Now, having come to the end of my second tour as an evacuee I was finally home for Christmas; not like the old times, it was rather an adult affair and, in spite of best efforts by my parents, the effects of the war were quite evident.
My memory of course only evokes the impressions by the depth of the measures associated with me, therefore I ask you to accept that I am reflecting, the single-minded approach and understanding of a young boy.
It must be remembered in those days in Scotland, Christmas was mainly for children and the New Year for adults. It was nearly 20 years later that Christmas Day became a public holiday in Scotland. The big occasion for the grown ups was Hogmanay; the last evening of the old year and in our family it was traditionally very important that our rooms were all clean and tidy and we entered into the New Year free of all debts, owing nothing and been owed nothing - changed days now. Even later as adults it was expected that we would make great efforts to be at our parent's home for “the bells” and only after our "first footer” did we in turn "first foot" our friends and neighbours.
But it was now the time for us, our little war-time family, my elder sister, her children, (my niece and nephew), my brother and me to go back to our separate homes in Glasgow - the end of an era, now to pick up the pieces - she without her husband and her children without a father. War took its toll on them as it did with many families. The bond established between us as evacuees remained strong and interwoven and continued throughout my student days.
Well then, what about my education? On my return I was assigned, (there was no question of a choice), a place in a school in Glasgow, which clearly after Rothesay Academy was not a particularly good school. In fact, I thought it a particularly bad school, with low expectations, no discipline, a sad, tired, dispirited teaching staff with little or no desire to teach and pupils, for the most part, even with less desire to learn.
I wonder if this is not just a memory of convenience on my part. Probably, so I think to be fair this statement calls for a reassessment, because during this time the school, in fact, produced some star pupils. The reason that I certainly was not one of them may be because of disinterest and probably a supercilious attitude that led me to believe that I was intellectually superior to most of the teaching staff. Apparently I was often guilty of giving answers to questions that were never asked but felt should have been - not the most endearing habit for a teacher to put up with!
I remember that at one stage I acquired the nickname "The Professor" notwithstanding the fact I had a very poor record of actually passing exams. Admittedly one or two awkwardly timed, intervening eye operations did not help. But looking back I can see that the defiance and the indifference were spawned by insecurity, disguised as unfazed confidence, a bravado not always felt.
That said, I was always popular with my classmates, always a leader; it was easy to lead in that environment. It would be wrong to suggest I found these years altogether frustrating, on the contrary, I spent much of this period of re-adjustment in a relaxing and enjoyable fashion during which I made many long-standing friendships, happily putting up with school, marking time for the next three years, enjoying life and making very little effort. But, in truth, subconsciously absorbing much more than appreciated at the time, as I found out later.
I captained the school football team and the Boys Brigade football team; playing for the former on Saturday mornings and the latter on Saturday afternoons. Neither was very successful in their respective leagues but nevertheless very agreeable. The Boys Brigade during this time was a godsend to me and we spent many a happy summer holiday under canvas. I was also a drummer in the pipe band. Within the family there was always a strong work ethic and at that time I had a wholesale Sunday paper run that didn't finish until about 4 o'clock in the morning and so I had to drag myself out of bed to attend the BB Bible Class or monthly church parade.
I, like other NCO’s had to take our turn at giving a Bible sermons. Mine were controversial and not always appreciated by the Captain or officers. I remember once I gave what I thought was a reasoned case in pointing out the similarity of Christ's teachings to the true aims of communism. I also remember giving another sermon calling for understanding between Protestants and Catholics; I don't think the word ecumenical was then in my vocabulary. I called for an appreciation and understanding of the beliefs of other religions, Jews to Gentiles Hindus to Moslems and the like. I pointed out that in David Livingstone's time some African tribes could be forgiven for thinking the symbolism of our communion service of taking bread and wine, representing Christ's body, was sometimes seen, by non-Christian natives as simulating cannibalism.
I was becoming awake to fundamentalism. This was a time for simple views, dogmatically expressed, with no room for doubt or indecision. Little did I think then that my desire to be controversial was going to be the future pattern of my public speech making and utterances.
I was not too interested in making friends if it meant sacrificing the opportunity of influencing my audience. Better to inspire a discussion. It certainly was the forerunner for the future. Witness my talks and addresses delivered in the 1970s and 1980s. From Scottish Council platforms I lambasted my audience on industry and commerce, industrial development and efficient management. For the Department of Trade and Industry I loudly proclaimed on regional development policies, decentralisation and enterprise zones. For the Department of Energy, I thundered across the need for more efficient buildings and for the Department of the Environment it was the infrastructure, and so it went on.
I was in great demand as a speaker, maybe because I was outspoken and contentious at a time when many others thought it more appropriate to say the right thing or maybe it was just that I was a self-centred arrogant git! No, that last comment is unfair. A few of the establishment figures might have thought that, but my purpose was to inform and encourage debate and the press and television coverage at the time gave testimony to that.
However let me return to my early youth. The Boys Brigade, the Scout movement and the girl's equivalent were strong in those days and I made some lifelong friends which carried on long after adolescence. I think that the youth of today are very much the losers by the falling off of these activities. For my part , some 60 years later, I can find no real justification for claiming that the decline in these organisations has resulted in an exponential rise in street gangs and antisocial behaviour. Many factors have to be taken into account and it would be a simple, even naïve opinion, by my age group to think otherwise. We, now of the older generation, must guard against pontificating and passing judgment on so-called anecdotal evidence and hearsay. What do we know? Very little, and we should be careful in expressing our opinions. In our days if we misbehaved we were likely to get "six of the best" from the teacher or a hard clip on the ear from the policeman. Today for their part, they would undoubtedly be up in court, and as for the youngsters, with all the government legislation, the present-day youth, in turn, run the risk of being criminalised with an ASBO or such on his record.
I mentioned in a previous chapter the often unrecognised, but nevertheless, extremely important role of the voluntary and charity organisations to the well-being of our society. Their contribution is paramount and should be recognised and appreciated more.
But let me once again return to my past. The year is now 1946 and in those days one could leave school at the age of 15 and as soon as that day arrived I did exactly that. I am sure the school was quite pleased to see the back of me but this caused a great storm at home. As for me, I had made my decision; I had crossed my particular Rubicon and very quickly there after I had to face my moment of truth. Again I am guilty of jumping ahead. Forgive me but memory does not function in any chronological older, added to which I, being blind cannot refer to notes, but nevertheless I will try and achieve some form of continuity.
I will retrace three years, to the start of my academic disillusionment. The year 1943 was coming to an end and the tides of War were flowing at last in our favour. I vaguely recall the newspapers proclaiming with great joy such things as Hitler's army wiped out at Stalingrad, victory in Tunisia, Allies invade Sicily, Mussolini and his Cabinet arrested, Italy declares war on Hitler, the Royal Navy sinks the German battleship Scharnhorst and at the risk of misquoting Winston Churchill, he was now in a position to state, in one of his very many famous speeches, "This is not the end, this is not even the beginning of the end, but it is perhaps the end of the beginning."
There was little doubt that the all pervading heavy smell of fear was slowly giving way to the sweet smell of success. Sadly however millions more were to die before the show would end.
As I am recording impressions from my memories, I will not be held to the timing or accuracy of events. You must look to the history books for historical facts, my recollection of the time was, we had recovered, regrouped and moved on from Dunkirk and now, some three years hence, the Army was victorious in Africa, the Royal Air Force had, two years earlier, won the Battle of Britain against the German Luftwaffe and could turn its offences against the Fatherland, and the Royal Navy was well on the way towards winning the Battle of the Atlantic against the German U boats. Britain had survived its darkest hour.
For my part, we had come back home to face such a scenario and things, on that front, were at last looking good.
But, after the salt smell of the sea and the fresh, green fields of Bute I found the urban squalor of Glasgow, the sooty smog, the sour smells of broken drains, the heavy noise of industry and the shabby infrastructure showing its four years of neglect - all quite depressing. Back to queuing for everything, food, transport; I mean everything. Scarcity and austerity were all around, and a town that was showing the neglect of war was more than a little scruffy and rundown. We were coming back to quite a different environment a different homecoming indeed; imagining ourselves as young warriors united in our common cause, bonded together in victory over the enemy. Whereas in fact we were expected to slot into the normal pattern of everyday urban life, no fuss, no bother, and don't disturb the wartime routine of your adults.
There was therefore a great feeling of disillusionment, our romantic thoughts, as returning heroes, were quickly dispelled; we were to fit in as though the discontinuity of the last two years had no effect on our lives.
New words were creeping into common usage. Words like drones, spivs, wide boys, black marketeers profiteers and racketeers and the like. Tales were circulating about strikes and industrial disputes in the shipyards and factories, the growing influence of communist trade union leaders and conscientious objectors as well as wholesale thieving of materials.
How widespread these activities were it was difficult to ascertain but I do know it was round about that time that my somewhat naive childhood came to an abrupt end.
It was then that I found myself a confused teenager, suddenly surrounded with disjointed and disconnected factors in my young life but determined nonetheless to piece them together to make a picture of my future destiny. It was my melodramatic moment. I can readily recall the feeling of unease. And, at a time of uncertainty the complexities of it, all resulting from the simplest of facts. Who said growing up would be easy? And, as if matters were not confusing enough, we had to contend with teenage sex raising its ugly head.
I have again jumped in my mind's eye, this time a year ahead. A year on to 1945, the victory in Europe celebrations, rejoicing all round, none of us then seem to give a thought to the fact that there was no such victory for the eastern European countries, poor Czechoslovakia, Poland and the other countries. All they did was change from being occupied by one despot, Hitler for another, Stalin.
Winston Churchill seemed to be the only world statesman that could foresee the Soviet Republic’s aims and ambitions after the war. Roosevelt was fooled by Uncle Joe Stalin and was more concerned with the break up of the British Empire’.
Churchill's famous "Iron Curtain" speech came too late for America to understand what was about to hit her and, in any event, in addition to her generous European martial plan the Americans were preoccupied reorganising a defeated Japan. They were slow to be aware of the oncoming long years of the Cold War, which little did we know then would be with us until the Berlin Wall was demolished in around 1988, some 60 years and several wars later.
I am no historian but I can imagine them in years to come recording the Second World War as a European war starting in 1939, until reaching world war status at the end of 1941 when the Japanese attacked America at Pearl Harbour and Germany declared war on her and invaded Russia.
However my self-centred mind was on much more immediate things, the serious job of growing into early adulthood, and my working life soon began in earnest. This I described in an earlier book under the heading "Eight Hours Reflection on a Working Life" so I will not hinder you by repeating it here.
I was a teenager becoming aware that he needed direction and could not find the way ahead until forced to envisage the picture emerging from the jigsaw pieces that would shape his life.
I became abruptly conscious that, as I then saw it, I was in a race and I, for my part, had been slow in getting off the starting blocks. I had fallen well behind and had a strong feeling that my contemporaries and friends seemed to be better adjusted, and indeed structured and disciplined as, to meeting their future.
I thought that I was the only one with kaleidoscopic prospects. Little knowing it was only false audacity on their part; we were all going through the usual predictable period of confusion and uncertainty regarding the transition from childhood to adolescence on the way to adulthood. In those days growing up was a serious business, there was no such thing, for us anyway, as the luxury of a year out. We were expected to grow up quickly and fill the gap created by war. No one told us, nor would they at this stage, that the discontinuity over the last few years was bound to result in our life patterns being something of a mosaic.
I, there and then, embarked on three years of, (figuratively speaking), kitchen table intensive study; self-taught from books, mainly from my mother's library. It was then that I discovered that I had subconsciously absorbed much more at school than I had imagined and given it credit for. I threw myself into an intensive late-night, two to three years study and at the end of it I had achieved more than enough to qualify as a University entrant. By sitting the College of Preceptors’ examinations I achieved, what was then called, seven Highers - five being enough for University entrance.
I also discovered, somewhat belatedly, that I actually enjoyed learning for the sake of learning. And of course all this had to be done in the evenings as I was now in full-time employment. But so many times did my thoughts turn to the obvious fact, they were right; what a waste of an academic life, what squandered opportunities, what an arrogant fool you have been. So hell mend you, now get on with it!
My first job was as a junior clerk with a firm of stonemasons and building contractors. However, furnished with my hard-won academic qualifications I soon got an appointment as an apprentice Quantity Surveyor with a national building contractor, thereafter a professional practice, and became a student of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. I enrolled with the College of Estate Management and gained entry, on a part-time basis, to the Royal Technical College, now Strathclyde University.
I was on the way up, climbing the ladder to success, and entering an exciting new world.
Posted 3rd October 2008 End of an Era Now Pick Up the Pieces.