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.

2 comments:

Mickey said...

Great Stuff!!!

kim* said...

wow you are a great writer!