Monday, 25 May 2009

11 August 1942

Lights went on, dim, at 8.15pm last night and remained so.  there is a 10 watt bulb in each cell and formerly this went on at full strength from 6.30 to 9pm.  Later being reduced to half strength for the rest of the night, returning to full power between 5.30 and 6.30am.  It is not possible to write when the lamp is dimmed and reading is too great a strain on the eyes.  Not very pleasant in the evening now but we don’t mind under the circumstances.  Ribs still very painful.  I have got ‘Alice or the The Mysteries’ by Lord Lytton.  11.45am.  Prison siren is now sounding for the first time.  Probably practice.  We shall know soon if not, I suppose.


Once, when Thompson was still at Torry branch, he received from an Italian confectioner, whom he assisted in connection with an Income Tax return, a full box of Fry’s chocolate bars.  ‘See what I got’, he said to his clerkess, a young girl of about 18, opened the box under her nose revealing the tempting display, and when she had looked her fill, he closed the box again and that was that!  The poor man, I am sure meant well but was naturally clumsy and tactless and was therefore fated to be misunderstood and to be always rubbing his staff the the wrong way.  When he laughed, and that was usually in response to some inane pleasantry on the part of an important depositor, it was as if the vocal organs protested rustily against such an unusual demand and the result was a harsh, unnatural and discordant bellow.  Everybody was amazed when he actually got married and stunned when he lately became a father.  it was like the Bill was as discovery of a volcano in the Arctic regions.  William Ewen was a negative personality.  He was of medium height, slimly built, with fair hair and blue eyes and the manner of a shop walker.  in conversation with depositors, he always wore an ingratiating lip smile and was continually rubbing his hands with invisible soap.  A good man at his job for all that.  ‘Bill’ Cheyne was  a great favourite with us lads.  he was not yet thirty, had served in the War, being discharged on account of a bad leg wound, and had no dignity.  He and I used to have great fun together singing humorous duets in the office at Woodside and many a time were we caught in the act by somebody coming in unexpectedly.  One of our best efforts was the ‘Twin Duet’ which went something like this:

‘We twins are very much alike, but act like not a bit
In fact since childhood we have been each other’s opposite
When mother said, ‘Now don’t do this or you will make me sad’
Then i did not as I was bid, he not as he was bade

So you’ll agree, I think, with me that I and he, my brother
Are opposite and not a bit like each other and one another’.

Bill was small built with black hair prematurely grey at the temples, blue grey eyes and clear cut features.  He had a cheery disposition and on meeting him many years later, in 1938, that I found him a sadly changed man.  A curt, unpleasant individual with a perpetual sneer on his lips.  A man obviously disappointed in life and with no expectation of future happiness.  Poor chap, I suspect his marriage did not turn out successfully.  He married a Miss Fowler, which reminds me that while I was at Gordon’s College during the War, a sister of that lady was our French teacher.  For the first time in the history of the College (and it was founded in 1732) females penetrated the precincts and were appointed to the staff on account of quite a number of the younger masters having joined up.  Miss Herbert took the lower classes in English and Miss Fowler the same classes in French.  Poor women, I wonder if they cried themselves to sleep many a night during the first months of their appointment?  At the age we were then, about 12, all boys, or at least the great majority of them, are barbarians and thoughtlessly cruel, and we were no exception to the general rule.  We were merciless in our treatment of those two young ladies, although as a matter of fact, Miss Fowler received the lion’s share of our attentions in that respect, Miss Herbert being possessed of a quiet, natural dignity and charm of manner which shamed us into a semblance at least of attention and obedience.  Miss Fowler was a sweet natured woman but of too soft fibre to withstand the shocks so freely administered by such a bunch of young fiends.  Many and manifold were the devices, short of actual insubordination, to distract her from the lesson.  To my shame let me admit that one of these tricks was my own.  Seated on one of the back benches, I would give, two or three times in the course of that hour and a quarter, quite a realistic imitation of an aeroplane engine, by growling in the back of my throat with closed lips.  Quite undetectable.  Immediately, two or three accomplices in my near vicinity would jump up excitedly, crying ‘An aeroplane, Miss Fowler!’  A rare avis in those days and in about 5 seconds the whole class would be out of their seats and crowding to the windows, jostling each other aside and peering skywards for a glimpse of the aeroplane which they knew darned well did not exist.  This stunt was good for a 5 minute interruption every time.  The first Christmas Miss Fowler was at Gordon’s, that is to say the day before the commencement of the Christmas vacation, we made her a presentation.  A big cardboard box was lying on her desk when she entered the classroom and from various parts of the room came requests to open the box in our presence.  I really believe that the poor girl thought we had, at this season of goodwill, relented of our past treatment of her.  If she did, then she certainly learned a further bitter lesson as to the sadistic capabilities of the youthful male.  She opened the box and took out, first, an old hat trimmed with odds and ends of rag and wool, and then, a mealy pudding.  I hope Miss Fowler has had much happiness in her life since those days because she certainly deserved that compensation after her martyrdom at Gordon’s in my time.


2pm The sirens have gone in Bandoeng and have been followed by the prison’s signal.  Still practicing? Another pleasant outing from 3.45 to 5.45.  Three ball games.  Rumoured Bt had it and present doings a 5 day trial.


To revert to Bill Cheyne.  I was his assistant at Torry Branch one very hot summer and it seems to me that we spent most of our time there eating ice cream.  One day I noticed that Bill gulped the ice cream instead of, as I believe most people do, allowing it first to melt on the tongue, I tried to do the same but one swallow as enough.  How he could do it and still love is beyond me.  Bill was a heavy cigarette smoker, smoking probably 20 cigarettes a day but he never inhaled.  What satisfaction he got out of smoking at all is still a mystery to me.

Talking of Torry reminds me that, with the exception of course of that district, in Aberdeen the expression ‘Torry English’ is used to describe the lingual result when someone in an effort to talk English succeeds only in Anglicising the Aberdeen dialect.  A perfect example of this hybrid language was provided by my sister Marjory, when we were still very young, Madge about 5 and I probably 6 1/2 .  One Sunday afternoon when out with my father for the usual walk, I happened to climb over a low stone wall which formed the boundary of the grounds of some building or other in the West End.  Marjory, conscious of her Sunday best, the day and the district and influenced also by the approach in our direction of several well dress people, called to quite peremptorily, ‘Willy come out ower!’  Poor Madge has had that phrase thrown at her at intervals ever since.  Coming back to the Bank, others whom I may mention include the Actuary (of course) Sir Thomas Jaffray, whom we rarely say, Alex Simpson, the accountant, James Fiddes, second to Simpson, George S Skinner, Head Office Teller and Charlie Working, clerk.  There were many others whose names and personalities may occur to me as I go along.  Sir Thomas, as I have said, was practically an ‘invisible man’ as far as we were concerned.  He was, I believe, a very clever and successful financier who merely used the Bank office as a pied a terre for the prosecution of more interesting and lucrative operation than Savings banking.  He was a tubby little man with a healthy tanned complexion, grey moustache and hair but almost bald.  He was quick and energetic in movement and possessed a pair of dark brown eyes which were alive with intelligence and dynamic force.  A really strong personality.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

10 August 1942

Yesterday evening the lights were blacked out from about 7.30 to 11pm and, I hear, for some hours also during the night but impossible to tell the real reason.  Today, however, all outside lights have been shaded with blue covers, which certainly looks like business.  Another pleasant outing this afternoon from 3.30 – 5pm with 3 ball games.  Started today on my bottle of Piccalilli (fruit chutney) finished 3 days ago.  Have still got some soya sauce but don’t trust it altogether – smells like beer now.  Have still two pieces of Swiss milk toffee but probably won’t have these tomorrow).


Changes in branch management occurred now and then, but in general during my time, the disposition was: Easter – Henry J Milne, Northern – James Grainger, Holburn (formerly Torry) – Alex Thompson, Rosemoutn – William Ewen, Torry (formerly Woodside) – William J Cheyne.  Each of these gentlemen had his peculiarities, pleasant or otherwise.  Mr Milne was a big man but rather thin.  His general health was never too good unfortunately.  In speech he was very, very broad and would have been taken to be, from his speech and manner, rather a farmer than a banker.  He was very easy going but a capable man and very good hearted.  He once did me a service which I can never hope to repay and I shall always remember him with gratitude and respect.  James Grainger, until one came to know him well, was a real terror to the junior staff.  He was of average height squarely built, very fresh complexioned and wore glasses with rather strong lenses.  He had a most effective and terrifying trick of gazing with his blue eyes through these spectacles in a fashion calculated to reduce a weaker minded individual to a state of trembling apprehension.  I got to know and like him very much and indeed when he really unbent, he kept us in fits of laughter.  On days when he became really exuberant, and after the doors had closed at 3 o’clock, he would treat us to a representation of grand opera in which he sang all the parts alternately.  It was screamingly funny and I used to quite limp with laughter, hanging over the counter with the tears streaming down my cheeks.  I am quite sure that anybody knowing Mr Grainger superficially and remembering his usually severe aspect would be inclined to doubt this, and I would excuse them.  Sometimes he could be very impressive and often said to me, with his most piercing glare to give emphasis,’ If there’s an onus, William, get rid of it’.  he was merciless to inefficients and not a few of my contemporaries had a tough time of it at Northern Branch.  Talking of Northern branch reminds me of Mrs Moir, who had been charwoman there since the office was built about 25 years before.  She was a garrulous old body getting on for 70 years of age and with a grudge against Mr Grainger.  She told me her grudge at least on twenty different occasions.  One day she had said to Mr Grainger, ‘Mr Grainger, do you know it’s 20 years today since I started cleaning this office?’ ‘And do ye ken fit he said to me, Wullie?’ He jist said, ‘Well, see and keep that way then!’  She never forgave him for that and I don’t know that I blame her altogether.  Alex Thompson was a cold blooded, tall, angular man with pale blue eyes and a sallow complexion.  He was very unemotional and serious minded and one had difficulty in imagining that he had ever had any boyhood.  Generally speaking, he was not well liked but I believer this was due to his seriousness and to certain habits in regard to the treatment of his staff which were not exactly endearing but which were practiced, I feel, with the best motives.  He wanted efficiency and so on.  He was quite right, of course, but at that age few of us realise that our education does not cease automatically on our leaving school or college and resent being lectured to.  He also kept a ‘Black Book’ in which every error discovered in the ledgers etc was noted with date, particulars and the name of the offender.  It was this, more than anything else, which made him disliked, but looking back I feel that the idea at the back of his mind was to shame the careless ones, by this means, into being more careful in their work and that his method was the result of natural tactlessness.  I followed his advice by taking a course with the School of Accountancy, for which I am thankful to this day.  When I was on the staff at Holburn during one bitterly cold winter, he would switch on the electric radiators as soon as we came into the office and from then on would consult repeatedly the thermometer hanging on the wall.  As soon as the thermometer registered 58 degrees he switched off the radiators.  He certainly considered the interests of his employees first and foremost, an admirable trait, but one which we were unable to appreciate naturally. 


Apparently we were going to have black out tonight – getting dark but no lights on in the cells.  Can no longer see to write.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

9 August 1942

Today being Sunday I observed the fact by lying in bed until almost 9 o’clock where I drank my coffee and indulged in the luxury of a Capstan cigarette.  I have still nine left of the tin I got on my birthday.  One learns thrift in such things under the present circumstances.  Allowing for the fact that I gave 20 away of the 50, I have been, I think very economical.  We get the prison issue of native tobacco every second day which is sufficient for about 6 or 7 thin cigarettes rolled in maize leaf which is also supplied, but never enough leaves for the amount of tobacco.  Everybody uses any kind of paper he can get hold of for rolling cigs, sticking them with the liquid off the breakfast rice porridge.  We have heard the sirens in Bandung four times today, at 9am, 9.20, 9.30 and 12.45 but as each time the signal known to us as the ‘all clear’ was given, we are not sure what it signified.  There was certainly great air activity today.  Very short outing from 10.50 to 11.30 but pleasant.  Just a run round and physical drill under the 2nd officer.  Exchanged ‘Onder het Juk’ for' ‘Memoirs of Sarah Bernhardt’, in Dutch, with young Allen.  Also exchanged my own book ‘Fate cannot harm me’ for the ‘Three Musketeers’ with Spit Jr.  A knock on the right rib from Ader’s elbow during the ball game the other day continues to be rather painful.  Forgot to mention that Minggail sprained his left foot rather badly in the same game.


The seven accepted cancellation, probably because they felt that they could not climb down after such a hold up.  I was terribly cast down and asked Mr Whyte if there was no possibility of continuing.  He replied that if I could find three other vocalists to form a quartette only, he would persuade Glentanar to continue this arrangement.  Within the week I had fulfilled the condition and, Mr Whyte being satisfied with the combination, the quartette was engaged on the old terms and completed the season with never a breakdown or the slightest unpleasantness.  The soprano was Miss Isabel Simpson, a member of the Bank staff and sister of the Beechgrove organist and to whom I latterly became engaged, my aunt Helen was the alto, and John Cooper, the bass.  John was in business as a ship chandler.  He had a rather big nose and was as self opinionated as the organ indicated, but a good fellow at heart.  On Guy Fawkes day of that same year he made me a present of an immense ship’s rocket with which we wound up a firework’s display at Mrs Simpson’s home, West Bungalow, Cults.  It was a most impressive burst of stars and I only hope that the Aberdeen lifeboat did not put out that night by mistake.  The St Thomas church engagement led to John Cooper and myself being asked in December to strengthen the tenor and bass parts in ‘The Yeoman of the Guard’ which Glentanar was producing himself and members of his house party in the leading roles and a choir of the Aboyne villagers.  We attended three or four rehearsals and what I recall most clearly is the intense cold and depth of snow which attended our journeys to Aboyne.  We travelled by rail, arriving at Aboyne about 5pm by which time it was already quite dark and floundered knee deep in snow to the hotel which was fortunately quite near to the station.  Rehearsal commenced at 8pm and lasted till sometimes after 11, but were very jolly.  Of the guests at Glentanar, I can recall only young Lord Waleran although there were titles enough in the bunch, I imagine.  I remember being quite startled on one occasion behind stage when Lady Something or other turned to me and said, ‘I have a hell of a cold’.  It quite upset my conception of a special representative from the D’Oyly Carte Company and was quite a success, thanks also to the conductor, Mr Whyte, who was, and still must be, a real genius.  I remember reading in the newspaper the following year that his own opera ‘The Forge’ had been produced in Aboyne.  I was in the service  of the Savings Bank for six and half years, sometimes working in the Head Office and at others in branch offices situated in different districts and suburbs of the town.  It was the custom to shift the junior staff from office to office about every 3 months and it was a very sensible arrangement as we learned to know each other very well and also became adapted to the ways of the various branch managers.  The branches were: Eastern at the corner of King Street next door to the North of Scotland Bank, Northern in George Street near Hutcheon Street, Rosemount, just opposite Esslemont Avenue, in Rosemoutn Place, Holburn, in Holburn Street near the junction with Great Western Road, Torry, in Menzies Road near Walker Road; and a small branch in the Spital near to Old Aberdeen.  There were also offices, open only from 6 –8pm on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, at Woodside, Bucksburn and later at Culter.  These three branches were in due course, given official rank and following the hours of the town offices which were 9.30 am to 3pm to Friday and 9.30 to 12 on Saturday, also 6-8pm on Mondays and Thursdays.  A short time previous to my leaving the service I was appointed agent of Culter Branch and nearly died of enuui.  On a busy day there sometimes as many as three people would come in.  Most days there was not a single depositor.  I have never felt so tired in all my life as I did during that period.  The shifting around of staff from office to office provided us with welcome variety as each branch brought us in contact with a different class of depositor.  At Eastern, for instance, we found the submerged wealth as represented by rag and bone merchants, Castlegate cheap jacks and fish vendors.  These last tested the powers of our stomachs,when they used to tip their taking on to the counter of a greasy, stinking sack and we had to count the money which was perfectly horrible with fish scales and slime.  Then there were the gentlemen of mysterious occupations who went about in shabby rags with dirty mufflers round their necks and who produced as much as £2 to £3 at a time from various portions of their raiment or anatomy.  And then the ladies who used to dive down into unmentionable regions – but ‘nuffsed’.  Torry catered, of course, mainly for the fisher folk of that district.  One peculiarity which was struck me there was the names of females.  It seemed that every girl and woman had a Christian name with the appendix ‘ina’ and as this was invariably stuck on to a male Christian name, the most surprising combinations often resulted.  A few examples which occur to my mind were, Jamesina, Johnina, Peterina, Albertina and Thomas or Tomina, while Georginas, and Williaminas were as countless as the stars.  Northern depositors were mostly of a mixed working class representing a variety of trades.  One man I remember, a baker, was a real miser and came regularly every pay day to deposit what must have been the major part of his earnings.  knowing as I did the average baker’s wage, I used to wonder how he lived.  He himself was mere skin and bone and I do hope he had no wife or family.  He paid in, it seemed, every possible penny, sometimes £2.17.10 or £3.1.1 (£2.87 in today’s money or just over $4 or £3.10 or just over $4.50) and on quite a few occasions was most upset when we refused to accept an extra half penny.  After receiving back his pass book he would stand at least 5 minutes gloating over it before sneaking furtively out of the office.  It was a disgusting sight.  Holburn saw much of the same class with a sprinkling of more well to do depositors from the west end.  In opening an account, we took particulars of name, address and occupation and it was at Holburn that I was puzzled by a young man’s describing his occupation as ‘farmer’s son’.  I don’t know yet what that means as an occupation.  We also had a ‘gentleman’ at Holburn.  The Rosemount clientele was rather superior middle class on the whole and usually somewhat snobbishly inclined as became the possessors of addresses in such places as Beechgrove Terrace, Mile End Avenue etc.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

8 August 1942

Woke up in the small hours of the morning with pain of my old kidney trouble.  Passing water very painful.  Probably caused by unaccustomed exertion in ball game.  Very worried but reassured later in day by cessation of pain.  Perhaps only small gravel which has  now passed.  Washed khaki shorts and darned two pairs of socks.  Very pleasant outing from 3 to 5.15pm.  Races of 100, 200, 400, 800 and 1,000 metres with prizes.  Wish I could have taken part but toe not up to it.  Freddy Harper, first in 1,000 metres won a sponge cake.  Other prizes were a tin of sausages (Jimmy Irens), bottles of lemonade, bananas and cigs.  Everybody very cheerful, our two officers fine chaps.  Hope they stay a long time.


When the wireless station 2 BD was opened in Aberdeen I was one of the first soloists to broadcast.  The then BBC seemed to spend money like water and I, for one, was paid much more than I was worth.  For a 20 minute programme of 6 songs the usual fee was 2 guineas.  I always sang songs which I already possessed and the bulk of them had been picked up at Low’s bookstall in the Market Gallery for about two pence each.  I have always been a quick sight reader and never really studied or practiced my programmes.  This had the result that I could not render my songs without words and music in my hands.  But I got over that difficulty by persuading my friend, old Mr Dudgeon of Marr Woods Limited, the music sellers, to let me have copies of the same songs on sight and these I used to hold carefully while singing, giving my own mostly worse for wear copies to the accompanist.  Very often I sang in the afternoons from 4 to 4.30 –5 and particularly then this method used to work like clockwork.  Free of the Bank shortly after 3pm, I adjourned to Marr Woods, procured the necessary duplicates, strolled along to the studio in Belmont Street, sang my programme and immediately afterwards returned the music to the shop before going home.  One afternoon I had the honour of appearing on the same programme as Constance Willis, one of the contraltos of the Carl Rosa Opera Company (1).  When I arrived, Miss Willis (2) was presumably having a snack with Simpson, one of the announcers in his room because when the buzzer went for her call she dashed out and down the stairs leading to the studio crying, ‘Good Lord – I’m full of fish and chips!’  The next moment, in spite of that, her beautiful voice, through the loudspeaker was filling the waiting room in which I sat.  This little incident persuaded me more than anything else could have done that opera stars were just ordinary human beings.  On another occasion the permanent 2 BD choir, of which I was a member, performed the first act of Faust assisted by a tenor and a bass, also of the Carl Rosa Opera Company.  Believer it or not, Faust and Mephistopheles turned up at the studio so drunk that they could hardly stand and able to articulate only with difficulty.  Under the circumstances, it sounded like a miracle when they sailed through the whole act in perfect voice and without a hitch, although they were both clearly very happy at having the piano and occasionally each other to hang on to.  The 2 BD choir consisted of 16 members, four of each sopranos, altos, tenors and basses but strangely enough I cannot recall a single individual of the other 15.  We were paid, I believe, a monthly fee of 3 guineas (just under $5) and were liable to be called upon at any time.  Some months we would perform as many as 5 times, in other months there were no more than two calls upon us.  I cannot recall but one other work we produced.  That was the operetta ‘The Grand Duchess of Gerolstein’ in which I had the minor part of Prince Paul.  We also rendered many part songs and at Christmas time sang carols at midnight.  One day, before the choir was formed, I received an urgent telegram requesting my immediate attendance at the studio.  I rushed down to Belmont Street where I found seven other male singers assembled and the 2 BD staff in a state of great anxiety and excitement.  it transpired that that day was the anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar and presumably they had had instructions to commemorate the event in due form and had forgotten all about it.  Anyhow the eight of us, forming a double male quartette were given each a 16 page part song bearing on Trafalgar and hustled down to the basement of the building where we rehearsed without a stop from 5pm until going before the microphone at 8pm.  We made a very good job of it too, and a few days later I received a cheque for 4 guineas (just under $6).  Easy money and no mistake.  And to think that I had the cheek to rank myself among the many vocalists of local fame at the time.  But I was a conceited pup in those days and often wish that I could meet the young man I was then and five him a well deserved lesson.  On of the best, in fact the very best, of engagements which my gift of song brought me in those years was that of tenor of quartette engaged by Lord Glentanar (3) to lead the singing at St Thomas Church, Aboyne,  during the summer months of 1925.  This came about in a rather roundabout fashion.  William Swainson, at that time the leading organist and choirmaster in Aberdeen had formed a select octet, of which I was a member, for the purpose of making a special study and giving performances of old English part songs.  At one rehearsal, Mr Swainson informed us that he had been approached by Mr Ian D Whyte (now a prominent BBC conductor) organist at St Thomas’ Church, Aboyne, on behalf of his patron, Lord Glentanar, with the request that the octet should form the choir each Sunday at that church for so long as the family and house party should be in residence at Glentanar during the summer and autumn.  Acceptance was unanimous and a week or two later we commenced our duties.  The terms were, in my opinion, generous and conditions regarding transport and accommodation while in Aboyne left nothing to be desired.  Each of us received a fee of £1 per Sunday.  The first service was at 11am and the second at 6pm and both lasted no longer than one hour.  A special couple of taxis were engaged and we were fetched, each from his or her home at 9am every Sunday.  There was the lovely drive up Deeside to Aboyne, arriving at the church in time for a quick rehearsal of the psalms and anthem before the service commenced.  After church, we were accommodated at the Huntley Arms, the best hotel in Aboyne, and provided with a splendid lunch.  The afternoons were free and could be spent dozing in the lovely garden or in walking about the beautiful environs of Aboyne.  At 4pm a substantial tea was served and at 5pm we repaired to church for rehearsal of the evening music and arranging of that for the following Sunday.  After the service, the cars picked us up and another lovely run, now in the twilight, brought us back to our homes.  What better treatment could any reasonable individual desire for such trifling service?  And yet, strange as it may seem, only three weeks had passed when the majority began to grumble about being underpaid and issued an ultimatum to Mr Whyte in the form of a demand for £5 per Sunday or no play.  I refused to subscribe to such a demand and said so.  Mr Whyte, however, replied that he would consult Lord Glentanar and let the vocalists know his decision the following week.  Next Sunday, he informed them that Glentanar refused to consider the demanded increase and that if they were not satisfied the engagement could be regarded as cancelled.


A note from Pat O’Neill:

(1,2) The Carl Rosa Opera Company has an amazing history.  If you are interested do follow the link to find out more. Regarding Constance Willis, this is the only record I could find referring to her performances.  Note further down that same page the description about how ‘Miss Willis is too inclined to "slither" down from note to note when a clean scale is absolutely essential.’

(3) Lord Glentanar follow this link to find out a little of the history of this gentleman and his family.

Monday, 11 May 2009

7 August 1942

Boeboerketan hitam, which is black rice porridge, for breakfast.  This is what I thought was bramble soup the other morning.  Washed an undershirt, a handkerchief and a pair of socks.  A splendid outing today from 3.15 – 6.15pm commencing with our wing in SW triangle with nice NCO and East wing in SE Triangle, later together in SW ground.  PT and many games of handball.  I played in a team for the first time in my life in the first game England v Holland.  Received ball on my nose very first pass to me, breaking skin.  Also lost skin off the pad of right big toe from a blister.  I played inside right and do not think I did too badly for a first attempt.  Sundry aches and pains this evening, however, as a result.  As soon as toe better will try again.  We are very happy indeed with our present officers and guard.


While in the Bank I did quite a lot of singing in church, concert platform and radio.  The very first time I ever sung in public was during the war in 1917 at a concert to the troops in the Trades Hall in Belmont Street, if I am not mistaken, and the item was not on the programme.  I believe that somebody failed to turn up and to fill the bill I stepped on to the platform and sang ‘Hail Caledonia’ accompanying myself on the piano.  My effort was very well received and gave me the necessary courage to continue giving a song on subsequent occasions.  I shall never forget the day a few months earlier when I asked my mother to listen to my voice and to give her honest opinion.  I sang a few lines of a song and she just turned round from the piano, looked at me and said only sadly, ‘No Bill’.  My voice had probably not yet completed the transition period, I presume.  But it was a great blow to me as I had prayed for a long time to be able to sing.  I have never had any training as I have never considered such expense justified unless one intends to go in for singing professionally.  And the more trained amateurs I have heard, the stronger has become that opinion.  No amount of training can create a voice and the grafting of technique on to indifferent material too often produces results which are painful in the extreme to the unfortunate listener.  Singing should be natural in the first instance, phrasing and breathing being instinctive, otherwise the effect of training on individuals who do not possess the singing sense must result in an artificial performance which should not be justified by the description of singing.  That is of course, only my opinion and I am not at all qualified to argue the matter as my personal knowledge of the how, why and wherefore of vocalism is exactly nil.  I have sung for the mere pleasure of singing and if people enjoy listening, that is all I care for, except of course when they pay me for singing which is rather better, although candidly in recent years the latter consideration has, by reason of my improved circumstances had no appeal for me.  Very different was the case when I was a struggling bank clerk.  Then all was grist that came to the mill and in the years 1925 to 1926 I actually earned more by singing than I did in salary from the Bank.  I was tenor at Beechgrove UF Church for, I think, about 4 years.  Originally, I held that position unofficially as an act of friendship towards the organist and others and it was only after I had applied for the tenor leadership at St Machar Cathedral in Old Aberdeen that the powers that were in Beechgrove approached me  with an offer of the same remuneration if I would stay put – which I did.  The fee was £10 per annum.  While at Beechgrove we presented ‘The Messiah’, ‘The Crucifixion’, excerpts from ‘ Parsifal’ etc and on the secular side, in the Church Hall, ‘Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast’ and ‘The Death of Minnehaha’.  I sang the solo in ‘Hiawatha’ and this gained for me a handsome fee a short time later.  Gilcomston Church produced ‘The Wedding Feast’ not long after our effort and I desired greatly to hear the work from the outside, so to speak, because when one is singing in a choir it is impossible to hear the music as a whole.  On the evening that the Gilcomston performance took place I was working late at the Bank and just reached the hall in time for the first half of the programme, which consisted of vocal and instrumental solos.  In due course the tenor who was to sing in ‘Hiawatha’ came on to give a solo or two, but halfway through the first number, he suddenly stopped singing, bowed and walked off the platform.  It transpired that a sudden attack of laryngitis had seized him and rendered him incapable of uttering another note that evening and for some time to come.  There is only one solo in ‘’Hiawatha’ but its exclusion would be unthinkable.  Anyhow, someone had seen me sitting at the back of the hall and in the interval the conductor sought me out and asked if I would act as substitute soloist.  I was not dressed for the occasion having just come from the office, but I could not refuse.  A few days later I received a cheque for four guineas (£4.4.0 or just over $6) from the grateful committee.  Manna from Heaven and equally acceptable to me in those penurious days.

Friday, 8 May 2009

6 August 1942

A calamity occurred in my cell this morning.  I had just dozed off after having been wakened at 5 am by the clatter attendant on breakfast preparation when I was rudely shaken into consciousness by a dull explosion.  I was lying with my face to the wall and turning round quickly and raising my head I was astonished to see high up on the opposite wall a large splash of some dark brown fluid splattered in all directions.  It was only  when a second later I felt and saw spots of the same fluid falling on me and the bed clothes that I realised what had happened.  On top of the cupboard above the bed there was a large bottle of soya sauce which I had placed in a lying position and the stuff must have fermented and blew the cork out like a bottle of champagne.  Ye Gods!  What a mess!  The whole cell, floor, walls and ceiling even, was bespattered with soya sauce in varying degree.  My pyjamas, the blankets and the mattress have a large share.  It has taken me the whole morning and forenoon to put things to rights.  I have had to wash my blankets, a big job when you have only one small zinc basin to do the washing and I am hoping for steady sunlight this afternoon to dry them.  Fortunately, the guard was changed a few days ago and I have now dared to hang the blankets out at the window, a proceeding which would have been certain to ensure me some hearty wallops from B the B if he had still been here.  We were let out at 10.30 am today – by mistake.  Few steps along the corridor and we were sent back and locked up again.  The east wing went out and had exercise and handball games in the south west triangle.  I expect it will be our turn this afternoon.  PB has gone and Fatty (our favourite so far) is again in charge.  he took part himself in one of the ball games appearing to enjoy himself hugely and proving himself a good sportsman, taking everything in good part and laughing heartily at his own mistakes.  We feel quite cheered up as a result.  Out wing (the south) was left out this afternoon from 4 to 5.30 as we expected and we had a pleasant time.  We were also exercised in the SW triangle, a run of about 10 times round the field followed by physical jerks.  Two handball games.  Then first bath in two days.  Supper red rice, half duck egg, boiled tapioca and usual veg soup.  Also my extra plate of boiled white rice and 2 bananas.  Exchanged ‘Pimpernel’ with Raymond for Dutch book ‘Onder het juk’ (Yoke of Bondage) by H Bong.


While waiting in the Head Office of the Bank in Union Terrace to be interviewed for the advertised vacancy my attention was attracted to a man of about 30 years of age engaged in some task at the main counter.  He was of average height, slimly built with very sharp features, keen dark brown eyes and almost black close curling hair.  In fact he attracted me so much that I found myself wishing that I should be engaged if for no other reason than to have the opportunity of making his acquaintance.  It must have been fated, for this was Douglas Campbell who was to become the only real friend I have ever had and whose influence will remain with me all my life.  Doug was a brilliantly clever man with an extensive knowledge and intense appreciation of the arts in general and literature in particular.  He it was who introduced me to the real world of letters and to the higher realms of music, in fact to an appreciation of the higher things of life in general.  If ever there was a square peg in a round hole it was Douglas Campbell in the Aberdeen Savings Bank, although to be quite frank I do not know where exactly he would have fitted in.  He was  a combination  of revolutionary in matters of convention, socialistic idealist and agnostic in belief – and his own worst enemy.  He judged himself very hardly, being extremely sensitive as to his faults, to such an extent in fact that it is my opinion that he would have made much more of his opportunities and abilities if he had not been so critical of his own shortcomings.  His greatest failing was that of indulging in periodical drinking bouts which sometimes lasted for days and which led him into strange and often undesirable company.  He had always spoken to me quite frankly of this failing – but I only saw him once in an intoxicated condition and it almost broke my heart.  He arrived at our house in Sunnybank Place late one evening very badly intoxicated, almost speechless, and I remember mother  having him lie down on a couch in front of the fire while she did all in her power to sober him up as far as possible.  I am not ashamed to admit that I broke down and cried like a child when I saw Doug lying there in that condition.  It was my first experience of an intoxicated person at close quarters, which in itself was a great shock, but the fact that it was this dear friend whom I practically idolised who was in this condition was too much for me.  It was by no means that I had, as one may be inclined to think, discovered my idol to have feet of clay.  That did not enter into my feeling at all.  It was the pity of it all which affected me so strongly, the realisation of the ‘what might have been’' for Doug if he had not been cursed with such a failing.  His friendship meant even more to me that ever after this revelation of human weakness.  It may seem strange that such a friendship should have been possible between a youth of 17 and a man twice his age, but the reason was simple.  Doug had never grown up and his boyish spirits were on many occasions more exuberant than my own.  It was his suggestion, one Sunday when we were walking round by the lighthouse, that we should set his bowler hat on a rock as a target for our marksmanship with throwing pebbles.  We threw stones at that hat for at least half an hour and Doug’s enjoyment at this defiance of such a convential symbol and glee when he scored a hit, were, I believe even greater than my own.  We used to go for long cycle runs together out into the country and there he opened my eyes to the beauties of nature.  For four years I had this wonderful companionship which, towards the end of that period, was more or less interrupted by reason of anther attachment, natural to my years, which I had formed.  It may be foolish of me, but I have always felt that if my allegiance had not been divided, I might have been instrumental in averting the tragedy of Doug’s passing.  Or it was perhaps fated to be so, as Doug himself had a love in his life, the object of which, with characteristic self depreciation, he regarded as one as far beyond the reach of his unworthiness as the stars.  One Sunday his cycle and boots were found on the top of the cliffs between Aberdeen and Cove and it is presumed that he had thrown himself into the sea at that point.  I never heard of his body having been recovered.

Let the following, which I wrote in my notebook at that time, be his epitaph:

The Guide took Youth by the hand and led him down the Way of Life.
And as they went he pointed out on each side many
Doors which Youth had not observed in his impulsiveness
As he impatiently strode along the Way, with
Eyes fixed straight ahead.
And of those doors there were many which stood invitingly open,
Some only half a jar, and a few which were tightly closed.
’By these and these’, said the Guide, pointing to the doors,
’Shalt thou gain what thou most desirest’.
And Youth so journed long by the Way and entered many doors.
Those things which he saw and learned beyond the doors
Made the Way seem a happier and brighter one
Than it had appeared hitherto.
Beauty appeared everywhere – in everything.
And those of the doors which were tightly closed
Yielded the richest treasures.
The Guide was always near, counselling Youth against
Rash and hasty judgment of those things in which
At first glance beauty and purity seemed non existent.
And Youth was I – and the Guide the best friend Youth ever had.


I have lost a friend, a dear friend, and grieve deeply.
I ask myself,’Why do I grieve?’
The answer comes - ‘It is your sense of loss which is causing your grief’.
My sense of loss!  That sounds selfish – and it IS selfish.
Here I am, professing a belief in another and better
World and yet grieving that my friend has crossed
To the happiness and peace of the other side.
I have no cause to grieve for him if this is my belief -
and it IS my belief.
Therefore, what I call my grief is merely a revulsion
Of feeling caused by a selfishness
Which disturbs my mental equilibrium.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

5 August 1942

Bramble soup for breakfast – not bad but glad have rice porridge as well.  A small salt fish with the rice for supper.  No outing today.  Bill Leslie told me yesterday that the EW’s name for PB is B the B (Basil the Bastard).  Have exchanged my book with Minggail for ‘The Scarlet Pimpernel’ by Baroness Orczy.  Took down my cupboard from wall yesterday and held spring cleaning.  Tough job getting it back on wall.


Bert Fullerton and I were bosom friends while at College and were the founders of the LLT which meant the League of Long Togs and membership was naturally confined to those who had achieved the distinction of wearing long trousers.  The League had neither aim nor object and must have been prompted, I imagine, by the feeling for mutual support among those of our tender years who had had the temerity to a abandon shorts and knickerbockers.  Yes, Bert and I were very close friends during these years which makes it all the more regrettable that the snobbery bug hit him after he proceeded to the University and he ceased to know me.  A schoolboy friendship of a more worthy type was that between John Troup and myself while I was still at Sunnybank School.  Though our ways lay pretty much apart after I went on to Gordon’s we never quite lost touch and it did my heart good to meet good old John again in 1938 and to recall the times and pranks we had had together.  Many the time have John and I hunted the elusive tadpole in the pools of Scotstown Moor and many the pound of lead, in the form of spent bullets, did we collect from the sand hillocks behind the shooting butts at the beach, and sell to rag and bone merchants at 2d per pound.  John and I only had one quarrel.  The cause I have forgotten but the result was a real hammer and tongs set to in which poor John got his nose bled.  In his discomfort and my own intense distress and both our efforts to staunch the flow, we quite forgot our difference whatever it was and finished up firmer friends than ever.  John is now a shoemaker with his own business and two shops, happily married to a very nice girl and has one daughter.  My college career was not at all noteworthy, an all round average of about 75% representing my achievements there.  I had been quite used to holding it as ‘top boy’ all the time at Sunnybank School but quickly found my proper level when I found myself along with the cream of all the primary schools in town.  The pupils at Gordon’s College were of two classes, those who came from the west end as paying pupils and, as the school was  built, used the imposing entrance gate on Schoolhill, and those like myself, of the poorer class, who had gained scholarships and who crept in and out the back gate giving on to St Andrew Street.  This is, of course, generally speaking and entirely due to the fact of the College being situated in the centre of the town with consequently one of the two gates facing more or less the residential part of the city and the other leading to the poorer districts.  There was never any visible snobbery in the College.  I spent four years at Gordon’s College.  My scholarship was for three years, but if a pupil’s progress merited further encouragement, it lay in the power of the Board of Trustees, on the principal’s recommendation, to extend such scholarships for a further two years in order that the student might have the opportunity of going on to the University after having gained his Higher Leaving Certificate.  But in 1919 I felt that my duty called me to take an active part in the supporting of the household and I decided to leave College, having gained the Lower Leaving Certificate the previous year.  Consequently I applied for and obtained a position in the Aberdeen Public Library.  My duties kept me in the Lending Department during the forenoon and as attendant in the Reading Room in the afternoon.  I had always been an insatiable reader (and still am) but alas, for my expectations of a daily feast among the hundreds of volumes on all subjects which lay to my hand there.  By order of the Librarian, G M Fraser, it was forbidden to the assistants to read.  It was more that I could stand, hanging about among the bookshelves on rainy days (and there were many) when few borrowers came or to spend my time in the public Reading Room walking up and down the aisles between the tables and gently shaking the shoulders of old gentlemen who had become drowsy in the steam heated air and had dozed off over the periodicals.  Hence my abrupt departure from those precincts and escape from the ennui with the Balmorals.  So at last I return, almost, to the starting point of these reminiscences and as it seems to me that an explanation at this point of my being present in a prison cell would mean skipping more than twenty two years, I feel it would be advisable for a clearer understanding of my present position and also in the interest of continuity, to avoid such an abrupt termination to this biography which forms my escape from Soekamiskin.  The intervening years between 1920 and 1942 will, I hope, occupy me thus pleasantly until my release.  At the same time, I cannot promise that events will be related chronologically.  While writing, a word here and there strikes a chord of memory and recalls rather haphazardly other events and experiences during my 39 years of life.  Thinking of the Library, for instance, I see myself, on a quiet rainy day standing in the gloom between the tall bookcases scribbling my epic poem ‘ A German Sea Yarn’ and that reminds me of the period when writing of poetry (?) broke out on me like a rash.  My first effort when I was 14, prompted by Heaven knows what, was quite a splash and ran as follows:

‘Soft eyes, gleaming ‘neath silken lashes,
Do smile on me; so that I
Who thought myself quite safe
From foolish pangs of love,
Do feel the blood pulsating in quick flashes
Through my veins; so that I
Needs must remove my gaze
From thy flowerlike countenance
Lest I should give offence
By mine too ardent glances.’

not exactly poetry but rather blankety blank verse.  It was about this time too, that I started composing music for my poems and produced such masterpieces in the heroic sea shanties.

About this time I became afflicted with a spasm of calf love for a girl of my own age who played the violin and whom I was sent to accompany on the piano on frequent occasions.  She eventually was engaged to play at a cinema in Peterhead, these being still the days of silent film when such depended on a piano or small orchestra to enhance the emotions depicted by the actions on the screen.  Lovelorn, I cycled once (and only once) the 18 miles to Peterhead to see my inamorata. Rejected and dejected my reaction resulted in the following:

Till You Return
Oft in my dreams, my love, I long for you
When the nightshades gather round painting scenes a new.
God grant it be at hand, that blissful day
When we shall meet to part no more, I pray.

Till you come back once more, dear,
I shall ever be true to thee,
Tho’ the years be dark and dreary
And cast their shade o’er me.
I shall live for thee, dear,
As I know you shall live for me;
Till you return to me, my love,
I’ll be true to thee.

Tho’ I am sad and lonely and skies are grey,
Still I dream of you, dear one, by night and day.
In your dear arms, my love, may I find rest
Until we tread together on pathway to the West.

Till you come back etc.

The fit was still on me even when I was with the ‘Balmorals’, because when we were at Lossiemouth I wrote, with sublime conceit, ‘Advice from Old Age to Youth’.

I seem to have taken my own advice, all the same, because there do not appear to have been any further effusions and within a few months I had definitely settled down to make a living in the Aberdeen Savings Bank.


Note from the blog author, Pat O’Neill:

I remember when I travelled to Scotland as a child with my parents being taken to John Troup’s shoe shop.  It was a hive of activity and as soon as you entered you gained the wonderful rich smell of leather and polish.  Before leaving John handed me a miniature shoe measuring no more than a couple of inches.  It was black and a perfect replica of a man’s smart lace up shoe.  I kept it for many a year to remind me of our trip.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

4 August 1942

Pea soup of Katjang Idjoe (mung beans) for breakfast.  Out 9.45 to 10.40.  Two handball games played.  England – Holland and Indonesia – China.  Fight started during latter game.  PB dispensed judgment by slapping both offenders impartially and sending off field.  Soap and book issue.  Received ‘ An American Politician’ by J Marion Crawford.  Good soup for supper – tomatoes in it!


These glorious summer holidays of 1913 and 1914 remind me of another splendid vacation in 1917 in my third year at Gordon’s College.  I sat the examination for Gordon’s first in 1914 when I was still 10 years of age but did not get a place although I had the quite respectable average of 77% in the test paper.  The next year, just after my father had joined up in the RASC (Royal Army Service Corps), I sat the exam again and to be doubly sure of obtaining secondary education I also took the entrance examination for the Aberdeen Grammar School.  I passed in both, obtaining a foundation (as it was called) of free education, books and a grant of £12 per annum at Robert Gordon’s College and a bursary offering similar conditions but a grant of only £6 at the Grammar School.  I chose the former, not because of the monetary advantage but also because of the fact that the Grammar School was reputedly snobbish and greatly addicted to games, for which I have never possessed much enthusiasm.


Surprise outing 5.15 to 6.30 pm.  Three ball games.  Much more amusing to watch Aitkenhead at these times than to watch the game.  He has the ball in his hands the whole time apparently and faithfully reproduces the actions of the player concerned.  Only when it comes to throwing for goal he lifts his leg and kicks instead.  He walks up and down the line following the play of the ball the whole time, always returning to the centre when a goal has been scored.  I certainly should not care to stand before, behind or beside Aitkenhead at a football match!


Looking at old College class groups I often wonder what has become of all the young lads there who were my fellow students.  There were only three or four of whom I have heard anything of since.  Marcus K Milne, who stepped into my shoes when I deserted the Public Library in favour of the ‘Balmorals’, and who is now  Librarian there; Gordon H Swapp who I read about somewhere as a Naval surgeon; Douglas S Raitt who has achieved prominence on the Fishery Board; John F C Conn who is now, I believe, an authority on ship design (even as a boy of 11 John was always drawing ship interiors and trying vainly to induce me to share his enthusiasm); Robert Fullerton, whom I last heard of as on the staff of the Rubber Research Station in Malaya.  The rest have vanished beyond my ken.  In 1917 summer vacation volunteers were asked for logging operations in the north of Scotland, to prepare pit props for use in the trenches in France.  Practically the school, from my year upwards volunteered and we were dispatched a few hundred strong to the wilds of Ross-shire and dispersed over a large area among the fir forests there.  In some cases, there were camps of about 40 boys in charge of a master, other groups of 10 or 12 were accommodated in deserted farm houses and left to their own devices.  I myself and three others, Alexander Clark, William Michie and Robert Fullerton were exceedingly fortunate in being housed in a half cottage, just a but and ben near Alness, a few miles inland from Invergordon.  The other half of the cottage was tenanted by an elderly couple named Cormack and Mrs Cormack fairly mothered us four young lads and we were all very grateful indeed for her kindness.  I remember when we left we clubbed together and bought her a silver (?) teapot.  Poor body, she would no doubt have been very much more benefited with something more useful but in the ignorance of our years it seemed to us that nothing but a silver teapot could meet the case, I believe it cost us 25/- in Ivergordon.  We had a grand time of it.  Working hours were from 8 am till 12 noon and from 1.30 to 5 pm with Saturday half day and Sunday free.  Our wages were 26/- per week and we had to find and prepare our own food.  We four took the cook’s job week about and the cook was allowed to knock off work at 11.30 to prepare dinner for the quartet.  I think it is just as well that Mrs Cormack took an active interest in our affairs otherwise our own unaided efforts would doubtless have had sorry consequences on our constitutions.  We worked hard under the supervision of an elderly forester, with only one eye, whose name I forget.  I should explain that our working gang consisted of about 50 boys who were quartered in the vicinity of this particular forest.  We cut down the trees with cross saws, lopped off the branches with axes, sawed the logs into lengths ranging from 6 to 14 feet and then carried the logs and stacked them by the wayside, ready for the removal in trucks.  It was a hard and healthy life and developed our young bodies more than any amount of other exercises could have done.  Each Saturday afternoon we repaired to Invergordon which at that time was a centre of activity on account of the American fleet lying in the Comarty Firth.  The town was like a beehive, simply swarming with naval men and workers and the more interesting and enlivening to us after six and a half days in the silent forests and the solitude of the countryside.  Sundays we usually spent in long walks and fishing in the burns.  We did catch a trout occasionally and quite often had the fish for Sunday supper.  One Sunday we became musical on account of bad weather, I believe, and we had got our quartette going splendidly with ‘Ora pro nobis’ (Pray for us), myself standing on a chair conducting, when the door of our abode was thrown open with a crash and the farmer from the big house across the road from the cottage strode into the room, purple with (to him) righteous indignation and, shouting at the top of his voice, denounced in no uncertain terms our profanation of the Sabbath day.  Useless to try and explain to him that ‘Ora pro nobis’ was by no means secular.  We were in the wrong, and alike unto heathen, while he, roaring like a Bull of Bashan, was right and would have us all thrown out of the house if we did not accord the Lord’s Day due observance by remaining still as mice.  Ah well, the man doubtless was sincere and convinced of his righteousness but is not the sort of hidebound intolerance of other forms of worship the cause of unending and unnecessary strife?  A fortnight before we were due to return tot he school, Bert Fullerton received a nasty gash to his left leg by reason of his axe, slipping while he was lopping off branches and had to be sent home.  But apart from this mishap there were no accidents among us.