Friday, 8 November 2013

Boyd Brothers in Arms (by Bert Boyd)

This is the story of four brothers. Robert (Bob), John, Thomas (Tom) and William (Willie). They had three sisters Margaret, Elizabeth (Bessie) and Janet (Nettie). Bob, Margaret, Bessie and John were born in Lorne Place Bothwell, Lanarkshire. Tom, Nettie and Willie were born in 2 Water Street, Maryhill, Glasgow.

Their father, Robert, was born in Ayr and was a Railway Passenger Guard and their mother was Janet Simpson who had been a domestic servant.

This story starts when John was about 12 years old. His older brother, Bob, was 18 and had signed up for the Gordon Highlanders and was serving in Cork, Ireland. Margaret his older sister had sadly died in a sanatorium, probably suffering from consumption, an illness associated with poverty. Bessie had left home to work in domestic service leaving John (age 12) with younger children Tom (age 9) Nettie (age 8) and Willie (age 2). As the oldest boy it was his responsibility to find work and so every morning before school he would deliver milk, running up the tenement stairs to leave bottles of milk at every door and collecting the empties. As the milk had to be delivered early so that men could have their porridge before leaving for work and the children before school, this would be a very early start for John. He would then jump on the Baker’s large Albion van to help deliver bread and rolls to all the baker’s shops.

He did enjoy sitting up in the open driver cabin watching the complicated arrangement of changing gear. This was in the days before synchromesh gear boxes and the driver had to use the clutch at just the right engine speed to change gear. It was called double declutching and the experience was to stand John in good stead in the future.

He would then run to school but was usually late and frequently missed the morning assembly where prayers and scriptures would be used regularly. He was punished often for being late but to no avail. The best lesson he received and one which he never forgot was that one day during the lesson he fell asleep (not surprising considering his early rise). His teacher crept on him and kissed him which shocked him to the core and he never fell asleep in class again.

He left school at age 12 and had six jobs until at the age of 14 he followed in his father’s footsteps and became a Railwayman. He was based at Scostoun Railway Station and had a scary long walk home after the last train at midnight when he had to walk along the rail track passing through two tunnels to Anniesland, and then on to the far end of Maryhill.

As there was great danger with the darkness inside the tunnels, and the thick fog outside, his mother determined that he should take lodgings in Scotstoun. So at the age of 14 he left home and took to heavy drinking.

When he was 17 he got a “man’s job” and was transferred to Calder Station in Coatbridge where he continued his heavy drinking, spending all his spare time in the Coatbridge pubs every night from 5pm to 10pm and was often paralytic.

He recalls that one night, as he lay in the gutter hopelessly drunk, that a Catholic girl stopped beside him and said “John Boyd, I never thought I would see you like this.”

When he was thrown out of his digs due to his drunken state he decided that he needed a hobby. Often in the pubs at this time the entertainment would be provided by a concertina player so he asked around to see if anyone could teach him to play this quite intricate instrument. He found out that Mr Jim Murdoch was an accomplished player and so he enrolled for some lessons. It so happens that Mr Murdoch was a committed Christian (although he smoked a pipe in the house) and recognised not only a musical talent, but also the opportunities that could result should John Boyd become a Christian. He spoke to a number of his Christian friends at the Coatbridge Christian Union and asked them to pray and soon John became a Christian, gave up his bad habits and threw away all his secular music, instead playing his concertina at the Christian Union (date 1906). He travelled around various Mission halls. Some time later as he joined the Salvation Army and soon became the young people’s Sergeant Major influencing many young Christians.

Playing his G’ trombone in the open air with the Salvation Army band and now a well-dressed young man (2nd from the left), he was approached by the young catholic girl from his past who whispered in his ear “John Boyd, I never thought I would see you like this.”

Then along came the Great War (1914 /18) and like many young men John signed up for the Army. As John was reluctant to take up a gun he volunteered as a driver. He didn’t have a driver’s licence but had enough experience of Albion trucks as a van boy delivering bread etc. to satisfy the Army. After a few turns round the barrack square learning to double de-clutch he was off to France in convoy.

His brother Tom, being a train driver, became an Army train driver and among the many war stories told was the amazing coincidental meeting of the two brothers in France. As John drove his truck into a railway goods yard to pick up army supplies he discovered that the train driver was his none other than his brother Tom. That must have been an extraordinary experience for them both, as they took a respite from the terrible conditions of death and danger, to share a few precious moments with each other.

Fortunately both John and Tom came through the war and safely returned home to their families. During this time his older brother Bob having completed his Army career had emigrated to America and got married residing in Dorchester, Massachusetts. In 1917 an appeal went out throughout USA and Canada for volunteers to enlist and help out in the war effort as many lives were being lost in the terrible battles (More than 9 million combatants were killed) Bob enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force in June 1917 and set sail for France.

A report from a trench War Diary dated 18th June 1918 states “that while a group of soldiers were resting from the battle in the trench at Vimy, a salvo of 4.2 shells landed among them causing several casualties” then listing those killed included Gunner Boyd. Research later shows his burial place to be Cabaret-Rouge British Cemetery, Souchez, France. The War ended in November 1918 and Bob’s family in America and Scotland could only salute his bravery and loyalty.

The more astute among you will realise that there was another brother, Willie, but he was too young to join the army. He worked as an office clerk and went on to become an estate’s factor working in Whifflet and residing in Cliftonhill.

Tom returned to live in Glasgow and took up his career and soon became a well respected passenger train driver. While visiting his relations and should anyone ask the time, he would proudly pull out, with a great flourish, his splendid fob watch from his waistcoat pocket and then announce the time to the exact minute. Thus demonstrating the pride of the engine driver in getting passengers to their destination station exactly on time. On his retiral he along with his wife Cathie and their family moved to Hobart, Tasmania where his family live to this day.

John started to work as an Insurance agent with The Refuge Insurance Company. He would regularly be seen riding around on his bicycle persuading people that they should have life assurance, always making sure they would only take out what they could afford. He became a well-liked and highly esteemed member of the community.

Having met the lovely Sarah Wallace, they got married in Sarah’s house in South Main Street, Whifflet in 1921 then soon after moved to a new house at 159 Whifflet Street.

Following the Boyd family tradition John named the children after his brothers and sisters. From the left, Elizabeth (Bessie), John (Jackie), Janet (Nettie) and in the pram, Robert (Bertie).

 A new tradition was also born and that was Millport every year for the school holidays. When John retired he took over the running of the children’s beach mission at Millport and ran that for many years. As well as over one hundred children, many parents and grandparents attended every morning. Sharp eyes will spot John with his concertina sitting at the bottom right hand corner of the picture.