MY LIFE FROM BIRTH UNTIL 1941 BY ARCHIE MCARTHUR
In our family, for most of the early years that I remember we were taken to Dunoon or Saltcoats. The Dunoon holidays were the ones I loved, and I think I was taken there four or five times, from the age of five till I was ten or some other Clyde coast resort. My grandmother Mc Arthur had a sister named Mary Tait, and she married a gentleman named Paterson and they lived in Queen Street, Dunoon. Mary had her family and one of her girls was named Jean, and we called this lady Aunt Jean, although she was really my father’s cousin. Jean married a gentleman named McIntosh, whom my father called “Toshie” and it, was to Aunt Jean and uncle Toshies house that we were taken to on holiday. This house, in my eyes, was situated in the most wonderful place that God put on this earth. The house itself was a But and Ben, you entered the front door and were in a small lobby with a door to your left and right. The door to your left opened into the kitchen and on the left of the door was a window, and at the end of the window wall was a press. A half-range was next to the press and a small wall brought you to a set-in double bed, and to the right of this bed was a dividing wall separating this set-in bed with another set-in bed of the same size. Returning to the front door but this time going to your right you would enter the bedroom, and this room had two double beds in it, but even with all this sleeping space, I wondered in later life how Aunt Jean kept her sanity when we were living in her home at the Glasgow Fair. Aunt Jean’s family was fairly large and I remember that the two eldest girls were twins, and were named Jean and Cathie. I am vague about the names of the rest of the family but I do remember Isabel and I think there was an Anne, and as children we all played together. Looking on to Aunt Jeans’s cottage you would see that it was one of a pair, separated by two dry lavatories. In front of the houses there was a stretch of grass which went down to a dry-stane dyke between two or three feet high. On the other side of this dyke was the clearest stream you ever saw, its waters running over a pebble bed. I can still see a shop that stood beside a hump-backed bridge over the stream, where we would buy our farthing toffee, or if we were feeling rich our half-penny on a Highland cream toffee bar. Most times I remember it was mother who took us on holiday; father went with his cronies to the Isle of Man for a fortnight, while mother took three or four of us children to Dunoon. We would be taken to the bridge wharf at the George V. bridge by tram car to join one of the paddle steamers going to the various ports on the Clyde. The Eagle the third, the Jeanny Deans, and other romantically named Paddle Steamers were the very epitome of pleasure to young people. There would be a band on board and the steamer would call in at Govan and all the other piers that were in use at that time to take on more passengers, and I remember the thrill if the steamer you were on started to race another steamer to get to the pier first, and get those passengers waiting to get on which ever steamer came first. I remember some of Aunt Jean’s family quite well, Jean and Cathie would be a few years older than me, born perhaps about 1917, Isabel would be about my age but my recollections about the rest of the family are not too good. I do remember that we played for hours in the stream, splashing one another and having a wonderful time. In 1945 my wife Nancy and I had a holiday in Dunoon and we stayed in a Hotel on the West Bay. We were fortunate to meet Isabel, who worked in a baker’s shop on Argyll Street, and she invited us to come to her house for tea. Isabel was married and had a young son, but when that holiday was over we never saw Isabel again. I would like to think that the dates of the stories in this booklet are reasonably accurate, but as I am writing this some seventy years after the events, it is possible that I may be a little out on dates. My brother Paul was four years older than me and was about six feet tall. One incident that happened in the Sussex Street house comes easily to me, as it caused me the most frightening experience I had known up till that time of my life. On a Saturday afternoon I went to our toilet which was only a cubicle of four feet by four feet, just enough room to be seated and do the necessary. As the house was served only with gas, father had rigged up an accumulator to a flash lamp bulb and a switch. This gave only a very dim light but it was better than no light at all. As I sat on the toilet I was aware that something was moving behind the pan, so I was not long in accomplishing my mission and getting out of that cubicle. I told my father what had happened and after looking in the toilet he came back saying that I was imagining things. When the pubs shut at nine o’clock my father came into the kitchen and sat down to eat some cheese and raw onion. Just then there was a rattling of pot lids coming from the press where mother kept her pots and pans, and father went to investigate, and on opening the press door a large rat came scampering out. My mother, Betty and I were told to stand up on the kitchen bed; while Paul was give a walking stick and father armed himself with a hand hatchet. The rat had run under the kitchen bed and Paul went to a neighbour’s house to ask for their cat which was known for its rat killing skills, but it did not do any good on that night. After much banging on the floor the rat came out from under the bed and ran under the fender in front of the fire-place, where I think it was Paul who pressed the fender against the grate and trapped it. Father then got a small shovel, and taking live coals from the fire scattered them down the back of the fender, and the screams of the rat was evidence that he had hit his target. After a little while it was decided that father would ease the fender away from the grate and allow the rat to come out so that Paul could hit it with the walking stick. I watched all this from the safety of the bed and saw the rat running across the kitchen floor, but as mother kept that floor highly polished the rat could not get a grip on the floor to run, and Paul hit it on the head and killed it. Our house was immediately above a series of cellars which were infested with rats, and this one had climbed up a drainpipe which ran up the corner of our toilet and got into our house. It was not long after this incident that we moved to 238 Paisley Road West and for the first time we had a bathroom. This house had three bedrooms and a large kitchen, and where the Sussex street house was lit by gas this house had electricity. Mother and father slept in the kitchen bed, the girls slept in what was called the “Parlour” which had a bed with a polished door on it, and the boys had their own room as did the lodger. I would be seventeen when Paul got married to Christine Kelly in the “Wheat Sheaf” restaurant in Paisley Road, Kingston, This was a real posh affair with uncles and aunts, cousins and friends of both families in all their glory. I was Paul’s best man and I still have the group photograph taken at the wedding. Shortly after Paul’s wedding I decided that I was not getting enough of the practical experience I expected at Dobbie Mc Innes and Clyde, so I applied for a job in Barr and Stroud’s factory at Anniesland Cross, and on the 21st of April 1938I began the second part of my apprenticeship with that firm. Here was a new opening for me, learning to fit nautical and electrical instruments. Learning how to grind glass for binoculars, working on range-finders for the Royal Navy, and gradually becoming the tradesman I wanted to be, with hopes for a better future. At this time the working week was sometimes over fifty hours and my day started with me leaving the house about 6-45a.m. going to the Finnieston Tunnel where a lift took passengers and horses and carts down below the bottom of the Clyde and I walked through to the other end of the tunnel where another lift took me up to Finnieston street. I would then walk through Partick to Church Street reaching Anniesland cross where Barr and Stroud.s factory was to start work at 7-45a.m. Our normal day was a morning shift lasting till 12-30p.m., lunch from 12-30 till 1-o’clockand an afternoon shift from 1-oclock till 5-30p.m. We invariably worked two and sometimes three nights overtime, which made our week well over fifty hours. I walked to work to save the fares for four tram cars a day, which saved me two shillings a week. At this time I was out in the countryside every week-end possible, my favourite destination was Balm aha on Loch Lomond, but if it was an Autumn or Spring holiday weekend of Saturday, Sunday and Monday then I would venture a trip to Loch Tay or Loch Awe. It would be about this time that and became friends with Duncan Ireland and his brother Harry, Nan Sinclair and many other of the young socialists who were hikers. I listened to them discussing the problems of un-employment and the attitude of the government, and what they thought were the solutions, and as I began to believe in their causes joined “The Young Communist League” and “The Socialist Sunday School”, and there did not seem to me that there was anything that I heard that contradicted my previous thinking. Some of the teachings such as “From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs” or “ Honour good men, be courteous to all men, bow down to none”. I remained a confirmed socialist until the middle fifties when Russia sent tanks into Hungary to force them to accept what Stalin wanted, when all the Hungarians wanted was democracy. These years were perhaps the most interesting of my life, seeing the beauties of Scotland, learning how to take care of myself wherever I was, and slowly learning to cook a meal over a wood fire. Carbeth, on the Drymen road, was a stop on the road to Balmaha on Loch Lomond, and here Jimmy Robertson, an ardent anarchist and atheist lived. Jimmy had a mock up home at the side of the road, nearly opposite the “Halfway Inn”. He sold soft drinks, biscuits and other groceries to the passer-by. Here I got to know some folk who much later in my life were to be very close to me and mine. Mary Russell and Bert Anderson were two of these people and Mary’s sister Anne Russell was also to become much closer than I thought at that time. About halfway between Carbeth and Drymen you come to a bridge crossing the river Douglas, and stepping over a stile you walk about a hundred yards and come to 100 stone steps leading down to the river, and this is known as “The Devil’s Pulpit”. An awesome sight, with the red sandstone towering high above you, and the seemingly red water of the river rushing through the narrow space. The little village of Drymen with its large wooden hall, (now The Winnock Hotel). was a great place to be on a Saturday night, hikers and climbers dancing on their clinkered boots and singing the songs of the road. Balmaha and the island of Inchcailloch, which lay about a hundred yards from the pier, was another place we weekenders loved, we would paddle over on our canoes, and climbing over the hill we would see below us a lovely sandy beach, a paradise for sunbathing. I had a fortnight’s holiday in 1937 and as I had listened too many of my friends speaking about the delights of the “Lairig Ghru” pass through the Cairngorms I decided to try to walk from Rothemurches to Braemar. Having safely arrived at Aviemore I made my way to Rothemurches and headed for the first cairn which led me into the “Boulder pass”. Here was a wonderful sight, some of the boulders were as high as a house and the wonder of how they got there was spellbinding. I stopped here on that first night and next morning I began my hike through the Lairig Ghru. The beauty of the mountains was fantastic, and by evening I arrived at the Carrour bothy where I slept that night, signing the visitor’s book which is looked after by the Dundee and Aberdeen universities. If I remember correctly there was a cupboard at the window where there were some tins of varied food, a fireplace and some straw and wood, and I believe Ben McDhui sat right at its back. I then made my way down Glen Derry and Glen Lui where I stayed for an hour watching the River Dee bubbling its way out of the ground. It was a great sight to see this trickle of water making is way down the valley to become the mighty river of Dundee. I continued my journey down to Invereye where I stayed that night in Maggie Gruers but and ben. As an eighteen year old my impression of Maggy Gruer was of an old lady who wore a mutch over her hair. Her dress was black and came from just under her chin to her toes, and I have no remembrance of her face because I never got a good look at it. Next morning I made my way down the glen heading for Braemar and then following the road through Glen Shee to Blairgowrie and Perth, joining the road leading to the Trossachs, the Dukes pass and home, not on one day may I add, but over two and three days. I am now going forward nearly forty years when my wife Nancy and I were spending a holiday in and around Tomintool, and had decided to spend our last night in Ballater. We were well on our way and about to negotiate that terrible hairpin bend called “The Devils Elbow” when the heavens opened. Nancy was very frightened I said to her that we go into Braemar and get a bed and breakfast. We successfully got a B.& B. and I asked the lady of the house if we could have a meal, and she suggested that the hotel across the road might still be serving, but if not to come back and she would fix us up. Unfortunately meals were over at the hotel and when we told our landlady this she asked us to pass a half hour and then make our way to the cafe at the bottom of the street. Nancy and I did this and found out that the owner of the B.& B. was also the owner of the cafe and he had opened his cafe just for us---a gentleman indeed. When we finished our excellent meal we returned to the house and were invited to come into the living room where there was a couple like us who were spending the night, and the landlord and his lady. In conversation the landlord asked me if I knew the area and I told him how I had walked through the Lairig Ghru, once from Braemar and once from Rothiemurches. I told him that I had spent one night in Maggie Gruers cottage, how she was dressed in black from head to toe, how her head was covered with a mutch, how I had only met her that once and she would be a good age at that time, and how we left a shilling on the table when we were leaving. The landlord then asked me why I thought Maggie was an old lady at that time and I said that the mode of dress she wore and the fact that I did not get a good look at her face. Well, said the landlord, you describe Maggie perfectly and all who stayed at her cottage left a shilling on her table, but Maggie was not old at that time, as we only buried her two years ago, and hundreds of hikers and climbers attended her funeral. When I was working in Barr and Strouds I was out of Glasgow most weekends, taking my Bergan rucksack into the factory on the Saturday morning and at 12 o’clock I would change into my kilt and clinker boots and head out to the countryside. On the first weekend in June I would make my way to Ben Lomond, and on two or three occasions I slept on the peak so as to waken in the morning and watch the sun rise over the eastern mountains. Here was a magnificent to see, the first tinges of reddish light followed by the brilliance of various colours, before the bright whiteness of the morning sun took over. I carried a notebook with me on these days and attempted to record some of those beautiful scenes in rhyme, and many pleasant hours were spent by me at home putting the finishing touches to the rhymes that I had jotted down. My original book was lost but I have attempted to recall some of those poems and that book is with me in Kelso. I only experienced the following event on one occasion, and this event took place from Luss pier. About 12 or 15 canoes would gather at Luss pier and about midnight would start paddling across the Loch to Malarachy Bay, just above Balmaha. Each canoe had a wooden pole tied to its bow, and hanging from this pole was a lantern with a lit candle in it, and the event was called “The Feast Of The Lanterns” I cannot recall the origin of this festival, but George Fowler took part on the occasion. Arriving at Malarachy bay there was a really big bob fire, around which there would be about twenty young men and women seated, and I well remember on that wonderful night by me at home putting the finishing touches to the rhymes that I had jotted down. My original book was lost but I have attempted to recall some of those poems and that book is with me in Kelso. I only experienced the following event on one occasion, and this event took place from Luss pier. About 12 or 15 canoes would gather at Luss pier and about midnight would start paddling across the Loch to Malarachy Bay, just above Balmaha. Each canoe had a wooden pole tied to its bow, and hanging from this pole was a lantern with a lit candle in it, and the event was called “The Feast Of The Lanterns” I cannot recall the origin of this festival, but George Fowler took part on the occasion. Arriving at Malarachy bay there was a really big bob fire, around which there would be about twenty young men and women seated, and I well remember on that wonderful night Harry Ireland sang that lovely serenade which begins “Like a golden dream” and later two of the girls sang a Russian song “Volga, Volga” which brought a tear to the listeners eyes. This song was later to appear in this country as “The Carnival is Over”. The mention of George Fowler (who emigrated to Australia in the 1950s) reminds me that I owe my life to him. George and I took a paddle steamer to Rothesay and on the Saturday night we slept in the Skeoch woods. On the Sunday morning we were rather cold and decided to swim in the sea after breakfast. There were two girls playing about on a rowing boat and we swam over to join them. We all had a good blether and then as they were rowing further and further away from the shore than we wished, we both dived into the water and headed for the shore. I was doing fine and was only about a hundred yards from the shore when I swallowed a lot of salt water which made me sick, and I felt myself going under. I fought hard to keep on the surface but each time that I got up I went down to the bottom again. George told me later that he saw my difficulty, swam over and grabbed me, and brought me to the shore. Nancy was later to thank George for saving her future husband’s life. My brother Paul and I were born within a mile of Ibrox Park, and on a Saturday afternoon we would walk along to Glasgow Rangers ground to wait for the huge gates to be opened twenty minutes before the end of the game. This was to allow those fans who wished to leave early to do so, but it also allowed the young ones like us, who did not have money to pay for admission to see the last twenty minutes of the game. It was great to be at Ibrox park and see George Young, Tiger Shaw, Bobby Brown, Iain Mc Call, Willie Waddle, and all those other legends of Rangers, playing their hearts out for a few shillings a week. It might be of interest to the reader to know what happened to my brothers and sisters. Isa, who was the first of our family, married Stephen Milton and started married life in Cornwall Street, where their daughter Isabel was born. Steve worked for a Baker when he got married but in a short time his father purchased an insurance book from a local man who was retiring, and from there on Steve never looked back. The family moved to the Mosspark area of Glasgow where the twins, Angus and Stephen were born. Steve got promotion and moved to Dundee, where the family soon settled down. Paul worked in various jobs such as Galbraith’s the grocer, and while he was in this shop he got a bad cut on his arm from a slicing machine and the wound required being stitched. Next morning my Aunt Kate, my mother’s brother’s wife, came from the other side of Glasgow to see what had happened to Paul. Aunt Kate was a very infrequent visitor to our house, but every time Paul was ill or injured, she was at our door next day. Paul moved on from Galbraiths and started work at the Finnieston tunnel and later he went to the George the Fifth dock driving a massive crane. Paul married Christine Kelly and lived in Ardgowan Street, before moving to Hillington. They had three children, Angus, Wilson and Diane. Elizabeth married Tom Ballantine and their first home was in Cornwall Street, before they too moved to Hillington, and they had two boys, Tom and Iain. Tom was a fine man, always polite and happy. He worked as a mechanic for the Post Office and in his later working days he was transferred from Glasgow branch to the Kilmarnock Branch. Charles, my younger brother started his working life in Howdens sheet metal works ( where Paul’s wife worked as an office worker) in West Scotland Street, and after some time on day shift he went on to permanent night shift. He married Hilda Reid and they had two children, Carol and Paul, and they lived in Minto Crescent, Glasgow. In my own life I continued to go out into the countryside at every opportunity, and as I was often on my own there would be weekends where I would not be with anyone from leaving home till I returned. On the Sunday evening I would make my way to the “Clarion Rooms” which were situated behind the “La Scala” picture house in Sauchiehall Street. This club was the headquarters of the Co-operative Cultural and Sports Clubs, the Co-op having a Cycling Club, A Climbing Club, a Choir, and various other activities. On the top floor of this building there was a restaurant ably run by Mrs Oliphant who made lovely fruit cakes, doughnuts and scones. Here would gather all the hikers and climbers to eat and hear all the gossip, and to exchange there various experiences during that weekend. Duncan Ireland’s father was the conductor of the Clarion choir and it was always a great pleasure to me to listen to their practices. Duncan himself was a singer and he and Nan Sinclair were both in the Clarion choir. Hugh Roberton of the Orpheus Choir would on an odd occasion come to hear them practice. I often went to the St. Andrew’s Halls to hear the Orpheus choir sing their wonderful songs, “All in an April evening” or “Over the seas to Skye”. Other meetings I attended in these halls were political meetings where Willie Gallacher or John Gollan would be speaking to a packed hall. May Day was the climax of all those political meetings, and on that day thousands of men, women and children would gather in Glasgow green or George Square with Pipe and Flute bands, and hundreds of colourful banners. The procession would be led off by mounted police and its destination would be some venue within or just outside the City, and would stretch for miles over the City streets. In these days of strife I watched as the Italian dictator poured Mustard Gas on to the Abyssinian people, I saw the bombing of Spain by the Italians and Germans at the beginning of the Spanish civil war. Some of my hiking friends joined the British Brigade of the Republican Army, some died, and others came home wounded. One of the wounded was known as “Duke Bradshaw” because he lived more on Inchcailloch Island on Loch Lomond than the Duke who owned it. I have just remembered that any time we hikers were passing over Craigallion on the road to Carbeth, we always left some food for the men who lived there during the depression. There was a fire on the hill that burned for years until the beginning of World War Two, and the men who lived there were Glaswegians who did not take “Dole Money” , young independent socialists, and the passing hikers gave them support. So this was my life until I became twenty one, and one Saturday night I was dressed ready to go out for the weekend when David Wark and Bobby Brooks came to the door asking me to go to a social meeting in Sprinburn, which was being run by the Russell girls for a charity, and they had promised to attend and bring me with them. Reluctantly I got out of my hiking gear and followed them to the Russell’s home at 61 Broomknowes Road. Bobby knocked on the door and it was opened by a lovely girl whose name turned out to be Nancy and she had been asked by her sisters to tell us how to get to the hall where the social was being held. I made the suggestion that as I did not dance then I would stay here and keep Nancy company, but this was turned down and it was some time later that I got the opportunity to ask Nancy to come with me to the Gaumont cinema in Sauchiehall Street to see the Wizard of Oz, and this led to Nancy and I going out on a regular basis. I found that Nancy was a lovely person to be with, a little naive perhaps, but wonderful company. Her two sisters Mary and Anne, told her that they had seen me in Carbeth, and when she spoke to me about my hiking I told her that I slept out wherever I was, but if she would like to become a hiker we would both join the Scottish Youth Hostel Association. We did this and the first weekend we went out we decided to go to Inverbeg Hostel, where my friend Tony Capaldi was warden. We joined a bus at Anniesland Cross and arrived at Balloch about ten o’clock. It was a magnificent night, not a cloud in the sky, the islands on the loch were standing out clearly and the road forward was empty. After a few miles up the road Nancy said that she was getting tired, but I told her that it was only a few more miles and I was looking forward to sleeping on a bunk, so on we went. After another mile or so Nancy said that as it was such a beautiful night we could easily sleep out so eventually I said O.K. and in a short time I had made a bracken bed for Nancy, saw her well tucked in, and got into my own sleeping bag. A couple of hours later when I was safely in the land of dreams I heard Nancy shouting my name. Keeking out of my covers I realised that it was pouring with rain and Nancy was well and truly soaked. I got upand covered Nancy with a ground sheet and told her to get out of her wet clothes and into a dry set we had brought with us. After a bit of a struggle we were both in dry clothes and heading for Inverbeg Hostel. We arrived there about 6 O’clock and as the hostel was built on stilts we crawled under the hostel to wait on it opening at 7 O’clock. I was going out with Nancy for some weeks and attended her 21st Birthday party in 1940, and we went to the many theatres and the opera house to see such operas as La Boheme, Tosca, The barber of Seville and La Traviata, which we watched from the “Gods” Neither Nancy or I spoke of us as boy and girl friend, I think we just accepted that we were going to be together and would marry. This became clear when we would meet on a Saturday to go into the City and buy two tea towels which Nancy took home to start her bottom drawer. This became the norm, and if we had a spare shilling then we would buy something for our future house. Nancy fell ill in December 1940 and I remember going into the City before going to her house to see her, and bought one pillow case, and I wondered why she laughed. Throughout 1940 we were always together, sometimes Nancy slept at my house and other times I slept at hers. One night we were sitting in the “Gods” of the Theatre Royal when the manager came on to the stage to tell the audience that Glasgow was being bombed, and if anyone wished to leave would they do so quietly as the show would go on. Nancy and I stayed till the show was over and on the way down Hope Street we were told by the police to go into an air raid shelter under the transport offices in Bath street, where we spent a horrible seven hours, with no seats, medicines, water, nothing but a concrete floored empty space. Just after seven o’clock the all clear sounded and we made our way towards my home in Paisley Road West. The normal route would have been down Nelson Street to Morrison Street, but when we got to Nelson Street we were directed by the police to take another route. We were later informed that that two or three land mines on parachutes had been dropped on Nelson Street and two packed tram cars and some tenements were completely destroyed, killing hundreds of people. Nancy and I had talked of our marriage and decided that our wedding would be in June 1942, but that decision was taken from us one night when we were visiting my brother Paul. He had brought an evening newspaper with him and the headlines were a shock to us. They stated that any woman over 18 who was un-married on a certain date in December 1941would be conscripted into the armed forces unless they were in certain jobs. As Nancy did not wish to be conscripted we decided to get married as soon as possible. I informed my family and Nancy told hers that we would marry on the 20th of December 1941. We immediately started to make all the arrangements, South Govan registry office had to be visited to show the necessary birth certificates and confirm the date of the wedding. Nancy had changed her job at Ferguson Low’s to work for a plasterers firm in Eglinton Street as cashier at the beginning of 1941, and this firms premises were next door to Hugh Roberton, of the Orpheus choir, funeral undertakers. Nancy was paid £1 extra by this firm which was a big boost to our joint incomes. My brother Charlie would be my best man and Nancy’s sister Margaret would be best maid, and my mother agreed that when we were married and until we had our own house ready, we could stay at Paisley Road West. Our plans all went well and we were married on the chosen date with my mother, my sister Isa, and the four wedding party present. I had booked dinner at the Cadora restaurant in Gordon Street and the four of us took a taxi to there, and in the afternoon we went to my mother’s house where mother had prepared a lunch and surprised us by producing a wedding cake. Nancy’s sisters and her brother Peter were at this lunch and it was a very pleasant afternoon for all concerned. In the evening a taxi took the four of us to the King’s Theatre to see J.P.Priestly’s “Good night children” which I certainly could have missed with pleasure, and when we left the theatre Charlie took Margaret home and Nancy and I went along Bath Street to the Bath hotel where we were spending our wedding night. As war regulations said we were required to sign a register and after I had signed my name I handed the pen to Nancy and Nancy signed Agnes Russell, and was Nancy embarrassed. The receptionist just asked Nancy to add Mc Arthur. This is some of my story from the time that I was born till I met and Married Nancy, and I will now attempt to write “Our Story” of sixty four years of wonderful marriage.