Sunday 15 March 2015

A Gorbals Tour, Glasgow

The Gorbals, Glasgow

The growth, demolition and rebuilding of the Gorbals in Glasgow is a troubled part of the city's history. During the 20th century the Gorbals was the beating heart of Glasgow. An area on the south bank of the River Clyde, near Glasgow city centre, the Gorbals became synonymous with poverty, overcrowding and the random violence of razor gangs made famous in the 1935 novel No Mean City.

The Gorbals started as a single street village to the south of a new bridge built in 1345 crossing the River Clyde. Five years later it housed a leper colony, dedicated to St. Ninian, for Glasgow's citizens. Merchant George Elphinstone feud the land from the church in 1579 and in 1650 the village was taken over by the City of Glasgow. At this time it consisted of thatched houses and its main industry was weaving. By 1771 the population had reached 3,500 and at this time Hutcheson's Hospital took ownership of the land to the east of the old village and developed it. The land to the west was sold by the Hutcheson trustees to James Laurie, who developed Laurieston to the west.

To the south three seams of coal were being exploited by the Govan Colliery, employing over 200 men and later the Govan Ironworks (Dixon's Blazes) was established alongside this. This then brought more industrialisation, railway lines and more people.

Carlton Place from the north bank of the River Clyde
Laurieston's development started in 1802 with the fashionable terraces that still look onto the river here. In the picture above of Carlton Place this building is now home to the Prince and Princess of Wales Hospice.

By 1930 the population of the Gorbals had risen to 90,000 people, served by 100 shops and 130 pubs. Little was done to maintain the decaying housing or to improve the overcrowding and poor sanitation. With one toilet to every three homes and a population density of 459 people per acre (modern suburbs have 30 people per acre) it was clear that something had to be done. It is generally accepted however that the plan chosen by Glasgow's city fathers was an abject failure. Their Comprehensive Development Area Plan in the early 1960s was brutal in its destruction of the old Gorbals tenements and the brutalist architecture chosen to replace it has since been largely demolished. Sir Basil Spence's Queen Elizabeth Square (or Hutchesontown C) became a byword for deprivation and neglect. Large swathes of slum clearances were left as empty gapsites for decades for a never built Glasgow ringroad, cutting communities off from each other. Those locals not rehoused locally in the 1960s and 1970s were dispersed to the new towns of East Kilbride and Cumbernauld or the Glasgow schemes such as Drumchapel, Castlemilk and Easterhouse.

For the last 15 years many of these 1960s and 1970s developments have been swept away. New Gorbals housing built with more imagination and on a human scale seems to be resuscitating this historic area.

My gran and grandad were born in the Gorbals. My mum, her brothers and sisters grew up on Crown Street before they were shipped out to the new scheme in Drumchapel. So I went out to have a wander about the Gorbals yesterday to see where they used to live.


The Gorbals has always been home to many of Glasgow's new arrivals, both from Scotland and from abroad. My granny was born in 1915 in a flat on Gorbals Main Street. Her grandparents had come to Glasgow to look for work in the previous century from Ireland and from the Scottish Highlands, via Townhead and Partick on the way.

My grandad and his Hutchesontown classmates, some of them without shoes, about 1915

Her husband, my grandad, was born a few streets away at Sandyfaulds Street in Hutchestown. His grandparents had come to Glasgow to find work from Bo'ness (where they had worked in fishing) and from Kilbarchan (where they had been weavers). Glasgow was expanding rapidly in the 19th century with many impoverished people arriving from Ireland finding cheap accommodation and work in the Gorbals. Poverty and in some cases famine drove Italian immigration to Scotland in the latter half of the 19th century, particularly when a change in American policy reduced access to that destination.

The next wave of immigrants to arrive in the Gorbals were from Eastern Europe, mostly Jews escaping pogroms in Czarist Russia, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. Later Jews fleeing Nazi Germany arrived. In 1881 there were 225 Russians living in Scotland in total, by 1901 there were 5,000 mostly Russian Jews living in the Gorbals, and by 1939 10,000 Jews were living here. Difficulties accessing employment for these immigrants often led to them establishing their own businesses such as in catering trades, in clothing businesses or sales. From 1928 Glasgow had its own Jewish newspaper produced on Cavendish Street in the Gorbals and until they stopped printing it in 1992 my granny carried on getting the Jewish Echo regularly (latterly mainly to check the death notices for news of old friends).

My grandad in themiddle of the back row of the top photo with his friends
and at work in the middle of the front row

These photos above with my grandad include his friends Tony Verrechia, Alec Abraham, Ellis Bergson, Davie Sluglett, Nathan Zemell, Tony Caplan, Louie Freedman, Mo Sacklosky and he married a Donnelly of Irish descent. I think this shows how cosmopolitan a place the Gorbals was at the time.

Later many of the first Asians to arrive in Scotland settled in the Gorbals, some of them following the immigrant who had come before them in setting up businesses. Before the demolition of the old tenements throughout the 1970s there were 10,000 people of Asian origin living in the Gorbals and they too had started up their own newspaper, The Young Muslim. Like the Jewish community before them, this community moved outwards to other neighbouring areas with time.

Today even with the new housing stock being built, the Gorbals is still an area where many families live on low incomes and social housing has an important part to play in the regeneration of the area. Hopefully this will avoid the exploitation by slum landlords that some other nearby areas suffer from. New immigrants to Scotland are now settling here. Maybe that was why when I saw some bollards had been painted the "wet paint" sign was written in four languages, including Polish and French.

Carlton Place

I started my walk by crossing over the Carlton Suspension bridge, built in 1871, towards the graceful terraces of Carlton Court on the right which are now a hospice and Laurieston House on the left. James Laurie lived in the central house on the left hand terrace here. His plan to extend a gracious suburb southwards was never fully realised as the area became increasingly industrialised in that direction. 

Carlton Suspension Bridge and Carlton Place at the far end

Behind Carlton Place lies another of the rare older buildings in the Gorbals to survive. The building below was the former stables and warehouse of the Clyde Shipping Company from 1880, which had a smithy at the front. The central block would have had a goods hoist at the top of it to raise loads in through the doors on the floors below (now windows).

Carlton Court warehouse and stables

In contrast to that building and going onto Bridge Street is Cumbrae House. It was built in 1937 as a showroom for Cowen's Ideal Trading Stamp Company with its art deco design.

Bridge Street Station

Before Central Station became Glasgow's main station, trains from the Glasgow, Paisley and Greenock Railway terminated at Bridge Street Station in the Gorbals. The original station was replaced in 1890 by the Caledonian Railways building below. The four arches in the middle led into the booking hall. When you come into Glasgow from the south by train you can still see where the old platform stood at the back of the building. To the right of this building was the Station Hotel, now flats, then across the road northwards again stands the former Commercial Bank of Scotland. The gap site to the north of that building once housed the original Bridge Street Station built in 1841, which had grand Doric columns fronting it. The modern, rather functional, Bridge Street Subway station lies diagonally south-east of this building and was originally opened in 1896.

Building of the old Bridge Street train station
Across the road from the Laurieston pub on Bridge Street lies the building of the former Savings Bank of Glasgow built in 1888. With its marble columns at the front and an impressive domed roof inside, it was once home to a decent Greek restaurant as far as I remember, but looks all closed up now. The tenement at the corner has an impressive octagonal turret.
Former Savings Bank, Bridge Street 

Heading further south on Bridge Street (which becomes Eglinton Street) you would previously pass two old places of entertainment. First on your left you would pass the Coliseum, a music hall opened in 1905. It was converted to a cinema in 1925 and played the first "talkie" in Glasgow four years later, Al Jolson's The Jazz Singer. It closed in 1980 and the council bought it as part of their plans to cut a new ring road through the area. When this never came to anything the increasingly dilapidated hall re-opened as a bingo hall. The bingo closed in 2003 and six years later the Coliseum became another victim to one of those mysterious fires which destroy troublesome old Glasgow buildings and it was demolished.

Further on the lies The New Bedford cinema, now the O2 Academy, a 1932 art deco building which is in regular use again as a music venue.

Towards Eglington Toll

Continuing south past Cumberland Street and under a railway bridge you pass some four-storey flats with white harling. A plaque here marks the spot where Sir Hugh Robertson was born in 1874, composer, conductor, pacifist and founder of the Glasgow Orpheus Choir. 

Eglinton Toll, Glasgow in 1917 and 2015
If you carry on beyond the southern edges of the Gorbals, underneath the M74 extension which now cuts through here, you are in the area which once housed a cavalry barracks just off Eglinton Street. The cavalry from here were brought into the town centre to clear the streets of rioters in 1848 with "repeated charges". Later the site here housed the Poorhouse for Govan Parish. Eglinton Toll, once called St Andrew's Cross, is home to The Star Bar and, from 1922, the long gone Plaza Ballroom. Looking back northwards from here I took this photo to show how recognisable it still is from the picture of 100 years ago. The chimneys on the right at the St Andrew's Works are now gone although the rest of that building still stands, empty. It was built in 1899 as an electricity generating station and in 1937 was converted into a printing works. For me as a child it was always the thing that you saw on May Day marches towards Queen's Park that let you know you were coming to Victoria Road and were almost at the park.

St Andrew's Works, Glasgow

Gorbals Main Street and Gorbals Cross

From here I turned down Pollokshaws Road, passing the red sandstone building of the former Chalmers Free Church in the direction of the Brazen Head pub. Turning left into Cumberland Street you can find the entrance of another of the Gorbals train stations here. The elevated railway here was built between 1864-1867. This four platform station, originally called Eglinton Street Station, then later Cumberland Street Station was closed in the 1960s.
Cumberland Street Station
Just south of Cumberland Street a grid of tenement lined streets was swept away and replaced by the year 1973 with Stirlingfaulds Place. Two overbearing and unappealing 24-storey blocks with 552 flats stood here. Thirty-five years later, in 2008, they were demolished and now new flats are taking their place, modern three and four storey flats, built on a grid system, and on a human scale.

New housing replacing Stirlingfauld Place
Just east of the Stirlingfauld Place flats lies what remains of Gorbals Main Street. Only one lonely old tenement building still stands here at 162 Gorbals Street. This formerly housed a branch of the British Linen Bank Company and their logo can still be seen above the door. When my great grandad retired and left his flat at Gorbals Cross a hundred yards further north, he and my great-granny moved into this block. Every time that I pass it and see that it is still standing I feel my personal link to the Gorbals. Unfortunately I fear that it will eventually succumb to one of those mysterious Glasgow fires which happen in uncared for buildings. However I am hopeful that with new flats approaching it from the rear that it can be refurbished and saved for the future. 

162-166 Gorbals Street before redevelopment began

162-166 Gorbals Street, Glasgow in 1970s

162-166 Gorbals Street, Glasgow in 2015

British Linen Bank Company, Gorbals Street

Gorbals Street, looking north 1965 and 2015
Looking north up Gorbals Street from here towards the city centre today it is hard to imagine that this was once the commercial, thriving heart of this community before the wrecking balls were brought in. The changes that have taken place amount to vandalism. On the the left and right stood long rows of tenement flats and shops. The Gorbals Public Baths were on the left. How much more grand would the Citizen's Theatre be today if they had kept the colonnaded frontage of the Royal Princess's Theatre as well as its handsome auditorium? This theatre was built in 1878. The columns which you can see in the old photo were salvaged from the Union Bank on Ingram Street and moved here in 1878. The figures sculpted by Mossman for this new building atop the columns are of Shakespeare, Robert Burns and Four Muses. They were moved inside when the facade was demolished, along with the neighbouring tenements and Palace Theatre, in 1977. The Palace Theatre next door had been converted into a cinema in the 1930s and later into a bingo hall. The Citizens Theatre Company was founded in 1943 and based at first in the Old Athaeneum before moving to the Princess's Theatre in 1945. Working as a joiner in the Gorbals, my grandad sometimes helped build stage sets here.

Beyond that, Gorbals Cross was drawn up in 1872 following the contemporary Paris fashion with the buildings set at angles to create a diamond shaped plaza which had a drinking fountain and clock at the centre. The tenements at the north-west corner of Gorbals Cross were designed by Alexander 'Greek' Thomson.

In about 1910 my great-grandfather gave up the idea of joining the priesthood, married Isa MacPhee. He moved from Saltmarket to a flat at 89 Mains Street on Gorbals Cross. It was here that my granny was born 5 years later and it was from this flat that my great-grandad worked as a dentist, despite not having any formal dental qualifications. The 1921 Dental Act tried to regulate the profession. From that time he was allowed to formally be registered as a dentist having worked "for at least 5 of the last 7 years as a dental mechanic as the principal means of livelihood". My granny tells me that here he made gum shields for local boy Benny Lynch and that the Socialist John MacLean had held meetings in their front room at Gorbals Cross.

Gorbals Cross

Gorbals Cross, later image
Just north of Gorbals Cross stood a tenement on Muirhead Street, now beneath the Central Mosque building, where Allan Pinkerton was born in 1819. A cooper to trade and active Chartist he emigrated to America in 1843 where he was working with slavery abolitionists within a year. He soon set up his detective agency, with an eye for its logo, giving us the world's first private eyes.

Crown Street

Just east of Gorbals Main Street my grandad was working as a joiner and cabinetmaker when he married my granny in 1938 and they moved around the corner into Crown Street. This long street ran parallel to Govan Main Street but was swept away by the 1970s re-developments.

My grandad's Gorbals joinery business
Crown Street has now been rebuilt in the first step of the attempt to regenerate the Gorbals with a new street network and with tenement style housing. My grandparents lived at 182 Crown Street, which was on the west side between Clelland Street and Rutherglen Road. They lived above Massey's shop. Alexander Massey's first grocer's shop was opened on Crown Street in 1872 as competition to Sir Thomas Lipton and he had soon opened shops all over the country. Although Crown Street is no longer crossed by Clelland Street, by my guess this puts their old flat roughly where Gorbals Library now stands at 180 Crown Street.

Massey's shop on Crown Street, Gorbals, Glasgow

Crown Street, 2015, with Gorbals Library on the right

New Gorbals Park and the view north from here down Crown Street. 2015
Just around the corner from the southern end of Crown Street stand some of the most striking buildings in the new housing development. Opposite the Alexander 'Greek' Thomson designed Caledonia Road Church hangs a bronze sculpture by a group called Heisenberg, "The Gatekeeper". It is suspended above an illuminated photograph and is meant to represent the Gorbals being on the cusp between demolition and reconstruction. It has also become known as "the angel with the bleeding hand" after a crack in the bronze of her hand causes rainwater to seep out a reddish brown colour. Aluminium figures project above the doorways of these flats. Called "The Attendants" they are meant to represent "an emotional response to the diasporal flux of people through the area over the past 200 years". Unfortunately if I pass these buildings on the way to Hampden I just can't help seeing it as a dozen people being tortured by "strappado" suspension.

"The Gatekeeper" sculpture

"The Attendants"

Alexander 'Greek' Thomson's Caledonia Road Church

Across from these buildings at the foot of Cathcart Road stands the sad remains of the Alexander 'Greek' Thomson designed Caledonia Road Church. Built in 1856, along with a row of tenements running behind it, it is a building of international significance, now just an empty shell. It's Ionic columns stand like the Parthenon on top of a solid base, with a sturdy tower standing beside it. Sadly the Greek Thomson designed tenements behind it were demolished and still languish as a gap site. The church closed its doors in 1963 and was bought by Glasgow District Council. Two years later one of those mysterious Glasgow fires gutted the building, destroying Thomson's colourful interior and the building had to be partially demolished. That is how it still stands, high on the "buildings at risk" register.   
Before and after. Thomson's Caledonia Road Church
The former site of Southside Train Station lies opposite the church to the south. Since 2014 this has now become the "Caledonia Depot" and administrative headquarters of Firstbus.

Old weighbridge at Cathcart Road/ Laurieston Road junction and Firstbus depot

Southern Necropolis

Heading south from here and turning left along Caledonia Road you will soon come to the Southern Necropolis. The large empty wasteland to the west of the graveyard here was the site of Dixon's Blazes iron works and Govan Colliery. The coal fields here were "putting out 20,000 loads of coal per year" from 1713-1734. When William Dixon became the colliery manager he soon rose to become its owner and in 1801 took over control of Calder Iron and Coal Works. He created Glasgow's first ever railway here in 1811, a horse drawn cart initially taking coal to the short lived Glasgow Paisley Ardrossan canal at Port Eglinton. A railway pioneer, the extensive network of lines he developed to transport his coal and iron curtailed Laurie's plans to expand his Laurieston development. In the 19th century the furnaces here glowed day and night and the company continued to produce iron here until 1958.
The entrance to the Southern Necropolis caused me an existential crisis with signs saying "Welcome to the Southern Necropolis" alongside signs saying "Danger Keep Out". Presuming they actually meant "keep off" the crumbling gatehouse, built in 1848, I decided to enter. The Southern Necropolis has over 250,000 burials within it and replaced the older, overcrowded Gorbals burial ground which lies north of here. In 1841 children under 12 accounted for 57% of the burials and adults aged over 60 years only 2%. It contains the graves of many of the great and good of Victorian Glasgow. The city council has a heritage trail available with more information. There are here found the graves of Allan Glen who founded the school which bears his name lies here, Robert Paterson who manufactured Camp Coffee in Glasgow, Charles Wilson, the architect of Park Circus and "Wee Willie Whyte" a well known street musician who died in 1848. There is also the grave of Sir Thomas Lipton, who was born in 1848 on Crown Street. His parents were Irish immigrants who started running a shop selling ham, butter and eggs at 11 Crown Street. After spending several years at sea he returned to Glasgow and helped his parents run their shop before eventually setting up his own shops, which became a chain of stores throughout Britain. He became involved in importing tea from Sri Lanka/ Ceylon and the Lipton's brand of tea is known throughout the world. He became a multi-millionaire and bequeathed many of his yachting trophies and other items to the City of Glasgow, some of which are on display in Kelvingrove Museum. 
Tomb of Alexander 'Greek' Thomson
Alongside Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Glasgow's most renowned architect is undoubtedly Alexander Thomson (1817-1875). He is buried in the Southern Necropolis and as his gravestone had been lost to vandalism, it was replaced in 2006 with a tombstone of black, Irish granite which sits incongruously amongst all the old, weather-beaten headstones here. 

Southern Necropolis, Glasgow

The White Lady

One other gravestone worth passing is known as "The White Lady". Here lies John S Smith, carpet manufacturer, his wife Magdalene and their housekeeper Mary McNaughton. His wife and housekeeper were sheltering from the rain under an umbrella when they were returning from church in October 1933. They walked in front of a tram on Queens Drive and were both killed. It is alleged that the head of the veiled lady on the stone turns to follow you as you walk past, and glows gently at night.


Heading north towards the Clyde from the Southern Necropolis takes you through the area known as Oatlands, where housing redevelopment is well advanced, although not without some argument. The last of the old red sandstone tenements of this area have now been demolished in a controversial land deal.

Before you get to Oatlands you come to the former Fransciscan Friary and St Francis' Church in Hutchesontown. It has now been converted for use as a community, learning and arts centre. The Fransciscan Friars bought land in Hutchesontown here in 1868 and construction of the current church building was started in 1870. Although they probably want to keep quiet about it now, the building was officially opened in its new role in August 1998 by Bailie James Mutter and a certain Sir Jimmy Saville.
St Francis' Centre
The streets of the Oatlands development have many imaginative examples of public art scattered amongst them. One of my favourites is Gorbals Boys by Liz Peden, a sculpture re-creating a well know Oscar Marzaroli photograph taken in 1963.

Gorbals Boys by Liz Peden (and a modern day Gorbals boy)

Untitled (Girl with Rucksack) by Kenny Hunter
At the northern end of Oatlands the St Andrew's Suspension Bridge leads into Glasgow Green. When this bridge was completed in 1855 it replaced a ferry across the river for workers passing between Hutchesontown and Bridgeton. From 1885 the area of Oatlands near here was dominated by the massive United Co-operative Bakery building until it was demolished in the 1970s.

St Andrew's Suspension Bridge

Whisky, St Valentine's Bones and Benny Lynch

Heading back towards Ballater Street from here you will pass the Strathclyde Distillery which has been producing spirits here since 1928. Its smoking chimney just south of the river will be familiar to anyone who has passed through Glasgow Green. Glasgow's first (legal) distillery stood a couple of hundred yards from here in the Gorbals, underneath where the Sheriff Court now stands. William Menzies built it there after being granted Scotland's fourth licence to distill spirits in 1786.
Strathclyde Distillery, Gorbals
On the south side of Ballater Street near here is Blessed St John Duns Scotus Roman Catholic Church. Completed in 1975 this church shaped like the prow of a ship is now home to the Franciscans and is the only remaining Catholic church in the Gorbals. Like St Simon's church in Partick which continues to hold mass in Polish, they still maintain the tradition here of holding a monthly mass in Lithuaninan.

Bones of St Valentine in Glasgow church of Blessed St John Duns Scotus
South of the church the jagged roof of a former cotton mill, built in 1816-1821, towers over this area. In 1824 an industrial dispute here led to the shooting of two people on Ballater Street. Now called The Twomax Building it houses social work and healthboard services. A little sculpture of a cloud of smoke, by Rita McGurn and Russell Lamb, stands atop the chimney as a reminder of the previous industry here. 

Twomax Building, Gorbals
I have previously tried to retrace the footsteps of one of the Gorbals most famous residents, world flyweight boxing champion Benny Lynch. The son of Irish immigrants he was born in Ballater Street and lived and trained around this area for much of his career. He is remembered in the name of a short street here, Benny Lynch Court, but I think his achievements merit something a bit more than that, no?

Benny Lynch Court

Just south of Benny Lynch Court lies Gorbals Rose Garden, the former Gorbals Burial Ground. Some of the old headstones remain around the walls of this green space. Several have no words, just the tools of the trade of those buried below, such as a baker's crossed "peels", long shovels for lifting bread in the ovens, or a collier's picks. 

Old gravestones, Gorbals Burial Ground
Old gravestones, Gorbals Burial Ground

Glasgow Central Mosque and the Sheriff Courthouse

Coming north-west towards the river from here you will pass the campus of Glasgow College of Nautical Studies, now a faculty of the City of Glasgow College. Carrying on in this direction brings you to two modern Gorbals buildings. The Sheriff Courthouse on Gorbals Street at the riverside was built between 1980-1986 and contains 21 courtrooms. It is apparently the second largest courthouse in Europe and deals with more minor offences, serious offences being dealt with just across the Clyde at the High Court.

Glasgow Sheriff Courthouse
Across Gorbals Street from the courthouse lies Glasgow's Central Mosque and Islamic Centre. Completed over 30 years ago now in 1984 its illuminated dome is a familiar sight in the riverside skyline of Glasgow. Walking past it today I was surprised how small it actually is. Given the large numbers of Muslims there are living in Glasgow now maybe some jealous glances are being cast towards the two large Gurdwaras that have recently been built in the city.

Leaving the Gorbals I walked back across the Clyde via Jamaica Bridge (or Glasgow Bridge to give it its proper name). Passing here you can see the granite piers on which once stood the old railway bridge into the original Gordon Street Station (now Central Station).

Artist Ian Hamilton Finlay has carved words on the Dalbeattie granite columns. It reads in Greek and English "All Greatness Stands Firm In The Storm", a version of a phrase from Plato's Republic.

Only time will tell if the destructive storm of 20th century developers managed to flatten the Gorbals. From walking about the area today it certainly looks like things are finally moving in the right direction. However the infrastructure is only ever part of the answer. The availability of jobs and opportunities for the people living there is going to be just as important for the new Gorbals to become a thriving community again. This was overlooked when Glasgow's peripheral schemes were laid out in the 1960s and hopefully lessons have been learned from that.

Saturday 7 March 2015

75 Years Ago. The Sinking of HMS Glorious.

Update, June 2018. I wrote this blog 3 years ago in 2015. On the 78th anniversary of the sinking of HMS Glorious I have added a brief update at the end. My granny is still going strong in her 94th year, and although her memory is failing, her beloved brother Donald is still a strong memory that she retains. He died, aged 21, when HMS Glorious was sunk in the North Atlantic on the 8th of June 1940. I recently discovered some old photographs which he had taken during his time on ship, mainly between Alexandria and Hal Far in Malta. On behalf of my granny I have applied for his Arctic Star medal since researching the original blog, which he was awarded posthumously for serving in the Arctic campaigns. Also included below are some more photographs that belonged to my granddad, who served in Normandy, Belgium and Germany. I hope that you find these items of interest...

The story of my great uncle, Rodger Donald Bailey, and the HMS Glorious

My granny celebrated her 90th birthday just before Christmas there. When she was 6 years old her mother died at the age of 34. In June 1940 she was 15 years old when her only brother died at sea. His name was Rodger Donald Bailey, although she called him Donald. He served in the Royal Marines and was one of the 1,207 men who lost their lives on board the HMS Glorious when she was sunk on the 8th of June 1940 by the German battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau. The Royal Navy knew nothing about the sinking until it was announced on German radio and some confusion still surrounds the details of the events that day.

HMS Glorious was lost 75 years ago this year. In the same encounter the two destroyers escorting her, Acasta and Ardent, were also sunk and 1,519 British seamen died. Although it is now 75 years since Donald and his companions died, my gran remembers her brother fondly and I recently had the chance to look through some papers she has held onto. These show the confusion after the sinking, with false rumours coming to the family that Donald may have been a prisoner of war until finally, over a year after the sinking, his death was confirmed. The letters from the Admiralty would also have been sent to many other families so I have copied them here in full to allow anyone else interested in these events to see what happened.

So on this anniversary of his death I'm looking back on his short life, my gran's big brother.

Rodger Donald Bailey

Rodger Donald Bailey was born the 25th of March 1919. His father, my great-grandfather Joshua Bailey, was a blacksmith, originally from Wednesbury, in the heart of the Black Country, where his father had been a bootmaker. Joshua and his family moved to Walsall where my granny and her only brother grew up. 

My granny with her brother Rodger Donald Bailey,
who was six years older than her.
In this note a young Donald has written back home to his mum from a trip to see his grandmother. He tells her that he sleeps in the dark now, and does that say Aunt Lily has gone to the map to see the cows be boiled on a stick? Maybe not.

In 1927, aged 8 he is attending Palfrey Boys School in Walsall and acheives third place that year in the class.

Class photo of Donald Bailey and his classmates at Palfrey Boys School about 1928
By 1932 he was attending Elmore Green Central School on Elmore Row, Bloxwich, Walsall, in what looks like a class of 36 pupils in this report card. 

Elmore Green Central School report card, 1932

Rodger Donald Bailey, 1936

After leaving school he was working as a tool setter but 1936 was the year of the Jarrow March and high unemployment, particularly in the local coal mining industry. He made other plans. No sooner had he turned 17 on the 18th of  March 1936 than he had applied to join the Royal Marines.

On the back of this photo my gran had written at some time in the past "R. D. Bailey March 1936, aged 17".
On the 28th of March 1936 he was sent this reply from the Royal Marines recruiting office in Birmingham. It told him to report there 3 days later for a medical examination and if deemed fit he would be straight off to the Royal Marine Barracks in Portsmouth . 

1936 Royal Marine Recruiting Office, Birmingham. Letter of reply

From the form below you can see that only seven days after his 17th birthday he signed up to the Marines for 13 years. At the bottom of the form you can see that he signs to "be faithful and bear true allegiance to His Majesty, King George the Fifth". I quite like the fact that instead of re-printing the application forms the king's name has been scored out and "Edward the VIII" draw in red pen alongside. The new king was nine weeks into his ten month reign so I am sure that they got around to running off some new forms in time for his abdication in December 1936. Also this form states that, if he wishes to, he can pay the crown £20 anytime within the next three months and be discharged from the Marines.

Royal Marines application form, 1936
Within days of applying it seems that training had begun...

Royal Marines Certificate of Education, 1936
In these two photographs Donald is wearing the uniform of the Royal Marines. In the first picture he is standing on the right alongside two colleagues and the studio picture was sent home by the 17 year old Donald to his dad and sister.

Rodger Donald Bailey and colleagues in the Royal Marines, 1936
Rodger Donald Bailey, Royal Marine, 1936

Sadly there are no letters or postcards home still surviving to tell us how he got on or what he thought of his life at sea. The only other item I have from Donald himself is an undated Christmas greeting to his family. 

HMS Glorious

During the war Donald served on HMS Glorious. HMS Glorious was a battlecruiser built for World War I and rebuilt as an aircraft carrier at Rosyth and Devonport in 1924. After briefly serving in the Mediterranean she passed through the Suez canal where the ship took part in the unsuccessful hunt for the Admiral Graf Spee. 

By April 1940 she had rejoined the Home Fleet to provide air support for British forces in the Norwegian campaign. When Germany invaded France in May 1940 the British Expeditionary Forces had to be withdrawn and after 62 days of fighting Germany captured Norway on 10th of June 1940. 

HMS Glorious made trips between Norway and Scapa Flow supplying aircraft for the campaign but when she arrived off Norway on the 2nd of June 1940 it was to support the British evacuation. British Gladiator and Hurricane planes were flown on board. The captain of HMS Glorious, Captain Guy D'Oyly-Hughes, is reported to have frequently come into dispute with the professional aviators under his command and to have often rejected their advice. On the 8th of June he made a request to set off independently to Scapa Flow instead of travelling with the fleet, to hold a court-martial of his Air Commander. The ship was accompanied by the destroyers Acasta and Ardent. 

In conditions of maximal visibility as it was that day it would be normal practice to have spotter planes in the air on combat air patrol, but this was not the case, and when the German battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau spotted the funnel smoke of the three ships and attacked there were no aircraft on the flight deck ready for quick take off and no look out in the crow's nest. 

The authoritative Jane's Naval History of World War II  reports that HMS Glorious was "proceeding independently for no good reason".

 -German newsreel footage of the German attack on HMS Glorious, Acasta and Ardent

Two hours and thirty-five minutes after the Germans had spotted the British ships all three had been sunk. Again, from Jane's Naval History of World War II, "It is possible that, had she been following correct procedures, she could have greatly discomfitted the prowling Scharnhorst and Gneisenau. In the event she was sunk with heavy loss of life."

Survivors have estimated that about 900 men abandoned HMS Glorious, but the Germans made no attempt to rescue the men in the water. No British ships came to the aid of the men either, despite HMS Devonshire being 30-50 miles away. It appears that HMS Devonshire was the only ship which received the transmission from HMS Glorious that she was under enemy fire. As HMS Devonshire did not rebroadcast this enemy sighting no other ships were informed. HMS Devonshire had been ordered to maintain radio silence and proceed to Britain at full speed as she was evacuating the Norwegian royal family and government to London.  Therefore no effective rescue was launched by the British Navy.

Over the next five days several survivors were found by two Norwegian ships and by a German seaplane. In total there were only thirty eight survivors from HMS Glorious and one seaman each from the Acasta and the Ardent survived. Although I only know the story of Rodger Donald Bailey, 1,518 other men lost their lives that day.

News Reaches Donald's Family

Out of the blue on the 11th of June 1940 Donald's father receives a telegram from the Marines in Plymouth. It says "Deeply regret to inform you your son Marine R. D. Bailey is missing, possible a prisoner of war."

The same day, 11th June 1940, a letter is posted from the Royal Marine Barracks in Plymouth. It says "there is insufficient evidence to enable a reliable estimate to be made of the possibility of his being still alive, but you may be assured that I will inform you as soon as any further news is available."

Two weeks later the next letter is posted from Plymouth on 1st July 1940. It reports that 35 survivors have been brought to Britain and their reports confirm many deaths. "In its comments...the German High Command communique stated that there were several hundred survivors from our ships. It is, however, now clear that few if any survivors...can have been taken on board the enemy warships." This news is bad for Donald's father and sister in Walsall, but surely leaves his family clinging to the hope that Donald is now a German prisoner of war. 

My gran has no other letters which the family received until 4th January 1941, seven months after the sinking. It is an update of efforts taken by the Marines to ascertain the fate of the men remaining missing. It again recounts German claims of hundreds of prisoners of war and steps taken by the International Red Cross to find out who these men are. Even if the "hundreds" of prisoners now looks in doubt, Donald's family are being told that there are six men from the British ships being held. Again it must only be a normal reaction for the family getting this letter to hope that Donald is amongst the six. 

Finally on 20th October 1941, over 16 months since the sinking of HMS Glorious, the Admiralty confirm that they believe Donald and all the other missing men from the ships, have died. We are still six weeks away from the bombing of Pearl Harbour and America's entry into the war. They report in this letter that the International Red Cross and the American embassy in Berlin had been helping with their enquiries but there is no longer any hope that Donald is alive. "The long continued suspense and anxiety which you have had to endure is deeply regretted..." and for me, hard to imagine.

A letter the following day, 21st October 1941 confirms the formalities of discussing any possible estate of Donald and pension for the family. In the space of 24 hours any lingering hope that Donald's father Joshua or his sister, my gran, may have clung on to, is extinguished. Donald was 21 years old when he died. 

In 1941 my granny was 16 years old and still living with her father and step-mother in Leamore, Walsall. Her response to the loss of her brother is to go to an army recruiting office, lie about her age and sign up. She told me that her dad scolded her for this. He said that he had already lost one of his children to the war and didn't want to lose his other, but her mind was made up. She spends the next 4 years operating anti-aircraft guns in Bristol and Whitby.

On 5th November 1941 Joshua receives a letter from Buckingham Palace offering the condolences of the king and queen for his loss. Like all of these other letters first Joshua and then my gran holds onto it and keeps it with the few photos they have of Donald and with his school report cards. 

Letter from Buckingham Palace, 5 Nov 1941

A few days later they receive official confirmation from the Admirality of Rodger Donald Bailey's death "when HMS Glorious was lost by enemy action". Four months later in February 1942 a letter comes confirming that Donald's family will receive his estate, £13 11s 5d. This is a good bit short of the £20 he would have needed to pull together to buy himself out of the Marines in 1936.

After the war has ended thoughts turn to remembrance. In 1951 the Imperial War Graves Commission contact Donald's father to advise him that his name will be recorded on the Plymouth Naval Memorial. 

Donald's father is 63 years old in 1954 when he is invited to attend the unveiling of a plaque on Armistice Day in Walsall dedicated to the memory of the 741 men and women of the borough who lost their lives in the war.

So what about Donald's sister

So my gran's response to this was to leave home at 16 years of age and enlist in the army. She volunteered to be sent abroad but instead was trained to work the radar for the anti-aircraft guns. In this photograph below she is with her colleagues in the Auxiliary Territorial Service (fourth from the left in the second back row). She has held onto her uniform badges and let my son see them for a school project he was doing recently. 

Women of the Auxiliary Territorial Service in World War 2
A young Private Bailey on the left
Uniform badges of the Auxiliary Territorial Service and the anti-aircraft command badge
She spent almost 4 years outside Bristol, at Portishead, at the anti-aircraft guns there. When working on the anti-aircraft radar she says that she would work beside the predictors who would calculate where the aircraft were and pass on the message when to fire. It had been decided by Churchill that women were not to be put in the position of actually pulling the trigger but could undertake all other roles.

British WW2 anti-aircraft gun lay out

British anti-aircraft guns

During the day they were given other jobs, sometimes peeling potatoes or helping farmers mow their hay or bring in grass. Her favourite job was to take the laundry from the camp into Bristol as it was a trip into town. Even when recalling the shrapnel hitting the building where she slept at night she remembers it all being a lot of fun and when she was discharged from the ATS at the end of the war she re-enlisted to join the NAAFI (Navy Army Air Force Institute). 

My granny was third from the right in the front row of this photograph with her colleagues

In May 2015 my parents visited Portishead as the remnants of the anti-aircraft gun positions are still standing, although now overgrown with weeds. A quick jump over a barbed wire fence and my dad was able to see where my granny spent her war years, at the Bristol B2, Heavy Anti-Aircraft Battery 237.

Bristol B2 Heavy Anti-Aircraft Battery at Portishead in 2015

Bristol B2 Heavy Anti-Aircraft Battery at Portishead in 2015

After the war

Whilst in the NAAFI my granny met a soldier from Scotland, my grandad. He was from Glasgow, living in the shadow of  the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Govan where his father worked. He had enlisted in June 1940 and was trained as a radio operator and mechanic. In this role he crossed at Normandy into France and then up through Belgium, eventually crossing into Germany at the end of the war.

When he left the army he proposed to my gran and brought her back to Glasgow, where she has stayed ever since.
My grandad on the left in uniform and colleagues

Caricature of my grandad, the note on the back says it was done in France

My grandad standing beside a German plane whilst serving in Antwerp

Remembering HMS Glorious

As stated above the names of the men lost from the Acasta, Ardent and HMS Glorious have been remembered at the Plymouth Naval War Memorial and also usually in their home towns. In St Nicholas Church at the Naval base in Devonport the Glorious, Ardent and Acasta Association unveiled a plaque in 2001 in memory of the dead. Since then other memorials have been unveiled and in 2010 on the 70th anniversary of the sinking a plaque was laid at Harstad in northern Norway.

In Cumbria lies St Peters Church at Martindale in the heart of the Lake District. In this church there are memorial stained glass windows to St Nicholas, the patron saint of sailors. These windows are dedicated to the memory to the men of HMS Glorious and represent a bird's eye view of the aircraft carrier in full steam.

St Peters Church, Martindale, Cumbria

Memorial windows at St Peters Church
My gran was unaware of any of these memorials until I found out about them recently and once I told her about them she was keen to visit. This year my parents took her and her partner Bert for a day trip down to the church in the Lake District. They left a verse Bert had written and my gran left a ceramic posy. She was pleased and surprised to see that other people had visited too. She wrote to me "Other people had been to pay their respects also... It is wonderful to think that someone else had thought about them too." She said "We had a lovely day there. The church is old and solid and set amongst the hills."

My gran is 90 years old now and still very fit and active. In December 2014 she celebrated her birthday with some of her family and seven great-grandchildren. 

Memorials are there to help us remember those who died in war and not to glorify war. We remember Donald, my great uncle, my dad's uncle, my gran's brother, who didn't get the chance to see his own family grow up.

Update, June 2018

As mentioned above, I have discovered some more photographs that my granny has held onto. Most of these were taken by her brother Donald, and sent back to her from Malta and Egypt when he was serving on HMS Glorious. There are also some newspaper clippings referring to the sinking which she has held onto. Where Donald has added some comments on the back of the photographs, these are copied below.
Donald Bailey in the 1920s, Walsall

King's Squad Royal Marines, passing out inspection, Portsmouth, with Donald Bailey marked with a cross 
"The bridge, HMS Glorious"
"HMS Glorious"
"On the left, Malta 1939, just coming from a swim, Hal Far"
Hal Far, Malta
"another crash, Hal Far"
"our sister ship, HMS Courageous"
"Alexandria Harbour, a view I took from the ship"

(no caption, but obviously a group of sailors on a trip from Alexandria, visiting the pyramids on camels)
Newspaper clippings about HMS Glorious
Arctic Star medal for Roger, Donald Bailey
I also include here four photographs that belonged to my granddad. These photographs are tiny, about the size of postage stamps, and are expanded here. They show the damage that he encountered as they made their way through Normandy after D-day.

"Cherbourg railroad station"
"St Marias, (unreadable)"

"wrecked Jerry garrison at Lison (Normandy) with Wayne"

Apologies for any inaccuracies in the above and please add a comment if you wish me to make any corrections or clarifications.