When my father, also Angus Martin, left his job at ‘The Pit’ I would have been four or five years old and I remember nothing about his life as a mining engineer. I do remember being in the playground of the Infant or ‘Wee’ Grammar and, seeing him appear at the entrance gate, running over to speak to him. I would have been five or six then, so that would have been 1957 or ’58. He was on his way to sign on at the ‘Buroo’, or Labour Exchange. I remember being told later that his work at the coal mine was affecting his health because he was frequently up to his waist in water.
Some time after leaving Argyll Colliery, he found a job as engineer on board an inshore cargo boat, the Halcyon. That, too, I suspect, was something of a trial to him, because, with his being at sea, he largely missed my and my sister Carol’s childhood. Yet, he had been a fisherman from the age of 14 aboard his father Duncan’s skiff, the Fame, and the sea was ‘in his blood’, as the saying goes. He was 29 when the Second World War broke out and he served in the Navy throughout that war, as an engineer. Again, the sea.
I belong to an acquisitive family and have kept that tradition going with a vengeance. Not only do I keep my own memorabilia, but I take others’ too and I naturally held on to all the documents, photographs and books which had been in my father’s possession. Some of these relate to his years at Argyll Colliery and include a few photographs and a big notebook connected with his training as a mining engineer in Sheffield.
There is one piece of oral tradition which lodges in my memory in connection with his time in Sheffield. His landlady there cooked a particular meal, the simple recipe of which my father brought home and passed on to my sister Carol and me. It consists of onions sliced into a frying-pan and fried in fat, with water added and then layers of sliced potatoes, with several squares of sliced sausage placed on the top. He called it ‘Brand Mash’, after his landlady’s surname, and I still occasionally make it, and enjoy it, but without the meat.
The big ledger-type, hard-backed book is full of notes and hand-drawn diagrams from his course in Sheffield. He seems, from the evidence of the book, to have been a conscientious student. The first page contains a drawing and specifications of ‘The Micrometer’, followed by ‘Common Tools’. The six pages of notes and sketches of tools were signed off by a lecturer, with the date ’10/6/49′, which is the only date I can find in the book. There follow sections on drills, taps and dies, lubricants, the properties of steel, blueprints, lock devices, keys, soldering, white metal bearings, gears, lathes, screw-cutting, pumps, ratchet assembly, ‘Strand Conveyors’, ‘Scraper Chain Conveyors’, welding methods, and much else.
I’d wonder from time to time why I continued to keep the notebook, and the answer always was that I couldn’t bring myself to throw it away because it had belonged to my father and he had put so much time and effort into filling it. Now it has acquired a broader value, however modest, as a relic of local mining history.
Angus Martin ©
From the Campbeltown Courier, 21/7/1966
SKIPPER WILLIE DOESN’T MIND RETIRING
Captain William McMillan, one of the grand old ‘salts’ of the Clyde, sailed his puffer [actually a converted Thames barge] into Campbeltown Loch for the last time at the week-end.
After 51 years carrying cargoes to and from Campbeltown and other Clyde ports, Captain McMillan is to become a landlubber at the age of 65.
His last trip as skipper and owner of the Halcyon started yesterday, when he sailed from Irvine with a general cargo for Port Askaig, Islay.
Captain McMillan will retire officially on Monday, when his boat will be sold at Troon to a Glasgow shipping company.
The vessel was managed by the Irvine Shipping and Trading Company, which is arranging alternative employment for her three-man crew.
Captain McMillan, who has skippered his own vessel for 36 years, has carried cargoes of all kinds to Clyde ports and ‘up north’, though in recent years his principal dealings in Campbeltown have been with D. McNair and Son, the coal merchants.
A native of Bute, Captain McMillan was born in Kilchattan. He took to the sea on leaving school at the age of 14, going on board the smack Cottage Girl, which was owned and skippered by his father, Captain Daniel McMillan.
Later they bought their first power-driven vessel, the Duchess. Captain McMillan remembers: ‘The last tiles to be made in Bute were carried by us from Kilchattan Bay to Campbeltown. That was in 1919.
He also remembers a time – before Argyll Colliery was opened – when they had to make ten successive trips to Campbeltown at top speed with coal to keep the town’s industries running.
In 1920, his father purchased the 75-ton Vineyard and ten years later replaced her with the Norman (105 tons). Shortly afterwards, his father retired to Rothesay and Captain McMillan took over as skipper and owner.
In earlier days they had sailed only on the West Coast but Captain McMillan decided to expand. In recent years he was trading to the Outer Hebrides, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man with cargoes such as timber, limestone and even explosives.
He acquired the 130-ton Halcyon in London in 1945.
Captain McMillan married a local girl, Mary Mitchell, and moved to Campbeltown in 1939. His home is at Rosebank, High Askomel.
The couple have one son, William (27), but he is not following in the seafaring tradition of the McMillan family. A chartered accountant, William is at present studying for the ministry at Trinity College and Glasgow University.
Captain McMillan is not going to grieve for the sea. He says: ‘I have had a good shot at it. Now I am going to enjoy my retirement and make up to my wife for all the lonely hours she has spent.’