Having now posted clips from 30 interviews on our Study website, it is timely to pause to reflect. What do these clips tell us about life and society across Dumfries and Galloway?
Before doing so, it is first useful to outline the extent of interview activity undertaken. There are now 25 volunteers who have conducted, and are conducting, oral fieldwork as part of the Study. These fieldworkers have interviewed a total of 88 individuals. In addition, the Stranraer and District Local History Trust have kindly shared 33 interviews which they have conducted in and around Stranraer over the past 10 years or so.
The interview clips which are on the website therefore represent c. 25% of the number of interviews conducted thus far. Seventeen men and 15 women are heard on the clips, ranging in age from 21-94 years. Each clip is approximately 2 minutes in length and is drawn from interviews which, on average, run for 50 minutes. From this it is clear that the material published so far on the Study website represents a sample of the whole. In due course the entire content of each contribution will form part of an analysis of the oral account of life and society across Dumfries and Galloway. That analysis will take the form of a large-scale oral history which will be published at the end of the Study. Only once such an analysis has been undertaken will it be possible to be definitive about the relative balance of the thematic content of the interviews and what that content tells us about life and society in Dumfries and Galloway. In the meantime, consideration of the sample clips will allow us to gain an impression of their content and of how this type of source can enable subsequent ethnological analysis.
World War II
Given the age-profile of the interviewees it is perhaps unsurprising that experiences of WWII emerge strongly. We hear of direct experience of war as children and as adults. From Catherine Monteith from Stranraer we hear of how war-time necessities laid lightly on her, with a sense being conveyed that the carrying and wearing of a gas-mask and practice air-raids simply formed part of her routine of primary schooling:
Ye’d tae practice, yer gas mask, getting yer gas mask out and get yer gas mask on to see if you could do it … And then, there also, there were shelters in the school. Brick shelters built in the school playground which, I remember lining-up, can’t really remember being in the shelters but ah can remember lining-up …
Another young view of the War comes from Dolly Ferries who recalls as an adolescent the influx and coming and going of new people to the Machars. Dolly’s memory is of the youthful excitement of these new and exotic people coming to Kirkinner. These memories are tinged with a wistful recall that some left never to return:
I knew that this was a change-over an you thought to yourself, well, they didn’t always know when they were goin away and you maybe had people that came kinda regular every other day and then they disappeared and that was them – you know that was them away then.
From the interviews it is clear that the impact of WWII was direct and personal. Margaret Livingstone Bussell from Boreland of Borgue speaks vividly of the moment when she decided at the outbreak of WWII to join-up to the Auxiliary Territorial Service:
One day we were crouched round our wireless set listening to the Old King [George VI] talking … and he started to quote, ‘I said to the man that (sic.) stood at the gate of the year’ and he paused – and there was a terrible pause and we held our breath that he would go on and he managed. And after that I walked around the corner and joined-up in the ATS and enlisted myself. I was seventeen and three-quarters.
Those who served did so in a variety of ways, including on the home-front. We gain a glimpse into the unglamorous life of serving in the Scottish Women’s Land Army from Betty Murray from Stranraer talking about her duties:
Well, … the week that you were on duty, you were up at 6 O’clock. Ye had, there was an outside boiler which was down steps and you cleaned that out, took all the clinkers out of it and then you stoked it up. And ah remember that it took 40 shovels of coke to go into it and that heated the greenhouse, the big greenhouse … And we’d that to do and that wis the week that ye were on duty ye couldn’t go out at night because ye had yer 10 O’clock …
From the interviews we also hear from Aldo Petrucci from Stranraer of the experience of his father, a first-generation migrant from Itlay who, at the outbreak of WWII, was running a café in Whithorn:
I remember coming home from school when Italy entered the War [WWII] against the Allies over here, eh, going home from school for lunch and my father wasn’t there. He’d been taken away … He’d been given fifteen minutes to pack a case and … be taken down to the … prison. And from there he went to Newton Stewart, as far as I know and from Newton Stewart he was taken over to the Isle of Man.
Many other interviews not yet added to the website contain detailed information on war-time experience touching on themes other than those covered by the sample interviews. For example, many contributors speak of how food was readily available to some because of the extent to which agriculture was a main-stay of life in Dumfries and Galloway. This and other themes will emerge as more material is added to the site.
Many of the contributors speak about their work in agriculture and this will form an important aspect of subsequent analysis and discussion. From the sample clips, experience of other types of work is spoken about. For example, from Stranraer on the west of the region to Langholm on the east we have 2 different accounts from 2 men on working as telegraph-boys. From David Brown from Stranraer we hear about being recruited:
We didnae apply. It was the schools, the headmaster that got us the job … But it was only on a temporary basis and we didnae understand that at the time. And it was push bikes, great big, big heavy push bikes, just one gear. And, we did tae start off, we did the town, just the town. And then they eventually, later on, ah think there’s six ay us a thegither. But you were treated, oh I mean, you think you were in the army the way they treated you. You know, you were just a kind a underling.
Over in Langholm, William Friell also remembers starting as a telegraph boy:
Ah left the school when I wis 14 and ah got a job as telegraph boy there wasn’t many telephones in them days you see? So my job was to deliver telegrams, telephone messages – like telexes, nowadays they telex them but in my day they were telegram. And ah had a uniform – a pill-box hat, a leather belt wi a pouch … And a bike. A big double bike wi a double bar – a super bike ah fair enjoyed it.
There were other jobs which involved travelling around. From Irene Brown from St John’s Town of Dalry we hear about travelling to farms across Dumfries and Galloway in her job as a milk tester:
The worst thing was having to get up at about four in the morning sometimes – where you had to be there at the milking and take a sample from each cow, night and morning. To arrive with all your stuff at the farm before the milking in the afternoon.
Travel also provided employment for those who worked on the railways. May Sisi of Newton Stewart recalled her time as a clerkess at the town’s train station during WWII:
… there’s lots o forces and of course they had all to move, and you found out where an awful lot of places were that you’d never knew … They would ask for certain, and then your had to find out where they’d to change the train and all these kind … and on a Sunday we had to go, one of the employees had to go out on a Sunday because they sent the rabbits from Nelson’s on the train. And they sent, in the spring time, they sent the snowdrops.
A key aspect of working life for all is health and safety and this emerges with frightening clarity in a contribution from Robert Ross from Creetown:
Regularly the stanes wid block in the jaws [of the stone crusher] and we hud tae stand there wi a … we had tae lever them oot. I’ve seen us standing on top o them, in the jaws. Kinda thing … ye felt them movin and ye jumped back oot … Aye, it wis still on. We stood on top o the stanes, we hud tae bar them …. There wis nae Health and Safety … Health and Saftey wis a great thing fir the workers aye, there’s no getting away from that.
The range of work activity associated with life-events is revealed in the contributions of John Wilson from Whithorn, Alan Faulds from the Isle of Whithorn and Robin Kinnear from Port William all of whom provided services for those arranging funerals. In speaking about this we also learn of the practices associated with funerals in Wigtownshire in the mid-twentieth century:
John Wilson: But ye see the thing was as well, every community where there was a joiner would have an undertaker. There was an undertaker, the old joiner in Port William was an undertaker; the joiner in the Isle of Whithorn was an undertaker; the joiner in Whithorn was an undertaker. So, and it was simply because, this tradition of making the coffins … the funerals were mainly from the house in these days, at that time, yeah. That began to change, ah would say aboot, in the sixties, the early sixties. And it got, it was more convenient because… Especially in Whithorn, if we had a funeral, say, at the Top of the Town where the streets narrow, people would – the funerals were always well attended, as you know round about here they are always well attended – and what would happen at the Top o the Town, they would stand around the door-way and the Minister, we would get the Minister to stand at the door-way so the people, the relatives could hear but also the people outside could hear what was being said.
Alan Faulds: At the front door. There’s a wee service inside the house for the women-folk. And then the ministers came out to the front door, gave the service for the men-folk out in the street… when the minister finished outside, it was carried out and put in the hearse, and away we went.
Robin Kinnear: a tremendous urgency that could be done for weddings and funerals, was getting a suit made-up quickly if it was for mourning. You could wire [telegram] through the measurements or you could phone through to Yorkshire and you’d have it in three days, you know. Which was really quite astonishing. And of course, if you wrote a postcard off on a Sunday to Glasgow, if you got it away in the post before one o’clock, they would phone you up on a Monday morning inquiring about the order you had sent in. And it would be sent down that day by train and would come into Whauphill Station. And there was a lorry from the contractors, MacLeans the lorry contractor, who went three times a week to Whauphill, so these were all delivered to everyone – all these parcels, very, very rapidly.
Working life is shown to have extended beyond paid employment. For example, John Armstrong of Langholm speaks about peat-cutting which he continues to do, in part, as a form of exercise and as a pastime. Asked why he continued to cut peat he replied, ‘Ah jist dae it fir the fun of it.’
Shops and Shopping
Everyday life is a focus of ethnology in general and of this Study in particular. Within the everyday there are activities common to many which help us build an understanding of aspects of different lives. Study of these discrete aspects of the everyday provides us with insights into the particular theme being considered and can provide information on other, linked, aspects of living. One such theme is shops and shopping.
In talking about going to Dumfries from Ringford to shop as a girl in the 1960s, Isobel Sutherland gives an insight into the impression made upon the mind of a girl form a small rural village by travelling to the bustling town of Dumfries:
Dumfries wis, it seemed such a lang wuy away, and such a distance place for us … ma granny would take us on shopping trips and that was really exciting because ye were getting gang on the bus wi yer granny … And I mean that wis jist excitement for us seein a these different things. But getting into Dumfries wis, and I remember Dumfries up the vennel an that it was such a busy, busy bustling place. Wi shops a up the vennel and, you were just overwhelmed by the amount of folk an a these great big shops but it wis Binns that ye went, ye went tae.
A notable feature of the contributions on shops and shopping is that very often the shop came to you both to sell and deliver goods. Joseph Sassoon of Kirkcudbright recalls the practicalities of obtaining groceries in Kirkcudbright in the 1930s and 1940s:
I didn’t often have to go for messages very much. We bought all our requirements in the town. And, if I remember rightly, the message-boy would come round and take a note of what we, of what was required and then I guess that was delivered and the bills were paid maybe monthly or quarterly.
Similarly, Jim Wright recalled how clothing and drapery were purchased by his mother in Newton Stewart in the 1940s from the drapers from Port William:
We’d a local draper that called, he called regular too frae Port William. And we bought all our clothes, we bought a our clothes fae this draper. We ordered them, we ordered them and he supplied them and if we wanted we could pay him the next time when he come, we didnae need to, he’d come every three months and you’d pay him, you’d pay for the, an then whatever you’d owe him.
In giving an account of how they shopped these contributors also provide information on the availability and operation of credit; the systems which allowed rural and town dwellers without transportation to obtain goods by delivery; and, the feelings of a young girl from a small rural community on visiting a town. This last is perhaps one of the key strengths of ethnology in that the internal thoughts and feelings of the contributor are given directly and immediately. The mental world of the individual does not have to be conjectured upon or interpolated from other sources by an analyst. Whilst interesting on an individual basis, consideration of cumulative testimony on the feelings and mentality of a number of contributors allows us to be clearer and more accurate about how life was lived and, importantly, what that life experience felt like.
The internal world emerges in other contributions on various aspects of everyday life. The emotional response to everyday events can be such that the feeling remains as part of the individual’s mental landscape. For example, the perception that corporal punishment at school was often used maliciously or unfairly is readily apparent in the recollections of George McMillan of Moniaive and David Doughty of Whithorn:
George McMillan: I felt it was barbaric and it should never go back to it now. Because one incident always sticks in my mind. When I was about 9 there was a girl – I don’t know what she did – but the women who was teaching us was quite keen to use the belt and she was going to give her the belt and when she went to hit her, she pulled her hand away. She was so, and she was crying, she was in a terrible state. And the teacher got another teacher to actually hold her arm out so she could give her the belt and I really felt that was a terrible way tae treat people. That’s why I would never want them to bring back the belt because I think some teachers actually really enjoyed using it.
David Doughty: Ah’ve seen them dooin’ things wi that strap wi … wid get the jail nowadays an some fella, maybe, boy did a couple o things he shouldn’t been doin and insisted on doin it, they would, they would haul him out ‘pull up yir sleave’ they would hit him maybe 6 or 7 or 8 times. I’ve seen them, their wrists marked and all. Nowadays they’d go to the jail for it.
Further examples of the early impression made upon young minds which have stayed with the individual are revealed in the contribution of Margaret Hawthorn from Whithorn who clearly recalls the exception made by the laird in the ‘big house’ at Glasserton on a Sunday to allow them to pass by:
... when we came up from Claymoddie it was an old road and ye had to go round by the laundry. But on a Sunday we were allowed to pass the big house and he used to be standing at the from door saying, ‘Girls, you come this way fir tae go to the Sunday school. You don’t go round by the laundry ye’ get yer feet dirty on this’. Yes he was a very nice gentleman.
The acute observations made by young people are further evidenced in contributions from Phylis Harvey from Creetown and George McMillan from Moniaive on the phenomenon of itinerants or tramps:
Phylis Harvey: We also had a tramp that came every year, auld Wullie. And when ever the sky went dark, that man came. And, he never knocked, he never did onything he jist went intae the barn, went up on tae the – where, the potato loft, whaur it was new wood and a staircase up tae it – and there was a single bed there. And ma mother always waashed two blankets and folded them and put them on the end of the, in her spare time. At the end of the bed. And in the mornin these feet would come doon, ah can picture it yet. And she would say, ‘Oh, here’s Wullie comin.’ Now he was excellent because he would, if it wis snowy and the kye wurnae oot, he wid carry watter, he would bed them doon, he would muck the byre … He wis an auld sodger that had been through the Somme and couldn’t settle. So he wis on the road wi his bag on his back … It’s so sad ah could greet when ah think aboot it.
George McMillan: And ah can remember tramps askin ma dad if they could stay the night at the farm out-buildings, sleep the night. And one man in particular came for years and ah can. He always slept in the byre, where the cows were in the winter. And he would make a bed o straw behind the cows and he would lie there … a lot of them were people that had been, during the War [WWII] they had been fightin, and ah think they jist, they never could settle-down to civilian life and, because quite a few of them had actually been fightin in the War. And it was quite a common sight to see them.
The variety of sensory observation is evident in the contributions of Felicity Gelder who recalls the sounds of Kirkcudbright from her childhood and Rosie Lindsay from near Wigtown who speaks about traditional music in Dumfries and Galloway:
Felicity Gelder: I never realised that the Tolbooth bells were ingrained in my head until they were actually stopped from ringing at 11 o’clock at night. I hadn’t realised that they rang all night – it was just there all my life. Plus the 6 o’clock curfew and the eight o’clock curfew. And 7 o’clock on the first Thursday of every month they rang the bells for the Council meeting. And we as children used to love to go and help ring these bells … What other sounds? Well the siren used to be – I understand it was the ‘all-clear’ siren for the War. It used to sit on top of the Court House which is next-door. They used that as a fire alarm which called the people in.
Rosie Lindsay: … the traditional music in Dumfries and Galloway’s quite under-appreciated, under-valued as opposed to like, maybe, the traditional music up in the Highlands or in Aberdeenshire or somethin like that. Nobody thinks of … tunes or songs from Dumfries and Galloway very easily. But there are … a lot of song collectors an people ah know … through, sort-of folk festivals and that … have their archives an lots of books full of songs from, like, from all over – particularly in Wigtownshire and also, sort of Sanquhar sort of area as well, ah mean it’s … there’s a lot.
Reflective views on the internal world can emerge upon discussion with contributors about specific themes. As in the contribution of Alastiar Reid:
We had no technology to speak of. When I think of then and I see all the cars in Whithorn which is such a difference you know, such an extraordinary difference and you realise now the amount of domestic technology we’ve taken on since then. When I think back then, the technology then was the population and we had people who were, who came and did the washing and people who looked after us as children and so we knew by name and well most of the population of Whithorn it seemed then.
As well as the information already discussed, each of these clips carries information which only becomes available when they are listened to. That information being the sound of the voice of the contributor. That sound being the accent of the contributor and their manner of speaking. Language is a key that helps to unlock the identity of any location, individual or group, so having direct access to language as used in a number of places is invaluable in our effort to elucidate the identities of Dumfries and Galloway. One of our volunteers has followed-up this line of enquiry by surveying the use of Scots terms by a large number of Creetown residents. The results of this work have now been published in booklet form and this work will be drawn into the wider ethnological analysis which will be presented in the oral history book to follow at the end of this Study.
As already noted, the clips currently on the website are a sample of a sample. However, it is already apparent that there is much useful and interesting information to be gleaned from even this sub-set of data. In the sample clips we learn, amongst other things: of the construction of air-raid shelters; that there was an influx and frequent movement of military personnel during WWII; that the impetus to enlist to active service during WWII was generated in each gender; that individuals could be directed into employment without their opinion being sought; that funerals services were gendered and located in domestic rather than religious space; that there was a highly integrated transport-mail-delivery network which linked town, city and country; that use of cash was eased by making credit available; that Scots language is used by many; that school discipline could be cruel; that itinerants or tramps were often looked after by the wider community on an informal basis. This partial list could easily be added to, even from the sample clips considered here.
A sense of time is necessarily carried in all of the contributions as each interviewee is speaking of a specific time or period. From this specific information we are provided with material which touches on wider social phenomena. For example, that schooling ended for some at the age of 14 years. As more contributions are added it will become possible to delineate a time-line for twentieth-century Dumfries and Galloway based upon the experiences of individuals, rather than broader social, economic or political phenomena. Of course, these broader movements are touched upon, and are formed by the lives of the individuals whose contributions we are now gathering.
One of the great strengths of the approach adopted in this Study is that the work is undertaken at a highly localised level. Whilst non-statistical in approach, the Study is gaining coverage of the region. There remain geographical gaps and we will work to ensure that recorded interviewing takes place where these lacunae exist, e.g.in the town of Dumfries. However, the sample clips on the website do provide acute insight into place. Specifically, we have information on life in a number of locales. More broadly, information is revealed about life in different types of place: the dangers of some workplaces; that mid-day meals were eaten by some at home rather than at school; that all the necessities of food and clothing could be obtained in town and country due to deliveries; that the presence of the ‘big house’ of landed estates could loom large in the consciousness of the local population etc.
Perhaps the strongest element to emerge from the sample clips is that of context or milieu. It is perhaps this aspect of the material generated which adds most to the information available on lived-life in Dumfries and Galloway. The context or milieu of life is grist to the mill of those who are interested in the history and presence of a place and a people. It is this rich seam of information, as well as those on time and place, that will enable the subsequent ethnological analysis to be made in which experiences and recollections are compared with the information revealed by other sources; experience in different parts of Dumfries and Galloway; and, experience elsewhere in Scotland and beyond.