By May Williams (94)
I was born Mary Phillips 2nd daughter of Sam and Mary Phillips, née Shirkie, on 7th March 1922, 82 Skares Row, in the village of Skares near Cumnock in Ayrshire, Scotland.
My father was a coal miner in Whitehill Pit, where he worked for 50 years. My mother was a hard working lady. She bore 10 children and worked on the farms all her working life. As my dad did not have big wages, mother did people’s washing and worked in the fields every summer. They were a great pair and very, very happy. Her sister was the farmer’s wife at Rottenrow Farm, between Skares and Ochiltree. Father was our shoe repairer and solderer. He was a first aid man at the pit, also doctor at home. He was very strict with us, but a very good father. He taught us to dance and sing.
Mother taught us to cook, wash and sew and even taught us to paperhang and paint. We were very poor but very happy. Our meals all came from the land. Dad had a vegetable garden and homing pigeons. He caught rabbits and hares and mother made the loveliest soups and stews. We ate lots of trout from the streams and the fishmonger came round every week with herrings and whiteys, so we had fish twice a week as well. We got milk and eggs from the farms.
I had four sisters and five brothers. And we all attended the village school, Skares School, and then at 11 years old we went on to Garrallan School and had to walk a mile and a half to this school. Hail, rain or snow we had to hoof it to the school. Sometimes we were snowed in and could not get there for a week or more in the wild winter.
We were all very healthy, but poorly dressed. We only got new clothes once a year. Our grandmother knitted and sewed to help clothe us. I wore all my sister’s hand me downs, even her boots which pinched my toes, hence my bunions today.
We had lots of friends, pals we called them, as mostly everyone in the village had from 5 to 20 children. Most children went to Sunday school and the Band of Hope. We had a Gala Day once a year, when the farmer loaned the horse and cart to take us out to one of his fields, where we had sandwiches and cookies, with milk or tea. Then lots of fun with singing and dancing and games. Even the fathers and mothers had races and tug of war. It was real fun. If you won a race you got sixpence and everyone got a penny. I think the Mums and Dads paid into a kitty every week.
Our little village always had a football team, the Skares Bluebells. Most boys played football and men played quoits. There were always men relaxing in the wood playing cards. In winter it was curling on the loch. My dad didn’t play he was always walking. Himself and a few other dads used to have a string of children away walking for miles, especially on Sundays after church, while the mothers prepared dinner. We went hiking for miles and there was a cycling club if you could afford a bike.
There were not many cars about and buses ran every 20 minutes into our local towns, to Ayr and Cumnock. In Cumnock at the Auld Kirk there were buses to Kilmarnock, Glasgow, Ayr and Dumfries and all the local villages around about. Most of the time people walked as there wasn’t always enough money for fares. Skares was a little mining village. Most families only had two rooms and a scullery. Up until I was about 7 years old we had no water in the house. Our water came from pumps distributed between about 90 houses. Every 20 houses shared a pump; hence we had to carry the water in pails from the pump to our houses and the wash-houses, where everyone did their laundry. Then the washing was dried out in the green or in the wood, everyone sharing the wash houses and the clothes lines.
When the “Talkies” started at the picture house, as it was called then, we got once a year, that was on New Year’s Day. It was a wonderful day for us kids. When I was about 5 or 6 years old I took diphtheria as there was a big epidemic and quite a few people died. Most of the germs came from the dry lavatories which were all shared between two houses. Sometimes there were some not so hygienic neighbours, and mother always had to scrub the toilet seats before us children were allowed to use them. Poor mother. However, by the time I was 8 years old we got new drainage put in to the houses and running water laid on. Also, water lavatories put in but we still had to share. By this time we were all growing up and my sister and I were at work. We worked on the farms at first, having left school at thirteen.
I worked at Auchlin and then Creoch. We also slept on the farms so things were a bit easier for mother at home. My eldest sister worked at farms for 4 years and I did 7 years. Then the war was on and I moved away from my hometown to Annan to work for the war effort away from the farms and into a hostel, working in a canteen for munitions workers. So from the age of thirteen until I was 24 I only went home for holidays. It was great in the hostel. We lived in and everyone worked and played hard. I was able to send some money home to help out with the younger brothers and sisters. My sister joined the ATS as an ambulance driver. She married a Canadian and went to live in Canada after the war ended.
After the war, about 1949, my parents and family moved into a new house, with all mod cons, in Craigens Road, Netherthird.
With thanks to May’s daughter Mary Restarick.