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Chapter Eight

Chapter 8

The War Years


The expression “the phoney war” was coined to describe the strange course the war was following. In the early months, the bombing of the civilian population had been confined largely to the south of England. However, on 13th March 1941, enemy planes launched their first concentrated attack on Clydeside. Some of the incendiary bombs they dropped indiscriminately fell in Renfrew from Oxford Road northwards towards the river. Several fell in the Robertson Park, some of which set the sports pavilion alight. Since the park gates were locked, the fire-fighters could not get near to tackle the blaze and the building burned fiercely providing an excellent marker for the bombers carrying high explosive bombs. Two of these fell dangerously close to Trinity manse. The first landed opposite the front gate and the second fell at the foot of the garden, killing a neighbour. Apart from a bad crack in the north gable wall and damage to the chimney heads, the building survived the attack. During the bombing, Mrs Barclay and her two children sheltered in a cupboard below the stairs, a nerve-racking experience for all three. While this was happening, Mr Barclay was in Paisley with his young people’s choir giving a concert.

Altogether five incendiaries fell on the church buildings that night. The first came through the roof on the south side of the large hall, which was being used at the time as a canteen for young servicemen. It landed behind heating pipes but was quickly extinguished leaving behind only charred wood and the smell of burning timber. Two fell on the gents’ cloakroom, one in front of the platform at the west end of the lesser hall and one in the wallhead above the east door of the large hall. The next day the Fire Brigade was called to deal with the adjacent timbers which were smouldering. On the Sunday following these incidents, the minister appeared in the pulpit and preached morning and evening without giving any evidence of the strain which he and those around him had undergone.

By the next Session Meeting on 3rd October, some relaxation had taken place and organisations were given permission to meet in the evenings provided that no person under fourteen years of age was present and that not more than seventy five people were there at any one time. The Brownies, the Guides and the Cubs arranged to meet on Saturday afternoons and the Scouts on Friday evenings, provided capable wardens were present in case of emergencies. By the 11th December the Session agreed to permit adult organisations to hold socials under certain conditions and so the pattern of church activities was set for the remainder of the war. The Sunday School, Bible Class and Young People’s Society continued to meet as usual on Sundays. Because of the bombing, the Session began to doubt the wisdom of holding Sunday evening services during the winter and in August of that year decided against them but in October they reversed their decision and the Sunday evening services were held at 6.30p.m. as usual.

A fire-watching service was a feature of the life of Trinity Church from Sunday the 23rd February 1941 till Friday the 16th April 1943. It had become obvious that incendiary bombs could cause as much damage to unoccupied buildings as the high explosive bombs because, although relatively easy to control if they were tackled immediately, they could do immense damage if undetected. Although a party of three to five fire-watchers was on duty in the church on a rota basis for more than two years, they were never required to extinguish a fire. Nevertheless, “they also serve who only stand and wait”. As the war years dragged on, life in Trinity continued to follow the pattern that had been set early in the war. Before the end was in sight, however, Trinity was looking to the future.

At the instigation of the Paisley Presbytery, a Youth Board was formed in the church consisting of representatives of the Kirk Session, the congregation and all youth organisations to stimulate an interest in the work among young people. At a Session Meeting in November 1944, it was decided to re-form the Men’s Guild, to form a branch of the Girl’s Association, to re-form the Rover Scout Crew and to actively support the YMCA. At the next Session Meeting it was suggested that consideration be given to the question of renewing the temperance work amongst the young, under the auspices of the Band of Hope Blue Bonnets, but action was delayed. It was announced at the same meeting that the Girls’ Association would meet on Tuesday at 8 p.m. beginning in January 1945 and that the Men’s Club would re-form later that month. The Junior Choir was to be restarted by Mr Kerr, the church organist, on Thursday 11th October.

In 1945, the congregation had been balloted on the question of admitting women to the Session. The result of the ballot, presented to a Session Meeting on the 12 December of that year, was as follows:

  • Voting papers issued 1359
  • Voting papers returned 1146
  • Votes in favour 198
  • Votes against 942
  • Spoiled papers 6

When peace came to Europe, the members and office bearers set about preparing for the return of the ex-service men and women and in April 1946, Mr Barclay announced that he had been asked to lecture to the university classes formed for the demobilised men who intended to enter the ministry.

In the following May, the Session thought about a memorial to commemorate those who had fallen during the Second World War. This was not erected during Mr Barclay’s ministry because, in October 1946, Mr Barclay intimated to the congregation that he had been appointed Lecturer in New Testament Language and Literature at Glasgow University and that he would be leaving Trinity. He relinquished his charge on the 31st December 1946 and the Reverend Alexander G. Fortune MA STM, St George’s East, Paisley was appointed Interim Moderator and later the Reverend William Martin MA, formerly of Wilson College, Bombay was appointed locum tenens for the vacancy.

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