WITH modern-day politicians getting all het-up about immigration, they might pause to reflect on how a small Clydesdale village once coped with a sudden and huge influx of Poles, Italians, Germans and – worst of all – Glaswegians!
That village was Thankerton and the story of how it became the temporary home to so many strangers during World War Two has been told to the Clydesdale Heritage Project by someone who was there at the time, Henry McMahon.
The project is hard at work, collecting such ‘eyewitness’ recollections of our area’s past and Henry’s story is a fascinating one.
He was just seven years old when the war broke out, having been born in a humble thatched cottage at Thankerton Toll in the middle of the Depression.
Suddenly, his wee, then largely isolated community had to accommodate its first wave of wartime visitors, the Poles, driven from their homeland by the invading Nazis and billeted in local homes, including Henry’s.
“I recall near the beginning of the war the Poles sleeping on straw in the cottage in the room next to my bedroom and there was even a sentry posted at the front door,” he said.
The Poles were polite, amiable guests from hundreds of miles away but the next wave of ‘immigrants’ were less so, despite having come from a scant forty miles away.
“We had evacuees from Glasgow who tried to bully us and were so arrogant, so we kept away from them wherever possible!”
The Weegies were quickly followed by another set of newcomers, this time official enemies, a POW camp having been built near the village to accommodate Italian prisoners.