Published: 31/03/2014 10:46 - Updated: 28/03/2014 11:07

Life on the Highland Home Front recalled in teenage diaries

Phillipa Fraser with a copy of her collected diaries.
Phillipa Fraser with a copy of her collected diaries.

TEENAGE years are key years for anyone, but for Philippa Fraser, her teens coincided with some of the most dramatic in the 20th century.

Now Fraser, of Moniack Castle near Inverness, has published her diaries of the war years, beginning as a 13-year old still being schooled at home by a German governess who believed Hitler was "marvellous", and ending as a 19-year old woman helping repatriate former prisoners-of-war to Britain with the Red Cross.

"What makes the book is the story of the war," she said.

"I’m not famous, nobody wants to know about my past, so the story of the war is what holds it together. It’s also something different. Most war diaries are written by famous generals, not teenage girls."

As the daughter of a baronet, Sir Anselm Guise, and a member of a family that can trace their ancestry back to the Norman Conquest, Fraser agrees that she came from a very privileged background and her war service was something of an eye-opener for her.

Though the Guise’s family home was at Elmore Court in Gloucestershire, it was felt safer to relocate the family to her mother’s family home at Househill in Nairn.

It is there that Fraser begins her wartime diary on 1st September 1939 with news of Hitler’s invasion of Poland, though she revealed a lot in those diaries did not make it to the book.

"I didn’t write down things I’m ashamed of — which might have made it more interesting!" she said.

September 3rd 1939

Sunday. War at 11am. France and England fight Germany. Speeches. Granny cried. Went and picked sphagnum moss on the moors as dressings for the wounded.

Though the Highlands remained a relatively safe area, the region was not totally untouched by the war. German bombs did fall on the north of Scotland and there were reports of suspected spies landing at Nairn beach.

October 27th 1940

Three men landed in a rubber boat at the Old Bar, Nairn. They said they had escaped from a German boat and were Norwegians. They were arrested under suspicion of being spies. We rode over to the Old Bar. We could not find a sign of the rubber boat.

Even so, Nairn was "a very healthy place" to spend the early years of the war, but this did not stop people from wanting "to do their bit."

This included Fraser, who joined up at 18 and was posted to the Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park where she was trained in decoding work for service in India — until her mother intervened.

"My mother rang up everybody she knew and said that I wasn’t to go," Fraser said,

"The Japs were in Burma and quite likely to invade India. I understand why she did it, but I was disappointed. It would have been quite an experience."

Instead she joined the Red Cross, driving an ambulance through the streets of a London, despite never passing a test.

Philippa Fraser with her original wartime diary.
Philippa Fraser with her original wartime diary.

"This was the time the Dooblebugs — V2 rockets — were being dropped on London," she said.

"When the engine cut out you knew they were going to drop somewhere. But it was just part of life then."

Later she helped welcome returning prisoners-of-war back to Britain when they arrived at Liverpool docks.

"It was very sad," she said.

"Some of them had been prisoners for years and they were all very unfit. One of them had lost his wife in the bombing in London. We were the first people who saw them when they came back to Britain and we did feel that responsibility."

February 1st 1945

I have been put on the Liverpool repats job. Drove there through the Mersey Tunnel, a convoy of 20. We went on to the docks and saw them coming ashore. Some have been prisoners for more than four years, of course, all are medically unfit. We had four stretcher cases in our ambulance. I sat in the back. They all had most tragic tales to tell. They could talk of nothing else but the horror of their experience. One man had his leg amputated without an anaesthetic. His comrade was shot. One man’s wife had been killed by a bomb in London.

Fraser’s diary entries have been put in their historical context by her son-in-law, journalist Robin Yates, but the book also quotes a Highland News article about her late husband Sandy Fraser, then unknown to her, who was awarded the Military Cross for bravery with the Lovat Scouts in Italy in 1944.

Fraser is currently working on another book with a war theme, a sequel to Lest We Forget, her guide to the war memorials of the Highlands and Islands, this time looking at the east coast.

However, the 87-year old writer appeared to rule out a second volume of her diaries.

"I always kept a diary until I got married," she said.

"After that every day was the same."

May 8th 1945

VE Day. Victory in Europe. Is it possible? Churchill spoke at 6 o’clock. Short and stirring. Ending with Long Live Britannia and then God Save The King. Then we heard all the cheering crowds in London. Fireworks all the evening here.

The War Diaries of Teenage Gal by Philippa Fraser is published by Moniack books, priced £10. An electronic version for Kindle is also available.


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