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London Caithness Association History
|1945 - 1955|
From that time, up to our next landmark, the Centenary Dinner, in 1956, there was a period of great success and enthusiasm for the Association by people definitely connected with Caithness, although other interested persons also supported the functions. Although Mr Sinclair was forced to resign the Presidency owing to pressure of work, sooner than expected, giving place to Mr David Houston, he continued to provide interesting programmes. He organised musical evenings, and also showed films, including a cine film in colour, of the Herring Queen ceremony in Wick, and at the dinner in 1946, the hit of the evening was the menu card, with no less than sixteen photographs of Caithness personalities and localities. As a means, it was said , of gathering into the fold, members who had become scattered or who had lost contact during the war years, a supper dance was held early in 1947, at the Derby Room in the Bonnington Hotel, James Brazier being the convenor. As an innovation, during the interval, Mr Brazier ran a Caithness quiz on subjects such as the natural history, the geography, early history, and architecture of the County. The result was that Thurso beat Wick.
Again the Derby Room was the venue in February 1947 for the annual general meeting, followed by a pianoforte recital and a number of young people were attracted. Probably the most popular programme was that of the Caithness nicht, held in April as the closing programme, for several years. It consisted of a literary competition of original Caithness sketches, poems and monologues and usually opened by a selection from the Caithness Orchestra. At the first one held in 1947, there were twelve entries, a contribution by Mr Frank Macrae, taking first place. Second was Mrs Walsh Atkins with a poem, "The Frost-bitten and Homesick Muse", while the third was Mr James Budge with "Chinnad goes to the WRI", and a sketch entitled, "The Salmon Poachers", by Peter Anderson was given fourth place. A selection of items from other years appears at the end of this account. This literary competition was inspired by a real desire to show the capacity of Caithness people for writing and demonstrating the special characteristics and their cultural heritage. The various items displayed not only the wit and homely humanity of the Caithness heart, but also showed that inspiration could be derived from the Caithness landscape, her history and her people. This was demonstrated clearly in James Budge's blank verse poem, "A Winter View from Cletton Hill", and the native acoustic wit is seen in Mrs Walsh Atkins' tale of the Halkirk wifie's troubles on a journey to London. Another contributor was Mrs Isobel Mackay, whose dramatic sketches were performed later by the half-dozen members who formed themselves in the late 1950's into the dramatic section of the Association. Two other members, Mrs Gilkay (nee Dulcie Alexander) and Mrs Janet Begg gave much pleasure by their beautiful rendering of Scottish songs.
Dances, whist drives and social summed up the other activities of these years, many of them being held in the Bonnington Hotel, until the matter of expense made the convenors change the venue back to the Royal Scottish Corporation at to St Bride's Institute. At a dance held in the Bonnington Hotel in October 1947, two American visitors from Texas, staying in the hotel, were attracted by the skirl of the pipes, played by Andrew Bain, the Association piper. They came along the corridor to investigate, wearing cowboys' saddle boots and stetsons. They were pulled in by some of the boys and had an absolutely hilarious time. The little London comedian, Jock Walker, famous for his imitations of Harry Lauder, was also on the programme on that and several other occasions. The dances always included Scottish country dances, and on one occasion, three Pulteney boys threw caution to the winds, tore off their jackets and danced "Strip the Willow" in their shirt sleeves, their example being followed by quite a number of the usually more sedate members.
At the annual general meeting of 1950, at which Mr David Houston was re-elected President, he referred to a most outstanding event which had occurred in 1949, namely the visit of the Wick Girls' Pipe Band, under Pipe-Major James Christie, brother of Mrs Dora Miller. This had taken a great deal of organisation, in which Mr Houston himself played no small part, although he made no mention of that fact in his speech. It had been very well worthwhile, and had drawn the attention of the press and television authorities. There had been a march from St Paul's down through Fleet Street to the Royal Scottish Corporation. The girls played at various London Scottish functions before going on to a similar programme in Brighton, and they had also been taken on a sightseeing tour of London.
Mr Houston also paid tribute to Sir David Robertson for all he was doing for Caithness, in his efforts to establish much-needed industries there. In reviewing the difficult economic conditions and the poor prospects of employment, Mr Houston said that while some of those present might be voluntary exiles from their home in the North, there were other men and women who had been forced to leave home through economic circumstances. Anyone who made an effort to improve conditions in Caithness deserved the gratitude of all. The Association showed their appreciation of Sir David's efforts by electing him to the Honorary Presidency in 1951, and so he joined Sir Archibald Sinclair and Brigadier Keith Murray, in this office. Both Sir David and Lady Robertson took a very great interest in the Association during the ensuing years.
The children's Christmas party was also revived, and in 1949, there were fifty-four members' children present at this, the first party of its kind since 1937. At the annual general meeting, in 1950, Mr Houston spoke of his gratification at knowing there were so many Caithness people with young families. It augured well for future membership. Because of post-war scarcity, Mr James Brazier, who was the organiser, asked for contributions, either money or toys for the children , and Sir David Robertson, donated no less than thirty-seven toys. At this party, Father Christmas, not having the traditional sack, borrowed a large wheelbarrow from a nearby building site, to the no small delight of the children.
At the party at Christmas 1951, Mr and Mrs W J Taylor, who had been saving their sweet ration for some months, were in the delightful position of being able to give each child a gift of sweets.
In those days, when the children had gone home at about six o'clock, it was usual to hold an adult's party, consisting partly of games and partly of waltzes and reels. Mr James Budge, who usually prepared and sent the report to the John O'Groat Journal, wrote in 1953 of the difficulties he experienced in manipulating a pea by means of a drinking straw, but the advice of the onlookers regarding "sookin" and "blawin" enabled him to give a creditable performance. The grown ups' party was discontinued in the late 1960's, as their were fewer parents and other grown-ups attending, and the ladies who had worked all the earlier part of the day, were usually in a state of exhaustion by the time the last of the children had gone.
The children's party is still one of the highlights of the year's activities in the London Caithness calendar, and at the present day the number of small guests is augmented by inviting a party of boys and girls from the Royal Caledonian Schools.
Between the wars, the summer outings were resumed, having been dropped since 1938. There were also golf tournaments, under the leadership of Mr RM Phimister, who was for a time also captain of the London Scottish Golf Club. There was some talk, too, of forming a Rambling Club, to keep members in touch with each other during the summer months, but this never got "off the ground". Also in 1950, tentative arrangements were explored regarding the running of special coaches from London to Wick, for members and friends, during July and August, at a special half the ordinary fare, £5 only. This scheme was not, however, pursued.
The dinner dances were most popular during these years, the first one held at Frascati's, in January 1946, after the war. This was considered to be in the nature of a Victory Dinner. The chief speaker, Brigadier George Murray, CBE, DSO, MC, gave a vigorous and comprehensive account of the wartime deeds of the Seaforth Highlanders, a particularly appropriate theme at that time. Young Murdoch McKenzie deputised that evening for his father, Pipe-Major Murdoch McKenzie, who was prevented by an eye injury, from being present.
On the subject of pipers, it was at a musical evening at Slater's restaurant in November of the same year, that Mr Andrew Bain was elected honorary piper in the Association, a position that is now held by Mr Alex Dunnet of the Blue Bonnets Pipe Band.
The speaker at the dinner in 1948, was Ian Mackay, the brilliant journalist, who was a native of Wick. His death at an early age, so soon after this, was a very great loss to journalism. Mr Mackay spoke of Caithness men as being far wanderers, going to the remote corners of the earth, but always having a propensity for founding Caithness Associations, wherever they landed. That evening, Mr Houston was in the unique position of proposing the first public toast to the infant Prince Charles, to the delight of the members.
In 1949, at the dinner held in the Criterion, at which Mr J Henderson Stewart, MP, was present, Mr Houston emphasised that the main object of the Association was still to promote a spirit of friendship between natives of Caithness in London. Also to help young Caithnessians form and maintain beneficial connections and to assist them thereby to adjust to their new environment.
The dinners in the five following years followed the general pattern, with well known gentlemen, usually members of Parliament, being the guests of honour. Mr George Duff Dunbar, who was elected to the Presidency in 1953 and continued in office until 1956, took the chair at the dinners held in his term of office. Of Mr Duff Dunbar, it was remarked that his estate of Ackergill and Hempriggs had been in the family for six hundred years.
On a personal note, we may record that Mr James Brazier, who with his father and brothers had made such a contribution to the life of the Association, was made the recipient of a clock as a gift on his leaving for Winchester.
In March 1952, John Sutherland died, having in his time held all the executive positions, as had his Uncle James, and a year later John Cormack passed away. These men had been members for many years, and the Association had derived much benefit from all they did to further its interests. John Cormack was born at Spittal, but received his education at the Miller Institution, Thurso, being there at the same time as Mr Hugh Brock of the Commercial Bank. After working first in Thurso, then in Edinburgh, he settled in London, working with a leading firm of timber importers and on his retirement had been made a director of the Company. He had been a member of the Association for almost fifty years.