My life story – Elizabeth Glacken

I have no memories of my mother doing the things mothers do. Like combing my hair, picking out a wee dress for me to wear or collecting me from school.

I don’t have memories of her stirring a pot of tea in the kitchen, cooking a Sunday roast of holding me in her arms whispering to me how much she loves me.

I can’t even remember her face.

I was born on the 19th July 1931 to William and Janet Balgarnie. Sadly my mother died giving birth to my youngest sister, Nora, in 1935. This meant my dad was left to care for five small children.

There was Maimie who was eight at the time of my mother’s death, then James, myself, John and after him, Nora.

Dad had the support of his family but they wanted to split us up. Aunties wanted to take a child each but he wasn’t having it. He wanted the five of us to stay together and so it was decided that we be sent to a home for motherless children. The home was in the Corstophine area, Edinburgh, and cared for the children of widowers who would pay for the children to stay there whilst there were no female relative to take on the responsibility.

I don’t recall the specific date or time when I went into the home but I was four years of age and remember quite well the red coat which I wore when we were dropped off. I was escorted to a dormitory which had a number of beds, placed on top of one and told that was my bed. It was nice and clean, just off the dormitory was a bathroom which had three baths inside! Baths were a luxury for most families in those days so you can understand my shock at seeing three in one room.

We were all well looked after at the home and staff were so nice to us. I joined the Girl Guides and went to Sunday School whilst the boys could go to the Scouts or Boys Brigade if they wanted to. They took us on outings to the zoo and the theatre and every Christmas we went to the convalescent home where we would wait for Santa Clause to arrive.

Dad would visit us once or twice a week and we would get visits from aunts and uncles too. My aunties who lived with Gran would come and take us out for the day. On occasion we would either go on a bus journey through the town and back or they would take us to the fairground at Portobello. I loved bumping my siblings in the dodgem car!

My dad at this time worked for the railways and from my granny’s flat we could stand at the window and watch for him coming down the railway lines on his journey home. Knowing that we were at the flat he would give us a wave.

Dad served in the First World War and he would tell us stories of going over the top of the trenches to battle the enemy; I suppose just like you would see in the movies. Unfortunately, he lost an eye in one of these battles. Being rather nosey I was searching around the bedroom drawers and came across a box. When I opened it I got the fright of my life! There was my dad’s glass eye staring back at me. Needless to say I wasn’t too keen to snoop around after that.

Whilst I was enjoying my youth in the children’s home with my siblings, trouble was being stirred up in other parts of the world. Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Party was growing strength.

Hitler had promised the people of Germany a better future but this “better future” he promised would eventually lead to another was more devastating than the first.

On the 1st September 1939 Germany invaded Poland. This action brought Great Britain into conflict with Germany. It was decided that the children in the home be evacuated from the city to the outskirts of Edinburgh. We were sent to Arniston House in Gorebridge.

Dad had now moved on from the railways and was a foreman at Macnab’s.
Macnabs was a well-established laundry and dry cleaning business in Edinburgh. It was here that he met Agnes, a wee woman who lived with her parents in Hutchison.

All five of us children were introduced to her and soon they were married. Needless to say, once dad was married, it meant that the children’s home couldn’t care for us anymore and so we were sent back to our father and his new bride.

We all moved into a tenement flat on Morrison Street, Tollcross. It was just below my Gran’s flat and had two rooms. The three girls slept in one bed and the boys in another, Dad and Agnes slept in a recess bed built into the wall in the lounge. Whilst there another two children arrived, my half-brothers Norman and Stuart. Eventually we moved to a new house in Sighthill.

They were prefab homes made of wood just like the houses you’d see in Norway or Sweden. They were only supposed to accommodate people for a short period until brick homes could be built but I’ve heard that they’re still standing!

It wasn’t easy living with Agnes and as soon as we were able to leave home we did. I left school at fourteen and got my first job in the launderette on Chesser Avenue. I then moved to one in Gorgie. Now I was working I was able to leave home so I moved into a flat with a few friends in Redhall near Longstone.

Maimie, my oldest sister, left home and married a man whom she met whilst we lived in Morrison Street. My eldest brother, James, moved in to a flat with some mates and he had plans of getting married to his girlfriend. Whilst I was working in the launderette a colleague was reading the evening paper and said there was a story of a young man falling to his death whilst cleaning his flat windows. She asked if it was any relation as we shared the same surname; sadly, it was James.

My other two siblings were too young to leave home however Nora was caught climbing out the bathroom window in her attempts to run away from home.

Another job move saw me secure employment at Macnabs where my dad worked. On day a girlfriend of mine there told me she had just enrolled in the Army. It sounded good to me so I popped down to the recruitment office on Lothian Road and signed up too.

It was 1951, I was twenty years old and about to leave all my family and friends behind. On the day I was leaving I swung by Macnabs to say goodbye to my dad. Before I left he handed me a £10 note and wished me all the very best.

I was told by the Army Careers Office to meet up with another three girls at the station and travel to the training barracks in Lingfield, Surrey. When we arrived we were given bacon and eggs and I just cried whilst eating the food placed in front of me. I hoped I had done the right thing.

After training I was sent to Hobbs Barracks, Guilford in Surrey, and for the first fourteen months I was employed as an Officers Mess Waitress. I then became a Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) in the Ration Stores, responsible for issuing and accounting for all the rations in the regiment and keeping stock up to date.

I’d get about on a bicycle, going from one building to another making notes of what rations were needed and then the trucks would supply as per.

On occasion, we would have to join the regiments when they went on manoeuvres and this meant sleeping in tents which was a bit of an adventure! When we were allowed leave I’d go back to Scotland and visit my family. One year I took my friend Joan up with me, she stayed in England but we kept in touch for a few years, I often wonder what became of her.

I decided to leave the Army when I came to the end of my three years’ service, plus the barrack was being split up and dispersed to other areas. I came back to Edinburgh and moved in with my friends again in the prefab house in Redhall. I of course needed to get another job and found one on the cash desk of a Co-operative.

It was great to be back home and socialising again. One afternoon some friends and I went to the Palais de Danse in Fountainbridge, a well-known dance hall in those days. It was there I met my husband, John Glacken.

We married in 1958; the wedding was a small affair with just four of us in attendance. John’s brother was his best man and my cousin Anne was bridesmaid. Afterwards we went for a meal to one of the hotels next to the Patrick Thomson Shop on the bridges and then on to the Empire Theatre where we hired a box to watch a show.

John and I ploughed what money we had into a flat we bought from a woman I used to work with. It was on Yeoman Place, two rooms (living room and kitchen) and cost us £300. We used to sleep on a sofa bed in the living room.

Our first daughter, Elizabeth, was born just nine months after we were married and a few years later in 1962 we welcomed another, Lesley. With four of us now in the flat we turned the kitchen into a kitchenette and when the girls needed their own beds we bought two singles and placed them where the original kitchen was. I loved that little flat but sadly it was compulsory purchased and we only got £120 for it.

We were given a flat on Watson Crescent by Edinburgh Council, it had two bedrooms which was nice and made the girls very happy! We have been a happy family. My daughters are the light of my life. John and I are very proud of the way they have blossomed into beautiful women and done so well in their lives. They both have families of their own now.


Last year, 2017, John became an Erskine resident. He had begun to show the early signs of Alzheimer’s and up until that point I had been caring for him at home. I love John and wanted to give him the best care I could but it was becoming incredibly difficult and consuming. It was time to do what was best for us both and look further into care. Thanks to the wonderful Erskine supporters Erskine was here for us both. Due to my Army service John was eligible for care. A few months after he moved in I joined him.


In April this year we celebrated our Diamond Wedding Anniversary with a visit to the Kelpies; made possible, again, by Erskine supporters. Thank you! It was a wonderful day shared with our friends from the Erskine Edinburgh Home and something that I never thought we would be able to see together. It was a wish come true.


Every year from the 1st – 8th June Erskine Veterans’ Wishes Week takes place. It raises much needed funds to enable Erskine to care for over 800 veterans and their spouses, like myself and John.


Please, do what you can today to help Erskine care for our country’s veterans.