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London Caithness Association History
|1919 - 1938|
A whist drive was also held in February 1919, at which one hundred people were present, and it was said at the time that the renewed vigour of the London Caithness Association gave rise to feelings of jealousy and friendly good-natured rivalry on the part of other kindred societies.
It will be remembered that the first meeting of the Association had been held in February 1856 in the Guildhall Tavern. As the venerable building was now due for demolition, the Association felt it would constitute an appropriate gesture if they met once again there, thus being the last society to use the building. So in October 1919, the Association held a gathering there, during which the President apologised for the name "Tavern", explaining this was only a synonym for "Hotel".
Mr Crowe now resigned the Presidency, having held it since 1913, through the difficult war years. An ex-serviceman, Sir Archibald Sinclair, succeeded him, now Lord Lieutenant of the County of Caithness, and the Association again entered on a period of great prosperity. At the sixty-fourth annual general meeting the honorary secretary was in the happy position of reporting that they had admitted fifty new members during the year, and the financial position was so good that £80 could be added to the Reserve Fund. A telegram of good wishes was sent that evening to Mr James Sutherland, father of the Association, on his eighty-seventh birthday. A year later, he passed away, at the age of eighty-eight. A native of Berriedale, he started his working life as a pupil teacher, first in Gersa, then in Wick. Transferring to banking, he held positions in India and China, before returning to London, where be became one of the most prominent members of the Association and held nearly all the executive positions.
In June of the same year, Mr J Tudor Crowe died of pneumonia. He was a son of William Crowe, harbour treasurer of Wick and was one of a large family, including Mr Gilbert Crowe, merchant in Wick, and Lady Rae, wife of Provost Sir Alexander Rae. When Mr Crowe retired, he held the position of staff superintendent of the Eastern Telegraph Company. It would be impossible to assess the contribution made by this great man, either as an office bearer or as a contributor to the intellectual life of the Association. He takes his place in the list of Caithness men who have carved out a distinguished career in all parts of the world, without ever forgetting the county of his birth and its people.
However, in spite of great losses, the Association had to carry on, with new men doing all they could to fill the places of those gone. An annual dinner was fixed for May 1921, but had to be cancelled until October because of a coal strike. It was then held at Frascati's, the price of the tickets being 10/6d each.
Unfortunately, we have no record of the activities of the Association between the year 1922 and 1929. The Northern Ensign, from which much of the foregoing details have been collected, ceased publication in April 1922, and copies of the Groat for those seven years seem to be missing.
By 1929, we find that it had been decided that Presidents should hold office for three years only, and Mr A Bain Irvine had just resigned, his place being taken by Mr John Sutherland, a Vice-President, a nephew of old James. John Cormack was honorary treasurer, and reported that only light calls for relief had been received during the year, and the usual donations had been made to the two Scottish charities. However, the country was feeling the effect of the great economic depression of that period, and conditions in the home county were not good, with poor fishings, so more calls were anticipated during the coming year. In the meantime, monetary gifts were made from time to time to some of the older members, for comforts otherwise outside their means. Through Mr Bain Irvine the Association received a substantial grant that year from the Royal Scottish Corporation, of which he was a Director and this was used to defray the hospital and sickness expenses of one of the members.
The summer outings were resumed and continued to the outbreak of the Second World War, and were very well supported. The annual venue was the Royal Caledonian Schools, and in 1934 three hundred and fifty members and friends attended the outing. Hindhead was also a popular beauty spot visited, usually in char-a-bancs. In June of 1932, the usual outing to the Schools was run jointly with the Burns Club of London and the Harrow Caledonian Society. There was perfect weather for the comprehensive programme of sports organised by Mr Bain Irvine, Past President of the Association, also Governor of the Schools. Piping and dancing competitions, with an exhibition of a sixteensome reel were great attractions, but probably the event evoking the most enthusiastic support was the tug-of-war, won by the London Caithness Association. No doubt, the cries of, "Come on, Hakreeg", "Dinna Fa', Reiss", and "Hing in, Week" did much to settle the result.
Mr and Mrs Alex Hill, members of the Association, threw open their beautiful home and garden, Roe Green House, near Hatfield, on several occasions, members with cars helping with transport from the railway station to the house. Again there was a tug-of-war, this time between Wick and Thurso, in which the more northerly town was the winner.
At the annual general meeting of 1938, it was decided to discontinue the summer outings. Maybe the very unsettled political situation of that year presaged the greater crisis of the following year, when such outings would have in any case been discontinued. Visits to the Schools on sports day and on open days have however continued right up to the present day.
The annual golf competition was held in 1929 at Moor Park, this being the first reference we have to the Bain Irvine Golf Cup. A dozen members competed, the winner of the cup being Mr RM Phimister, who finished one stroke ahead of Mrs Groundwater. On that occasion, Mr John Sutherland presented Mrs Groundwater with a replica of the Cup, in appreciation of the support given by the lady members.
A little later, the usual annual competition for the Highland Counties Cup was held at Hadley Wood, when five Caithness men represented the Association, and came second to Morayshire. Caithness held the Cup in 1936 and 1937, but lost it to Argyllshire in 1938, and from 1939, the members were otherwise engaged.
Another summer activity was bowling, and in 1930, having been invited by the London Scottish Bowling Association, they decided to take part in the competition for the Weir Cup. This was a trophy played for annually by the Scottish Associations in London, but does not seem to have had the same appeal as the Golf Cup competitions, and in 1935 we read that the Association turned down the usual invitation to participate.
While on the subject of trophies, mention may be made here of the Canada Cup, a silver cup gifted to the Associaton by two Thurso exiles in Ontario, Robert George, a jeweller in Toronto, and James Macdonald, a banker in Guelph. It was for annual competition by members at the whist drives. These functions were an extremely popular activity, indeed so popular were they in 1929, that Mr Phimister, the whist convenor, arranged an extra one in addition to the usual two held in March and October. This one was held at Slater's restaurant, the highest score being held by Mrs Watson, now living in retirement in Teignmouth.
The closing function in April 1936 took the form of a Whist Drive and was outstanding for the number of special prizes. These were awarded to the good players, bad players, the slowest, the quickest and the luckiest, and consisted of articles with a special Caithness significance, namely shochads' eiggs, jukes' eiggs, white puddings, haggis and pandrops.
There had been no children's Christmas Party for a number of years, but in 1937 it was felt that an effort had to be made to entertain the children. The usual balloons and garlands decorated the hall, games and dancing worked off the very high spirits of the youngsters, who then settled down to watch a conjuring exhibition given by Mr Herbert Collings. Of course, the proceedings concluded with a visit from a laden Father Christmas. By coincidence, both the London Caithness children's party and that of the Edinburgh John O'Groats Associaton was held the same afternoon in 1938, so greetings telegrams were exchanged. The special entertainment provided on this occasion was a marionette show of "Jack and the Beanstalk", quite a novelty for the children.
Between the two wars all the social functions were of a very high standard. Apart from the afore-mentioned whist drives, Cinderella dances figured on the programmes, the Shaftesbury Hotel being the usual venue, but in 1931 all meetings except the annual dinner was held in the Samson Clark Hall, Mortimer Street. Thereafter, the meeting place was the Royal Scottish Corporation in Fetter Lane, until it was closed temporarily for war damage repairs after the war. Miss Madge Harwood (later Mrs Brash), Herbert Sinclair and Mrs MacCallum and the London Caithness Orchestra were responsible for the social programmes. Mr Sinclair delighted the members with a series of lanternslides of Caithness, of the sunsets and the people, of the scorries and the rocks, and even an old Caithness "hoosie" with its peat-stack. At other times, Mr Sinclair delighted the members with readings based on the well-known "Polney and Slevery" series appearing in the home paper. It was at one of these socials that sprigs of heather, gathered at Tannach and sent by Mr James Sutherland, the popular postmaster of Pultneytown were distributed by John Sutherland, Past President. The London Caithness Orchestra consisted of the Brazier family, the father Mr Fred Brazier and his two sons, Fred and James, who between them played the violin and the piano, and Mr Peter Anderson (Proodfeet) who played the boxie. They were in great demand, not only in their own association, but at numerous functions organised by the other London societies. Mr Anderson also had a fund of amusing Caithness stories, and a great appreciation of Pastor Horne's writings and he was the leader in presenting some of that writer's dramatic sketches. His perfect representation of the Caithness character surpassed all his other attainments, both literary and musical.
The annual Dinner Dance continued to be the most important function of the year. Held variously at the Criterion, Frascati's, and the Trocadero, it attracted distinguished men from politics, the professions and the armed services, both as speakers and as guests. Lord Alness, Lord Reay, Sir Archibald Sinclair, Sir Ronald Sinclair, the Master of Semple, Col. D Keith Murray and Mr Thomas Johnson, Under-Secretary of State of Scotland to name but a few. The President, Mr John Sutherland, speaking at the dinner in the Criterion in 1929 said that the London Caithness Association was something of a home from home where all could live again for an hour or two among the memories of youth. But the Association, he went on, had done much more than that to justify its existence. Many a lame dog had been helped over a stile, and even in these days of State social services, it still rendered many services to Caithness folk in London. Many of these services could not be expressed in terms of money, but consisted of personal help, advice and introductions which were all the more valuable on that account.
In 1931, an appeal was made at the dinner, held this time at Frascati's, for donations towards a testimonial to Pastor Horne to take the form of the endowment of a bed in the Bignold Hospital. It was expected that Caithnessians all over the world would contribute. Sir Archibald Sinclair, who was the chief speaker on this occasion, recalled the numbers of Caithness men who had made their mark in the world in the various professions. For instance Neil Gunn the novelist, John Nicholson the sculptor and archaeologist, Pastor Horne also in literature, besides the many journalists and artists whom it would haven taken too long to enumerate. It was at this dinner that Mr Sutherland reported that the membership was the highest in the history of the Associaton, and gave credit for this to Mr David Houston, the honorary secretary.
The eightieth anniversary in 1936 was celebrated by a dinner at the Trocadero. Lord Semple was the principal guest, and greetings were received from many kindred associations. The menu cards were particularly interesting for having photos of Wick and Thurso on the front, this being the work of Mr Herbert Sinclair, and in the following year, views of various Caithness places of special interest adorned the cards.
Mr (later Sir) David Robertson, prospective parliamentary candidate for Streatham and later for Caithness and Sutherland, was the principal guest in 1938. Referring to himself as the "son of an exile" he recalled his first visit Castletown, the home of his forebears, and spoke of his love for the county. He held out some hope of financial help for Caithness from the Scottish Development Council, the aims of which body was to assist industrial development. He thought that possibly the sum of £5000 would be available.
During these years, between the wars, several personal items of interest fall to be recorded. The honorary secretary, Mr FL Campbell resigned in 1929, on promotion to a manager's position in the Motor Finance Corporation, and went to Glasgow, where he was equally active in the sister Association. A minute of the Association's appreciation of Mr Campbell's services was recorded, and an illuminated copy of the minute was duly presented to him, amid many expressions of the high esteem in which he was held.
In 1934, Mr and Mrs David Houston were presented with a mahogany bureau and a canteen of cutlery, in token of their very great services to the Association, Mr Houston jokingly replying that he had hoped for a set of golf clubs. Mrs Houston said that they would keep open house to any London Caithnessian, and she hoped that all the members would avail themselves of this offer.
In October 1934, Robert Gunn Mackay died. He was then the oldest member, having joined the Association in 1866 and given valuable service in his own quiet way throughout the years. He expressed his appreciation of all the Association was doing to help fellow Caithnessians by leaving a legacy of £100 for benevolent purposes.
The Association lost other valued members during this period, James Laird in 1929, Frank Nicholson and William Crowe in 1934 and A Bain Irvine in 1935. John Swanson, who had been President in 1923, 1924 and 1925 passed away in 1938. These deaths removed from the Association men who had given devoted and loyal service, who had inspired respect and love in the hearts of their fellow-members and they left to their successors a heritage of selfless devotion.
At the annual general meeting in 1936, Mr Donald Calder, who was unable to be present, sent his good wishes for the current year. Mr Calder was by now, with the death of Mr Mackay, the oldest member, having joined in 1868. The Association had sent Mr and Mrs Calder greetings a few weeks earlier on the occasion of their diamond wedding celebrations.
An integral part of the aims of the Association had always been the assisting of newcomers to find work, and much had been done by the members through the years, with no little success. But, early in 1938, with the unemployment in Caithness very much on his mind, Mr Ian McHardy, Director of Education for Caithness, had, at the annual gathering of the Edinburgh Caithness Association made an appeal, as the principal speaker, to all County Associations, for support in connection with the scheme, for the transfer of juvenile labour. The Employment Exchange in Wick had already approached the London Caithness Association on the matter. Mr McHardy made a strong appeal for the associations to "adopt these bairns". Caithness he said, wanted to keep her youth, but was forced to part with them through economic pressures.
So, in February 1938, in the Presidency of Lieutenant Commander WA Rhind, MBE, a circular was sent out to every member. It agreed that much good work had been done form time to time by members lending their influence in finding work, yet the committee felt that the scope of the Association's activities in this direction could be greatly extended. So it was proposed to keep a register of members prepared to assist the committee in placing employers in touch with those seeking employment. All members willing to allow their names to be registered were invited to communicate with Mr David Houston who had consented to deal with future applications. The attention of members was also drawn to the report in the Caithness papers of Mr McHardy's appeal.
Some Wick boys went south, and were welcomed to a social in March of that year, and given invitations both to future meetings and to the homes of members, but only a small number took advantage of these overtures.