Friday, 26 June 2009

17 August 1942

Out yesterday 3 to 5.15 pm/  Three ball games.  Supper very late – 7 pm instead of 5 pm but worth waiting for.  A change form the Ketan Hitam this morning.  Rib improving but still painful.  In spite of doctor’s instructions that the part should be painted with iodine every day, this has not been done.  As the medical service is here, it would be very surprising indeed it it had been.  I shall just have to practice Christian Science.  Two alarms already this morning but quite evidently only practice.


I returned to Braemar the same day and finished my holiday there.  A letter from Harrisons and Crosfield awaited me at home, with the request to be at their office in London on the following Tuesday for interview.  It was asking rather much to require leave of absence the very day after I had resumed duty but I was granted one day which was quite enough for my purpose.  I accordingly left Aberdeen at 7 pm of Monday evening, arriving in London at 7 o’clock next morning, returning by a train leaving London at 7 pm Tuesday which got me to Aberdeen by 7 am Wednesday morning, in good time for work. image Arrived at King’s Cross Station, I had a wash and shave in the toilet rooms there and then breakfasted in the Station restaurant.  My interview was for 10 o’clock but I was already in the vicinity of Great Tower Street by 9 am and sat on a bench on Tower Hill overlooking the Tower of London until the appointed hour.

I was interviewed by Mr Mitchell and Mr Thom who himself was a native of Dyce and the ordeal passed pleasantly.  At one point during his questioning he said to me, ‘You are not thinking of getting married, are you,’ to which I replied trustfully and rather bashfully, ‘No, not yet – but I have a girl.’  This simple question and reply were to have momentous consequences later.  However, after an interview of about half an hour, Mr Thom expressed himself satisfied and intimated to me that the appointment was mine.  The contract would be made up and I must return at 3 pm to append my signature and receive my copy of the document, together with sailing instructions etc.  Greatly elated at my good fortune, my first action on leaving the building was to send off a telegram to my parents which contained only two words ‘Got it’.  Thereafter, feeling in fine fettle I set out to see as much of London as my limited time would allow of.  Somehow or other, I found my way to the Monument which I climbed. image  It was a beautiful sunny day and the panorama of the great city spread out below me amply compensated for my breathlessness. imageI forget exactly how many steps there are in the Monument but more than enough is a fairly accurate estimate.  



From there I found the direction of St Paul’s Cathedralimage which I reached in due course and where I ascended to the Whispering Gallery,  in which the guide demonstrated the famous acoustic properties, and then to the top of the immense dome itself from which another magnificent view compensated me for my weary legs.image

I must have lunched somewhere but have no recollection of the proceeding and at 3 pm duly presented myself again at the office in Great Tower Street.  The contract awaited me, an imposing looking document of 8 foolscap pages simply bristling with seals and flourishing signatures.  As our American cousins would put it, it sure looked a million dollars but it proved itself latterly to be as valuable as the illuminated share certificate of a phoney gold mine. image Mr Thom informed me that I would sail on 16 October from London by SS Khiva of the P & O line,  transshipping for Java at Singapore, where I could apply to their office there for the necessary assistance and that the boat would be met by a representative who would arrange accommodation etc in Singapore for me.  On arrival at Batavia, Java, I should also be  met and taken under the wing of a member of the office staff there who would see to it that I reached Langen Estate safely and in one piece.  I was also advised to buy Hossfeld’s Dutch Grammar and Hugo’s Dutch Simplified.  This I duly did and to this day have never got beyond the first page of Hossfield.  But I must confess that Hugo’s book was very helpful indeed.  I spent my few remaining hours in London on the open top decks of buses, enjoying myself immensely in the contemplation of the most fascinating sight London can offer – the traffic.  A few days after my return to Aberdeen, I received my passage ticket and luggage labels and a cheque for £10 travelling expenses.  I was however very short of money for the purchase of the necessary outfit and consequently rather worried on that account.  I was at Northern Branch at the time and I confided my difficulty to Mr Grainger who very kindly approached a friend of his, a depositor at Northern, on the matter.  This was Mr William Riddoch, an elderly cattle dealer, with whom I myself was only slightly acquainted, but whom I learned to regard as a true friend and to respect as  a Christian gentleman of the finest type.  William Riddoch was a bachelor and a plain honest living and God fearing man whose guide in all his dealing with his fellowmen was the Good Book.  I learned later that I was by no means the first, and I am sure not the last, young man whom he assisted in a practical manner towards the goal of his ambitions.  In fact, it was rather a hobby of his to do good in this way.  Briefly, he advance me the sum of £60 which I undertook to repay as soon as I could.  I am glad to say that I did so within the year, thus discharging the financial obligation.  His kindness can never be repaid.  He himself considered that he was amply repaid if his protégés made good and was always ready to adopt one, even although in some cases he had been bitterly disappointed in his trust and his kindness shamefully abused.  When I expressed my gratitude to him, he replied, ‘ That’s alright laddie.  But just remember later when you have the means and opportunity to help some young lad as I am helping you now.  That’s all I want.’  Could there be a better rule for living than that?  William Riddoch was a simple man with I imagine, little education, but with more men of his stamp and less so called education, this world would be an infinitely better place.  He as passed on now but to me his memory will every be green and I shall not fail him in his precept.


Out from 3.10 to 4.30 pm.  Ball games.  Bill Leslie got a parcel in yesterday from Lydia.  He gave me 2 biscuits, double ones with icing in between and 3 candy balls.  All finished.  I have still got 2 squares of Swiss milk toffee and 5 Capstans.


My outfit was soon purchased and packed in a steel trunk which I bought from Shirras Long and a suitcase which was a parting gift from the Grosvenor Choir.  I had quite forgotten about my Choir until mention of the suitcase reminded me of my career as a choir conductor.   It is difficult to recall how it came about exactly but I suppose I was asked to form the choir which was composed of members of the ILP (the Independent Labour Party) of which my mother, having inherited her father’s interest in matters political, was an active supporter.  Politics have never interested me but if I have had my leaning in that direction at all, it has been towards the Socialist movement on account of its practical policy of endeavouring to secure better conditions for the masses.  I spent many pleasant evenings in the Grosvenor Rooms in Bridge Street where the ILP members foregathered and where, after the Grosvenor Choir was formed, rehearsals were held.  The choir was a mixed one of about 45 members, some staff readers but the majority sol fa and it was due much more, I am sure, to the unbounded enthusiasm of the choir as a while than to my capabilities as a conductor that the enterprise was so successful.  Without boasting, I think I can claim that the Grosvenor Choir was as good an amateur ensemble as could have been found in Aberdeen at that time.  It was, I believe, in 1924 that the choir was formed and I remember very well our first performance which took place one Sunday evening in the Picturedrome in Rosemount Viaduct.  In addition to the many part songs, about 12 in number, there were solos and quartettes and instrumental items as well as a few humorous Scotch recitations and our debut was an unqualified success.  From the ranks I had been singularly fortunate in forming a mixed quartette whcih , for the perfect blending of four voices, I have never heard equalled.  None of the voices was a powerful one and no ne voice at any time predominated so that singing in harmony was well nigh perfect, and especially in such a part song as Sweet and Low.  My sister Marjory was the soprano, Edith duff (?) the alto, Frank Pirie, tenor and Alex Catto (latter Councilor) bass.  Frank Pirie possessed one of the sweetest natural tenor voices I have ever heard.  He was very thin and consumptive looking and solo singing was apt to distress him somewhat.  Hardly to be wondered at considering that the poor chap was under nourished and had been out of work for about 2 years already at that time.  He was one of the finest men I have met and it is a privilege to have known him.  Poor frank was one of the victims of the first bombing attacks on Aberdeen in September 1940.  When I resigned from the conductorship on  leaving for Java, my uncle Peter took over the choir but some six months later, I believe, it was disbanded.  However, as I have already stated, the Choir presented me with a splendid leather suitcase which I used still and which forms a link with a very happy period of my life.


Note from Pat O’Neill

Last year my daughter was taken to the Whispering Gallery where her future husband proposed, little realising that her grandfather had been there all those years ago!

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

16 August 1942

Last night lights dim till 9 pm then complete black out till 11 pm after which lights dim for the rest of night.  Rib still painful, pain now localised under right breast.  Twenty odd new people including 2 women, have arrived and are in the West wing.  Too far to see who or what they are.


Mention of John Wilkinson reminds me of a serious illness I had, in, I believe, 1932, of which John was the indirect cause but not in the least responsible.  He was a very fine swimmer and one Saturday afternoon while we were together in the Bathing Station of the Beach, I persuaded him to teach me to dive from the springboard.  I got the knack of it in due course and was so enthusiastic that I kept on diving long after John had left the bathing station.l  The same evening I had a bad headache with a dull throbbing in the ears and by the next morning I was in agony with earache and running a high fever.  The doctor was called, diagnosed abscesses in both ears and prescribed treatment.  For days I lay practically unconscious with the intense pain.  In due course, thanks to my mother’s careful nursing, the pain subsided, but leaving me as weak as a kitten – and stone deaf!  The doctor told my mother that there was nothing more to be done as both eardrums were perforated and that I would never recover my hearing.  Fortunately, I was not aware of the verdict, whcih was probably just as well and my mother refused to accept it.  on her own responsibility she intensified the treatment, washing out and dressing my ears every hour, day and night, and achieved a miracle.  My hearing gradually came back until eventually it was as good as formerly, probably better on account of the drastic clearing my ears had undergone during the treatment.  I owe the recovery of my sense of hearing to my mother alone, God bless her.  It was during those  years, too, when I took enthusiastically to the Muller System of physical training, to which I was introduced by Douglas Campbell, and there can be no doubt that this habit stood me in good stead in later life, building up, as it did, latent powers of resistance to disease and reserves of physical strength.  In my opinion, the Muller System stands alone and in view of its simplicity and the absence of any complicated or expensive apparatus in its execution, is within the reach of every young man or woman who is willing to sacrifice a few packets of cigarettes or a pound of chocolates to procure the book ‘My System’ which costs only a few shillings.  No investment will ever pay larger dividends.  The desire to get out  into the world still being strong within me, I tried on two occasions, before finally breaking away in 1926, to satisfy the urge of applying for a position, first with the Hudson’s Bay Company and later with a Bank in Cuba.  My lack of inches debarred me from consideration for the Hudson’s Bay appointment, the minimum height stipulated being 5ft 8ins, and in the second case, the conditions did not sufficiently appeal to me.  For a year or two, my wanderlust slumbered until in 1926 it was awakened by the fact of James Webster having secured a planting job in Java.  This started me off on hunting through the ‘situations vacant’ columns of the papers again and, sure enough, about the middle of August, and just as Jimmy Webster must have been disembarking in Java, the following advertisement appeared in the Scotsman, the newspaper which was to be found each morning on the counter at Head Office:

‘Assistant wanted for Rubber Plantation in Java.  Apply to Harrisons and Crosfield, Ltd, Gt Tower Street, London’

The same day I wrote applying for the position and a few days later received a questionnaire which I was requested to fill in and return.  This I did and then followed a few weeks of excited speculation and expectation.  In this interim my annual holiday, which I always took in the last week of August and the first week in September, intervened and it was after having been a week in Braemar that I received a forwarded telegram from London requesting me to submit myself to a designated doctor in Aberdeen for medical examination.  The telegram arrived on Friday evening and the next morning I started early to cycle the 16 miles to Ballater where I caught the train for Aberdeen.  Arrived there, I first dashed home to communicate the news and then proceeded as quickly as the tramcar could take me to the house of the doctor, whose name I forget, in Albyn Place.  Such was my excitement, that, between trams, I was under the urgent necessity of relieving myself in the public urinal at the King’s Statue, a circumstance which was to have a rather ludicrous consequence.  The doctor put me through examination which culminated, naturally, in the request for a urine sample.  Having never been examined in this exhaustive fashion before, the request, or rather command, was quite unexpected and as in addition the source of supply had been exhausted a very short time previously, I was quite nonplussed.  However, I had to make an effort, but after 5 minutes behind a screen with a tumbler in my hand, I had perforce to give it up as a bad job and to reappear shamefacedly with a still empty glass, confessing to the medically inability at that juncture to deliver the goods.  He looked at me with that half amused half contemptuous smile which doctors seem  to reserve for such a confession (I wonder why?) and then suggested that I should come back two hours later for the purpose.  I therefore returned home where I spent the time granted me in drinking glass after glass of water until I was almost in danger of drowning or, at least, of becoming completely waterlogged.  At the doctor’s house again at the appointed hour, the door, in answer to my ring, was opened by a very young and attractive maid who immediately asked me if I was Mr Smith, explaining that the doctor as not then at hoe but that I had to telephone him at a number she gave me.  From the half smile playing about her life I received a strong impression that this lass knew my secret.  I rang up the doctor on his own phone and he gave me clear instructions for finding the necessary receptacle which he had placed for me on a shelf in his surgery.  My suspicion that the maid knew what it was all about became a certainty when, after, hanging up the telephone and without having yet spoken a word, she said, ‘This way, Sir,’ showing me immediately into the surgery and the maid, still with a badly concealed amused expression on her face, showed me out of the house, which I left with a face as red as a beetroot and the fervent wish that I should obtain the Java appointment, if for no other reason than that I should not be exposed to the chance of coming face to face again with the girl in question.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

15 August 1942

The prison siren has gone twice in the past hour.  It is now 11.30 am.  Perhaps practice, perhaps not.  Long in bed till 9 am.  Yesterday afternoon did my rib no good by throwing ball which had gone over line, back on to field.  Quite forgot I was not fit but the action reminded me of the fact very sharply.  dimmed light all last night.  At 9 pm the most wonderful astronomical phenomenon I have ever witnessed.  A shooting star or comet of a brilliance which turned the darkness to daylight travelled across the sky from the east to west.  The light lasted at least 10 seconds and I thought at first that it was a parachute flare.  Let us hope that this is a happy omen of what is to come.  The direction from which the star came is the right one and it is starts we are looking for.


During my years in the Bank many changes occurred within the family circle.  I may be somewhat lazy as to the exact date but it was in 1923 I think, that my grandfather died.  My grandmother followed him the next year and in 1925, I believe, the family of still unmarried aunts and one uncle emigrated to America.  It may seem strange that when referring to grandfather, grandmother, uncles and aunts, these are always of my mother’s side.  The reason is because my father was the only member of his family in Aberdeen.  When I was very young, grandfather and grandmother Smith stayed in Northfield Place.  in thinking of grandfather, a picture forms in my mind of myself standing at a table, with the top of which my head is just at a level, watching with greedy expectant eyes while a fairly tall, grey haired and rather gaunt man is preparing to break up a large peppermint ‘pandrop’ with the hammer he has in his hand.  That is my only memory of grandfather Smith.  He must have died when I was about 3 or 4 and then my grandmother removed to Edinburgh to take up house with her youngest son.  She returned to Aberdeen some four or five years later, staying with us for a few months but later taking up residence in a small house in a side street of Powis Place, the name of which escapes me.  I recollect her a small bent body, still fresh complexioned, blue eyed and with her greying brown hair drawn tightly back from her forehead and gathered into a ‘bun’ at the back of her head.


2.30 pm had just been to doctor from 12.30 t0 2.10.  We go in batches of 5 or 10 at a time and come back in the same way, being searched both going and coming.  My rib is not broken, probably only a severely strained muscle.  the part painted with iodine, sunbaths and rest advised.  We have a new doctor, an Indonesian, Sastrowirojo, I believe his name is.  Door of hospital was open, so saw and waved  to Sparkes.  We have just been issued with 2 packets of 20 Mascot cigarettes each.  Today we begin 5th month here and this is only the third time we have got cigarettes.  On 13 June we got 40 Davros cigs and on 17 July 20 Mascots.


My only vivid recollection of Grannie Smith is seeing her wandering all over the house peering at everything while drying her face after washing.  It was a habit of hers to do this and I know it used to amuse my sister and myself greatly.  I do not think she could have been a type to inspire affection otherwise my memories of her would no doubt be much clearer!  From what I gathered in after years, I believe she was the type of mother who disapproved of daughters in law on general principle and consequently relations between her and my mother were not cordial.  In my father’s family there were four sons and one daughter.  The eldest son, David, emigrated to Canada many years ago.  As far as I am aware, he never married.  The second son, John, was my father; the third William, killed in a railway accident a few years ago, was married and resided in Glasgow as did also the only daughter, Jean, who, I understand had made an unfortunate marriage and was consequently pretty much lost sight of.  The youngest son, James, residing in Edinburgh, was also unfortunate in ,matrimony and divorced his wife after a few years.  I do not believe that correspondence passed between the brothers and sister and consequently the uncles and aunt on my father’s side are known to me practically only from hearsay.  My maternal grandfather, George Mackintosh Riach, was a clever man and gifted with great organising ability.  In a higher walk of life, he would doubtless have achieved distinction.  As it was in a humble way, he was well known in Aberdeen and, when younger, took a very active part in the support of various candidates for municipal honours.  He claimed descent on the maternal side from the Mackintosh as the result of a misalliance between a groom and a daughter of the illustrious family, but how many generations back, I never heard tell.  Every Saturday evening a sort of forum was held at my grandparents’ house where the politics of the day were discussed and argued with various members of the family, my grandfather, so to speak, occupying the chair.  There is no doubt that he possessed a wonderful insight into things political and a keep foresight of the trend of events and, young as I was, then, I used to enjoy these Saturday evening parliaments.  During the War, we were deprived for the time being of the Aberdonians famed morning rolls – in local parlance, ‘buttery rowies’.  How it came about I cannot recall but on a certain occasion I found myself competing with my grandfather on a poetic contest in connection with this circumstance for a wager of a penny.  The family were the judges and on the appointed evening, grandfather read his poem, which went as follows:

Oor forefathers likit their bannocks and ale
And aye kept good store in their bowies
But for enjoyment what niver can fail
Is a breakfast wi’ buttery rowies.

For general acclaim I won the penny by submitting the

Ode to the Departed Buttery

Broom an’ crisp, ye used tae lie within yer paper buggie
Far be ye noo, say I, ma bonnie buttery rowie?
But soon, I’m sure, ye’ll come again to cheer oor hairts forlorn
An’ we’ll see ye on the table aince mair at breakfast ivery morn.

The breaking up of the family, more or less inevitable after the death of both grandparents, brought to an end the joyous Hogmanay reunions which had characterised the ‘Clan, as we called ourselves, from my earliest years.  My uncle Joe was by the time married and settled down in London.  My aunt Innes, Margaret (Peggy), Eliza (Betty) and Charlotte and my uncle Johnnie, also John Wilkinson, Charlotte’s fiancé, emigrated to America, settling in Detroit.  Charlotte and John Wilkinson later went to South Africa and now live in Maraisburg, Transvaal and have one daughter, May.  Some years after the general emigration, my uncle Joe, with his wife, Winnie and their two children, George and Pamela, joined the American contingent in Detroit where all still reside.  It is a rather unusual fact that I have never addressed my aunts or uncle by such titles but always by their Christian names, as between brothers and sisters, but how this came about I do not know, although it is probably due to childish license being allowed in this respect until it became too late to remedy the defect.


Out from 3 to 4.15 pm.  Only one ball game.  Chinese were not out with us today but have had their outing by themselves later and now playing a ball game against the Indonesian team.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

14 August 1942

Lights came on dim yesterday at 8pm and remained so.  Played a few games of patience but even that rather tiring in bad light.  Have gone on sick report today – wonder if the doctor will come?  Lay in bed till 9.30 this morning.  That is the latest way we have discovered of passing the time.  We go back to bed after breakfast and shout insults at each other about laziness until we get up 2 or 3 hours later.  We are all much cheerier now that the restriction on talking appears to have lapsed.  During the reign of terror, as we call it, and which lasted from the end of June until the beginning of this month, a beating up in the cell or through the window was our portion, not only for talking but for the most trivial offences, such as hanging something to dry out of the window  or even leaving the window closed. The annoying thing was that we were quite unaware of any infringement of rule until we were punished for it.  Each guard seemed to be a law unto himself and for a time we did not know whether we were standing on our heads or our heels.  It was like living in a madhouse run by the patients themselves.


Among the senior staff I must not forget James Smith, whose position was that of second teller.  He was the most interesting personality and a clearer case of a square peg in a round hole would have been difficult to find.  His ruling passion was the love of literature and he may best be described as a literary intellectual.  Tall, very thin and consumptive looking, with a slight stoop and a nervous habit of opening and closing his eyes quickly when animated, he possessed an intelligent face with a fine forehead, broad, high and intellectual which however tapered away to a weak mouth and an indecisive chin.  He was very highly strung and lacked confidence in himself in his work.  if Fate had been kinder to him and had given him the means to devote himself entirely to his favourite subject, I have no doubt that the world would have benefitted by some interesting ‘belles lettres’ and philosophical works from his pen.  I was delighted to hear that after his retirement he was appointed Librarian at Marischal College and it is pleasant to know that the last years of his life were spent in the atmosphere which his soul craved.  To James Smith also i am in no small measure indebted for the introduction to many books of which otherwise I should have remained ignorant. My contemporaries on the staff were Robert Wilson, James C Webster and George B Rose and each was an individual type.  Wilson was tall and thin, red haired and blue eyed.  He moved, thought and spoke slowly and altogether gave the impression of always being only half awake.  A negative personality on the whole, it is not surprising, considering his sleepy manner, that he was nicknamed ‘Dopey’.  I seem to remember that he was in due course appointed agent of the Savings Bank at Wick where he may even now be hibernating to his heart’s content.  A very different type was James Webster.  Sturdily built of average height, with brown hair, blue eyes and a real fighting chin, Webster as a pugnacious individual who went about with a  chip on his shoulder.  It was his nature to be quarrelsome and dogmatic and presumable he could not help himself, but it is  disappointing to reflect that these characteristics were responsible for his early downfall when he already had become established in a position which promised a successful future.  He left the Bank about a month before I did, to take up an appointment as a tea planter on one of Harrisons and Crosfield’s states in Java, and if he had been able to put a curb on his temper and tongue he would by this time have been an Estate Manager.  Webster was intelligent and being as he was unamenable to discipline in any form whatsoever, he quarreled with the manager of his estate with the result that his contract with the Company was not renewed after the first 5 years and he returned to Aberdeen, no doubt a sadder and I hope, a wiser man, and where he had drifted from one clerking job to another ever since, living on the dole between times and, I am sure, having a hard struggle to provide for his wife and two children.  When I last saw him, on 1938, he was holding a temporary clerking job in Campbell's Ltd, the motorcar hiring establishment but before I left Aberdeen he was thrown again on the dole.  It was quite tragic to me, to whom it was evident that Jimmy would have given 10 years of his life for another chance in Java, and who saw him now cooped up in two rooms in a tenement in Huntley Street as compared with the fine house he had on Andola Estate, up in the hills of the most beautiful part of Java, and with at least four servants at his beck and call.  I tried on two occasions to get him a planting job, but naturally the companies concerned approached Harrisons and Crosfield for reference and presumably their report was sufficient to damn him as a candidate for the vacancies and my efforts had no success. It is a great pity because I feel that Webster would have made a capital planter and a very capable Estate manager.  George Rose was in a class by himself and frankly to me it was always a mystery that he was retained in the Bank’s service.  He was so obviously all that an aspiring banker should not have been.  even at that young age he was old in the minor vises, haunting low class billiard saloons and consorting with so called sporting individuals, in addition to possessing don Juan propensities which gave a distinctive flavour to his conversation.  Fairly tall, slim, fair and pasty faced with a loose, weak mouth, he affected the flashy manner of the ‘sport’, employing in speech the slang vocabulary appropriate to such a character. It did not surprise me so much to learn some years ago that he had been sent to penal servitude for the embezzlement of some £6,000 as to find that he had actually succeeded in doing so as a branch manager of the Aberdeen Savings Bank.  At thee same time, I cannot believe that George was a criminal at heart.  He was only weak and the crime lay at the door of those who put him in the way of temptation which, to anybody with half an eye, it was quite evident he would be too weak to resist.


4.30 pm But since 3pm two ball games.  We appear to be in the hands of the Blue Boys (prison trusties) again, as always happens when the officer in command does not take charge of proceedings personally.  The BB’s are known as such on account of the blue prison uniforms they wear.  some of them are decent, most of them swine who take full advantage of the opportunity  to get a bit of their own back on society in general and the European in particular.  They are all native criminals, murderers, coiners, embezzlers or plain thieves.  The European trusties who looked after things formerly were all replaced by natives about two and half months ago.  Doctor has not come.

Friday, 5 June 2009

13 August 1942

No alarm last night or this morning but lights dimmed yesterday instead of 10.30pm as formerly.  Washed my bed with soapsuds today to keep away bugs.  I have been very lucky, haven’t had a single bug in my cell yet.  Some cells simply swarm with bugs, usually round the frame and between the mesh of the wire mattress which forms the folding bed.  Rib still painful but pain spreading more towards breastbone. Hope doctor comes tomorrow.


George Skinner was a simple soul, always good humoured and not, I fancy, blessed with an abundance of grey matter, but an accurate and efficient teller.  In appearance he was a little over average height, fair complexioned, getting a bit thin on top, and pot bellied.  He fancied himself somewhat as a vocalist, his favourite song being, I recall, ’The Wagonner’  of which I remember only the title.  During the war he had seen Home service as a truck driver and was often hard put to it to vie with others, such as Bill Cheyne and Douglas Campbell, who had seen real active service in the trenches, when War reminiscences were indulged in, but he did his best.  Actually a good, harmless chap, who, I am sure was an exemplary husband and father and who could not have had an enemy in the world.  Thinking of Skinner’s efforts in the relating of his War experiences, I am reminded for a moment of another acquaintance of mine, Hector Mortimer, who was a member of the the Beechgrove choir and also of the Kirk session.  Hector was a grain merchant having inherited the business in Loch Street from his father, I imagine.  He was a good fellow, but very effeminate in speech and manner.  He also had seen service during the War about 50 miles behind the lines and it was amusing to hear him describing the distant heavy gunfire as ‘awful bangs, you know’.


1pm.  Just had a pleasant surprise in the form of a parcel containing 60 Davros and 40 ‘1001’ cigs, 2 cakes of Toilet soap, 2 packets sugar, 1/2 bottle soya and a packet of salt.  The present Sub-director (?) who brought the parcel tells me it is from Mr Sner, former administrator of the prison.  Bless him!


Charlie Worling, one of the fixtures of Head Office, was a hunchback but apparently blessedly unconscious of his deformity.  It was as if the Lord had provided him with a cloak of protective ignorance in that respect and as a result one was inclined to consider Charlie as somewhat feeble minded, it being difficult to imagine that anyone in his right senses could be so completely unaware of such a physical disadvantage.  Nevertheless, Charlie was very far from being a fool and possessed an excellent memory which I do not consider was entirely due to a Pelman course in which he had indulged. He was a small wizened body with a pair of watery blue eyes from which, apparently on account of some weakness, tears were continually oozing.  He spoke in a funny nasal, rather high pitched tone which in itself was sufficiently amusing without taking into account his other mannerisms,  Charlie was, generally speaking, an object of compassionate ridicule but sublimely unconscious of the fact.  He was very well satisfied with himself and, I am sure, led quite a happy existence.  Passionately fond of classical music, he was never happier than when he could persuade myself or some other music lover to visit his home to hear some of his gramophone records of famous symphonies.  Beethoven’s Eroica and The Planets were among his favourites.  Once, during a Red Cross Week, I persuaded Charlie to consent to the sale, among the Bank staff, of a poem I had written about him.  The proceeds were about 13/6 (today’s money roughly 55 pence (.80 US cents) for the good cause but I have often felt rather ashamed of having collected that money in the way I did.  Here is the poem.


My name is Charlie Worling
and at ‘clicking’ I’m a don.
I set all heads a-whirling
With the swank that I put on.
And when I ‘walk the carpet’
In the twilight’s dusky dim,
You ought to hear the girlies say,
’That’s Charlie!  Yes, that’s him!’

My hair it is of chestnut brown
My eyes are limpid blue.
My ties and my suspenders
Are of bright and gaudy hue.
My socks, they are a wonder,
You could see them in the dark,
And my voice it is like thunder
When I’m acting counter clerk.

My vocabulary’s choice is wide
Tho’ sometimes rather strong.
In wordy argument there’s none
Who can withstand me long.
My intellect is powerful,
For a Pelman course I’ve had,
And so the proof is given
That this system’s not a fad.

For if the Boss is in a fix
And feeling rather blue,
This message comes across the wire,
’Send Mr Worling through!’.
From this it’s fairly evident
Promotion will be mine
And when Sir Thomas has resigned,
As Actuary I’ll shine.

And then you ought to hear me sing
My love songs – they are prime!
The teardrops start to every eye
When I sing – every  time!
The I’m a nib there is no doubt,
And never will there be
One who can trumpet half as loud
Or half as long as me.

‘To be kept within the Bank’


5pm Just been out for two hours.  Two ball games.  New command but still very lenient and pleasant.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

12 August 1942

Alarm went last night at 9pm.  Lights out.  Also alarm twice during the night and during this morning.  Definitely practice.  Did not sleep too well, suspect a broken rib.  Pain continuous and troublesome in movement and breathing.  Will consult doctor on Friday if no improvement – and if he comes.  He did not turn up yesterday nor on the previous doctor’s day last Friday.  Overweg, the medical attendant, told us then there was a new doctor and would accept no orders for so called medical supplies for that reason.  These supplies included sugar, soya sauce, powdered condensed milk etc made up by the chemists shops to look like medicines.  On a packet of sugar, for example, is a label stating ‘Sach. Album (Latin for white sugar) One tablespoonful 3 times daily’ and soya is described as ‘Extr. Hispidae’ or ‘Prophyl Malaria as formerly’.  Milk has no longer been procurable for about 6 weeks now.  It will be  a pity if we cannot obtain further supplies but as we are now more accustomed to the very plain diet, that will not upset us so much as it would have, say, a couple of months ago.


Alex Simpson had received his early training in a lawyer’s office and that influence was evident in the deliberation with which he spoke and acted.  Very long winded on occasion, he just escaped being a bore.  In appearance he was of average height, rather thin faced, with dark brown hair and moustache sprinkled with grey and blue eyes behind his pince nez.  His nose was rather red as is usually the case with dyspeptic persons.  By the very deliberateness which was as dear to him in his lawyer like manner, he greatly irritated those whose maxims were speed in action and quickness of decision.  Unfortunately, to his own detriment, two of those who took exception to this manner were Sir Thomas himself and James Fiddes.  He was no sycophant and, although it was unwise, there was much to be admired in his attitude to the Actuary.  If Sir Thomas emerged from his sanctum to consult his accountant and the latter happened to be engaged in writing at the moment, Simpson would keep the Actuary waiting at his desk while he calmly completed the sentence (he was a deliberate in writing as in speech) and then raise his head and regarding Sir Thomas with a bland smile, would say ‘Well, Sir Thomas?’  That this attitude did not endear him to his chief speaks for itself.  But it was of James Fiddes he had most to beware.  This was evident to the most junior.  Fiddes had an ingratiating manner where Sir Thomas was concerned and his feeling of enmity towards Simpson was very evident.  Simpson was between two fires, therefore, as represented by his chief’s dislike of his independent manner and the enmity of his immediate inferior.  As was to be foreseen, this situation resulted, I believe, in Simpson's being worked out of his position in the Bank some years after I had left the service.  There was not a trace of snobbishness about Simpson, witness my own aspirations in regard to his daughter, he would kowtow to nobody and was, in general, kindly and considerate to the staff.  But he did lack the necessary force of personality to succeed in his attitude and principles.  As Douglas Campbell, who had the gift of summing up a man’s character in a few words, said of him, ‘Simpson is a human man, but he is not a manly man’.


Out from 4.15 to 6pm.  Two ball games.  Did not take part in physical exercises on account of rib.  Hear that Fatty was bitten in the thigh by a dog last night.  The second officer is still with us however.


Speaking of Fiddes once, Doug remarked ‘Fiddes is a man to whom music means tinkling sounds on a piano’.  And that indeed typified James Fiddes in a nutshell.  He was a man to whom the arts were so many closed books, a cold, calculating, efficient human machine.  He had a brilliantly logical brain and was obviously destined to rise high, which I understood he did in later years when all the Savings Bank in Scotland were brought under one organisation.  In appearance he was tall, well built and very blond and active in movement.  He spoke rapidly and incisively.  His walk was peculiar for a man of his build.  He always took short quick steps raising himself each time in the toes of the foot on the ground while the other foot was advancing, with the result that his progress was a continual bobbing up and down, as well as a forward movement.  Frankly, I did not like the man.  Toadyism and ruthlessness have always disgusted me and in my opinion Fiddes had more than a small share of both these qualities.  I may be wronging the man in this judgment but as he evidently disliked me I may be pardoned somewhat for my prejudice.