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August 17th 1920

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A traveller's war story

Sandy Stewart was and always had been a traveller, born of David Stewart and Martha Reid themselves well known travellers.

When he was nineteen he married Peggy, another traveller, but by this time the war had started and he received his conscription papers. He decided that the army was no place for him so he burned the papers, left his wife and set off with a friend. “I tellt hir we wid be back, for I kent the bits she went up and doon ye see. We had tae mak aff fer strange bits o country an she couldnae run wae us on the pads (paths) we taen. If we taen hills she couldnae o come through deep snaw wae us. The ither yin that cam wae me, he was in the same boat and made aff tae. Ah went awaa as far as Argyllshire and awaa by the Black Isles, up by Muir o Ord awa near as far as Dingwall an roon. Ye see in thae bit ye wid hardly see a polis on the road. The like o thae roads we took wir backroads, and ye could get bridlepads on hills and ye could tak them ower tae ither bits o countries……We went near every shire: taen backroads in Aberdeenshire, Forfarshire, Perthshire an niver got touched…… I could o been up in the Hielans for ever durin the war. If you bud in the richt bits ye wir nivver touched.” 

But if living by the back roads and the woods was easy in summer, it was a grim business in the winter months with the cold and the blackouts. “If it cam dark, we jest had tae pit doon wae oor things ower us and nae mak nae tea till the moarnin. We kept twaa or three pairs o troosers and jackets fer tae pit on. In the black-oot nichts we jest pit up a wee-er tent, then made wir bed intae hit. By God, ah’ve seen us hauf-wringin gaun intae the bed—couldnae get a fire on or nothin wae the black-oot! Sometimes we used tae get gum-boots and fill them wae rags; ither times we got auld, coorse tacketty boots. If we hednae socks, whit we done, or supposing they wir thin socks, if we hed onie kind o auld woollem jerseys, we usetae rowl wir feet intae them an that kept yer feet warm a bit. Oh we hed some taickle in the winter time.

When we hed tae shift on the winter nichts it was murder, fair murder. Yer feet wes the worst, fer ye could ae keep yer hauns in yer pockets. An ah tell ye, when ye come tae a camp at nicht an come tae lie doon, it wes bad fer ye ye never got nae fire tae heatt or dry yersel. If rain come when ye wir traivellin ye hed jest tae lie doon the same way as ye come. Ah seen ma feet shiverin as they wes like ice: frozen like. Ye couldnae sleep aa nicht fer the pains in yer feet. At nicht we just covered the head wae cloots tae keep us warm, an through the day hed an auld bonnet. It wes the only thing we could dae. An we wir lucky on the black-oot nichts if we could get a tent up at aa. If we couldnae, we jest had tae fling things ower us aneth a tree. Didnae matter whaur we wir, we went back side-roads ken like glen- road. The ither yin wid say tae me ‘If we gaun ither roads we’re gaunna be buggert wae polis an keepers.’

On a fresh nicht in the summertime, what we done is get in among the ferns, bedit some doon an pit stuff ower. Ye could mak yersel comfortable enough on the summer nichts. Onie wind went ower the tap o the ferns……An supposin we taen back-roads intae hills, we got the odd hoose. Some auld folk made wir tea fer us an they nivver asked us nae questions. Some of them mebbe hed an idea, but they nivver spoke. Mebbe the odd yin wid ask, well we telt them we wirnae fit fur it. ‘Ach, we wirna fit fur nae war, we were kickit oot.’ Thats the wat we learnt. ……The ither yin that wes wae me, he could beg an I could. But when we hed this pipes we hedna tae beg much, cos whenever ye played a tune they came oot wae the money. If thir wes a butcher’s van, this ither yin could get sassages or oniething, a bit beef. It wes rationed but ye could ay get things. We tellt them we hed lost wir books (ration books) an the ither one wid ask fer oniething at aa—bits o sassages, an scrapins o ham……The time o the war ah hud her (his wife, Peggy) but ah didnae keep too close tae her. Ah’d tae keep oot o it. Ah kent whaur she wes; sometimes they campit at Coupar Angus, ither times the glens. Ah ket the roads they went and whaur they wid come back tae. They campit oot by Guildtoon, went awaa as far as Medderty (Madderty), Forfarshire, richt up by the Spittal o Glenshee an doon again, then round by Kirkmickle (Kirkmichael). I kent they wouldnae be faur awaa.” 

It must have seemed a long long war. But at long last it was over. “Efter the war wes over we could dae what we liket. Naebuddie bothert ye an everything wes clear. We jest pickit fer wirsel – went roond here an thair campin oot an we got peace tae bide. We wir free.” 

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