In June 2022 we had the opportunity to meet 103 year old World War Two veteran, Maisie, and record her oral history.
We were joined by Maisie's daughter, Janis, and Sharon McKillop, Veterans’ Champion for Causeway Coast and Glens. Maisie, who was born in Glasgow and now lives in Abbeyfield House in Ballymoney, spent the visit recounting stories from her past, from life in the Army to life with her family in the years that followed World War Two.
At aged just 22, Maisie was engaged to a solider. She travelled to Newcastle, England, to meet him and get married, but before they could wed he was sent abroad and Maisie unfortunately never heard from him again, “We went down back to barracks and we couldn’t get seeing him, he must have been sent abroad just after that, and then I never heard any more, never again heard any more about him. So that was that,” Maisie said.
Instead of returning to Glasgow, Maisie joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS), the women's branch of the British Army. In those years she spent a lot of time stationed in Quorn, near Norwich. “I was an intersect operator for the Signal Corps, we did all the messages and things there from Quorn. Norwich had a great big air space, and the Americans were there with their planes they were taking over to France, taking parachutes over and dropping them to the French Resistance,” Maisie said.
“When you were invited to a dance at the American place, you had to get a pass from your own camp, you couldn’t just go. And you got a pass to stay out until 23.59 - you had to be back in at a minute to 12 like Cinderella,” Maisie laughed.
“They had stacks of stuff in their American NAAFI. Maybe if you were friends with one of them they would give you a whole packet of cigarettes. Or if they had steak sandwiches for their tea, the girls in the billet used to say bring us back some steak sandwiches!”
Maisie also spoke about a trip to London, when she and some friends snuck off site from the barracks for two days, “There was a lot of lorries that would give you a lift. I went away down with this other girl, but she was a Londoner, and I didn’t know she was going to people in London, and when we got into London she just left me there. She said I’ll get you in two days’ time down here and left me in this corner. I was standing there wondering what I was going to do with myself, and these two women came up and told us to get off their beat, then I found out it was a couple of prostitutes standing there.
“Well I went to Madame Tussauds then, and I went to the corner shop, the tea rooms, and then I was saying to myself I’m going to have to stay somewhere for the night, so I looked all about and I knew I couldn’t go to the church hostels or anything because I had no pass. So I went into the station and I saw the inquiry place and fortunately for me it was a Scots man and I told him my dilemma and he gave me his room for the night. He was on nightshift in the office downstairs, and he gave me the key and told me to lock myself in and then get up in the morning before anybody caught me.
“So I vamoosed back to the place to get a lift, and the red caps were waiting for us all trotting out. Then we got some horrible things to do – you go for jankers as they called it. They used to gather pig swill and you had to empty these bins out, wash them and put the swill back in again.”
After a bout of illness, Maisie was transferred from the ATS into the Royal Armoured Corps (RAC) in Wales where she worked as a quartermaster sergeant. And in those times, as Maisie told us, “There was good things and bad things. I used to go down for training to this other island where they would practice, and the shells went over into the Irish Sea, I think they’re still clearing up shells down there.
There was a terrible accident there. A shell was put in the wrong way round and this boy was killed. It turned out that he came from Scotland and he lived in the Gallowgate. All the ones that were in the village there and camps all had parties and collected money to send to his wife in Scotland. That was a terrible thing.”
Maisie managed to escape a brush with danger a few times during her service, “Funnily enough every time I left a place it got bombed after I left, it didn’t get bombed while I was there!
“They used to all run away into the bomb shelters, but I just lay in my bed and said if I’m to get it I’ll get it. I suffer from claustrophobia and I couldn’t sit in a claustrophobic shelter. I would just lie in my bed and they’re all running down to the shelters but I was never in any place where it was really bad except Scotland, and that was in Clydebank.”
After the war, Maisie went back home to Scotland where she was reunited with her family, including her sister, Jean, and little brother, Alastair, who she had raised after the death of their mother, “He was more like a son than a brother," Maisie said. “He was evacuated during the war, down to a farm outside Girvan, and the family were very good to them. When we brought him home again he decided he would go into ship building. He was in the shipyard that had something to do with the Titanic.”
Alastair then joined the Merchant Navy and travelled all over the world. He is 91 now, living in Scotland, and still keeps in touch with the family he was evacuated to during the war. Maisie went on to marry her first husband, Daniel, and have three children of her own, Janis, Alastair and Robert. “In those days you didn’t get help for things like they do nowadays and because I was under 50 I had to get out and work,” Maisie explained.
Maisie remembers her time in Glasgow with fondness, and recalls an occasion where she saw Prince Phillip and Queen Elizabeth during a visit to the city. “He was out on the veranda in the City Chambers and people were all there in George Square and they were all calling out to him.
"These girls all came down from Blackie’s, a print place. In these days the factory girls were a wee bit gallous and of course they were all shouting up at Prince Phillip and he was shouting back at them because he was like that you know he spoke to everybody.”
Maisie also loved taking her children out at the weekends. “Everywhere in Glasgow has a park, and all the parks have something in it a museum, concerts or they open up things for dancing. Although I had to go out and work for the children, I used to take them out on a Saturday.
“This day I had sandals on and a bee stung me on my foot, and this man heard the shouting and came over and asked what is it, and I said I’ve stood on a bee. He says don’t move, and he got the shoe off, and must have had tweezers or something in his pocket, and he took the sting out of my foot and says, that’s good for you. That’ll be good health for you, mind to take honey when you’re taking your porridge in the morning, and I’ve done that ever since. That’s when I started taking honey.”
From Glasgow, Maisie and her family moved to Douglas. “We were trying to get a bigger house because we were staying in my father’s house. You couldn’t get a council house and we saw adverts in the paper when they were closing down all the pits - that was Margaret Thatcher closing all the pits down. They were advertising houses, trying to get people to take the houses, and I came down to Douglas to have a look at one and stayed. It had a great big garden, we grew all our own vegetables, even grew our own potatoes,” Maisie said.
Maisie’s children went to school in Douglas, and after her husband passed away, Maisie met Dan and they were married. “I was a manageress in a Co-operative store. It was great, it was quite a busy wee shop because we used to put a van out round the farms and round the village.”
Maisie has been living in Ballymoney for seven years, where her daughter Janis, grandchildren and great grandchildren are close by. “I have a friend who phones me from Scotland, and when she comes on I say I don’t want an obituary phone call. Both of my husbands died of cancer, here’s me at 103 jumping about. My son keeps telling me do you forget how old you are? It’s quite normal, he says. I must be abnormal then!”
According to the mayor, Maisie is the oldest person in Ballymoney, and gets out and about the town, often visiting the Salvation Army for a cup of tea and a chat. Maisie also visits the local shops, “I meet a chap in Home Bargains called Tommy. I keep saying to him see if you can get a job for me, he says no jobs for you here and you’re not getting mine!”
Alderman Sharon McKillop, Veterans’ Champion for Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council said: “It was a privilege to introduce Maisie to the NIVSO who quickly seized the opportunity to record her Oral Military History experience.
“It was important that Maisie's story was recorded and it was a surreal experience for me to hear it first-hand. It provided me with a fuller picture of what War Time was like for Maisie and others.
“She is a remarkable woman for 103. Her recollections transported me to that period and reinforced how selfless and gallant our Military servicemen and women were at that time.”
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