David McIntyre Campbell and Margaret McPhail Kyle
Before the First World War, my father David moved from Alexandria in the Vale of Leven to New York City where his widowed mother, Effie (short for Euphemia) was working as a children’s nurse. Her aunt, Jeanie McGregor, had emigrated to the States some years before, so my paternal grandmother had a relative living in New York to support her in her new life. For a time all went well. My father joined the Boys Brigade and started having violin lessons. I have a letter from Effie to her sister, Nellie in Falkirk, saying how much she enjoyed listening to him play.
Sadly, Effie developed cancer and was in and out of hospital. She died at the early age of 33. My father was twelve years old when he was orphaned and alone in a strange country. Aunt Jeanie was a spinster who had to work for a living, so she could not look after a young boy. It was decided that he should return to Effie’s married sister, Nellie, married to widower, Bob Balfour, who had a number of grown-up children.
Aunt Jeanie accompanied David back to Scotland in April 1915. They were due to sail on board the Lusitania and went to the docks hoping to get a berth at the last minute. There was a big queue of people waiting on the pier, each hoping to get a passage back to Britain. After a long wait there were only a few people ahead of them in the queue so they thought they would be lucky enough to be allotted a berth. To their dismay, they and the others remaining there were turned away because the ship was full. They were told to return the following Friday to sail on the Transylvania.
The Lusitania was sunk by a German torpedo off the coast of Ireland and over a thousand of the two thousand passengers on board, including Van der Bilt, the millionaire, lost their lives. David and Aunt Jeanie were given a berth the following week on the Transylvania. Luckily they had an uneventful voyage home on this ship and when they heard of the Lusitania disaster, they were thankful that they had not been aboard the ship.
I dare say it was an onerous task for Bob Balfour to take his bereaved nephew by marriage into his home. He already had three children of his own older than David, Elizabeth (Bessie), Christine (Chrissie), and John. Aunt Nellie was younger than Bob and was already in a precarious position as step-mother. Bob’s children had not taken kindly to her taking the place of their late mother, and they took even less kindly to her young nephew being foisted on them. Aunt Nellie probably felt more sympathy and love for David, as her sister’s orphaned son, than for her three resentful step-children, who were not much younger than her, but she treated them all with fairness and deferred to the wishes of her husband. David soon reverted to his original Scots accent to avoid teasing and bullying by his peers and relations over his New York accent.
Nellie and Bob Balfour, and spaniel, about 1918
David was an intelligent boy. He was conscientious and applied himself to his studies He was also a good swimmer and keen harrier. There was no money for him to continue violin lessons, but he always enjoyed music and started playing the piano by ear. He could play all the popular tunes of the day after hearing them once or twice. He always played them in the difficult key of D flat, on all the black notes. He won a scholarship to Falkirk High School and it was decided that he would serve articles in a lawyer’s office when he left school. This was too much for the aggrieved children of Bob Balfour. They feared their father’s money would be used up supporting David during his law studies.
Uncle Duncan McIntyre was his mother’s brother, whose son, George, was my father’s cousin. My father had an austere and hard life, while George was well cared for by his indulgent parents.
My father had a particular friend in Falkirk whose name I have forgotten. Many years later my mother and I visited his friend’s Aunt Minnie who taught music in Falkirk and had played the piano in the local cinema for silent movies. When we were visiting she gave me a demonstration of the music she played at particular junctures of the film. Another friend was Fattie Cowan, whose father had something to do with Cowan’s toffee.
By the time David was fifteen he could take the resentment of his step-cousins no longer. He decided to give up his dream of becoming a lawyer like his late father, rather than depend on Uncle Bob’s charity any longer. David appreciated what Bob and Nellie had done for him, but there always remained a certain coldness between him and Bob’s children. He moved into digs in Springburn. Glasgow and never returned to Falkirk for longer than a few days. Instead of serving articles with a law firm, my father was apprenticed to Cowlairs in Springburn, where great railway engines were built.
It was in Springburn where David met Margaret Kyle, a pretty girl with big blue eyes and auburn hair. She too had left school at fifteen to work as a cashier in the Cooperative Society. Being a cashier stood her in good stead. As long as I can remember she could calculate the total of purchases long before the cashier had time to ring them up on the cash register. She was a lively popular girl, with a string of boys in pursuit of her at dances in the neighbourhood. Her parents, Jeanie and Alex Kyle had lived in Springburn most of their married life with Margaret and her younger brother, Bill. Alex was a blacksmith’s hammerman. Jeanie was a lively Glasgow woman, a McGowan, from a big family. I particularly remember her sister, my Great-Aunt Charlotte Reid, who retired to a little cottage in Millport on the Clyde with her husband, Jock. I remember all my mother’s numerous cousins, particularly Cathy Keelan and my second cousin, Jessie Reid, whom we visited periodically when we were in Scotland.
Alec was a keen member of the local Labour Party. My mother remembered him coming home from work and talking in revolutionary terms about the class system, workers’ rights, strikes, unusual for a gentle man like him. I remember him as a quiet kindly man with blue eyes. He was always keen on football. I think he might have played for the local team, Petershill, when he was a young man.
My mother went to the socialist Sunday School in Springburn, where the hymns were not religious, but about practical things like, “You’ll get pie in the sky when you die,” to music of the hymn, “The sweet bye and bye”. When my mother was a young woman she met some of the Scottish grandees of the Labour party. The name I remember is Jimmy Maxton, with whom she danced at a gathering in the Springburn Hall.
For some reason my mother Margaret and her family suddenly emigrated to Brisbane in Australia in 1921. A branch of the family had already moved there. Aunt Ina Standfast, my mother’s cousin who was to be her bridesmaid at her wedding, and numerous members of her Wilkie family: Tom and his daughter, Marion who lived in Ipswich, a small town near Brisbane.
My father completed his apprenticeship at Cowlairs in 1923 and must have been quite besotted with my mother, for he too decided to emigrate to Australia. He found a job with the railways and was stationed in Ipswich. He and my mother were married in Brisbane from the home of Margaret’s parents, named Bishopbriggs in July 1925. From the photographs it looks as though it was quite an elaborate wedding, complete with bridesmaids carrying shepherds crooks, my mother in a headdress reminsicent of the one worn by Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon at her wedding several years earlier.
Everyone seemed to enjoy living in Australia. My father acquired a piebald pony called Tommy and rode him all over the place. I am not sure why they decided to return to Britain. It was obviously a lot easier to move from country to country then than it is today. They were not long in the UK before they went to Canada in the late twenties, possibly to escape the depression.
My father worked as an insurance agent for the Sun Life of Canada Insurance. He had been offered a job in his trade, but had been told that they expected him to pass on information about the activities of the other employees. My father refused to act as a spy and turned the job down at a time when thousands were pounding the streets in the extremely cold weather, and depended on a meal at a soup-kitchen to keep body and soul together. In Toronto there were more cousins of my mothers, the Mathiesons. There is a picture of Agnes Mathieson, a formidable lady, noted as the producer of a play staged by The Sun Life Dramatic Club.
Agnes Mathieson, the producer, is standing at the left of the photograph
While they were all living in Canada they attended evening classes and met a number of radical intellectuals with communistic leanings, in a country where there were signs on the doors, No Jews, Scottish or Irish need apply. Once again, the family seemed to be quite happy in Canada. They bought their first car, and there are pictures of my parents, grandparents and friends on a summer holiday standing in front of the car, dressed in fashionable flowing trouser suits.
There is also a photograph of Uncle Bill, my mother’s brother, looking very cold in the thick winter snow.
When the rest of the family returned to Britain, Bill stayed on in Canada. He came over to Britain on the maiden voyage of the Queen Mary in 1936 before the war and presented my grandmother with a caseful of dirty shirts to be laundered.
Not long after he returned to Toronto, he suddenly stopped writing home and, although my mother tried for years to find him again, she never did. My grandparents must have been deeply saddened by his disappearance, and my mother dreamt of making contact with him once again. Was he killed in the war or in a road accident? Had he taken offence with his family and deliberately ended all contact with them? Every attempt to trace my uncle failed, so the only image I have of him is as a pleasant young man, playing a football game in hot Australia, and standing in hat, scarf and overcoat, feeling rather cold outside the door of his Canadian home.
My parents had attended workers’ educational classes in Toronto and continued this practice in Glasgow, where they met Naomi Mitcheson and James Barke. My father took up art when he was about forty and studied part time at the Glasgow School of Art. The teachers gave the part time students a full art training with much attention on anatomy and perspective. He became a very competent part time artist, doing many pencil drawings of friends, colleagues and family, with excellent likenesses. He also cut silhouettes and did a number of woodcarvings and plaster of paris works. He continued sketching people and doing self portraits virtually until the day he died.
Glasgow School of Art.
When my parents returned from Canada they bought two general shops, selling groceries, sweets and fruit, one in Apsley Street, Partick, where my grandfather worked, the other in Springburn where my parents worked with the help of a girl shop assistant. One of the girls was called Helen and she is pictured in a photograph with my father, showing the produce of the shop, neatly set out on the shelves, with prices marked by my mother in bold figures. As far as I remember the shops were sold shortly before the war, as my father had anticipated the outbreak of war and was planning what he would do when war was declared.
My father was born in 1902 and tried vainly to volunteer for the navy. The powers that be decided that he should work in a reserved occupation, creating munitions for the war. He worked at night in Barr and Stroud, a place camouflaged as something more innocuous for fear of a bombing raid when a munitions factory would be a prime target. As a small child I imagined that he had worked for a nobleman called Baron Stroud during the war.