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U3A Writing: An Ominous Phone Call

Peggy MacKay's husband John served in the Royal Navy during the war as the skipper of a patrol ship on mine recovery and anti-submarine detection, based in Scapa Flow.

She was just 21-years-old when she received a call at her family home in Yorkshire saying that John was in hospital in Aberdeen...

What was I doing when I was 21 years old? That’s easy. I was in Aberdeen, and my birthday passed almost unnoticed.

Had I been at home in Huddersfield, there wouldn’t have been much celebration, as my parents weren’t party people. Our friends were always welcome to have a meal or stay with us, and considering it was 1945 and rationing was still with us, we were fortunate to manage that.

But I wasn’t at home. I was in Aberdeen. I had been married for five months, and John was serving in the Royal Navy, a skipper on a Patrol Ship on mine recovery and anti-submarine detection, based in Scapa Flow.

I got a phone call in Huddersfield to say he was in hospital in Aberdeen and could I go there. He wasn’t in danger, but had a complete breakdown and would need rest and treatment for a few weeks.

I was to stay with cousins I had never met. But, nothing daunted, I boarded the train in Huddersfield at 8 pm, I think it was, and was due in Aberdeen at 8 am the following day.

The train broke down in Morley Tunnel, and after some delay we emerged to find we had missed our connection in Leeds and in Edinburgh, of course. So I eventually arrived at 8 pm instead of 8 am.

I was met by John, who had leave to meet me with his cousin Georgie. And then he went back to hospital and I went home with Georgie.

She and her husband Jack made me most welcome, and I met their six-month old baby Edwin, who I got the pleasure of nursing during my stay.

Now the one big stumbling block for the first week – language. If you have never heard an Aberdonian speak his broad dialect, you don’t know what you have missed. I could have been in China for all I understood.

I kept saying ‘yes’ and ‘no’ and not much else. Visitors remarked how quiet I was. Little did they know I had no option because I daren’t add to the conversation.

I visited the hospital each day, and that was like a family gathering. John had one cousin in the Wrens, a steward in the Admiral’s Residence. Another cousin Wren in the cookhouse, and a third a patient in the hospital wing, having a foot operation – another Wren.

We all used to meet in the Admiral’s kitchen each evening and have our tea and scones, which did help to lighten the days.

After about three weeks John was discharged, and we came back to Huddersfield to pack up and leave for our life in the far North in April 1945.

But that is another story.

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