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During my 6th form course my parents arranged that when I passed my Higher School Certificate—and so gained exemption from the intermediate examination in the pharmaceutical society—I should become apprenticed at an old-established pharmacy near to Derby Road, called Marchants. I would think it was one of the first pharmacies in that area. It began when houses in Derby Road were being built and it was then called Millman and Marchants. Mr Marchant was quite old but he had a younger assistant, Mr Bridges, who taught me most of the things I knew. He was a very patient person and I think I must have caused him a great deal of anxiety and disappointment. Nevertheless he taught me a lot. There was a girl there who looked after the photographic side. She taught me about developing and printing films which was interesting but of course not in relation to the subject of pharmacy.
During the first year, I attended classes at the local technical college to prepare me for a business career. I took the Royal Society of Arts intermediate certificate, which included examinations in bookkeeping, commerce and commercial arithmetic and these I used to pass. However, they had one effect and that was that a business career was not for me. I persuaded everyone that I really ought to go to University and set about taking the London University matriculation examination. I passed this in the second year of my apprenticeship and in the third year of my apprenticeship I passed the intermediate examination of the London University for the bachelor of pharmacy degree in physics, chemistry, botany and zoology. I took the botany, chemistry and physics classes at the Gloucester Technical College, having persuaded my apprentice master to allow me an extra half day to attend the college, provided I also used my own half day to attend the college. I also had to attend college 2 nights a week. So it was quite tough. I used to cycle from Brockworth to Gloucester to be at the shop at 9 o'clock and, on 2 nights a week, I used to dash out of the shop on my bicycle and get to the college by 6 o'clock and there I stayed until 9. It was usually 10 o'clock before I got home on those 2 days.
My parents were tired of living in the country and the big garden was too much for us to manage so we bought a house on the outskirts of Gloucester, on Lonsdale Road. We found a tenant for the house in Brockworth. This made a big difference as I had now only a 1/4 hour cycle ride to work. I think that move had a major factor in my getting my entrance examination. Then I obtained a place in what was then Nottingham University College that offered the external degree in pharmacy of London University. Perhaps to everyone’s surprise, I got that as well. Then, during the course, I was befriended by the lecturer in pharmacognacy, i.e. the study of plants used in medicine. I did a little research for him during the long vacation and it was thought that I would be able to have a research studentship when I finished my finals. That was in 1938, but it fell through. I was advised to apply to the Admiralty for a post for an admiralty pharmacist in the naval hospitals. In fact, at that time a competition was held among pharmacists to join the admiralty service. For some reason known to the examiners I was put top of the list and sent to Chatham Hospital.
We're now getting onto the stage where I met Mavis but of course there were other girls in my life before then. I suppose the first one I formed any sort of friendship with was the girl at the shop, Rosina Brody. She was a good 7 yrs older than I was so I think she regarded me in rather a motherly way. She was quite an accomplished singer and used to have engagements at the local concerts and some distance away. Very often her invitations to sing at a concert were for herself and a friend. On some occasions she took me which was very interesting.
During this almost maternal relationship, when we moved to Lonsdale Road, I came across the son of our neighbours at 36 Derby Road, Hubert. He worked in the music shop at Gloucester and his sister was friendly with a girl whose parents’ garden touched ours, so I soon had a friendship with Phyllis. She was 2 to 3 years older than I, so again it was an almost maternal relationship. Then, in some of the college vacations, I used to work as centre secretary for the Holiday Fellowship, an organization to promote open air holidays. I met various friends, male and female, in that way. I think the secretary got looked upon as someone for the girls in the party to cultivate, someone to walk with and sit at the secretary's table. So I knew a number of girls that way and I had quite a lot of people with whom I would correspond, telephone or meet in London occasionally. Then my parents came to stay at Chatham for a holiday and they met, quite by chance, a lady who was in college with my mother. So, after my parents had gone back, this lady, Merab Sheppard, invited me to visit her and I promptly fell for their daughter, Mavis. We seemed to be made for each other.
Then came 1939 and the outbreak of war. I was promoted to senior pharmacist and sent to Aberdeen, Scotland, to help staff the Auxiliary Naval Hospital which was in a mental hospital on the outskirts of Aberdeen in a place called Kingseat. There people say that it never changed from being a mental hospital. I arrived there knowing absolutely nothing about staffing a hospital. I learned afterwards that I should have been trained in Chatham for this job. But in Chatham they did nothing, they just put me in the dispensary and let me get on with the dispensing work. I should have been trained for the management of the male hospital and the equipping of vessels for the medical service of warships so I landed in Aberdeen with not really any idea of what I had to do. There was also appointed or raked up from retirement an old retired Admiralty superintendent pharmacist boss and just before or after he left the Admiralty the whole system of organization of accounting for medical stores was changed. So the situation was that he knew of a system that had been changed and I knew nothing. We stumbled along from mistake to mistake but I didn't get the sack.
Mavis came to stay in Sept. 1939 for a fortnight. The schools in Kent where she was a teacher had an annual hopping holiday so she had a holiday with me. I was allowed leave at Christmas and so I spent Christmas mainly with Mavis; I spent some time with my parents as well. This Easter we went to a mountain called Benahee and the first evening we were there we climbed a nearby hill called Dunnedear, which had a ruined abbey at the top. I suppose it was the Sunday that we attempted to climb the mountain Benahee and became distracted by a name on the map called the Vat. We went to see this Vat and cavern formed by a stream going over some softer rocks. The stream and the rocks gradually formed the barrel shape depression and the outlet was fairly small, so in times of flood, the rocks were churned round and round and round inside the cavern and wore out the sides but not the top so you had a cavern with a light at the top and the stream pouring in and pouring out at the base. It was a really remarkable geological structure.
On the first day at this hotel we did climb Benahee. I have some photographs of us holding onto the rocks on top of the mountain as there was a stiff breeze trying to blow us off. On the way there we saw this ruined abbey called Dunnedear and the next day we set out to see the Vat and when we found it we thought we would climb a bit more and climbed 2 hills, Morven and Culbleen. On the way, Mavis slipped and sat in a stream. She managed to dry off, but thought we ought to get home so we set off and arrived at the main road only to find that the last bus had gone. We started walking but fortunately the bus was late so we managed to catch a ride back to the hotel in time to bath and have dinner. I was so tired that I could hardly keep awake during dinner and after dinner I just had to go to bed. Mavis was quite bright and cheerful and talking to the other guests. I think they sympathized with her that her boyfriend wasn't so lively as he ought to be. Nevertheless, these two occasions convinced us that we ought to get married and we did.
We were married during the Whitsun holiday and spent a few days at Weston-super-mare for our honeymoon followed by a couple of days with my parents in Gloucester. Mavis went back to Aylesford, in Kent, because she had to go back to school-teaching. I had a further week’s holiday but Mavis couldn't get any extra leave. We still had a jolly good holiday. The last few days were marred as Mavis developed an isciorectal abscess which could be a very nasty thing and she was quite ill. I had to go back to Aberdeen but the doctors saw that she went into hospital and they operated and cleared up this abscess. No permanent damage was done but it was a worrying time.
Mavis had some sick leave afterwards and came to Aberdeen for a sort of rest cure. I had decided to change digs and had given up my digs in Aberdeen so we stayed at the hotel near the hospital, Whitecairns it was called. I saw her off to go back home on the night train from Aberdeen station. I had found another place near the hospital and, after I saw Mavis off, I came back to Whitecairns and loaded a lot of things I’d got there on my bicycle to take them to the new digs. What happened then I don't understand. I was carrying some things on my bicycle, probably more than I should have, and had some sort of accident. At some stage, I fell off the bicycle. Next thing I remember is being picked up by a passing motorist and taken into the naval hospital. I had VIP treatment so it was no great hardship.
I don't remember anything about the accident. I remember being taken to the naval hospital and being treated there for concussion. The treatment in those days consisted of staying in bed for 3 weeks. Mavis managed to get some leave. It must have coincided with some sort of holiday—they had holidays to pick cherries and hops—and she came and stayed. She could visit me in the hospital when I was getting better and in fact raring to get up. It was more bearable when she was able to visit me. She stayed in the Whitecairns Hotel, the only hotel within miles. (We – Elton and Iris -- passed Whitecairns when we visited Aberdeen in February 1992.) The accident made us decide that we must find a house in Aberdeen and live together. When I was recovered, I was given 3 weeks’ sick leave that happened to coincide with Mavis' holiday again—the hopping holiday—so I had a fine convalescence staying at the Glen.
During this time, we had sums of money given to us as wedding presents. Well, in the war, there was nothing much else you could do and we went to Canterbury and bought the dining room furniture that is here at Cooleen -- there were 4 chairs and the sideboard -- and we bought a bedroom suite, and china and glass. The china and glass suffered a great deal, in the various house moves we had, but the furniture is still here.
We hadn't got a house at that time. Mavis had a contract with the Kent education authority that meant she had to work a certain time for them because they had contributed to her teacher’s training course. When that was finished, at Christmas, we planned to live together in Aberdeen, if we could manage it. We found a vacant house to rent in Aberdeen right near the bus route that went to the hospital so it was quite convenient. It was at 18 Elmfield Terrace, not at all Scottish. Our house was semi-detached, built of granite and a very nice house indeed. We were very happy there. We went back to Kent, to Mavis' parents, for one holiday, had an allotment and our neighbours were very good indeed. Any stories that you may hear that the Scots are not very hospitable or are mean are quite wrong. They were very generous.
We had been married about 9 months before Mavis came to live in Aberdeen. The furniture wasn't there, so we stayed at the family I was living with, the farm near the hospital, and the lady of the house Mrs. Dewkitt was very welcoming. While I was staying there by myself, I had been in a little room, because, near the hospital, there was a roaring trade in providing accommodation for hospital visitors and things like that. Naturally, being a single person, I'd had only a small room so she could use her double rooms for more lucrative guests. But when Mavis arrived she cleared one of these double rooms for us; it had a lovely fire. We joined the family for all the meals which was no hardship at all as she was a wonderful cook, doing it all on a range and open fire.
We were there about a week and then the furniture had got stuck somewhere because of an air raid on the railway so we went into Aberdeen and we bought a bed settee. We hadn't any lounge furniture so we thought it would be a first item for lounge furniture and we could sleep on it until the furniture arrived. We also bought a table, a folding table, which I think is still up in the loft, and 2 chairs—the cheapest wooden kitchen chairs that you could lay your hands on. They must have been cheap because they fell to pieces quite soon. We bought a couple of carpets, one for the living room and one for the bedroom so we existed very well until the furniture arrived.
We bought this furniture for the house we had found to rent in Aberdeen. It was a very nice little house, a living room with a lovely big window looking south out onto the street, a tiny front garden and a reasonable sized kitchen with a double sink and a copper, which used gas as the fuel, and a larder. The bathroom was on the ground floor and upstairs there were 2 smallish bedrooms and a nice big master bedroom. For a family with a boy and girl it would have been marvelous. We were in that house about a year and while we were there we had quite a lot of people come to visit us. My parents came, Ida and Grandma Myers came, Helen Addyman and Margaret Nixon. We didn't have many air raids but we did have one that I can remember. We didn't have any shelters of any sort but we went under the stairs while the raid went on. While I was at work all day, Mavis looked after the house—she felt she needed to swat up on the housekeeping—but when she got the feel of the house she joined the Mission for Deep Sea Fishermen and went to work in their canteen. That was quite a profitable enterprise because when she came home she always brought fish with her—fish that had just been caught. I think she had to work pretty hard there and then of course she became pregnant.
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