I have two main recollections of our summers
there: One was relief at getting our boat back to the jetty (from which the
photo was taken) when the loch had produced one of its specialities - a
near-gale-force storm appearing without warning from a cloudless summer sky.
The other was being asked to fetch a tray of refreshments out to that lawn by
the water's edge for my mother and her guest (ex PT-college friend) when they
were ... er ... maximising their intake of vitamin-D in the sunshine.
They were wholly relaxed - as I tried to be - and they exchanged quiet smiles
as I retired blushing from the scene. (How much more scope my late
mother and her friends would have nowadays for their alternative-diets and
The single-track railway to Scotland's Western Isles
runs along that beautiful Western shore of Loch Lomond. One year the
railway company created a "camping-coach" and parked it in a scenic siding
further up the loch at Ardlui. We hired this coach for its first week. One of my chums,
George Barrie, and his family were persuaded to join
us. Papa Barrie owned the country's premier lemonade brand of the time - and a
Studebaker, the first American car we had seen. My brother and I sat
wide-eyed in the back while George, the large steering-wheel towering above him, proudly
catalogued the car's advanced features.
My mother and father drove, respectively, a
Wolseley "Wasp" and a Humber 16/60. In 1939 the latter was equipped with
one of the first car-radios, and it was from this ... humming importantly
under the dash ... that I heard the cobwebby voice of Chamberlain say "...
and so this country is at war." (The house in the background of this
photo was the home of my friend Percy, 70 years later he is a retired New York
doctor with whom I swap emails and occasional MP3's of our current jazz
One of Britain's celebrities throughout the war was
the man who broadcast a few physical exercises every morning. So familiar
were his stock phrases that they were regularly lampooned by comedians.
He was Captain Coleman-Smith, late of the Indian Army and, during our years at
Glasgow Academy, our Gym Master. (How sad that Coley appears nowhere in
the first 50 results of a Google search.) Much later, when he retired, he
bought the lodge on Inchmurrin and passed the rest of his days peacefully there.
Every four years our fellow Macleans from all
over the world gather at the Chief's castle, Duart, on the Hebridean isle of
Mull (a few years ago they were so kind as to elect me first International
President of their twelve territorial Associations). Usually Ann and I
fly to Glasgow and rent a car for the 100 mile run to the ferry at Oban, but
last time we made the journey as my parents used to do it - on the overnight
sleeper train to Glasgow, then to the ferry by the scenic railway
line. I had, I confess, waxed a wee thing lyrical about the views to be
savoured running up the West side of Loch Lomond through Luss and Ardlui
... so it was disappointing to find that the track is now so
overgrown that we had to shut the ventilator-windows because we were being
showered with leaves - and the majestic vistas were rarely visible through the
In 1943 I reached 17 and enlisted. As I
recounted in an earlier blog, after initial training as an Air Force pilot, I
transferred to the new technology corps REME and began a long period of
In 1944 my father concluded a review of the
structure of his biscuit division with the recommendation that it be
integrated with another division and that his role be ended. (An earlier
paragraph of that Chairman's letter praises his integrity in doing this.)
In my brief home-leaves I remember sensing his
deep unease at being, for the first time, unemployed - a sensitive and
emotional man, that letter sustained him in his search for a new role.
Which turned out to be as CEO of an old-established maker of
decorative tins, with plants in the English Midlands, and which had just been acquired by the mighty Metal Box Company.
And so my parents left Scotland for their new
home near Nottingham. The London house having been called 'Duart'
they named this house 'Lochbuie' after another
significant Maclean location on the Isle of Mull.
1945 Mansfield, Notts
My brother finished his schooling at Glasgow
Academy as a boarder - under the supervision of "Coley" and his wife - before
joining our parents at Mansfield. Sister Deirdre was by now at her
boarding-school, Polam Hall, near Darlington. I spent occasional
weekend-leaves at Mansfield - feeling the difference between my dull life as a
military student at 'Wandsworth Tech' and the life Nigel was briefly enjoying
with a copious supply of glamorous partners on the tennis courts at Lochbuie.
Dad took me to see his new factory at nearby
Chesterfield - showing me the ramps where lorries offloaded tons of sheet
metal and, at the other end of the plant, similar ramps where a stream of lorries
collected millions of "open top" food cans.
But my main recollection of Mansfield weekends is of the droning
crescendo in the evening sky as it gradually filled with clouds of RAF bombers
assembling for their awesome forays over Europe.
Nigel joined a Scottish regiment and quickly
became an officer. To my dismay I found that not being a science
graduate precluded my being commissioned in REME and so I contented myself
with moving up the non-commissioned ranks (until, as the war ended, I was
commissioned into Royal Signals.)
Late in the war I was assigned to a
huge exhibition of captured enemy armaments. The devices I was given to
demonstrate aroused much interest - they were Geiger-Counters - detectors of radio-activity.
The explanation I was given - and which I uneasily dispensed - was that the
enemy were now deploying mines made of plastic (and thus not showing-up on
traditional metal-detectors). The story was that in order for the
necessary, to know where they were each one was buried with a small bag
of 'tarn-sand' - a slightly radio-active mineral mined in Czecho-Slovakia -
which they could locate with these Geiger-Counters.
Subsequently, like everyone else, I was awed by
the news of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima & Nagasaki ... and - unlike everyone else
- I had the "Eureka Moment"
of realising the real purpose of those Geiger Counters.
In 1945 when at long last the war was over I was
lucky enough to be in London, first for 'VE Day' (Victory in
Europe, in May) and then 'VJ Day' (Victory over Japan, in August). I savoured the heady celebrations
- the streets were thronged
- like everyone else in uniform I roamed the West End being plied with
cakes from Lyons Tea Shops and beer from pubs - and hugging and being
hugged by all and sundry.
1952 Linby, Sherwood Forest
When my 'demob group' ("60") came up I was told,
to my chagrin, that I must stay on to complete the lengthy training of the
small group of engineers whose responsibilities included secret cypher
systems. This, and the consequently greater risk of being recalled in
future, persuaded me to transfer from REME to a special Squadron of Royal
Signals. Ironically this ensured that I WAS recalled ten years later for
the "Suez" escapade! Which will be the subject of a later blog.