, ‘a little Scottie’ for a son!)

King George VI designated 26 May 1940 as a National Day of Prayer. The British Expeditionary Force was being driven back to the beaches of Dunkirk at the time. Mr Scott of Queen’s Park West, who led the prayers that day, wrote later, ‘I was never so thrilled… The spirit of the congregation that day was indicative of the spiritual life of our kirk.’

Members of Queen’s Park West described Mr Scott as having been a ‘forceful preacher… you just had to listen to him.’ Sometimes, perhaps, ‘he wanted his own way too much, but nobody could fault the way he carried through his work.’ A splendid organiser, he had gifts which proved invaluable in time of war.

At Govanhill West, the congregation maintained contact with their loved ones serving in the war by way of letters and gift parcels. Mrs Barclay, the wife of the minister, organised groups of ladies to knit blankets and garments for the troops and for the Red Cross. They had knitted some 1,500 articles by 1942 and their remarkable efforts were given special commendation after the war.

In September 1944, the folk at Queen’s Park West received the dreadful news that Jane Haining had died at Auschwitz. Only after the war was it revealed what had been the true nature of this infamous camp. Writing from to a friend in Budapest, her last letter said, ‘There is not much to report here on the way to heaven.’ She was surely aware that nothing could get past the censors. The story of Jane’s life has been well-documented, but our church has a particular interest and one of our elders, Morag Reid, works tirelessly to keep the memory of her sacrifice alive.

During the war, women were to be found in many occupations reserved previously for men only. They drove buses and trams, worked in engineering factories, on farms, in forestry – there was hardly an occupation in which they did not succeed. Many also served with distinction in the armed forces. The women’s liberation movement did not have that name in 1944, but there was a strong undercurrent preparing the way for great changes. Guided by Professor John Baillie of Edinburgh University, who convened a Special Commission ‘for the interpretation of God’s Will in the Present Crisis’, a report to the General Assembly recommended that the eldership be opened to women. Finlay Macdonald comments, ‘Baillie’s rationale was that if the Church sought to offer guidance to the nation in a time of crisis, then it should be prepared to put its own house in order.’[3] In 1945, the General Assembly sent the matter to Kirk Sessions and congregations for consultation. It is evident that the congregation at 170 Queen’s Drive saw this as a step too far and the proposal was defeated by 211 votes to 74. Despite the initial indication of presbyteries in favour of the move in 1944, by 1945 the majority of presbyteries opposed the legislation. Fortunately, this was not the end of the matter. In December, the presidents of three organisations run by women at Queen’s Park West sent a letter to the Kirk Session, petitioning permission to start a Woman’s Guild. Permission was granted, and the Woman’s Guild was duly constituted on 19 March 1946, with Mrs Scott serving as first President.

By the end of 1946 the church roll at 170 Queen’s Drive had reached 1,200 – the highest total ever recorded. This surge in membership was not something confined to any single congregation. This growth was observed all over the country and in the immediate post-war period, the Church of Scotland rejoiced in a membership never known before.


[1] Robert Self, Neville Chamberlain: A Biography (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2006), 1.
[2] Richard Porter, Govanhill Church of Scotland: 1880-1980 (Alloa: Alloa Printing and Publishing Co Ltd., 1980), 24.
[3] Finlay Macdonald, From Reform to Renewal: Scotland’s Kirk Century by Century (Edinburgh: Saint Andrew Press, 2017), 172-173.

1. Our Early History
2. The Late 19th Century: a Period of Rapid Growth
3. Into the 20th Century
4. The Great War & its Aftermath
5. A Second World War
6. The Post-War Era
7. The Late 20th Century
8. The Millennium
9. Queen’s Park Govanhill
Conclusion: Beyond 150 at 170