"I was the only one to ask"

"I was the only one to ask".

By Ronald (Ronnie or Ron) Rodger CASEBY.

12/04/2001.

Preamble.

In response to my many request from 1967 onwards my late father, Rev. Alexander CASEBY, and Williamina MACFARLANE, my mother, told me many snippets about the first few years of my life which I wrote down almost verbatim. I have deliberately not refined, and sanitised, those many scribbled down recollections of my parents into a "smooth" and grammatically correct presentation for I think that the original verbatim recording style conveys something of the freshness, urgency, and gravity, always present in our home and village throughout 1939 to 1945. Instead, I have written the notes as my late father's "blow by blow" account of my first few years of life. I do hope, dear reader, that you will not object to the resulting, and seemingly, "slap-dash" style in "my" story.

In 1996 I copied my notes to Charles (Charlie) John CASEBY, one of my elder brothers, who was being treated for terminal cancer. My other three elder brother's asked to have copies of it. They said they all wanted to know more about themselves when young. Having read my narrative they wondered where their profiles were for each had but the briefest mention in mine.

My reply to each was, "I was the only one to ask."

 

 

Here is a photograph of our whole family in 1941.

Back row, standing, from left to right, Ronnie, Cyril, Grant and Sandy (twins), and Charlie.

Front row, seated, From left to right, Margaret, Alexander (Father) and Williamina (Mother).

 

Perhaps, dear reader, if you have not done so already you will ask such questions of your parents when the opportunity is still available.



RONALD RODGER CASEBY - BORN 07/11/1936.


Mother, long before his birth, had a qualified nurse - Miss White - standing by for baby to arrive.

Before our baby arrived, Mother was sure that she would have a boy. I fancied Rodger, an old, old name, in the Rodger line. Mother suggested Ronald, because she liked the name.

At last the "B" day dawned. A beautiful boy, a lovely son, came to light, aided by Dr Donald McDugal, the local GP, and Nurse White.

When Ronnie was born, on 07/11/1936 there was excitement, for he would be our sixth child. He weighed 8.5 lbs.. The first problem was a name. A charming child indeed, and as suggested, his name was Ronald Rodger Caseby. A few minutes later, with baby in his Mum's arms, the Doctor and Nurse at the bedside, I offered up the child, by prayer, as a faithful servant, to God, to us, and in his childhood, youth and life.

Congratulations came from many quarters. We were so joyful. Few babies had so many helpers. A number of girl teenagers, 17 to 19, volunteered to take baby out in the pram, or take over watching when Nurse was off duty All were so kind.

With one daughter and four boys before him, Ronald was our sixth child. Our family was complete. A missionary colleague from Edinburgh came through to my Newmills Church, and baptised Ronald before a large congregation.


One amusing incident happened when I registered Ronald's birth. The Registrar was an elderly spinster called Miss Simpson. She wrote out the Certificate. I signed the book. She stared at me, then she said sharply, "Stop it!" I looked at her, "I beg your pardon, Miss Simpson?" "Stop it! Stop it!" "I beg your pardon, what do you mean?" "I don't know anything about it - just stop it! Your family is big enough!" "Thank you, Miss Simpson." She handed me the baby's Certificate - "No fee - your wife's a lovely lady."


In the last months of 1936, the whole of Europe was in turmoil over the rise of Germany's Adolph Hitler. He gathered around him a band of wicked men whose aim was to sever the European states by means of War unless his demands were met. He conscripted many hundreds of peaceful factories and turned them into arsenals for bombs, shells, guns, and building of guns, planes and devilish devices. Threats poured from radios; millions of German men and women were conscripted to toil in mines, harbours to build battleships, submarines, planes, poison gas, also to enlist children to carry war banners; shout slogans, and dig for victory. Never in the long life of nations did one man, Hitler, spread such terror - all his Jack-booted followers caused fear.

The United Kingdom (hesitant at first) stood firm. We were at war. Our coastal areas were shelled. Bombs were crashing down on our cities. How foolish of Hitler - he did not realise the British zeal.

When Ronnie was four months old (say, March 1937), in bouts of sunshine and warmer days, Jean, or Betty Park, May Terris, Kate or Bella Young, among others, took our little boy out in his pram. Margaret and her friend Jenny took him out most Saturdays and on clear, bright Sundays, between church services, we were all out walking, up by Torrie House, away from the busy streets and lanes.


We were all so cheerful and happy. There were many stops by local people, chatting to our well dressed family. Margaret's pretty dresses were the "hand-work" of my wife. The boys: Sandy, Grant, Cyril and Charlie were all pictures of our joy.

My health was not too good at times; severe headaches, result of World War I wounds and gas, plus tormenting African fevers. Fortunately, we had a host of very good friends - ministers, lay preachers, business people, were only too keen to come to my help. They took over services in Church, Sunday Schools, Bible class, Band of Hope etc. Fellow ministers generously visited the sick in hospitals and homes on my behalf. I was rushed to the Deaconess Hospital and received first class attention from professors (Medical), specialists, doctors and tropical specialists and friends who looked after our family while my wife visited me in Edinburgh.

My heart went out to her in truest love for her faithfulness. People rallied around her. All their services were FREE. One afternoon, after visitors had gone, a nurse said, "Mr. Caseby, there is 15 in notes in your locker drawer" - silent gifts. After all, my salary was only 100 per year (paid quarterly), plus 50 invalid pension. I gave lectures on my former work in Central Africa, also wrote news items for newspapers. So all in all, our income was in the region of 10 weekly.

Having a well stocked garden, with all kinds of vegetables and fruit, my wife had well stocked cupboards and shelves of fruits, jams etc. Everyone who entered our room Manse admired its order, beauty and its cleanliness. There was no maid; it was all "Mother's design", and everything in its place.

Margaret had her room; our twins had their room; Cyril and Charles had joint room; baby Ronald was in his cot in our room. Two rooms were reserved for visitors; one large drawing room, one dining room, small sitting room - in the attic, a double playroom - large kitchen, outside well appointed wash house; not far away, a coal and timber area.


This was circumstances, and reality, of the well appointed world Ronnie was brought into. He was a contented, happy, joyful child, always smiling.

 

When Hitler's Ambassador (Ribbentrop) was appointed to London, he did not salute King George V in the usual way - he raised his right hand high, clicked his heels and roared, "Heil Hitler". Boys in our village took up the joke, but they said "Hell Hitler". Our twins did not use the word "Hell" (in our hearing) but up went the arm; Cyril was too shy to do such a thing. Charles raised his right arm, said, "Well"; baby Ronnie, in his pram, copied the arm stunt, but did not repeat any word.

By November 1937, local wardens were appointed. Newspapers talked, or rather speculated about rationing, shelters, depots for munitions, "no go" areas, "refugees" from danger areas, blackouts in homes, holes to be dug for poles to destroy "hover planes" and trenches to be dug in vital areas.

By the beginning of 1938, a new word was circulated like wild fire, "Gas Masks". Naturally, I had long experiences of "Gas Masks" from World War I (1914-1918). I had my share of gas (of many kinds), so I loathed the idea.

All school children were excited. To them, it would be great. Ronnie, who talked, (aged one) - "Daddy, me big one." One teenage girl, Peggy Hunter, adored Ronnie. She was often at the door, "Mrs. Caseby, can I take Ronnie out for a walk around the football field?" She would hurry home from school. She had "heels" and crusts of bread all broken up. Ronnie threw bits down - seagulls, blackbirds, crows fought for pieces, but Ronnie kept special bits for sparrows and smaller birds. He had a great love for nature. He loved Cyril's rabbits and our cats, Cora, Ann and Nation. Nearby was the River Forth. He delighted to watch all the plumaged birds frolicking in the water.


In the autumn of 1938, Ronnie was nearing two years old. Dr. Lundie, Chief Medical Officer for Fife, called at the Manse. (Many years earlier his Father was the Minister of my Church and he was reared in our Manse). He loved seeing through our lovely home. However, his visit was something special. Torryburn, Newmills, High and Low Valleyfield - parents would not take their children to Torryburn Hall for immunisation against certain diseases. I said, "Leave it to me - On Sunday, I will intimate, we will take our six children to Torryburn Hall at 11 am on the following Saturday to be immunised and request that all other parents do the same." Dr. Lundie said that he would have a full staff ready.


As promised we took our six children. Many parents also arrived. Our children came out of the Hall; not in tears, but smiling. For six and a half hours the medical team toiled and at the end of the appointed session, I was told that 95% of the children in the area were immunised. "A record indeed," said Dr. Lundie, "and I am most grateful". No child out of the 95% immunised suffered any great discomfort and hundreds of Mums and Dads thanked me for my example in sending, or rather taking, our children first to the Torryburn Hall. Ronnie, to his credit, did not murmur nor whimper.


Swiftly events took place. Hundreds of Anderson steel shelters were left in as many places. Engineers fixed them up in prepared, hidden places. Floors were concreted. Householders covered them with carpets; camp beds, brought in; areas heated by thick candles, shrouded by large flower pots, collapsible tables at hand, small cupboard with food stuffs, games (ludo, draughts, dominoes, cards, etc.) also large bottles of water, juices, jar of sweets, books and
a Bible.


The children were keen to sleep in the Iron Tent, but they were firmly told, "NO". The shelter had to be kept clean, tidy and ready in the moment of emergency. Why? Why? Why? was the request from many, many children. Some parents gave in and regretted saying yes.

Margaret had her choice girl friends and we were happy. The twins were noisy, often naughty in many ways. Cyril was always quiet, frank and open, intelligent, on the point of becoming a loner, kindly in nature. Charles was a combination of wit and wisdom, had an enquiring mind. Ronnie, from his earliest days was very affectionate, bright eyed and good. We were proud of our family, every one, from an early age. They had a high mark for obedience, which was a cause of pride to Mother and me.

Like most parents with families, we did not have a favourite child in a sense of petting, but Ronnie, the youngest, born in the age of national peril, required more attention, and he responded to us and the others in the family with sound joy and appreciation. All in all we were happy.

Many newspapers were reduced in size, certain news items were brief, pages given over to "In cases of emergency, phone -----?" Some part columns, news from "France Papers or "Austrian Papers" or "Belgian" or "Swiss" or "Spanish" or "Russian" Papers etc. One thing annoyed our children and others. "Comic Papers" and "Comic Sheets" were cut out.

Everything pointed to "War was drawing nearer" - what happened before World War I in 1914 - with "Hitler Hate" increasing day by day, pointed to War. Night after night, saying Evening Prayers with our children, it was difficult to ask God to preserve and reform all who wish to destroy our country and people. We never neglected to pray.


One night, after singing "Jesus Loves Me" after bed time kisses, chubby-faced Ronnie looked into my face, "Daddy 'Heel Hitler' needs Jesus." No one laughed.


The early morning radio news said, "The era of peace and quiet is over - Hitler's millions of fully armed men, tanks panzer cars, war ships, aeroplanes, battleships, submarines, munitions, double all the Combined Forces, armaments put together. In addition, spies in every neutral country in Europe. Like former dictators, Herr Hitler was badly informed about the strength and cohesion of the British Commonwealth.


My congregation in Newmills Parish Church was assembled for worship at 11 am. In the vestry, I had brought in a small radio. Ronnie was asleep in his pram. At exactly 11 am, the then Prime Minister said at this hour - 11 o'clock am, "We are at WAR with Germany."

 

Quietly, I walked into my pulpit. First I said, "Do not be alarmed at my words. One minute ago I heard the voice of the Prime Minister say over the radio at 11 o'clock am, "We are at War with Germany." I was amazed at the stunned silence. A prayer, a few words - there will be no Sunday Schools, Evening Services, Bible Classes until further notice. The very word 'War' made me shudder.

Every window had to be blacked out; identity cards used; ration coupons for most goods. Above all, a time of gloom for everyone who experienced World War I. Information came over the radio at regular periods. "One of the first said if air raids took place after 10 p.m., schools would be closed all next day." Children hoped for raids after 10 each night! It happened many times.

Not long after my pulpit intimation, I found Charlie on top of the air raid shelter, looking over the Manse wall. "Dad", he cried, "People are carrying stuff into their shelters. Can we do it too?" The Air Raid Siren began to sound. Ronnie was at my side, "Daddy, lift me up to see too." I lifted him up. He was not impressed. "Take me in our one, I'll come too," said Charlie. So, I let Ronnie in first; Charlie next, then Cyril appeared and jumped in; I followed. Mother came to see where we were - she looked anxious. "The twins are scouring the football field for fragments of anti-aircraft shells." I was after them like a shot.


Many boys had pieces, very sharp ragged pieces. I collected quite a lot - sent for the Chief Warden. He was young, never thought of such dangerous fragments. He was true to his word. German planes passed over our area to bomb Rosyth Dockyard, so many anti-aircraft sites were around our area. The Warden had leaflets sent around homes to warn of the danger. The initial period of the War was a busy and anxious time for me - young lads called up; Army units around to be visited; many invalids to be visited in hospitals and homes. Fortunately, after screening at Rosyth Headquarters, I had a special pass with my photo that eased my travel.

Ronnie and all the local children soon learned that War was bad. Ends.

Copyright, Ronald Rodger CASEBY, Chichester, 12/04/2001 (updated).