We are delighted to publish these two stories from Robert Bain – The First Transatlantic Cable and The Royal Visit. Robert was formerly a pupil of Main Street School and Vale of Leven Academy, Alexandria to which he eventually returned to teach science for many years. He was brought up in Alexandria where his father John had a garage at 79 Bridge Street, until having to move out because of the redevelopment of the centre of the Vale. The garage was based in the property which had formerly been the home, office and yard of the most prominent Vale builder of the second half of 19th century, William Barlas.
These two stories are very much of an era and people of a certain age will easily relate to Bobby’s treatment by his teacher – every primary school seems to have had at least one teacher whose talents would have been better deployed in another career such as the Child-Catcher in Chitty-Chitty Bang-Bang. The Transatlantic Telephone Cable to which Bobby refers in this story was laid in 1955 and 1956 and became operational in September 1956. It entered the Atlantic at Gabbanach Bay just south of Oban and came ashore in Newfoundland. Its greatest claim to fame was that it carried the “Hot Line” between Moscow – London – Washington which was designed to stop the Cold War turning hot. Satellite telecommunications replaced the cable in 1978 and its eastern terminus building now lies derelict.
The serene adventures of Robert’s father, John, belong even more to a bygone era – we won’t spoil the fun by trailing the story. The Queen came to visit Strathleven Industrial Estate on 16th April 1953, just six weeks before her coronation. All the school children in the Vale and Dumbarton – all 4,000 of them - were marched to Strathleven to see the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh and her arrival in the royal Daimler was captured by Charlie Wingate and is now part of the Lovely Valley series of videotapes / DVDs. In the afternoon she went to Clydebank to launch the Royal Yacht Britannia at John Brown’s yard.
The First Transatlantic Cable
The Lennox recently carried an article on the first transatlantic cable and told its readers that the Council was sitting on a "treasure" in the form of a bit of the cable. If it is a treasure then I'm rich because I too have a bit.
When Main Street primary school was demolished, I was asked if there was anything in the museum cabinet that I would like for the Academy. The man who invited me told me that all the older primary schools had had such a cabinet. It had fascinated me as a small boy and I jumped at the offer. You can be sure that once in the building the memories, most of them pleasant and treasured, came flooding back.
The cabinet was in the back upstairs corridor immediately opposite the door of one of only two teachers that I actively disliked in my twelve years of schooling. Even now some 70 years later, having been through the education mill on both sides of the grindstone I still cannot work out that lady's attitude to the display in the cabinet.
You had to line up in twos with eyes forward and woe betide any inquisitive pupil who looked at it. She had a genius for materialising from nowhere just as some poor soul glanced sideways. Such a crime caused her to bellow "I'LL FLOG YOU", in a roar that could have wakened a wean in Renton.
Even going down stairs, you had to "keep in twos eyes forward" and since the stair curved in a tight semicircle, the inside of the treads tapered away to nothing which provided an incentive to keep to the outside of the bend.
I fell foul of her wrath within days of going into her class. The lesson was geography and "the globe" sat on the table. The earth moved round the sun in a big circle and when it got back to the start it had taken a year. Fine.
The earth spun round on its axis as it did so and when it had completed one spin it had taken a day. Also just fine.
Innocently I put my hand up and asked, "Please Miss what way does the earth spin?"
I have never seen Etna in action and can assure you I don't need to. She erupted.
"HOW CAN ANYONE KNOW THAT?"
Now that was a question and hurled directly at me. Rhetorical questions were for some years in the future when in the gentle care of Miss Abernethy in the Academy, so I answered her.
I said that if the earth was doing the spinning then it would have to go from west to east so that the sun seemed to go from east to west.
Etna? - a damp squib! Krakatao followed. My granny remembered the beautiful sunsets that followed Krakatoa blowing up: me, I remembered to keep my head down for the rest of my sentence in that room.
Oh yes, the cable. The cable was on what today would be a story board, at the bottom right hand corner of the cabinet under the story of Boy Sailor Jack Cornwell VC killed at Jutland. Despite being born in Clyde Cottage, Jack had no connection with our Clyde as his Clyde Cottage was in Essex.
When I got there, the cabinet had been ransacked and all I got was a few specimens of pickled reptiles. Lurking in the corner completely neglected among the junk and still carrying its sticky six pointed crumbling Victorian label was the wee bit of cable. I still have it.
The Last Transatlantic Cable
The Lennox could have told us that the Vale had another connection with a transatlantic cable. In the fifties, a new cable was laid and it passed up Bank Street and past the Torpedo Range near Arrochar before leaving our shores at Oban. I believe it was laid by a cable layer based at Dalmuir and Valemen were among the crew.
Transatlatic Cable Terminus at Gabbannach, Bay Oban
A Royal Visit To Strathleven
This particular Royal visit took place in my last year as a pupil in the Academy which would make it in 1953. We had not a clue what Her Majesty was going to be doing there but we had to be in attendance looking loyal.
The crocodile wended it way down to Bonhill Bridge, past the site of the old Bodylines Camp to the Lions Gate where we turned and trudged to our allotted place on the main driveway. It was a beautiful late spring day and the outing was better than a dose of double something - it was just great to be out of school.
The Queen in the Burroughs Factory
Close to the scheduled arrival time we heard a roar coming from the gate. The loud cheering came nearer and nearer. Agog? As Bud Neill said we just could not have been agoger. Then the car appeared.
Forget all that nonsense of Rolls Royce being the car of Royalty. Look at any old newsreel from that time and you will see that the House of Windsor favoured Daimlers. Here was a Daimler so it had to be the star attraction so we were exhorted to cheer.
I did not cheer. The car in question was a Long Fifteen and a bit too small for a Royal. I knew that because my father had replaced his ancient Austin York with an even older Daimler Long Fifteen. As it drew ever nearer I read the number and it was not a car like our car, it was our car. Driving it if my memory serves me correctly was Arthur Richardson looking very puzzled at the fuss. In the back were two well dressed ladies regally returning the waves of the cheering crowds. One of them was my mother.
The explanation was simple. One of my father's customers was a bigwig in Glasgow Chamber of Commerce and he had been given a pass for two. He was unable to attend but his wife wanted to go. It was arranged that she would come to Alexandria by train and be picked up from there. She was not keen to go on her own and asked my mother to go with her.
After that nothing exciting happened - only the Queen came.
The same car had another brush with a Royal Occasion. My father had been in Partick to pick up some spares which would have meant a visit to Peter Holmes who had opened a parts warehouse near Partick Cross. Going home by the nearest route up Byres Road would have meant a succession of traffic lights there and in Great Western Road so he opted for Crow Road instead.
When he got there, an immaculate policeman wearing white gloves pointed at him and directed him up the road. At every junction more equally immaculate policemen pointed at him and indicated where he was to go.
At the top of Crow Road he was stopped for a few seconds before being directed into a gap in a procession of cars going south. He had little choice but to do what he was told and found himself a few minutes later having been part of the cavalcade that officially opened the Clyde Tunnel.
I still wish he had kept that car.