I just LOVED this story. Elizabeth McCourt is an elderly Blantyre lady who once lived in Auchinraith Road, Blantyre during the 1940’s and 1950’s. Although now living in Australia, she remembers vividly her youth in Blantyre, especially during wartime years.
With help from her son, Elizabeth contacted me back in January 2018 with a delightful story from her childhood. She writes,
“I, Elizabeth Brown was born in the Scottish Borders in 1939. We moved to Blantyre just before the outbreak of WW2, whilst I was a tiny baby. By the age of three in 1942, people just called me ‘Lizzie’. Even then, I was aware that my father was not there all the time, off on duty in France. He would come home very rarely whilst on service leave and only for a few days. I thought my heart would burst with excitement each time he walked through the door and it’s my earliest memory seeing him standing in the doorway with arms outstretched, his beaming face lighting up the room.
One time, around 1943, he had been back for 2 weeks and that summer for a rare moment, we were all a family again. We’d play in the fields behind the house, with a large coalbing overlooking our tenement. Despite the war and hardships, it was a happy time and something ingrained in my early memory.
I was around 4 years old that Autumn. My father before he left, crouched down on his knees, to my eye level and said something along the lines of , “be a good girl for your mummy. Go to church and pray every sunday and I promise, I’ll be back as quick as I can. The tears rolled down my face as he left, with me begging him not to go.”
Our family attended Stonefield Parish Church, an impressive building on Glasgow Road. It was a short walk in our Sunday best each weekend. It was always busy in those hard years, but as a child, I had no interest in dry sermons or prolonged preaching. All I wanted to do the whole time in Church was close my eyes and pray! Pray for my daddy to return home safe. Pray that he would be ok. Pray that he would walk through the door tomorrow. Sometimes I’d pray outside Church too.”
I had no idea as a child that my father would be away for 5 months that year and each day I lived in hope. Each Sunday, I’d pray harder, even when the minister wasn’t praying. Christmas and New Year came and went. We got letters and a gift, but no daddy.
Then out the blue, on a cold winters evening, a chap at the door. Our dog raced to the front door as he always did and when my mother opened it, there was daddy! Back! It was January 1944 and my praying had clearly worked! He was home to see us all.
Father did have to leave again of course, but the war turned that year, a growing optimism for many people, but never my mother. She was always worried. As for me? Well I prayed some more at Church each Sunday and took delight when daddy finally came home and announced he would be staying. After his demob, as a family we decided to move from Blantyre to Australia in the 1950’s and carve out a new, happy life there. I have my own family here now, my handsome father, now long passed.
As an adult in Australia, when times were trying or difficult, or the family was going through sadness of any sort, I’d revert to praying hard, just like I did as a child, my hands tightly bound together and face screwed up, as if the prayer would be made stronger! I’m now nearly 80 years old and still do that!”
Inspired by Lizzie’s story, I decided to illustrate it with a painting.
Here’s how I imagined Lizzie back in those wartime years in Stonefield Church on those church pews. Praying hard for her father’s return. (I loved painting as a teenager and in my 20’s and it was my brother who recently suggested I take it back up again.) This painting, attended to during March and April evenings, whilst I was working away from home, will be carefully wrapped up and sent out Australia, my birthday present for Lizzie on her forthcoming 80th year.