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When the Steel Went Through

MY EARLY recollections centre round my father. I have no very clear memories of my mother, for she died when I was only four years old. My brother Robert was then but five.

Father was thus left with two small boys to bring up, but he bravely shouldered his responsibilities.

He had the Spartan method of training: no coddling; be hardy. His word was law, but his law was dictated by a kind heart. Kindness was his very essence.

With the training he thus gave me I was well equipped for the part I was, in after years, destined to play in the pioneer life of Western Canada. I cannot therefore give a more fitting introduction to my reminiscences than by here paying him this well merited tribute.

Father was tenant-farmer of the farm of Turnberry Lodge, which forms part of the estate of the Marquis of Ailsa, in the Parish of Kirkoswald, Ayrshire, Scotland. The farmhouse, which was our home, is on the road between Maybole and Girvan, 7 miles from Maybole and 5 from Girvan.

The farm bordered on the seashore, and close by, to the north, was the fishing village of the Maidens. At a short distance from the house, to the south, on the Girvan road, was the tiny hamlet of Milton, which consisted of a smithy and a joiner's shop, and the homes of the smith and the joiner. To the east, quite near, was a grist-mill with an overshot water-wheel; and along the eastern border of the farm was a glen through which ran a burn, known as the Milton burn. From this burn, water was diverted through a small artificial channel known as the mill-race to a dam above the mill, from which it was let out when required, to turn the water-wheel. To the west lay the expanse of the Firth of Clyde, with Ailsa Craig and the Argyll and Arran hills in full view. On a very clear day one might also see Ireland.

So, apart from the farm, with its many interests, we had other sights to divert us. At times we would go to the smithy and see the blacksmith shoe horses; look in on the joiner and watch him send forth great billows of shavings from his plane. At other times it might be the mill with its water-wheel which was the object of our curiosity. The mill-race with water apparently running up-hill particularly intrigued us.

On the farm we had the domestic animals; the horses and the cattle; the sheep and the pigs; the ducks and the hens; the cats and the dogs.

Of wild life we had hares and rabbits; mice and rats; moles and bats; pheasants and partridges; crows and pigeons; robins and wrens; larks and linnets; blackbirds and thrushes; swallows and starlings; jackdaws and sparrows; and many others. We had everything to make a boy's life happy, and to give him a sound knowledge of the fauna of the district, and their habits.

Of the women relatives who were a help to father in his care of us in our early childhood, I have a clear recollection of our grandmother Turner Mother's mother. She was with us when Mother died, and stayed with us for a few weeks after.

Preparatory to our going to Kirkoswald school, Father gave us our first lessons in reading. He also prepared us to walk to school by having us first walk with him to Kirkoswald Parish Church on Sundays. So, by the time we went to school we were quite fit for the 3-mile walk. My brother Robert was then eight years old and I was seven. One hour was the time allowed for going to school, but we generally took more than that coming home. At times we would come home by a roundabout road, spending our time on the way exploring the neighbourhood. We thus got a thorough knowledge of the local geography.

The schoolmaster, Mr. James Hutchison, was an energetic and able teacher. He did not despise the use of the tawse. He grounded us well in the three R's, and taught us some Latin. Like father, he was a keen curler, and when he had to play in some important competition, this led sometimes to our getting a half-holiday.

Two events of more than local interest took place during the time I attended the Parish School. The first was the General Election in 1868 in which the Whigs swept the Tories from power and Gladstone became Prime Minister. This was the last election in Britain in which open voting was the method of voting used.

We knew nothing of all this at the time I was then only nine years old nor anything whatever about politics. But we heard the names Whig and Tory during the election campaign; and knew there was some sort of fight going on between them. This gave us a brilliant idea: in our rough-and-tumble games at school, we took sides as Whigs and Tories. But whether the Whigs, or the Tories, finally won in these mimic contests, I cannot now say.

The second event was the Franco-Prussian War which broke out in 1870. We knew no more about the rights and wrongs of this than we did about the General Election; and so, played French and Prussians in our games in the same spirit as we had played Whigs and Tories during the election campaign.

One incident in connection with that war, I clearly remember: William Gordon, the foreman, came to see Father one Saturday night, bringing with him a leaflet which read:

"Napoleon surrendered to King William.
The army at Sedan are prisoners."

Gordon's son Johnny, who worked in Maybole as a joiner, had come home to spend Sunday with his parents, and had brought with him this latest bulletin. Little did any of us foresee then the world tragedy which that defeat of France by Prussia was ultimately to lead to.

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