VE Day 70th Anniversary
Vale of Leven Academy World War Two Memorial
A Sorry Tale
Friday 8th May 2015, the day after the General Election, is the 70th Anniversary of Victory in Europe Day, or VE Day as it has always been known. For the generation that fought the war it was a day of rejoicing and celebration and street parties were held throughout the country including many in the Vale.
Insert Photo 1 – VE Party in King Edward Street Alexandria
VE Day King Edward Street Alexandria 1945
In Dalvait Road Balloch, strands of bunting which had been put up for the VE Day Party and which hung between the Co-operative buildings on the east side of the road and the trees (now gone) on the west side, survived for another 20 years. No one was minded to take them down because they served as a daily reminder not just of the celebrations of the end of the war, but also of the loss of a soldier from Dalvait Road in the fighting in Germany just a few days before the Dalvait Road party had taken place.
Although not every street had seen one of its own killed, at all of these celebrations and parties people tempered their happiness with sombre reflection and remembrance of those who had not come back from the war. The losses in World War Two were fortunately nothing like as bad as those in World War One, but the young men who died had only one life to give and to them and their families and friends the total numbers didn’t matter much, their loss was and is personal and everlasting. There are still a number of people in this area who lost brothers and husbands, although the number is dwindling with time. Many others lost fathers and uncles and many of them gather every year on Remembrance Sunday at the local War Memorials.
These Memorials were built in honour of the dead of World War One in the early 1920’s, and the names of the World War Two dead were added in 1946-47, although the latest name was only added to the Alexandria Cenotaph about 3 years ago. Similarly World War Two plaques were added to the Memorials in local churches, social organisations and schools – including the Vale of Leven Academy. Some of these churches and organisations have disappeared and their War Memorials have disappeared with them, while others such as Bonhill Primary School have carefully protected theirs in the move from a building which was shortly afterwards destroyed by fire, but which was not continuing in public ownership whatever else happened to it.
Vale of Leven Academy Memorial Plaque
The Vale of Leven Academy hasn’t disappeared; in fact it has moved twice and grown about 3-fold in size since 1945. However, the Memorial plaque honouring its former pupils who died in the 1939-45 War has disappeared (although the World War One plaque has survived and been rededicated not once but twice is on public display in the new Academy building). The story of the disappearance of the World War 2 plaque should be borne in mind when on May 8th we hear of honouring and remembering the dead. That the Vale Academy lost its plaque honouring its World War Two dead many years ago is still an affront to us all.
Vale of Leven Academy War Memorials in the Original Building
For Robert Bain, not only a former pupil but also a former teacher at the Academy, it was a one-man crusade for many years to get the whole plaque back on display. In spite of his best endeavours the missing part has not been found and its beginning to look as if it never will be.
Original Academy Building about 1914
Both WW1 and WW2 War Memorials were placed on a wall in the old Academy building in Middleton Street Alexandria, now Christie Park Primary School. All of the men whose names appeared on the Memorials had been former pupils or teachers in that building and only knew that building. The move to the new Academy building on its existing site at Place of Bonhill was not made until May 1962. There is an obvious case to be made that the memorials should have stayed in the building where the men went to school, but the powers- that-be knew better, the memorials were taken off the wall and joined the trek to the new Academy building.
The War Memorial Plaques were above the electricity socket and extinguisher in the original building
At the new Academy building, Place of Bonhill
During the move, equipment to the value of £188 “went missing” (about £5,000 in to-day’s money) but both of the memorials made it safely to Place of Bonhill.
Vale of Leven Academy at Place of Bonhill Aerial Photo from 1968
However, they didn’t make it onto display, which was the only justification for moving them from the old Academy building. A variety of excuses for not putting them up were trotted out from fear of vandalism, to the walls not being strong enough to bear their weight; all pretty pathetic. In spite of regular prodding from Robert Bain and others, no attempt was made to put them on display and both plaques were put into storage.
To begin with, they were put into the Drama store and both memorials were definitely there. They were then moved from the store to a space under the stage where it was felt that they would be safer, but this was even further from being on display. The last place they can both be positively identified as being kept was in the Technical Department store, to which they were moved after the storage space under the stage had been broken into. The Technical Department looked after them carefully and it was felt that they were out of harm’s way.
Paid to erect the Plaques
At about this time Jimmy Sandilands, who many will remember as the Head of the Technical Department, got involved. Jimmy was retired by then; he had been in charge of the Balloch platoon of the Home Guard during the War, a duty which he took very seriously and he had an interest in veteran matters. He was so annoyed that the plaques had not been put up on the staircase as promised, that he came into school and left a hefty sum of money to pay for them to be put on display. The money was accepted for that purpose but unfortunately Jimmy died a few days later and he wasn’t around to see that the money was used for its intended purpose, which is probably just as well, because it wasn’t. The plaques were not put up. Yet another shameful episode in this sorry saga.
The next time that anyone seemed to look for the two panels was in 1998 when at the behest of teacher Janet McBean it was decided to put them up in the quadrangle of the 1973 building. This was to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the end of the First World War and a Rededication Service was held, details of which can be found in the attached images.
At that time the World War Two plaque could not be found, and in spite of searches since then, including a thorough search which Robert Bain triggered a couple of years ago when the move into the current “new” building was taking place, its whereabouts remains unknown. The plaque has no scrap value – its value is entirely in commemorating and honouring the dead.
No School Logs Either
It’s true that the names of local men killed in WW2 appear on the local war memorials, but not all of them attended the Academy. We should be able to re-create the names from the Academy logs of the time (which were the source of the WW1 names). However, neither the Education Department nor the Council archivist can find the relevant Academy logs in their archives. Without the plaque or the logs, the Academy dead of World War Two and their ultimate sacrifice, go unrecognised.
So when in a few weeks time we hear the supposed great and good claiming to honour and remember those killed in World War Two, this story from here in the Vale might well make you think: “only when it suits you”. A sorry and shameful tale.