Chapter 9
The Harris Academy

 

A number of local people travelled daily to Dundee, so I had company each morning on my walk to Leuchars Junction. There were other boys and girls from Leuchars and Guard-bridge going to the Harris Academy and I was able to team up with two boys, who had already completed one term at 'The Harris', as the Academy was called locally. One new friend asked if I wanted to buy his first term books. I said yes, We had the same subjects.

At my first day at the Academy all the new scholars had to assemble in the large Hall together with second year pupils who knew where to go. As each name was called out by the secretary and we came forward we were handed a card. Mine read, 'Alexander Caseby, Ex-Dairsie Public School, Headmaster, Mr W.S. Seath. Subjects as follows - English, History, Maths, French, Latin, Science, Art, Arithmetic, Geography, Physical Exercise, Woodwork, Music/Elocution. My eyes fairly boggled at the string of subjects. After a lapse our names were called out again by the same official so, 'Alexander Caseby, proceed to Room so-and-so, your Register Master will be Mr so-and-so.' A former pupil met me and took me to find the room.

The building was really huge and bewildering with seemingly stair after stair, room after room. The Science and Art Rooms were four flights up with no lifts of any kind to them. A beaming teacher met me and shook me by the hand. By eleven o'clock, twenty-two pupils were enrolled and a bell rang to announce the forenoon break. My throat was dry and I needed the toilet. Fortunately just outside the room I met my second year train companion, the lad who offered me the chance to buy his first term books. He soon showed me the way to the drinking cups and toilets. My new friend later looked at my book requirements and told me that he had the lot which I immediately agreed to buy for 7/6, a saving of possibly 50/- on new books. In the course of my first day I visited six teachers in six different rooms. When the finishing bell sounded at four o'clock I felt much less anxious than when I arrived. I was quite satisfied, for I now felt that I could succeed with hard work plus my determined nature.

That evening the Guardbridge lad arrived at my home with my textbooks. They were well covered and in excellent condition throughout. The lad was paid 10/-, the price difference being made up by my elder brothers John, James and David. I was now all set for the first term.

At the end of the first week I had met all my teachers, visited all my necessary rooms and understood what was expected of me. Two teachers had been at St Andrews University with my brother John and they were most helpful. Two things I must admit were unpleasant. French and Latin and Science and Maths classes followed each other as double periods on a Monday. I found this heavy going. The other subject groupings and contents were quite pleasant for me, especially English, History and Geography.

Each day I had 21/2d for lunch. A small bowl of sour apple pudding the size of a cup cost 2d. The other halfpenny was intended for a small roll with soup, but I spent it sometimes on an ice-cream cone, other times on a fancy cake or sweets, to give my meal variety. My lunch was always the same because three colleges in Dundee had no catering facilities and students were encouraged to use MacDonalds Restaurant in Whitehall Crescent which provided our cheap school dinners.

Teachers also used the restaurant and my Art Master, Mr Plenderleith, nicknamed 'Mr Splendid Teeth', was a regular and always made a point of sniffing the flowers on his table and saying loudly, 'Ah! God's wonderful flowers.'

Devilment got the better of me and so one day I put plenty of pepper onto the flowers on his usual table causing him to sneeze violently, much to everyone's amusement. Somehow it did not really seem all that funny to me and from then on I tried to be less of a comedian.

I bought a train season ticket and so on Saturday afternoons I was back in Dundee shopping around for all kinds of groceries for my family and neighbours, finding bargain prices for commodities such as tea, margarine, bacon, cheese and rice. I would buy a big parcel of them for 2/6. The stallholders would give me a free bag of sweets for bringing them trade and the neighbour would tip me 3d for my bother, which they knew would be used to help with my school costs.

During school lunch hours my friends and I often toured Dundee Harbour. Here were scenes of great excitement when the whalers came in from Arctic regions. I can recall the seamen using long handled knives to carve up blubber, it being boiled up and the smells of extracted oil, the heaps of hides, teeth, walrus tusks and flippers. All the men looked so healthy after their Arctic voyages which brought great prosperity to Dundee.

Dock Street was another schoolboy favourite haunt. One shop window was where a man worked tattooing names and fancy creatures on the arms of seamen. Other good weather lunch times we visited places of interests such as the museum, art gallery, 'Sosh.' (Co-Op), D.M. Browns, G.L. Swilson, Smith Brothers, the Advertiser and rival Courier newspaper offices, the courts, jute mills and jam factories. Concerning the latter three, we were taught in Balmullo that Dundee was most famous for jute, jam and judges.

I wrote many essays and stories about these lunchtime explorations, the queer speech of many townspeople and covered exciting incidents including the Suffragettes stripping the slates off and then burning down the Kinnaird Hall, trying to do the same to Leuchars Station, then chasing Winston Churchill through Dundee streets and the digging up of St Andrews Golf Course greens.

The 'Wild Ladies' as the press named them, caused a lot of havoc and had many sympathizers amongst the male students at St Andrews University, including my elder brother John who met his future wife, Peg, on a 'Votes for Women' march. The only time I got the 'Tawse' (strap) in a Harris classroom was for being late back after lunch for a history lesson. The cause was that I had been watching and making notes about the Suffragettes' activities at the Kinnaird Hall. I also wrote about the laying of the foundation stone of Caird Hall, a very happy event attended by the whole Academy.

At the end of my first year I had an average pass mark of 68%. It had been a year of hard uphill slogging, mastering new techniques, understanding teachers, some were very mercurial, others the very opposite. One teacher strutted about as if he was a learned professor, full of self-importance and oblivious to the world outside his narrow specialism. He illustrated this one day by pointing to a pupil (who was obviously unwell), demanding, 'Who do you think you are? You with your head between your hands.'

The startled teacher was given a truthful, if ego-deflating answer when the pupil replied, 'I'm Willie so and so, frac Montrose, the Miller's loon. You're Mr So and So, sine frae Montrose, the Dairyman's laddie.'

A great hush fell over the class as the teacher retorted indignantly, 'Go to the Rector's room at once.' The lad did go, but within minutes he was dispatched to Dundee Royal Infirmary to have an emergency appendectomy.

When the boy returned to class some weeks later, teacher and pupil were friends.

My homework took up about one and a half hours per night for five nights during school session. I grew to love the Harris Academy, it had character, was well disciplined and always up to date. I made many good friends.

The years passed quickly while at the Academy. Thanks to the excellent teaching of Mr William Seath at Dairsie, I was well ahead for my years.

It was common talk at the Academy that if Germany had a good harvest the war would start. A German language teacher, Herr Pag Myre, a man of military bearing, just over sixty years of age, decorated for his courage in the Franco-Prussian War, gave September 1st as the day when hostilities would begin.

'And we shall win.' he said, 'with great new lands under the Kaiser.' One teacher, Mr George Blackhouse, who was in the' British Intelligence Corps in the Boer War, was most emphatic.

'We shall make you Huns lick our boots.'

Several of our German teachers were invited to Germany for the summer of 1914 which was a bumper harvest year and when war was declared they were interned and, rumour had it, they were well treated and used for translation duties in prisoner of war camps.

 

 

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This work, Going With God, is copywrited by Ronald R. Caseby, 1993.   All rights reserved.  Used here by express permission.