Call to Arms

‘… On the third of August 1914 policemen posted notices around the Royal Burgh of Queensferry calling men to the Colours. War was declared the following day.’

On the third of August 1914 policemen posted notices around the Royal Burgh of Queensferry calling men to the Colours. War was declared the following day. Reservists and members of the Territorial Army, the “Ferry Terries”, took to bicycles to join their units. Naval exercises were underway and the King’s Harbourmaster was about to take control of the whole the Firth of Forth.

 The “Ferry Terries”, took to their bicycles
The “Ferry Terries”, took to their bicycles

The story of the war and its impact on Queensferry is the subject of our Queensferry History Group project. For the duration of our project, exhibitions, talks, and this dedicated website will reveal our extensive research into the events which marked “the war to end all wars.”

Britain declared war on Germany on the 4th of August, 1914. The stories below describe the events that happened in Queensferry during WW1 and what life was like for the residents of the Burgh, starting with Dr. Mason, headmaster and historian in Queensferry.

Dr. Mason’s History

In the year 1914 the Great World War began. On the 3rd August the police posted notices calling men to the Colours. Next day the British forces were mobilised. From the Closes and Wynds of the ‘Ferry came the Reservists and the members of the Territorial Army wheeling their bi-cycles, all on their way to join their Units.

Soldiers get on their bikes to join their units.
Soldiers get on their bikes to join their units.

When the folks of the toun had settled down, accepting the new situation calmly, came a detachment of the Cheshire Regiment. On their arrival the men were entertained by Mr Izatt in his bakehouse. The horses were stabled at the Queensferry Arms, in the large cellar reached by a slipway east of the hotel. The men were billeted in the room above their beasts. Then came the men of the King’s Liverpool and of the Welsh Regiment. Already the Forth Royal Garrison Artillery were in occupation of Inchgarvie Rock which since ancient time had been a bastion of defence. The Royal Engineers were in position at Hound Point. Two guns were mounted at the Forts. There was a searchlight at what is now called “The Better Hole” [later known as the “Piper’s Cave”].

Autumn passed and winter came, with a “blackout” imposed on all shore lights. The house windows facing the firth were all shuttered or blinded at gloaming. The constable on the beat would rattle on the door if a chinking light was seen, and, in a kindly manner, would ask that the offending blind be brought to rights. On a night in October, the harbour lights were shining like beacons over the Firth, which caused naval officials to issue directions that the lights should be extinguished.

At McIver’s Brae, the Head of the Hawes, at Bankhead cottages, and Ashburnhan Lodge, blockhouses stood barring the easy way of the traveller, sand-bagged erections with loop-holes, and roofed over for the comfort of the sentries who kept watch, halting all who sought to pass by. The whole area was reserved and restricted. A ‘Pass’ from the Police had to be carried and shown when required to the sentry on duty.

The school buildings had been commandeered by the Military Authorities in late November 1914. The pupils and their teachers had been dismissed for an indefinite period, and they did not return until January 1915, the classes being accommodated, each for half a day, in the Parish Church and in Dalmeny School. For three months thereafter they continued thus and until the school buildings were entirely vacated.

It was in the year 1915 that a Home Defence Company was formed, the members of which were issued with an arm-band that bore a crown in red. The volunteers drilled in the field behind Ashburnham, and they acted as reliefs to the anti-aircraft detachment stationed at Echline when the gunners there were due a spell of leave.

If, haply, news arrived that a Zeppelin was sailing in the sky, the alarm would be raised in the street by the ‘craiking’ sound of a ratchet. A searchlight would traverse the sky, throwing a beam of white through the gloom. The railway trains had already ceased to move on the Forth Bridge, which was a signal that danger from the sky was near. So the months passed into years. The discomforts of war increased. Rationing was introduced, for food was scarce, especially sugar and butter. Eggs were selling at 7s. 6d. a dozen. The folks of the toun were eating black bread.

War casualties were coming into the neighbourhood. The ballroom at Hopetoun House was turned into a military hospital. There was a similar establishment at Dalmeny House. Bridge House was used as a naval canteen.

And all the while the British Fleet was moving silently in and out of the Firth – with ships like the Pathfinder, which went down in the early days of the war; the Tiger; Malaya; Barham; Warspite; Repulse; and the Lion which on a day came limping up the Forth with a great hole in her hull. At the time of the Battle of Jutland, 31st May 1916, the wives of ships’ officers anxiously waited on-shore for news.

And when the ships returned after their dangerous cruises and the sailors came ashore on hourly leave, the Burgh toun was throng with blue uniforms, to the delight and great benefit to the inns and to the general shopkeepers, trade for whom was brisk indeed.

The motor buses arrived in the toun with gas balloons on top – an unusual sight – for petrol was scarce. Yet in the midst of strange sights and happenings, the Town Council handled the affairs of the burgh with efficiency. The housing scheme was progressing satisfactorily. An architect had been appointed. Negotiations for the purchase of land were in hand.

The housing scheme was extended to make provision for the tenants of Hill Square, West Terrace and elsewhere, now that their dwellings had been condemned.

When at length the War was ended, the Town Council decreed on 14th July 1919 that celebrations for the Treaty of Peace at Versailles should be held on 8th August, the Ferry Fair Day. They generously granted the sum of £7 10s. towards the expenses of that day.

A Union Jack, three yards long, together with two small flags at 4s. 6d. each was purchased for the decoration of the street.

On 27th June 1919, James Maxwell, the Schoolmaster, entered in his Log Book the information: “Holiday granted for Friday first in honour of the signing of the Treaty of Peace at Versailles”.

A postcard from World War I, showing Queensferry High Street.
A postcard from World War I, showing Queensferry High Street.

Thank you to Rosalind Whiteley and the Family of Dr Mason for approval to publish this extract.

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