Once in Glasgow, Walter goes to school, his mother finds work, though his father is interned on the Isle of Man.
INT: Why Glasgow?
WG: My father was interned in the Isle of Man right away so it was just my mother and sister and myself that were at liberty so to speak and Glasgow was an area that needed workers and skilled workers in agriculture and my father was and so anyway, he was in the Isle of Man, but nevertheless he figured that one of these days he’d get out and when he did, he’d be in Glasgow so my mother got there.
My mother immediately started work and my mother worked in the factory that made greatcoats.
That’s heavy coats for army soldiers, that’s greatcoats, and my mother before she was married had a certificate for making shirt collars and back in Germany you get certificates for all sorts of things and it was a pretty skilled thing. It was a two-year apprenticeship course and one thing and another and hand made shirts were the thing in the 30s before the Second World War so it was a well-paid job.
So she certainly knew how to make greatcoat collars and at first she was in timework and then she was in piecework, what we called serious money and was able to look after us quite well. I never knew we were poor, I mean we probably were, we couldn’t afford all sorts but it never occurred to me that we were poor.
I mean, I was a kid.
INT:So did she start working while your father was in the Isle of Man?
WG: Oh yes, sure, we didn’t have any money, sure she worked, somebody had to work.
INT:And where were you living?
WG: In Glasgow.
INT:Yeah, but what part of Glasgow?
WG: Sounds good, Pollokshields. We lived in 43 Keir Street, right opposite the Pollokshields Senior Secondary School and then we moved to 248 Kenmure Street which was a little further away but not too far from Melville Street School actually.
Actually we lived on the corner of Kenmure Street and Leven Street and the next street over I believe is Melville Street and the Melville Street School is just down there, very easy for me to get to school.
INT:And was it easy to enrol you into school?
WG: I don’t now, I got into school, I don’t know, I wasn’t…I didn’t have any trouble. I was told to go to school, I went to school and the only problem was that the kids were all deaf and dumb, to a man. I only spoke German. I didn’t speak any English and so my mother actually said that she was pretty sure that the kids would all learn German before I learnt English because I spoke.
Nobody told me it was a different language and nobody told me it was difficult so I didn’t have those handicaps.
INT:When you say deaf and dumb, was it a special needs school?
WG: Well they couldn’t hear me. They couldn’t comprehend. I wasn’t sure what their problem was but they had the problem, I didn’t. (Walter did not realise that the children couldn’t understand him and did not answer because he was speaking German).
INT:So you went bouncing in?
WG: Bridget wasn’t as talkative as I am, she wasn’t then, but we never missed a year, we kept up.
In fact they wanted to kick Bridget up a year. My parents said, ‘No, they don’t want that because she wouldn’t be with her peers.
Classes then were about 30. I don’t know if that is large or not but Bridget was always… she, Frances Duff and Helen McNab were always head of this class. It was just a matter of who was up there and the language was not a difficulty; it just was absorbed. It maybe made it easier for us to learn other languages but that was the attitude we had towards learning other languages.
INT:Did the teachers help you?
WG: I really can’t remember.
One thing I remember was Miss Whitson who was my first teacher. My mother spoke some English. I mean she learnt English at school but she wasn’t fluent and I remember my mother coming home and said ‘teacher’ – the teachers generally didn’t pay compliments, like outrageous compliments. They told the truth. Nowadays everybody’s wonderful and everybody passes and every child is a genius, you know, and parents were the same. Parents didn’t tell a child they were wonderful. ‘Work harder!’ that’s what you heard but my mother said Miss Whitson said, ‘You have a very good voice and you sing very well and your fingernails are very nicely cut’.
Well, because instead of cutting my fingernails straight across, one cut, my mother contoured them all the time and this apparently was exceptional at school so maybe Miss Whitson said something else to my mother and it might have been complimentary but I wasn’t told that. Okay, so let’s put that away. What did I know?
I made friends at school. I didn’t have any trouble. Certainly by the time I think it was one year in Albert Road, it’s called Pollokshields Senior Secondary School or Albert Road Academy, whichever name you want to use and then we went to Melville Street and by that time I was fully integrated.
I had a little gang and Monty McMillan had a little gang and Ian McCall had a little gang. This is a thing kids do in the playground.
Walter’s father is released from the Isle of Man and gets a job in Glasgow thanks to his contacts in the internment camp
INT:When did your father come home from internment?
WG: He was interned almost a year, so he came home in the latter part of 1940. Well while he was in the internment camp he met some people who were also in the livestock feed business and there was one guy named Mr Rosenthal who was already gone. He came into Britain in 1936. Well that was the cut off date apparently, so guys who came in 1936, 37, 38, 39 they were all stuck in.
He already had a business but he was still in the internment camp. He wasn’t in very long; he was only there three months, but in the meantime he and my Dad made arrangements that my dad would represent all the agencies that he had. My dad could have them for Scotland because he didn’t have anybody in Scotland. He was in England, he came up short of Yorkshire and so when Dad came he had to start finding customers for the agencies he had. But of course cars were impossible so everything was done by foot and by bus and train and so on and that’s what Dad did. And Dad was 48 when he came to Britain so he wasn’t a youngster and though he spoke some English, he certainly wasn’t fluent but I guess he made it. If you’ve got to, you do.
INT:Did you have a Scottish accent then? Did you have a Glaswegian accent?
WG: I had whatever they had. Whatever they had, I had. I got what they got. I repeated what I heard.
INT:Carry on about your dad.
WG: Well my dad – it came 1945. He had made some progress with his business, although he couldn’t import anything and he started doing serious business and formed his own company, had a Scottish partner, guy named Robinson from Gilchrists from Rutherglen – his warehouse was in Rutherglen, at Gilchrists, that’s where Robertson worked. And so it was pretty hard slogging and in those days people smoked a lot.
Being what we would now consider as overweight was the norm. It was considered if you were skinny, you were poor. You know, things have changed since then and of course my Dad had his share of worries. And so in 1950 when his business was going quite well and he knew he was in bad health and he was too much of a hurry even then. He put on even more pressure. He had three massive heart attacks and died and that was 1950, 9th of September 1950.
I was seventeen and I had finished high school and the idea was that I would end up going into my father’s business and the way to do that would be ‘A’ to go to university and ‘B’ get some practical experience with another livestock feed company and come back to the business, so I was just at the start of that part.