I was aged eleven years at the War`s end and my primary schooling at Dr Bell`s was drawing to a close. My qualifying examination (quali) was due early in 1946. The result of this would determine which secondary school I would attend.
The higher the pass mark, the better chance of being accepted by a senior secondary school.
At this time David Kilpatrick`s catered only for a three-year course of study whereas the Royal High School, Broughton Secondary, Trinity Academy and Leith Academy all offered education up to and including the sixth year.
Apart from the High School and Trinity, the other two had recently abolished fees. I passed my exams and in fact was the Dux pupil of the year. My prizes were copies of R L Stevenson`s novels Kidnapped, and Treasure Island. This entitled me for consideration for admittance to the school of my choice. I opted for the Royal High School.
Alas, my parents application for a bursary was turned down. It was calculated that their combined incomes precluded this. Considering that my father was a semi-skilled brass moulder, and my mother worked in a work`s canteen, this would seem to be a bit harsh.
Anyhow, my second choice of Leith Academy was granted.
In August of 1946, I presented myself to the school all decked out in my school uniform of blue blazer and grey shorts with the mandatory tie. All these were bought at the local co-operative society.
Foregathered in the school gymnasium, the new intake were then allotted to their new classes. I was assigned to class 1a2. One hiccup. On gathering in Class 8, Miss Ure our register teacher, she was puzzled by two John Stewarts answering her roll call. It turned out that the other boy should have been in class 1b3. This was soon rectified.
School shoulder bags were still the recognised method of carrying books, but these were soon to be replaced by ex-army gas mask satchels. So many of these were coming onto the market as a result of the recent War. I had an ex British army bag but the US army bags were more firmer. Just a point of interest. These bags were often used for makeshift goalposts in an impromptu game of football on the nearby Links.
Secondary school was a complete change from the primary. You had only one teacher that remained with your class for years. Now I had a different teacher for the numerous subjects in my general course. These teachers presented many different challenges. Some were so easy going that attending their classes were a joy. Others were so stentorian that you were frightened of crossing them lest you were belted.
Our register teacher and French was her subject. She was a gentle person but never hesitaated to administer corporal punishment if it was required. Despite this she was well liked and knew her job. I still after all these years thank her for my grounding in French.
Mr `Daddy` Little
Mr Little fell into the former category. A huge man with a full growth of wiry black hair and moustache which were showing traces of grey, he presented a formidable sight with his black school gown draped loosely about him. He often reminded me of the school teacher character in the boys` weekly Hotspur magazine, Mr Smugg (Smuggy).
He taught Latin. I could never figure out what use the old language of Latin had in my day. Only later did I find out about its relevance to the English tongue. Try as I might, I was never ever a successful pupil in this.
When asked to translate Latin prose into English, I would splutter out a very literal response. "Oh my giddy aunt" would be Mr Little`s gasp of exasperation.
Mr Little`s tolerance at this and other`s who were equally as bad as me was admirable. However even he had his limit. He was not reluctant to administer punishment by means of the leather belt. Towering some two feet over most of us, I don`t think he ever struck us as hard as he could have.
Away from the classroom, he had another side to him. He played the double bass in the school orchestra.
However, there was another teacher who took great delight in corporal punishment. He was Mr Garrigan.
Mr Garrigan was our mathematic`s teacher. He had two leather belts that he named as Aunt Matilda, and Emily the Snake. Emily was cut away at the end to represent the forked tongue of a serpent. This belt was painted to look like a snake.
When he called you out to receive your punishment, he gave you a choice of belt. Unfortunately, he would invariably choose to use the one that you had rejected. This would seem too obvious and choosing the one you would not prefer usually resulted in him going along with the choice. You could never beat him.
Standing before him, you had the discomfort of him lashing at his desk as a rehearsal. The whiplash put the fear of death into you. Supporting one hand with the other, the pain as the leather struck flesh was excruciating. He allowed you to blow on your hand before continuing with the punishment.
Returning to your seat, not knowing whether to cry or laugh, you would notice the looks on your fellow classmates` faces. Some were grinning. A grin would sometimes come over my face, I don`t know why. Mr Garrigan, if he noticed this, would demand I return to the floor. "Obviously not enough," he would say. Then he would administer a further dose.
We were ever so happy when he retired after our first year.
He was replaced by Mr Cox who had just been demobbed from the RAF. He would be our teacher until we left school.
Coincidently, he would later follow me out to West Lothian where he assumed the position of headmaster at West Calder High. I met him a couple of times after he retired for he was an elder in my church in Midcalder. He died few years back.
Before leaving this painful subject I have to mention a few words about another of these corporal punishment enthusiasts, Mr Bathgate. I was never a pupil of this person, but I was still a victim of his sadistic use of the belt.
A red faced individual with lips that earned him the name of `rubber lips`, he was often the teacher in charge of the doorway as we entered first thing in the morning from the playground. All pupils of the first three years had to assemble in their class lines before entering the building in orderly fashion.
These lines were controlled in the first instance by sixth year students. These seniors had the power to enforce punishment on miscreants by way of `lines`. This was the writing out of certain word sentences for a specific number of times as the senior thought fitted the `crime`. If you failed to complete this task by the following day, you were reported to the teacher in charge, viz, Mr Bathgate. He would then belt you and demand that you complete the sentence as required.
Other times if the senior thought lines were not the required punishment, then you would be withdrawn from the lineup and made to wait alongside him while your classmates entered the building. Then you would be taken to Mr Bathgate`s classroom where he would inflict the belt. This in turn meant you would be late for your register class. This sometimes meant a further belting from the other teacher for so being.
Having said all this, I don`t think any of us ever held out a long time resentment for all the beatings. I don`t think it ever gave us a complex to take into adulthood.
Our art teacher, he had his studio class in the basement beside the bicycle shed.
Another art teacher was a young woman, Miss Keddie. Her class was on the top floor beside Beenie Jackson. No elevators that required considerable effort on her part to reach her classroom. An elderly and somewhat bulky soul, she must have found the trudge a bit wearisome.
Up to this point, I had always been interested in football, but Leith Academy was known for its rugby, and I alongwith the rest of the boys were co-erced into taking it up. Several times a week we had to troop up to Hawkhill playing fields to take part in the training. Mr Bigam supervised this alongwith several other teachers. I just could not take to the game, but it was ironic that it was this introduction that led to me helping found the Livingston Rugby Club twenty years later. Now I think it is the best team game in the world.
Swimming was another part of our curriculum. This time it was held during school hours. These sessions were held in the school baths that were attached to Dr Bell` School. Here we were under the supervision of Miss Chapman. She had no time for the finer points. You had to jump in, and if you got into difficulty, the long pole she held out was directed at your chin to keep your head up. I never really enjoyed attending here. I much preferred doing my own thing at the `vickys`.
Leith Academy `Norwegian Choir` c 1948. It comprised girls from the 2nd year up to
and including the 6th Year. Olive Jamieson is the smallest, 6th from the left. She was to become
my wife in 1957. She sadly died in 1998.
Headed by the Rector, Dr Mackie, a gentle man if ever there was one, Leith Academy boasted many fine teachers in their chosen subjects. I would like to name a few more in passing.
Miss Neill, `Maggie Moe` who taught English with her love of reciting onomatopoeia,
Miss Nicolson, Science, with the top off one of her fingers from a `gone wrong` experiment.
Mr Herkes, Geography, a stentorian with a soft touch to his nature.
Miss Puntis, Music. I had the good fortune to visit her some four years ago alongwith my late wife, also an ex pupil of hers. We are still in `Christmas Card` contact.
Mr Bigam, P.E. An ex army man who brought his discipline along to the school.
Miss Currie, the girls` P.E. instructor.
Mr Todd, `Sweeny`, who taught Science and was also a member of the school orchestra.
Miss Moffat, Miss Keddie, Mr Robertson, Mr Cox, Miss Ross, the list is endless.
My first year at the school was very enjoyable and I found the curriculum quite easy apart from Latin and Algebra. I loved English, Geography, and History. My marks were usually high in these subjects. However, this was to change.
After School Jobs
To earn some extra pocket money, I took a job delivering messages on a Friday afternoon and a Saturday morning. This was for a small grocery shop in Ferrier Street, Ferguson and Crighton, both of whom were members of the Salvation Army. Mr Crighton was later to become the first Convenor of the Lothian Regional Council.
I was still a member of the Salvation Army at this time but was beginning to resent my forced attendance at the Hall. I had to wear the mandatory red jersey with the blood and fire emblem emblazoned across the chest. Although all my friends outwith school knew of this, I am afraid to say that I dreaded my schoolmates finding out. They would have mocked me I thought.
My grandmother had died during my first year at the Academy, and this made it easier for me to express my feelings. By the time I entered my second year, I had moved back in with my parents.
Looking back now, I think it was my second term onwards that determined my future career.
I took a job with the local co-op in Henderson Street delivering milk in the mornings and messages in the afternoon. The milk job was a seven day week affair, requiring me to begin at 5.45am. I was earning between them, 19/- (95p) per week.
Each morning I would collect my two-wheeled cart from the yard and wheel it down to the store front. There I would load it with quart, pint, and half-pint bottles full of milk. Collecting my round book that told me of any changes in deliveries, I then set off pushing the load towards Pirie Street. I delivered to six tenement stairs there, all of four flights. With a steel milk basket nestling in my arms I would race up and down depositing full bottles and collecting empties. Most times these empty bottles had been washed but there were one or two customers who didn`t comply. These bottles smelt terribly of sour milk.
In the dark winter mornings, I would have attached to the side of the cart a paraffin lamp to warn off any overtaking cars, and should say horses as well. My delivery area was next to the cleansing depot and this still depended on horse-drawn carts.
In the summer, the co-op used to organise a milk boys` and roll girls` trip to Dunbar. We would all congregate at the Leith Central Station for the steam train journey to the coast. It was the highlight of our year.
All this extra-curricular work took its toll. My schooling suffered. I suppose I was too tired. Anyhow my promising potential took a knock from which it never recovered. Although I did enought to gain my Lower Leaving Certificate in 1949, I knew even then that I had let myself down. All thoughts of staying on and gaining University passess were dashed.
It was at this time when I was trying to break my numerous connections with the Salvation Army, that I enlisted in the Boys Brigade. I knew that by so doing I was trying to convince my Aunty Chrissie that I was not entirely giving up all my Christian ethics and that I still held great store by them. I think she understood but at the same time she was disappointed in me.
I joined the 2nd Leith Company under Captain George Houston of St Thomas`s in 1948. With my pill-box cap, white blancoed shoulder pouch held in place with the Sure and Steadfast brass buckled leather belt, I was the essence of pride.
The constant drilling on Wednesday evenings was put to the test in the annual Leith Battalion drill contest to find the best company. Although we did our best, we never won it during my tenure there.
Battalion Church Parade
The twice yearly church parades of the Leith Battalion were highlights of the year. How proud we were in marching along, all trying to keep in step to the sound of the pipes and drums, and the blaring sounds of the bugle and drum bands. If you were unlucky to be caught between the two different instrumental bands, trying to change step to the varying rhythms often proved difficult.
Marching along Great Junction Street that was lined by both relatives of the members as well as the passersby was a stirring moment for me. After the church service that seemed to last an eternity and finally culminating in our rendition of the Boys Brigade Hymn, `Will your Anchor Hold`, we would be lined up again and marched off to our various churches.
We all looked forward to our annual camp under canvas. Bell tents were the order for the day. Each squad of approximate 10 boys, privates and one lance corporal were allocated to a tent. Our sleeping bags were often canvas sacks that had been sewn together and filled with hay from the nearby farm where we were camping.
An advance party would go on ahead with the tents and our kit bags to prepare for the main party arriving a day later.
Competitions were held between each squad during our stay. We all got together during the day for meals that were prepared for us by the camp cook. I remember our cook was the church officer. I cannot remember his name as I write this, but the camping period was the only time he seemed to have time for us. The rest of the year he would grouse and groan at us if we so much as entered his domain at the church without first wiping our feet.
Each evening we would have the lowering of the flag ceremony.
On the Sunday of our stay we would attend the local church for service.
I had the good fortune of attending two of the camps, one at Kinlochard and the other at Benderloch. I missed out on the the third in 1950 due to me being hospitalised.
Inter-company football games were a feature each week. I frequently participated although I was not a player of note. These games were played at Letham Park on Ferry Road. The ground was over shadowed by the large Chancelot Mill.
If I may, I would mention here some of my contemporaries and officers of the time that I recall. Mr Houston, the Captain, Lt David Rome, Lt McGregor, Lt Berry, Sgts Bert Alexander, Pete Davidson, John Orr, Bertie Hislop and his brother Tam.
It was at this time that I got my first bicycle. It was a Hercules upright. I remember being taken with my mother and dad to the Clydesdale bicycle shop in Great Junction Street near the yet present Methven`s Fish Shop. It must have been 1947. It was a Thursday evening and arrangements were made for a hire purchase of the bike. It cost £11.00.. I would not get it until the following week.
Both my dad and I collected the machine on the arranged day, and wheeled it along to Cables Wynd. There it was to remain chained to the balcony railings when not in use. There was no room in the house for it.
I could not ride a bike at this time, so my dad would grip the saddle and steady me in my attempts to get my balance. He would stride along as I pedalled. He would release his grip and I would gaily push along unaware of this. When I did realise this, the bike steering went awry and off I would come. Eventually I got my balance and as they say, once you go a bike you never forget it. Suppose that goes for swimming too. I used the bike for getting to and fro from school. Leith Academy had a bicycle shed in the basement of the school building.