A 'Remembered' Diary

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Not having kept a diary, other than a work one, I have often regretted not having a permanent memory and record of events from the past.  The only way to make some effort to partly fill this void in the family history and record is to write ‘A Remembered Diary’.  A series of notes about events and places as I remember them from periods from throughout my life.  Not necessarily an entirely accurate historical document, though it is hoped that the record does not stray far from the truth, but more an outline of events and a personal view about those events, people and places.

Of course, memory also involves information passed on from others, particularly parents, grandparents and other relatives and friends.  That being the case I include a few photographs of my parents and grandparents before I was either born or two young to actually know or remember things they felt important to tell me about.  More detail regarding the life of earlier family members can be found in my family history notes.

The Lannons


My father came to Scotland in 1940 to assist the war effort by being a member of the Newfoundland Forestry and, of course, he stayed.  He did not return to see his own father, John Lannon, for 27 years.  His mother, my grandmother, Margaret Glavine died before he left home.

The left picture shows grandfather John Lannon with one of the grandchildren and the picture on the right is my father, Matthew, with his sisters Annie (left) and Mary in 1940 just before he left for Scotland .


The picture on the left is of the home of my father’s Uncle Matt and is in Fortune Harbour just across from my father’s family home.  The family dog ‘Scot’ belonging to Uncle Matt Lannon is in the foreground.  The picture was probably sent to my father after he came to Scotland.  The picture on the right is taken in Grandfather John Lannon’s garden around in the late 1940s or early 1950s but the identity of the child, most likely to be a family member, is unknown.  It looks as though the child is the same one as in the picture above with John Lannon.

Life at Culmaily

Grandfather George Melville was a ploughman at Culmaily Farm and the family lived in part of the small cottage at the turn on the A9 between Drumuie and Culmaily just opposite Gilander’s smiddy and the spring below the house on the right hand side going south.  The low single , story building is now one property but in the 1920s and 1930s it housed three families. The Melvilles were in the end to the south.  They had a livingroom/kitchen and the ‘master’ bedroom downstairs and in what was effectively the attic area there was a family bedroom.  It stretch over the downstairs area and over at least part of the middle of the property making the house a little larger than the middle one though maybe about the same size as the other end abode of the third family.  All the Melville children had to sleep in this upper area and though there were nine of them never that many had to find space.  Some of my mother’s older siblings were away to work before she was born there being about 24 years between the oldest one and herself.


Grandfather George Melville in his WW 1 Seaforth Highlands uniform.






Top left;  The Melville family house at Culmaily.  The end shown is the end the Melvilles inhabited.

Top right; Gillander’s Smiddy opposite the family home and on the opposite side of the A9 road.

Above left; Annie Melville at about  four or five years of age.

Above right; Annie Melville, a little older, with her father, George, and mother, Annabella (Annie) Fraser or Ross.  Careful examination shows Cathel Melville peeping through the hedge in the top right of the picture.

Above; Annie Melville around her early teenage years.

My mother often spoke about life at Culmaily and it did seem as though she had fun and enjoyed it there.  There were many visitors to the farm cottage as members of this large family invariably arrived with many friends.  The area of hillside to the south east of Ben Bhraggie was a very suitable playground for a young family and my other often spoke of Precepts Green, a flatter area behind the smiddy and to the east of Drummuie Farm. I am not sure of the derivation of the name but it does sound as it was an area of land associated with the church.

I am not certain of the exact date when the family moved from Culmaily to Main Street , Golspie but it was probably in about 1939. My grandfather, it would seem, has a very serious stomach illness related to a burst ulcer and was unable to return to the very heavy work on the farm at Culmaily. After a period of recuperation he gained employment as part-time gravedigger at Golspie Cemetery .  On the face of it this would also appear to be hard work but grave digging was not a full time occupation and the grass cutting not an over-strenuous activity.  In addition, the work load was lightened by family members giving assistance.

Soldiers were billeted in the house in Main Street during the war years and many of those soldiers and their families continued to visit in the post war years. I recall much contact with the Methven family from Bo’ness and the Milne family from Banchory.  Until my mother’s death members of this family continued to keep in touch.  There were others but their names elude me and maybe I should have written the details down.

At some time during the War my mother volunteered for the WRENS and was posted to Dunfermline .  She was there until she had to return home to look after her mother who passed away after illness in January 1944. Of course, the bulk of the family, except my mother apart from her short time in Dunfermline , were all away at war or fighting were working elsewhere. 

The Melville Family

The early information I have about my Uncles and Aunts, other than the later family research I carried out involving dates and events, is mostly from my mother.  It is recorded as part of this remembered diary because I think I should make note of it even though it is very scant and open to error.  Hopefully small error of a general nature but I am always happy to be corrected.  Much of the information I collected later is in other areas of my family history record and not for repeating here.


Grandfather George’s earlier years are not well documented but it is fairly certain that he took employment on the land from an early age in the Doll.  He certainly worked at Inverbrora Farm and was resident and working there when he married Annie Ross on 21st July 1898 in Inverness.  Why he chose to marry there is not clear though since his first child to Annie was expected shortly and she had relatives in the Inverness area it is possible that it was expedient to go there.


Though this first child was legitimised by a hurried marriage he did, in fact, already have a son to an Annie Murray at Ladiesloch .  This son was called George, presumably after the father, was born on 23rd July 1897 and died unmarried in Inverness on 1st May 1960.


George and Annie had their first born at the Doll and probably in the house in which he was born.  Indeed the first three children Alexandrina, David George and Christina Fraser, were all born in the Doll. The next five children, Janettus, John Fraser, William Fraser, Cecil Alexander and Cathel Sutherland, were born in Murray Buildings, Golspie.  This residence was just off Main Street in a lane leading to the shore and almost opposite the Stag’s Head Hotel. The lane is now called Murdo’s Lane after a more recent resident. Their last born, Annie Isabella Fraser, was born in the cottage on Culmaily Farm.


Sometime after his marriage and possibly at about the time of his move to Murray Buildings, Golspie George started work for Morrison’s the bakers.  He delivered bread and other goods for the business by horse and cart.  This business survived in Golspie until its demise in 1995. 


George’s employment did not last long at Morrison's. He returned to his agricultural employment until with the intervention of the First World War and having 10 years experience with the 1st Sutherland Rifle Volunteers from 1898 to 1908 he volunteered for duty initially joining the 2/5th Battalion Seaforth Highlanders.  His date of joining was 27th January 1915 and George's British Army Pension Record, in addition to his Army record, indicates that before joining the Seaforths he was indeed a member of the 1st Sutherland Volunteers for 10 years. An further entry on the record indicates that he had already resigned from the Volunteers after his 10 years of service so his move to full time solider was not consecutive with his local service.


George's full time defence role was relatively short lived.  It seems he was for a time prior to September 1916 at Saffron Waldon as his discharge from the army makes reference to him suffering from Disordered Action of the Heart which originated there around April 1916. It was on 25 September 1916 that he was sent to Guildford Barracks, Surrey and attached to the 3rd Provisional Battalion.  However, the medical examination there resulted in him being medically unfit on 4th October 1916 due to this Disordered Action of the Heart.  It is recorded that this medical problem was not the result of nor aggravated by service and additionally said not to be permanent and expected only to last about 6 months with no incapacity. What exactly this problem amounted to is unclear but it did result in his Army Discharge under King's Regulations 393 (xvi) as no longer physically fit for war service on 18th October 1916.  The best guess regarding his condition was that it was a case of what was know as 'soldiers heart' a condition of stress with a variety of symptoms but no identifiable physiological weakness. The condition might well be described in today's terms as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and similar in certain elements to ME including fatigue, particularly upon exertion, shortness of breath, palpitations, sweating, anxiety and chest pain.


Family tradition had suggested that George had been a Military Policeman during his Army service. David Bews, Thurso, an expert on matters military states that the Military Police as such did not exist at that time.  What did exist was the Military Foot Police under the Provost Marshal.  It may have been that someone saw he was in the 3rd Prov Bn and assumed that it was the 3rd Provost Battalion i.e. Police. An alternative possibility is that he was used guarding Home (UK) installations and also used as escorting prisoners, deserters and even wounded to and from locations. In most cases it was the ordinary army soldier and not the MFP who were sent to escorts and those and those came from home battalions like the Provisional Battalions.

The early information I have about my Uncles and Aunts, other than the later family research I carried out involving dates and events, is mostly from my mother.  It is recorded as part of this remembered diary because I think I should make note of it even though it is very scant and open to error.  Hopefully small error of a general nature but I am always happy to be corrected.  Much of the information I collected later is in other areas of my family history record and not for repeating here.


Grandfather George’s earlier years are not well documented but it is fairly certain that he took employment on the land from an early age in the Doll.  He certainly worked at Inverbrora Farm and was resident and working there when he married Annie Ross on 21st July 1898 in Inverness.  Why he chose to marry there is not clear though since his first child to Annie was expected shortly and she had relatives in the Inverness area it is possible that it was expedient to go there.


Though this first child was legitimised by a hurried marriage he did, in fact, already have a son to an Annie Murray at Ladiesloch .  This son was called George, presumably after the father, was born on 23rd July 1897 and died unmarried in Inverness on 1st May 1960.


George and Annie had their first born at the Doll and probably in the house in which he was born.  Indeed the first three children Alexandrina, David George and Christina Fraser, were all born in the Doll. The next five children, Janettus, John Fraser, William Fraser, Cecil Alexander and Cathel Sutherland, were born in Murray Buildings, Golspie.  This residence was just off Main Street in a lane leading to the shore and almost opposite the Stag’s Head Hotel. The lane is now called Murdo’s Lane after a more recent resident. Their last born, Annie Isabella Fraser, was born in the cottage on Culmaily Farm.


Sometime after his marriage and possibly at about the time of his move to Murray Buildings, Golspie George started work for Morrison’s the bakers.  He delivered bread and other goods for the business by horse and cart.  This business survived in Golspie until its demise in 1995. 


George’s employment did not last long at Morrison's. He returned to his agricultural employment until with the intervention of the First World War and having 10 years experience with the 1st Sutherland Rifle Volunteers from 1898 to 1908 he volunteered for duty initially joining the 2/5th Battalion Seaforth Highlanders.  His date of joining was 27th January 1915 and George's British Army Pension Record, in addition to his Army record, indicates that before joining the Seaforths he was indeed a member of the 1st Sutherland Volunteers for 10 years. An further entry on the record indicates that he had already resigned from the Volunteers after his 10 years of service so his move to full time solider was not consecutive with his local service.


George's full time defence role was relatively short lived.  It seems he was for a time prior to September 1916 at Saffron Waldon as his discharge from the army makes reference to him suffering from Disordered Action of the Heart which originated there around April 1916. It was on 25 September 1916 that he was sent to Guildford Barracks, Surrey and attached to the 3rd Provisional Battalion.  However, the medical examination there resulted in him being medically unfit on 4th October 1916 due to this Disordered Action of the Heart.  It is recorded that this medical problem was not the result of nor aggravated by service and additionally said not to be permanent and expected only to last about 6 months with no incapacity. What exactly this problem amounted to is unclear but it did result in his Army Discharge under King's Regulations 393 (xvi) as no longer physically fit for war service on 18th October 1916.  The best guess regarding his condition was that it was a case of what was know as 'soldiers heart' a condition of stress with a variety of symptoms but no identifiable physiological weakness. The condition might well be described in today's terms as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and similar in certain elements to ME including fatigue, particularly upon exertion, shortness of breath, palpitations, sweating, anxiety and chest pain.


Family tradition had suggested that George had been a Military Policeman during his Army service. David Bews, Thurso, an expert on matters military states that the Military Police as such did not exist at that time.  What did exist was the Military Foot Police under the Provost Marshal.  It may have been that someone saw he was in the 3rd Prov Bn and assumed that it was the 3rd Provost Battalion i.e. Police. An alternative possibility is that he was used guarding Home (UK) installations and also used as escorting prisoners, deserters and even wounded to and from locations. In most cases it was the ordinary army soldier and not the MFP who were sent to escorts and those and those came from home battalions like the Provisional Battalions.

Upon his return to Sutherland George took up the employment on the land. He worked at Culmaily Farm firstly as a farm servant and then as a ploughman.  It would appear to be at this time that the family moved from Murray Buildings to the farm cottage at Culmaily.  This cottage was, as noted earlier, one of a block of three situated at the turn in the A9 trunk road just to the south of Drummuie Farm.  The building is still there but now instead of housing three large families it is a single summer home for a visiting family.


George Melville was ploughman at Culmaily for 21 years but in 1939 he had to give up work there due to illness.  He had suffered a burst ulcer while at work in the fields.  He was taken to the Lawson Memorial Hospital and operated upon.  Though he made a recovery from this illness he was no longer fit for the rigors of farm work and was forced into partial retirement.  This partial retirement resulted in George taking the post of part-time gravedigger at Golspie churchyard, a job he held until about 1946.  Grave digging continued in the family with George’s son Cecil carrying out the work for some years and son-in-law, Matthew Lannon, also helping in the churchyard at times. 


In the picture above and the group one below George is shown carrying cane and in the lower photograph dressed in trousers and having a braided cord from his shoulder to a pocket.  Army expert David Bews explains those items of uniform and it is best to present the information as received from him.


'In the group photo he is not wearing a kilt. It was usual for those not going to the front line ie 1st Bn, to wear trousers. The braid around his shoulder is probably tied of to a whistle or knife.

What he has in the two photos is a “walking out stick” also known as a “swagger stick”. These go back centuries and the reasons for their introductions are varied. The official reason (British Army and Marines) are…


When leaving Barracks that all soldiers would carry a swagger stick which prevented the soldiers from putting their hands in their pockets when off duty. The problem with this is, a) they had two hands and only one stick, b) that back before the kakhi uniforms they did not have front pockets in their uniforms and lastly, c) when carrying the stick in the right arm it prevented a soldier from saluting an officer.


The main reason they carried them stemmed from being posted to India and China, where as soon as they left their Barrack they were swarmed with beggars, muggers and pickpockets. At first the soldiers took their 12” bayonets with them to deter the beggars and thieves. However this did result in a few stabbings, especially when they got drunk. Whilst the military did not mind the odd Indian and Chinaman being stabbed or even killed, it did become a problem when the soldiers were stabbing themselves when too much alcohol was involved. So whilst they had to allow the soldiers to protect themselves, they had to find a way of preventing them killing each other. So they invented the “walking out stick” which they took with them when walking out of barracks. To make it a more effective deterrent they added a weight to the end on the stick and over time it was usually made out of inexpensive silver and had his regimental badge on it. Plus if a fight broke out in a bar between soldiers, it usually only resulted in a few lumps and bruises.'

George’s wife, Annie, died at Golspie on 14th January 1944.  She was ill for a time and their daughter, my mother, Annie Isabella, returned from the WRENS in Dunfermline to look after her in her illness.  George himself died on 2nd October 1952 at Main Street, Golspie in the house that the family had moved to after George’s enforced retirement from Culmaily Farm.  By the time of the move the family just comprised George, Annie, daughter Annie and the remaining unmarried son, Cecil, who remained in the family house until his marriage in 1949 to Jessie Alexander.

Two of George and Annie’s daughters, Alexandrina and Christina, trained as nurses in Edinburgh.  Both married there and lived and died in the city.  Alexandrina worked all her life in mental nursing and had no family.  Her sister, Chrissie, worked in general nursing and had time off to have two children.  And, of course, my mother, their third daughter, and last born, Annie, worked in Golspie and married, as noted above, to Matthew Lannon.


My first journey south of Inverness, in the early 1950s was to Edinburgh to holiday with Auntie Chrissie.  We stayed at her house in Regent Place and toured the city attractions and visited family and friends.  Alexandrina lived in a flat in Dalry Road and this, and Regent Place, were places I remember well.  We also visited David George’s daughter, Jessie who was with her husband in Edinburgh.  Other visits were to the Crokes, friends of my father, in Leith and the Learmounths who knew my mother from war time and lived in Bo’ness.


Aunts Chrissie and Alex were very fond of Princes Street and particularly the gardens.  They went together to concerts there and would enjoy sitting on the famous street's seats watching the 'World' go by.  It was an easy journey up from Regent Place for Chrissie through taking a bus from London Road while Alex had a simple bus journey from her Dalry Flat by way of nearby Gorgie Road.


The Regent Place home, number 21 in the short street, was a small terraced house with a small front garden.  The rooms were small. A living room, tiny kitchen, a small back bedroom to the rear of the house and a slightly larger front room.  The street runs down a gentle slope from London Road almost opposite Abbey Church which no longer exists.  At the top end the street reaches London Road by steps and so the only vehicle entry came in via the loner end close to number 21.  It was a pleasant and quiet spot with easy access to the city or to Leith.  The house is still in the family with one of Melville Hope's children now the owner.


Dalry was a very different accommodation.  A rather dingy flat in an equally unattractive vicinity though with the area now cleared and new housing built the effect is quite different.  I remember the less than impressive entrance to the block with its drab walls and shabby appearance. The flats were built round balconies or galleries on an open central area.  The flat inside was little better and though obviously kept clean and tidy by my Aunt the walls had the yellow coating of nicotine produced by years of smoking by my Aunt Alex and husband Charlie.  I say husband though, in fact, no marriage has ever been found for the couple.  Were they unmarried or was there a simple error made in not having their marriage recorded? - there is not much more searching that can be done so we may never know!


The Dalry Road flat was left to my mother as she had always been the one to keep in touch with Alex and the who generally put her up in her home on Alex's visits north.  The house sold for only £500 and though this would be valued at rather more than that in today's money it was still a meager return on a city property.

The oldest son, David George commonly known as George and often by the bye-name Wordie, served his time as a mason with Moore the builder in Golspie.  In the mid to late 1930s he joined the company of Wordies, from whence he got his nickname, and drove their delivery horse and cart taking goods to shops in the Golspie area.  He later joined the railway and worked at Golspie and Brora stations.  One job he had was to go by bike, possible moped or scooter, to the Iron Bridge between Golspie and Brora to open gates through the field and over the railway to allow high vehicles to pass.  He would indicate to waiting children that a double decker was on its way and all would watch it pass in the Main Street.  Such a vehicle was relatively uncommon on the road through Golspie in the early post war years.


George married Jessie Sutherland and had a family of six.  They occupied 28 Seaforth Road, Golspie for many years, a well built and nice semi-detached council house on the corner of the street and the Back Road. The garden was always well kept and of good size with a reasonable stretch of ground from the front round the Back Road side and into a tidy back section.  As with most properties at that time it there was a productive vegetable plot.


 George Melville, Jessie Melville (Sutherland), Don Melville, Chrissie Hope (ms Melville) and Jessie Melville later to become Jessie Cameron.

Daughter Jessie Cameron lived in Edinburgh but died at relatively young age.

Son Don worked with the Sutherland  and Highland Councils and resided in Ferry Road .

Janettus, fourth child and second son, generally known to all as Neddy, worked at Dunrobin Farm having first tried his hand at mental nursing.  He went south with his sisters who thought that such a career would suit him.  However, he was not happy and the strain of working with disturbed patients of about his own age upset him.  He returned to Golspie to take up work as a mason firstly with Moore’s and later with the firms of James Sutherland and Son and Alexander Sutherland and Sons.  He joined the latter after the business of James Sutherland, commonly known as ‘Meem’s’ went into liquidation.  Neddy was foreman with both businesses and built up a formidable reputation as an energetic worker who knew the building business well.

Though Neddy was well known and respected in the construction world it is through his work with the voluntary fire service that he is best known.  He was firemaster in Golspie for many years and very much involved in the community work carried out by the local fire service.  The parties for young and old started in the early fifties at his time with the service still provide an excellent Christmas outing for young children and senior citizens.  Though they may not be as socially necessary now as they were in the early days, when such occasions were few and far between, they are nevertheless appreciated by the community.

Neddy was sent for by neighbours when their chimneys went on fire. He was on hand to give advice and decide whether or not the whole brigade should be called.  My mother was always worried about a chimney fire and I can only recall it happening once.  The fire burnt fiercely and I had to run for Neddy.  The chimney breast cracked and the noise upstairs was very loud. However, Neddy was of the opinion that in time the flames would die down without further action.  They did but not before a period of great anxiety.

Neddy married Mary Sutherland but had no family. He resided at 31 Lindsay Street , Golspie and had a garden laden with flowers, vegetables and fruits which were admired by all.

John Fraser Melville, the fifth child, married Lucy Alexander in Inverness in 1933 and they had ten children.  John worked with the railway all his life after finishing his school at Sutherland Technical School on the outskirts of Golspie.  He was at first employed at Golspie Station before moving for a number of years to Boat of Garten.  He then was employed at Rogart and the Mound Stations.  He brought up his family at the Mound, four miles south of Golspie, in a house overlooking the Mound Station.  He later moved to Millicent Avenue in Golspie and finally to nearby 5 Seaforth Road where his son John and his wife now reside.

Visits to the Mound, by bus and occasionally by train, were a highlight.  The wooded area was excellent for all sorts of games and there was complete freedom to play from the shores of the Fleet to the lower slopes of the Mound Rock.  Trains were few and far between and road traffic very light.

There were two butchers in the family, William Fraser Melville and Cathel Sutherland Melville.  William worked as a butcher for Cameron of Kirkton, Grants of Dornoch and Ardgay Butchers. He lived in Dornoch with his wife, Nellie, and brought up four children.  Cathel the, second youngest, also worked for Cameron, Kirkton.  He married Joey Angus from Castletown, Caithness and had one son, David.  Cathel was tragically killed in Germany as World War II was coming to an end.

Cecil Alexander was the last of the family to marry and leave the family home.  He wed Jessie Alexander in 1949 and lived in Golspie at various addresses. The Neuk, behind houses on Station Road, is the first house I remember him living in and later he had a fine stone house in Alistair Road, Golspie.  He was employed in a variety of jobs having first been a gardener at Culmaily for Major Roberts.  He followed this with work as gravedigger, mason’s labourer and coal delivery driver.  His early ‘grounding’ in the garden stood him in good stead in the future as he continued to gardener around Golspie until long after his retirement age.


Cecil with Willie Murray and Patty Thomson in Italy during WW2 and Cecil and Jessie celebrating their Golden Wedding.

The second youngest member of George Melville's family was Cathel Sutherland Melville. Strange though it may seem, Cathel Sutherland Melville deserves a special place in my memories.  He was the one sibling of my mother’s I never met he having been killed in WW2 before I was born but I feel I know him quite well.  I was, of course, named after him through my middle name and he was the closest in age to my mother so I think that this, along with his sad loss in Germany, resulted in her talking to me about him more than any of the others.  More detail and photos can be found outlining the life and death of Cathel on a separate Biography Page on this website.

My mother, Annie Isabella Fraser Melville, was, of course, my mother.  As with Cathel there is sufficient information on a Biography Page about.  However, below I do reproduce her school group photograph in which she is surrounded by many of her lifelong friends.



Back Row left to right;

Jim Fraser, Jim Lyon, John Mackay, John Urquhart,  ?  , John Trussler, Hector Macdonald, Berty Harper, Billy Ewen.  

2nd Back Row left to right;

Ninie Dunnett, Ella Mackay, Jessie Miller, Annie Forsyth, Barbara Duff, Annie Melville, Margaret Macdonald, Daisy Mackenzie.

3rd Back Row left to right;

Donald Mackay, Charles Fraser, Isobel Mackay, Esther Smityh, Betty Sutherland, Dolly Wilson (?), Mona Mackay, Dorothy Bannerman, Kenny Campbell, Sandy Mackay.

Front Row left to right;

Patty Thomson, Ernie Robertson, Robert Sutherland, Sandy Ross, John Sutherland, Kenneth Sutherland.



The Newfies

In Scotland the Newfoundlanders who came to help the war effort by working in the woods as lumbermen were placed in camps from the Borders to the Highlands.  My father was one of those volunteers and worked in places as far apart as Lockerbie, Boath in Easter Ross and Dunrobin Glen near Golspie.  My father arrived at the Golspie camp at about the time of the opening of the camp and remained there until his marriage in 1945 though the camp did not close until 1946.

The Golspie site, a camp of prefabricated type, is now hidden by trees which have been planted on the slopes of Ben Bhraggie.  It was formerly used by Honduran forestry workers for over a year in 1941-42 but they do not appear to have been very industrious and left the camp in a very poor condition when they left.  Apart from the normal wear and tear and neglect it is said that they also indulged in some wonton vandalism.  After they moved on elsewhere the Newfoundlanders moved into the camp in 1942 and brought a completely different work ethic.  They were very hard working worked a five and a half day week at a rate of two dollars per day.  It roughly calculated that this would have been about 8/6d as the Canadian dollar exchange at the time was probably about 4/3d.

The Newfoundland foresters originally signed up on a six month contract and worked a six day week.  However, there work being of a high standard they were offered further a further contract and careful negation obtained the shorter week with a half day on Saturday but at the same rate of pay giving them a full days pay for the Saturday.  Apparently this rate of pay did not change over the period to the end of the war but it did include payment from when they left home in Newfoundland until they returned back there at the end of their contract.

The movement across the Atlantic was part of the need to diversify and to look for better prospects of employment as well as to support the ‘old country’ in the Second World War.  The movement of men, young and old, took a well trodden path. For decades in Newfoundland men journeyed to the mining industries in Buchans and the pulp and paper making in small towns like Grand Falls, Bishop's Falls and Botwood and beyond during the war by the coastal ferries around the Newfoundland coast.  My father moved to Grand Falls to work in the paper mill there and lived in lodgings.  His father, my grandfather John Lannon, left the fishing to work as a carpenter in the mill in Bishop's Falls.  Both would work for some weeks or months before returning home by steamer.

The main mode of travel at this time, in the 1920s and 1930s, from Fortune Harbour was by the steamers which called two or three times per week.  The Kyle, the Carrick and the Clyde were well known around the coast and the Kyle could still be seen lying beached at Carbonear when I visited in 1984.  The steamers took workers from Fortune Harbour to Lewisporte or Botwood from whence they travelled by train to Grand Falls, Bishops Falls and other places of work.  It was by this route that my father and Tom Davis, Jim Mitchell and Tom Croke travelled on the first leg of their journey to Scotland in 1940.  The subsequent Atlantic crossing, after a journey by sea to Halifax or possibly Sydney, Cape Breton, was made on the SS Ettrick in a convoy which had to run the gauntlet of possible U-Boat attacks but which was, in fact, a fairly uneventful journey apart from the problems of thick fog and keeping such a large fleet of ships together. 

The Ettrick journeyed in early July 1940 from Liverpool to Quebec carrying hundreds of refugees in its four holds.  Overcrowding was grim but she made the journey successfully and then, presumably, journeyed down the coast to Halifax or Sydney to collect her next cargo.  According to my father and the HX62 convoy record she was carrying lumber and general cargo. However an internet site record says the Ettrick sailed from Sidney, C.B. as the departure point.  Since records of those convoys are not always accurate and, indeed, many convoy records do not exist my father’s memory is as likely to be accurate as the published listings. Whether the lumber was the Newfoundland lumbermen or a wood cargo in addition to men is not clear, nevertheless, she did get her Newfoundland Overseas Forestry Unit volunteers across the Atlantic 

The SS Ettrick Convey HX 62, comprising initially 37 ships but increased to 67 when joined by Sydney and Bermuda convoys, sailed from Halifax on 31st July 1940 and arrived in Liverpool on 15th August though she most probably then proceeded to Glasgow as the convey record records Glasgow as her final port of call and additionally my father said that he landed in Glasgow. 

The Ettrick sailed in the middle of the convoy and it is reported that Commodore R B Ramsey, as Vice-Commodore of the convoy and aboard the Ettrick, said she was a great help in this position in keeping the convoy together.  

The Commodore's recorded comments are as follows:
"The convoy behaved excellently, and all did well. The master of S.S. Lindenhall, Captain F. H. Wainford, (the Commodore's ship) and his officers did everything possible to assist me."
And he says there was "dense fog 3 hours after leaving Halifax until 9 p.m. 1.8.40 and again all night of 1.8.40 and it was during this time that 5 ships lost convoy. Junction with HSX ( Sydney portion) was not made until 4.8.40 and with BHX ( Bermuda portion) until 5.8.40. Fog again on nights of 10th and 11th Aug. was responsible for 5 more ships losing the convoy.

Apart from fog and usual difficulties of keeping such a large convoy together this voyage was without special incident while under my command. I would like to say that Commodore R.B. Ramsey as Vice Commodore in S.S. Ettrick was of the very greatest help and his position in the middle of the convoy did a very great deal to keep the convoy together.

With reference to the junction of the Halifax, Sydney and Bermuda sections I suggest that the air escort and local escort from Halifax of the Halifax portion should on their return to Halifax harbour report how late (if late at all) the H.X. portion is likely to be at the junction with the other two portions and that Halifax radio should broadcast this to the Halifax, Sydney and Bermuda portions, no answer being required. Also, I think that the distance of 20 miles between the parallel routes is too great, and should be reduced to 12 miles."


The SS Ettricks end came on 15th November 1942 when she was torpedoed by German U155 whilst part of a convoy in the Gibraltar area and later sank.  Eighteen naval ratings were killed whilst the remainder of the crew was rescued.

In memories of WW2 for a BBC project  a section of Ron Wallbank's contribution gives some information on the demise of the SS Ettrick:

Aboard the ‘Ettrick’ again we were part of a 9-ship convoy leaving Gibraltar , about 5.00 pm on 14 November. At 3.30 am the next morning, three of the ships were destined not to reach UK , including the dear old Ettrick’, struck and sunk by torpedo approximately 150 miles south west of Gibraltar . The others were an American merchantman and the ‘Woolworth’ Escort Carrier ‘Avenger’ (13 survivors out of 500 crew) which just blew up - no doubt with all the aviation fuel on board. After floating around in an LCA for about four hours, we were picked up by a Hunt Class destroyer ‘Glaisdale’ and returned to Gibraltar . Thence back to ‘Blighty’ via P & O’s ‘Mooltan’.



The wedding of my father, Matthew Joseph Lannon, and mother, Annie Isabella Fraser Melville at Dingwall in September 1945.

Left to Right; Joey Melville (nee Angus, Cathel Melville’s widow), Matthew Lannon, Annie Melville, Barbara Melville, George Melville (Wordie), Mary Melville (nee Sutherland, Neddie Melville’s wife) and Grandfather, George Melville.  In the front; David Melville (Cathel and Joey Melville’s son) and Don Melville (George and Jessie Melville’s son).


The ‘old’ house, as it was called, was the place of my birth on the 7th March 1946 .  It was, and still is, situated on Main Street, Golspie adjacent to Campbell’s Fish Shop and opposite on of the side lanes leading up towards the High School. 


Above is a picture of Campbell’s Fish Shop under its previous ownership of Charles MacLean Drapers.  The gable end of the building to the left is my old house. I am told that there was a connecting door from the shop to the house though this was blocked up at time my family lived there and only the outline was visible. Prior to McLeans the property belonged to John Low, Merchant.


The house is now called Seacrest but prior to that was Tarbat Cottage.  It was built as a single storey property in 1818 by a George Hendry and had a second storey added in 1832 when the house next door was built.  This adjacent property, known to me as Strathnaver but later called Helensville, was built by the above John Low, a prosperous merchant, and his wife Margaret and in 1833 they added a shop to the west gable of neighbouring Seacrest/Tarbat Cottage. To the rear of this building they built a byre, cart shed, washhouse and stable and those additions or at least the remains of some of them were well known to me.

Unlike the new house the home on Main Street did not have a bathroom and was heated by a ‘kitchen’ range in the ‘livingroom’ and this was also the principal means of cooking. Though most of the cooking was done in the living-room there was a scullery of the living area and to the rear of the house.  A room more like a utility room in today's houses rather than a kitchen. Memories of the layout of the house are dim and distant but I did not like the dull, gas lit rooms nor the frightening corridor leading from the living room to the sitting-room at the other end of the house.  The staircase lead from this lobby and below the stairs there was a dark and unwelcoming cupboard. I clearly remember two prints of works of art by famous painters on two of the walls of the sitting room.  One was ‘When Did You Last See Your Father’ and the other picture of a seascape with, I think, a lady looking out to sea.  I believe that there was a door to a small anti-room at the rear of this best front room.

The living-room was not just poorly lit in the evening but also had poor light during the day.  The one window was small and faced out onto Main Street.  Traffic noise might have been a problem had the roads in those days not been almost devoid of private vehicles.  The range was impressive and well used and was the centre of activity.  Bath night took place there when the old tin bath was taken from its storage cupboard and filled with water boiled on the range.  Turns were taken in the bath and the water not fully emptied but topped up with hot from a very large pot on the fire as required.  Another interesting feature of this room was the storage facility of past days in the form of hooks in the ceiling.  Those would have been used to hang hams and other cured foods in bygone times.

The garden was to my eyes very large and probably by today’s standards it was probably fairly generous in size.  It covered the area from the house down to the beach and stretched behind the fish shop.  It was well provided with fruit bushes – black, red and white currents and gooseberries.  There were also fruit trees and a plentiful supply of rhubarb .  A pear tree grew up the outside of the back wall of the house there was an apple tree nearby and further out in the garden a plum tree.  When we moved to our new house the plum tree was dug out and transported to Alistair Road to Uncles Cecil’s garden.

Also in the garden there was a hen house on the side nearest to the garden of the adjoining house, ‘Strathnaver’.  I do not recall how many hens we had but I know there was sufficient to provide us with a steady supply of eggs and our Christmas dinner.  This Chicken was our Christmas meal treat and served to provide stock for the broth for the first course having been boiled before it was stuffed with bread and onion stuffing before being roasted with roast potatoes to complete the cooking of the bird.   

The dessert for Christmas dinner was usually a Clootie Dumpling made in traditional fashion in a piece of muslin cloth or indeed any white material that was available.  It seemed to steam away in a large pan for hours but it was well worth the wait. Served hot with custard it could be a meal on its own and served cold it provided a lovely snack to have one its own or with tea.  And it was not just a Christmas food but also frequently on the Sunday lunch menu due to the relative cheapness of the ingredients and the ‘belly filling’ nature of the pudding.

Access to the garden from Main Street was round the rear of the fish shop through a narrow entry.  On the left side of the garden there was a boundary fence with the adjoining property, ‘Strathnaver’,  in which Mrs MacKay and her daughter Betty resided.  Between the two houses a gate gave free movement between the houses and I was a frequent visitor to Mrs MacKay.  She always had a kind word for me and a sweet, a cake of some other piece of baking.  Betty played tennis and for time to time when her tennis balls were past use in matches I inherited them for use in the back garden.


Further to the east and across the next entry from Main Street to the shore was situated Murray’s joinery workshop where all sorts of work went on including the construction of coffins as Mr Murray was the local funeral director.  The sheds around this yard were a play area for children living nearby and also a favourite visiting spot was the next business to the east – the local smiddy.  It was intriguing to watch the blacksmith pump up the bellows to obtain a roaring fire in the forge before he heat metal to be worked.  Seeing red not metal hammered into shape for whatever purpose was an education and it was particularly exciting when horse came in to be shoed.  Horses of all kinds came there as ‘customers’ and the big Clydesdales were particularly impressive as they were prepared for further work on the farms.  A shoe would be shaped, holes punched through for the nails, the metal cooled in a plume of steam upon being plunged into the cold water bath and then fitted to the hoof.  The fitting seemed particularly painful and indeed cruel to us as the still hot metal burnt into the horses hoof releasing much smoke.  The apparently to us painful process continued with the shoe being fitted to the foot by large square nails.

Two other places of interest nearby were the Dairy and the Police Station.  Both were on the opposite side of Main Street and close to the old house.  Work at the dairy was watched with interest as trucks of large milk churns arrived from the farms.  The milk was treated, bottled and distributed from the dairy on the small floats driven by the delivery men.  Even the washing of the floors, machinery and pavement, by the aproned dairymen, caught our attention. 


Outside the Dairy where the Clydesdale Bank moved to and the next Dairy further west on Main Street .

Fortunately, I only visited the Police Station cell on one occasion and that was when the local bobby though I might like to see what it looked like.  After the Police Station moved to new premised at the top of Lindsay Street my brother, Ian, resided in the let our property until he obtained a council house in Seaforth Road for himself and his wife, Christine.

Police Station on Main Street was in the left hand house of this property

 At first there was no sea wall there but during our time in the house the present barrier to the sea was built.  Though there was no wall there was evidence of some wooden structures which had been used to break the waves so that less damage was inflicted upon the shoreline.  Access to the foreshore was through a wooden gate in a rough wooden staked fence leading onto a stony beach.  Beyond those large stones and shingle was a sandy sheltered area within a rock barrier about 100 or so yards off shore.   On either side of the sandy bottom and beyond there were areas of seaweed covered rocks and small pools.  Those areas were excellent for collecting whelks and for fun while searching for tiny crabs and rock pool fish.

The contents of the garden were many and varied.  Up the house wall a large climbing pear tree grew with vigour and in the garden there was a plum tree and an apple tree.  I seem to remember that my Uncle Cecil removed the plum tree to his garden in Alistair Road when we moved house.  There were many gooseberry, blackcurrant, red and white currant bushes and my father had a very good selection of potatoes, carrots, shallots, onions, leeks and cabbages.  The carrots he layered in a tea box in fine dry sand, the onions and shallots were dried and the potatoes put into a massive potato pit in the centre of the garden. The cabbages were used from the garden as required until taken by the frost and the leeks, being pretty hardy, were left in the ground well into winter.  Rhubarb grew to an impressive height and thickness and provided a ready source of filling for pies, sponges and crumbles.

I remember a rather overfull shed to the right hand side of the garden and a hen house down on the left side.  Turkeys were unheard of and the main Christmas meal, the chicken, was very much restricted to the festive season.  In time for the big event my father would go out and select a suitable bird to pluck.  After plucking the fine feathers and hairs would be singed off and the bird either boiled for stock or stuffed ready for roasting.  If stock for soup was not made before stuffing and roasting then it would certainly have been made with the left over bones.  The hens provided a plentiful supply of eggs all year.  Some of those eggs and the occasional hen could throughout the year be exchanged for some other requirement.

We had two pet dogs and pet rabbit in my memory.  Coolie a small black and white mongrel was a quiet family pet sadly lost when run over by a passing lorry on a snowy winter’s morning.  I have a vivid recollection of the dog lying by the side of the front door, of my mother sobbing and the lorry driver apologizing and explaining that the dog just ran in front of his lorry.   Coolie was replaced by a rather large black dog of particular breed.  He got his name from a white patch across one eye.  He did not least terribly long with us as he became more interested in eating the curtains, rugs, etc.  The fine straw was when he ate washing drying by the fire (including father’s underwear!) when the house was empty.  A visit to the vet confirmed some illness or other and he was put down.

My rabbit lived in a run constructed by my father.  The run was moved around but generally was placed near to the foot of the garden in a small lawn where my home made swing also resided.  The rabbit disappeared for some days and it came to the attention of my parents that it had been taken by a boy from Golspie Tower.  It was eventually returned but later died almost certainly due to the fact that stones were thrown at the run from the beach.  The boy who took the rabbit was the chief suspect.

The seawall under construction about 100 yards to the east of our garden.

While living in Main Street I received my first proper football.  It was an old and slightly scorched one but nevertheless it was real leather with the traditional sewn leather sections, a laced slit where the blader was inserted and the traditional blader with the ‘cock’ for inflating the ball.  It came as a gift from Uncle Neddie, Firemaster, and he got it when clearing up after a fire at McAulay’s Offices in Old Bank Road.  It might not have been in great condition but it was a real leather ball and that was all that mattered as I hammered it around the garden

Bikes were much desired then, as now, but we all had to be satisfied with old ones made up from a number of old machines.  I do not know where my first bike came from nor indeed where any of the family bikes originated.  Very unlike presented bicycles, they were black with large, narrow spoked wheels and handle bars that curled to the side – not down like the traditional racing bike.  Apart from the small childs bikes which us youngsters got there appeared to be three distinct types.  My father had a normal sized bike with wheels and frame not unlike in size the present bicycle, grandfather has a higher and more old fashioned machine with a bigger frame and wheels.  He would set me up on it well off the ground and push me around the garden and along the sand on the beach.  My mother’s bike was a very traditional lady’s one.  Possibly marginally smaller than the one for the male of the species and with the traditional cut away cross bar that swept down from below the handlebars. 

The crossbar on my father’s bike was a very effective carrier for me as young child.  He would set me sidesaddle on the bar and off we would go.

I talk about my parents’ bikes as though they had only one each but in truth they had a number but consecutively.  As one became unusable anther second hand one was found to use as it was or to make a single bike for the bits of those two maybe some others literally  hanging about in the shed.


My father work for almost all of his working life after the Second World War with the building firm of James Sutherland and Son.  The family firm were nicknamed ‘Meam’s’ derived, I assume, from a common corruption of the name James.  

The yard taken from an upper window in the Sutherland's house on Main Street.

The builder’s yard was only a short distance along the Main Street from our house.  It was to the inland side of the road and stretch from the main road well up towards the Back Road with, I think, only one small field separating the yard from the road.  The area was covered by an assortment of open areas for the production of concrete materials, storage areas, piles of sand and sheds.  Work in good weather proceeded outside and in inclement conditions under cover.

Concrete blocks for house building were produced in great numbers but a laborious manual method.  An oblong wooden plate or palate large enough to accommodate one block was inserted into a machine with four sides that flapped out open.  One inserted a lever was pushed and the centre area depressed and the sides of the box came up to form a mould in which a block was to be formed.  Cement was shoveled into the box and a heavy top plate on a high handle was used to hammer down the mixture.  Once this process was completed the lever on the machine was pulled to raise the centre and drop the sides revealing a perfectly formed block sitting on the palate of wood.  Each block was produced this way and set out for drying and curing.  Cement for the process was mixed in a petrol driven concrete mixture which was filled by one or two men using just hand held shovels.



Other building materials produced at the yard included, lintels and sills for houses, kerbing stones and milestones.  Those milestones can still be seen on the verges of the Sutherland roads though they are disappearing with the advent of modern signage. 

One stone still in perfect condition is situated on the lawn in front of the Golspie Inn, previously known as the Sutherland Arms Hotel, in Golspie.  This stone indicates the miles to nearby and more distant settlements.  It was made by my father and his elderly workmate, Willie Campbell.  I am told that they put their names in an empty tobacco tin and inserted this in the centre of the mixture before completing the production of the stone.

The distances relate to the old road rather than the actual distance to places, such as Inverness , over the new bridges south.

My visits to the yard were regular and sometimes extended as no one seemed to worry about youngsters playing amongst the materials.  I also from time to time in the school holidays got the chance to travel in one of the lorries when pickups or deliveries were taking place.  I remember on one occasion going to Dornoch with Willie Urquhart (Hence) driving when the lorry started to boil on the steep brae past Cambusavie.  Willie found and old tin can in the lorry and went into the wood in search of water.  The engine cooled, some water was obtained and we continued on our journey.  Another journey I recall was to the Invergordon area for sand and other building materials.  I think that the driver on that occasion was Bertie Mackay (Tit).  The lorries to me seemed very large and very impressive but by today’s standards they were very basic and relatively small.

On one visit to Meam’s yard I remember Uncle Cecil getting quite badly burnt.  It was towards the end of the day and I was there to meet my Father to walk home with him.  As was the practice, Cecil decided to wash the grime of concrete making from his hands with petrol.  He carried out this as usual but shook his hands in the direction of a fire burning in an old drum specially air hold for the purpose to provide heat on the cold winter days.  The petrol ignited and traveled up the spots of liquid from the fire to his arms and the petrol remaining on his hand and lower arms burst into flame.  Cecil instantly flung himself in the pile of sand nearby to extinguish the flames but not before he had severely burnt his arms.  He was taken to hospital where he was treated for his injuries.

Another intriguing activity at the builders yard was watching Harry MacKenzie, the firm’s mechanic, working on the company vehicles.  Harry worked in what to my eyes appeared to be a large garage on the left hand side of the premises and just passed the small office and behind the Sutherland family house.  Vehicles in those days were very basic mechanically and tools were few with a big hammer appearing to be the most important.  However, it was very impressive for us youngsters to see the technicalities of taking apart engines and gear boxes and to observe the changing of messy oil and the repair of burst tyres.

Meam’s business was a thriving one and there was quite a large workforce due to the need for new housing after the war.  The picture above shows some of the workforce and its appears mainly those involved on the actual house building as opposed to those in the yard.  My uncle Neddie Melville, the site foreman, is seated fourth from the right and cousin Freddie Melville is standing second left. 

The full list:

Back left to right – Jackie MacKintosh, Freddie Melville, Donald Budge, Michael Bonner, Robbie Gordon, Jocky Mackay, John Ballie, Donnie Gunn, Desmond Fraser.

Front lft to right – Jackie MacDonald, Alan Murray, Donald Stewart, Hector MacDonald, Neil MacBeath, Neddie Melville, Ian Christie, William McDonald, George Manson.

Meam’s yard is no longer there, of course.  The business hit financial problems and was taken over by Alexander Sutherland’s and this business was in turn taken over by Morrison’s of Tain.  My father reluctantly moved from his place of long time endevours less than half a mile along the Main Street to the building yard of Alexander Sutherland.  He worked there carrying out similar duties until he had a stroke which prevented him returning to work.  During the early months of his illness Sutherland’s was taken over by Morrisons and some of the workforce received redundancy payments.   My father was not so lucky as his new employers would not make him redundant on the pretext that it would be unfair dismissal.  It certainly saved them having to pay money to him and he had to leave employment without getting what he, and many others, considered to be his due.


First Day at School

I remember my first day at school well or at least my getting there and going home.  I waited with great excitement for a number of weeks before going and was determined that I would go on my own.  In the event my cousins from the Mound, including Neil who was just a year older than me, arrived at about 8.30am and I accompanied them.  In those days there were no half days or particularly early finishes for infants but the day does not appear to have been anything of a drag. 

The P1 teacher was Jeannie Seaton, better known to us a Jeannie ‘Whiskers’, and she resided in Main Street opposite what is now the entrance to the High School. Though methods were very much the three ’Rs’ and ‘chalk and talk’ and she had a reputation as a disciplinarian I have no particularly bad memories of my first day nor of later school life.

I started school as Easter as in those days there were two intakes and you started according when your fifth birthday fell.  Because numbers as a whole were not large but class sizes could be I am not sure to this day how we were absorbed into the school structure.  There were certainly composite classes with children of more than one age.  I expect that the P1 intake in the summer probably included those who had a start at Easter and at least some P2 pupils.  This structure, as is now common again today, probably depended on the number of children of each age group in the school and those might not have been constant from year to year.

  Jean Seaton with a large group of probably P1s and P2s and maybe some older P3 pupils.

  Sarah Ross with her class.

The High School in its present site did not exist at that time.  The area consisted of three or four farm fields.  On the boundary between to of the larger field there was a stone dike and a very large tree growing almost from within the dike.  Nearby was a strong storage box which I was told belonged to Lindsay Ironmongers and was their shotgun ammunition store.  It certainly was well away from their shop and did seem like a relatively small but secure store.  If this was indeed the purpose then it certainly would not have gained planning permission now!

I remember often going to play in those fields when no crops were planted and also have memories of being taking by cousin Freddie Melville to the top boundary of the field with the Back Road .  He was there to catch rabbits and I was intrigued to see how he put nets over rabbit burrows in the bank and then entered a ferret in to one of the holes.  In no time a rabbit or sometimes more would bolt out into the net and then the ferret would re-appear.  Not an example in environmental conservation of animals but still an exciting experience for a boy of seven or eight years of age!

Ian and myself pictured by the big tree in the fields behind Main Street.  The tree is still there in the grounds of the High School.


The view from the primary school, across the field where the High School was to be built, towards mean’s Yard and Fountain Road.

Primary School

I was well acquaint with the Primary School before I got there as it was a favourite place for a family wander on sunny Sunday afternoon.  The buildings on the outside were not a lot different from the way   they look now.  There was, however, a large grass area running in front of the main building separated from a shrubbery by a roadway running the length of the building.

The old red sandstone block had changed inside now but again outside it is little different.  The diningroom has many memories, mentioned later, as have the gymnasium block and adjacent double classroom housing John MacLeod and Connie Horne. Later, of course, two other building were added.  The double classroom in the area next to the gym and the triple room overlooking the sand quarry.


 Allan Lannon and David Melville (Castletown) in front of the Primary School).

The teachers I remember;-

Jean Seaton                 P1 teacher

Irene Ross                   P2 teacher

Sarah Ross                  P3 teacher

Alix Beaton                 P6 teacher

Connie Horne              P7 teacher - the qualifying or control class

The P4 and P5 teachers I cannot remember so they could not have made a great impression on me.   Though since there was tendency at that time, in a school of the size of Golspie, for large composite classes to be formed.  I well recall on occasions finding my cousin Neil Melville in the same room and at other times cousin Cecil Melville sharing a classroom.  Since one was slightly older and the other a little younger this situation was brought about by more than one age group in a room.  The pictures of the classes taught by Miss Seaton and Miss Ross would seem to indicate pupils of more than one age. 

Mr MacRae the Head Teacher when I started I remember well - not least because I pushed a snowman he had helped to build with us down as the break bell went.  Mr Rutherford, 'Willie A.', came after Mr MacRae and he was a man I much respected.  He was my Head Teacher also in Secondary School and impressed me because he always asked after me even long after I had left school.

The Primary School/Senior Secondary School Janitor was George Sutherland who went by the name of ‘Geordie Monkey’.  Geordie really did rule the school – if one was not behaving inside on a wet break his extending three foot rule cracked across the knees to enforce a seat on the radiators or heating pipes running around the cloakrooms.

Senior Secondary and High School

I probably became a teacher because I did not want to leave school.  I always found school enjoyable and though I did not work very hard and probably did little homework I had little problem getting through the experience.  That does not mean I was very successful – it just indicates that I got as much out of it as I required at the time and just as much or as little as I deserved.  I think that if I had worked as hard as some students do now I could have been very successful.  However, it was just not the way things were for the majority of teenage pupils in my day.

In the fifties, the sixties and before class or occupational status of parents had a significant influence on educational achievement.  Aspirations varied between the different sectors of society and while ones station in life was not irrevocably placed there was a certain degree of predetermination resulting from the afore mentioned place in society.  Fortunately, changes were beginning to take place in the value placed upon education by all classes and the working class families were starting to becoming more adept at ‘bucking’ the system.

As a pupil with an enquiring mind Science subjects were a clear preference.  The example from home related to the practicalities of life and Technical Subjects were a good choice and an intense interest in Geography and travel made another subject choice inevitable.  History would also have been on the agenda if timetabling had not resulted in a choice between History and Geography.  Indeed timetabling was quite a restriction to choice in those days while today although there are some limitations the problem is not nearly so great.  English and Mathematics were taken because they had to as was French. The former were coped with quite adequately while the later was of little or no interest to me.  It is interesting to note that while my mother had to leave school at 14 years old in the 1930s she did, in fact, pass the equivalent on the 11+ and study French.  Clearly she had some ability but being the youngest of nine children staying on at school was an impossibility.

My Secondary School career began in the same buildings as my Primary Education finished.  Golspie Senior Secondary School was my starting school for secondary education but the new High School opened about two years after I moved on from the Primary department.  I hardly recall how the move actually took place and if all my classes transferred at the same time.  I do think there was probably a phased transfer though not over a particularly long timescale.

Movement through High School was relatively uneventful.  I took most subjects in my stride without any particular success to ‘write home about’.  I now have difficulty remembering the staff but the most respected ones or those we loved to hate come to mind most readily.  The names of most of the ‘middle ground’ have dimmed with the passing years.

Some that come to mind and there subjects when I can recall those;

Miss MacLeod                       Mathematics                           

Mrs Gibson                            Mathematics                           

Mr Thompson                         English                                   

Mr Walter Henderson             English and History               

Miss Betty Paul                      Geography                             

Mrs MacKenzie                       French and English                

Mr MacLeod                          English                                   

Mr Syme                                French                                    

Mr Fyfe                                  French                                    

Mrs Davidson                        Science                                   

Mr John Lowe                        Science                                   

Mr MacLeod                           Classical Studies/Latin           

Mr Forest Miller                      Music                                     

Mr Foot                                  Music                                     

Mrs Kinghorn                         Music                                     

Mr Tom Paterson                   Technical                                

Mr J Mowat                           Technical                                

Mr Laird                                 P.E.                                        

Mr Dalrymple                         P.E.                                        

Mr Norrie Brown                   P.E.                                        

Mrs Juna Sutherland (Ross)     P.E.                                        

I may have some subjects wrong, some may have taught two or more subjects and certainly not all worked in the school at the same time.

Janitor Downie MacDonald was well liked school caretaker quite different in his methods of discipline from the previous incumbent.  He was, nevertheless, liked and respected and was also an asset to the local Golspie Football Club and the village as a whole.  He was one of the ‘leading lights’ in the football setup and also prominent in the early Gala Week arrangements.  My brother Ian followed him as principal Janitor at the school.

In school I participated in a variety of sporting activities having an eye for a ball and being half decent at many different events was advantage at gym lessons.  Though a ‘jack of all trades’ and ‘master of none’ the participation was enjoyable and the standard reached acceptable enough on a local and sometimes even a county level.

Some of the activities are mentioned elsewhere but worth noting here is my interest in cross county running during PE classes.  Our route generally took us out through the Back Road gate of the school grounds and up through the Primary school playground.  It then progressed up Argo Terrace and Golspie Tower to Backies and along the road at Backies to the northern end of the wood on the slopes of Ben Bhraggie.  We followed a route down through the wood coming out at the old reservoir at Rhives Farm.  The return to the school was by the road from Rhives the Fountain and thence back into the school grounds.  I usually did well in this activity and in large groups of runners I was generally well placed though winning eluded me. 

Sports Day

School Sports Days were looked forward to with great excitement.  Up until the opening of the new school and the completion of the grounds the Sports were held in the King George V playing field.  The whole school would be marched along the Back Road to the field and the events would get underway. 

I particularly liked and had some success in the middle distance races and the field events.  High Jump being my best and shot putt being to an acceptable level.  Long Jump was never a favourite and lack of sprinting speed was probably one of the reasons for lack of success. On one occasion the winning of the half-mile took me to the Bught Park in Inverness for the North School Sports.  Now that was a different league and I was unplaced!  High Jump competition was more successful with first place in the county championships in Dornoch on two occasions.

At the end of the sports either the Head Teacher or some other local dignitary presented the House Shield to winning house.  I was in Silver Rock, the other houses being Ben Bhraggie and Dunrobin.

Mrs Sutherland, Seaforth Road, I think, presents the prizes at the sports about 1960.  Some of the faces I recognize.  The Minister to the rear of Mrs Sutherland is the Rev. Alston of the Church of Scotland.

The Dornoch Games

I never go to the Dornoch games nowadays, even too watch.  Maybe I will make a return visit sometime to see if it really is exciting as I thought in the late 1950s and early 1960s.  Going to watch was a fairly regular occurrence as we were able to combine a visit to the games with a call on Uncle Willie and Aunt Nellie in Gilchrist Square.  Cousins, Willie, Anne, Jimmy, and later, Allan, were generally around to entertain.  The small house was always very neatly turned out and given an impression to me of comfort bearing in mind the austerity of the times and the size of family. 

Aunt Nellie was a very big, imposing woman with a somewhat loud voice but thoroughly kind with it as far as we were concerned.  Uncle Willie was pleasant and generally as quite as Nellie was loud.  A butcher to trade with Grants of Dornoch in their Dornoch or Golspie shops at that time though later to work in Ardgay and maybe elsewhere.

I recall one occasion when I participated in the games as a ‘professional’ runner – I also have a vague recollection that I had earlier taken part as a very junior participant in the children’s local events.  My professional debut lasted the one occasion as Donnie Findlay, Co-op Shop Manager, and Norrie Brown, School PE Teacher, for different reasons warned us off taking further part.

Mitchell Mackay, now living in Canada, and myself took time of work in the Co-op store to head for Dornoch on the Friday of the event compete.  Being message boys it was easy obtain replacements for the day and since Donnie Findlay was on holiday it would not matter.  We did not recon on Donnie reading the results in the Northern Times about his return to the county.   Having won events in both Junior and Senior sections we were well warned that running for the school would be out if it happened again as we would no longer be amateur competitors.  Our ‘professional’ careers were over!

The Ragman

Strange though it may seem the Ragman brought some excitement when his bell or horn was heard.  In my memory he did not arrive by horse and cart though I don’t think his ancient mode of transport had not been long abandoned.  The usual Ragman’s vehicle was an old van with side windows quite like that of modern ice-cream vans but of a much older vintage and in very poor mechanical shape.

Whenever the call was heard, and often the message came by word of mouth before the call was heard,  the search was on for old rags.  Cupboards were turned over and clothes that might have been serviceable and hour earlier suddenly became unwanted.  Arguments raged regarding what could and could not be given away.  Wool was really what was wanted but a few other fabrics were acceptable and even the poorest garment might elicit a balloon from the trader.

Usually we all danced around the van excited by what was being dispensed and only mildly unhappy when a bundle of hard won clothes only brought a meager prize.  Like the sideshows at the fair, the most sought after exchanges seemed to stay on the shelf there just to tempt the customer to search even further for the desired material.

Comics and other writing matter

My principal reading in my young day from about the time I could read on my own are best described as Comics.  The ones I remember are the Beano, Dandy, Topper, Beezer,  Hotspur, Wizard, Adventure and the Rover.  There was also the Eagle which I rarely got myself as it was more expensive and somewhat ‘up market’ but I did get a copy from my friend in primary school, John Stewart.  John went with his Father, Mother and brother James to live in Canada towards the end of primary school.  We kept in touch initially but letters eventually dried up.  However, in 1984 I called on him in Ottawa where he lives with his wife and family.  He has since visited Scotland and we have met up on a couple of occasions.  We have again kept in touch if only at Christmas time.

The first two, the Beano and the Dandy, were bought when I was in Main Street and were thoroughly enjoyed.  They were probably read for a longer period than any other piece of reading matter as their content was, like Our Wullie and the Broons, almost timeless.  The Topper was a new comic that appeared when I was inMain Street and it tried to rival the former two.  It was soon joined by the Beezer which had a very similar layout and content.  Both were a bit different from the Beano and Dandy and were also on a bigger format.

When a little older in Millicent Avenue I started getting the Adventure with its more involved story lines and older content.  It also had free pictures of footballers and cricketers.  To collect the full sets of those sports stars it was necessary to buy the comic every week and also to invest in the other three ‘sister’ comics, the Rover, Wizard and Hotspur.  I collected the full sets and was very adept at recognizing every star with the name covered.  It might seem like pointless exercise but it did develop memory and reading skills and made the following of the sports much more exciting.

The Sideshows or Circus

The Sideshows that came were often commonly called circuses though of, of course, they were in no way like or related to the circus.  Indeed, occasionally circuses did come and we still just called them that.  The terminology did not seem to matter but what did matter was that this was yet another excitement, something different.

The shows set up in a few different places over the years but again in my memory they were in the field beside the present football pitch.  Sometimes to the village end and sometimes to the golf course side.  I believe that not long before I remember them coming that they were in a field behind the main street in the area of what is now Lindsay Street and Grant Crescent .

Generally there were a few stalls with darts, shooting, rolling balls, hoopla, roll-a-penny, etc. and what would today be called ‘rides’  However, fiercesome though they might have appeared at the time they bore no relationship to the present.  There were swing boats which if you were very brave you could pull with two hands and so not have to hold onto the side bars, there were roundabouts of a sort like present day waltzers but slower and, of course, the dodgems. 

Those rides required patient queuing, particularly on a Saturday night after the pubs had closed or the pictures came out, and if you were very lucky a friend might keep a car for you when he had expended his cash or satisfied his need for a dangerous thrill.

No one ever seemed to win the big prize at the darts, the shooting or the hoopla and if you did then you were accused of cheating.  Of course it was possible they would say but you couldn’t have done it.

Hercher’s were regular visitors and Wallace’s too with a later arrival on the scene as I remember, Spencer’s.  They brought the showground bingo and the crowds flocked in.  I think there was a father, mother and two sons, one of whom was in my class in school, and they enlisted the help of locals to man the stalls.  Quite often those who took jobs were from families who were less well off or who had a ‘hawker’ background but had now settled to life in one place.

On a few occasion I remember a large show arriving with many stalls and most impressive of all the wall of death.  Motorcyclists speeding round a vertical, cylindrical walls at high speed and occasionally taking on a brave volunteer.  I am told my uncle George (Wordie) once accepted the challenge.  On one occasion when such a show was present there was also a boxing booth with all-comers asked to challenge the resident fighter.  Those that took up the challenged appeared well beaten and yet the resident champ did not appear terribly fearsome from a dozen rows back in the audience.

The Circus

Though Circuses did come occasionally my memory of them is rather vague.  I really do not remember much about the shows and recall more at least one visit toInverness to see Billy Smarts Circus.  A very impressive occasion seeing acts and animals and had only ever seen in books or at the local pictures.

  I am told that the circus in the old days set up at the field where the Grant Crescent houses and gardens are now.  It would appear that on at least one occasion the ‘big top’ had no top and was just a circle of canvas.  The Melville family, including Auntie Chrissie, were seated on Johnnie Stewarts wall to get a better, and a free, view of the show.  The cowboy came out, pointed his gun at Chrissie and fired.  In a state of shock she fell backwards over the wall, legs in the air and it is said little or no underwear was to be seen as she ended up in the gooseberry bushes.

Cunningham’s Christmas Tree

Every Christmas Cunningham's shops in Golspie and Brora had two Christmas trees with presents for boys and girls.  The trees were situated outside the shops.  In Golspie the girls' tree was generally to the right of the front door as you faced the shop and the boys one to the left.  The shop itself was situated on Station Road on the main A9 route south and just before the entrance Alistair Road and the football park.

In the weeks running up to Christmas tickets were issued free by the shop for all children in the village and it was a matter of much concern if the ticket was not picked up by one or other of the parents in good time. 

The draw for prizes took place on Christmas Eve unless this was a Saturday and in such a situation the draw would then be on the 23rd of December.  Santa drew the tickets from the pails clearly indicated as ‘boys’ and girls.  This chief guest at the proceedings arrive in some surprise fashion each year.  Alec Cunningham, himself, gave a talk to the crowd and when attention was drawn by him Santa appeared somehow in a ‘flash of light’.  On one occasion our eyes were diverted to the sky to see his helicopter and when we again looked towards the shop door there was the man in red.

There appeared to be about 15 to 20  prizes on each tree and as names were drawn from the pails the winners went up to choose a prize and, of course, be greeted by Santa.

At the end of the draw all children lined up to receive a bag of ‘goodies’ from the shop assistants.  the bag always contained some fruit and a small toy or game.

We could never understand at that time why the first name out of the boys pail always seemed to be Hector Sutherland.  He was not young but later we realised that Hector was disabled and always received an early gift.

Cunningham’s shop was up there on the left.   I do not have a picture of it but no doubt there is one around somewhere.

Bowling Green

I do not remember a lot about Bowling Green Fetes as we called them.  The annual fun day and fundraising event run by the Bowling and Tennis Club.  It certainly was a day to look forward to at a time when such events were few and far between.  I recall stalls and games in the grounds of the Bowling Club and teas in the clubrooms.  The whole area inside the walled area of the Bowling and tennis Club was a place where children could have fun laying in the rows of thick bushes and small trees.  All this foliage  surrounding the bowling green itself is now all gone – in the interest to reducing the midge and other flying insect attack on the bowlers I am told!

When somewhat older than the time when the fetes were held I became more active at the Bowling and Tennis Club.  While from time to time I had a go at bowling using the clubs bowls I was more involved at the Tennis Club section.  I played a lot of tennis and in my school teenage years was on the Tennis Committee for a time.  Cheap tennis rackets were the order of the day and they did not last very long with the strings or even the frames frequently breaking.  They were often bought from McPherson’s toy shop across the road from my house first house in Main Street .  Though a small group of us played tennis fairly regularly my main opponent was generally Ian Taggart who lived on Main Street next to the entrance to Alexander Sutherland’s yard.  His father worked with the company.  Ian was good competition and though I did him from time to time he probably won the lion’s share of the matches.  I later used to meet with Ian in Aberdeen while we were both students and go to watch Aberdeen FC playing in the Scottish League.  He, of course, later became Secretary of the club and our paths crossed later when I took groups of boys from East End Boys Club, Wick to Aberdeen on weekend trips.  He arranged tickets for us for matches and also a visit to Pittodrie Stadium on the Sunday of our weekend in the city.  

The Harbour

The harbour, or rather the pier in Golspie was a popular place to visit.  There was an old wooden structure which was very unsound and attached a ‘new’ concrete pier.  The harbour was at the west end of the village just off Shore Street and Church street where the majority of families were fisherfolk or descendants of fishermen.  Between Church Street and the harbour was the Golspie Gasworks.  This area has now been cleared and there is no sign of the old gas production works and gas tank.

In my memory the harbour had only some small boats and four or five fairly seine net fishing boats one of which I seem to recall was naked Silver Rock.  Jumping from boat to boat and fishing for sellags or cuddings of those boasts or the harbour was a favourite pastime.  Sometimes we would fish from the top of the harbour and on other occasions from underneath the structure which was somewhat hollow with a concrete base and pillars supporting the upper structure.  A good catch would be 50 or so very small fish and a couple of good sized cuddings.  The cuddings could be eaten but the flesh was very dark and indeed almost black.  The picture below shows the old Golspie Pier, somewhat before my time, while my activities were around both the old wooden structure and the attached new concrete pier.

And, of course, there were our own circus acts and side shows under the harbour led by ‘Ringmaster’ Tony Rettie.  Talking of Tony, another favourite pastime was the football shooting competitions in the specially set up nets in his back garden at 2 Church Street .  At either end of the garden a rudimentary goal with an old fishing net was set up.  The aim of each competition was for two protagonists to fire shots at one another the length of the garden – not an ample distance really – to obtain a score.  We also, no doubt hammered the ball around also in a somewhat haphazard fashion from time to time.

The Golf Course

The Golspie Golf Course was, and still is, a fine 18 hole one.  To the west of the village and accessible by Church Street or Ferry Road it was also a popular play place for children.  During the week care had to be taken to avoid golf balls but there been no Sunday Golf the course was safe for ‘sun bathing’ on the Sabbath.

The first golf club house remembered was a little way onto the course past the Golf Links Hotel.  It is no longer possible to find any sign of it the structure having long since disappeared under the sea and now a substantial distance off shore.  It was by this club house that the Coronation bonfire of 1953 was lit and there that the cup and prizes for the first Ben Bhraggie Hill Race were presented.  The winner was Teddie Munro.  The race started in the nearby football pitch and after a route along the back road, past Rhives farm and up the face of the Ben the race finished at the same spot.

The Junior Golf Group captured on camera by Mrs Baxter.

Left to Right Back Row: Christopher Yuill, Allan Lannon, John MacKay, Walter Yuill, Unknown, ‘Boy’ Baxter.

Left to Right Front Row: The first two I am not sure of, David Melville (Hank), Donnie Christian, Sandy Campbell.

What was in my young days the first green with Ferry Road and the Ben in the background.

Up the Ben

Ben Bhraggie dominates Golspie with the 1200 feet high hill standing directly behind the village and casting its shadow over the area below.  Atop the hill is the high and impressive monument to the First Duke of Sutherland, George Granville, the man principally responsible for the worst of the Highland Clearances in Sutherland.   Over there years there have, in fact, been regular calls for the removal of the statue and its replacement with something more appropriate such as a Celtic cross.  Local opinion, however, has always been that the statue should stay despite the connection with a disreputable past.

The ‘Ben’ was the sight of a variety of leisure activities.  It has served as a place for walks, climbs in winter, cross country runs, play areas for youngsters and even the launching pad for hang gliders.

The  larger part slopes over the years have been treed to various levels.  Those areas being exciting environments for children’s games and building of gang huts.  The most popular area for such activities was in the section known as the hospital wood but other areas were also frequented by the youth of the village.



David Melville (Hank), Allan Lannon and Ian Lannon at the Duke’s monument on the top of Ben Bhraggie.  The date would probably be about 1955.

The weather was obviously very warm and the sun-tanned arms suggest we had all had a good dose of the sun before we removed our short sleeved shirts.


With no TV prior to 1959 the main Sunday activities were church in the morning and a family walking in the afternoon if the weather was suitable.  In inclement weather it was not uncommon for my father to go to bed for a couple of hours or so and Ian or myself might often join him or go to our own beds.  Usually those walks involved all four family members.  The favourites are listed below.  Sometimes the walk was to just one of those place but on other occasions a longer round trip might be the order of the day.

 Park and Dairy Wood

The Dairy Park and Dairy Wood are situated between the Big Burn and Dunrobin Castle.  The wood, a planted area of coniferous tree interspersed with some deciduous growth, has just been harvested (1996) and the area, especially from the sea and the main road, looks bare to those who got used to the thick plantation.  It has, in fact, been progressively planted and cropped in small areas and on a smaller scale at other times in my memory but with not the impact as at the present time.  My brother, James, when not employed at Nigg, has been involved in replanting some of the cut areas.  He was assisted in this with Ian.

The Park is the area of a hundred or two yards width running between the wood and the sea.  An area used for grazing cattle and sheep from time to time and also on occasions a horse or two.  A grassy pathway leads from the gate to the Dairy Park, just by the Big Burn ford, to the lower entrance to the castle grounds and gardens.  There is no particularly notable beach area here but about halfway to the castle there was a small., rough jetty sheltering an area with a coarse sandy bottom.  It was to this area that the school gym teacher jogged us in our later primary school years and where we would enter the water to paddle if not to swim.

The Park was also a favourite spot for Boys Brigade camps in the fifties and sixties.  Many groups from Caithness spend an enjoyable holiday under canvas in this spot with the encampment usually being in the corner near to the wood and beside the Sutherland Estate Factor’s House by the burn.

Walks in the Dairy Park and the Dairy Wood were very popular.  All sorts of inventive games were played and many friends met.  The wood was particularly enjoyed and hiding games in the tree were the order of the day.  The wood concealed two areas with monuments which had been erected by inhabitants of the castle.  We always seemed to visit those landmarks.  One, near to the castle boundary, was on a raised piece of ground an gave a particularly good view towards the castle harbour and the sea.  The castle harbour, washed away recently, was used in my memory only occasionally by yachts and the occasional small boat.  It was situated towards the north end of the castle seawall and below a roadway leading past an estate cottage up to the Dunrobin Castle itself.


Big Burn and Skating Pond

I suppose the best known Golspie walk must be the Big Burn.  The paths and series of bridges through the lower part of Dunrobin Glen and following the course of the Big Burn have always a place of recreation for local and tourist alike.

It was a very popular walk with our family when we were young.  Sometimes the family only went as far as the open ground beyond the railway bridge on other occasions the Falls would be the target of our jaunt.  At the time the bridge to the south side of the burn approached past the Sutherland Arms garage did not exist.  The only route was through the Golspie Mill property and by the Mill Pond.

Over the years the area became one for playing with friend and for fishing.  The paths, though not as numerous as now, provide access to the skating pond and the falls and lead to many secret haunts in the hazelnut laden trees.  Though at times we did progress beyond the falls this was more unusual as the path beyond the falls was not as well developed as now.  Fishing pools in the stretch between the falls and the next Big Burn road bridge was generally the main reason for hiking beyond the Falls.

The Mill

A walk around the mill and mill pond was generally a detour from the main Big Burn walk though on occasions a walk to the Mill alone did take place.  As with Big Burn excursions, I would go in my early years as part of the family and later I was accompanied by my peers.  The mill pond seemed very large and when the gate was open to release water there appeared to be a substantial flow. The mill wheel often seemed to turn in those days.

There were ducks on the pond geese around the edges and many hens spread throughout the nearby trees and bushes.  Indeed, many laid not in the sheds but on the grassy slopes as far across as the mill brae down which the main A9 road passed.

In addition to poultry there were various other animals around the mill but most  intriguing to us were the pigs.  We watched them feeding, rolling in the mud and feeding their young.  The largest ones seemed so big and so filthy dirty.

Fishing at the Big Burn

The Big Burn seems to have much more water in it in those does.  Possibly due to trick of the memory it appeared to flow with greater force and the trout looks much bigger than the few one sees now.  It is, in fact, likely that the burn did have a greater flow as since that time a new and higher dam at Loch Horn has been built and the amount of water entering the burn from various sources appears to have diminished.

There was a number of favourite places to fish.  The ‘wide’ stretch at Tower Lodge by the Dairy Park was popular and the deep pool below the ford yield a fish or two or more often than not an eel.  Up stream between the ford and the road bridge there were pools of various depths but most prolific with fish were the ones behind the Drill Hall.  Those pools were not easy to fish, and the ones a hundred or so yards down stream even less so, due to the overhanging trees which were sure to catch ‘hook, line and sinker’.

The Culmaily Burn

The Culmaily Burn was a small narrow burn but it did have some reasonable trout in it and the occasional sea-trout coming up from the Fleet.  The burn originates in Loch Lundie but most of my fishing was in the stretch from just below the Ferry Wood bridge to where the burn entered the Fleet.  There was always fish to be had and the worm was the best bait.  Half pound trout lay in the pools below the banks.  On one occasion when I went fishing there with my father the burn was in flood.  However, the water level dropped quite quickly and after an hour or two of unproductive fishing we started to catch trout.  We ran out of worms during the day and I cycled back to the garden to get some.  Eleven trout in all were caught.

Journeys to the burn were generally made by bike as were most travels on any distance outwith the village.  Not a sporty type machine but a put together, second-hand machine much different from today's technological wizards.

Worms were generally dug in the large corrugated iron compost heap behind the garden shed.  The garden produced wonderful vegetables - potatoes, cabbage, lettuce and carrots - and the remains and other compostable materials made a perfect breading ground for large worms.

The Glen

Walks up beyond Backies and area of the Big Burn close to the Newfie Camp were not all that frequent but on occasions we went as a family up to the branch back along above Dunrobin Farm.  I also recall in early teenage years going on ‘expeditions’ around the back of Ben Bhraggie and down the rear slopes into the Glen.  Sometimes those expeditions would go as far as Loch Horn and, of course, we did from time to time go to Loch Horn with for the express purpose of fishing for brown trout.

I remember going on one snowy day up the face on ‘The Ben’ and then on to the loch at rear.  It was frozen solid and we played on the ice with little fear or understanding of the dangers of being on the frozen loch.  We saw many deer on the hill as we moved through the snowy heather beyond ‘The Mannie’ and down to the upper reaches of the Big Burn where it crossed the Glen road after its exit from Loch Horn.

The Ferry

The Little Ferry is accessed via the road that marks the upper boundary of the Golf Course.  Walks to the Ferry itself were less common when I was very young as the distance there and back was a little much for the afternoon outing.  However, we did on occasions make the excursion with Ian pushed along in the pram.  Later I went by bicycle and certainly it was an great spot for fishing for sea trout down by the point at the mouth of the Fleet.

Sometimes with friends I walked the shore line to the sea side of the rifle range and by way of Palm Beach to get to the Ferry and other times we went more or less in a line from the middle of the golf course through the rifle range making sure the red flag was not flying.

By road one had look out for a renowned resident of the Ferry known to us as Flash Gordon.  I no longer recall the type of sports car he drove at high speed around the area but it was best to step aside when he approach on the Ferry Road.

The Golf Course and Beach

There was no Sunday golf at that time and so walk along the golf course to the Lochie was a safe excursion.  At the Lochie, which was a very small water hazard at the then ninth hole, we would look for lost golf balls.  After a competition it was not uncommon to find balls though the number of searchers was always greater then.  The Lochie water hazard was split into two by a narrow pathway cutting through it to the green.  By this path and around the edges reeds hid many golf balls but with a little raking with hands or sticks some would appear.  Balls in the middle were accessible only by wading.  The water was not very deep but it was cold even in summer.  Balls were felt with the feet and then carefully removed.

At many holes we would walk the rough again keeping a careful eye for the result of wayward shots.  The beach was also a favoured spot and on the open sand or amongst the shingle we would spot the odd golf ball.  The fairway was, I think, easier to hit in those days, however, as the coastal erosion had not reduced their width to their present dimensions.

Often in the warmth of those summer days which always seemed better than now we only walked along as far as the first grassy hollows.  There we would lie and rest for an hour or two.  If a 120 film had been put in the box camera we might be lucky enough to get our photographs taken.  Some of those hollows no longer exist as, like the fairways, they have been affected by the continuing coastal erosion.

The Hospital Wood

One of the favourite play places around Golspie was the Hospital Wood.  Not quite as it is now.  Then the wood came right down to the main A9 between the hospital grounds and the large property inhabited by 'Gordy' Sutherland - his daughter Sandra was in my class in school.  I had not seen her for many years until she appeared around the year 2000 at a New Year function in Dunnet Hall, along with her cousin from Corsback, Angela Lewis,

Entry to the wood was generally up a narrow, rough path from the main road.  We did sometimes enter from the 'Tech' end or across the railway line behind the Back Road Wood.

Half way up the path between the house and the hospital property was a small stream.  A couple of other streams cut through the wood.  A lower section of the wood was fairly open with high older tree which were well spaced.  The terrain was rough and though uphill was also rolling so giving lots of hiding places for games.  There were a couple of areas which appeared to be old quarries where sand or gravel had been removed.  

Further up the wood the trees became more dense and to the south or Technical School end there was a very thick plantation.   Beyond this thick area and to east of the tree line there was an old ruined cottage which as youngsters some of us called Granny’s Heiland Hame due tits position in the ‘shdow of Ben Bhraggie’.  Near to here was marshy pond inhabited by newts and we would collect then and sometimes taken them home in jam jars.  They are now, I believe, a protected species.  This pond was also ready source of frog spawn.

The evergreen trees went quite a long way up the face of Ben Bhraggie with the main ascent in this area being up a wide cutting or fire break to the deer fence.  The deer fence was scaled by a high style and on the upper side there was a road which circled round the hill.  Rather than use this road the route from the hospital wood to the hill top was by a rugged path.  The same path that was joined if the ascent of the ‘Ben’ was to be made by way of Rhives Farm.

During my time in school new house were built beyond the larger private properties and closer to the Technical School.  Now the area above the A9 where we entered the wood is also built up on both sides and at its upper end.

The Railway

Nowadays it both unsafe and an offence to walk on the railway line but no one seemed to be bothered about that when I was young.  On a Sunday there were no trains and it was not uncommon for families to walk along the line.  The favourite route for us was from the station or the Back Road Wood to Dunrobin.  Sometimes the walk would end at the high railway bridge at the Mill while on other occasions we would walk to Dunrobin Station.  Return might be by the same route or by the road.

Walking the railway was easy and steady due to the positioning of the wooden sleepers and need to step from sleeper to sleeper at a steady and regulated pace.

The railway was also a popular place for picking raspberries and brambles.  Both grew in abundance on the slopes to either side of the line.  My father was a regular harvester of both fruits and made large quantities of jam.  Trains frequently blew at him to get off the line!

A picture of Golspie Station and some staff members but taken a bit before my time!

The Mound

Uncle Johnnie Melville and his wife Lucy lived at the Mound in one of the station houses.  Johnnie had worked at various places over the years with British Rail the principal ones Boat of Garten, Rogart and the Mound.  They had 10 children and so a visit to the Mound was always a very social affair.  

Usually it was just my mother, Ian and myself who went visiting.  We went and returned by bus but occasionally we might use the train for one leg of the journey.  On one occasion I had to return on the train on my own.  I’m not sure how old I was but not much more than nine or ten probably.  I had gone up the Mound Rock with some of my cousins to see the work on the placing of electricity pylons and we waited too long.  My mother decided to return home and made arrangements for me to be put on the train.  With the family connections and the fact that then trains were quiet and there were few dangers from strangers in those days it did not seem a foolhardy thing to do.

My journey was uneventful except that I almost missed my stop at Golspie Station.  It was dark and I was not really aware of the train slowing.  I did know that there were people in the next compartment and I decide to have a peep at them.  When I looked in they were gone and the train suddenly appeared to be stopped.  I rushed along the corridor to the door and they were getting off.  It was a new Church of Scotland Minister, Rev. Alston, and some members of his family.  I recognised his son who was in my class in School.  I was assisted out of the train by them and I made my way across the footbridge to the Station Office side where my mother waited.

Mound Station where Uncle Johnnie lived and worked.  Out of shot to the left was a colourful house inhabited by an Indian named Ram (Sp. ?)  


Hallowe’en was a favourite time.  Guising was not only great fun but a sure way of getting a great bag of goodies that we did not see much of during the year.  Apples, monkey Nuts and home made toffee were sought after. The dressing up was simple and masks were few and far between and were either made of cardboard or of a very brittle material like plastic that cracked easily.  Sometimes we were lucky and came upon one of those ‘gruesome’ rubber masks that fitted tightly to the face and made the wearer unrecognisable.

Houses visited were not only those of friends but, as at New Year, anywhere where entry was encouraged by a light.  Indeed, in general, every house in the street and the streets around received groups of visitors from about 6.00pm through to 9.00pm .  I don’t remember much ‘trick or treat’ being necessary and in Golspie at anyrate this seems to have been a later innovation.

On at least two consecutive Hallowe’ens remember being taken by my mother to the Matheson household at 1 Alistair Road for the guising visit.  She also wore a mask though I don’t think she had any other form of disguise.  We received a welcome and were not at first recognised. We finished the visit with a small supper.  I remember sitting on a rather large couch and looking round at a rather old fashion room with a rather old though not unpleasant smell.  I believe the Mathesons were brother and sister.  I assume that they were friends of my mothers but I am not sure why we chose that particular house to visit.

Hallowe’en became quite a different experience when we began to receive visitor ourselves.  In Thurso and then Wick in 1971 to 1975 neighbours pupils from the school visited.  A particularly large number visited in Wick as our house in Loch Street was placed in the catchment area for Pulteneytown Academy.  However, those numbers, in percentage terms at least, were never as great as those in Keiss from 1976 to 1980.  Virtually every child in the village called and quite a number from the outline areas were transported in to make their call at the Schoolhouse.  Here some parents also called.

This practice of pupils coming to the teacher’s door continued in Thurso after 1980 and again large numbers visited Mount Pleasant Road.  After our move toBurnett Place the numbers dropped probably due to the street being on the very edge of the catchment area and with poor access from the main housing scheme.

The Pictures

The cinema was held in the YMCA Hall on Main Street and generally films were shown on Friday and Saturday evenings and on a Saturday afternoon.  The front row of the ‘picture house’ cost 1/- (one shilling) and the seats were hard.  The second row cost 1/6d and again there was a row or two of hard seats.  The rest of the seats on the floor area were soft in that they had a canvas type seat and they were sold for the sum of 2/- each.  The final seating area was on a raised platform at the back of the hall and here the cost was 2/6d (two shillings and six pence).

Most times we sat in the front row with our necks twisted up at an uncomfortable angle to the screen but occasionally we managed the second row and often sneaked into the rows further back if the show was poorly attended.  The platform was out of bounds and anyone sneaking in there was very quickly removed by the volunteer helpers running the show.

It was not unusual for the show to stop abruptly due to some fault or other. Often the breaking of the film or the loss of projector power.  This was an occasion for loud booing only matched by the noise when we realised that the evening’s film was to be a love story and not the western or comedy we all craved for.

Before entering the pictures we would purchase our sweets from one of the small shops.  Jack’s along opposite the Fish Shop or Jimmy Miller’s were favourites but we did buy elsewhere also. After the show first stop was the chip shop.  If you could get out quickly before the National Anthem at the end you had a chance of being first in the line at the Cairnview.  For a time the chip shop was down the lane between Grants the butchers and the Co-op drapery shop.  It was here that I remember Golspie’s first Juke Box, a small unit on the wall of the shop and very popular it was too.

This chip shop was run by Mr Christine, known as Abdul Ben Tattie, and then for a time by Jim McIntosh, an engineer who was probably between jobs.  Employed there was a young man who later worked in hotels around the village in various service capacities.  Murdo was a bit of a character and saw himself as a comedian also.  When there was queue in the shop and he was asked how long the chips would be his favourite retort would be ‘two or three inches’.

There were many regular favourites shown at the pictures.  Most of the big films of the day eventually reached the screen there but there was much cheering for and western or war film and Woody Woodpecker and the Three Stoogies made a great start for a show.  We didn’t mind the news as it usually had some sport on and when it showed Scotland beating England, at football, as we often appeared to do in those days, there was much enthusiasm.  Travelogues to start a show were certainly not appreciated as they were considered to be too educational for the weekend.

Usually the same film was shown at all performances though from time to time when the evening film was not suitable for children then there would be no matinee or an alternative programme would be shown.



  A Photograph of the YMCA taken sometime after my Cinema and Firemen’s party visits there but still much the same as I remember it.

A Double Decker is Coming

The Iron Bridge was situated on the main road about half way between Golspie and Brora and by the lay-by for the Carn Liath Broch.  The road turned under this low bridge on its way north and the railway passed over the top. 

Uncle George (Wordie) Melville worked at Golspie  station for Wordies (hence his nickname) and he delivered goods to shops and business from the station by horse and cart.  Later one of his jobs from the station was to open the gates at the Iron Bridge between Golspie and Brora to allow the passage of high vehicles as the Iron Bridge was too low for a few that passed.  Those vehicles had to cross over through gates in the fields and over a primitive level crossing.

When George got the message that a double decker bus or similar sized vehicle was on its way he would speed on his small green motor bike with protracting leg guards, which was rather more like a moped than a Harley Davidson, to the bridge to open the gates.  It was not unknown for him to speed along Main Street or sometimes through new housing estate and call to interested parties that there was ‘a double decker ‘ coming.  If we got the message we would hot foot it down to the Main Street to watch it pass.

Car Numbers

Who would have thought that a day could be passed by boys sitting on the wall on station road taking car registrations?  Cars went by so infrequently that numbers were easily collected and there was great excitement when more than one car came at the same time.  Everyone desperately tried to note down the numbers and if part was missed we were able to assist one another with the proper letters and numbers. 

Every now and then we had to count up the total to see how many numbers we had and find out who was spending the most time by the main A9 noting the vehicles that passed.  keeping a check on the total seemed a laborious task except for Eric Ploughman who had come across one of those little devices for putting on bicycle wheels to check the distance travelled.  Every time a car passed he wound it one place to keep a running total of his registrations. 

The collections had no real purpose but then I don’t suppose train numbers kept by some, or even stamps, have any more purpose.  If a serious crime were to be committed we could possibly be very useful witness in tracking down the culprits!


My only sledge was made by my father.  It was made with solid wood and had iron strips from an old bed for runners.  It was a rural green colour and took quite a lot of pulling unlike today’s light plastic, moulded types.  

We sledged on Lindsay Street most evenings when there was snow and there certainly seemed to be more periods with snow than we get now.  Of course, it was not sanded or salt often and so lasted much longer and traffic being light meant the snow stayed on the road for longer.  In addition, sledging on the road was not dangerous as it is now.

An alternative to Lindsay Street was Grant Crescent though its shorter and less steep slow with a curve made it less desirable.  Other alternatives included Rhives Brae and the field on either side of the road up to Rhives farm.  With the right conditions it was possible to sledge all the way from the farm to almost the Main Street and this included a fast crossing the Back Road and a route around the fountain.  The field to the right side of the Rhives road also provided a good run though there had to be just the right amount of snow.  Too little and we could not get going and too much and we had quite a job to bet a running track suitable for the heavy sledges.

Trips to Inverness

A holiday in the late forties and fifties, and probably before that, usually meant a trip to Inverness on the train.  It was generally on day chosen some weeks in advance and looked forward to with great excitement.  It was a disappointment if the weather turned out to be inclement but we still had to go.  The day had to fall in my father’s two week holiday in July and had to be mid-week to take advantage of the special rates on the train.  I seem to remember that Tuesday was the favoured day.  This was because Monday was not a cheap day and Wednesday was both the Golspie and Inverness half-day.  I’m not sure if Thursday was considered.

We were up very early getting ready for the walk to the station.   The train probably came about 8pm and we listened impatiently for the noise of it coming down the track.  The steam engine could be heard along way off if conditions were right.  The train steamed into the station and did not look as if it was going to stop.  However, the engine eventually pulled up at the far south end of the platform and we boarded and looked for an empty compartment.  This was sometimes difficult to find but still much more likely than further south as the train filled up with the day trippers.

Sometimes we waited outside and occasionally we got into the station office.  An interesting place with small levers and bells on peculiar looking instruments.  Every now and then a bell would ring or a primitive telephone would call out.  Usually the message on the line was that the train had just left Brora but it could just be that call that said that the train was late.  There was a waiting room but it was only used if the person on duty was not known to the family and would not allow entry to the office.

I was always intrigued by the exchange of circular metal rings with an attached pouch as the train came into the station.  The driver held out his hand and delivered, received or exchanged this object with the station master or porter.  It was apparently a token which was required before the line could be declared clear and safe for trains to proceed up or down the line.

The train puffed down the line letting off billowing steam and not a small amount of smoke.  On curves we would hang our heads out the windows, but not too far lest they get knock off, to look forward at the curving carriages and engine or back to the guard’s van.  The journey seemed slow and the stops so very frequent.  The Mound and Rogart seems to come quite quickly but the wait at Lairg for the mail from the west was always a drag and often we had to pass the northbound train there. Carbisdale Castle was always pointed out and the tale about its placement there retold.  The stations at Invershin and Culrain, so close together with one on either side of the River Shin, always puzzled until the problems for passengers having to cross the wide river from Sutherland to Ross-Shire or vice versa to catch the train was explained.

Ardgay always seemed another long stop and then it was onwards to Tain with maybe a stop at Edderton before we got there.  Fearn Station, not really at Fearn was next and then we would pull into Nigg before one of the big stops at Invergordon.  We knew we were there when we saw the big oil tanks and my father told me about them being wartime targets and about the Royal Navy presence there during the war.  Evanton was next on the list and the stop at Dingwall was always a highlight.  Had we time to get off and buy a newspaper, and of course sweets, at the stand on the station or would we be left standing when the train pulled away?  The stop there was usually longer as there might be  a train to catch or a connection with the Kyle line might have to be made.  The final stretch to Inverness saw more small stations and as got closure the more impatient we got having to stop at Muir of Ord,  Beauly and Buncrewe.  Just when we thought we were there the train would grind to a halt just outside Inverness at Clachnaharry.  We were never sure why though it might have been because the bridge over the Caledonian Canalwas open to let a ship through.

The final stage into the station was in reverse.  The train always appeared to pass the station and then reverse in to the platform.  I could never work it out in those days but having explored the area fully I now realise that every train had to do this.  

Of course much of the stops on the line disappeared after the Beeching Report and indeed the line to Inverness itself was close to closure.  The Beeching Axe had started to fall but he had not allowed for the fighting Highlander in the guise of the famous ‘MacPuff’ movement.  The fight was successful and trains continue to this day to journey up and down the long Highland Line from Inverness to Wick and Thurso.

The picture above is a copy of the MacPuff car badge and is taken from ‘The Friends of the Far North Line’ website. MacPuff was the brainchild of Mr. Donald Shearer, at that time an art teacher at Invergordon Academy and son of a retired railwayman.

‘Up on the Pools’

Today the football polls still exist but most people dream of making their fortune through the National Lottery.  In the fifties and sixties it was Littlewoods and to a lesser degree Vernons who were seen as the saviour from the drudgery of work and poverty. Each week families throughout the land tried to forecast the results of football matches in the English and Scottish Leagues.  Various games could be played on the ‘coupon’ but most popular and potentially lucrative was the ‘Treble Chance’. He punters tried to identify eight of the matches which would be drawn on a Saturday afternoon.  Single lines and various perms, as they were called, were used but to the vast majority success evaded even the most optimistic.

The Lannon household was not unlike any other at 4.45 on a Saturday afternoon.  As the results were read out there had to be total silence lest my father should miss a score.  A matches list on the back page of the Saturday paper was filled in carefully with each number coming over the crackly wireless and then the task of check forecasts began.  It never did take very long and it was clear when the coupon was rolled up a flung in the back of the fire that another dream had disappeared with the unpredictable efforts of teams of eleven chasing around a bag of wind.

Then one Saturday the coupon stayed on the tray on Fathers lap.  He checked again and, yes, he had eight draws.  A fortune awaited and on any other Saturday it might have been.  However, it was the last week of the season and there was less than forty matches, as opposed to over 50, on the coupon.  This number of games consequently reduced the odds on winning and so many more people shared the jackpot.  We received less than £400 and though this was a generous sum for a working class family in 1962 it was not the expected relief from the toils of everyday life.

The disappointment was put behind us, however, and a car was purchased.  The second hand Austin A30 was our pride and joy despite being almost nine years old.  It did provide us with much pleasure though not a little heartache also – nine year old cars in those days were wont to break down and needed much care and attention.

Learning To Drive

As soon as I was seventeen I took out my provisional driving licence and started to work towards passing my test.  There might have been driving instructors in those days but I certainly never heard of one let alone met one.  My driving instructors were my father and neighbour and Co-op manager Donnie Findlay.  Donnie lived across the road and he taught a number of people around the village.  His tutorship was calm and measured while my father only had the task of sitting by me while I drove around practicing otherwise his excitable nature would get us into a conformation situation.

Passing my test seemed relatively easy and at the first attempt.  It was not without incident however.  On the evening before the test I had to drive up to the garage for petrol with my father in the co-driver’s seat.  He was more tense about the whole affair than I was and he was in such a hurry to get out of the car before I had fully stopped at the pump he jumped out and promptly broke of the direction indicator with rear end.  For those of you who do not appreciate the nature of the indicators in those days they were simply little arms that shot out from the side of the car body.  In Most cases at head height but on our ‘baby’ Austin from just behind the front doors at waist height.
Generally in the test half the exercise was undertaken giving hand signals and half with those mechanical indicators.  For the purpose of my test I had to apologies to the tester and carry out the whole test with hand signals!  

Off Camping by Car

Our first holiday, and in my case only camping holiday with my parents, by car was to Elgin and Aberdeen in 1963.  The four of us were loaded up in the small A30 with a minimum of clothes, camping gear and an old ridge tent. We were sadly short of the necessities for camping not having air beds or sleeping backs and few of the other ‘extras’ that campers have nowadays. The weather was hardly kind in Elgin and the site was rock hard and getting the old wooden pegs used in those days into the ground was a trial of strength.  Many broke and my father’s humour diminished by the minute as he tried to erect our less than adequate holiday accommodation.  The site is no longer there and the area is now under the buildings at the Pinefield Industrial Estate.  In those days it was a small field bound by hedges and close to a railway line as I recall.  Whether it was passing trains or the cool of the early morning that awakened us all I am not certain but one awake and cold a return to slumbers is impossible.

The Aberdeen part of the trip was slightly more pleasant with more to do in the city and the site at Hazelhead was rather better than the earlier one.  It was, however, very busy being Glasgow Fair fortnight.  In those days the Glasgow folk all left the city and not far flung continental resorts but for places all around Scotland.  My father was less than amused by some of their antics around the site but we kept our heads down.  We still woke up very early in the morning shivering but it was still a holiday and an experience at a time when any sort of visit away from home was to be valued.



Christmas was very much looked forward to in my youngest days.  Parties and presents were few and far between.  Birthdays and Christmas were the only times up until my teenage years that I recall the sort of social events and excitement generated by those two occasions.

The Firemen’s Parties

The Golspie Fire Service Christmas Parties were great fun.  Games, food, Santa and a gift were all appreciated.  I was lucky enough to attend the first and following parties.  For the first party the firemen were permitted to invite a small number of children each, six I think.  Bertie MacDonald, who lived just along the road on Main Street called one evening to ask if I would like to attend.  I had come from below the table to have my invitation explained to me as Bertie had arrived after 8pm and if there was one thing that sent me running for cover it was the thought that it was Wee Willie Winkie at the door!

The School Christmas Party and Concert

The party was a wonderful occasion held in the school gym.  The games were great fun and, of course, we got dressed up for the event.  But most of all I remember the cakes - delivered from Morrison's and large and delicious.  I still see them in large baking trays being carried round the gym by the teachers and we had the choice of the wonderful eats.

The concert was a more staid affair.  At the time when the Primary and Secondary departments were all one the secondary classes largely dominated the concert.  I don not remember much about the items but do recall a play or sketch in which an attempt was made to prove that Shakespeare's plays had, if fact, been written by Francis Bacon.  I have no idea why this play should stick in my mind.

I only recall one occasion when I took part in the concert.  This was in a choral speaking item.  The whole class of over forty recited 'King Midas' to great applause from what appeared to be a large and appreciative audience.  Whether it was so is open to some doubt as a visit to the gym years later left me with the distinct feeling that it had shrunk greatly from its truly mammoth proportions when I was in school.

Hogmanay and The New Year

In my experience as a youngster in the 1950s I saw what I would call true `First Footing'. Lots of people going from house to house. A nip of whisky and they went on. My Dad waited for some neighbours to call and then he headed off to see others. My Mum did not go out.  She would entertain visitors for a time and then lock the door and put the lights out. It was very much a quick visit and move on.

The pubs closed on Hogmanay – about 10pm I guess. They did not open on New Years day. I think it was probably against the law to do so at that time.  My father would go to the Caberfeidh most Saturdays and at Hogmanay.  He would usually play dominoes and drink a pint or two or more and a whisky too.  He did not come home drunk very often but certainly merry on lots of occasions.  Obviously Hogmanay was no different and so he was already in ‘good form’ before the New Year got underway.

Things began to change at Hogmanay and New Year firstly with the arrival of TV. We would watch the New Year in with the White Heather Club (Andy Stewart and others) and then the visiting would start in earnest though there was still some midnight `First Footing' even though the box in the corner was taking over. When Grampian TV arrived in the area there was then the difficult choice of The White Heather Club or Callum Kennedy!

Later again the bringing in of the New Year in groups – local halls, local square, bonfires or street parties changed the pattern of events. Of course transport availability also played a part.  It became possible to travel to village halls where there might be a party.  In recent years (1995 – 2005 or so)  I have taken in the New Year at Dunnet Hall in Caithness near to my daughters home.  For the past couple years at least this has changed due to son-in-law Morris MacLeod playing in his band Whisky at the Thurso Street Party and no doubt there will be further changes as new activities spring up.  Maybe we will all stay at home for a cyberspace internet New Year with computer and interactive digital TV being the centrepiece of the celebrations.  But for now I will follow a sort of combination New Year welcoming. I will go to the Street Party and then `First Foot' on the way home, and the next day and the next day and maybe the next!!!

The Sutherland villages were very sociable places at New Year.  The bigger villages of Dornoch, Golspie and Brora and, of course, Helmsdale, Bonar, Lairg and all the north and west settlements had great celebrations to see in the New Year. They were not dull place with nothing happening on dark winter nights – all were vibrant communities with a great variety of New Year activities.

The topic of Hogmanay and the New Year would need a book to cover all the aspects and many people will have many different experiences of those events. There will be as many ways of welcoming in the New Year in Sutherland as there are families.

The wholesale movement of `First footers' has certainly disappeared but the Street Party or Hall event is a good alternative allowing large numbers of friends and new acquaintances to welcome in other year.

The pub backdoor was a well used entry after closing time.  And indeed before as regulars took their place in the back room. Not just at the New Year, indeed more often not at New Year, was the back door the entry later in the evening. A great warmer for even the Police nightshift allegedly!!

The First TV Show in Golspie and TV at Cunningham’s

I am not sure when TV first arrived in Golspie but I remember being quite young and taken by my father to an demonstration of TV in Lindsay Ironmonger’s Shop.  The TV was shown in the back shop in the storage area and I recall passing through more than one room containing animal feed stuff before reaching and upper loft where the set was installed.  I have no recollection of the programme shown nor of who else was present though I do remember that the audience was reasonably large and we were all impressed by the quality of the fuzzy, grey picture on the small screen.

Later, before TV was generally available, the youngsters of the village used to go to Cunningham's shop and watch children’s programmes on a Saturday afternoon.  Those programmes were shown upstairs in the store above the ironmongery and toy shop to a large audience of children.  We all sat on crude benches constructed out of whatever material was available and watched such exciting shows as ‘ The Lone Ranger’ and the ‘Cisco Kid’.  I think there were other series as well but those being our favourites the others have been long forgotten.

The cost of the show was one old penny but this did not go to the shop or Mr Cunningham but to charity.  We all had to put our penny in the charity stocking for the children’s home at Rhu in Dumbartonshire.

As TVs became a little more common people without a set began to find neighbours who would let them in for a viewing session.  I went with my mother to watch at the Mathesons in 1 Alistair Road and with my father to watching sport, mainly amateur boxing, next door with Harry and Joan MacKenzie.

Special Football Matches at the King George Park

There were lots of well attended football matches at King George V park in the 1950s and 1960s.  Many special events with inter-county matches and the occasional visits by Highland League clubs.  In those days the Highland league was a strong group of clubs who performed well in competitions against their more senior opposition from the Scottish leagues.  They always pulled above their weight and consequently a team coming north in the 1950s to Golspie was a big occasion.  Now that Inverness Caley, Inverness Thistle, Ross County, Elgin City and Peterhead are no longer in this north league the overall quality has diminished. Highland clubs now even rarely have success against South of Scotland League teams and this was unheard of in my young days.

Special Guests

Remember going to watch a match between Golspie and some other long forgotten opposition to find two special spectators.  Scottish top players with Hearts, and maybe internationalists, John Cummings and Freddie Glidden were in attendance.  I got their autographs but, as was often the case, the scrap of paper used has not stood the test of time.

Inter-County and ‘Big’ Matches

Inter-county matches between Sutherland and Caithness and Sutherland and Ross-Shire were always attended by big crowds.  Often it could be difficult to find a space round the railings.  The former competion with Caithness was for the Portland Bowl and the later against Ross –Shire for the MacKenzie Shield. Those occasions were treated with great seriousness as much pride was at stake and ‘big’ football matches in the county were relatively rare.  From time to time a Highland League club would appear for a friendly match and, of course, Brora Rangers competed in the North of Scotland and Scottish Qualifying Cups bringing enhanced interest to the local scene.

The recall Inverness Clach playing against Golspie Sutherland after cousin Cathel Melville, one of the best players in the county, signed for Clach.  Maybe the match was a ‘Thank You’ for Cathel’s signing for the Highland League outfit. Later Cathel went on to play for Inverness Caley. Brora Rangers and Ross County . The picture below, adapted from the Northern Times report from 1964 shows Cathel in his young days in a Golspie under 14 team taken before they played Wick Academy in 1948.  Also in the picture is cousin Freddie Melville and more the distantly related Charlie Melville. Golspie won the match 6 – 1.

The boys were selected from Golspie School and Sutherland Technical School . Back row: John Macdonald (his father owned the Sutherland Arms Hotel); Donna Urquhart from Brora, who was at the Tech; Kenny Macdonald, brother of John Macdonald; Jackie Munro (Bonzo); Willie Mackay; Freddie Melville; Hector Mackay from Melness who was at the Tech; Front row: George Robinson; Donnie Munro; Charlie Melville; Cathel Melville, who later played for teams in the Highland League; George Macleod, who played for Luton Town when they were in the English First Division, and also Brentford; Johnny Mackay; Donnie Allan, who tragically died playing in goals for Golspie Sutherland. The Donnie Allan Cup for Sutherland under 15 football teams was played for in his memory.



Miller Cup

Another great occasion was the Miller Cup played for between the champions of Sutherland and Caithness .  It too was matter of great excitement and pride for the local football fans.  I do not recall a lot about those matches but to remember an occasion when Golspie Sutherland played Dounreay Athletic, I team I later played for myself.  Dounreay won the match comfortably and I recall my father commenting, almost critically, that the victors were benefiting from the inclusion of some fine players from the south now employed at the recently established Atomic Plant in Caithness .

Sutherland v Glasgow Boys

Football supporters always look for an excuse and a reason for a defeat.  When a large crowd turned out to see Sutherland Under 15s, including cousin Davie Melville, play against Glasgow Boys once again my father found it difficult to give credit to the skills of the southern invaders.  He passed the comment that it look suspiciously likely that some of those under 15 year olds were ‘already shaving’.

I don’t have photograph of any of the county teams and not even one taken when I played for the Sutherland Schools against Ross-shire – twice in Golspie and twice at Ross County’s ground in Dingwall.  The first year we played we won over the two legs, in about 1961, and the following year we lost over the two games.  The picture above shows an earlier Golspie School team.  In it are two cousins, Don Melville, second boy from left in back row, and David Melville left in the front row.  It was probably during this year or possibly the following one, that Davie played from Sutherland against the Glasgow Schools.

The Butlin’s Walk

The Billy Butlin's John O' Groat's to Lands End walk was real highlight for villages.  We wait for and clapped so many wlkers as they made their journey south.  There was a big money prize and so a large number felt they might make 'their fortune'.  Most walked but the early competitors through Golspie were very definitely running.  I remember standing at Harold Sinclair's shop and watching the first runner speed by.

The slower walkers seem to be going through for days.  On the Sunday one of the walkers already tired arrived at Mass and my father taking pity on the walker took him home to Sunday lunch.  Not always a banquet but still an occasion quite different from the meals on others days - they could be quite frugal especially towards the end of the week before 'pay-day'.

Barbara Moore was a well-known walker stopping in the village though in the walk as I remember.  I recall the great publicity for this woman and her arrival at the Stag's Head Hotel.  No doubt the date of her walking exploits will have been recorded in the Northern Times - the 'Raggy'.

Monte Carlo

The Monte Carlo Rally in January always interested everyone in Golspie maybe more than in most places.  The owner of the main local building business called Alexander Sutherland and Sons was a regular competitor.  Bertie Plumb, as we knew him because his business started as plumbing concern, was closely followed in his exploits and on occasions was very successful.  One year he was well up with the leaders when an accident with, I think, a cyclist in France put him well back in the field by the time he had satisfied the police. 

We always wondered why he was allowed to drive so fast in the Main Street .  It occurred to us that his speed was overlooked because he was such a good driver and was additionally practicing for the rally.  The cynics were maybe correct when they said that it was because he owned the biggest business in the village and was the biggest employer.

 The race to Monte Carlo started from various points around Europe such as Moscow, London, Paris, Stockholm and Glasgow.  It was more of a road race than present rallies and the present Monte Carlo because roads were quiet and special stages not so developed.  For some reason the Scottish departure point for at least one year was not Glasgow but John O’ Groats.  I remember standing at the Churchyard Corner waiting for the cars to arrive and spotting Paddy Hopkirk in his green mini.  This point was chosen as we assumed, I think rightly, that the cars would have to slow down sufficiently here for us to see the whites of the drivers’ eyes. 

Northern Times - January 17,1958

Sutherland folks will be anxiously looking for the number 177 on their television screens next week when the Monte Carlo Rally is expected to take a prominent place on BBC programmes. That is the number allocated to the car (a Rileyl.5) entered by Mr. W.R. Sutherland, Golspie, who will be partnered by his brother, Ian, from Wick, and a newcomer, Mr. R.E. Stokes of Malvern.

The Sutherland brothers have been together in all five Rallies in which they have competed since 1953  - there was a gap last year when this international event was cancelled because of the Suez crisis. They set off from Glasgow - starting point for 92 of the 343 entrants  - early on Wednesday morning on the first stage of this 1900-mile drive to Monte Carlo . In the last Rally, in 1956, the Sutherland brothers recorded a major triumph in their Riley Pathfinder when they finished the best British private entry, and 42nd  out of a field of 350, for which feat they were awarded the “Autosport” Trophy. Their achievements in this major motoring event are all the more remarkable since for all practical purposes they are without competition practice compared with those more favourably situated in the south, who are engaged in minor rallies almost every week-end.

The Sutherland brothers have certainly put the county on the map so far as the Monte Carlo Rally is concerned, and when they set off from Glasgow on Wednesday morning - they leave Golspie for the south tomorrow (Saturday) - they will take with them the county’s best wishes for a successful accident-free drive.

The Ben Race for the Coronation and the Bonfire

I have vague memories of the celebrations for the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth the First of Scotland and Second of England in 1952.  There was large Bonfire set on the Golf Links close to the first golf clubhouse that I remember.  It might even have been the first clubhouse that existed.  This Clubhouse was down towards the see and fairly close to the entrance to the course from Church Street.  If I recall correctly the Bonfire was set nearby.

I don't recall who lit the fire but I remember it being quite impressive and the winner of the Ben Bhraggie Race got his prize there.  He might have received it first in the King George Playing fields but of this I am also not certain.

I had particular interest in the race as my cousin Cathel Melville was running.  He was well known in football circles having 'made it' to the Highland league.  In those days it was considered a great honour and a sign of supreme ability at local level to receive such an accolade.  Nowadays it appears that just about anyone can get a game in this league devalued by other attractions and by the transfer of some important teams to the Scottish League.

The race had many other runners.  The winner, Teddy Munro, I knew and Willie Sutherland, better known as Horsey, was also someone I recognized.  The runners proceeded along the Back Road from the Football Field up the Ben and back by the same route.  Today the route takes competitors from the High School playing field but still up the hill be way of Rhives Farm.

Through young eyes the whole affair must have been very exciting and the quality of the competitors superb.  However, maybe in this sport, and in football, nostalgia tends to make the performers of yester year son much better than those of today.


The BBs and The BB Social

I very much enjoyed both the Life Boys and the Boys Brigade meetings in the school gymnasium.  The peaked Life Boy cap in a dark navy with a band and the badge and name on it was about the only uniform I had.  In any event I am not sure that at that time there was any more to the uniform.

The Boys Brigade uniform was not a lot more sophisticated.  The small cap, arm band for badges a black leather belt with BB Badge and white cross over should to opposite waist fabric strap and pouch.  They uniform was inspected at each meeting and points award. 

Activities were many and varied at both groups but mostly games and bible study in the younger group.  On the old section bible study, various handcrafts, games and competitions played a big part.  But most prominent were the marching routines and the physical education activities.

The marching had to be highly organized and proficient and was quite competitive, especially between companies from different towns and villages.  The P. T. routines were equally rigorous and practised until as near perfect as possible.  The Box and wooden Horse were major elements with vaulting, forward rolls and handsprings playing a prominent part in any exhibition.

Competition with in the Golspie Company led to inter-company.  A main venue for such competition was the B. B.  Hall in Wick where Wick competed against Golspie and Thurso Companies.  There may have been other Sutherland, and possibly Caithness Companies, present at those events but their identities now escape me.

Football in the King George V Playing Fields

Football in Golspie in the park at the Ferry Road was more than just a game.  It was a tradition and part of the culture of village life.  This is well evidenced by a famous song.

Just one of the versions of that famous song  ‘Football in Golspie’.

When the canvas goes out on the Ferry Road wall,

And Alec goes raking about for a ball,

And Wullie throws open the old Welcome Hall,

It’s a sign that there’s football in Golspie.


Then come to the gate with your bags and the like,

You can come on a bus, a car or a bike,

But you canna see over the Ferry Road dyke

On the day that there’s football in Golspie.


When coming by car as you pass through the crowd,

Just blow on your hooter and blow it out loud,

But you’ll see it is clear that no parkin’s allowed,

On the day that there’s football in Golspie.


Now here come the team with their jerseys of blue

They are losing by now their original hue,

But they are better than red if the Rangers are due,

On the day that there’s football in Golspie.


There’s Mackie, there’s Danny, there’s Hamish and Bert

There’s Hughie and Alec and Robbies a cert,

And a wee touch of Bobba will up your heart

On the day that there’s football in Golspie.


There’s lusty supporters with throats made of brass,

And someone is shouting ‘ Hey Bobba a pass,

But Bobba trips over a wee tuft of grass,

On the day that there’s football in Golspie.


They’ll come in their Bentleys, they’ll come in their Fords,

They’ll travel from Dornoch and over the Ord,  (Alternative Line  - They’ll come from the

But they’ll meet with a shock when the Blues get aboard,         Crask and come from the Ord)

On the day that there’s football in Golspie.


You can come by a boat, a bus, a car or a bike,

You can come any way that you blooming well like,

But you canna see over the Ferry Road dyke

On the day that there’s football in Golspie.

From a very early age my father took me to see the football in Golspie.  The crowds seemed large and excitement almost uncontrollable.  Most working men had a five and a half day week and their main entertainment on a Saturday afternoon might be taking in the local match.

My father’s top Scottish team was Dundee.  I am not sure why he supported them but he followed them religiously and even went down to the city to see them play at least once.  He brought me back a signed souvenir card in the shape of an aeroplane.  It was to mark the teams visit to South Africa on tour.  It was probably the first flight, certainly of any distance, by Dundee Football Club.  The club was much more successful than it has been in recent years.  Two of the best known members of the team at that time, and admired by my father, were Doug Cowie and Billy Steel.  In later years many top players were produced by the club with prominent internationalists moving south to play in England .

School Football

My greatest source of pleasure was probably playing football for the school and village football teams.

I played for the under 14, 15, 16 and senior school teams with some success at all age groups.  Trophies were won by all teams with the highlights being captain of the under 16s, playing four times for the Sutherland county team and scoring a ‘hat-trick’ for the High School senior eleven to win the North of Scotland Cup in 1964.

My first game of football for a school team was in Brora on a pitch that was in the field opposite where the present Brora Rangers pitch is now and probably covered by the new Hunter's Mill car park - new Woolmill Building that has cased so much controversy. 
The match was against the Brora School under 14s and I was at the end of P7 when selected.  At this point I was one of the ‘stand ins’ called upon when some players were not available.  However, getting a game at this age was an honour and encouragement for the future.

Back L-R:  Norman Brown, Ian Grant, Neil Melville, Ken Mackay, Allan Lannon, Matthew Mackay Walter Henderson.

Front L-R:  Cecil Melville, John Mackay, Ian Campbell, David Paterson, George Morrison, Sandy Morrison, Tony Rettie.

My first under 16s county trial was played at the Golspie Sutherland Football Park and I was not really aware of the significance of the match until PE teacher Norrie Brown called me over to say that I had been selected to play for Sutherland against Ross-shire at Golspie and later in Dingwall.  I was selected again the following year after a trial at Dudgeon Park, Brora.  On the first occasion we won the inter-county trophy on aggregate though each county won their home match.  The following year the same situation arose though on this occasion the aggregate score resulted in the trophy going to Ross-shire by a single goal.

In the upper Secondary School I played both in Goal and at Centre forward for the Senior team.  The highlight and crowning glory was the winning of the North of Scotland Cup in 1964.  We were successful in defeating Inverness Royal Academy, Inverness High School and Dingwall Academy on our way to the final with all the games played away from home. The final was grand occasion in Nairn against Peterhead.  They were favourites to take the trophy and were the holders.  However, a 3-2 win in front of a large traveling support brought the trophy north of Inverness for the first time.  Norrie Brown and Head Teacher, Willie Rutherford, were particularly thrilled by this victory and publicity for the school.  Yours truly was delighted to score a hat-trick on his birthday.

L-R; Bobby MacLeod, Arthur Fraser, Cecil Melville, Allan Lannon, Ian Taggart, John Mackay, David Cowie (on shoulders), Christopher Yuill, Alan Syme, John Robertson, Adam MacPherson

Back L-R: Norrie Brown, Adam MacPherson, Allan Lannon, John Dalgarno, David Cowie

Font L-R: Cecil Melville, Ian Taggart, John Mackay, Bobby MacLeod, Arthur Fraser, Christopher Yuill, John Robertson

Missing from the picture; Alan Syme and Walter Yuill

This page from the school magazine tells about the senior team’s success in 1963-64 season.  I am pictured in gals but only played in that position in the first game against Thurso.  In all the other matches I played at center forward.

Senior Football

From time to time I was lucky enough to get a game for Golspie Sutherland.  I either got to substitute for Billy Murray, a fine goalkeeper who held down first spot when I was a teenager, or at centre forward.  I had some regular matches at centre after my success in the senior school team.  However, Saturday work in the Co-op Shop and then the move to Thurso curtailed my chance of a long term place in Golspie’s senior team. This, however, did not finish my footballing career as I went on to play for Dounreay Athletic, Wick Groats, Wick Thistle, Wick Rovers and Keiss.  In addition, I played for, and gained my colours in football, while a student inAberdeen .


Tattie Howking (sp. ?)

I suppose my first paid job must have been Tattie Howling (Picking) at Rhives Farm about 1955 though being a caddie on Golspie Open Day on the golf course must have been around the same time.  I recall taking my own tin pail and working in the field just behind the railway to the right hand side of the railway bridge when facing up towards the farm steading.  It was a hard job and I was quite young at the time but still managed to earn a 10/- note though for how many days toil I cannot remember.  A lot of money to me in those days.

The following year and possibly two years I picked the Tatties at Kirkton Farm in the Tattie Holidays in October.  Again the work was back-breaking and I cannot recall how much was earned but at the end of the time I suppose I thought it worthwhile.  Transport to and from Kirkton was in sheep lorry which picked us up outside Cunningham’s shop.

The Co-op

Just some of the staff I remember and there were others and apologies to them for omitting them from the list.  There was also a staff working above the grocery shop in the area office for/with Mr Sutherland who lived above the co-op drapery department.  He had two sons whom I later met at Dounreay.  Both died at a relatively young age.

I started working in the Co-op Shop in Golspie on a snowy first week in January in 1959.  I am not sure that I was looking for a job though it must be said that to get a post as a message boy was desirable bringing with it the 30/- a week payment.
I was asked, or at least my father and/or mother were asked, by Ian Ross, Relief Manager, if I would like the job the incumbent having left.  For some weeks I regretted the acceptance of the work.  Pedalling and pushing the heavy bike through several inches of snow was not an easy task for a twelve year old.  Ian Ross has been a friend ever since surprise to say!  He was working at Dounreay when I came to Thurso to work and I met with him in Thurso only many occasions. Monday and Tuesday were relatively quiet days for orders for delivery.  Wednesday was half day so I had some respite until and hard work on Thursday,Friday and Saturday.  Some business must have paid their employees on Thursday as the volume of orders for delivery on that day were so much greater than at the start of the week.  However, Friday brought the real rush.  I would come in from school to find a veritable sea of boxes of all sizes stacked with groceries.  All had to be delivered on the bike with the basket on front.  A big brute of a bike with a very large, deep cane/wicker type container. It was my duty to chose my routes, load and the bike and be off.  Trying desperately to ensure that I did not have to visit any one street more often than was necessary.

I only once had help loading up the bike and it must have been during the first week of my duties.  I had to hold the bike upright and with weight on the seat keep it steady while Duncan Halfpenny and Ivor Sutherland, two older teenage employees loaded my vehicle so high that I would not be able to see over the top.  This problem was purely academic.  As soon as they had finished and asked me to push the bike off the stand it upended with the resulted that all of the grocery boxes landed on the back shop floor with the bike on top.  A fearful mess of mixed shopping and not just a few broken bottles.  Especially the Soda Siphons with gaseous liquid pouring forth. It was a clear setup and not allowed to happen again.

There were lots of customers in Shore Street and quite a number of deliveries right up to the MacDonalds at number 26.

Church Street, and Sutherland Road running parallel behind it, were also busy roads for me.

My Co-op duties included some welcome overtime in the form of domestic activities on the Wednesday afternoon and early each morning.  On the early closing day I went to the shop after school and washed the floor with mop, bucket and detergent for an extra 5/- and I gained a further 5/- for delivering morning rolls to the girls’ hostel, MacLeod House, each morning. 
The competition for the contract to supply the hostel with food and other items was quite intense and in addition to the Co-op the other shops in the village offered for the business.  Morrison’s and Fraser’s were prominent in their efforts to obtain a slice of the trade.  The Co-op being the biggest store would generally be successful but having gained the contract they were required to supply all items.  This proved difficult as the store’s bakery was 18 miles away in Helmsdale.  Clearly the other shops, and particularly Morrison’s Bakers, were not all that keen to help out the competitor by supply morning rolls.  I was my duty to queue up with the other customers and purchase the rolls over the counter at the Bakers before cycling with them to the Hostel.  I did not always get a favourable reception from Osla Morrison and frequently had to wait on the doorstep for quite sometime or be ignored in the queue.  It was the same frosty reception at the Girls’ Hostel where I had to hand the rolls in the dining rooms window below the Monkey Puzzle tree.

The Golspie Co-op Shop seemed very large to me at that time.  It probably was when compared to other local shops but when I look at it now with the ‘large’ back store included in the shop floor area I realise that it was more likely the view we have of places remembered as being bigger than they really were. 
The front shop had counters all round with the customer area in the centre.  Virtually all shopping was done by way of service by a shop assistant.  The public queued up to be served and at busy times in the shop or quiet time on deliveries I had to help with this duty.  Each item was collected from the shelves and surfaces behind the counter by the assistant and piled on the counter in front of the counter.  The cost of the items was added up at the end and payment made or in some cases each item was entered in the credit book and the total calculated.  My counting was at its best in those days!  The customer received the top copy from the invoice book and the bottom copy was eventually used in the shop office to add to the appropriate customer’s account for later payment.  Payment by cash was dealt with in a different way.  The amount tendered was entered in the cash drawer below the counter and the amount entered on a small ticket the size of a raffle ticket but on a large sheet of such tickets. Also entered on this receipt was the individuals co-op number.  My mother’s number was 143 and my own number, allocated later when I was making enough purchases of my own, was 89. The top copy of this small receipt was given to the customer and the carbon copies went to the office at the end of the day so that each customer could receive credit for his or her payment on their Co-op Dividend record.

The exceptions to the service over the counter were the items in the few display stands that backed up to the shop counter on one side of the floor space.  The two I recall were the Swiss Knorr Packet Soup stand and the biscuit box stand.  The biscuit box stand had the boxes facing outwards at an angle of about 45 degrees and with the lids removed but with a glass cover protecting the contents.  The biscuits were all, of course, loose and many got broken.  Those were sold at a cheaper rate and often to children heading for school as ‘play pieces’.

Merchandise behind and below the counters was set out on shelves and in suitable sections according to type and brand.  Those shelves had to be filled up at quiet times and often boxes were brought from the ‘back shop’ during busy period and left on the floor close to where they eventually be stacked.  Some items which were dangerous or more valuable were kept in drawers below the shop serving counter.  There was a designated area for bacon, hams, meats and cheeses in the back left hand corner of the front shop.  On the counter opposite this marble topped surface was a large bacon and meat slicer which was worked by hand using a large wheel and handle.  A dangerous piece of equipment which I had to clean and sharpen from time to time.  Cleaning was done with cloths held against the blade and sharpening with a set of abrasive rollers that pulled down onto the top of the very large circular blade.
The long rolls of bacon were set out on the marble top and put onto the slicing surface of the machine as required as was the other cold meats.  Cheese was cut on the marble surface using a large cheese cutter with a rather sharp wire and it was advisable not to get your thumb or fingers between wire and cheese.  Most cheese cut was of the hard cheddar variety though some others such as gouda and edam were cut.  An affluent customer might come in and ask for a half or a quarter of one of those latter cheeses.  I remember those Dutch cheeses were roundish in shape and sold in a thick, red wax covering.

The back shop, which appeared to me at that time, to be quite large was like an Aladdin’s Cave but stocked with every foodstuff, toiletry and saleable item imaginable.  The contents were mostly delivered by lorry from Glasgow and the male staff were not that amused when deliveries arrived and were utterly despondent when, as sometimes happened, two vehicles arrived at the same time.  Most of the commodities arrived in manageable sized boxes of 24 tins or packets though the sugar delivery could be quite heavy by the end of the unloading of a large quantity.  This sugar came in larger wrappings containing 2lb (2 Pound) and 4 lb bags though some did come loose for separate weighing.  Also weighted out in the back shop were lentils, split peas (yellow and green) rice, etc.

Some materials, particularly cereals and on rare occasions flour, were delivered in large hessian sacks.  Most about one hundred weight but varying in size depending on content.  Recall very large bags of maize taken if for animal feeding in incredibly large cloth bags that were very floppy and difficult to carry.  We also got corn for feeding hens and this too had to be weighed out into stone weight bags.

Most of those goods had to be weighted in the shop for selling when customers requested or weighed in advance.  Also weighed in advance when time permitted were potatoes.  They came in bulk and were stored in a large wooden hopper with an access shoot at the bottom from which the potatoes were shovelled into half stone and stone brown paper bags and weighed on a balance type scales.

Fruit on sale was a very limited selection.  Mostly bananas, apples, pears and oranges though there were sometimes melons.  Bananas came into the shop in long wooden boxes like small coffins with a hinged lid.  They were Fyffes bananas and a pretty good chew as I cycled round the village.  We usually got bags of blackening bananas home on a Saturday evening as they would not sell by Monday due to their condition. McIntosh Red apples were also a favourite coming into the shop in large cardboard boxes in layers and sitting in egg box like hollows in the trays.  Oranges were not easy to eat in the bike so they were generally ignored.

Bacon and some cooked meats were stored in a wooden cupboard with a gauze on the doors.  The was supposed to keep the meat cold and keep out insects though I from time to time had the job of picking the white maggots out of the rolled bacon.

Lemonade was delivered by Hendry’s of Wick who certainly had a contract with the co-op and may have been actually part of the co-operative establishment.  Initially a fairly limited range of flavours was available but the company gradually introduced new recipes with one popular one with the staff being raspberry.  Fizzy raspberry not being a drink I would now favour!   This lemonade was stacked just inside the side store of the back shop with the crates on their side for easy access to whatever flavour was required.  This resulted in some bottles leaking and encouraged some of us staff members to find extra bottles of our chosen drink developing rather large leaks.  ‘Leakers’ as they were simply known were returned to Hendry’s at the next delivery for credit.

Coal and Paraffin was stored in a shed behind the shop and more or less in Sutherland’s Builders yard.  The long shed also accommodated two garages.  The Coal came in 28 lb paper sacks and proved very popular with older people living along and quite a lot had to be delivered.

The paraffin was held in a very large tank on supports about three feet of the floor.  The liquid was taken off via a tap set in the base of the storage tank.  The paraffin should have been taken firstly into one of the half or full gallon measuring cans before being funneled into the customer’s fuel can.  We, meaning younger and part-time staff, often tried to speed up the process by filling the fuel can directly from the tap.  We were careful not to give short measure as this would bring the customer back and sometimes the fuel can would slip, especially if it was a five gallon one, and we would be covered in nasty smelling fuel.  From time to time the shop manager caught us out as he would intercept a filled fuel can and weigh it to determine how much paraffin we had put in it.

Skinning the Cheese

When preparing a very large cheddar type cheese for sale it was necessary to remove the outer gauze covering and the wax protection from the cheese.  The Cheese was large and had to be manhandled into a Hessian sack which had previously been soaked in water.  Any sack would do and they were mostly once which potatoes had been delivered ion and so were not particularly clean.  The cheese was left to soak overnight until the gauze and the wax was thoroughly sodden and soft.  It took some effort to remove the gauze covering but with much tugging it eventually came away with the wax.  Some tidying up had to do around the cheese and then it was cut into more manageable size pieces for storage or placing on the marble top in the front shop.

Stock Taking

At Stock Taking time there was lot of work to do and overtime during the weekend or during that week.  Preparation for Stock Taking involved ensuring that shelves were not stacked fully and that as many boxes of goods in the back shop were left full and easily accessible.  Stock was boosted by cutting apart ‘multipack’ items.  In those days ‘multipack’ simply meant something like bars of soap bundled in three with a paper wrapper.  One job the part time staff had to do at this time was cut off the band wrapper and free the three bars of soap which were then unidentifiable as anything other than three bars of normal soap.  Since this increased the soap stock by one third, one bar being free in the special offer, the value of the shop stock was consequently increased against the delivered stock.  This happened with enough items to keep the shop stock in a comfort zone as far as the area management were concerned.  Another way stock was adjusted was by the writing off of perishable items.  Such items would be fruit and bakery produce and the actual amount dumped would be inflated by just enough to be seen as reasonable and again ensuring stock level was more than maintained. Of course, it is not now permitted to break up multiple packs though no doubt it does happen with some products.

Work meant money and my first personal savings were with the Post Office.


Yours truly at the end of the lane joining the end of Millicent Avenue to the main A9 road.

Mrs Joiner was the owner of the Ben Bhraggie Hotel when I had to deliver the hotel order to the back door in the cobbled courtyard.  There was a quite large water well in one wall of the courtyard.

Looking for a Job

In the early 1960s youngsters did not have as much worry about future employment as they have now.  Getting a job was not all that difficult though the first choice might not always be obtained.  I knew that I could enter the Co-op Shop and work there with the prospect of promotion.  Managers tended to male and relatively young.  Provided one was willing to move around and go to small shops in out of the way places then here was an occupation that was secure and free from the rigours of the weather.

Boys going into apprenticeships seemed to get a five year training in some trade or other.  Some jobs, such joinery, were more sought after than others but the building industry was still labour intensive and so lots of mason, plumbers, painters, etc. were always required.

While the shop work had served a very useful purpose I did not really want a job that tied me to a Saturday indoors.  My sporting instincts lead me in the direction of a week end off job.  If I had to work a Saturday, or even a Sunday, I expected overtime and for it to be my choice.  My father had, of course, had to work a five and a half day week but at least he had Saturday afternoon off.

 and the Robertson Research Company

On preparing to leave school the top priority was to find a ‘good’ job.  In 1963 there was a great interest in finding mineral resources around the country and Sutherland was particularly targeted by the Robertson Research Company.  They advertised the fact that they wanted to recruit a local person to be trained in their Welsh laboratory for return to Sutherland as part of this work.  I applied for this training and was interviewed in Dornoch.  I seem to recall that David Mackay and one of the Sadler brothers were also interviewed.  Studying Geography, while the other two had been studying History, seemed to give me an advantage and I was offered the post.

Rolls Royce and then to Dounreay

When leaving school the first priority is to get a job and I was interviewed by A1 Welders in Inverness, the Robertson Research Company for training in Wales, the UKAEA at Dounreay and Rolls Royce in East Kilbride .  Rolls Royce were the first to come along and only gave me days to make a decision.  I had to say yes and duly signed up with the factory in East Kilbride .

It was necessary for me to find accommodation in the area and by telephone I obtained an address and telephone number to contact from Rolls Royce.  In those days you often had to go through operators and we had to make calls from the public telephone kiosk.  Either the box at the Post Office or the one on Station Roadand just outside the Welcome Hall.  Since the calls were not very clear and I was not aware of the geography of the Glasgow area getting in contact with my hope for ‘digs’ proved difficult at first.The name of the town was Strathaven but as everyone knows the pronunciation is Straven.  I searched through the telephone directory for Straven but could not find it. It took me quite time to find my way to a telephone code for Strathaven but when I eventually did I got through to Mrs Rollo at Kirkland Park Avenue in the town.  My accommodation of Dinner, Bed and Breakfast was duly arranged with the Rollo family.  Mr Rollo was manager of the local cinema, his wife was a Welsh diving or swimming international and she was a housewife looking after four young children.  The room let to me was shared with a chap called John from somewhere south of the border and he too worked with Rolls Royce.  When I realized he was employed by the same company and he had a car I though I was set for a lift the ten or so miles to East Kilbride.  Unfortunately he was employed in the Hamilton factory and so it was double decker bus everyday from the foot of the public park in Strathaven.

John and I had a look around the local area and on a couple of occasions we went to football matches. On one trip to Motherwell he forgot where he parked the car and it took us some time to find our transport back.  There was also a visit to Edinburgh for the Tattoo and on another occasion simply to sightsee. I just cannot remember his surname and I am not 100% sure that his first name was John!  I sometimes regret not keeping in touch with John and also in not keeping contact with the  Rollo family.

I travelled to Strathaven with my mother, father, Ian and James in a very small Baby Austin and this included carrying, on a roof rack, my luggage and tent which they used for a few days after I was placed in my B & B.  They actually camped in a field close to Kirkland Park Avenue and I think it was probably fixed up with the farmer by the Rollo family.

Our journey to Glasgow was uneventful other than getting caught up in a protestant order march in the city center and really knowing nothing about the parade and puzzled as to why so many people were marching with peculiar costumes and aprons, playing small pipes and rums and being either cheered or booed from different parts of the watching crowd.

At Rolls Royce I was to train as a Technical Apprentice with a view to going into the drawing office or design department.  The initial training was to be in the Training Centre with the Trades Apprentices.  They were a very city wise and tough group ready to take advantage of every opportunity for profit.  They took it in turns to leave the center to buy jam rolls and tea in billycans for the Technical Apprentices and they always had a good markup.

I remember the first question I received for the other lads when I entered the center related to my place of education.  This was a clear attempt to elicit my religious leaning but my answer of Golspie perplexed them more than a little.  When I said that Golspie was in Sutherland I recall one chap asking me if Sutherland was a big ‘toon’.  Once religious affiliations were sorted out then the side of the workshop on which ones bench was located became a matter of allocation according to those affiliations. 
I did not really like the place very much.  The austerity of the factory, the rush to clock in and out and the queuing for a bus back to Strathaven were all alien to me as was the oppressive and sectarian atmosphere in the building.

The work in the center was monotonous in the extreme.  I recall the first exercise was to remove two large dents from a very flat piece of metal using a file and a scrapper.  The instructor appeared to thump my piece of metal with great glee with his hammer before telling me to file the marks out.  The final flat piece of metal had to be correct to a very high tolerance level and this was checked by rubbing the flat face on a very flat metal table to which a purple dye had been applied.  The high parts on the surface showed up purple and it was back to the bench to scrape off the high marks.  This succeeded in leaving different high marks!  The first task must have taken close to three weeks.  Later tasks included two sets of steps that must fit together perfectly, a dovetail joint in metal and a male and female locking joint.  All were very difficult to achieve though none as time consuming as the first exercise.

Part of the three months I was with Rolls Royce was spent at Stow College in Glasgow.  As well as evening study each week I was there on a block for a week or two.  I took the bus in from Strathaven in the morning and in the afternoon or evening we charged, as a group, through the Cowcaddens to Killermont Bus Station.  The reason for the charge, especially after dark, was the rather dubious character hanging around in not such a great area of the city.

One of my first wage packets came to me at Stow College.  Below is scan of this welcome, though meager, addition to my finances.

In all working in the West of Scotland was a distinct experience and though not always pleasurable there were good times and every type of experience prepares one better for the next stage of life.

While in Strathaven I awaited a call from the UKAEA at Dounreay.  Eventually the offer of a job arrived and a security representative from Glasgow came to interview me in my Strathaven accommodation.  Soon after this interview I was offered a post as a Scientific Assistant and I quickly accepted.  Apart from living much closer to home, the Thurso job was attractive as the money was 10/- (50p) per week more and I could live more independently in the Ormlie Lodge Hostel.  A palatial establishment to my eyes which even had a sink in my bedroom!

And then four years on there was Aberdeen and Teaching – and that’s another very long story!!!


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