Reconnecting with the past

We were delighted when Julia Macdonald agreed to write this week’s blog post for us.  Julia attended one of the early Study training sessions and went on to make a fieldwork recording with her dad, David Brown.  More recently, as a friend of both Donnie Nelson and the Stranraer and District Local History Trust, Julia came to our assistance when we were looking for additional photographic images for the forthcoming Study Flashback, Stranraer and District Lives: Voices in Trust, and particularly the book cover.


“I grew up listening to stories from my parents of what life was like when they were young.  My mum told me that during WW2, when she was a young girl, she would stand outside the family cottage and wave to the pilots as they took off from West Freugh.  On one occasion, an enthusiastic pilot flew by even lower than usual, clipping the chimney pot on the farmhouse roof as he passed.  She also remembered the sadness of seeing an Italian POW crying as he watched her playing with her friend.  The reason for his distress being that they reminded him of his own daughter at home in Italy. My dad’s stories were about the pride he felt for his engine driver father, and about his experiences as a telegram boy, his time on National Service, how he coped when he broke both his legs, and his life as a racing cyclist. These stories were often filled with humour, and other times also tinged with sadness, and in my mind I was able to build a picture of what life must have been like when they were my parents were young.

Port Rodie and East Pier

1. Port Rodie and East Pier

I’ll listen to anyone telling a story.  I think social history, and the way we lived in earlier times, can so easily be forgotten.  I became involved with the Study when I went along to a training session which covered the purpose of the Study and gave advice on interview techniques and how to use the recording machine.  Gathering oral history interviews provides an ideal opportunity to listen to, and then preserve, the Wigtownshire – Galloway Irish accent and stories for future generations.

Recently I was asked to help Donnie chose additional images, from the thousands in his collection, for the first Study Flashback, Stranraer and District Lives: Voices in Trust.  My first concern was to ensure that any selected images weren’t so old that they were beyond the memory of those whose stories were being told in the book.  I also wanted to make sure that any images we selected reflected themes contained in the book, and could be recognised as local.  I found the whole process of finding the images Donnie suggested brought a smile to my face. People and places long since forgotten were brought back to life, and I was readily distracted by finding out the stories behind some of the photos – although this was not at all related to the task in hand!  I also went through family photo albums and it was there I came across a series of photos of Telegram boys posing at the bottom of the East Pier as they waited on the mail boat, or train.  By this time, the Telegram boys had progressed from push bikes to bikes with motors.  In some photographs, the lads balance precariously in pyramids – standing on the seats of the bikes and on the shoulders of each other.  These were tiny, and mostly slightly blurred, so I knew they wouldn’t be suitable for the Flashback.  The photograph we chose in the end was one taken by my dad – and the only one he wasn’t in!

Telegram boys, East Pier

2. Telegram boys, East Pier

Other photos of interest showed Stranraer shops (although not any of those featured in the Flashback), rural life, fishing and farming and a fair few of the ferries.  For me, the most interesting photographs are of people rather than just buildings or objects.  As an amateur photographer myself I have learned now to turn the camera on the audience, or on people, rather than the event, as I appreciate that in years to come that is what people will be interested in seeing.

I’ve been really pleased to be part of the Study in Dumfries and Galloway and plan to continue to add more material to this valuable resource in the future.”

David Brown, 1936 at Topsee Black Stables

3. David Brown, 1936 at Topsee Black Stables

The image of the boys on the motorbikes is so fitting for our Flashback.  Although the interviewees whose recollections are presented within the book were certainly quite a good age when the interviews took place, they were young lads and girls during the period of time which provides the framework for most of the interview material in Stranraer and District Lives: Voices in Trust.  The youthful faces which beam out at you from this image remind us of that, and of the resilience of the people who lived during those times when war and death were sadly part of everyday experience.

Telegram boy riding up Old Port Road

4. Telegram boy riding up Old Port Road

The other images included in this blog post are from Julia’s family collection:

The recording Julia made with her dad, in July 2012, has been added to the Study archive.  Follow the link below to listen to an extract from that interview and to learn more about David’s time as a Telegram boy:

David Brown

David Brown

Mr David Brown talks about the telegraph

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