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Social History - War Years
The War Years
Alec Torrance
Archiebald Mathies
The Capture of Rudolf Hess

The War Years
When the first world war began in 1914 the people of Stonehouse rallied together in supporting the armed services overseas and those in need at home. Stonehouse, like so many villages, was to suffer great losses of men who gave their lives in the defence of freedom.

In the Summer of 1994, the old jail house was being redeveloped. While dismantling the building, the original enlistment register were found of those who enlisted during the first world war including the regiments of which the men served. This information linked with research from old copies of the Hamilton Advertiser provide an accurate and sometimes disturbing insight into the incidents and casualties experienced during both world wars.

The following is an extract from the Hamilton Advertiser at the end of the first world war.
November 1918
On receipt of the news that the Armistice had been signed, steps were immediately taken to celebrate the great event. Flags and bunting were displayed in great profusion, work was stopped, schools were closed, the church bells clanged merrily and the streets were filled with excited joyous crowds. An impromptu pipe band was formed of soldiers and civilians who paraded the streets followed by cheering crowds. In the evening a huge bonfire was lit at the Cross and the silver band played a patriotic programme. On the following days, a high victory demonstration was organised by the Discharged Soldiers and Sailors Federation. The procession paraded the principal streets accompanied by the silver and pipe bands and terminated at the Cross where an enthusiastic meeting was held under the chairmanship of Mr A. McIntosh, F.E.I.S.. Speeches extolling the great achievements of the Army and Navy were delivered by Mr A. Anderson M.A. and Mr A. Haddow, M.A.

During the war years organisations were formed to aid the war effort. Never before the first world war, had Stonehouse experienced such unity and commitment in war time. A War Relief Fund was established by local churches and organisations working together in raising money, food and clothing for local soldiers. Local miners donated 2d per pound from their wages for as long as the war lasted. The hospital also played a major part in the war effort acting as a recuperation hospital for hundreds of wounded servicemen. In fact this is where my late mother-in-law May Mair met her husband Pat Murray during the second world war when he was convalescing.

Concert parties were a regular occurrence in the hospital during the wars, as was the case at the Public Hall and the Bowling Club.
The Rex Cinema formed a committee during World War II, contributing a great deal of money to the war effort.

Food rationing took place in the village during the end of the first world war around June 1918. This of course was common during the 1940’s. The Womens Voluntary Service was responsible for organising food and aiding domestic problems. During the evacuation of the cities during the second world war the W.V.S. along with the Red Cross and hospital staff, assisted the mass reception of evacuees to the village.

Unlike the war before, German bombers were a constant threat and so the ARP was formed, organised by Dr. Murray. John Johnston was the local warden who made sure that there was a total blackout whenever the threat was present. He was aided by Special Constables Willie Millar and Jack McKinnon, working 12 hour shifts, policing the village. Although no bombs are recorded to have fallen on the village, it has been noted that a farmer near Goslington saw bombs dropped close; presumably to lessen the load of the German aircraft en route home, after bombing the Clyde. These craters are still said to be in evidence.

In 1941 an Army Cadet Force was established, with the objective of training youths for military service after school. The Local Defence Volunteers were also formed to prevent the threat of invasion should it occur. The L.D.V. later became known as the Home Guard. During the war Canadians were billeted at Stonehouse Hospital for some time, and Americans are said to have been stationed at Cot Castle.

Alec Torrance
One of many men of notability in the village, during the second world war was Flight Lieutenant Alec Torrance, of Meadowside Cottage, Lockhart Street. Alec joined the R.A.F.V.R. (Royal Air Force Voluntary Reserve) in 1939, previously employed as a compositor with the Hamilton Advertiser. Alec learned to fly a range of fighter aircraft and was part of the famous 137 Squadron flying the ‘Whirlwind’ bombers on sorties, attacking enemy positions, supply routes and shipping.

In 1941 he sustained burn injuries overseas but was able to resume active service only a few months later, after recuperating in Gibraltar. Based primarily in England during the Battle of Britain, in the later years of the war he was posted to Burma and Thailand as part of a ‘Mosquito’ bomber crew, attacking Japanese positions.

Some people in the village may remember Alec for his daring swoop under Stonehouse Viaduct, in his ‘Whirlwind’ during the war years. Unfortunately, Alec was spotted and his number taken and reported to the authorities where he found himself in trouble with his superiors for his misadventure.

After the war, Alec continued to work in aviation. In 1959 he was Senior Flight Officer with S.A.S. at Prestwick. In 1971 he helped to co-ordinate and plan the route for the famous aviator Sheila Scott, on her journey round the world, via the North Pole. This venture was part of a NASA research project.

Many men from the village took part in the first and second world wars, and many were highly decorated. In 1959 Major John Brown, previously of 60 Camnethan Street, was awarded an MBE for his service during and after the war in Malaya and the Mediterranean with the ‘Green Berets’ and 3rd Commando Brigade.
Archiebald Mathies
On February 13th 1987 the United States Airforce training school in Upwood, Cambridgeshire was renamed the Mathies NCO Academy in honour of one of only a handful of NCO’s to have been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honour, U.S.A’s highest
military award.

Mathies was born in Stonehouse on June 3rd 1918, but moved to Pennsylvania with his parents to start a new life in America. His Congressional Medal of Honour; one of only 17 to be awarded to personnel of the 8th Air Force during World War II, was posthumous. Archie died struggling to land a B-17 in a field South of Stilton (near Cambridge) on February 20th 1944. He was buried with full honours at the US cemetery at Madinglay, West of Cambridge. His body was later exhumed in 1947 and returned home to Pennsylvania.

The citation of Staff Sergeant Archibald Mathies reads:
The aircraft in which Sgt. Mathies was serving as engineer and ball turret gunner was attacked by a squadron of enemy fighters with the result that the pilot was killed outright, the co-pilot wounded and rendered unconscious, the radio operator wounded and the aeroplane severely damaged. Nevertheless, Sgt. Mathies and other members of the crew managed to right the aeroplane and fly it back to their home station. Mathies and the navigator aboard volunteered to attempt to land the aeroplane. Other members of the crew were ordered to jump, leaving Mathies and the navigator aboard. After observing the distressed aircraft from another plane, Mathies commanding officer decided the damaged plane could not be landed by an inexperienced crew and ordered them to abandon it and parachute to safety.

Demonstrating unsurpassed courage and heroism, Sgt. Mathies and the navigator replied that the pilot was still alive but could not be moved and that they would not desert him. They were then told to attempt a landing. After two unsuccessful efforts the aeroplane crashed into an open field in a third attempt to land. Sgt. Mathies, the navigator and the wounded pilot were killed.

‘Archie’ Mathies had only joined the 351st, 33 days earlier and was on only his second mission. The B-17 was one of over 400 B- 17’s on mission 226 despatched to Leipzig, targeting a Messerschmitt factory and other locations, when they were hit by a 109 over Germany. Mathies had only a couple of hours flying experience but was prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice to save the wounded pilot.

The Capture of Rudolf Hess
Many will still remember the capture of Adolf Hitler’s deputy, Rudolf Hess, but how many know it was a gentleman from Stonehouse who arrested Hess near Eaglesham in 1941.

The late Jack McKenzie of Lockhart Street was the man responsible for his capture during the early years of the second world war. During his service in the Post Office, he joined the Territorial Army as a member of the Royal Signals and was then called up for military service at the outbreak of war.

Posted initially to Stirling Castle and thence to Eaglesham House, it was here Jack played his most notable contribution to the war effort, when Corporal of the Guard, Jack McKenzie and his guards took Rudolf Hess to a nearby farm house owned by a Mr MacLean. Jack’s Signals Unit was also responsible for tracking the plane from the North of England, as they were responsible for alerting the Anti-aircraft defences South of Glasgow. Despite this, Jack’s Signals Unit got no recognition for the capture of Hess, as it was felt the events could not be publicly revealed because their regiment only had a couple of rifles, supplemented by pickaxe handles for defence. The local Homeguard got the accolade as they were equipped with rifles.

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