If my dad were still alive he’d be 94 on Hiroshima Day. He was born in 1920 in Dundee, the youngest with three sisters. His father, John McLeary, was a mystery man of Irish descent who died when dad was four. Very tough times, he had to leave school and earn a living early on, training to be a carpenter on the tenements going up in Dundee.
When war broke out he joined up. He saw a sign wanting applicants for the Scots Guards – minimum height – 5’1”. Dad was pretty short but taller than that so he went in to sign up. Unfortunately some clown had erased a digit from the sign (5’11”) and they thought he was taking the piss and got short shrift. So he joined the RAF.
Because of his size they made him a rear gunner on Wellingtons and Lancasters and the first few years of WW2 he spent in the air above Europe, a sitting duck. He flew on countless missions and hated it – he never really talked about this part of the war. Later he was put on Catalina’s and wound up all over the war torn world flying convoys for naval and merchant navy fleets. He has service medals from a dozen countries in Europe, Africa and Asia.
At the end of the war he was in Italy and on VE day was given some Irish potato whiskey that put him out for three days and off alcohol for life.
He returned to Dundee and finished serving his time as an apprentice and could see no future for himself in Scotland. The Kiwis he had met in the air force painted NZ as a pretty good place so he immigrated here.
There was a lot of work for builders at that time. He wound up in Hamilton and joined the Wanderers FC and that’s where he met Claire Rice, a Danish/Irish beauty – my mum.
They really were the best of parents to my two sisters and me – dad’s humour and mum’s compassion. Dad infused our language with arcane Scottish words and mum had these great sayings that were pretty unique. Every year at Xmas the “home parcel” would arrive from Dundee with gifts of things unavailable here – like Oor Wullie and the Broons.
On weekends and school holidays I would help him on his jobs. I learned a lot from him at these times, not just about carpentry but watching how he related to other people and how they loved him. To some he was known as Jock, others knew him as Jack or Johnny – he didn’t mind. I never knew him to lie or cheat or use violence of any sort and the only times I ever saw him sick was when the malaria that he had contracted in Burma during the war flared up.
Everything changed almost as soon as he retired, well past 70. He got cancer but he fought that off for another twenty years.
I managed to sing Weathered Lines at his funeral then the piper led us out. There was a double rainbow in the sky.