The early years in Glasgow
A son born 9 January 1911 at 70 Florence Street, South Side, Glasgow at 7.30 pm to William and Marian (nee Law) Newall. He was named Stewart Law Newall.
Having duly said "Hello" to the world, he proceeded to inspect the new accommodation and found that he much preferred his previous place of abode. Since there is no chance of getting back we make the best of what we have. This apparently consisted of two bedrooms, the larger doubling as lounge room, The kitchen had a recessed wall bed, a fireplace and oven, table, chairs, food larder and high shelves carrying dinner sets, tea sets, two large brass jam pots and various other decorations. A hallway, which included the front door; further along and round a corner, the toilet or closet. Illumination was gas, except for the toilet. You depended on a paraffin lamp to make certain you saw what you were doing but if someone had forgotten to fill the lamp then you didn't know what you were doing. No bathroom, the ablutions were carried out in a large tub carried into the bedroom and filled with hot water. The door was then tightly closed and you proceeded to do the best you could without wetting the carpet unduly. Apparently the builders and owners concluded that bathrooms were a luxury and in temperatures of 12 degrees in summer and 4 degrees in winter, nobody was going to sweat. B.O. was some form of illness. Any grime accumulated from work could easily be washed off at the kitchen sink. However if a bath became necessary you always had the municipal baths where you could, for 3 pence, have the choice of a tub bath or the swimming pool. A towel was supplied with your admission which not only dried you and took off excess water but was also coarse enough to dispense of your skin. You were expected to supply your own soap.
I was the youngest of seven children, two girls and five boys. John, the brother I never knew, died of meningitis at an early age. Not a great deal was known about this disease. There was an age difference of seven years between myself and my sister Annie, later to be altered to Nan. An alteration made by herself when she became old enough to defy her parents and the Office of Births, Deaths and Marriages.
I was naturally referred to as the "wee yin" and nobody takes any notice of what he does or what he has to say unless of course he is required by his elders to run down and get their fish and chips or their russet apples and then he has to sit and watch, with his mouth dribbling, while they proceed to gorge.
It was under those circumstances that you realised that Mum always listened to what you had to say and wiped your tears and cured any pain you had.
At the age of five I was dressed and made ready for my induction into the school system. In the company of Mum, I met and was introduced to Miss Osborne, a lady in her mid fifties, dressed in her black stiff satin dress which went from neck to ankle length with a white lace collar. Her watch, on a long silver chain round her neck, was anchored to her breast pocket. If she had ever been beautiful it must have been a long time ago and someone or something had made her stern looking. She never ever smiled and certainly frightened the hell out of me.
When Mum left me with her, she immediately read me the rules after introducing me to the class of boys and girls. Any request I may make was in the form of raising your right arm above your head and snapping your fingers, thus attracting her attention. This worked alright unless she failed to notice you, or had nodded off, which sometimes happened. In such unfortunate circumstances you were left uncomfortably wet for the remainder of the day and probably the embarrassment of a crowd of little female morons singing "Tommy has wet his pants, Tommy has wet his pants". It would be impossible for little b s like them to grow up and become normal humans.
My progression through the various standards was uneventful, managing to pass the exams required for my advancement until I reached the big one - "The Qualifying Exam" at the age of ten, only to learn that I had failed. So with five other pupils we set out rectifying this and passed the following year with the knowledge that it had been nerves that had caused our first failure.
We then went on to do the supplementary classes 3, 2 and 1. It was during this term I sat for the combined Glasgow schools examination for Religious Knowledge. This ended with uncanny results; two boys from Camden Street Public School had come first and second. Not only that, but they were pupils in the same class - Jim Ewing and Stewart Newall. I vividly recall our teacher standing at his desk looking astounded and saying "I don't believe this and I know I'm going to wake up to find it is just a dream. Ewing, Newall, stand up. You have come 1st and 2nd in the exams. Ewing with 95/100 (Old Testament), 93/100 (New Testament); Newall with 92/100 (Old Testament) and 89/100 (New Testament)." I don't think Mr. Cochrane, our teacher ever got over the doubt that there was a fiddle. Jim Ewing and I were to remain friends for the duration of our schooling at Camden Street. He afterwards went on to St. John's High School, while I would enter Lindsay and Burnett Boiler shop.
My only accomplishment in sport was to be chosen as goal keeper for the schools trial game; however I was only chosen once, having let seven goals pass, they didn't think my form would improve enough to take the risk. I consoled my ego with the fact that the opposing team had beaten the ten others in my team, what chance did I have - "yes, a fair enough argument".
My pet was a grey and white cat who's visit to the local butcher had ensured his disinterest in the opposite sex. I don't think he was gay, it was just unfortunate that I christened him Daisy. He took part in all my games, especially the one where I was the Scottish piper marching up and down with him slung over my shoulder and biting the end of his tail. It just sounded like bagpipes.
The war to end all wars had come to an end and both my brothers were back home. Robert minus a lung and Willie a victim of mustard gas poisoning. My father was one of those fortunate enough to have a job. He was employed by the London Midland and Scottish railway as a tinsmith and had been employed with them for over 20 years. His wage was 2 pounds 15 shillings which in today's currency would represent $5.50. Our rent was 7 shillings per week plus Dad's punting money, (we never knew how much was deducted for that), and Mum got the rest to buy food, pay for gas and clothe us. Maybe, had the powers that be chosen a housewife as the country's treasurer, we may have been able to balance the budget.
I was seven years old at the end of the war and most of the boys of our district who were fortunate enfough to survive the War, came back to idleness and downright poverty. I have vivid memories, during the evenings, after being put to bed, of 5 or 6 of them gathering on the corner down from my window and singing. I would just lay listening to the lovely harmony of some of the old melodies like "Sweet Adeline" and "Nellie Dean".
"There's an old mill by the stream, Nellie Dean,
"Where we used to sit and dream, Nellie Dean
"And the waters as they flow, seem to murmur soft and low,
"You are my hearts desire
"I love you Nellie Dean".
To me this was the very best time of the day - the harmony was a pleasure to listen to.
One of the singers was a returned soldier called Jimmy McMurtrie. He had returned from Gallipoli minus his right leg, and like most, didn't want to talk about it. The old women of the district who had known Jimmy from boyhood would not let it rest. Mrs. Walters was one of them. "Oh Jimmy, you're back without a leg son. How did it happen?" He replied "Well it was like this Mrs. Walters, I was playing two up with some Australians and I lost it then, but I consider I was pretty lucky." "How could you be lucky losing your right leg?" she asked. "Well" said Jimmy, "If I had gone double or quits I would have been left on my arse".
It was during a visit of the Longs, (they were inlaws of my sister Mary's), that I set the curtains in my room alight. They had two daughters younger than myself by about 2 or 3 years and as far as I was concerned, proper noisy pests. I was always delegated to look after them, and this made me anything but happy. Instead of being out playing with my mates I was stuck in a room with a pair of stupid little monsters hell bent on making as much noise as possible and being hard to control.
I found a box of matches on the mantlepiece - well at least this would help to pass the time. Needless to say the curtains caught alight and the flames attracted the attention of the neighbourhood and those two little pests started screaming. I was in a panic and, looking for something that at least would smother the flames, I picked up the turntable of and old gramophone which rested on the back of the fire grate and put it against the glass of the window in the hope of smothering the flames. Unfortunately I used too much strength and it went through the glass and down into the street missing a man's head by inches. This action brought the police into the picture and by that time everyone was in the room. I was considered too dangerous to be left in charge of two dear little girls who could have been burned to death and their parents left childless.
The consolation was that they never came back again, but by the time Dad finished with me I would never light another match or be left in charge of children.
The Longs emigrated to Dunedin, New Zealand and if the girls are still alive they will be in their 80's. I wonder if they remember the person who hated them so much that, according to their parents, he wanted to burn them alive.
About this time I remember being presented with a small tin container by our teachers. It contained a piece of the wedding cake to celebrate the wedding of Princess Mary to Viscount Lacelles. I remember thinking that it must have been a big cake and presenting the empty tin to my Mum and explaining there was only enough for one.
Dad's job allowed him to come home for his midday meal, which in the winter months consisted of Scotch broth and what ever else was available - but the broth was a must.
On one occasion, on answering a gentle knock on our front door, Mum introduced the Reverend Rattary and invited him to join us for a helping of hot soup. This invitation he readily accepted, saying as he sat down, "It's very wintery weather Mr. Newall." Dad looked up at him for a moment then grabbed his cap and literally flew out the door, leaving Mum embarrassed and apologising to the Reverend. On his return home after work that night, she, for probably the first time in their married life, demanded he account for his rudeness.
He said, "I only had ten minutes to get my bet on". Mum responded with "What has your rudeness got to do with your betting?" He said "Well, "Wintery Weather won at 15 to 1". Mum replied "Don't forget to apologise next time he comes and thank him for the tip".
There always seemed to be friction between my two brothers, Robert and Willie. The former being a riveter and Willie a cast iron moulder and poor old Mum was always in the middle of their arguments. Every morning she made two very large sandwiches of bacon and egg and two of cheese. Robert always got the two cheese sandwiches while Willie got away with the two bacon and egg. When they came home at night it would be on for young and old. Robert accusing Willie of pawing over the sandwiches and realising he only had to take the two hot ones, leaving Robert with the two cheese. Poor old Bob always seemed to come off second best.
My brothers Willie and Robert married the two Burnett sisters, Jessie and Lizzie. The Burnetts lived on the third storey of our tenement. Robert's wife Lizzie was a French polisher, specialising in pianos. I never knew what Jessie did and I don't remember their weddings. My sister Mary had married Willie Patrick and had a very nice house in Toryglen Street Oatlands but they decided to emigrate to Australia. Willie Patrick got instant employment on the erection of the Bells Head Coal and Bunking loader and on its completion started work with Dorman Long on the first stages of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
My brother Willie had decided to come to Australia while Jessie his wife stayed in Glasgow with her parents allowing Willie to get settled and find a job and a home. At that time work was easy to get if you had a trade. On her arrival in Australia they settled in Warners Road, Marrickville in Sydney.
Little did they know that tragedy was about to strike. Jessie entered the Coast Hospital to have their first child. Shortly after the birth Jessie contracted an illness and she passed away a week after the birth. The baby girl was later christened Jenny and she is still alive, living somewhere near Tenterfield in northern New South Wales.
Young as I was I recall having difficulty coming to grips with the fact that I would never see Jessie again, but years later on my arrival in Sydney and being introduced to Willie's new wife, feeling an instant distrust towards my brother; a feeling I'm sad to admit I still carry, even though he has passed on.
The closest friend I had was my pal, Charlie McArthur. He lived in the flat above us. Charlie was slightly dull of hearing and because of this was sent to a special school for children with disabilities. Other than his poor hearing he was a bright lad and went on to prove this with the arrival of radio, or wireless as it was known then. He made dozens of crystal sets, selling them to neighbours. All they had to buy was the head phones. He later built a three valve set, all this from a lad his parents called mentally retarded. He was a very bright boy and he spent a lot of time at our place. He would knock on our door and ask to come in and would say "my mother is nobody in", that was his way of saying that there was no one at home. Looking back now it is fairly evident that Charlie didn't have much going for him in his own home.
I remember once coming home from school to find him at our front door and he told me that George Woods had hurt his bad ear. Later after an argument with George, which developed into a fight in which yours truly received a black eye, I was explaining to Mum that Woods had hit Charlie and that was why I was fighting with George and that was why I had a black eye, I heard Charlie saying "no Stewart, he didn't hurt me, he only shoved me and I hurt my ear myself". I have since learned to ask questions first. My own problem was to be my explanation to my school mates. I had received a stinker at the hands of a tyke and that was certainly a very big worry thanks to the religious distrust which was common between Protestant and Catholics in the early 1900's.
Charlie and I continued to correspond when I came to Australia. In his last letter he informed me that he had started work learning pleating with a manufacturer making scottish kilts. He was then 25 years old.
Our annual holidays were spent each year with my Aunt Maggie, my mother's sister, at Ayr, a very lovely town made famous by its association with the Scottish poet Robert Burns.
During my lifetime I have been associated with utterances that have stayed with me. Such a whopper happened when chasing my aunty's hens and when caught I explained that they had started chasing me first and one of them got up on its hind legs and bit me. That one stayed with me for a long time.
The town's main industry was its fishing fleet and the highlight of the holiday was to go down to the quayside and watch the herring fleet come in and discharge their haul. You would always be sure that you would be thrown a crab or a lobster if you pestered the fisherman long enough. Our holidays fell in September and that was Fair time in Ayr and the occasion for ferris wheel rides and the time to make yourself sick eating fairy floss, but it was only two weeks of the year and then you had to return to the dreariness of Glasgow.
I left school at 14 years of age and was ready to show the world how it should be done. My first job was a full time one with a fruiterer, Peter Mitchell with whom I had been working before and after school hours. He now employed me from 8am to 5pm and my wage was ten shillings per week plus fruit and vegetables.
It may not seem a very profitable return for nine years of education by todays standards, but to a family reared in a country left poor after five years of war and a staggering unemployment problem it meant the difference sometimes between eating and going without. There can be little doubt that the wealth of Great Britain in 1925 remained in the pockets of the munitions manufacturers with no thought of risking investment or helping their country or fellow man. So much for "King and Country".
It was during this period that the first consignment of Australian peaches arrived in Glasgow fruit markets with an incredible demand far exceeding the initial supply. The fruit, beautifully packed, wrapped in silver paper and white straw with twenty four peaches per box, was a credit to the Australian growers. Here was a young land with people prepared to invest and export to a country in the depths of depression but with millionaires not prepared to risk their ill gotten gains on investment.
The peaches sold for a shilling each to people who were fortunate enough to be in work or who had incomes from small businesses but they were beyond the reach of the ordinary family.
With my wages that week, I was given the choice of vegetables or peaches. Needless to say I chose the latter and duly arrived home with my ten shillings and three peaches. When Dad was offered his he asked "What are they?" with a distrustful look on his face and he refused to even taste it but Mum and I quickly solved that problem.
I always remember that era when I see a peach today. The thought and care that had gone into the presentation and packaging by and exporter who, under the circumstances was prepared to and did, take a gamble.
My employment with Peter Mitchell continued for a further twelve months until he sold his shop and I found myself unemployed for the first time with little prospect of conditions improving.
It was hard to believe that Glasgow, looked upon as the ship building yard of the world, didn't have a ship under construction. The slips were empty and the shipyards were closing down one after another, with each closure leaving the dreadful feeling of utter despair and a bleak future for all concerned.
It was during this period, after reading letters from my sister Mary with glowing descriptions of Australia, the lovely climate, houses all with bathrooms, green grass lawns and electric lights that I kept wondering how could a land which was part of the British Empire have so much and we, in the supposed hub of the Empire have so little. I decided to find out and pestered my Mum and Dad into allowing me to immigrate. The land that could produce fruit like those peaches surely had a place for a hard working lad such as I.
With the essential permission being received from Dad, the application for immigration was made; I had a home to go to on arrival, also a job as apprentice boiler maker with Dorman Long bridge builders. This I knew nothing about, but it complied with the necessary requirements of the Australian immigration laws. The fare of five pounds was posted off and we awaited the approval notice which duly arrived, informing us that Stewart Law Newall of 70 Florence Street, Glasgow, Scotland had been accepted as an immigrant by Australian Immigration and was booked to sail for the said country on the P & O branch liner Berrima, leaving Tilbury dock at 3 pm on the 3 January 1927.
My happiness on receivng the news was in stark contrast to the quiet and sombreness of the rest of the household which I would understand in the not too distant future.
The Christmas and New Year celebrations were special that year and included my farewelling. The result of a happy decision made by myself and accepted by my parents should be joyful, how could it be otherwise. I was duly rigged out with the type of clothing required for the Australian climate and all we had to do now was wait for the great day.
Between Christmas and New Year I was taken by my father to the opening of the Glasgow War Memorial where I saw the Prime Minister of Great Britain, the Right Honourable Lloyd George. He made a profound effect on me as being the only parliamentarian to make a solemn promise and fulfill it when he said at the end of his speech "I will make this a land fit for heroes to live in". I remember reflecting that only heroes could live in Great Britain and I left for Australia five days later.
The walk between my father and mother on the way to St. Enoch Station was not the great day I had anticipated. I found the wish to talk had gone. My mother, noticing my sudden silence asked me if I was alright and I found myself incapable of answering and just nodded my head. The much bragged about stiff British Upper Lip I am afraid, was obvious by its absence. I was on my way to saying good bye to people I had grown up with, with whom I had always been friends and who I may never see again. The loss of a friend has, from then until now, been the saddest moments of my life. I would no longer expect the "Hello Stewart" from neighbours whom I had seen daily and had always been a part of my life. I was realising how important they had become.