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Part 3: Doctors, Drivers and Constables

The Blue Lamp

About 100 yards from the War Memorial crossroads stands the bungalow which at that time served as both the house of the village constable, and the Police Station. PC Richards is the incumbent whom I remember, and I doubt if he was ever seriously overworked. Checking of gun licences, and the occasional fracas at pub closing time on Saturday night, were never likely to require the intervention of the Flying Squad - in fact as far as I remember the constable "proceeded" everywhere on a bike, although I think he did possess a car. Inside the Station, the most prominent posters were always concerned with Looking Out For the Colorado Beetle, with colourful illustrations of this dangerous beastie. I never heard of one being caught.

Talking of the War Memorial :

It's Remembrance Sunday in November 1953, and for the first time in my young life I am present at the Parade in front of the village War Memorial, a dignified structure of rugged blocks of pink Aberdeenshire granite, well situated at a main junction of village roads. Although struck by the solemnity of the occasion, I am too young to really take in all the implications. I wish I had realised how real the memories must have been for many of those present. The Second World War had only just ended, but even the First World War, with its much greater impact on a generation of villagers, was then easily within living memory. As with so many small communities, it is hard to look at the panels on the monument and imagine the effect of losing so many young men in four years. There must have been present beside me those who had known the horrors of the Western Front themselves, there were certainly widows, sons, daughters and neighbours of the Gordon Highlanders and the men of other services listed on these panels.

Emergency Ward 1

Although these were still the very early years of the National Health Service, the system seemed to work perfectly well. Dr Sutherland held surgery hours at his house at the top of the village, as well as doing home visits on his daily rounds. Childbirth at home was quite routine, as was the case for my younger brother. Nursing care and health visiting was in the hands of Nurse Bonthrone, and the jewel in the crown was undoubtedly - for a village of our size - the Cottage Hospital. Unimaginable in modern times, it was probably uneconomic even then, but it was reassuring to have the means of stitching cuts and treating other minor injuries immediately at hand. There were a few beds for in-patients, but I honestly don't know what was capable of being treated at this local level. Helen remembers the matron as Rose Anderson, and being tested by her for Brownies and Guides badges. I am delighted to see that the building, which is of elegant proportions, has been preserved and is used by Aberdeenshire Guides.

First Gear

As a general rule, car ownership was not widespread. Obviously certain professionals such as the doctor and the nurse had a car from necessity, as had farmers and others living in the outlying spots. But motoring for pleasure was virtually non-existent, and a "foreign" car passing through created immediate interest. An exception to the general rule, not surprisingly, was the Laird, who I think must have been a bit of a motor enthusiast. I am pretty sure that he had a Bristol at one point, and possibly an Armstrong Siddley, and very impressive they were. On a slightly related point, he also owned a power-boat whose engine roar could be heard for miles - but anyone who has seen the size of the castle lake may share my doubts that he was ever able to realise its full potential.

The most recognisable vehicle around was undoubtedly the veteran car that belonged to the Rev. Duncan S Garrow of Woodhead United Free Church. According to Helen Taylor, it was a 1926 Austin 12 / 4 cylinder - I wonder what became of it. He was passionate about football, but obviously liked to watch in comfort - for every home game his splendid car was to be seen parked on the Aberdeen road, more or less level with the half-way line of the adjacent pitch.

End of the Line

Although it had existed since 1857, I can't help feeling that the Railway was always doomed to fail at Fyvie, since the Station was situated over a mile from the centre of the village, presumably for sound geographical reasons at the time the line was constructed. Since there was no linking bus and no taxi service, arriving at the station on a wet November evening was not an appealing prospect. There was still a limited amount of passenger traffic in the early 50s, and at least into the late 50s there were one or two freight trains per day, pulled by a genuine Thomas the Tank Engine which was best observed at the Inverythan level crossing. The stretch of line between Turriff and Inveramsay (the junction with the Aberdeen-Inverness line) was finally closed to freight in 1966.

Reach for the Sky

Needless to say, aircraft were a very rare sight indeed, and in any case too far overhead to be understood. The notion that one day air travel and foreign holidays would be widespread had not, I am sure, occurred to anyone. Even a car with a rare GB sticker was regarded with awe.

Missing Services

One of the more obvious lacks, in my time, was a barber, so the trek to Turriff was at least as regular as hair growing. The older ladies had the benefit of "perms" carried out by a hairdresser who came to the house - the preparations used left an evil-smelling reminder for days - but in my time there was no equivalent for the men and boys. Turriff was also the home of the nearest dentist, so the waiting room agony was prolonged by the bus journey time. At the time general anaesthesia by gas was used more often than in modern dentistry, and when this was used the doctor had to be present as well as the dentist. My only other regular trip was to Oldmeldrum, to my patient and long-suffering violin teacher, Miss Mary Smith. Perhaps I should have taken up the piano, since Helen reminds me that Ian Middleton, the Church Organists, gave piano lessons locally.

It did not affect us - we had a dog for only a short time - but it is worth noting that despite being almost wholly dependent on agriculture the village had no veterinary practice. There had been one - a garden gate still showed a brass plate and I think the name was McKenzie - but I don't know when it had ceased to function.


The Bank - the Clydesdale - for the village, and the Bank Manager's residence, were situated in an imposing building on the banks of the Ythan. It has always seemed to me out of proportion to the size of the village, since in those days few ordinary mortals had bank loans and mortgages, or indeed any need of banking whatsoever. Obviously the financing of agricultural activity was of major importance, and the banking needs of all the shops had to be catered for, but in modern times that would be done from a very much smaller structure. I suspect that there was a marketing need, at the time of its creation, for a Bank to appear imposing and solid. Helen reminds me that the Bank was also the base for the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages.