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Flash bang wallop, why did you go to New York, James?


This is my granddad, James Scott, in a photo taken at his village school nearly 120 years ago. He’s aged about ten or 11 here, I think, and he’s staring into the camera with a good deal of scepticism. Of course, he’s been done up like a dog’s dinner by his mother with an outsize bow-tie but there is also the fact that, at this time (about 1900), photography, especially in the wilds of Fife, where he lived, must have been a pretty rare thing. Photographers in those days had a camera on a tripod and they disappeared under a big black cloth to change the plate. Then, when everything was ready, they held up a big tray of magnesium and applied a match. Flash bang wallop, what a picture. I like the way the teachers are all dressed up, too, in their tailcoats. God knows how they kept order with that lot.


James’s father, and his father’s father, in fact all his ancestors back to 1620 were ploughmen in Fife, and none of them ever did anything different. Until James came along. After he left school, probably not long after this picture was taken, he was apprenticed to a grocer in his home town of Newburgh. Nothing really exciting. But then, out of the blue, when he is about 19, he packs everything in and travels 500 miles to Southampton to sign on as a ship’s steward, bound for New York.

He doesn’t sign on with just any old ship, mark you, he gets a job on the Mauretania, (sister ship of Lusitania, which was torpedoed by a German U-boat in 1915). It is the most prestigious ship on the Atlantic, packed with the kind of people you’d never normally see from behind a horse’s arse in Fife. On a voyage during December 1910 Prince Albert and Prince Radziwell (who he? ed) were amongst the passengers.

So there he is, on the Mauretania, the fastest ship on the Atlantic steaming into New York past the Statue of Liberty, and what happens?

Aye, weel, as my relatives would say that is a moot point. My mother says he fell off. My auntie says he did no such thing. The only record we have is his Board of Trade employment book and that has had all its pages torn out. He certainly survived, and when he came back he signed up in 1914 for a new, rather more terrible adventure, as a private in the Royal Army Service Corps. He was driving a grocer’s van once more, but this time he was taking supplies to the trenches on the Western Front.

About elainecanham

I started blogging because I'm a writer, and I thought I ought to. Now I realise that I blog because I lwant to; even when I can't think of much to say. I do a lot of work for local businesses - get in touch if you like my style.


17 thoughts on “Flash bang wallop, why did you go to New York, James?

  1. The past dims and becomes faded like an old photograph. The truth becomes blurry and sometimes the legends of man become the reality of belief. We are all story tellers and we weave the truth with lies that enlarge the actual events.

    Posted by awax1217 | April 19, 2014, 8:13 pm
  2. Prince Albert was a brand of tobacco, back in the day. One of the most widely known practical jokes (I guess just in the states) was to call a store and ask if they had “Prince Albert in a can”.
    It’s really not very funny at all, but there it is.

    Posted by naptimethoughts | April 17, 2014, 1:57 pm
  3. I hate to do this to people who tell me jokes, but I don’t get it. Cn you explain? (Please?)

    Posted by elainecanham | April 17, 2014, 1:41 pm
  4. Just one more thing, because I must, although I apologize for cluttering up your comments area:
    (Ring ring)
    Person: Hello
    Me: Hello, do you have Prince Albert in a can?
    Person: Ummm.
    Me: well, you better let him out!!!!! (Squeals of laughter and a click of the phone)

    Posted by naptimethoughts | April 17, 2014, 1:00 pm
  5. In fact, since starting this blog, I have found that my most wonderful new friends reside all over this world , and it so happens that this world is much smaller than I thought .

    Posted by naptimethoughts | April 17, 2014, 12:56 pm
  6. Aye. I believe that, too.

    Posted by naptimethoughts | April 17, 2014, 12:52 pm
  7. Aye, weel, adventure is to be had in the big bad city. You can trust me on that.

    Posted by naptimethoughts | April 16, 2014, 12:17 pm
  8. What an amazing story. I am fascinated by old photographs, and the eyes of people in them. What they were thinking, and how similar their emotions may have been to ours, however different our worlds seem

    Posted by Peter Wells aka Countingducks | April 16, 2014, 11:34 am
  9. They hit you on the hand. I haven’t thought about it for ages, but now looking back, some of those teachers were really quite sadistic.

    Posted by elainecanham | April 15, 2014, 7:48 pm
  10. Cor your Gramps didn’t ‘alf get about! Cool story. “God knows how they kept order with that lot.” – The cane? 🙂

    Posted by theeditorsjournal | April 15, 2014, 6:23 pm
  11. I don’t think you could ever apply the word languid to my granddad. Not that I knew him that well; he died when I was five. But I’m off to Kew soon to look up the crew lists of the Mauretania and see if I can find out what happened. Thanks for reading

    Posted by elainecanham | April 15, 2014, 5:51 pm
  12. He certainly liked taking chances didn’t he. I’m hoping he also survived that little ruckus and came home.
    I admire very much the style of shirt and bowtie from those days. Now it would just lend one a languid air like a certain Englishman in New York.

    xxx Huge Hugs xxx

    Posted by davidprosser | April 15, 2014, 5:41 pm

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