Baker, James

Letter
Date:
August 28, 1940
To:
Mom
From:
Jim
A VISIT TO SCOTLAND
Edinburgh, Scotland
August 28th, 1940

Dearest Mom,

At last I am here - Scotland, the land of the heather, Bobby Burns and Scottish hospitality. The latter is of a brand which I doubt can be exceeded anywhere in the world. They are so kindly that it would be impossible to feel any way but at home. I know I have never felt more at ease in my life.

This city has well earned its title - one of the world's most beautiful cities, and Prince's Street - the main thoroughfare and the traffic of which is rumbling past my window even as I write, is justly called the world's most beautiful business streets. It runs east and west and along the north side of it all the shops are lined modern up-to-date shops: this is New Edinburgh.

But the south side is where the beauty comes in. The south side is one immense flower garden nearly 3/4 of a mile long with lovely velvety lawns and shady trees. The southside was originally a lock but the builders of New Edinburgh gradually filled it in - or drained it, till now all that is left is a basin. In these gardens are two of Edinburgh's most beautiful statues - the Sir Walter Scott Memorial and the statue commemorating those Scottish people who fell whilst fighting in the Great War upon the American side. It is a very beautiful piece of work and I think it gains a good deal of its appeal from the fact that the sculpturer's own son - who was one of the fallen, was the model from whom the statue was carved.

Edinburgh - like Rome, is built on seven hills and the highest of them all is Castle Hill. And right on the crown of the hill - dominating the whole of Edinburgh and the plains around, looms Edinburgh Castle, one of the oldest fortified garrisons in Scotland. The sight is so grand and majestic that is nearly impossible for me to describe it - but I will try. The rock upon which the Castle is built rises sheer, straight out of the plain. Its side is absolutely unclimbable except in one place, and that passage is so difficult and dangerous that only once has anyone ever succeeded in scaling the heights and surprising the Castle.

The walls are of grey granite which was transported with infinite difficulty to this site from the nearby quarries which are still being worked. The walls are many feet thick and turreted and loop-holed in the accepted castle-fashion.

The approach to the castle is from the east side. A steep narrow winding street leads up from High Street to the Esplanade. We cross the "square" which is comparatively new, and come to the first of the wonderful sets of defenses with which the castle is equipped - the moat. This was a dry deep ditch, it being impossible to get water into it due to the height above the plain. It runs all around the eastern half of the castle. Then came the draw bridge, the first - or main gate and the guardhouse. When we have passed under the arch of the main gate, we are still as far away as ever from the main part of the castle for there are seven more gates that we have to pass through.

Immediately facing us as we enter is the Half-Moon Battery, so named because of its shape. This originally was a tower 180 ft. high and nearly 50 ft. across at the base but James 1st had it torn down and rebuilt in its present form. From here is - or rather was fired the one o'clock gun which has supplied the good people of Edinburgh with the correct time for centuries. But that has now been discontinued because of the war.

Situated on the wall above the Half Moon Battery is a huge iron basket. This was the beacon that was lit to warn all the south countries of danger. Its light could be seen for 80 miles. The last time it was lit was when Napoleon threatened to invade England which we now know was only a false alarm.

To the north of the Half Moon Battery rises King David's Tower which houses three more gates and the Porticullis. We pass through these and emerge in the tilt yard, where the garrison were wont to practice the Arts of War. Across this we come to the 8th and last gate called for an unknown reason - Fooges Gate. We are now in the courtyard of the castle itself. Immediately facing us is the well which has for centuries supplied the castle with water. It is 140 ft. deep and there is never - even now, less than 40 ft. of water in it. This in itself is very peculiar for it means that the surface of the water in the well is 350 ft. above the surface of the plain. To the right of the well is the Scottish War Memorial which commemorates all Scots who fell in the World War. When it was being built, the builders said they would build the finest memorial in the world: and they have succeeded. Its beauty is absolutely breath-taking and I cannot find word to describe it for you. Here in this building may be found the name of every Scottish man or woman who fell in the war: together with placards and memorials from every Scottish regiment which took part in that war. Every branch of the service is represented: nurses, doctors, sailors, engineers, muleteers, minesweepers, U boats, submarines, stretcher-bearers, sappers, kilted Highlandman and even the beasts of burden which fell in the service; all are remembered here. Their names are kept in a book which is placed in a silver casket which in turn, is mounted upon the very topmost peak of the rock which comes up through the floor of the chapel. It is a marvelous piece of work and I stayed here for nearly an hour.

I then visited St. Margaret's Chapel, the smallest chapel in Scotland. It is only 8 ft. wide and 15 ft. long. Next was Mon's Meg - the biggest bored gun ever cast. It was cast in Mon and was transported here for the defense of the castle. It was only fired once for the first shot burst the breech. It's bore is nearly 2 ft. across. I then climbed to the summit of King David's Tower from where I obtained a marvellous view of the whole city spread out at my feet like a huge carpet.

Right across the ‘Firth of Forth' to the Fyffe Hills I could see. Away off to the left was the Firth of Forth bridge. In the foreground, the Naval docks with the gunboats lying at anchor. Then the business section of Edinburgh, many famous buildings and statues. I saw also from here: St. Mary's Cathedral - the only three-spired Church in Scotland, Colton Hill crowned by Nelson's monument - Chesterall, where at the feet lies the new War Dept. buildings - largest reinforced concrete building in Britain. Far off to the left rose Arthur's Seat which resembles a crouching lion brooding majestically and protectively over the city...at whose feet and on the flanks are the ruins of an old monastery perched on the shore of a beautiful lake - or should I say ‘lock'. Children played everywhere, for this is one of the several magnificent parks which Edinburgh is justly proud.

On the second and third days of my leave, I visited Holyroodhouse which was the house of Scottish Kings and Queens and The Royal Botanical Gardens. When I went through the latter, the roses were in full bloom and O! how homesick I was for the flowers of home. The Scottish blossom were beautiful, but what can compare with the beauty of one of our own American Beauty roses?

It was with great reluctance that I returned to camp with its incessant air raids. My holiday had been so quiet and peaceful that I had forgotten there was a war on. I am afraid I left a very large portion of my heart in Scotland - and if I ever get a chance, I am going back again.

We are in the midst of the Blitzkrieg now. Every day we have at least 4 raids. Bombers come over - wave after wave of them. They pass directly over our camp on their way to London. Then about 10 miles north, they start dropping their bombs...and then the real fun begins: for the RAF - in their wonderful Spitfires, appear on the scene. Soon the Germans are scattered all over the sky. Great bombers - smoke streaming from both engines, scream down to earth while the little white dots which betoken the parachutes of the crews, float gently down to earth. It is no longer exciting: in fact, it is very boring - for we know who'll win. The RAF always wins. For the forces that are used, the damage they do is negligible and the number of planes brought down every raid nearly compensates for it.

I received you last letter when I got back to camp. While I was up in Edinburgh, I met a couple who know Mrs. Barge - the hardware man's wife. Next time you see her, ask her if she remembers Mrs. George Gedrin of Victoria, BC. If she would like to get in touch with them, the address is:
Mrs. George Gedrin
"Esquimalt", 10 Telford Rd.,
Blackhall, Edinburgh

Another raid as I write this! There have just been over 100 planes in a fierce dog-fight right over the camp. One of our fighters has just come down in a screaming nosedive. His plane crashed down to earth about a mile from here. It was burning fiercely and crashed nose down at nearly 600 miles an hour! I'm so excited I can hardly hold my pen! The pilot baled out - thank God...he is floating down. I suppose he'll land near us. All I hope is that he will not be shot before he reaches the ground. There go the sirens "All Clear". Another raid at 9.30 I guess. He comes over as regularly as clockwork: just at bedtime. I'll say good bye now.

Love to all,
Jim

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