John Nicolson’s View From Westminster: They came in droves

John Nicolson MP
John Nicolson MP

It was, they said, a beautiful night. The moon was full, its luminous presence dominating the clear night sky.

They came in droves, exploiting the perfect flying conditions. Crossing the Irish Sea, the Clyde shimmered beneath them, silver in the moonlight.

That night the carefully observed blackout was redundant, and the war weary citizens of the Clydeside could do nothing to hide their fine old tenements as wave after wave of German pilots – determined to cripple the war time Scottish ship building industry – dropped their deadly cargo on Glasgow and Dunbartonshire.

Seventy five years ago this month, the Clydeside Blitz was underway.

My grandfather, John George Stant went to work as usual. He left his wife Jenny and three young children in their top floor tenement room and kitchen on the Dumbarton Road in Scotstoun to work a nightshift at Yarrows, in Clydebank, a twenty minute tram ride away.

As the air raid sirens wailed along the Clyde, my mum joined her twin siblings and my grandma in the underground air raid shelter across the road. They didn’t know so at the time, but three miles west, John and his work mates ran a doomed sprint towards the shipyard shelter where moments later they were to die, victims of a Luftwaffe hit.

My grandma sat up all night waiting for her husband to come home, and of course he never did. Nor was there a body to bury.

John George Stant, like so many veterans, had dodged German bullets in Flanders only to die at the hands of German bombers over the Clyde.

When the bombers flew east towards the North Sea and home, they’d left 528 Clydesiders dead, and 617 seriously injured.

By a curious twist of fate, Miss Sandeman of Bearsden’s famous port wine family hid in the private Anderson shelter she’d built in the garden of the house I now own.

If she was frightened, she had good cause. Dumping their excess bombs, the Luftwaffe pilots hit Bearsden South Church a few hundred yards away.

As I write, Clydebank prepares to commemorate its lost sons and daughters from seventy five years ago. John George Stant’s immediate family are all long gone, barring one, his daughter, my mum, now 90 and blessed (or cursed) by a vivid recollection of the night her father died.

She thought long and hard about whether to accept my friend and colleague Martin Docherty MP’s invitation to join today’s Clydesiders in both Clydebank and at Westminster commemorat-ing the Blitz.

But as one of only a handful left alive who remember the night, she’s decided to go.

Seventy five years ago who could have dreamt that one day war in Northern Europe would become inconceivable?

And yet we have enjoyed the longest period of peace in our continent’s history.

As we watch some of our leading politicians tour the tv studios to squabble, ignominiously, over the minutiae of negotiations in Brussels, it’s worth, surely, thinking about the bigger picture, and of the unprecedented peace we now all enjoy.