I was born at 14 Keir Street in Pollokshields, Glasgow, Scotland
on August 30, 1923. My entry into this world was preceded by my
sister, Muriel and followed by my sisters, Sheila and Jean.
By today’s standards, the conditions in which we spent our
childhood were nothing short of primitive. We had no TV, no radio, no
VCRs, no Nintendo, no ice hockey or baseball, no telephone and a whole
bunch of other nos. Motor cars were a rarity at that time in Glasgow
and we either walked everywhere or took a tram (streetcar). There
were many other children around, we made our own fun and we had plenty
of it. As I recall, we were seldom without a ball in or hands or at
our feet. We had measles, whooping cough, chicken pox, diphtheria,
scarlet fever’ ‘and a whole lot of other little ailments. But, we were
tough and we survived.
Our parents did not have a lot of money, but we were loved, well
fed and clothed.
At the tender age of 5, I started school at Albert Road Academy
in Pollokshields. Schools were different in those days. The, school
day ran from 8:50 a.m. to 3:50 p.m. five days __ a week. The schools
were closed on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day and we had six weeks
off, in the summer. We were taught very basic subjects such as
English, French, History, Geography, Science, Arithmetic, Geometry and
Trigonometry. We learned all this without the aid of calculators or
computers and we received an excellent education.
At the age of 10 or so, we left Pollokshields and moved south to
Williamwood, which was out of Glasgow and in Renfrewshire. Here I
attended school in Giffnock, which was quite a distance from our
house. (No school buses in those days.) Probably three or four years
later we moved again to Newton Mearns, further south but still in
Renfrewshire. From there I went to Eastwood Secondary School which
was even further from home than the school in Giffnock. I travelled
to this school partly by bus, and partly by bicycle. Dad had bought a
real old clunker which was stored in a garage about two miles from the
school. I know you kids have heard all this before, but I rode that
old bike in all kinds of weather for years. To the best of my
knowledge, my parents never set foot in any of the schools I attended
and I most certainly did not suffer from their absence. Discipline in Scottish schools were severe and the strap was used vigorously for all
infractions. I finished school in 1939 at the age of 16.
At the same time, in my youth, I was a Cub and then a Scout in
the 28th Giffnock (Glasgow) Troop. After Scouts, I joined the Air
Cadets and attained the rank of Flight Sergeant. It was while I was
an Air Cadet that I took my first flight. It was in a Tiger Moth
biplane and we flew at the terrific speed of 70 MPH. I did not tell
my Mother about this until it was all over and, even then, she was
most upset. As a result of that first flight, I developed a love of
flying which, in one form or another, was to influence my life for the
next few years.
As I said, I finished school in June 1939. I was 16 years of age
the following August and the Second World War started on September 3,
1939. At 16, I was too young to join up and I went to work in Glasgow
for the next two years. First, I was an “odd jobs” boy in a large
grocery store. I cut meats, swept floors and the sidewalk in front of
the store. After a while, I wanted to do something else and I joined
a firm of chartered accountants as an office boy. I used to run
errands, handle the mail and, again, did all- kinds o£ odd jobs.
Eventually, I became a very junior audit clerk and my job was to add
up columns of figures in the books and ledgers of companies we were
auditing. To train for this job, I had to add up the numbers in pages
and pages of the Glasgow telephone directory. We still had no
calculators in these days and I became very good at adding up numbers.
Soon, I tired of this and I left to join the Scottish Petroleum Board
where I stayed until March 1942.
I should say, at this point, that my recollections of my life from
here on are much clearer and more vivid than those of my youth.
Going back to my love of flying, I wanted to join the RAF as a
rear gunner. At that time, and certainly during the rest of the war,
rear gunners were being killed off in rather large numbers. I
mentioned this to my Mother and she, to say the least, was most
unhappy. So, I volunteered in early 1942 for the Scots Guards and
they told me to come back when I was 18-1/2. I passed the medical,
just scraped by the height requirement of 5’10-1/2″ and went to the
Guards on April 15, 1942.
The Scots Guards were founded in 1642 and form part of what is
called the HOUSEHOLD BRIGADE. The Brigade consists of the Scots
Guards (THE JOCKS), the Grenadier Guards (THE BILL BROWNS), the
Coldstream Guards (THE LILY WHITES), the Irish Guards (THE MICKS), and
the Welsh Guards (THE TAFFYS). The Brigade of Guards is primarily
responsible for guarding the Monarch and stands guard at Buckingham
Palace and other Royal residences. All of the Guards have magnificent
battle records that span over 300 years. The Guards are the elite of
the British Army and their discipline and training are extremely
I served with the Guards for three months in Caterham in Surrey
and a further three months in Pirbright, also in Surrey. For the
first three months in Caterham we were not allowed out of camp because
”we were not fit for the British public to look upon”. At the end of
the six months, I was selected for Officer training and went to
Barmouth in North Wales to an Officer Cadet Training Unit. At the end
of the training, I was commissioned into the Royal Scots Fusiliers as
a Second Lieutenant. I was 19.
I was then posted to an RSF battalion stationed in England and
trained with them until May of 1943, at which time I was notified of
an overseas posting and given embarkation leave. When I arrived home,
I found that Mother was bedridden with a very severe case of pleurisy
and the Doctor advised Dad not to tell her of my posting in case it
further damaged Mother’s health. As I remember, I was home for about
two weeks when I was recalled to the Battalion. Due to a mix-up,
instead of going to the Eighth Army in the Middle East, I was to go to
the Far East. This was not good news. The overseas draft (draft
being the number of troops involved) went to Liverpool where we
boarded a troopship called R.M.S. Rangytata (R.M.S. Royal Mail
Steamer). This was a New Zealand passenger ship now serving as a
troopship. From Liverpool, we sailed to the River Clyde in Scotland
and we anchored off Greenock while a convoy formed.
I found out later that my family was, at that time, in Arran in
the River Clyde where my mother was recuperating. This Isle of Arran
is a blessed place very dear to my family and where we had spent many
happy holidays. As we sailed for India, my last glimpse of Scotland
It was intended that our convoy was to have sailed through the
Mediterranean and the Suez Canal, but apparently there were U-Boats
waiting for it and, instead, we sailed down the West Coast of Africa
to Durban in South Africa. We were on board for six weeks from the
Clyde to Durban and it was on the troopship that I met my first
Canadians. They were R.C.A.F. fighter pilots who had volunteered for
hazardous duty in the Far East. These guys were great and so
different from the British Army behavioural norm. The young officers
on board, like myself, gravitated to the Canadians and we had a long
and happy voyage. (More on the Canadians later … )
We spent a glorious three weeks in Durban. The people of that
city were so hospitable and they could not do enough for us. There
was even a lady who stood out on a piece of land in Durban harbour and
sang to every troopship that went in and out. After living in wartime
U.K. the food was fantastic and we certainly took advantage of it.
We then sailed for India, arrived in Bombay and had our first
taste of the sights, sounds and smells of the subcontinent. This was
to be our “home” for the duration of the war. From Bombay, we went to
a large transit camp south of Bombay. The transit camp at Deolali was
established to look after all the troops arriving in India and to ship
them out to various units. We lived in tents complete with scorpions,
ate very poor food and wished we were in several different places. I
had an Indian servant (bearer) who was 11 years of age and already
betrothed in marriage. Deolali was not a very nice place.
While we were there, a senior officer came to the camp looking
for volunteers for a Special Force in Burma. It was a long-range
penetration group (LRPG) named the Chindits and it would operate 200
miles or so inside the Japanese lines. Tim Riley, a fellow officer
from Rhodesia and I volunteered. I was turned down because I was too
young. They said that this type of operation demanded more mature men
who could handle the stresses of fighting inside the enemy’s lines.
As it turned out, they did not get enough volunteers and I was later
accepted. From the transit camp, Tim and I went to a jungle camp near
Jhansi in Central India and joined the 1st Battalion of the King’s
Liverpool Regiment. (Also known as the SCOUSE – the name of a famous
stew made in Liverpool.) Joining an English Regiment was a terrible comedown for a 20 year old from Glasgow who was very proud to wear the
”Tam O’Shanter” of the regiment into which he had been commissioned.
My refusal to change to the hat of the English Regiment gave me the
name “Tam” which I have been proud to use ever since. I almost got
court marshalled over this.
For months we trained in the jungles around Jhansi marching many
hundreds of miles with 60 lb. packs and engaging in army exercises
designed to get us ready for Burma. The army provided tea, bread,
beans, bacon, cigarettes, tobacco and other miscellaneous items. We
shot deer and wild peacock for meat. It was here that the Canadians
from R.M.S. Rangytata turned up. I should explain here that the
Chindit Battalions were split into two columns with about 400 men in
each – column. The Colonel commanded one column and the second in
command the other. We were columns 81 and 82. One Canadian was
assigned to each column and their job was to co-ordinate, by radio, air
support and air supply. (All our supplies were parachuted to us when
the weather was suitable – otherwise we starved.) I must say that our
Canadian, Dave Bockus, was not too happy about this. He was a fighter
pilot and he stated, most firmly, that he was-not one who marched
behind the “ass end” of a mule. Dave’s story is not part of this
narrative except to say that he did come into Burma and was later
flown out by light plane. Dave now lives in Scarborough, Ontario.
Perhaps I should explain the role of the Chindits. A column, as
I said, consisted of half a battalion. We had mules and ponies to
carry our 3″ mortars and Vickers machine guns and we carried
everything else on our backs. We were to be placed in Burma by plane
or glider and were to establish what were called “strongholds”, that_
is fortified bases out of which the columns would operate. Our job
was to cut roads, railways; etc. to prevent supplies reaching the
Japanese front. We were also to attack any Japanese concentrations in
a hit-and-run type of operation. We were not equipped for major
battles, having no real armament. As it turned out, the major part of
our fighting was in strongholds such as “Broadway”, “White City” and
When our training was completed, we
Jhansi to a small village in Assam called
hot, weary journey of about three weeks on Railway. We played poker all the way with company bullion – Dave
Bockus, Tim Riley and myself. At Lalligat, we found a large American
air base, which was the home of No. 1 U.S. Air Commando.
To digress for a moment … At that time I was 20 years of age, a
2nd Lieutenant and in command of a platoon of 36 men. At this point I
saw war as a glorious adventure and I was going to acquit myself so
well that I would be covered in glory. Shortly after landing in Burma
a Japanese shot at me and my dreams of glory vanished forever. For the
sake of you young people, war is not a glorious adventure. Ours was
blood and death, sweat and overpowering humid heat, mud and leeches, K
rations or no food at all, dense jungle and, of course, the Japanese.
Malaria, dysentery, and jungle sores that would not heal were all part
of the misery. On the plus side, we had comradeship with other men in
the same situation and that was a wonderful, protective feeling. We
looked out for each other.
To get back to the story … My platoon was detailed to go to the
U.S. base and do guard duty for the Americans. Still dreaming of
glory at that point, I was chagrined at the thought. However, I had
sealed orders for the U.S. Base Commander and-it turned out that my
platoon had a job to do. We were to devise drills for loading and
unloading men and animals into and out of gliders that were spread out
all over the field. When I say field, that is exactly what it was.
The Americans had taken a large clearing in the jungle and had
levelled it out with bulldozers.
To help me out with the drills, I was given two U.S. glider
pilots. One was a lieutenant and the other a sergeant. The sergeant
was Jackie Coogan, a Hollywood film star, who at one time had been
married to Betty Grable, the American’s favourite “pin-up” girl.
An amusing story of our stay with the Yanks was that when I
suggested something, they would jump to attention, salute and say
”Yes, Sir”. They meant it. When one of their own officers said
something, the usual response was “Yeah, okay bub”.
My platoon loved the air base. They slept in beds with sheets
and pillows and the food, including ice cream, was fabulous. Nothing
British Army about this place.
All good things must come to an end. The Battalion came to the
field and we rehearsed the drills and listened to Tokyo Rose on the
radio. She knew who we were, where we were and she knew we were going into Burma in gliders and she assured us that
the Japanese would be waiting for us. Whoopee!
Well, in March 1944 we did go in. Our Brigadier and his staff
were in the first glider, our Colonel and his group in the second and
my platoon in the third. Our gliders were U.S. Waco gliders made of
tubing covered with fabric. DC3s (Dakota) planes towed us
with two gliders towed by each plane. Our destination was a clearing
in the jungle, code-named “Broadway”. It was close to 200 miles
inside the Japanese lines. Upon landing, our glider lost wings, the
tail section and the landing skids. No injuries. The Japanese were not
waiting for us. For the next few days we cleared the field of wrecked
gliders, buried our dead and built a stronghold in the jungle around
Broadway. The Yanks brought in bulldozers and levelled the field and
thousands of men, animals, etc. together with tons of ammunition, food
and other supplies were brought in by plane.
I will not bore you with details of our campaign. Should anyone
reading this be sufficiently interested, I have books on the subject
which may be borrowed.
We went in March 1944 and came out in August 1944. I went in at 160 lbs and came out at 136 lbs and that was about the norm. I had a very severe case of malaria and was strapped to a pony for 10 days while
being injected with quinine. Like the rest of the Chindits, we were
starving, covered with jungle sores, not at all well and with very
poor stomachs. BUT I CAME OUT. Many did not and their bones lie in
the stinking Burmese jungle in a country that means nothing to Britain
I must make mention of a soldier without whom I would not be
writing this story today. Indeed, you young people may not be here
either except for the GURKHA. The Gurkha is, without a doubt, the
finest fighting soldier in the world. He comes from Nepal, a country
on the northern border of India and has served in the British Army for
centuries. He is intensely loyal and, on more than one occasion,
refused to leave a position my platoon was in and under heavy attack
until I pulled out my men. Their officers were British and one of
them would come to me and say, “It’s no use, Tam, my Gurkhas will not
leave until you do.” Bless these happy, smiling, bald-headed little
men for their boundless courage and devotion.
When we came out of Burma we again returned to Assam. We had
been in for over five months and not once had most of us had our
uniforms off. We were filthy, stinky, tired and hungry and, for once,
the British Army looked after us. Endless showers, new uniforms and
boots, good food that we had trouble keeping down and medical
treatment for jungle sores and foot rot.
Assam is tea growing country and the tea planters (English) came
to our camp and took the officers away to live with them for a few
weeks. Tim Riley and I went with a Doctor and his wife, who were also
planters, and stayed with them for two weeks. By then, the Chindits
were famous in the Far East and in Britain. The Doctor had a
beautiful home and, since we had so many health problems, he wanted to
keep us for study and treatment, but that could not be.
Back to the Battalion and back to India. This time to Dehra Dun
in northern India to rest and recuperate. Many were in hospital and
some were still dying. Tim and I took leave and went to Naini Tal, a
small “hill station” 7000 feet up in the Himalayas. Naina Tal is
built on the side of the mountains around a small glacier fed lake.
There we stayed for a month, wearing shorts and sandals by day and
full uniforms and greatcoats at night. Hot and cold, but healthy.
There we slept, ate, rode ponies, went for long walks, boated on the
lake and got our health back.
Back to the Battalion at Dehra Dun. By this time, fighting in
Burma had reached open country north of Mandalay and the Chindits were
no longer needed. We were jungle troops. We were to be broken up and
sent to other units.
In India, at this time, there were no parachute troops and word
came that the Army was looking for volunteers to create a Parachute
Brigade, i.e. 3 Battalions; one British, one Gurkha and one Indian. I
volunteered and went to parachute school in Rawalpindi in northwest
India (now Pakistan) for training. After some weeks of very strenuous
exercise, we completed seven jumps and put up our Parachute wings. I liked jumping – it was a totally different, exciting_ and exhilarating experience. We were now in the spring of 1945 and I was 21 and a full
Not enough volunteers for Paras came from the Chindits so the
Army tried reverse psychology. They sent my old Chindit Battalion to
’Pindi and said that those who did not want to become Paras would be
transferred out. I guess most of the battalion wanted to stay
together so very few left. The Colonel promptly told me to come back
as I was the only officer who was a Para. I was sent to a camp in the
Himalayas and, as the men completed their jumps, they were sent up to
me. This did not last too long. The Colonel ordered me to report to
’Pindi at once. I did so and he told me that he had a vacancy for home leave. I was not yet due, but once again he said I was the only
Para so I was to fill the vacancy. Whoopee!
In short order I headed for Karachi with a raging case of
dysentery. I checked in at an Army hospital in Karachi – the doctor
took one look at me and my Chindit badge and said, “You are not going
home – you are going into hospital.” I refused his kind offer most
vehemently and left the hospital with several bottles of chalk and
opium which did help a little.
We flew out from Karachi in a Short Sunderland flying boat that
had belonged to British Imperial Airways in peacetime and, after stops
in Bahrain in the Persian Gulf, Naples and Marseilles, we arrived in
Portsmouth, England three days later. Up to London and home on the
Royal Scot train to Glasgow. I was given a sleeper on the train
thanks to the Chindit badge. This was an almost impossible
accomplishment under normal circumstances. By the way, I had wired
from Karachi that I was coming home, but I beat the wire. It was not
until I phoned from London that my folks knew I was coming.
That was May 1945 and I was supposed to be home for a month. As
soon as I started eating Mother’s cooking the dysentery left me.
Donald Munro came to our place on leave from Italy, the war in Europe
was over and my Mother told me that I did not have to go back to the
Far East. Don and I had a great leave. Due to a mix-up I was at home
for almost two months and flew back to India towards the end of June
1945. Our plane developed engine trouble in Bahrain and we were stuck
there for 10 days – and you guessed it, the dysentery came right back.
Woe is me!
The Battalion was back in Dehra Dun and we started training as Paras. In July a call came from Ceylon (Sri Lanka asking for training ~
asking for Officers to volunteer for special duty. Force 136, a cloak and dagger
outfit (see Bridge on the River Kwai) were stationed in Ceylon and we
figured that they were recruiting. Together with another officer, I
flew to Ceylon. When we arrived we were kept in a barbed wire
enclosed camp and not permitted to wear our red berets or Para wings.
AHA! Cloak and dagger, we thought. There were maybe twenty of us in
the camp and we were assigned team numbers – two officers to a team.
My number was one, and, by chance, the other officer from the
Battalion was in Team Two. The mystery deepened. Around the middle
of August Teams 1 and 2 were sent for in the afternoon and we were
given orders by Lord Louis Mountbatten himself (LLM). I had met him
once before when he came to see us in Lalligat before going into
Burma. When he shook my hand, he told me that his first naval command
had been the H.M.S. Wishart. LLM told us that a new bomb had been
dropped on Japan on two occasions and that there was news of a
possible Japanese surrender. He said if that was so, it was imperative
that British troops return to the island of Singapore as quickly as
possible. The only way he could do that was to send in Paras. The
POWs and civilian internees would then realize that their ordeal was
almost over and that help was on the way. We flew out that evening,
Teams 1 and 2, in a converted Liberator bomber and jumped into
Singapore at 5 a.m. the following morning. We landed in a jungle
clearing and, as senior officer, I went first. It was dark, pouring
rain, I landed in a tree and, in about two weeks, I was going to be
When daylight came, we approached a group of Japanese soldiers and we
did not like the way they were looking at us. Not at all. However, a
senior officer arrived, surrendered his sword to me and shortly
thereafter, a truckload of POWs came on to the clearing. They were
from Changi Jail, the main POW camp. The Chinese had told them that
men had come from the sky and they came down to see for themselves.
They stole the truck from the Nips. We were given a very, very warm
welcome and the POWs immediately assumed that we were Yanks,
remarking, “I say, old man, no British officer would dress like that.”
Most of the POWs were from the peacetime army and our green uniforms,
Para helmets, jumps boots, grenades, automatic rifles, etc. were just
not the way they remembered British officers being equipped in 1942.
The POWs and civilians had been imprisoned since early 1942 and
had suffered the most brutal, sadistic, inhuman treatment at the hands
of the Japanese. Many thousands had died and, when we arrived, many more
were dying. I will not dwell on this; Japanese atrocities have been
well documented elsewhere.
We were in Singapore for about three weeks and then British,
Gurkha and Indian troops came in and LLM accepted the official
surrender of the Japanese. An interesting note … When LLM sent us in
he told me that he assumed that Lady Percival, the wife of the General
Officer commanding Singapore at the time of the surrender in 1942, and
Lady Shenton-Thomas, wife of the Governor of Singapore, would still be
alive. If this was true, he was to be informed by radio and, if
conditions were right, he would send in a plane to take them out.
They were alive and I told the two ladies about LLM’s orders. They
thanked me very nicely and said that they would leave the island when
all the other civilians had left and not before. LLM was not happy
With the surrender, I was out of a job. No, I wasn’t. An
officer from LLM’s staff was looking for people to go to Java and
Sumatra and, since we had been doing the kind of work he wanted, he
came to us. We sailed a few days later on H.M.S. Cruiser “Cumberland”
from Singapore to Batavia in Java. We crossed the equator on board
ship and the crew had a great time inducting the few Paras into King
Neptune’s court. I still have the certificate.
Upon arriving in Java, which had been a Dutch East India
possession, I was asked to go to Semarang in Central Java, was
promoted to Captain, commandeered a Chevy convertible and, accompanied
by Lieutenant Helfrich, a Dutch Fleet Air Arm pilot, we set off. We
were entering upon one of the strangest episodes of my Army career.
Upon arriving in Semarang, a shallow water port, we went to what
had been a hotel on the hills above the town and established our HQ.
We released a number of Dutch POWs, locked up the Nips and put the
Dutch on guard duty. We quickly visited all the camps and found that
the treatment of the Dutch in Java by the Japanese was the same as in
Singapore. It was sickening to see the results. We knew what we had
to do from our experiences in Singapore – a piece of cake. Not so. The Japanese had assumed that they were going to win the war and had troops were brought in from
They failed to do so and told the Indonesians that, when the war was over, they would be given
their independence. With the Japanese now beaten and only Dutch POWs on
the islands, the Indonesians armed themselves and set about taking
control of Java and Sumatra. LLM was on the radio in no time. The
Japanese had agreed to maintain law and order in the islands until Allied
troops could be landed. Release the Japanese, rearm them and let them go
to it. It got thoroughly nasty. The Japanese were determined that I see
everything they were doing, night and day. There was some very hard
fighting as the Japanese tried to retake the town and surrounding areas
and both the Japanese and the Indonesians did disgusting things to each
After some weeks, Gurkhas arrived on the scene and took over. I
left Semarang on November 9, 1945, flew to Singapore and sailed in a
tramp steamer from there back to Ceylon. In Java and Sumatra, eventually Dutch
Europe to try to retake the islands.
Indonesia came into being.
Another interesting note … In Semarang we had set up a small
airstrip right down on the coastline. It was just a flat field with a
small hut, a couple of Dutch paws, a radio and a field telephone. One
morning, very early, the field phone in our HQ rang. Helfrich and I
were both sound asleep. One of the men at the airstrip reported that
there was a plane over the strip asking for permission to land. I
told him to hold the plane up until I got down to the strip and set
off there in my Desoto (nicknamed “The Battleship”.) When I arrived at
the strip, we brought the plane in. It landed, a door opened, two RAF
types dressed in white coveralls came out, placed a small ladder at
the door and out stepped Lady Louis Mountbatten who, at that time was
head of the British Red Cross. I was unshaven, in a dirty uniform and
completely stunned! She had two secretaries with her. She wanted to
see all the camps and I was to tell her what we needed. She spent the
whole day with us and worked the two secretaries to death. She left
late that day and we subsequently received everything we asked for.
Doctors, nurses, food, medicines, etc. You name it, we got it. That
Lady wielded a big stick.
Dehra Dun where the Battalion had been in
were now in Karachi and off I went again.
I went from Ceylon to
July only to find out we were on Internal Security duties in Karachi because both India and
the proposed new country of Pakistan were striving for independence
from Britain. The peoples of both these areas, one Hindu and the
other Muslim, were also doing disgusting things to each other.
Basically, life was tennis, field hockey, parachuting, the odd
parade and route march and showing the flag from time to time at
trouble spots. Dull, dull dull. Around May 1945, my number came up
and I was going home. A few of us took a tramp steamer from Karachi
to Bombay. It took about three weeks in and out of small ports_ Very
restful and the food was good.
Got into trouble when we hit Bombay. We had taken too long and
had missed our ship, “You Paras think you can get away with
anything,” seemed-to be the cry. Eventually we boarded the “Stirling
Castle”, sailed through the Indian Ocean, up the Suez Canal, into the
Mediterranean, touched in at Naples and eventually arrived in
Portsmouth. The English Channel was littered with tropical gear
thrown overboard by happy soldiers.
Given leave, I went home, slept and ate and did nothing. After a month, I was told to report to Para Barracks on the Isle of Wight. Stayed there until the middle of December 1946 and I was demobbed. MY
WAR WAS OVER.
Looking back at the portion of my story that covers the war
years, I am amazed and, perhaps, even a little surprised that I am
still able to recall, with a fair degree of clarity, so many of the
major happenings in my life from over 50 years ago. There is no doubt
that the war was a significant chapter in all the lives of the men and
women who were involved in it and who survived and that it will ever remain so.
As far as I am concerned, I would not have missed it. I went
into it as a boy and came out 5 years later as a man who was
thoroughly familiar with his strengths and weaknesses. I was a
soldier, sometimes a good one and, at other times, something less than
good. I went to places in the world. that I would not otherwise have
visited and was too young to appreciate the privilege. I faced some
dangers, sometimes looking them right in the eye, and sometimes with
less fortitude. I suppose the prospect of death was always present,
but it was not so frightening as the thought of being taken alive by the enemy. We were determined that this would not happen. I met and
fought beside men of many races, who, regardless of their race or
colour, joined in the fight to preserve civilization. I regret that,
50 years later, we do not remember this and show more tolerance to
those Asians who believed sufficiently in our cause to come to our aid
and often die for their belief.
The war was a battle against the most terrifying forces of
barbarism and evil and a battle that we HAD to win. It took the lives
of millions of men, women and children, but in the end, we prevailed.
May such a tragedy never again be visited upon the world. AMEN.
And so … I moved on to a new beginning and a new life.
Over Christmas 1946, Jack and Jean Munro, later affectionately
known at Uncle Jack and Aunt Jean, from Carstairs, Alberta came to
visit us in Newton Mearns. They had been friends of my parents when
young and had immigrated to Canada in the early 20s. I was unsettled.
I had left school at 16, worked at odd jobs for two years and then had
been in the Army for almost five years. I had no training or
schooling for the business world. I talked with Uncle Jack and he
suggested that I come to Canada. Since I had not seen that part of
the world and, since Scotland was, at that time, a good place to come
from, I happily agreed. It transpired that my parents and sisters had
received the same offer; a fact that I was made aware of the night I
was due to fly out. On May 13, 1947 I flew out from Prestwick to
Montreal and Calgary and was followed a month later by my family.
I was met by Uncle Jack and went up to the farm at Carstairs. At
that time I was determined to go out of this world the way I had come
in – single, but I met Isabel, one of the Munro daughters and, after a
frigid two weeks of silence from Isabel, we subsequently became
engaged to be married.
My parents, meantime, had bought a house in Calgary and my mother
still lives there. In August 1947 I went to work in the oil fields of
Black Diamond. It quickly became apparent that, without suitable
qualifications, I had no future in the oil business.
Before leaving Scotland, I had met a Mr. McLellan who was
Chairman of the Scottish Board of the Weston group of Companies who
kindly gave me a couple of letters to the Weston Group in Canada. One
day I went to Weston’s Bread and Cake (Canada) Limited 640 14 Avenue SE in Calgary looking for a job. There were none available. Back to
Black Diamond. In October 1947 I received a letter from Weston’s
signed by a Mr. V. G. Ursaki asking me to go up and see him.
Convinced he was Japanese, I ignored the letter. Another followed and I
was then determined to face him and tell him what do with his job. It
turned out that Ursaki was a Central European name and he hired me as
a junior office clerk at $31.25 per week. At that time, I did not
have the foggiest idea what debit and credit meant.
Is and I had, by now, contracted to have a house built on 27
Avenue and 5 Street NW. The cost was $6700 with $2000 down and a
mortgage of $4700 at 4.5% payable at the rate of $41.25 per month
P.I.T. The house was to be ready in September 1948 and we were to be
married on July 3, 1948. We rented a flat in downtown Calgary for the
In June 1948, Vic Ursaki announced that he was being promoted to
Office Manager in Winnipeg and that I was to be Office Manager in
Calgary. Well, I tell you – THE WHATSIT HIT THE FAN! I had been so
busy courting Isabel that I had not had time to learn the job. Vic’s only
comment was, “Tough!”
We got married, spent a week in Waterton Lakes; Vic left and I
knuckled down to learn the job. I also spoke to the General Manager,
an old Scot who had owned the bakery before Weston bought him out and
suggested to him that I should now receive the same salary as Vic had
been getting. Mr. Cameron hated spending money, but after much
hemming and hawing, he agreed. I was now earning $57 per week – a
fortune when you consider that we had come back from our honeymoon’
with about $35 in our pockets!
We moved into our new house and settled down. I studied accounting by correspondence course at home, worked very hard at the
bakery and seemed to develop a flair for the job. Patricia Jane came
along in May 1949 and life was good.
Word came that a new Weston plant was to be built in Edmonton. I
knew the General Manager, J.L. Johnston, and he was a rough, tough
SOB. I told him that he needed me as his Office Manager and he just
laughed. However, I got the job and we moved to Edmonton in July
1951. I was sent down East for a month to spend time in the bakeries
there and to pick up some experience. We bought a house at 11331 110A Avenue for $10,500 with a mortgage of $6,160. The GM gave us our
first vehicle – a Commer Bread van that he brought up from Medicine
Hat. He also had the motor reconditioned. We had fun with that wee
bucket with PJ and Doug in the back. Doug, now our tall, curly haired
son, arrived in October 1951. The new bakery was just great; I met
Mr. Weston for the first time and we quickly settled in.
In November 1952, I had a call from Toronto and was instructed to
be there ASAP. Why, asked I? They would not tell me except to say that I was to see Mr. R.A. Robertson. R.A. was the President of the Weston chain in Canada and people trembled when his name was
mentioned. Apparently he too, like J.L. Johnston was a rough, tough
SOB. So down I went and still nobody would tell me a thing. Not even
the President of the Bread Company with whom I was on really friendly terms. I was ushered into R.A. ‘s presence; he inquired politely about
Isabel and the children (he had, obviously, just read my file), and then
told me that he had a grievous problem and I had been recommended as
the solution. He mentioned Montreal and I said, “No thanks”. He then
went on to say that the job was with the Biscuit Division and I said
”no” again. He then told me a story about the young men in the
company to whom he had offered advancement and it had been refused. He
then inferred that they would never again be given another chance.
All this was at 10:00 o’clock in the morning and he suggested that I
go and ‘phone Isabel and talk it over with her. Then I could come back at
1:00 p.m. and give him my answer. I could not get through to Western
Canada so I went to see my boss, the Treasurer of the Bread Division,
Gavin Patterson. He was a little upset that one of his Office
Managers was in Toronto without his knowledge but, after a while,
urged me to accept anything offered by R.A. So, at 1:00 p.m. I did
just that. When I arrived back in Edmonton, Isabel met me, said “Where?”
I said, “Montreal“ and I then got what was virtually the Biblical
response, “Where thou goest, there go I” from Isabel.
We put the house up for sale in December 1952. It was a bitter
winter and nobody came to see it. Weston’s eventually bought it and
we took out our equity. We arrived in Montreal at the end of January
1953 and the Company had booked a suite of rooms for us at the Hotel
de La Salle. Isabel thought this was great – for about 10 days, then she wanted to know when we could get our own place. She had had enough rich food. I was introduced to the General Manager of the Biscuit Company
in Longueuil as his new Office Manager and he knew nothing about it!
What a great start! He hardly spoke to me for six months.
Having moved twice in our short married life, and since we were
not too sure about Montreal, we moved into an apartment and stayed
there for a year. At that time, I asked the GM and Toronto about my
future in Montreal and was assured that it was good. So, we bought a
nice little bungalow at 18 Upper Edison in St. Lambert for $17,750 and
settled down to raise our family. Angus arrived in July 1954, Nancy
in January 1958 and Hugh in September 1960. At work I moved from
Office Manager to Plant Superintendent, Assistant Manager and then
General Manager. In July 1965, Isabel was expecting Tam and our house was
just too small for our gang. We moved to 191 de Bourgogne in Preville
in April 1965 to a larger but not better built two storey for which
we paid $21,175 cash.
Tricia and David were married in June 1970 and Isabel and I, Angus,
Nancy, Hugh and Tam came west in July and August for a six-week
vacation. We had a great holiday and the children met relatives they
had never seen before.
Just before going on vacation, I had been offered the position of
Vice President of the North American Biscuit Division and had, as it
turned out, foolishly accepted. We moved to Toronto in October 1970.
We had spent almost 18 years in Montreal. Eighteen happy, busy years
raising our family, working hard and very involved with the church.
The children were not at all happy about leaving and when we bought a
house in Mississauga and moved in, they were even more upset. So were
Is and I. We spent a horrible year there and I spent most of my time
in planes visiting plants all over North America. It just was not my
bag and I missed my family terribly. In October 1971, I left
Weston’s, we sold the house and moved to Calgary.
In Calgary, I joined Atco, left Atco after six months and went
into Real Estate for three years; went back to Atco and stayed there
until I retired in 1986. We lived in a mobile home for years and then
bought our house in August 1985. From this point on your parents can
fill you in on our history.
Now coming up to 72 and, of course, retired, I often reflect on
the life of the wee laddie from Glasgow. It has been varied and very interesting. I have travelled far and wide-and met many people. I
have contributed nothing to the progress of mankind, but then again,
only a few people ever do.
I consider the following to be the highlights of my life and they are not necessarily in order of importance:-
Being born a Scot, the War,coming to Canada, marrying my wife,
helping to raise a family of fantastic children who are now
They say that retirement represents one’s golden years. So far
as I am concerned this is sheer, unadulterated nonsense.
The time I spent raising a family were my golden years and that
will never change.
Now you have it … my life in a few words on a few pages.
Tam (Crawford) Wishart
Article and photograph courtesy of Crawford’s sons Douglas and Tam Wishart.