Wednesday, 5 June 2019

75th Anniversary of the Normandy Landings - D-Day

75th Anniversary of D-Day


In France this week politicians and veterans will commemorate the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings. On 6th June 1944 24,000 Allied forces made an amphibious landing on the Normandy beaches under heavy gunfire. It would take almost another year of fighting before the German armies surrendered to Russian forces in Berlin, but this was an unprecedented operation and deserves to be commemorated.

Mulberry Harbours


Like many of us, several members of my family were involved in the war effort. I have written before about my great-uncle who died aboard HMS Glorious when it was sunk in the North Sea and about his sister, my granny, who worked on anti-aircraft guns during World War 2. My great-uncle on the other side of my family also died at sea, working on TSS Athenia. It was sunk in the North Atlantic in September 1939. I have other relatives who were in reserved occupations and worked in Glasgow shipyards throughout the war, at times under German bombs. My great-uncle Peter was a Bevin Boy, conscripted to work in the coal mines in West Lothian. He absolutely hated the work, and was badly injured in a cave-in not long after starting.

My mum's dad on the left, with his brother Andy,
 who worked in the shipyards at Clydebank for 50 years. I'm wearing the kilt
My grandad in the 1930s with his work colleagues in the Gorbals, front row wearing a tie.
My grandfathers on both sides of my family died whilst I was a teenager. My mum's father was a skilled carpenter and spent much of the war conscripted into construction work for the war effort. He spent time building beach defences on the south coast of England, and for a period was doing construction work at Ordnance Factories. He would talk about horrendous nights where they were sleeping beside munitions stores whilst being bombed by German planes. He often recalled one night when a colleague was driven crazy with fear and was running about on the roof of a building shouting at the planes. I suspect if he had been given a gun, my grandad may have tried to shut him up, so convinced was he that this guy would end up directing the bombers towards them.

Some of the paperwork my grandad held onto, from the Ministry of Labour, this one from 1942
He was also one of the many people involved in constructing the Mulberry harbours that were used in the Normandy landings, the floating piers used to create artificial harbours at the Normandy beaches for off-loading machinery and men. The parts for these were made all over Britain, including on the River Clyde and at the dry dock on the Forth and Clyde Canal in Maryhill. My grandad was called to Gosport from 9th December 1943 where he worked on building the Mulberry harbours.

One of the Mulberry Harbour sections under construction at Hayling Island
One of the Mulberry harbour sections under construction at Hayling Island, Portsmouth
On looking through some of his papers this week it is interesting to note the details of his call up papers to Portsmouth. It might be hard to make out on these pictures, but he was to leave Glasgow and arrive in Gosport for 9th December 1943. "This direction continues in force until 5th June 1944". This date may just be a co-incidence, but if you are planning a top secret land invasion of France, which was planned for 5th June 1944 (it was delayed by 24 hours due to the weather) I would suggest that giving the construction workers building your landing wharves a contract which ends when their services are no longer required, due to their work being towed across the Channel that day, does not seem like the best way to keep the date a secret.



I visited the remains of the Mulberry harbour at Arromanche last time I was in France, checking that his handiwork is still there. Like most things he made, they were built to last. My grandad on my dad's side was one of the soldiers who benefited from these harbours in 1944.

Arromanches beach, Normandy
Old Mulberry harbours still visible in the sea off the Normandy coast


Adolf Hitler and My Family's Part In His Downfall


On the other side of my family, my dad's father enlisted to join the army when he was 24 years old.

As a teenager I became interested in tracing my family tree and asked him lots of questions about his relatives who had fought in World War I, those who campaigned against the Boer War and those relatives that fought in it, and about his cousin who was jailed as a conscientious objector during World War I. I knew that he had been a soldier himself during World War II, and that for a short period he was in Belgium and Germany, but he was never interested in talking about it and I never asked him. Having looked through some of his papers after he died, I have a long list of questions I wish I could ask him now. I am grateful at least that all of my grandparents disliked throwing anything out, and left me lots of photographs and papers for me to try and draw a picture of the events in their lives.

My grandad was born in Kilmarnock in 1915, and the family soon afterwards moved to Parkhead in Glasgow when his dad found work at the iron foundry there. Not long after, they moved to Govan, where his dad (my great-grandad) worked in the Harland and Wolff yard for the rest of his days.

My grandad in primary school, second from the left in the front row
1924 photo of my great-grandad and the other H&W iron moulders
My grandad enlisted in June 1940. His service book records him standing at 5 foot 2¾ inches, and weighing in at 8 stone 11 lb on joining the army. In the 5 years he was in the army he moved about between the Highland Light Infantry, to Royal Army Ordnance Corps (RAOC), to Anti Aircraft Division at Bristol before settling in the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME), being trained as a radio mechanic. 

New recruit 
Third from the left
Measurements for a new uniform, and off to France
On 11th June 1944 he is measured up for a complete new uniform, and he landed in Normandy on 13th June 1944, 7 days after D-day, on Juno beach with the 11th Armoured Division of the British Army and was then attached to the 159th Infantry Brigade. One of the day 1 objectives of Operation Overlord was to capture the town of Caen, about 9 miles in from the coast. The Germans had committed a large part of their available Panzer divisions to defending Caen, and a bloody and destructive battle ensued, that lasted 8 weeks and flattened much of the city. My grandad had four photographs he had taken in Normandy, and two of these show the aftermath of the Battle for Caen. 

Caen, 1944
Caen, 1944
His other photographs from Normandy show the badly damaged railroad station at Cherbourg. American forces had taken Cherbourg by June 29th 1944, but the Germans had so badly mined the port that it was unusable for some time to come.His other photograph is of the town of Lison, which lies on the Cherbourg to Caen railway line.

The back reads "wrecked Jerry garrison at Lison, with Wayne"
Cherbourg railroad station
British, Polish and Canadian forces moved north to try to take the port of Antwerp in Belgium to open up shipping routes to supply the advance. This operation (The Battle of the Scheldt) lasted until the end of 1944 before he moved on into the Netherlands before finally crossing the Rhine into Germany. During this period he seems to have managed to enjoy some leave in Paris, which was liberated on 19th August 1944. There is a caricature among his photographs which is recognisably him, with "cartoon from Folies de Bergeres" written on the back. In Normandy winter closes in and he poses for a photo in front of a downed German plane, and sends a greetings card home to Glasgow for Christmas. 

1944 caricature 
My grandad spending winter 1944 in Antwerp
Army Christmas card from Antwerp
In August 1945 his army service book records "8 days POW leave". In online forums the consensus is that this was leave given to people who had been captured by enemy forces for a period of time. However I can find no other clues about this, and it is not something he ever mentioned. He is finally discharged from the army in 1946. The testimonial in his discharge papers records that he had an "unassuming competence. His ability as a tradesman is first class...particularly skillful at work calling for the greatest precision and patience."

Army discharge papers
Before leaving the army he had met his future wife, my granny. She hailed from Walsall and had spent four years during the war in the army, working on radar at the anti-aircraft guns at Bristol. For their honeymoon in 1947 they spent a week at the Strand Palace Hotel in London (their receipt shows that they paid 6 pence extra per night to have a radio) before they both came to settle in Glasgow.

My grandparents on honeymoon in London in 1947

Honeymoon receipt that they held onto

On this 75th anniversary of D-day I will raise a glass to toast two ordinary Glaswegians, and the part they played in defeating Fascism in Europe in the 1940s.

Me with my granny and grandad, and their spectacular 1970s wallpaper


Friday, 3 May 2019

Water Towers of Glasgow

Water Towers of Glasgow

They are one of the most familiar sites as you drive into Glasgow, whether from the east of the west, but the concrete water towers on the skyline of the city are slowly vanishing. I have used this as an excuse to run around a few of those still standing, and try to document all the ones I can think of in and around Glasgow.

It's hard not to think of  War of the Worlds by HG Wells when you see these towers
Looking like alien spaceships, arrived in suburbia from Planet Brutalism, these concrete towers are often much loved local landmarks, despite the less clean lines they now have with the mobile phone masts that they have almost universally sprouted. In and around Glasgow most of the water towers were built to provide reliable supplies to the post-war housing estates that were built in the 1950s. They are filled with water from Loch Katrine, pumped up to a height that lets gravity feed the local houses with reliably pressurised water supplies. They are increasingly being replaced by underground reservoirs, so I have tried to get a few quick photographs of some of those still standing in 2019. If I have missed any, then please add them to the comments below

HMS Thunder Child being destroyed by a water tower

Barloch, Milngavie


As part of the Victorian Loch Katrine waterworks project to supply Glasgow with clean water in the 1850s, the Milngavie water treatment works at Mugdock were constructed  at a cost to the city at that time of almost £2 million. Three reservoirs hold water from Loch Katrine, which is filtered and chlorinated and then piped down to Glasgow. 

Milngavie Water Treatment Works
The Barloch area of Milngavie has the nearest water tower I could find to Mugdock Reservoir (it is literally a couple of hundred yards away). Standing atop a hill, on the appropriately named Tower Place. Built in 1959 it is not the largest one around but has the nice feature of a children's playpark at the foot of it, perfect for brainwashing your toddlers into connecting happiness with concrete brutalism.

Tower Place, Barloch
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Barloch water tower
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Barloch water tower
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Barloch water tower
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Leafy suburbia and concrete functionality

Old Glasgow hospital water towers


I have previously written about the old hospital buildings of Glasgow, many of which are being demolished as the health board modernises its facilities. Often when a hospital is flattened the only part which is listed as architecturally significant, is the old water tower and on many instances these are standing long after the surrounding hospital has vanished. When building a complex of Victorian hospital wards an elevated water tower appears to have been essential to ensuring a reliable water supply to the various units. Here are a few of those still standing at Leverndale Hospital, Ruchill Hospital and Stobhill. 
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Leverndale Hospital water tower
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Leverndale Hospital water tower
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Ruchill Hospital water tower
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The beautiful Ruchill Hospital water tower
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Ruchill Hospital water tower. The land surrounding it awaits re-development
Stobhill Hospital water tower, which has a clock built into it


Cranhill Water Tower


Cranhill water tower, at the junction of Stepps Road and Bellrock Road, was built in 1951 by F.A. MacDonald and partners, elevated to provide water pressure to supply the nearby council estate when it was built. It is unusual now among the city water towers because it is square in shape. It's other oddity is that it has a collection of sculptures at the foot of it. Andy Scott designed the six figures at the base of the water tower, with Poseidon, the Greek god of the sea, three sirens and a mermaid accompanied by a fish with a ring in its mouth from the Glasgow coat of arms.  

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Cranhill water tower, Glasgow
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Cranhill water tower, Glasgow
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Sculpture at Cranhill water tower, Glasgow
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Poseidon and salmon, by Andy Scott, at Cranhill water tower


Garthamlock and Craigend Water Towers


The largest and second largest water towers in Britain stand together at Jerviston Road in Garthamlock. They were built between 1956 and 1958 to designs by F.A. MacDonald and partners (who also built the Dawsholm gas works and the earlier Cranhill water tower). The Garthamlock water tower contains 1,000,000 gallons of water, pumped up to the tank from a feed from Loch Katrine. The height means it supplies the local housing estate using gravity. The reinforced concrete legs look quite spindly and insect-like, and its distinctive appearance makes it a very familiar sight on the Glasgow skyline. Between 1999 and 2003, like several other water towers in the city, it was illuminated as part of an arts project. 

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Craigend and Garthamlock water towers, Glasgow
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Craigend and Garthamlock water towers, Glasgow
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Garthamlock water tower, Glasgow
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Craigend and Garthamlock water towers, Glasgow

Bishopbriggs (or Bearyards) Water Tower


Just off Boclair Road, on Wester Cleddens Road in Bishopbriggs sits Bearyards Water Tower. This distinctive concrete cylindrical water tower was built by Drummond Lithgow and company in 1959 to familiar designs from F.A. MacDonald and partners. 80 feet in height it contains 600,000 gallons of water. 

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Bishopbriggs water tower 
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Bishopbriggs water tower
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Bishopbriggs water tower

Drumchapel Water Tower


A familiar sight to anyone living in Drumchapel, or driving into Glasgow along Great Western Road, the Drumchapel Water Tower sits on a hill beside Kells Place. Appropriately the water tower up the Drum, has smoother lines than other water towers in and around Glasgow, almost like...eh, a drum, you might say. (Sorry). The empty land around it has several fine pigeon lofts sited there.

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Drumchapel water tower
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Drumchapel water tower
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Drumchapel water tower
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Water tower viewed from the red blaes football pitches of Drumchapel High School

Auchinairn Water Tower


As it is at the top of a hill, the Auchinairmn water tower is a bit harder to find on it's shorter stilts. It is hidden behind the Campsie Pub on Woodhill Road. It has more the feel of a 1960s service station restaurant, one which was designed to look futuristic but ended up smelling of cabbage and becoming quickly dated. 

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Auchinairn water tower
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Auchinairn water tower
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Auchinairn water tower
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Auchinairn water tower

East Kilbride Water Tower, Greenhills


I was advised that there is also a water tower in Whitehills in East Kilbride, but I couldn't find it, and in fact once I had found the Alistair McCoist Complex in Whitehills I stopped looking, shocked at seeing the words "Alistair McCoist" and "Complex" in the same phrase. The Greenhills Water Tower sits on Beech Grove. Unlike the other ones I came across, it is not all fenced in, clearly a reflection of the less anti-social behaviour that our new town neighbours exhibit. 

Greenhills water tower, East Kilbride
Greenhills water tower, East Kilbride
Greenhills water tower, East Kilbride

Tannochside Water Tower, Uddingston


In trying to pin down water towers in and around Glasgow, the question starts to become "How far away does it still count?" So I drew a line at Uddingston as again it's a tower you can catch sight of on your way into Glasgow. There are also water towers still standing in Motherwell and Cumbernauld, but I will leave them for someone else. Hovering above a Scotmid supermarket on Aikenhead Road the Tannochside water tower is similar to the larger one at Garthamlock. Like many of them, it is a functional thing where a bit of thought has gone into the design, resulting in a huge lump of concrete carrying tons of water, looming over people's back gardens but managing to look light on its spindly legs.

Tannochside water tower 
Tannochside water tower 
Tannochside water tower 

City Centre Water Tower Designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh - The Lighthouse


And finally The Lighthouse, a Glasgow water tower in the city centre that you can forget is a water tower. The inside has been stripped out and you can ascend it on a spiral staircase to get one of the best views over Glasgow, but the Mackintosh tower at The Lighthouse was originally a water tower which he worked into one of his earliest designs. Now housing Scotland's Centre for Designs and Architecture the Lighthouse building was Charles Rennie Mackintosh's first public commission. Dating from 1895, it was built to house the Herald newspaper. Mackintosh added an 8000 gallon water tower to his design for fire protection due to all the flammable materials that would be in the building. (Thinking about fire protection in a Mackintosh building? There's surely a lesson there.)

Water tower of The Lighthouse building, Glasgow city centre
Water tower of The Lighthouse building, Glasgow city centre, as viewed from the multi-storey car park across Mitchell Lane
Staircase up the Lighthouse water tower
Water tower of The Lighthouse building, Glasgow city centre

And Remembering Those No Longer With Us


As water supply systems change many water towers in Glasgow have become redundant, and vanished in recent years. Here are a few that people may remember, but which are now demolished. 

Milton water tower stood from 1949 at the top of a hill in Milton, and was intentionally designed to be functional and an attractive focal point with seating and a garden at the base. At 55 feet in height it held 24,000 gallons of water in a 21 foot deep tank.

Milton Water Tower
Milton water tower 1949, now demolished.

Cochno Hill above Faifley has lovely views over Glasgow and the Clyde. Until 2015 an unusual water tower stood there at the Cochno water plant, a tower which could be spotted from all around Clydebank. As it is still present in satellite shots on Google maps, I went up expecting to find it still there but there are now new houses and an nursing home being built on the site and the tower was demolished in October 2015. 

Cochno water tower - now demolished
The new Cochno water treatment works, to the east of the older works on current Google maps
Cochno in 2019, the water tower now gone
Cowglen near Pollok shopping centre has also lost its water tower in the past couple of years to development of the site for housing. This tower was visible from Barrhead Road and from the M77 behind the concrete National Savings and Investment bank building (NSI) at Cowglen. My granny worked here for years, and I hadn't realised that it had been demolished (in February 2017) until I went out looking for the water tower last week. The water tower was actually supplying water to Cowglen Hospital, which operated here from 1931 until 2000. The "redundant water tower" can be seen in the Glasgow City Council 2011 plans to redevelop the site. Again it was an unusual looking one, smaller and heavy on the functionality. 
2011 Glasgow City Council plans for Cowglen redevelopment
"redundant water tower" at Cowglen before demolition
Nearby in Pollok was a large, rectangular water tower which has now made way for a housing development. At the top of the hill in Crookston Forest (or Stirling Maxwell Forest Park) off Lyoncross Road this had been lying derelict for many years, a regular haunt for the local youths.
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Pollok water tower 2007 - now demolished
Pollok water tower 10 years ago - now demolished
Springburn had a similar looking large, rectangular water tower, which resembles the Parthenon on aerial photographs from the 1950s. It was located in Springburn Park and the concrete foundations where it stood can still be seen. Though now underground, the Cockmuir Reservoirs in Springburn Park still store 1,000,000 litres of water to supply the local area.

1950s image from Britainfromabove.org.uk over Springburn Park

Springburn water tower, behind the old cricket pavilion in Springburn Park, demolished in 1978
Again trawling through the aerial photographs on the Britain from above website you can find a water tower that used to stand over the houses of Ruchill. Lying between Leighton Street and Curzon Street in Ruchill it can be seen above the back gardens between 45 and 47 Leighton Street, near to the golf course..

Ruchill 1953

There were also water towers, now demolished, in Queenslie, Preisthill (in fact two towers here) and yet another in Crookston ( where Markdow Drive now sits - demolished in 1998).

Those were the only ones that I could think of or find. I would be happy to hear about any that I have missed, past or present. The water towers are one of those things you maybe don't notice until you start looking.