Rosalind Elizabeth Wilson Gartley
(b. Backside, Glass, 16th February, 1916 – d. Aberdeen, 14th, July, 1993)
My mother, Rosalind Elizabeth Wilson Gartley, at the age of 1 year and 7 months, the photographer being Kilgour of Huntly.
Note, too, that she has inherited the misspelt ‘Gartley’ of her own mother. Given that she was born on the 18th of February 1916 at Backside, Glass, where her uncle Alexander Gartly was the tenant, this must have been taken around September 1917.
I think the circumstances of her birth need a bit of explaining. She was born the illegitimate daughter of David Miller Wilson from Fife who had been an ‘asylum attendant’ before joining the Royal Field Artillery. He died, as a result of injury in WW1, a month to the day after my mother was born. I have very little details about this because, given the stigma of illegitimacy in those days, my mother virtually never spoke about it. I am not sure if, by the time this photo was taken she, her Grannie and Bella had moved to 9, The Square, Huntly. Neither am I clear about when, precisely, her mother Ella emigrated to Canada and left her in the care of her Grannie. I think it was at quite an early stage.
My mother, Rosalind, in 1927, aged 11. Don’t ask me why she is dressed as a fairy, I don’t know. Certainly, by this time she, her Grannie and her Aunt Bella would have moved from Wrightstone and settled at 9, The Square, Huntly.
One thing I do remember being told is that, about this time, they took in, as a lodger, a Mr Nugent, I think. He was from Glasgow and a pianist for the silent films shown in Huntly. There was not much space at number 9 and my mother slept in what I think is called a ‘lie in’, a small alcove with curtains off a larger room, in this case the kitchen/dining room. She was supposed to be asleep when Mr Nugent came back from the cinema late, after the performance, for his supper and she would sneak a look, from between the curtains, at him eating, probably wishing she could join in. In connection with the cinema in Huntly, she often recounted how impressive murals painted by its owner, a Mr Paterson, were.
By the mid thirties my mum, her aunt Bella and Grannie had moved to ‘Heathcot’, 13, East Park Street, Huntly.
This picture was taken in the garden there by James Edward Crabtree, who, by this time, had married another of her aunts, Lizzie. It shows, from our left, my mother, Lizzie Crabtree (Gartly), Annie Gartly and, at the back Bella Gartly. My mum looks a bit sulky, perhaps she was practising her Greta Garbo ‘I want to be alone’ look. Anyway this is something I exploited in the next photo below.
This is my edited version of the previous picture in which the various tricks in photoshop came in handy.
By this time my mum would have left school and been working as a hairdresser. She spent some time with Marie Turner in Huntly and also with Pat Grant in Crown Street, Aberdeen. Pat Grant was one of the most established hairdressers in Aberdeen and working there involved a daily commute by train from Huntly. She was always at the last minute and the guard, at Huntly, used to hold the train up for her. At the other end of the journey she had a mad scramble up Crown Terrace Steps (pictured next) which provided a short cut between the Station and Crown Street.
Crown Terrace Steps, Aberdeen c 2012.
Interestingly, there is now a hairdresser, Tiffany’s, at the bottom of the steps. If my mum had waited seventy years or so she would not have had such a hike.
This is a photograph of my mother, Rosalind Gartley, around 1938.
By this time she had left Huntly and trained as a fashion model in London, staying at 27, Gayton Road, Hampstead. I am sure that this, professionally taken studio photograph, dates from this period. As well as modelling work, she got involved in the business side of the ‘rag trade’.
She was sent by her employers to assess various clothes stores in places such as Bradford, Brighton, Newcastle, Edinburgh and Perth.
I have a notebook of hers which records the state of their stockrooms and business generally.
It also records that between the end of March and the beginning of June 1938 she travelled 3190 miles by train, although some of this mileage was returns to Huntly.
Lance R.G. Mitchell (?).
About this time my mum was friendly with a Lance Mitchell who had joined the RAF. I am almost certain that this photograph is of him since it is one of a group in an album dating from this period.
I also have five of his letters to my mother and they provide a fascinating insight into the life of a pilot at the beginning of the WW2. In one he relates going to Forgue to pick up his violin and some music before returning to his base at Debden, Saffron Walden in Essex.
He also mentions mutual friends in Huntly. Sadly, he was killed later in the war and his name is inscribed F/O L.R.G. Mitchell R.A.F. on the Huntly War Memorial.
I mentioned above that, in connection with her work in the ‘rag trade’, my mother travelled a considerable amount by train in the late 1930s.
One of her most prized possessions from this period was this leaflet, advertising the presence of a cinema on LNER trains travelling to and from King’s Cross, London.
If, in the 1950s or 60s, friends doubted the existence of such a thing she would carefully unfold this evidence. Unfortunately, this was done so often that it began to fall apart and ended up being glued to a piece of card.
By the early 1940s my mother was back in Huntly where she met my father Archie Alexander Millar. They were married in the Princes Street Mission Hall on the 7th, June, 1941. The Best Man, to the left of my dad, was Sydney, his younger brother, and the Bridesmaid, to the right of my mum, was Marie Turner, in whose Huntly hairdressers my mum had worked in the early 1930s.
As can be seen, the wedding seems to have been a fairly modest affair. No white dresses or for that matter any evidence of the extended families. Perhaps, war time economies had something to do with this. Certainly, I was often told how, at the reception at the Huntly Hotel, they were all very impressed by a large wedding cake, covered in icing, only for the head waiter to remove what turned out to be a cardboard and papier mache facsimile to reveal a much more frugal offering beneath. Sugar rationing having its effect.
My father was born in 13, Torry Street, Huntly on 14th, June, 1915. His mother Grace, nee Alexander, belonged to Huntly, her brothers having a shoe shop there, while his father, David Millar, had come from Dundee to work in a branch of the Royal Bank of Scotland.
Although my father was born in Huntly he spent most of his school days in Munlochy on the Black Isle. His father had gone there to run a small branch of the Royal Bank of Scotland. In this photograph,
by Andrew Patterson of Inverness, my dad sits on our left with his brother, Sydney, to our right. In front are his young sisters, Rita on our left and Gladys on our right. The photo must have been taken around the early 1930s when my dad was about 16 or 17.
After a couple of years at the Royal Technical College (now Strathclyde University) he was training as a clerk of works for Post Office Telephones (the forerunner of BT). One of his earliest jobs involved laying underground telephone cables between Inverness and Wick and this photo shows one of the workmen, with the duct clearly visible, around the Latheron area.
By April 1939, he was on Hoy, still laying P.O. cables, but this time to gunsights and searchlights overlooking Scapa Flo. Here we see him on our right with the ‘ganger’, P MacHugh centre, and the contractors agent, E Reece.
Like numerous P.O. telephone employees, by late 1939 he found himself co-opted into something called the Radio Security Service. After some training in morse code, he was provided with a van, passes, direction finding equipment and, most alarming of all, a revolver. His job was to find spies broadcasting from the British mainland to the Germans and to stop them one way or another. This rather blurred photo shows a demonstration of direction finding equipment near Aberdeen.
It turned out that there were virtually no such illegal broadcasts and so he, with colleagues, was sent to Thurso where there was a ‘listening station’. The purpose of this ‘station’ was to intercept morse communications between German forces. This involved transcribing morse signals into letters of the alphabet at the rate of up to 30 words (a word being 4 or 5 letters) per minute. These transcriptions were then sent by teleprinter, via cable, to Bletchley where they were further deciphered.
It was not till February of 1942 that my dad’s group were issued with Royal Corps of Signals uniforms and became, what seems to have been, semi-detached members of the army. They were never paid by the army but by the Government and at the enviable rate of seven pounds per week.
This polyfoto sheet shows him in his signalman’s uniform, no doubt with the best photos cut out. Although the polyfoto system started operating around 1933, and carried on into the 1960s, it seems that the war years were it heyday.
My dad, and his colleagues at the listening station at Thurso, must have been among the luckiest men wearing uniform anywhere during WW2. One of the many perks they were able to enjoy was that their wives were able to stay with them. Consequently, my mum and dad found lodgings with a very welcoming, elderly couple at a house called ‘Morven’ in Olrig Street. Sadly, however, it was at Morven that my mother gave birth to a premature, stillborn boy, Gordon Gartly Millar, on the 8th of January 1943. He is buried at Thurso.
I came along on the 24th, December, 1943 at Dunbar Hospital, Thurso. By this time, however, my dad had been moved to a larger listening station at Friockhelm, near Forfar. Consequently, I have the dubious distinction of holding up the war effort by a nanosecond since one of his colleagues, still at Thurso, thought the best way of getting news of my birth to my dad was to use listening station facilities. So the message went out, ‘To all stations- Archie Millar is now the father of a ten and a half pound baby boy- mother and child both well’. My nanosecond of fame.
This news, no doubt, came as a great relief to my dad due to the prior miscarriage. I was named Roderick David Gartly Millar after Roddy Fraser, one of my grandfather’s star trainees at the Bank in Munlochy who, after moving to a Royal Bank branch in London, was commissioned in the London Scottish and killed shortly before my birth.
After the war, my dad returned to Post Office Telephones and by the early 1950s had transferred to Sales as a ‘sales rep’. Although based in Aberdeen, he spent much of his working time travelling the highlands and islands, very often with his camera to catch unusual sights.
One such was this part completed (the propellers still had to be fixed to the crossbar) early form of wind turbine on the Orkney Mainland, by Birsay Bay. An Orcadian friend told me that it was blown down in a hurricane in 1953.
I think some of my fathers interest in photography must have rubbed off on me since, from an tender age, I became fascinated by cameras.
This is one of my early efforts, from the mid 1950s, and shows my mum and dad leaning on the wheels of Mons Meg at Edinbugth Castle. By this time, my grandfather had retired to Edinburgh and so summer holidays there became a regular treat.
Another couple of samples of my work, slightly later, c1963.
One shows my dad, in Napoleonic pose, surveying the coast near Slains Castle.
By the time my dad retired from the Telephones in 1979, aged 64, the oil boom in Aberdeen was in full swing and he was engaged in providing Telex facilities for the oil companies. On his retiral, they were very appreciative and along with the odd bottle of whisky came an offer of work, which he did not take up.
The second shows my mum, less Napoleonic, in the back garden, in Aberdeen, with washing hanging up to dry.
My mother, as well as keeping house, took an active part in various voluntary organisations, including Aberdeen Voluntary Service for many years, anything, in fact, where she could meet people.
My parents enjoyed a good few years of retirement before my mother died on the 14th of July 1993, aged 77. This photo shows them walking in the grounds of Crathes Castle on a Sunday afternoon c1990. She chose to be buried in the graveyard in Huntly where, in her childhood, she would take Sunday afternoon walks with her Grannie and not so far from where she first met my dad.
My dad survived her by fourteen years, dying on the 5th of June, 2007, only nine days short of his 92nd birthday.
(To return to the James and Elizabeth Gartly Main page click here )