My uncle in London had managed to get me, to get a job for me, as a trainee waterproof cutter, in a clothing factory in Glasgow. After my uncle emigrated from Germany, he had to study for one more year in Great Britain, to make a British Medical Certificate, which he did in the Glasgow University, and through the year he lived in Glasgow, he had made a number of Jewish friends here, and one of them was prepared to take me into his factory, as a trainee waterproof cutter, he made raincoats and things like that.
And this is how I managed to get a Permit to come to the UK, because if you had no Work Permit, if you had no workplace, you couldn’t get an Immigration Permit, or, it was all a bit difficult, but right, I arrived in London, can’t remember any more which airport it was, I think it was Croydon, Croydon airport.
Were you alone?
Yeh. My, our relatives collected me and I went to them, and then within a few days I had to go to the Woburn House, which, at that time, was a registration place for all Jewish refugees arriving in Great Britain, and I told them I was going to live in Glasgow, and they gave me the address of the Glasgow Office, where one could ask for assistance and help, and financial help and so on, but I’d made up my mind I wouldn’t take a penny, neither did I take a penny, I asked for nothing, and I came to Glasgow, and they had got me digs, they had got digs for me with a Mrs. what was she called?
With a Jewish family who lived in Alison Street. Well, my, my salary, which I was going to get as a trainee waterproof cutter, was going to be 30 shillings a week, I paid 28/6d. a week for my digs, which left me with l/6d. for the rest of the week, to live on. Of course, with my digs I had my food. People were extremely nice, they were very helpful to me, very nice landlady, very considerate. But at l/6d you couldn’t do a hell of a lot, so I walked to my place of work every day, and walked back, it was about 35 minutes walk, was in Shawlands, the Firm was called Universal Covers, and the owner was a Mr Joe Levi, where I worked.
So one day, that lady where I lived said, “Martin, why do you walk there every day? Do you not have the money for the tram?” I said, “Oh yes, I would have the money for the tram, but I like walking.” Because she said, “if you didn’t have money for the tram I would charge you a shilling less a week, that you have money for the fare.” I said, “No, no, you’re 28/6d. but I like walking.”
So, as I say, I arrived there, and I stayed with them for a couple of months. My parents were due to arrive in Glasgow in July or August, but they didn’t arrive until well into August. By that time, I was getting very desperate because the situation between Germany and Poland became more tense with every day, with every day, and I didn’t know how much people in Germany knew about it. My father and mother stayed in a very nice hotel in Munich before they left, they were going to spend the last penny, because they couldn’t take it out in any case, so I kept on sending them telegrams, that they should come, so eventually they did come, it was, I think, still three weeks before the War against Poland broke out.
I understood from Glasgow Jewish people that the factors, it was in those days, factors, who let the flats, for the property owners, factors, a lot of them, particular the one where I rented that flat, were not known to be very favourable towards Jewish tenants, but I was told afterwards, I got that flat because it was in such a terrible condition, that nobody else would take it, as I soon found out.
I moved into the flat, about a week before my, a fortnight before my parents arrived, and every night, that flat was alive with cockroaches, with mice, with rats, anything that could move on the floor, must have been hidden in, in that flat, so I spent the next couple of week, putting down rat poison, mice poison, killing cockroaches, with, I would get up three, four times a night, with a, with some instrument in my hand, kill as many as I saw crawling across the, the, the floor, and put powder down, because I knew if my mother came and moved into a flat like that, she would be very very unhappy.
So I managed to get rid of all Livestock! Right! And I also went and wallpapered two of the rooms, or three of the rooms, the kitchen and two of the rooms, I think, wallpapered at the weekends, before my parents arrived. I think I even made a reasonably good job. So, when my parents arrived, the flat wasn’t too bad. They arrived, we, first I, and then my parents, both had a lift van, which was a big container where one could take out one’s belongings, furniture, bedding, cutlery, crockery, and so on, so we had a reasonably well-furnished flat, once all that stuff had arrived.
Well, right, I continued working there, in the Universal Covers. The War broke out in late August, or early September ’39, and it was not until June 1940, after the military debacle in France, that the British Government ah… interned, interned the Nazi Refugees. My father, as he had no job, was taken in first, together with a lot of older people, and he was taken to the Isle of Man.
I was arrested with a lot of younger people, I was collected by the Police, with a lot of younger people, who were all in work, and I was, our group was not taken to the Isle of Man, we were first kept for three days, we were in the Maryhill Police Station, then we were taken to the Donaldson School Camp in Edinburgh, which was a school for the deaf, which had, before the War, been a school for the deaf and dumb, from there we were taken to an Internment Camp in Argyll, which, before the War, had been a forester’s camp, Glen Brenda Camp, Glen Brenda Camp, yes, in Glen Brenda Camp, we must have stayed about two months.
The scenery, of course, was beautiful, real Argyllshire’s scenery, mountains, and then from there, later on, we were moved to another Scottish forester’s camp, near Knott, Knott Hill Camp, on, near Dunoon.
I had, I stated that I had an Emigration waiting number to go to the United States, and so eventually, I was moved from Knott Hill Camp, to the Lingfield Racecourse, which was also used as an internment camp, for those who were eventually going to America, because, with the bombing of London, the American Consul had moved his office, the Consulate, from London, to Derby, and Lingfield was very close to Derby, so if one had to go and see the Consul, it wasn’t far to go. But I didn’t want to go to America, I felt this was the War, the War was on against Hitler, and the Nazis, America were, at that time, not at War, and I felt my place was here, in this country, and to help us winning the War, so I decided not to make use of any possibility I would have to go to America.
While I was in the Camp, I volunteered as an Air Raid Warden, and this Camp was bombed, the Camp wasn’t bombed, but the Lingfield Racecourse, on the one side was terracing, for the people who were watching races in peace time, on the other side there was a little copse, a small piece of wood, and the Canadian Tank, Tank Battalion, Tank Regiment, I don’t know where in that, in that wood with their tanks, so the Germans must have known it, so they were trying to bomb that Canadian Tank Unit, almost every night.
They never hit us, and they never hit the Canadian Tank Regiment, but a lot of the bombs went, came down in the middle bit, in the middle of the race course, so we had a, what do you call it? Air Raid patrols? And I volunteered, because I felt I would rather be out and see what’s happening, rather than sitting up on the terraces, and wait till something comes down through the roof.
So it was quite an interesting time, especially as, during that time, we were near the, the Epsom Downs, and every day, above the Camp, we saw the Battle of Britain taking, took place, and we, we saw the German planes coming, and we saw the RAF flying, flying up and saw the dog fights, and we always applauded whenever we saw a German bomber or fighter coming down in flames, so it was a most interesting time really, to be an eye-witness to the Battle of Britain.
I mean, we had people there from every walk of life. We had University professors, we had lecturers, and you could go to lectures every, every day, morning, noon and night, it was like being on a University Campus, I mean, one really could enlarge one’s knowledge. I mean, we were never bored.
The thing was, one, it was difficult to get news from home, because all letters, all correspondence between the outside world and the internees, went on Red Cross messages, and all the mail had to go through the centre of Liverpool, and Liverpool was being bombed every night, so sometimes we would get mail which was three and four weeks old, which was a bit disconcerting, but didn’t know because you heard Glasgow was being bombed as well.
They couldn’t say much. They said, “We’re all right. All right”, and there wasn’t much, well, my mother could tell me she wasn’t doing an awful lot. My father was away, she would say, “Well, I’ve had a letter from Dad and he’s all right.” And Dad would get a letter saying “Martin is all right.”
So, eventually, I was released from internment, I think, in October, in October 1940, as a young man, because I volunteered to go for war work, that was one of the, everybody tried to get out under the different, for a different reason.
I would like to say here and now, that I do not, in any way, blame the British Government for interning us. Right enough, we were refugees from Nazi oppression, but we were also frightened people.
At that time, after that, what happened in France and at Dunkerque, the British soldiers came home, they came home without weapons, Britain faced an enemy who was armed to the teeth, they could, in a way, expect an invasion any day, and I know from myself, if I had been in Glasgow, and I had been told, or heard that a German, German troops had landed anywhere on the Scottish coast, I would have packed a bag, and left and went up to the Highlands, and so would my parents have done, of course. And it takes only two or three people in one street to panic, and the whole street panics, and we refugees, with our experience of Nazi Concentration Camps, we would have run to the other side of the country to get away from the Invasion area, as far as possible. That would have, that would have caused panic amongst the civilian population, it would have obstructed the roads, at a time when the British Army would have needed roads to move troops and material from one side to the other.
Also, I would say that we, there were probably between 50 and 60,000 German, Czech and Polish refugees in Great Britain. It would not have been beyond Hitler’s ingenuity, to plant amongst those people, a number of spies, under the guise of being a refugee, and even if they had only found l0 amongst us, it was worthwhile interning us all, because all we wanted, and were after, was that Great Britain should not collapse under the Nazi onslaught, but that Great Britain should win the War against Hitler, and whatever sacrifices we refugees had to make, in the process, were of no importance whatsoever, to, to the progress of history, and to the fate of what the world would have experienced if Hitler had crossed the Channel.
Right. I came back from internment, my father came back from internment a couple of months later. I took on a different, by that time, I wasn’t confined with my job, with jobs any more, I could move from one job to the other, I took on a similar job as I had done in the Universal Covers, with a non-Jewish firm in Maryhill, McLellands, and I worked there for a while, and then the Government came out with their Government Training Scheme, training people to be engineers, engine fitters, and so on, and a friend of mine, Addy Bester, who later on emigrated, with his family, to New Zealand, he and I went together to the Government Training Centre at Thornliebank, and were trained there as engine fitters.
I went to a Government Training Centre, I enjoyed it very much, I always had an engineering bent, and it was great. My, my technical drawings were so good there, that our Technical Instructor showed them round the whole of the, of the, of the shift, showing them how nicely technical drawings can be done.
So we were there for about six or eight months, the course lasted six or eight months, but we found difficulties in getting a job, because obviously, all factories were on War work, and taking in somebody who was a German refugee didn’t appeal to everybody who was in War work.
I remember that Adolf Bester and I once went to a factory, who was making, in Glasgow, who were making tanks, Scotland, I’ve forgotten their name. And we would have been dead keen in building tanks to shoot at the Nazis, but the man said, “No, I’m sorry, I don’t know whether I, I would get away with it. But I don’t want any Germans.” I could, I could understand it, so would, so would we perhaps have been.
Eventually, my friend, Adolf Bester, got a job in, in King Aircraft in Hillington as a mechanic, instrument mechanic. In fact, he moved up later on, to be their Factory Inspector there, and I went, eventually managed to get a job in Newton Mearns in a firm, ATCO Motor Mowers. This was a firm who built motor mowers during the War, not, well, motor mowers in peacetime, who had, who had Branch service, service units, all over the country. They had about l0 or l2 Branches all over Scotland, all over the UK, they had one in Glasgow which was the Scottish one, and after the outbreak of war, the Ministry of Supply had taken on this Firm and they were then working, as Army Auxiliary Workshops, repairing Army motor cycles.
I got there, the boss was an extremely nice man, a Mr. sorry, maybe I get the name later on, he was extremely nice, he said to me, “Well, Martin, you’re a German refugee, never mind, but I’m sure you’re all right.” So, at that time, in 1941, the supply of spare parts for Army motorcycles was still not all that well organised, and my first job in there was dismantling motorcycles into different parts, keep all the parts which were good and usable as a second-hand store, and supplying them upstairs for the motorcycles which were repaired. They realised, from my commercial experience, and my technical experience, that I could do better than being downstairs in that little dump.
So they took me upstairs and made, and they put me in charge of the spare parts, Spare Parts Department, and I was the link man between our resident Ministry of Supply Workshop Officer, and the Firm. We would plan, between us, we would get motorcycles in from Army units which needed repair, and I would have a note of which machines, which make was in, I would have to get ready, see that the necessary spare parts for that particular make, were coming in, assessing what I assumed might be required, and during all that time, a lot of our motorcycles, which we repaired, some of them went back to their own Units, others went straight to convoys which were going overseas.
I know we repaired all the motorcycles in the, which, which were used in the Invasion of North Africa, in the so-called armoured, armoured mail division, their camp, their Regimental sign was a mailed fist, that we did all the motorcycles for that Unit.
So, while I was there till the end of the War, something like, probably 3,000 motorcycles went through our hands, and we never missed a convoy. In fact, that resident Minister of Supply Workshop Officer, was one of the people who signed my Naturalisation Application after, at the end of the War.
So, right, I got on extremely well with my Scottish colleagues who were the mechanics, and so on, and during all the time, when there was German bombing of Glasgow, or the Clyde, nobody ever came and said, “That was your friends who were over here last night.” They were very very fair and I must speak in the highest terms of them.
So, by the end of the War, the Firm, ABCO Motor Mowers, relinquished their Army contract. I would have liked to stay with them after the War, and go into engineering, go into their Head Office in Birmingham, I would, as I said, I would liked to have gone down to their Birmingham Office, as, to be the Head, in charge of the Head Stores, but they told me I couldn’t, they couldn’t do it because (a) returning soldiers would be entitled to get their jobs back, secondly, they said, “Martin, you’re not a time trained, served or trained engineer, we would have trouble with the Trade Unions.”
But they made a very fair agreement with me, they said, “Martin, we know that you want to leave, you know our situation. You can stay, if you’ll stay with us, till we have wound up our contract with the Ministry of Supply,” because if a mistake had been made, it would have cost them a lot of money, they would have had to pay for the spares. “If you’ll stay with us till the Ministry of Supply contract is finished, we keep you on until you have found something which you want to do.”