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.

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