Working on the beaches near Kinloss during WW2 by John Caldwell

Anti-Tank Concrete Blocks, Findhorn Beach Double row of blocks fitted with iron loops to help move them into place. Just inland from here is Kinloss airfield. Source From

Anti-Tank Concrete Blocks, Findhorn Beach

While waiting to hear about his  application for medical school, John worked on the beaches near Kinloss. This was 1939 and John was 16-17 years old.  The objective of the work was to make Kinloss airbase more secure from enemy land craft. John worked in a gang of men digging holes and putting in telegraph poles. They had to work according to the tide which could be as early as 4 a.m. The older men in the group drove the tractors, which John would have liked a go at too. The gangs also added concrete blocks to the beaches. There were three or four different gangs working.on the beaches. The sea ravaged lots of the poles. They also put in heavy tramcar lines to see if that was better. The sand moved beneath them so the following day they would not be in the right postion anymore. Sometimes there was rock beneath or solid peat and the posts stayed in place better then.

John also worked on farms including those with Italian prisoners of war. There was a camp in Elchies. Quite a few people came from Newfoundland (“Newfies”) and they formed part of a specialised corp of wood workers. He saw the end of horse ploughing as the horses were replaced with tractors.

Eventually he heard he had been accepted to medical school at Aberdeen University (the year below Horace Thomson). He started in 1940 for five years. There was often four terms as he had summer studies to complete. He had house jobs in Aberdeen and six months as house surgeon. In 1947-8 he did National Service as a doctor.  John joined the RAF. He posted to Kirkham near Blackpool where everyone went home every weekend. There could be a very poor quality of airmen with sore heads and sore backs. He cut down the list of those on medical leave by requiring the sick person to sign in for tablets morning and afternoon including weekends (i.e. no leave). Miraculously the sick list got a lot shorter. During his period of service he went to Tripoli in Libya. There was a better standard of living there even though it was a very hot Italian town.

Pre-NHS work
John was not aware when working at the hospital of any money coming in to pay of medical treatment. Local people often saw Granny first for a traditional remedy before paying to see their doctor. Penicillin arrived in 1938 and it was very useful. During the war he remembers a batch of german prisoners coming in with horrific wounds and a batch of penicillin coming in.

Dr Beatrice Sellar submitted by her nephew Dr John Caldwell

Dr Beatrice Sellar

In 1939 he came back to Aberlour. His father was a doctor there with a surgery based in the family house. His Aunt was also a doctor (Beatrice Sellar). The house was built in 1882 as the Doctor’s house. There was a surgery but no waiting area. As mentioned earlier the first place people tended to go when they got sick was a relative. Doctors were for medical emergencies or when local remedies failed. The result was that when the doctors did go out it was usually to see very sick people in their beds. There was no dentist in Aberlour so the doctor often had to pull teeth. They also dealt with cuts, bruises, stitches and other minor surgery. Very few people had their own phone so someone had to make the long journey to the house. This could be at any time of the day or night. There was no off duty. A typical example was a man coming with his horse and then John’s Father went back with the farmer with his doctor’s bag. Over half the work involved childbirth. “Howdie” wives were local experienced women who helped with the simple births. The doctor went to every confinement. There was no antenatal work in the early to mid 1900s. The social service department would provide extra clothing for when a baby was born. Housing standards in Aberlour could be very poor with very little running water and no inside toilets. Some homes were no more than hovels.

The Fleming Hospital at Aberlour The Fleming hospital was opened in 1900, a recent addition is the  Aberlour Health Centre.

The Fleming Hospital at Aberlour

By the time that John came in 1949 there were antenatal clinics in Aberlour in the local Fleming Hospital. Housing standards were improving with a corresponding improvement in health. He had spent his school days here and some old ladies remembered him then so did not want him to examine him. John had spent six months in Newcastle to learn his midwifery. His Aunt was a great obstetrician and much respected for her skills. She had lots of experience. John thought he had a suitable pair of forceps but his aunt thought they were too small for the job. The aim at any birth was to have a dry bed at the end. Beatrice had very high standards. Post-natal infection was a great worry. Many families could have ten or more children and they often ran out of names. John found his name being used on a number of occasions for this purpose.

Memory contributed by John Caldwell from Aberlour

Please note John sadly passed away October 5th 2016 aged 93.
Additional information

Additional Information

Aberlour community gallery with pictures of the old Aberlour supplied by Dr. J.S. CaldwellAberlour Community Gallery-photographs provided by Dr. John Caldwell

The Prisoner of War Camp at Elchies has been taken down but you can still see the concrete bases that the huts were on. The Camp is now a caravan park.

Images-  John’s mother working at Fleming hospital during WWI

Dr Tom Sellar during WWI.  More information on the History of Aberlour by Dr B.M. Sellar

Dr Beatrice Sellar- information on her appointment as a factory inspector
Information from John Caldwell about his Aunt-

Archive news written by John Caldwell about his Aunt Beatrice Caldwell
source for full article December 2007 Kirk News (go to page 7)

“My Aunt, Dr. Beatrice Sellar, came to help her father in 1923. She was not allowed to drive the car for the first few years and did her visits by motor cycle – a “baby” B.S.A. She foundtwo problems; the gear she had to wear – goggles, leather helmet, jacket and knee length boots were all right on the bike, but cumbersome in a cottage and very tiring if there was any walking to do. The other drawback was the difficulty of carrying breakables such as bottles of Iodine or Lysol. She eventually succeeded in crashing the cycle on a stone dyke and was then promoted to the car.”

The Howdie-Wife- by Anne EwingInformation on Howdies- untrained midwives
Click on the image on the left to read a story about a local Howdie wife.
“Hann was the howdie-wife in the small town of Markinch in Fife, where she helped to deliver the babies and tended to the sick and dying.”

BBC Voices recordings Voice clip 2 discusses Howdie wives
BBC Voice Recordings  

Senior citizens and staff meet at the Frank Jack Court, Peterhead, to talk about traditions, especially the ‘howdie wives’ who were amateur midwives in the community.

Voice clip 2 discusses Howdie Wives
Relationship of interviewees:Friends/connected by Frank Jack Court
Where: Peterhead, Aberdeenshire
Language of interview: Scots

Watch a 1955 film of horse ploughing


Timber Corps newsletterLumber workers came from across the Atlantic but there were also thousands of locals including many women. Click here to read about the Lumberjills and their role in the need for wood during WW2.


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