James Lownie Interview (25/9/06) Interview with Mr James Lownie on 25th September, 2006 (As usual, short interjections are in italics ; short statements of agreement/encouragement may be omitted at times ; the language is a mixture of Scots and English) Interview with Mr James Lownie on 25 September 2006 Celia: Now, Jamesie, if I can aa ye that, 1 this is gaen ti be aboot yer memories concerning fish and fishing, sellin fish and also yer Wartime memories. But first of aa, what’s yer full name? James: James Lownie Celia; And yer faimily hiv aye bidden in Gurden. Yes. A big family? James: Just me – the only son Celia: The only son, yes, the only child in the family. Wis yer father involved wi fish or fishin? James: Yes, he hid a line boat himself wi three of a crew Celia: So the very first that you can mind when you were a child, yer father was skipper, went ti the sea? James: He went ti the sea Celia: What wis the name o his boat? James: The Elizabeth Celia: The Elizabeth. Caa’d eftir a family member? James: ...Indistinct - in 1934 - Elizabeth was his mother’s… 2 Celia: His mother’s name. Right. Very good. When you were a child growing up in Gurden, did you hae a lot memories aboot say fish and fishing and boats? Did that play a big part in your life? James: Always, always. It wis, everybody wis employed in this village. It was line fishing. Each boat had maybe three or four of a crew, baited the lines by mussels, twelve hundred hooks each line. And everybody was employed in the village. 1
As with Andrew Cargill, the interviewer has known the interviewee for many years, coming from the same village, Gourdon. Both men were friends of her father. 2 Ellipsis here indicates a tailing off : it may sometimes also indicate an indistinct portion.
Celia: And as a child, did you hae ti contribute ti that? Did you hae ti do jobs? James: As child going ti school, sometimes I got up at six o’ clock in the morning ti shell mussels ti bait the line. I also had ti prepare the lines and everything. Celia: Aye mend the lines. Aye – fin the lines had gotten broken or jist tangled? James: And they baited up new lines, with the horse hair. Celia: Aye, for putting the hooks on at the end o a length o horse hair. James: To stretch them Celia: Fit wis the Gurden name for that? James: Tippence 3 Celia: That’s right. Tippence. Laughs. So fin they used the horse hair, did they hae a tippin steen? James: Yes. They had a small round…. Ti spin the horse hair? Ti spin the horse hair. And so it stretched to save the strain for the fish. Celia: So twelve hundred o these were attached to a really lang line – James: Yes, eh - fifteen hunk line. A hunk was eighteen fathom. Celia: And was yer mother involved in this as well? James: She baited the lines, yes. Celia: You helped ti shiel the mussels? James: Mind we used ti get up sometimes at four o’ clock in the morning – ti shell all these mussels and bait a line inti what they called a skull which was a cane basket.
Celia: In their rows. When you were a young laddie, did ye see that as a hard life or did ye jist tik it as a matter o course? James: We jist took it as a matter o course. It’s aa we knew. Celia; Yes, aye. And when did ye leave the school? James: When? When? Eh, 14 Celia: 14. Uhhuh. And what did ye do when ye first left the school? 3
See Andrew Cargill Interview for further details on tippence and line fishing, including shieling and baiting and redding lines.
James: Very first job was – lasted a few months. It wis a baker’s – Bannerman’s Market. Bannerman’s. Very good. And I had two baskets and used to go round the Gourdon village and Johnshaven with the rolls in the morning. Celia: Aye. That’s super. Will we just stop for a wee minute till we hear how this is going? Celia: Okay, now picking up fae there, Jamesie. Ye were workin for Bannerman’s, the Baker’s just for the two months – Aye, two/three months – two/three months – Fit did ye doh eftir that? Now yer first jobs? James: Aye, we spoke aboot the first een, the Bannerman’s een. Yes, okay, eftir Bannerman’s. …. Well, the wages were nothing – ten shillings a week was the basic. I wis at two fish houses. Then I went to a third one and I went on a fish van, supplying St. Cyrus, Montrose and Brechin with fish which took the whole week to do. The takings came to the massive sum of £20 for the whole week and my wage and runnin the van and everything had to come off that £20. Celia: And how much had you had a week then for a wage? James: I had – I was - I hid aboot maybe a £ for the week’s … Celia: A £ - for a hale week?! Gasp James; And then after that I went to another fish house but I got a rise and it was £2 something. Celia: My goodness! Can I just interrupt for minute, Jamesie and ask ye, how mony fish hooses wid there have been in Gurden at that time? We’re speakin aboot the early 1930s, are we? James: 1930 – prior to 37. 37, 35 – 37. There would have been at least seven fish houses and the amount o fish – all the piers was covered wi fish every day. Two fish salesmen sellt fish.
Celia: Di ye remember their names, the two fish salesmen? James: Yes, one was called David Ritchie. The other firm was Peter and J. Johnstone. Mr Brown was the salesman. Celia: Oh yes. He was even the salesman fin I wis growin up. Wis he? Fin I wis a lassie. Aye, I believe he wis, unless it wis a different Boyle. Could hae been a brother or something, I’m nae sure. 4 Did you say ti me earlier on, aff tape, that one o the early fish hooses that you worked for - wis it far the Gurden garage used ti be? That’s right, yes. Wis it a really small fish hoose? 4
The Interviewer has picked up the wrong name, taking Brown for Boyle. The latter was indeed a salesman in her youth, not Mr Brown!
James: Oh no – it’s big building. Just say it - fit ever wye ye wan ti say it. Dinna want ti say it. Celia: Ye want me to switch aff? Aye. 5 Celia: Ye were speakin aboot that place that was a garage and it was a fish hoose. It was a big building. Jist describe it a bittie. Tell us a bittie aboot it. James; It used ti be an old coalshed. Eh – I can remember when there was three small steamships came into Gourdon, one with timber, coal and everything and this fish house, the floor was just in a terrible condition. We did lay some cement but it was all broken down and we wis workin fish amongst this. Celia: Aye, so the conditions were pretty basic, pretty primitive? James: I go earlier on at school time. My grandfather was employed by a James Mowatt from Aberdeen. He was an old skipper of a trawler and the fish used to come in at Gourdon, ungutted - and this here, a fish hoose just next here - Aye - we used to lay out the boxes and I wis only a kid at the time, lay out the boxes and the fish came in ungutted. We just poured the boxes inti Bookless Brothers Glasgow boxes and it went away by train every day. That wis just the start o the seine net fishing and the boats used to go out here in the morning. There ‘s two seine net boats. They would go out and first drag in the morning, they would get thirty boxes, well, haddocks. One drag and back in again by maybe eight or nine o’clock in the morning. Celia: That’s a huge catch. Aye And this was when you were at yer first ….yer earliest fish houses? James: This was before I started school. Before ye started school? Before I left school. I used to write out the tallies for Bookless and that was – I could write them oot – Baith hands - baith hands and they just clapped on the tickets and away ti the train ti Glasgow. Celia: So you were dohin this while ye were still at the school? Fin I wis at school. At school. So there was line fishing but there was also seine net fishing at that time? Start o the seine net. James: Start o the seine net fishing. There wis two boats at the seine net fishing. There was The Happy Return and – fit wis the ither name? Happy Return wis Brimie? James and his wife, Mina try to work out the name of the second seine net boat. Jimmy Gowans was the skipper. James: Switch aff.
James was reluctant to comment on poor the Health and Safety conditions of this fish house in those early days but given it was so long ago, the description he provides is interesting and not out of order.
Celia: Jimmy Gowans. So – no, that’s a richt, You just carry on. So, huge catches comin ashore at that time and comin in ti aa the different fishhooses? James: Oh aye. There was a fishing ground for the line boats, fourteen mile off Gourdon. And I’ve seen the boats coming in with up to 40 boxes o fish that day. All alive, kicking. Just newly caught. Celia: Now you worked at different fish houses in Gurden eftir ye left the school. Yes. Yes. Up until ye got a driving licence? James: Until I got a driving licence at seventeen years of age and I passed the first time. Went on the fish van. Celia: Fa were yer fish - who was the fish van connected to? James: James Ritchie. Then I got the opportunity with another fish house – Charles Gibb – Oh aye – He had his own van and had prepared the fish van. Got a rise in wage – until they started the War. Right. Andra’s brother, John - Andra? Andrew Cargill? Oh aye - yes – Govie. Brother John – his brother died. And he was in the Royal Naval Reserves and he got killed – he wasn’t killed. He got drowned between Faroe and Iceland at the very start o the War. And that’s why I joined up. Celia: Aye, ye volunteered? James: I volunteered – eh – in November, near enough. November 1939. I must’ve looked very young when I went to the Recruiting Office in Dundee cause he gave us the chance to go home and we could have two years at home. Celia: Before ye had to join up - uuhuh. James: Some o my pals did go back but I carried on. Celia: Now, foo did ye cairry on? Foo wis that? James: Well, I thought I was doing something for the country – Yes, uuhuh and the thought o my pal being …. 6 Aye. Just … We went right down to Plymouth. My first meal after that long journey – we arrived between seven and eight o’ clock at night at Devonport Barracks, at Plymouth – and - ye would believe me – we got a meal o boiled herring, with all the chits and everything in it. I couldna look at it. Laughs. Oh dear, oh dear. And I was starving o hunger. Celia: Goodness! Ye would have though they would have been able to prepare it richt. Dear me. What did yer father say to you, volunteering and gaen awa ti the War as quick as that, November of 39? Was yer father happy aboot that? James: I don’t know. I must have been keen to get a way earlier than that because I got – my father was in the war, the first War and he was on ships at Ireland – 6
James allows the end of the sentence to peter out as he reflects on the loss of his pal, John so early in the War.
seemingly he was well up in the Cunard, his Skipper was well up in the Cunard and I asked my father if he would write and get me a job. But after, he wouldn’t let me go. He did get a job for me but I had to start right from the very bottom. Celia: Can you just back track for a meenit. Yer father had a boat at this time, the Elizabeth – Yes, that’s right - but you instead went to work in the different fish hooses. Did ye consider gaen ti the lines, gaen ti the sea wi yer father? James: I don’t know, my father didn’t seem to want me to do that. Celia: No. Did he hae a reason for that? James: I couldna understand it. Mina (James’s wife): Can I? He wid hae to get his own line. His mother could only bait one line, for his father and he would hae to pay oot for his hale line to be shelled and baited. Celia: Somebody to bait it and somebody to shiel it, shiel for it. James: Understand at that time, the boats went a whole week at the sea sometimes and they never made enough as pay for expenses, to pay for it all for the engines and shelled – shieling and baiting. That;s right. Mina: Some weeks it wis … James: The mussels had to come from as far as Morecambe or Dundee. I seen two whole lorry loads o mussels for one day for the whole village. Celia: For the village. So it was a big industry at that time but the labour was the problem and paying for the labour, ye needed somebody to bait the line and shiel the mussels for it. James: There was 34 line boats at one time. Celia: So the herber was pretty packed? James: Oh, lined up, just lined up Mina: Tell them aboot Granny – and the half croon. James: Oh aye. There was one Saturday, I used to – out o my ten jarries a week, I got half a croon 7 and one night I went up to Granny and she was sitting greetin. Didna hae enough to get her syrup and loaf. Celia: Her syrup and ? Syrup and loaf. Syrup and loaf – oh dear. 8 7
Ten jars of shelled mussels. Syrup and loaf was a basic standby food and often a young family could be filled up with slices of loaf and syrup when little else was available. 8
James: So I said, “Well, granny here’s my half croon” I aye mind aboot that. Celia: You were a generous and sympathetic grandson, eh. Gosh. Just a s a quick aside, did you caa yer grandfather “deddie” or grandfather? Cause I caa’d my grandfather “deddie”, Deddie Edom. James: It was deddie, deddie, that’s right. Celia: It seems to be a “Gurden- ism – that’s right - which is interesting. It’s another interesting aspect. I think it's the same in Johnner 9 but I’m nae sure how far afield the word “deddie” gings. So there you are, Jamesie, aichteen year auld and awa doon to Devonport in November 1939, - that’s right - an inedible meal o herring for yer first meal. So how did ye get on, fit wis it like? James: Well, we were lying in, were sleeping in the gym, on the floor in the gym.. Parade ground in the morning. Nithing hardly ti eat. Honest. I’ve seen - There was 27,000 sailors in the barracks. I’ve seen at dinner time the crush. Maybe ten or a dozen being wheeled away, dropped – deid fainted - aye fainted, in the rush for food. Aye. For food, glorious food. For food because if ye didna get ti the table, there was just a certain amount o bread and things spread. If ye didna get ti the table, ye’d had it. That was the state o affairs at that time. Terrible. I was there for aboot six weeks. Celia: And you were getting training during that time? James: Training and I was once sent out down to guard where the Chinese, where the laundry wis – Oh yes, aye, aye – in the dark at night and I had a rifle but no bullets or anything No, no. and the Chinese used ti run. Ye would wonder when the Chinese would nearly step on yer feet running past. Another job I got was on guard on the liner called The Edinburgh Castle. There was four of us on the gun. Two on the gun plank – four hours on and four hours off. That was one o the jobs. I wisna very chuffed at that time. And then I got a draft to Lowestoft. To the Sparrow’s Nest, that was fit they called it. My first draft was to Harwich to a trawler and I was on it – the book called Trawlers at War or something and that was the trawler that was on the front page o that magazine. The War Duke was its name. James in Navy uniform
Celia: The War Duke. Right. And what … ye were on patrol, coastal patrol or were ye minesweeping or … ?
Nearby village of Johnshaven, three miles south of Gourdon
James: No, this job was to take The War Duke – it had come in to Harwich trawling, wi all the gear in and everything and we had to take it from Harwich to Hull to get re-fitted. Celia: And what boat were you on? What was your ship caa’d? James : That was The War Duke. Celia: That was The War Duke. James: Aye, it was on the War Duke . That was The War Duke. Yes, yes, yes. James: Out of Harwich – there was a destroyer – the first destroyer that was sunk. It was on the mouth of the Harwich River and we ran aground in a south-east gale just beside the trawler and that’s the worst night I ever put in. It’s the only time I was really sick and that was the night that the lightship was bombed off Grimsby and they got the bodies on the beach the next morning. Aye, we heard the bombing – heard the bombardment – right – as we were going north there. So from there, back to Lowestoft again. And a draft to Dunoon to go through anti-submarine course and then I was put on a drifter to Harwich again wi hydrophones – there was no Asdics at that time. Hydrophones were a big – dome put on the bottom o the ships and we could hear the propellers o the ships – Oh, I see. Aye, aye - in the Channel. And I was there for ten month in E-Boat Alley and then I got a draft back to Lowestoft again and put on for a course of anti-submarine – Asdics, as they call it. Celia: Yes. You said an E- Boat just now. That’s different fae a U- Boat, isn’t it? James: Oh aye, an E-Boat was a quick like – a motor boat wi torpedoes a the back. Oh they were deadly. They had a big speed o thirty or forty knots. Celia: Did ye come across a lot o boats like that or did they just remain a sound that you were picking up occasionally? James: There was one night – thick fog and we use d to have to steam from one buoy to another - the lost buoy – and next thing we heard was the German voices and we were terrified because we only had an old Hotchkiss’s gun from the First World War and it used to jam and so the Skipper cried, “Now don’t say a word” . And so we got clear o him anyway. He never, he didna hear us. Celia: That was lucky. Mina: No defence, did ye? James: Oh we’d nothing. Celia: Ill-equipped. James: We had to go out there for five days, five days on, five days off - at a time – and yer bread was always mouldy and everything by the time ye got …oh aye. And they had a vegetable - these drifters had a vegetable cage on top of the filey, what they called the filey – What’s that? - above the engine, the engine casing – Oh I see and the vegetables used to be rotten.
Celia: Rotten. Seems a funny place to put a vegetable rack! Aye, that’s right. Wid there nae be some heat coming aff . James: Oh no, there was nae heat – No – there was never nothing o that in thae days. Celia: Oh dear – so the food wisna good and it was pretty much terrifying. James: I’ll gie ye anither laugh about the... Our cook was a nineteen year old lad from Caister – Caister – far’s that? Caister – England – it was down in … so he just didna hae a clue about cooking and we hid seven or eight Scotchmen aboard and he made soup one day and it was just like water and John Murray fae Buckie says, “Cookie, ye’ll hae to pit something amin the soup ti gies it a taste .” He said, “Pit an ingin or something in amon it.” So the next day the soup comes forrit and there’s little white bitties floatin in the water. And he says, “Good God, Cookie, fit’s that ye’ve puttin in amin ?”. “Well, Jock,”he says, “You told me to put an egg…” 10 Laughter. That’s just one case o fit happened . Oh dear. One – and Christmas time they bought a seven pound tin o corned beef and that was a string and threw it doon the gangplank. He said, “That’s yer Christmas dinner. That was … laughs. Celia: Dear. Now did ye move to a different area eftir ye had done some time there at Harwich, Hull etc? James: Aye, we were – we had – we did two or three different jobs there. We had – also mine laying – nae mine laying – was also dan laying for the mine sweepers. Celia: What – ye were putting oot buoys, a dan? James: Aye, once they swept the Channel, we put dans doon. Celia: So that was a clear passage. James: Aye and then when we swept this other bit, we lifted the dans and put it eh – so that they knew where… Celia: And was that highly dangerous, this sweeping? James: Oh, there was mines everywhere. We used to have to go round the – what they called the Goodwin Sands. And ye could see – when low water, ye could see the mines on top o the sand. There was a lightship blown up not far from… Celia: Did ye feel scared quite a lot o the time or did ye get used to it or what? James: Aye, ye got used to it. Ye got yohsed ti it. Ye just never knew when … Celia: How may leaves did ye hae while you? How long were ye awa at the War aa thegither and how often did ye get leave? 10
A classic case of English incomprehension of Scots “dialect” or language. An “ingin”, of course, is an “oinion”.
James: I was very unlucky for leave, wasn’t I? I was at Dunkirk in 1940. Celia: What were ye doin at Dunkirk? James: Takin off the troops off the beaches. Celia: So that was anither job that ye went till? James: We went right into the harbour – the jetty was on fire. We went two or three mile along the beach – in Dunkirk? At Dunkirk and the soldiers were wading up to their necks. I’ve seen pictures, aye. Well, we towed three small boats - eh – across and the first one that we let go to the beach was blown right out o the water. You saw that? Within fifty yards o us – so I was on the capstan, the old-fashioned capstan, pullin in other boats all night. We took two hundred and forty-six soldiers back to Ramsgate from Dunkirk. There was not much free board left on the trawler, wi the weight o the soldiers. Celia: This trawler ye were on - was this still the same trawler? What was it caa’d again? What was its name again? Was it the War Duke? Strive – no the War Duke was another job. Oh, that was finished, that was delivered. And this was caa’d Strive? James: Strive – it was a Lowestoft drifter. Celia: Right. Okay – but pretty big. How big would it have been? James: Oh, wid a been seventy foot. Celia: Seventy fit – right, aye. What did you feel like being at Dunkirk? Were you aware that this was a massive defeat for the Allies and yet a huge rescue operation? James: We realised it. Ye realised that. We seen the state that the sodjers wis in. It wis something terrible. Celia: Ye mean being wounded or just totally terrified? James: Just terrified. There was bombs and everything flying about. Celia: Was there aircraft overhead as well? Oh aye, there was aircraft. Sounds terrible. Were you nae faird? James: I wis faird a guid lot o times,I’ll tell ye. Celia: Aye, ye must have been. Ye couldna see aa that and nae be faird, could ye? Mina: No and that was after ye was oot abroad, was it? James: No, that wis afore. Mina: Afore ye went oot abroad.
Celia: 1941 - 1940 – 41. Aye. James : And then from there I went – commissioned… Did ye nae get a leave eftir ye’d been at Dunkirk?! James: Three days Celia: Three days. Did ye come hame ti Gurden or was there nae time? James: I’d nae claes left. I gaed a sodjer my best suit and everything and I said “Now gimme it back before we go ashore at Ramsgate but the next thing I seen him in a sma boat away. Celia: He hidna had the time, the chance to gie it back. James: I got three days leave and no clothes to put on. A good job I had an overcoat. I come home in an overcoat and a jersey. If I had been caught by the naval – Laughs Celia: An did ye – ye cam hame ti Gurden at that time? Train – right up fae London? James: Right up fae Ramsgate – Ramsgate, aye. Up ti Montrose? Took ye a day and a day back again. Celia: So ye’d only a day in Gurden? James: Just aboot it, aye. End of Tape 1, Side 1 Celia: This is Side 2 of the Tape with Mr James Lownie. Now, we’ll continue on. We were speaking about your leave and I started to say about my Uncle Joseph that wis killed in the War aff The Beverley and how his last leave wis affa sad because he thocht he widna be back and he wisna and he still had to endeavour to get back, report back for duty and so on. But you’re saying you had very few leaves. Is that right? In the course o five, six years even. James: I was very unlucky for leaves because I was twenty month out – eh – in the Mediterranean – at one time. Celia: Now, was that eftir Dunkirk or before Dunkirk? James: That wis – ah but I had a while after Dunkirk – I was sent to Lowestoft for a course on Asdics and from there I was sent – up to Campbelltown to train with submarines and everything for that job. Then back to Lowestoft and got a draft to Paisley to pick up a ship at a yard just across from John Brown’s and it was an Admiralty-built special trawler for mine sweeping and patrolling and anti-submarine. Our first trip I went up to Scapa Flow and our first trip was escort a ship up to Faroe Islands to - the – for mail for the troops and everything. As far as we understood there was twenty-six thousand troops in Faroe. Was there? Aye – Joey Douglas was
up there 11 Gosh – didna ken that aither. And we made land at night, just before dark and it was hazy- kind and our Captain was not right sure where they made the land – so this big ship dropped an anchor and we put a wire hawser doon because our cable wasn’t long enough for the depths of water. Within half an hour, this great black cloud came out the sea, a hurricane o wind, a hundred and twenty-six mile an hour in Faroe and snow. We steamed thirty-six hours through this. A lieutenant commander from – belonged Peterhead took change o our ship. He was going to take charge o all the flotilla trawlers in Faroe and he took charge o our ship. And our Skipper wanted to turn the ship round about and he says, “ If ye turn the ship round about now, it’s the last thing ye’ll do. You’ll turn it round when I tell ye.” When we got into Faroe, they thought we had been bombed. All our chartroom was away; smaller boats both sides was away; five hundred gallon drums o oil to both sides o the ship – there was ten each side – we had to hack them away . They thought we had been bombed. Celia: Ye were that badly battered. James: There was a twelve pounder gun forward and it was bent over. It was that bad. We got two months leave in Aberdeen - two months refit – To refit uhhuh – That was the time that Aberdeen was bombed. And then after that we went back to Faroe, patrolling Faroe and sighting all the mines that were floating up there. One night we got word to send, to proceed to Cardiff, get a refit, ready for going ti Oran for the Invasion of North Africa. 12 I got a jag for – typhus? – No – vaccinated and it went – time I was on leave - it went poisonous, right down to here. 13 Oh dear. They sent me away to Gibraltar on that ship like that – no doctor, or nothing. Dear me. However, my wife was expecting my son at that time. It was six weeks before I heard what had happened to them. We went away then for days. Our job was patrolling the beach at Oran where the French fleet was in the harbour. The Rodney and Renown was beside us. They sent in two old American destroyers to try and break the barrage to let them in. And they said to the French fleet, “Come out and give yourselves up or we’ll blow ye out of the water.” Well, that night the French fleet tried to get out, come out but the Rodney and the Renown and other battleships was alongside the high land and they did just blow them right out o the water. Next morning, there was this destroyer came, thinking the four trawlers that was on the beach could have landed the troops. They thought this is an easy meat, easy … - but he didn’t know there was a destroyer inside of us and he just come out and the first salvo, he made up a smokescreen and the French destroyer came out the smoke screen and our destroyer behind him. They never left one survivor. Celia: You’ve been in some really dangerous situations, Jamesie Lownie, some really dangerous situations. 11
Another Gourdon man, known to Interviewer and Interview, a mate of Celia’s father too. James later clarified some details of this episode. His ship, Strive, witnessed the destruction of the Vichy French fleet at Oran which chose not to surrender and paid the ultimate penalty at the hands of the Royal Navy, including the Navy’s “darlings”, the famous Rodney and Renown. The whole French fleet was sunk except for one destroyer which was later blown up by the Lightning. The sequel is an amusing story for the Strive. Apparently one of their stokers had gone missing but was later found intoxicated on retrieved French wine below decks. Barrels of French wine were floating in Oran Harbour when the Strive entered after the bombardment. 13 James indicated that his whole arm from shoulder to wrist was affected. 12
James: That’s nae telling ye about the convoys on the North Africa coast. It was terrible. Celia: I ken aboot the North Atlantic convoys because that’s what my father was on but I dinna ken aboot the North African? James: Oh aye, it was terrible. It trawled from Oran, right along to Algiers to Bone, Sarajevo, up to Malta. I was in Malta two or three days. Celia: Picking up aboot Malta, Jamesie. Fit were ye gaen ti be saying there? James: We wis – fit di ye caa the island that – at Malta – Cosmo Celia: An island beside Malta? Never mind just caa it that – an island beside Malta… James: Wis jist sent roond the corner fae the main –and there’s an island there. Mina: Just a little, tiny island. James: We lay there – sent there for the Invasion. And when they made the land at Sicily, we thought aa the ships was lost. We could just see the masts o aa the ships on the beach. But it wis a haze. A heat haze. But when we approached the land nearer, here’s aa this eh gliders floatin in the sea. Americans – planes – the pilots – whenever they got the Ack-ack fae here up, they let them go – the gliders – in the sea…. Oh, goodness. A sad sicht. Never heard a cheep aboot that. I needna say that aboot … Celia: No, no but that’s aricht. Ye’ve been in an affa lot o dangerous situations, Jamesie. Fit wid you say wis the maist dangerous? Wid it hiv been Dunkirk? Wid it hiv been North Africa? Sicily? James: Dunkirk – Dunkirk, I think, aye. Celia: Maist dangerous. James: The maist dangerous time, was I think roond aboot Harwich and that. Wi the mines. I hid, I’ve hid ships blawn up. Nae far fae ye? We drapped anchor ae nicht aff Harwich, nae far aff Harwich. We were here and there was a destroyer there. Now during the nicht, we turned, ken fin yer lyin at anchor, ye turn. There’s was een o – ken they hid special things that they towed to blaw up the mine, the magnetic mines. They’d special things that they towed, some o thae boats. Well, there was een o them come between me, us and the destroyer and that gings a mine. Now fit wye did we miss that? Nae far awa was a trawler caa’d the Sisiphone and the chaps was aa ….. oot ti hae a sweem – up goes the trawler. Blawn rich toot o the watter. Ye could see the bottom o the trawler. Celia: That sounds very dangerous. Wid that have been mair dangerous than being torpedoed?
James: Well, ye widna ken. Celia: Ye widna ken. There’s nae choice. James: Torpedo – little thing like us. We widna haen nae chance wi a torpedo. But there wis a chappie, Cargill – I was aboard him ae nicht at Harwich, aboard his boatie and eh he gaed awa oot and next day he was lost, a lad Cargill. He wis a great sweemer toh. Celia: Sad. As the War was gaen on, em, and ye were in aa they different theatres o the War, areas o the War, did ye get a strong feeling, it was time the War was over? Fit was the main feeling? Were people getting really edgy and anxious and fed up? James: Oh aye. I’ll tell ye the truth. Fin I come hame fae the War, I wis a bunch o nerves. Ye would be. Cause we were the first ship in. We had to mine sweep aa the ports. I got a special medal, North Africa, for working with the Eighth Army. Ye ken, taakin thae places an mine sweeping the place. Fin I got ti Sicily, it was the same thing. I wis in the first port, the first port that wis teen. I wis the first ship – me and anither minesweeper wis in the port first. And we wis shelled fae a battery jist – fin we gaed in – we gaed in ti the very place far there wis shelling Celia: Far it had been shelled. Sounda affa, affa dangerous. Sound terrible times, really. James: And then Augusta. We gaed up fae Syracuse ti Augusta and that’s far there wis the twa torpedoes. And we wis pootin on the boom to open, to let the ships oot and in. And, eh, we wis waitin a supply ship comin in for gien us – we hid nothing ti eat. And we used ti hae ti ging ashore ti the fairmer and get a chit fae the offices, nae the office – get a chit and ging inti a field, a fairmer’s field and gither tomatoes, tomatoes and hard biscuits for six weeks. It’s unbelievable. Unbelievable. And then eventually me and – they got the sma boat ower – thir ship cam in. And the next morning, daylicht, here’s the ship jist the masts, sunk. We’d an affa air raid that nicht. And eventually we got the sma boat and me and this – It’s nae on, is it? Carry on. Me and this eh, eh Nairn,, young fella fae Nairn were good sweemmers and we gaed ower ti the supply ship and dived doon and got the hatch open and we got Amercian supplies and were quids in. Filled the boat. Celia: A treasure trove of food, eh. Aye well, but ye deserved that. James: And then we were sent for coal. And we were sent till a barge and we were digging in amongst this – jist like stour – Italian coal’s jist like stour - coal dust – and here’s a great lot o sails and mines and aathing underneath the coal. The Germans had jist filled it up. So the next day we wis sent ti taak a ship oot ti get her compass adjusted for they were supposed ti protect them fae the air cause they’d nae guns, some o them. And we just got ootside the harbour when the air raid signal went. And of coorse wi this stoury coal that we hid, oor ship was force draft, and it used to just come oor through the funnel, black – oh yes, belchin black smoke - and this plane cam oot the – of coorse we had gin up ti …. afore that and come back ti Augusta and we wis at Bahrain and, fit di ye caa it – Sorrento – Oh yes - and we came back ti Augusta and this stoury coal and the air raid, a plane cam oot , richt up through the
coal, machine gun through the mast and a bomb each side and het a cordite box on the gun platform, killed one o my pals, belongin Ladybank and injured the ither five that wis on tap o the gun. 14 And I wis up – I was thrown aff my seat at the side o the Captain o the ship 15 and he went oot the chartroom and he looked over – and he started vomiting over the one side and he came in and he said, “ Lownie, ye better go and see what ye can do down there. Seems to be a lot o damage.” So I went down and went up on the gun and here’s a lad, Jim – Yer pal – Buddo fae Ladybank. 16 First thing I saw, his airm was aff be here – it was all blue – just blown aff – so I went down to the chart room and here’s the Leading Seaman wi the rum jug. I says let’s help myself ti the rum and I hid ti put my pal in a straight jaikit and we drowned him - Sea burial? Sea burial. Celia: Did ye .. wis – that must hae been affa sad. Did ye hae ti , did ye say some words? Did the Skipper say some words o committal, a service. That’s right, aye. That’s sad, isn’t it. That was a really, I mean that was an affa close call, an affa close call. I da ken. I da ken how you lads made it through. I da ken how you made it through. Mina: Was jist dead lucky. James: Was twenty months oot there. Wi that happenin we were sent back ti Gibraltar ti join a convoy which was five knots convoy. Slowest ship was – ye always went at the speed o Celia: That’s right but that’s affa slow. Ye could be picked aff. James: And ye had to go five hundred mile inti the Atlantic and right up. Celia: What was yer destination? James: Destination was Britain. Celia: Aye but were ye crossing the Atlantic? Oh I see, ye were gaen north – aye, aye, yes, yes, aye. James: Ye gaed right out five hundred mile and then right up north – Right up north, yes, yes, aye. But fin we were out, something went wrong with our boiler and the Chief Engineer had to go down in the boiler. Of course ye had to allow a certain time before ye could go down there because the heat. And he was hammering at something, must hae been some silt or something that got in and eh, eventually got started up and the convoy had left us on our own and we were going up towards Ireland and here’s a U- Boat in front o us. It happened ti be one of our own. What a relief But the Chief Engineer that went down ti the boiler, he died before we got in ti Ireland.
James describes how the plane during the air raid emerged from their black smoke emissions, with machine gun and bombs, causing death and destruction aboard their ship. 15 James explained later that he was usually on the Bridge operating the Asdic, having had antisubmarine training. 16 James told me later that the pal’s name was John Buddo
Celia: Dear me and what time would that hae been? 1943 or something? James: That would hae been 194… - 1944 Mina: He came back for the Invasion – ye know the … James: We were actually – we were going to be sent back Celia: Aye, for D-Day, ye mean? James: For D-day. Aye but this happenin , we just missed it. We got into... We run short o fuel and we went into the West Coast,… but the Skipper he belonged Aberdeen and he said, “We’ll get fuel in Aberdeen”. So he managed to have enough as get to Aberdeen. Oh, I see. We go into Aberdeen and had a day in there and then we went doon to Hull for a re-fit – but that was the day o the landing. Oh yes, aye. We just missed it and I got, eh, twenty-nine days leave. I was like this. (Indicates delight). Celia: Back ti Gurden? James: Back ti Gurden. Celia: And meantime you had a family, did ye, by that time? James: Oh aye, it was twenty months on before I seen him. Mina: Aye, he was twenty month afore he saw him. He was walkin and aathing. Celia: He would be – yes. That was Edward? 17 Aye. Goodness. And while you were awa at the War aa that time, things were just chugging on as usual in Gurden, just line fishing, shielin, baitin, aa the rest o it? James: Aye – fit time wis it noo – fin I cam back fae that re-fit, that two month re-fit in Aberdeen? I phoned home and she says, “I can’t get away from my work”. She was workin. Mina: I was called up, ye see. Were ye?! I hid ti ging ti Montrose Factory, work in the hoose in the fruit and vegetable at Chivers. Oh right, aye. Aye, I got a notice through the Employment Bureau. Gosh. I hid ti pay digs… James: That wis the year o affa snaw Celia: Was it? That was nae 43? Mina: That musta been before 42. Edward was born 42. James: It was the year … I hid ti .. I says I’ll see aboot that.18 So I took the bus from Aberdeen and went ti the Factory and I went to the Employment and I say, “I’m on 17
Edward is a little older than the Interviewer : they attended the same primary school. James picks up his story which began with his phone call from Aberdeen to discover his wife was unable to get away from her War work. 18
leave and I want my wife with me.” (‘O, ye can’t’). I says, “Well, I’m just takin her and that’s all that’s about it.” And that was that. She never worked after that. Celia: I didna realise. Was there a lot o women got called up in that wye, Mina? Mina: If ye’d nae children, ye wis called up. Oh, I see. I hid ti go and I hid to pay – well, we’d nae transport ti get back and forth and, and I had to accept – and by the time ye paid yer digs and that, ye wisna that much profit. (Pause). I wisna gaen ti get off. If he hidna been here - ti ging and insist ye get off – I jist come off but I hid ti turn oot and work. I canna mind if I – Ye never gaed back (James) … left ti bait John’s line. By this time my brither was gaen ti the sea. I think I had maybe got off or something ti bait Celia: To do that instead. That would hae been considered essential work. Probably, aye. Now, Jamesie, in the last few years o the War, em, 45, 44/ 45, what were you up to at that time? Where were you then? James: Ah well, after that I was drafted up to Scapa Flow and I was on the boom, the main boom for Scapa Flow. We used to patrol that night and day. It was just the usual – five days and five days in. We used to work a bit o line – Oh right - cause I knew all about that, line fishing. Well, my petty officer was, belonged Helmsdale and he knew aboot the lines so we – what we called seven hunks line which was five hundred and sixty heuks. Well, we went up Longhope Bay in Scapa Flow and collected mussels off the beach, cock cockles , not mussels – Cockles uhuh – we shelled the cockles and baited the lines and we had little white buoys so that they would hardly be noticed and we always shored and pulled them during the darkness. We used to get big haddocks and everything just at the boom and had to fillet them and fry them and everything. Celia: I bet that was tasty! James: Oh, aye – compared to some o the food – the Skipper widna hae naebody fryin his fish but me. Celia: Ah well, it’s good to hear that got some good fresh food for a change. James: I wis gaen ti be puttin on a charge at Scapa Flow. Celia: Gasp! Because o the fishing? James: No, Skipper went away on ten days’ holidays and there was an old man from Milford Haven – I canna mind his name – he come and took – was supposed to be in charge. Well, we were always in touch wi the Base all the time… Well, eh, the petty officer took one watch and I took the other watch. We never seen the old skipper all the time that he was supposed to be on board. So when my own Skipper came back he went up to the Iron Duke 19 and he came back and says. “Lownie, you’re on a charge for being negligent”. I said, “Okay” so I was put in front o the Captain and I 19
The Navy’s base ship at Scapa Flow. James later described working aboard the Iron Duke,down in the magazine, in the bowels of the ship, digging out shells from the sand at the bottom to clear the magazine – very warm work!
said , “Look, I’m not a Leading Seaman on board there. Anti-submarine. My job is not to take watch”. So he said, “ You should never have been up here at all”. I said, “Well, it’s the … and the skipper was sent right back to his Base. Celia: Milford Haven. That’s shocking. James: There was nothing said to me. Strange. Strange. That’s he only time … Celia: I .. What had been in his mind? Doesna seem … James: There was one draft I hid from Dunoon, joining a ship in Barrow. I got to I’d a kitbag and hammock. Got to Barrow. There was one man, a naval rating on the quay. And he said, “Yer ships not here. I think it went to Portsmouth” So I – no Plymouth – so I got a travel warrant to go to Plymouth. Ye can imagine from Barrow wi a kitbag and hammock right down to Plymouth. I left Dunoon on Monday, got to Plymouth. “Yer ship’s not here” . Oh dear. “I think it’s at Portsmouth”. So – I got a travel warrant to Portsmouth, got down to the same Victory. “Yer ship’s not here. You’ll have to go back to Dunoon”. Oh, for heaven’s sake. So comin out o the Victory, it was a very naval thing, I failed to salute an officer. I was taken back, put on charge. So I – there was a petty officer there, a chief petty officer. I said “I’m sorry”, I said. “ But I’ve been on the road since Monday”. I says, “I think I should see the Captain.” “Oh, ye can’t see…” I says, “Well, I’m not going out of here unless I see a Captain, see somedy”. Well, the Captain came, he heard my , all my thing. I wisna shaved or nothing. He says, “Get this man up to the station at Portsmouth and get him on the train back to his Base.” Celia: At least he had sense. James: Aye. I hid to wash my fac wi een o thon scootin things at the …. Laughter – Oh dear Mina: Ye never got yer ship. James: Never got the ship aither Celia: Never got yer ship. Ye’ve fair had the times eh’d, havn’t ye? When did ye finally get demobbed then? When was that? James: Well, after my stint up at Scapa Flow, I was sent back to Lowestoft again and then I got another draft down to another Admiralty trawler caa’d the Valeta. Called? The Valeta. And her job was to look after the sonar buoys at the Isle o Wight for the liners comin across from America and I was there for about six months and then that’s where I was demobbed from. 20 Celia: When ye realised that the War was ower, was there feelings o great relief and rejoicing or what … how did people feel at that stage? 20
James later supplied further details of being demobbed from the Victory to Portsmouth where ironically the “hot” topic of the day was the problem of what to do with older people – still a “hot” topic today!
James: Fin the first War – was it Germany that gave up first? Aye – Victory in Europe – well, it was during the night and I was on watch on this drifter, on the boom at Scapa Flow and I heard that they got the news through. So I called the Skipper up and he spliced the mainbrace and we wis happy as a lark. Very good Aye. Bit we still had to wait for the Japanese thing. Celia: That’s right, aye cause that was … was that September or some thing before? It was a good while before that followed, wasn’t it? End of Tape 1, Side 2
Tape 2, Side 1 This is continuation of the interview with Mr James Lownie. This would be Side 1 on Tape 2 Celia: Now Jamesie, eftir the War, and ye were demobbed, come back ti Gurden and is that when ye started em as a fish merchant as opposed to being a fisherman or a vanman or what happened first? James: Well, ye see, as I said, I was working before I went away wi Charles Gibb and he was in the Navy during the War in South Africa and he took … ill, took a fever, hurt? No, it was something – nae pneumonia – it was something anyway – pleurisy? TB, I think – TB and I was supposed to get my job back but there was no job for me because he was… Oh yes- so I applied to Edinburgh, the food people in Edinburgh for an allocation because the fish were all being allocated at that time. Well, I did eventually get an allocation but it was that small, it meant that I was, had to try to make a living out o ten pound of filleted fish a day. Celia: Now explain a little bittie about this allocation, Jamesie. What was the idea there? Ye could only hae a certain weight o fish? Why was that? James: Well, ye see, I suppose, they counted it on the amount o fish the buyers bought before the War and it was counted on that. So in fact there was two main buyers that used to get the bulk of the allocations. Right. And that allocation that I got, was just, it had been, I suppose as an ex-serviceman they had to do something. Well, it didna gie me a livin, so eventually I had to buy two allocations of men that had dyed fish before the War. I bought their allocations. Celia: Yes, and was this you startin up as a fish merchant? James: This is me startin up as a fish merchant. I bought me first van off my – fit di ye call it? – Oh yer demob … - off my demobilation - demobilisation – I got eh – how much did I get? £87, I think it says. I got £87, 10 shillings and sixpence. Exactly. Gratuity and I bought a , it was an old van advertised up in Edzell. I went up and bought it for £35. The tyres was absolutely bare. And I eventually got it started on my van through that. And I used ti buy some fish off the two big merchants, one o the two big merchants that had surplus. I always got the, what he didna want.
Celia: Fa were they? James: Ritchies again – where I used to work before. And I used to work night and day. In fact I’ve seen me puttin in fourteen hours sellin fish a day, sometimes and then havin to come back and mend a puncture for my van or something like that for the next mornin I started. I always got up before six o’ clock in the morning and I was away at the back o seven. I went to Auchenblae, Fettercairn, Laurencekirk and all the farms and everything. Ye sellt a lot o fish because people couldn’t get stuff to eat. I eventually finished up puttin on another two vans which was more work. Celia: And ye had drivers for them? James: I had drivers for them. Manchester and Leeds.
We also sent fish, filleted cod for Liverpool,
Celia: How did ye get these orders? Did ye – have a contact? James: I don’t know. Just through time, it worked in. And, eh, eventually, I went away on holiday, the first holiday I think I had - ti Butlins and we were sittin, discussin how much work we had and I says, “I don’t think we’re needin ti be doin so much o this because the people that were makin the money off us were the box makers and the carriage and everything – by the time there was nothing much left ti us. So we cut down, eventually cut down just ti my son and wife and her sister and myself workin. I used ti have to work Sunday when in full swing – we had seven people. Celia: Where about would yer premises have been for that? James: I built this premises. Ye built the premises – 1954 I built a fish place. Celia: Now was it hard ti – did ye have ti rent the spot, the location or would ye have been able to choose? Was there previously a …? James: I had a job getting a place ti... I eventually got it in the harbour. The rent wasna much – it was only – which was a lot o money at the time. It cost me £400 to build this place. And eh, it was a hard time because even on Sunday, I had all this pay- as - you- earn and …I had all this to do on Sunday. All yer paperwork. It was non-stop, non-stop. So we just got kinda fed up and cut it down a bit. And we did fairly well. Celia: Now did this mean you had ti, eh ging doon the pier fin the boats came in and the catch was landed and the salesmen were in action?
Gourdon Fish Market, c.1960. James on far left, hand at mouth.
James: The boats landed at all times and ye had to go down, back and forward. Celia: A lot o times a day. A lot o times a day, aye. And did somebody … how did you learn the skills that were needed ti be a buyer, ti be a fish merchant? Did ye just pick them up or did somebody that had been doing it for a lang time say ti ye, “Jamesie I’ll tell ye one or two things that ye need ti ken for this?” How did it work? James: Oh, ye jist got ti – inti the wye …… sometimes and .. Celia: How did ye ken which prices ti buy at? How did ye ken which was a good price or fan to stop or ye jist couldna afford it? James: Oh well, aye, aye – ye hid ti ken that right enough cause ye was limited fit ye could charge by the Ministry o Food at that time. Aye. Celia: I see. There was set prices for different types o fish? James: Aye, that’s right. Nae only that. There wisna much margin o profit at that time. In fact, fin I was on the van at the start, I jist hid ti overcharge for … One farmer’s wife said ti me, “You’re sellin yer fish more than what … she knew. She knew! And I jist – she used ti take me out and say, “Look, this is all there is. This is all there is.” I says, “Aye,” but I says – “but the next time yer needin fish , I said, just tell the woman doon the road because I’m sellin fish to you at I canna maak the
money that you think I’m maakin. So eventually eftir six weeks she did come back and get her fish again. Yes, aye. Quite hard times then. Oh, it wis. Celia: But the boats were landing big catches still? Aye, aye. There was plenty fish but ye were restricted what ye could charge? James: That’s right. The margins was eh … in fact ye wis sellin fish … That’s why I stopped sellin ti Liverpool, Manchester. There was no margins at all for the work ye were dohin. Celia: Was the , did the railwye become an issue at some point? I think, was it 1951 or - that the – did ye need the railwye fae Gurden ti Montrose for sendin fish or did ye…? James: Aye, the railwye was busy. Celia: Yeah cause ye mentioned Manchester, I just wondered if ye were sendin fish and how ye would have sent them. James: Ye see, eventually as the haddocks and that got scarcer, I had ti go, get a lorry and went to Aberdeen. I went ti Aberdeen Market for 40 year. Celia: Now what, how did it come about that Gurden fishmerchants hid ti ging ti Aiberdeen? There was a lot o fish being landed at Gurden but it jist tailed aff? James: Thae seine net boats – I think that, as I said ti you. They used ti go out, and one drag in the morning – 30 boxes but eventually there’s bigger boats came and they were workin two boats and they cleaned it, they cleaned the sea. Overfished it. Aye, So eventually we had to go to Aberdeen cause I went ti Aberdeen when there was hundreds o trawlers. The harbour at Aberdeen was full Celia: What time had you started gaen ti Aiberdeen ti get fish? James: As I said, 60s, 50s, 1950, 1960 before ye had ti start gaen ti Aiberdeen? Ah well, when did I retire? Retire? No, no, let’s see. I handed ower the business ti Edward. Ti Edward. It was aboot 19 year ago, or 20 year ago – and then 40 year before that. Celia: So yer speakin aboot – so yer speakin aboot 1980s when ye handed ower ti Edward – right – and 20 year afore that. 1960s - 63, something 60s - that’s fan That’s fan I started …and aa the Gurden fish merchants started gaen ti Aiberdeen, did they? James: Well, aye, there was quite a few. There was four anyway. Celia: There had been quite a few o ye as fish merchants in Gurden at that time. Would there have been six … seven? James: Oh aye, seven, aye
Celia: Did ye hae… did yer customers hae ony special preferences? Did they like haddock as opposed ti cod? Did, was yer main sales cod and haddock? James: Our main sales wis haddock, for Scotland. And that was line cod that we used ti fillet for Manchester and Liverpool and two or three boats went ti the flat fish. A lot o plaice they used ti get. Montrose Bay. We sent a lot o plaice south as well. Now what else? Celia: Just kinda wonderin as well, like ye must have seen a lot o changes comin in. Ye mentioned gaen ti Aiberdeen ti get fish. That was a change. And ye mentioned ovefishing the sea. Was that the beginning o the end, di ye think when the big boats, the trawlers, the Klondykers…? James: The trawlers finished that bit o land out at – 14 miles off Gourdon. The Shald Water. The Shald Water, they called it. Well, it used ti be hard ground and the trawlers used ti - you know they tore up – vacuumed the bottom – aye – just suction it up. I went ti Aberdeen and there was Saturday sales at that time. And I’ve seen us buyin a whole shot 21. The trawlers used ti catch their fish at Tod Head 22 . They used to come right inbye - Really - the trawlers came right in ti Tod Heid? They just landed sometime everyday 23, the trawlers. It was lovely fish. James the fish merchant, with rows of haddocks, ready for smoking.
Celia: What di ye think o the fish nowadays then? I’m aye complainin that I canna get good fish. Mina: We complain aboot… James: There is good fish going but … Celia: Far wid you recommend? Mina: Well, if you’re ..we ging .. James: Ye canna say that on there.
This means the whole of the catch of the one boat, its total landing. Lighthouse at Kinneff down the coast from Aberdeen and closer to Gourdon than to Aberdeen 23 At present trawlers stay out at sea and far out for around seven days or more but James indicates that at this time, some trawlers were fishing and landing daily like inshore boats, possibly with consequent dire effects for the fishing industry and for the livelihood of the smaller inshore boats having their traditional fishing grounds “raided”! The fish, however, was of excellent quality. 22
Celia: Oh, foo no? Oh ye mean a specific .. Jmaes: Oh ye can get good fish here in Gourdon here yet. Gourdon men that went ti Aberdeen were always famous for the quality they bought. They always bought the last fish that wis caught, afore they come in. I can vouch for that. Celia: Because ye see a lot o friends o mine they come doon ti Gurden and they tell me, “Oh we’ve got Gurden fish.” And I say “No, ye hinna.” They say, “Oh, we have. We’ve been down ti Gourdon”. But I say, “It’s Aiberdeen fish”. “Ah, but it’s Gurden”. I say, “Well, yer mistaken” but maybe they are buyin a better quality o fish fae Aiberdeen than some other buyers James: I aye used ti say ti mi customers, “I widna sell anything that I widna eat myself.” That’s what I said. Eh. Mina: But then there’s nae the amount that ye could pick and choose from nowadays. No, there’s nae. Ye jist have ti tik fit’s there. Some days there’s very few fish in the market. James: There’s some days in Aberdeen Market now that there’s not a boat landed. Celia: Is that right? Aye. They’re gaen ti the sea for a langer time though, aren’t they – ten days? So the fish his already been stored in ice for ten days. James: They did away wi all the small boats. The last boat I heard that went ti Shetland. – it was built with a capacity of a thousand and twelve boxes. Now any boat that catches a thousand and twelve boxes, the first ones that’s caught, we widna look at. Gourdon men that went ti Aberdeen always looked for the last fish that was caught. And the best people fin I went ti Aberdeen, the best people ti look after the fish was Danish fish. They landed shots o haddock, you wouldn’t know one from one ti the other end o the shore. Good quality. Good quality – well-looked after. Celia: And what’s your final thoughts? Do you feel that fishing has maybe come to an end? Do you see it as pretty gloomy the future, pretty pessimistic?
James at work in his fish house.
James: It’s gradually because it’s only two or three years ago when they were showin the trawlers workin and the amount o small fish that was dumped after was floatin all round the sea. The gulls was … but ye won’t see it now cause there’s nothing. Even the birds are feeling the scarcity. Yes, they are. I was just reading today, the salmon that are comin up the rivers are thin. They’ve lost half their weight before … it must be the feedin.
Celia: Di ye think if they stop overfishing and allow the sea ti recover, di ye think that could take place or wid it be maybe fifty years that yer thinking o?
James: Well, I have my idea. I’ve said it for the last ten year. There’s the spawnin season – why don’t they – instead of all this expense about three days out and – why don’t they tell the fishermen and pay them wages for the three month – ti stop fishin – ti stop fishin, time o the spawnin and let the fish, give the fish a chance. But no, whoever’s at the head o this – just like the rest o the country, it’s a farce things that’s … Celia: This is quotas, the quota system but then that’s the European Union, isn’t it? James: We should never been in that thing at all, let them dictatit ti us – what did like us men waste five year of our life fishing for? We’re supposed ti be pals wi the persons that wida killed us. That’s what the old people think. Celia: That’s so – yes, aye. So the European Union has really served the fishing industry badly? It hasna supported it. James: We hinna hen the guts ti stand up to them. Let them dictate ti us, what ti do wi our fish. It’s our fish, not Switzerland’s. Switzerland has an allocation now as far as I believe. Oh right. Celia: But certainly the Russians and the Spanish fished British waters? James: Aye, they’re landing fish, the Spanish and the French are landin fish on the West Coast now, just onti lorries and away down ti the Continent. And they were getting, up ti not very long ago, they were getting cheap oil ti do the same thing. Celia: Presumably they’ve overfished their ain waters: their ain territorial waters are overfished so they’re movin in ti British waters – so British waters are ruined so. It’s nae very cheery, is it? The future looks a bittie bleak, I would say. Mina: It is bleak. Celia: It is bleak. But what would yer best - just ti finish aff, what would yer best memories be then, being a fish merchant in Gurden? What would hae been the best days? Jmaes: Oh, eh – I’ll tell ye foo bad things have got. I’ve seen me comin home wi four boxes o lemon soles at £4 the box – this is gospel and eh, we were sellin the lemon sole for, the best lemon sole for a shilling a pound at that time. Now what can ye say – what’s happened ti the industry? Incredible, incredible. That’s right. I used to buy a whole shot o what we call –fit wis’t they caa’d the trawlers, inshore trawlers that used ti fish close ti Tod Head Lighthouse. They would be fishin on Friday, landing on Saturday morning. The salesmen used to say – so and so 30 shillings, Lownie – and we bought the whole shot, brought them home and they would do maybe Tuesday, Wednesday cause they were that good quality. Nowadays – Celia: So that was the best days? At that time? That was the best days. James: That was the best days. Sometimes ye bought fish that ye didna know what ye was going ti do with but it seemed ti go.
Celia: I’m sure nae aabody bought good fish though aa the time. Mi father was the Manager o fish shop in Montrose and sometimes he said that he was ashamed – I quite believe that – ti put certain fish up for sale and sometimes the fish that he was asked to deliver from the fish shop in Montrose ti different sources be it hotels or hospitals, he sometimes said he was really ashamed o fit he was being asked ti deliver ti that places. Now that was when I was a bairn, so that wida been 1950, something like that maybe, so he was even at that time, there were people cutting corners. Mina : It was aa good quality fish …. James; Ye know what mesmerised me most in the fish trade? When I started goin to Aberdeen first, the Germans would never – they sold always roes in Aberdeen Market. Fifty, sixty boxes o roes. They wouldna land them in their own, they wouldna eat them casue they were afraid for cancer, I think. We used ti buy them, a hundred weight. I bought a hundred weight o roes for ten shillings. And we boiled them, huge roes and they were smashing. They were lovely. We used ti caa them rawins. James in later life
Mina: They were quite a lot o work but they were usually big. James: But eventually we finished sellin little haddock roes. Ye couldna get cod roes, could we? Ye never got a cod roe hardly now this last two/ three year.. Cod roes. Ye never got a cod roe. No, No, No. Celia: Oh well, but that’s been really interesting. You’ve given me a lot o detail and I just have to thank you very much indeed. Mina: Div I ging and maak tea now, or coffee? Celia: Oh – we’ll switch aff. End of Tape 2, Side 1 End of Interview.
Synopsis of Interview with Mr James Lownie (25/9/06) – fishing/ fish merchants in Gourdon/ World War 2 Tape 1, Side 1
Memories of line fishing from childhood – shelling mussels First jobs on leaving school – working in different fish houses in Gourdon Steamships at Gourdon – fish house conditions in the 30s – Health and Safety The start of seine net fishing The War – volunteering – from Gourdon to Devonport Barracks in Plymouth – the food Backtracking to line fishing – reasons for working in the fish houses rather than line fishing with father Hard times – the syrup and loaf story Back to Devonport and the scarcity of food – on guard – the Chinese run past Drafted to Lowestoft – trawlers and their role in the War – on board the War Duke - aground in a gale Anti-submarine training in Dunoon – hydrophones at Harwich Ten months in E-Boat Alley Asdics training at Lowestoft German voices heard on buoy checking duty The story of Cookie and the ingins – language difficulties! Laying dans in the Channel – mines in the Goodwin Sands At Dunkirk – taking troops off the beaches – towing small boats – boat blown up – 246 soldiers taken back to Ramsgate from Dunkirk by the Strive. Three days leave after Dunkirk End of Side 1 Side 2 Various drafts after Dunkirk – Lowestoft (Asdics course) – Campbelltown (submarine training) – Paisley (special mine sweeping, patrolling and anti-submarine trawler from John Brown’s) – Scapa Flow
(escort duties – mail delivery to Faroes troops) – caught in terrifying gale – trawler sustains terrible damage) Two months leave in Aberdeen at the time Aberdeen was bombed! Back to Faroe – to Cardiff – to prepare for the Invasion of North Africa – poisoned arm after vaccination – to Gibraltar - to Oran, on patrol The French Fleet under Navy bombardment by destroyers including the famous Rodney and Renown – no survivors Convoys – the North African Coast Malta – the Invasion – the fate of the gliders The most dangerous situations – Dunkirk and mines at Harwich Feelings during and towards the end of the War – special medal for North African minesweeping – James’ ship the first ship in to clear mines – again at Sicily Dire lack of food – going ashore to collect tomatoes from the farmers for supplies – living on tomatoes and hard biscuits for six weeks – supply ship sunk – retrieving supplies from ship Italian coal – the air raid – the destruction – the death of crew member and friend – sea burial The five knots convoy – boiler trouble – a British submarine! D-day – in Aberdeen! – Leave James sees his son for the first time, now 20 months old James’ wife, Mina doing War work in fruit and vegetable factory – women with no children called up Drafted to Scapa Flow – on the main boom – patrolling – line fishing in Longhope Bay – a feast of fried haddock On a charge – the “lost” ship – from Dunoon to Plymouth – to Portsmouth – on a charge for failing to salute an officer – back to Base in Dunoon after a week travelling in pursuit of ship Victory in Europe – splicing the mainbrace End of Side 2 Tape 2, Side 1 After the War – applying for a food allocation to start as fish merchant Demobilisation gratuity of £87, 10 shillings and sixpence - buying a fish van – expanding the business – drivers and orders for Liverpool, Manchester and Leeds – customer fish preferences Building the fish house – 1954 Hard graft – working all hours, including paperwork on Sundays Fish merchant skills – prices set by government – food scarcities – the farmer’s wife story Haddock become scarce – overfishing - merchants go to Aberdeen Fish Market daily – lorries in use - hundreds of trawlers at Aberdeen then – the 1960s – number of fish merchants in Gourdon then – customer fish preferences Changes – overfishing – Aberdeen market - inshore trawlers at Tod Head – daily landings Lack of good fish nowadays – Gourdon merchants would buy the last fish caught to ensure freshness – Gourdon fish and their reputation – no
longer any fish caught off Gourdon but good fish still available in Gourdon fish houses Final thoughts – how to solve overfishing – no fishing at spawning season – fishermen to be paid a wage then – dissatisfaction with European Union restrictions and practices The best days – buying an inshore trawler’s whole shot – fair prices and excellence of quality German haddock roes Time for tea or coffee! End of taping