Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Blankets from Canada

During the second world war, curling continued in Scotland, although naturally to a limited extent. The Annual of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club continued to be published during the war years, but as a slimmed down publication, no longer including the memberships lists of all the affiliated clubs. In looking at these Annuals to try to understand how much the war affected the sport, I came across examples of the generosity of curlers, not just at home, but from overseas as well.

The Annual Meeting of the Representative Committee of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club was to have been held at Ayr, but, because of the war, it was (again) held within the North British Station Hotel in Edinburgh, on July 30, 1941. David Hutchison of Kinross, one of the Vice-Presidents, was in the chair in the absence of Sir Donald Cameron of Locheil, the President, who was unable to attend. Thirty-seven clubs were represented.

In his opening remarks, David Hutchison made a point of acknowledging a gift of blankets 'which the Canadian Branch sent to us to distribute as we wished among sufferers from the war'. Blankets? I had to find out more about this.

In the Annual for 1941-42 the Royal Club Secretary, Andrew Hamilton, is recorded as saying:

"Presentation of Blankets from Canadian Branch.

It is with great pleasure that I inform you of a most generous gift from our old friends, the members of the Canadian Branch of the Royal Club. During the winter a letter was received by the Secretary of the Royal Club from Mr H R Cockfield of Montreal, a Vice-President of the Royal Club and a member of the Special Committee appointed by the Canadian Branch to raise a fund with which to purchase equipment or materials which could be used to help to alleviate the distress of citizens suffering from the results of air raids. Mr Cockfield stated that his Branch desired that the President of the Royal Club should have the disposal of these gifts.

The President, Sir Donald Cameron of Lochiel, KT, approved of Lord Kinnaird, President of the Scottish Branch of the Red Cross Society, being consulted as to the form the gift should take, and he suggested blankets. With that suggestion the President, President-Elect and the Vice-Presidents in this country agreed.

In the course of a few months 1700 blankets of the finest quality have been received from the Canadian Branch, the whole consignment having safely reached Scotland.

The blankets were on 29th April last formally presented to the Scottish Branch of the Red Cross Society by the Earl of Stair, KT, President-Elect of the Royal Club, and were acknowledged by Lord Kinnaird.

The Canadian Branch has been most gratefully thanked for this generous and patriotic gift, and the Council desire particularly to refer to the great services rendered by Lieut-Colonel Vivian Graham, a former Vice-President of the Royal Club, Chairman of the War Subscription Fund Committee, and by Mr Cockfield, to whom the Royal Club also tender their most grateful thanks."

These blankets had arrived not long after the Clydebank Blitz when in the nights of March 13-14 and 14-15, 1941, several industrial centres along the River Clyde were bombed by the Luftwaffe. In proportion to its population, Clydebank suffered the worst. According to an official count in 1942 (see here), the Clydebank raids killed 528 people and seriously injured 617, compared to totals of 1,200 people, and 1,100 in the whole of Clydeside. And of course many were left homeless. The Canadian blankets would certainly have been put to good use by the Scottish Branch of the Red Cross. Although the raids of March 1941 are the best remembered, other places in Scotland suffered too, all recorded in Les Taylor's recent book Luftwaffe over Scotland, see here.

The Annuals in 1942-43, 1943-44, and 1944-45, recorded that the Canadian Branch of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club sent, in total, 6420 blankets, as well as 3000 flannelette sheets. Aside from the cost, there had been problems when wool had become scarce, and finding space on ships crossing the Atlantic was not always easy. The blankets that were sent were of top quality from Ayers Mills of Lachute, Quebec, see here, and from the Kenwood Mills of Arnprior, Ontario, see here.

Most of the blankets sent from Canada were not immediately put to use in Scotland. It is a reflection of the uncertainty of the war years that they were kept in store by the Scottish Branch of the Red Cross Society. At the end of the war, the Society's President, Lord Kinnaird, reported in the 1945-46 Annual, "May I just say how grateful we are to the Royal Caledonian Curling Club for the blankets? We kept some in reserve to the end of the war in case of bombing accidents, and now some have gone up to Norway. 4000 of those you have given have been despatched to Norway, Holland, Belgium, and France to help these countries."

The Annual Report of the Executive Committee of the Canadian Branch of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club for the season 1945-46 records the following, "During the year we have received many letters of appreciation from people in Great Britain, Holland and France, for the gifts of blankets they have received from us. Some of these letters are very touching and make us feel that what we have done has been a great comfort to the war sufferers."

I wonder if any of these blankets have survived. I suspect this is unlikely. Were they colourful? Or just functional?

It was not only blankets that came across from Canada. There were many donations of cash from individuals and clubs. I noticed something else. In 1943, the Royal Club Secretary Andrew Hamilton, after recording the gift of blankets and sheets, noted, "In addition, the Ladies' Curling Association of the Canadian Branch are busy packing half a ton of hard boiled, clear candies in 1/2 lb cellophane bags. These have been shipped to the Women's Voluntary Service for distribution among the children of Britain. The Royal Club acknowledge with high appreciation this kindly action."

Sweets were a special delicacy during the war years, and for several years thereafter. General rationing started on January 8, 1940, just a few months after war broke out. Sweet and chocolate rationing started on July 26, 1942, only finishing in February 1953.  WW2 was over when I was born, but, as a wee boy in the 1950s, I can remember rationing, and receiving parcels from family in North America. Eating sweets was a rare occurrence, but very much enjoyed when the opportunity arose!

This was brought to mind when I came across something in the 1952-53 Annual. This is from the President's address, "At our last annual meeting a reference was made to a consignment of sweets provided by the Ladies' Curling Association, Canada, with the suggestion that they be distributed amongst the poorer children of Scotland. I am very happy to state that these sweets have now been distributed, and I have been informed by our Secretary here today that he has just received another cheque for the same purpose from the Canadian Ladies' Curling Association. (Hear, Hear and Applause.) The donations are much appreciated by the Royal Club."

Blankets and sweeties - curling connections with Canada that should not be forgotten! It's a small uplifting story of a time which we now remember for the horrors and atrocities of WW2. 

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