Born in a small fishing village, Newtonhill in the parish of Cookney, 1919,1 spent the first four years there, then the family moved to Aberdeen, retaining the country house. I had a reasonably happy childhood under a rather strict father, which as it turns out, did me no harm. Primary school involved usual education, playing football for the school team and terminated when I gained a bursary to Robert Gordon's College. Whilst there I won a junior blue in swimming and diving, played rugby for the Colts and did reasonably well in my studies. Alas, at the age of fifteen my father got into financial difficulties, through no fault of his own, so I volunteered to leave school and find work to help my mother. My parents were upset, but I knew they really could not afford to keep me at the college, as the bursary only covered fees and a little towards books, becoming well acquainted with second hand bookshops in the process.
Still in short trousers, as was the fashion in those days, I presented myself for interview by the M.D. of a leading Plumbers' Merchants, for a job as an office boy. Flabbergasted, but elated, I was given the job, commencing at a wage of 5/-d per week, including Saturdays till 1.00pm. Gradually I started to climb the ladder of "success", answering telephones, filing, etc., then promoted upstairs to the showroom, spent several months wiring and hanging electric light fittings.
Then the day came when I was called down to the M.D.'s office, fear in my heart, (to lose your job was a sin) to be offered the job of trainee warehouseman at the princely sum of 15/-d per week which, of course, I accepted. There was so much to learn, but Sandy Anderson, my immediate boss, knew the trade backwards, so I watched and listened. It was a wonderful training ground. I did not think so then as it was an unheated, draughty, freezing cold warehouse and very hard work. I learnt all the tricks "of straw in your boots" to keep the feet warm, a sleeveless jumper under your shirt (collar and tie being compulsory) and a yellow warehouse coat, not supplied.
My weekends were spent mostly on my bicycle and my camping gear. I had graduated from the Cubs to the Boy Scouts and was at that time patrol leader, gaining my King's Scout Badge, and winning in 1935 the Baden Powell Flag for the troop in competition with the rest of Aberdeen's troops. I have to admit, my patrol were keen and supported me very well in the competition. So between work, scouting and sport I was very fit. Saturdays, particularly, were hard, working 8.00am - 1.00pm, then home, bite to eat and off to play football for the Scout Team; and on Saturday night our troop had gymnastics, having an excellent teacher and put on many shows for parents and friends. All my sport and activities, the care and feeding by my mother, were to stand me in good stead as the reader will discern in the following pages.
11.30am Sunday, 3 September 1939, saw me working alone in the warehouse, oblivious to what was happening outside. I heard footsteps downstairs and called out "Who is it?", and the rather stentorian voice of the M.D. replied:-
"What in ...'s name are you doing here 'laddie'? Get off home. Don't you know war has been declared?"