Alec Hamilton was the Superintendent at Talla Reservoir for over 30 years. His wife Elma was my father’s sister. The Hamiltons had moved from Edinburgh to Victoria Lodge in 1931 to succeed to Mr Watt who had been there since the early 1900s. My family lived in Surrey but we spent many holidays staying at Talla, as we called Victoria Lodge, all through the 1930s. Indeed we were at Victoria Lodge when war was declared in 1939. I remember we all stood for the National Anthem at the end of Neville Chamberlain’s speech. My mother and aunt were crying, not a usual sight. After that we walked down to the embankment to tell the news to the duty watchman on the dam. Early 1939 was a time of considerable activity by the IRA in the UK and there had been a system of watchmen for some months. They had a little watchman’s hut just below the road on the embankment and I think that they lived in the old hospital in the valley below Victoria Lodge.
My family returned to Surrey at the end of September 1939 but we went back at the end of October 1940 when the night bombing in the London area was becoming very unpleasant.
When we returned to Talla much had changed. We learnt that there was a Polish Army camp at Kingledores. Alec Hamilton had formed the Tweedsmuir Platoon of the Home Guard and Victoria Lodge seemed to me, as a 10 year old, to be awash with weapons. In the kitchen there was a stack of Canadian Ross rifles and, Alec’s pride and joy, a Browning automatic rifle. The open space by the road bridge crossing the reservoir over flow was occupied by a substantial sand bagged block house known as Fort Hamilton.
In the early days the Home Guard paraded at Victoria Lodge for training. This was great fun for my brother and me. I must confess that, looking back, there was a certain element of Dad’s Army about it but those men would have given their lives for their country. There was one gentleman (Tom Thorburn of Stanhope ?) whom I remember clearly. He was not young but he tried. As time went on efficiency grew with training and practice and it was not long before Alec found himself as Major i/c of a Company with platoons in Broughton and Skirling and Tweedsmuir.
The Polish Army camp at Kingledores was a very exciting development. It was established after the Fall of France when so many Polish units came to Scotland. The Kingledores unit was some kind of detention camp for offending soldiers but I was never clear as to what exactly these offences were. Pretty minor I suspect. It was a tented camp with little or no obvious security.
Surprisingly many of the officers at the camp found their way to the Crook Inn! The Crook was a very lively place in those last months of 1940 and the Willie Wastle Bar did very well !! All those Polish officers with their heel clicking went down well with the ladies, so I am told.
Sadly, the Poles left Kingledores at the end of 1940 and they were transferred to Auchterarder. They could not have been in the locality for more than 5/6 months.
Before they left the officers presented the Hamiltons with a very nice illustrated album of photographs as a token of their appreciation for the hospitality and friendship they had received in Tweedsmuir. This is now back in Tweedsmuir where it belongs.
As we were transients it was not easy to get to know many local people but I do have very fond memories of the four men who worked at the Reservoir, three of whom lived in the cottages below the big house. Jimmy Wilson lived in the white cottage and Bob Henderson and Bob Marshall lived in the two semi detached cottages. Bob Henderson went off to the War as did Willie Anderson of Glenveg. Willie Anderson went to the Guards’ Depot at Caterham Barracks in South London. People wondered how he would fare in the care of the Guards’ drill sergeants. I shall always remember his sister Nettie when she came out of Glenveg in her gum boots to fill Alec’s car up with petrol. Geordie Potts of Talla Farm was a member of the Home Guard as was Jimmy Wilson who ended the War as the Tweedsmuir Platoon commander. You could hear Mr Potts a mile away, he was always whistling as he cycled along. The School mistress was a Miss Reid and she lived in the school house with her mother.
My aunt never seemed to be short of food during the War. Alan Campbell and Bob Linton drove their butcher’s vans out to Tweedsmuir from Biggar all through the War and the ‘bonny wee roasts’ they produced made my mother green with envy coming, as she did, from ration strapped Surrey.
The Second World War was a tremendous experience for me (9 years old in 1939 and 15 in 1945). Some experiences were bad but our times in Scotland for short or longer stays were happy and interesting and I remember Tweedsmuir and Victoria Lodge (Talla) with great affection.
The photgraphs are from a remarkable decorated album created by Polish Officers and donated to Mr & Mrs Hamilton in recognition of their support, now donated to the community for a future archive at the Crook Inn.