'Gardyloo,' as you well know, was the exclamation shouted from old Edinburgh tenements when someone wished to empty their 'pisspot' into the gutter that ran down the middle of the narrow close. Such a load offered from several floors above, some buildings reaching ten stories, was not the most pleasant part of Edinburgh past. Walking through it on the way ho,e from the tavern would not have been a barrel of laughs either I suspect. Hygiene was not much improved anywhere in what is laughingly referred to as the 'United Kingdom' until the middle of the nineteenth century. Then Ministers of Health were to be found in most cities and sewerage, slum clearance, clean water and soap brought much needed improvements. Edinburgh, not surprisingly, produced some of the best and most inventive doctors in the world! They had a lot to go on, as it were.
During the twentieth century, which some of you may be old enough to remember, Scotland's capital still had problems with sewage. By this time pipes ran way out into the Firth of Forth depositing unwanted material into the waters where it would be passed on into the north Sea. This is the same same North Sea where our Haddock came from and they kindly recycled the stuff back to us through the many 'chippies.' I recall the early 70's when Edinburgh streets were in upheaval as a new sewage works arrived down Portobello way at Seafield. Normally this seaside 'resort,' I use that word sparingly, contained the youthful Hibernian players and their fans idling the day's away while bigger clubs participated in European competition, however during this decade the contents of the sewage pipes had failed to reach the Haddock in the North Sea and instead arrived unwelcome on Porty beach. Some folks still swam! Leith people eh? The council swiftly moved into action, once a backhander had arrived, allegedly, thousands of tons of new, clean sand was deposited, the new sewage works opened and people removed the clothes pegs from their noses.
This was not without mishap of course. While working in the infirmary one chap (English of course) arrived in the ward, both hands tied to a rack keeping his arms in the air. Behind him came a nurse carrying a small bowl containing several of his fingers, or bits of his fingers. He then had Professor James sew them back on again. I spent the next two weeks looking after him, doing all those things you wish you could do yourself, until he was considered fit enough to return home. I wonder how his hands are now? Possibly the shaving cuts have healed also? He was a warning that when fixing a large industrial fan, make sure it will not swing round swiftly when your hands are inside!
The fitters work at the Seafield plant may have been good, at least up till someone switched the fan on, but Edinburgh still had an excess of waste to deal with, this is where the 'Bovril Boats' come in! 'Bovril' itself as you know was an invention of an Edinburgh Butcher, John Lawson Johnson. He later moved to Canada (because Edinburgh was too warm?) where his 'beef glaze' was developed into 'Bovril' as we know it today. This he sold to Napoleon's army and made his name and his money! However the substance also gave its name to the 'sludge boats.' To remove the contents of the sewers boats collected from sewage farms as much as they could contain and sailed into recognised areas at sea and dumped the lot for the tides to disperse. From 1978, while I existed on a pittance in a hole in a wall in Notting Hill the M.V. Gardyloo operating from Leith Docks, took up to half a million metric tonnes of 'sludge' from the people of Edinburgh, and headed of to St Abbs Head or the 'Bell Rock' to release its contents there. For twenty years this interesting operation continued. However while the dumping ground was carefully chosen, and the ship 'ponged' a wee bit the interesting thing was the passengers! At no charge twelve passengers were entertained on the short trip and were given breakfast, coffee and biscuits, lunch and even their tea while they inspect the sea life on the islands in the Forth, especially the Bass Rock I suspect. In between using binoculars on nesting seabirds or examining the wheelhouse the ship would dump its load on unsuspecting Cod. Their opinion has not been recorded. A very good day out this seems to me and I wish I had known of its existence at the time. I would have been aboard at a shot! Sadly EU regulations forbade such dumping in 1998 and these boats curtailed their employment and were passed on to others for less exciting work. The 'Gardyloo' now transports 'fresh water' for Azerbaijan! The Seafield Water Treatment Works, a nice way to say 'sewage,' continues the work, although much attention is required concerning the 'odour' that local citizens may notice from time to time. Some £50 million may have to be spent to deal with that. The boat was cheaper!
From 1950 until 1953 the United Nations fought its first war, this took place in Korea. The 'Cold War' had begun and used third world countries as battlefields. Our fifty years of peace were fifty years of war for Africa, South East Asia and Central and South America, among others. Fifty to a hundred million died, still, we were doing OK so that's alright then. The Japanese had dominated Korea for around a hundred years and when removed in 1945 a political decision meant the nation was divided between the Soviets to the north and the USA to the south. The two nations began to develop along different lines and in June 1950 the Communist North invaded the South making the UN rush into action - eventually. An army comprising twenty nations, with almost 90% being American, arrived under 'Mad Boy' MacArthur. The United Kingdom, still devastated after the defeat of Hitler, sent a large number of troops to this war, much against public opinion! Two major wars in fifty years, a depression and now with rationing still ongoing few cared about a nation they had never heard off. However a force built from the Commonwealth was sent. The British Commonwealth Forces Korea (BCFK) comprised Australian, New Zealand, Indian, Canadian and British forces and numbered 100,000 men and this was always led by an Australian. For the most part however these men have been forgotten! The British units involved are named here.
Allowing for the lack of news at the time, TV was in its beginning after the war and the Radio and newspapers appeared to play down the war itself. Indeed one returning soldier stepped of a train in Edinburgh's Waverly Station where a friend greeted him. When asked where he had been he replied "Korea," and his friend had no idea what he was talking about! The war was so badly reported because no-one wished to know. The Britain of the early fifties was rebuilding after the war, houses were in desperately short supply, wages were low, the ravages of war and the building of families and a new life took precedence. The men who served, and suffered greatly, were forgotten. As indeed were those in Britain's other small wars, the 'End of Empire' wars.
Now however this new enlarged memorial has been opened to remember those Scots who served before they all pass away. Situated in West Lothian, of a Korean design, surrounded by Scots and Korean trees to represent the dead, the hills also suggest Korea to those who were there. Many died there, many were traumatised, as any 19 year old on National Service would be! Forgotten on their return, ignored at the time, these men endured for their country as did those from the other conflicts since that time. It is good that something is done to remember their actions.