Thursday, 30 April 2009

3 August 1942

PB still in good humour today.  Out from 10.10 to 11.15.  Three games of handball played – England v Holland, Holland v China, England v Indonesia.  Smoking allowed but no talking.  Great surprise for supper –  nasi goreng (fried rice) and half a duck’s egg.  No soup.


Dad was a panel patient and the evil of the National Insurance Scheme was amply in evidence in his case.  The doctor sent for immediately but presumably because it was Sunday he refused to come, although called no less than three times during that afternoon and night.  If my father had been other than a patient for whom the doctor received payment from the Government whether he attended him or not, I am quite sure his behaviour would have been otherwise.  He condescended to put in an appearance about 9 o’clock the next morning and, I recall being told, got a great shock and became as white as a sheet when he saw the severity of the injury.  We can only trust that others benefited from what must have been to him a sharp realisation of the neglect of his duty as a physician.  That Dad eventually recovered and was fit enough to be accepted for the Army two years later was in the greater measure due to the splendid constitution built up by years of clean living and honest toil. Dad’s incapacity for work for a long time was a serious matter for the household in our humble circumstances where the only income was the few shillings sick benefit granted weekly by his Union and it does my heart good when I think of how the Clan rallied round and helped in many ways to lighten the burden.  One incident I shall never forget.  An uncle and aunt, who shall be nameless, had visited us and it was only after they had been gone some time that we discovered a parcel of groceries behind the outer door which they had placed there surreptitiously when entering.  Such kindness can never be forgotten.  Anyhow, to return to the good ship, ‘Hogarth’.  At the time I started that vacation, Dad was already convalescent  but still far from fit for work.  Father and mother and sister used to come to the quay to see me off on every occasion and it so happened that one day while they were there, the departure of the vessel was delayed on account of the second class stewardess failing unaccountably to turn up.  But time and tide wait for no man or even a stewardess and it had just been decided to cast off when Johnnie, inspired, dashed down the gangway, grabbed my mother my the arm - ‘Come on, you’re the stewardess this trip’ – and hustled her aboard, leaving Dad and my sister Madge standing open mouthed on the quay.  Johnnie quickly instructed Mother as to her duties which were merely to be at the beck and call of every female passenger and to assist in every way.  Mother was soon busy but alas for all her good intentions to give satisfaction as stewardess on that trip.  As soon as we had cleared the harbour and reached the open sea, the wind freshened to almost a gale and the poor little ‘Hogarth’ was tossed about like a cork all the way from Aberdeen to London.  The second class quarters resounded with moans and cries of ‘Stewardess, stewardess’ but in vain.  The new stewardess had been among the first to succumb to mal de mere and lay in a bunk praying weakly, I suppose, for death – when given the opportunity.  So to all intents and purposes, the ‘Hogarth’ was none the less stewardess less during that trip.  The return voyage, however, was made in perfect weather and I shall never forget the evening, with the sun sinking slowly like a great ball of fire in a sea of glass and my mother singing ‘Somewhere a voice is calling’ on the fore deck where the passengers had gathered for a sing song.  Every time I hear that song it brings that scene back to me.  There were doubtless other items but that is the only one I remember.  It was one of those moments when it seemed the world stood still and the song with its setting were imprinted on my memory for evermore.  The stewardess more than amended for her lapse on the outward trip and returned home much richer than when she set out, a great blessing under the circumstances.  During one trip that summer, I celebrated my 10th birthday and I still remember the thrill that was mine that morning when I woke up and found two large cakes of chocolate next to my pillow, place there my Johnnie, the dear chap.  He had also allowed me to sleep until I waked as an additional birthday present.  When I did appear in the cook’s galley in due course, he came forward to congratulate me but I stopped with the the remark,’Not yet.  I wasn’t born until 10 o’clock.’  And only when that hour struck did I deign to accept his congratulations.  For a child of my years, I used to make quite a large sum (two or three shillings) in tips every trip.  These tips came from second class passengers who generally economised by taking their food with them for the 36 hour journey instead of patronising the dining room and who came regularly to the galley to beg hot water for making tea.  The task of supplying this want was delegated to me and I was quite proud of my official position as hot water dispenser.  And talking of hot water that reminds me that I got into that element myself of one occasion on board the good ship ‘Hogarth’, running foul of the ship’s carpenter, albeit quite innocently.  Up to the time my voice broke, I possessed the gift of imitating the whistling of a canary in a really wonderful degree, according to report.  The trill in the canary’s song can, of course, be likened to a whistle with a pea in it, such as milkmen were then in the habit of using and may still do for all I know.  Anyhow, the captain of the ‘Hogarth’ used such a  whistle for calling the carpenter and as I had been trilling away intermittently  in sheer exuberance of blithe youthful spirits one day, the carpenter, poor man, had been running up and down the stairs leading to the bridge all day to the great surprise and annoyance of the captain every time he appeared.  I verily believe the carpenter would have clouted my ear if he could have got me alone.  As it was, he did lift me clear of the ground and gave me a shaking but not in earnest, I suppose, but I know that I was so scared that I yelled blue murder and so upset the poor man that he hastily released me.  But I was resolved from then on to keep the canary for dry land.  My seagoing vacation in the following year, 1914, was broken off abruptly by the outbreak of war on 4 August.  It was a keen disappointment to me – what did war mean to a child of my years?  The Hogarth was later in the war torpedoed and sunk off Flamborough Head.  These trips implanted in me a love of the sea and ships which has never died and up to the time I was sixteen, a sailor’s life was my ambition.  During my last year at Gordon’s College, I attended the Navigation School there and had every intention of following the sea as a career.  Circumstances, however, and no doubt for the best, decided otherwise.  To enroll me as an apprentice on one of the steamship lines was beyond my parents’ means as a premium of anything from £40 to £100 had to be deposited and during the 4 year’s apprenticeship private means were practically essential.  I was quite prepared to take the alternative course of shipping before the mast as an ordinary seaman, but immediately after the war (this was 1919) with the return of so many seamen to the merchant service, there were no vacancies to be found.  So my dreams of a seagoing career had to be perforce shelved, although, the lure still haunting me, I tried to join the Navy even after I had apparently settled down in the position of a respectable bank clerk.  But even there I was baulked, as there were no vacancies in the Navy either.  Quite obviously, Fate had other plans for me.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

2 August 1942

Out from 10.20 till 11.35.  PB still like a dove.  Two games of handball played.


I started going to school at 5 years of age and attended Skene Square Public School image

Skene Square School in Aberdeen as it stands today.


My attendance there was of short duration.  I suppose that, petted and spoiled as I was by all the family, I was ill fitted to feel at ease among the ragamuffins of Skene Square and was probably pretty much picked upon as a result of my disinclination to mix with them.  The fault was, of course, entirely mine as being much too sissy.  However, my school mates, within a short time apparently decided that the error of my ways should be impressed upon me by means of the operation known as ‘the turkey’s nip’.  This was administered as follows.  Two boys  held my arms while a third, having spat on the back of my left hand, rubbed the place with his rolled up tweed cap until the skin broke.  I carry the scar to this day.  I gather that it was this incident that decided my parents that I was not fitted for the rough and tumble of the public primary school and that I should be placed in a small private day school where I might learnt the three R’s without being the subject of such violent interruptions.  In parenthesis, in self-defense  for my failure to ‘make good’ at Skene Square I ought to mention that I was a sickly child and remained so until by 7th year, an operation of appendicitis then putting a full stop to the whole gamut of childish ailments, including whooping cough, measles (3 times, twice ordinary and once German, it is said), mumps, diphtheria, etc which had been my lot since birth.  The private school I was sent to was such as has probably ceased to exist a quarter of a century ago and partook of the nature of the old fashioned Scotch country school where the Dominie was headmaster and whole teaching staff combined and the entire school accommodated in one room.  My school was run by a Miss Reid, an elderly retired school teacher and if ever a woman had the gift of imparting knowledge and getting results from pupils, she had.  I give Miss Reid the full credit for any really worth while training received by me during my years imageat school and college.  She kept school in the sitting room of her flat which was on the top storey of a house in Rosemount Viaduct  and had ten or twelve pupils at that time, of ages ranging from give to ten years of age. The children were either weakly, like myself, backward or, in some cases, actually mentally deficient.  The classes were graded according, I believe, to age, so that a class by itself might consist of only tow or three pupils, if not of only one.   Each child received, therefore, what amounted practically to individual tuition and benefited accordingly.  I know for myself that even at that tender age the mass production methods employed in the public schools with 50 to 60 childish voices chanting in unison C-A-T, cat and D-O-G, dog used to nauseate and disgust me.  There were only two of us in my class, a boy called Gordon and myself.  I can remember on one occasion we were given a homework task of making up sentences containing certain words.  One of the words given was ‘cheeses’.  Gordon submitted the next morning - ‘The little baby died and went up to cheeses’.  That is the only genuine schoolboy howler I can vouch for from experience.  I was about a year and a half at Miss Reid’s school, my parents removing me when they began to notice that I was taking unto myself the habits of facial contortions and grimaces with several of my half witted classmates were afflicted. By disassociation this ill was soon remedied but the foundation which Miss Reid’s teaching had laid has been a lasting and invaluable benefit to me.  After leaving Miss Reid I attended Sunnybank Primary Public School until I entered Robert Gordon’s Collegeimage at 11 years of age in 1915.  But the two years previous provided me during the summer vacation with a holiday such as any boy might envy.  My uncle Johnnie was the cook on the SS Hogarth imageof the Aberdeen Steam Navigation Company, whose boats plyed between Aberdeen and London twice a week,  the trip along the coast each way taking about 36 hours with a stay of the same duration in each port.  Bless Jonnie for ever for his proposal that I should accompany him as supernumery cook’s boy during the summer holidays. Just imagine it – six whole weeks on board a ship and going to London every week, and that to a boy of nine!  How Johnnie managed it I don’t know but as far as Captain Dow was concerned, I apparently did not exist.  If he did see me, he must have, like Nelson, viewed me through the telescope with his blind eye.  Anyhow, there was I, duly installed as cook’s third mate, complete with diminutive cook’s apron which mother had made for me and as happy as a lark.  Mind you, I had to work and very good training it was.  I had to wash dishes, polish brasses, peel potatoes and prepare vegetables.  Only when selling peas I had to keep whistling.  There was an abundance of good food as can be imagined (no wonder cooks are fat) and to which I did full justice with an appetite whetted by the healthy sea air, so much indeed that I recall that when I went on board at the beginning of the vacation, I weighed 3 stones 7 lbs and at the end 4 stones 5 lbs.  That was in 1913 and it was in that year that my Dad met with a very serious cycle accident.  It happened a little beyond Banchory where he was in the habit during the summer months of weekend camping in a tent with a few of his workmates.  On this occasion he had arrived at the tent to find that the others had not yet arrived and decided to pass the time by prospecting a road close to the camping ground.  The road led to a mill which was situated at the bottom of a steep incline where a bridge crossed a small stream at a sharp angle.  Rounding the bend in the road, Dad found himself on the steep downhill stretch and, observing the bend at the bridge, clapped on his brakes.  The brakes, for some reason or other failed to act and lost control of his cycle and half way down the hill, crashed into the stone wall running along the road side on the right.  He remembers nothing more until he recovered consciousness at home many days later.  We were informed, however, that the miller’s family who had heard the crash, found him standing in the middle of the road, his head split from above the right eyebrow to behind the right ear and simply soaked with blood, gravely contemplating in his hand the bell of the cycle which had been knocked off by the smash.  He was brought to Banchory in a cart and was such a ghastly sight that the miller kept his head hidden under an umbrella when they came through the village.  His injuries were temporarily dressed by a doctor there and he was then brought home to Aberdeen in a taxi cab.  I always remember that on that day my mother, sister and myself were just on the point of going out for a walk when, looking out of the window, I saw a taxi coming up the street.  ‘Mum’, I called, ‘there’s a taxi coming.  Shall I engage it?’ ‘Righto’, said my mother, in the same joking spirit, ‘tell it to stop here.’  And while I watched, in idle curiosity, the car drew up and stopped at our door and mother and Madge, having run to the window at my excited call of ‘It’s stopped here’, the three of us were in time to see our poor Dad, his head and face swathed in bandages, being lifted out of the car.


A note by Pat O’Neill about Robert Gordon’s College, as per
‘It originally opened in 1750 as the result of a bequest by Robert Gordon, an Aberdeen merchant, who made his fortune from trading with Baltic ports, and was known at foundation as Robert Gordon's Hospital. This was 19 years after Gordon had died and left his estate in a 'Deed of Mortification' to fund the foundation of the Hospital. The fine William Adam-designed building was in fact completed in 1732, but lay empty until 1745 until Gordon's foundation had sufficient funds to complete the interior. During the Jacobite Rising in 1746 the buildings were commandeered by Hanoverian troops and named Fort Cumberland. Gordon's aim was to give the poor boys of Aberdeen a firm education, or as he put it to "found a Hospital for the Maintenance, Aliment, Entertainment and Education of young boys from the city whose parents were poor and destitute". At this point all pupils at the school were boarders, but in 1881, the Hospital became a day school known as Robert Gordon's College. Boarding did not return until 1937 with the establishment of Sillerton House. In 1989 RGC became a co-educational school.’

******* In 1821 the Aberdeen Steam Navigation company began to operate a service from Aberdeen Wharf, Limehouse.  General cargo was carried between London and Aberdeen.  The image shown was that of the SS Aberdonian which would have been of a similar vessel to the SS Hogarth.

Friday, 17 April 2009

1 August 1942

Did some washing and mending.  Out from 5.30 to 6.30.  Walk round only.


Not that much drinking was done.  I suppose the maxim allowance of whisky per man did not exceed a couple of drams altogether, but as all were very abstemious, as indeed the great majority of Scotsmen in Scotland are, even the smell of the cork, as the saying is, was enough to make them jolly and in high fettle to celebrate Hogmanay.  The supper which was the real Scotch ‘high tea’ in its finest form, used to be sat down to, I think, about 10pm in the kitchen.  Two tables were set, one for the grownups and one for the children, both completely covered with good things to eat.  The ‘piece de resistance’ was invariably a plateful of sliced cold meat or ham for each person with plenty of bread and butter and good strong tea, and an abundance of plain and sweet cakes, fruit and sweets.  A feast fit for a king.  then there were the Christmas crackers at each plate which had to be pulled before the serious business of eating commenced and the paper hats donned and fortunes read which each contained.  Such a noise of joyous excited babble and merriment as would have thawed the heart of any misanthrope.  We children, I imagine, were too much occupied in giving our attention to the good things to eat to do much else, but the grownups’ table was the centre of almost continuous laughter as the one amusing anecdote or funny story followed the other.  This reminds me of an amusing incident which occurred one Hogmanay supper in a later year when I myself had already qualified for a seat among the grownups.  For some reason or other, on that occasion, probably as an overflow from the children’s table, my little cousin George Rickart, then about six years old was seated with the grownups.  The usual stories were being told when, after the burst of laughter following the conclusion of some yarn had almost subsided, little George, in his shrill treble piping, shrieked out, ‘I know a story – I know a story’, until to silence him someone said, ‘Well, tell us your story, George.’  And George delivered himself at the top of his voice of the following:

‘There was a boy sitting in the class and there was another boy sitting behind and the teacher asked the boy, ‘Boy, who made you?’ and the boy stuck a pin in him and the boy said, ‘Oh, Christ!’

Poor George!  I doubt if a funny story ever fell flatter.  There was absolute dead silence for a moment while each one round the table avoided looking at the other then everybody started talking at once, desperately intent on changing the subject.  On the whole, self control was wonderful.  Only my aunt Margaret’s feelings got the better of her.  I still see her clapping her hands over her mouth and rising hastily from the table and leaving the room precipitately, to reappear some five minutes later still wiping her streaming eyes, having had her laugh out in the privacy of her bedroom.  Talking of funny stories, it is interesting and amusing to recall the type of story which was considered improper in those far off days and I ask myself whether it is a good or a bad sign that what was looked upon as improper then appears trivial and even childish to us at this day.  For instance, I remember a party given at our house round about one New Year to which the family Primrose, who occupied the flat above ours, had been invited.  Now, Johnny Primrose was a jolly, fat little man, always brimful of good spirits and apparently just the sort of person to keep the fun going in any company.  All went well until we were seated at supper.  Johnnie Primrose had fulfilled all expectations, and everybody was in high good humour and spirits when our guest, no doubt emboldened by his success as a fun maker, overstepped himself and lost face with that company for all time by telling this tale:

‘A boy, carrying a baker’s basket, entered a railway carriage and deposited the basket on the luggage rack above the seat.  At the next station, an old gentleman came into the same compartment and seated himself, by chance, under the basket.  After a time he became conscious of some slight discomfort and casting his eyes above beheld the basket.  Removing himself hastily to another part of the compartment he said to the boy, ‘Boy, your pies are leaking.’ ‘It’s nae pies mister’, replied the lad, ‘it’s puppies’.

Believe it or not, the assembled company simply froze nor did they thaw during the whole rest of the evening, Johnnie Primrose had put himself beyond the pale once and for all.  Poor innocent man!  One shudders, contemplating his crime, to think of what must have been really acceptable as funny stories in those days.

But to get back to our Hogmanay gathering of the clan.  We rose from the table shortly before midnight and returned to the sitting room where glasses were hastily charged and the windows thrown open to catch the first strokes of the hour which heralded the passing of the old and the coming of the new year; and in a hush in which the whole town, nay, the whole world, seemed to be listening, there would boom out from the far off steeple of St Nicholas Church the first stroke of twelve, to be immediately taken up by church bells in every part of the city and by the sirens of all ships in the harbour.  And then such a hand shaking and embracing among our company in that really sacred moment when hand clasped hand and foolish misunderstandings of the past year were wiped out as if by magic and eye met eye and heart met heart with pure love and affection.  And then one seats himself at the piano and, all standing, ‘Auld Lang Syne’ is sung with full voices and hearts eye, and with a tear as well.  For to whom does ‘Auld Lang Syne’ mean so much as to a Scotch company and what memories come crowding in upon us when we hear that refrain on Hogmanay night?  Even now my eyes are wet when I recall all the associations whcih it has for me.  Hogmanay such as I have described and others later with a steadily and sadly diminishing family circle.  Hogmanays spent in solitude, a stranger in a strange land and far from my ain folk with only memories for company.  But there, let me thank God in all gratitude for such memories.  Immediately after the New Year had been thus ushered in with due ceremony occurred the great event of that wonderful night for us children.  All at once there would come a thunderous knocking at the outer door and our hearts would jump into our mouths because we knew that that wonderful person, Santa Claus had again condescended to hear our petitions and had come laden with the most marvellous yet vaguely familiar voice – nothing more.  One of my aunts, Innes most probably, would go to the door, and opening it just a crack would ask, ‘Who do you want Santa?’, while we congregated in the dimly lit lobby, agog with excitement mixed with awe of the unknown.  Then the mysterious voice would say a name and the child called would go to the door.  And beyond, the door would be opened and nobody would be seen without.  But see – there on the mat, what is that?  A parcel, two, perhaps even three parcels, all bearing the name of the child whose name had been called.  And so in turn, until Santa has delivered his gifts to all.  No need to describe excitement and shrieks of childish joy attendant on the opening of the  parcels, which, in the majority of cases, contained the recent heart’s desire of every child present.  And so the Hogmanay reunion comes to an end and already the reaction of the unwonted late hour and emotion has set in for the still very little ones.  The break up of the clan commences, the married folks with their kiddies returning to their own homes, while the younger members depart on a round of ‘first fittin’ which would probably continue till dawn.  And so the years ended and began in the halcyon days of my happy childhood.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

31 July 1942

To doctor.  Urine OK.  Trouble no doubt caused by cold. On our side no sun until afternoon.  Many others suffering same complaint.  Out 5.20 – 6.15.  Started PT by By but stopped by PB as B not able to remember exercises of previous day.


Another effort on the part of my uncles to amuse me was the ‘down’ bed.  I suppose that I myself with my then limited vocabulary was responsible for the description.  Our house and that of my grandparents were only a matter of 50 yards apart although in different streets.  We were ‘just round the corner’ from each other, with the result that ‘Smithy’, as I called myself, was rather oftener to be found in the latter house than in the former.  So when I issued the decree, ‘Smithy sleep here tonight’, the down bed was conjured up.  This bed was nothing more or less than a small mattress which was apparently kept under the bed in my uncle’s bedroom but it was made like a magic carpet to me.  Before retiring, Johnnie would take me into the bedroom, and standing in front of the real bed, with many mysterious passes of the hands and cries of ‘Open Sesame’, would cause the ‘down’ bed to come forth from its lair.  And while I gazed with eyes round with wonder, the ‘down’ bed would glide from under the valance, a few inches at a time with each call of the ‘Open Sesame’, and pass with the hands.  This magic impressed me very greatly and it was quite a long time before I discovered that my uncle Joe, concealed under the bed, was responsible for the mysterious progress of the ‘down’ bed.  Oh, happy happy days!  And what could equal the joy of a party on Hogmanay night, which was a real family reunion in the best sense of the word.  And as the years passed more grandchildren appeared, several marriages having taken place in the family in the interim, it seemed to be a case of ‘the more the merrier’.  On that great day, we children were put to sleep early in the afternoon and awakened only in time to dress and fully wake up about 8pm.  These parties followed the main, year after year, a sort of fixed routine in so far as the same songs were sung, the same games played.  But these, generally speaking, had a significance for our charmed circle only.  Take for instance, ‘The Demons and the Fairies’.  How this originated, I do not know, but it was never neglected.  All the children and some of the male grownups would go out of the sitting room where the company was assembled.  My aunt Innes, that dear self sacrificing soul (and it was always Innes) would sit down at the piano and commence a tremolo of tinkling sound on the high keys.  This was the signal for the children to come dancing into the sitting room doing their best to represent the ‘joie de vivre’ of the fairy world while the company applauded their efforts.  This was no sooner accomplished than the tones from the piano changed to a  deep bass rumble which gave their cue to the Demons represented by the few male grownups, who would then burst into the room on hands and knees, growling like beasts (or demons) and with gnashing of teeth would endeavour to grasp the children with their fearful claw like hands.  Such shrieks from the children, such awe inspiring growls as filled the air for some minutes!  a veritable pandemonium.  But of course the Demons never succeeded in their fell purpose.  The rest of the adult company would protect the Fairies and then drive the Demons with a combine rush out into the outer darkness of the lobby.  Each child had its opportunity of singing a little song, giving a recitation, or a dance, and I do not believe that any of them ever neglected the opportunity.  My cousins, Elizabeth and Margaret sang on one occasion a duet of which I recall only the following:

‘Oh, the sports of childhood
Roaming through the wild wood
Tripping through the meadows
Happy and free.’

and which was voted a great success.  Another childish song, by whom rendered I fail to remember was:

‘I’m a little busy bee, roaming in the clover,
Here I go, there I go, all the meadows over.
Hear me singing merrily – Bzzz- Bzz.
Ever singing merrily – Bzzz – Bzz.’

Of all the items rendered by the grownups I believe the most popular was always my grandfather’s rendering of ‘I traced her little foot steps in the snow’.  This ditty dealt with the going astray of a loved one during a snowstorm and the chorus of ‘I traced her little foot steps, etc’ was always accompanied by a few steps of a dance of grandfather’s own invention.  An innovation which he introduced one year quite brought the house down.  At the last chorus, he dipped his hand into his jacket pocket and brought out a handful of confetti which he sprinkled over his head while doing the dance.  It was a huge success.  The we had my uncle Jim who gave us the ballad ‘Lucky Jim’.  This ballad, a humorous one, dealt with ill luck of the singer as compared with that of his friends. ‘Lucky Jim’, the last verse related:

‘Years rolled on and death took Jim away, boys,
Left his widow and she married me
Oft I think of Jim so long at rest, boys,
Sleeping in the churchyard by the sea’

Chorus:  ‘Oh lucky Jim, how I envy him.’

or words to that effect.  It was a great favourite.  There was always a vocal item by George Rickart, my aunt Helen’s husband, who sang a song in Irish dialect which commenced:

‘As I went out one evening to Tipperary town,
I met a little colleen among the heather brown.’

which ended with :

‘Och, the little pigs had done
Oh, the dear little girl.’

Then there was the duet by Helen and George ‘Prithie, pretty maiden’ which is I believe, from one of the Gilbert and Sullivan’s operas, and Helen herself singing ‘My dear soul’ and ‘My curly headed babby’/  What a treat were their solos and what a glorious contralto voice she had.  I believe Helen once had an offer to record for ‘His Majesty’s Voice’ records and declined.  A great hit of the evening was always my uncle Pat’s rendering of ‘Every bullet has its billet’ which contains the lines:

‘Pass the grog round
Mind don’t spill it.’

and which was always, by general acclaim on the part of the men folk, repeated ad lib, until my aunt Margaret, who acted as barmaid on those occasions took the hint and recharged the glasses with mountain dew.

Friday, 10 April 2009

30 July 1942

Out 5.30 to 6.30.  PT from By ( a Dutch internee who was a physical training instructor) who was constantly interrupted by PB.  Change of guard – better type.  We are daring to talk between cells.


And, talking of memories, I believe the first thing I vividly remember in my life is standing on a low stool at the sink in the scullery of my maternal grandparent's house, drinking chloride of lime out of a bottle.  I could not have been more than 3 years old then but still old enough to get into mischief which might easily have had fatal results.  I remember spitting the stuff out as soon as it touched my tongue – not really a spit at that age, of course, but a slobber, and I heard in later years that a blue anchor which was embroidered on the front of the little jacket I wore, was bleached white in consequence.  Looking back, it seems as if all the mischief I got into between the ages of 3 and 6 took place in my grandparent’s house, probably because, I spent more time there than anywhere else.  I was the first surviving grandchild (my parents’ first born having died in infancy) and consequently must have been made much of by my mother’s still unmarried 4 brothers and 5 sisters as well as by the grandparents.  I think the very strong Clan feeling which I have and my ever earnest wish to keep all branches of my mother’s family united, no matter how far scattered over the earth they may be, must spring from the happy days when family affection was lavished upon me by all those dear people who are now so far away from me and from each other.  They, no doubt, remember vividly my almost setting the house on fire.  The smoking of cigarettes by my uncles aroused in me a keen desire to emulate them in the art of sending forth lovely clouds of smoke, and this desire, coupled with the fascination which the lighting of matches seems to possess for most children, led me to an act which might have had serious consequences.  I must have been between 4 and 5, I think, when one day, having found a cigarette end and provided myself with a box of matches which had been carelessly left lying about, I crept into one of the bedrooms and, standing before a low dressing table, the mirror of which was draped with muslin curtains after the fashion of those days, I endeavoured to light up.  In keeping my attention concentrated on the cigarette stub just below my nose, I had not noticed that one end of the mirror draping, blown by the wind from the open window, had made contact with the flame of the match.  Just as I had succeeded in achieving my first puff, I raised my eyes in time to see the flames spread to the window curtains.  Realising that I had done something very, very wrong, I must have decided that silence is golden.  My guilty conscience prompted me, I presume, to say nothing about it, so I just left the room hurriedly and, closing the door behind me, returned to the kitchen, trying to look as innocent as possible.  Fortunately, the opening of the door allowed the smell of burning to penetrate through the house, so that the outbreak was almost immediately discovered and the fire extinguished before very much damage had been done.  I cannot recall having been punished for this bit of serious mischief.  I should probably have been a better man today if I had been.  A  minor crime of mine in that house during those years was the smashing of practically every ornament on the kitchen dresser on at least two occasions.  In extenuation, however, I should mention that I am sure that dresser did not stand firmly on its four feet.  Anyhow, romping about the room, I brought up against the dresser with sufficient force to dislodge all vases, knick knacks etc, thereon with disastrous effect on those same.  I remember that my Grannie used to say that my first week’s wages must be forfeited to replace the damage.  I regret to say that I never fulfilled that expectation.  My uncles, Joe and Johnnie, were then mere lads of about 16 and 17 and I owe them the memory of many happy and thrilling hours in the old house.  They created for my especial benefit a secret society called ‘The Black Hand’ gang whose meetings used to be held in great secrecy and with much mysteriousness in one of the bedrooms once a week.  I used to be warned in conspiratorial undertones by one of the other that a meeting was to be held at such and such a time and would creep to the bedroom door and knock for admission in the prescribed secret manner.  The door being opened about an inch, the password would be demanded of me.  ‘Death and Blood’, or some such horrifying expression, and then I would be admitted to the gang’s secret meeting place.  The only light in the room came from one candle on the dressing table with, as background, a grim skull and crossbones symbol inked on a white cloth draping the mirror.  We three would sit around the guttering candle and discuss, in whispers, our plans for the stealing of the Crown Jewels or some such deed of daring.  There were all sorts of secret signs and oaths of secrecy to be sworn on every occasion and altogether the meetings of ‘The Black Hand’ gang provided me with such a thrill as I have never experienced since.  On meetings nights, I wore one of my father’s cast off jackets which had a piece of white cloth, on which a life size black hand was painted, sewed on to the lining on the left side.  In addition to the secret knock and password, the jacket had to be opened and the mystic sign displayed before admittance could be gained.  While the gang was functioning, my sister fell ill with scarlet fever, and, according to health regulations, all our clothes were taken away to be fumigated and decontaminated.  We often wondered what the authorities thought when the sign of the Black Hand was revealed!

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

29 July 1942

PB is with us again but seems more subdued than formerly.  Trifling incident VH who, tapped on head with paper roll, flopped as if struck dead.  Very silly.  Walk around only. No PE.


Nor truth to tell, did I contemplate other than purely legitimate means of securing the necessary article.  If in doubt, they say, ask a policeman and this was definitely applicable to the present issue.  I repaired, therefore, to the notorious police station in Lodge Walk which did a thriving business every Saturday night in the matter of drunks and disorderlies from the Castlegate and elsewhere.  Rather timorously, I entered the Charge Room and diffidently stated my business to a beefy man in blue seated at the high charge desk.  The fact that he did not wear a helmet gave me more confidence than I had had before entering.  To me, as I suppose to most people, a policeman complete with helmet is a rather awe inspiring sight, but a policeman without a helmet is a Samson shorn of his locks and deprived of his majesty.  This particular bobby looked quite human and heard my request with polite attention.  But apparently, in all his career as a minion of the law, he had never before been called upon to supply a cast off helmet.  He reflected deeply and then presumably decided to call in the help of Scotland Yard, or at least a higher authority, to handle the case.  He was clearly stumped.  ‘Ah canna tell ye’, he said.  ‘Ah’m afraid ye’ll have to see the Chief Constable aboot that.  Jist sit doon there for a minute.’  So I sat down on a bench while my shorn Samson departed presumably to enquire if the Chief Constable was disengaged.  While I sat there, I was approached by another polite man in blue.  His approach had something conspiratorial about it and he did his best to walk on tiptoe but without much success.  His feet ran true to regulation size.  He stooped down until his face was on a level with mine and then asked, in a hoarse whisper, ‘Is it anything confidential sir?’  The humour of the thing struck me and I grinned and replied, ‘No, no.  I just wanted to buy an old helmet.’  The poor man looked so disappointed and offended that I felt quite sorry for him.  He straightened up with an injured air and, turning his back to me, retired from the scene with massive dignity.  A few minutes later, my Samson reappeared and beckoned me.  ‘Will ye come this way, sir?’  So I followed him through a door, up a flight of stairs where he knocked discreetly on one of the doors leading off the landing, and ushered me into the presence of Chief Constable Anderson, he himself retiring and closing the door softly behind me.  The Chief Constable was seated at a writing desk busily writing when I entered.  He looked up a moment and, indicating a chair in front of his desk, said, ‘Please sit down’ and continued writing.  After a short time, he finished the task he was engaged upon and then, giving me his attention asked, ‘Now, what can I do for you?’  Feeling rather diffident in the presence of this august authority and, suspecting already that I had been directed not exactly to the proper department, I blurted out, ‘Can you sell me a cast off helmet?', and then added apologetically the reason why it was required.  He just sat and looked at me for a moment and then said, ‘No, I am sorry.  Will you go out this way?’  But as I passed him while he held a door open for me, I think I detected a slight twitching of his lips as if he endeavoured to repress a smile.  And I am sure that he indulged in that smile in the privacy of his sanctum, preparatory to having poor Samson on the carpet.  As for me, I descended anther flight of stairs and found myself outside in the street, having failed dismally in my assignment.  And, after all, it was decided to put another sketch altogether!  The programme had been arranged for the second tour and it so happened that we were to play first at Banchory, the place where I had commenced my career with The Balmorals and the place which was destined to see the end of it.  We arrived in Banchory by late afternoon train and having arranged accommodation, repaired to the hall and got everything set to rights just in time for the opening of the show at 8pm.  I sat in the ticket box till 8.15 and by that time the audience numbered….. two!  It was a complete ‘dry up’.  We gave the audience their money back and closed down.  Gus declared that nothing would induce him to stay to show his face in Banchory next morning and asked Monty if he was game to walk back to Aberdeen – 18 miles!  Monty was game and somehow the idea appealed to me too.  So the ladies were brought to the hotel and installed there for the night while Gus, Monty and I set out on our long trek.  I will always remember that walk.  Gus and Monty were so cheery and humorous about the whole business, accepting the bad luck in typical trouper spirit, that the miles passed under my feet almost unnoticed.  I remember we sat down at the side of the road with our backs to a wall somewhere beside Culter and I know I laughed until my sides were sore at Gus who, with a mock air of tragedy, sat calculating from the rolls of admission tickets how much could be saved from the wreck by the refund of entertainment tax.  When we arrived in town, it was still too early for the tramcars to be running and I, for one, had to walk right across town before reaching home, which added quite a few miles to those I had already left behind me.  I aroused a startled household about 5 am but deferred more lengthy details until I woke at 5 pm the same afternoon.  That finished my connection with The Balmorals.  I could have continued with them during the summer months in a Pierrot show on the beach but as the summer season did not commence until 1 May and the ‘dry up’ occurred about the end of February, I had no inclination to spend two months in idleness, or ‘resting’ as it is known in the profession, nor, candidly, could I afford to do so.  I applied, therefore, for a situation with the Aberdeen Savings Bank and commenced duty there in March 1919 as a respectable bank clerk.  But I had had my ‘fling’ and such a ‘fling’ as many might have envied and I have always looked back on those few months as a concert party artist with very pleasant memories.

Monday, 6 April 2009

28 July 1942

Went to the doctor who comes Tuesdays and Fridays.  Suspect chill in bladder.  Excessive urinating during the morning and forenoon.  Must send sample of mine tomorrow morning.  Out 5.40 to 6.30.  Usual routine.


To revert to the show itself, the final item was a sketch in which Stratton, Monty and myself took part in the characters respectively of the winsome heroine, the heavy villain and the soldier lover.  The piece started with a discussion, before the audience, between Gus and Monty as to how the audience could be further amused and on their deciding to present a play, the plot was arranged and the parts assigned.  I myself being called, as a half witted stagehand, to have my part explained to me.  This explanation took at least 10 minutes, during which time Monty harangued me as to what was expected of me with the help of good old ‘slap stick’ while all I had to do was to stand and look foolish.  I must have possessed a natural aptitude for looking silly and half witted because on a number of occasions the audience shrieked so much with laughter at the sight of my face that Monty had to turn my back to the public in order to be able to continue his injunctions.  In self defense I must, of course, mention that my face was to such an extent made up that even my mother would not have recognised me.  The ‘slap stick’ which was applied to my face about every ten seconds, was, I should explain just a piece of paper folded a few times, to a breadth of about four inches and a slap with it across the face is quite painless, although the report of the blow sounds like a revolver shot and is very effective.   However, the play having now been fully discussed and arranged, the action now commenced.  The audience were invited to imagine that the platform was a lake on which the villain represented a rock on which the soldier lover was on sentry duty.  The boat was an ordinary table turned upside down with the legs in the air while the oars consisted of a couple of sweeping brushes.  Gus was wonderfully arrayed in a dress which had probably once served as window curtains and a picture hat sporting a woebegone imitation ostrich feather.  Owing to the fact that the item preceding the sketch was of the nigger minstrel variety and in which Gus was the entertainer, there was no time to clean off the chocolate coloured grease paint so that with a wig of dark brown tresses hanging over his shoulders, Gus portrayed a very dusky damsel indeed.  Monty wore a top hat and the typical villain’s sweeping black moustache.  I had on an old Army tunic and a paper cocked hat and was armed with a rusty old air gun.  I caused quite a mess and got a good telling off one night, when, having had one of those brainwaves which all actors suffer from in an effort to improve their roles, I endeavoured to render a firing of the air gun more realistic and effective by filling the barrel beforehand with face powder.  Although the effect was undeniable, the results did not justify repetition.  Not only Monty and Gus, but the first few rows of spectators looked as if they had just passed through a flour mill!  After a lot of nonsensical but extremely humorous dialogue, the villain succeeds in enticing the coy maiden into the boat, and the oars being wielded vigorously one is supposed to imagine that in due course the middle of the lake has been reached.  Then and only then does the bold bad villain reveal his intentions.  He must have the necklace, the valuable family heirloom which the fair one wears round her dusky neck.  ‘No, never – by Heaven’ she cries.  ‘Curse you, give it to me’ hisses the villain, ‘or else I will throw you overboard and leave you in the watery grave!’  ‘Spare me, spare me,’ sobs the damsel.  ‘The necklace then, the necklace’.  ‘No, no, rather death than that!’  And with a prayer, ‘Matthew, Mark, Luke.John, hold the donkey till I get on,’ the brave girl casts herself into the water and lies floundering on the boards while the villain endeavours to manoeuvre his craft so that he may still snatch the coveted necklace before the fair one sinks for the fourth and last time.  Piercing shrieks from the drowning damsel pierce the air – will the villain succeed in his fell design?  Ah but see, the soldier lover on yonder heights awakes from his forty winks and taking in the whole situation at a glance levels his rifle and fires and the villain falls back in the boat; shot through the heart.  And now for the rescue of his loved one.  But first, he must divert himself of his tunic, from under which are cast off, one by one, no less that 14 waistcoats.  During the striptease act, the yells of the heroine continue, but at last the soldier lover stands revealed in his shirt (and trousers, of course) and leaps into the water to be immediately caught up and carried off the stage by the heroine.  The lowest of low comedy, I suppose, but it never failed to evoke shrieks of merriment from the audience and it was just real good clean fun.

Well, after this rather lengthy preliminary, I come back to the nearest I have ever been to prison in my life before.  It so happened that after a few months, it was decided to revisit a number of places but with, naturally, a complete change of programme.  A new sketch was, therefore, called for and Gus had an idea for one which had a policeman as one of the characters.  For a policeman, we had to have a helmet and where were we to procure a helmet?  Somehow or other, the task of procuring a helmet was assigned to me and I set about the task in the only way which occurred to me.  One reads of valiant and daring souls for whom no Boat Race night would be complete if they did not succeed in securing a policeman’s helmet to mark the end of a perfect day, but as Boat Races are unknown in Aberdeen, I had neither the excuse of opportunity.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

27 July 1942

Washed pyjamas, towel, undershirt and socks. Did some mending and darning. Not very neat jobs. Out 5.30 to 6.30. Usual routine.


Gus Stratton was a much younger man, about 30 at that time, I suppose, and was the real mainspring of the troupe. He was of a medium height and proportionally built with the mobile features of the born comedian. He was extremely energetic and had all the aplomb and self confidence, amounting practically to self conceit, which is quite a usual characteristic of the professional comedian. The skin of his face always struck me as having been made specially for the reception of grease paint. He was certainly a live wire both on the stage and off it and thanks to him in the main, I feel, the general organisation of the tour left nothing to be desired. Whether transport, ‘digs’, or getting hold of a lorry to bring Mrs Macdougal’s hired piano to the hall, he arranged everything perfectly and in fact displayed to a marked degree those qualities of determination and getting things done which were later to carry him to the top of the profession. The Scotch act performed by Gus and Mrs Stratton was definitely one of the very best on the program and consisted of humorous dialogue, song and dance. An incident in the act where Gus, after a mock quarrel with his ‘Bonnie Jeannie’ (Mrs S) used to jump off the stage and walk up through the audience to the front door of the hall until recalled by a plaintive ditty from the lips of his Jeannie, was one which never failed to thrill and amuse the country folks greatly. Mrs Stratton was a dainty little woman with a very sweet oval face. She had also a very sweet disposition, rather timid, and somehow or other I always had the impression that she stood rather in awe of her husband, whose energy was certainly enough for two and whose forceful personality no doubt impressed itself very strongly on her much softer nature. Little Gladys Stratton certainly, had from a child’s point of view, a rather wonderful time of it. How Gus managed it I do not know but presumably had a dispensation from the School Board authorities which allowed her to travel and perform, but with the stipulation that she would attend the local school in whichever town or village we happed to stop at. It speaks for itself that the exigencies of travel very often interfered with the routine, but even when she did attend the local schools it must have been quite a pleasant and interesting experience, what with a class of new schoolmates every time, not to mention the homage and respect paid to her by her sister pupils as a real little actress. But it did not spoil her in the least. she had been accustomed to the footlights since her birth practically and her position was so natural to her that I do not suppose it ever occurred to her that she was very different from other children, or the same age in the matter of her upbringing. she was then about 10 years of age, I imagine, a pretty little girl with lively brown eyes and long brown ringlets, with her mother’s sweetness of face but the softness qualified by a trace of her father’s determined character about the chin. She was a clever child and I do not doubt but that her training as Thelma had much to do with her ability to learn and remember her lessons so well.

Heartie Collins, our pianist (I remember her name now) was a frisky young thing of, I suspect, rather more than 30 summers. She was slightly built, with a mass of fluffy fair hair dressed with bow on top of her head and rather protuberant china blue eyes. Poor Heartie was rather susceptible to male attention and lost her heart to one swain or other at every place. She was a capital concert party pianist and did yeoman service every night after the performance as well. It was the custom, and a very good idea it was, to hold a dance or ‘shilling hop’ after the show. From the management’s point of view it was a golden opportunity for increasing the takings and as far as the audience was concerned it was an additional inducement to make a night of it after having come miles, many of them, to attend the show. The only new fangled dance on these occasions was the ‘one step’ which had just come into fashion. For the rest, the dance programme consisted of the real hefty stuff, like ‘Strip the Willow’, ‘Highland Scottische’, ‘Eightsome Reel’, ‘Lancers’ and ‘Quadrilles’, etc. and how the lads and lasses used to go at them. None of your fancy dancing pumps on these occasions, but good solid low heeled shoes and heavy tacketty boots which used to make the floorboards crack and skirls and hoochs enough to lift the roof clean off!