It was when I was about 7 and hanging around in the school playground with my pal, who was using a mirror to deflect and annoy a line-up of girls on an opposite wall of the school, when he suddenly shone the mirror onto a girl and said “see the girl that the mirror’s on, that’s one of your sisters!”
He then turned to look round the other boys and girls playing different games and eventually sought out a particular boy saying “and see that lad there, he’s one of your brothers!”
This was all news to me! It turned out I had 6 siblings with me at Aberlour Orphanage, 4 brothers and 2 sisters. I also had a another sister staying with my parents in Edinburgh as my mother had been expecting a further child when all seven of us had been taken from our tiny squalid tenement in Leith and sent to an Orphanage 200 miles in Banffshire.
I do not recall having much to do with any of my family whilst I was at The Orphanage, but to be fair, the girls had a wing of their own and the boys’ wing was separated by the school and “ne’er the twain shall meet”. The Orphanage structure was that each “House” held boys of a certain age and if your brothers were older than you then it stands to reason that they would all be in different “Houses”. By the time I was 7 or 8 yrs old my older brothers and sisters would be leaving the place as they would be coming up for school leaving age.
Occasionally my parents would come up to Aberlour on holiday and we would all be together for a part of a day, but I suppose I never really understood what was going on around me as I never saw the other members of my family on a day to day basis.
When Edinburgh Council Social Work Dept (ECSW) decided it was time to bring the remaining members of my family home to stay with my parents it all turned out very badly. In the small tenement house which only had three rooms, bunk beds had been put up in one of the rooms to house the extra children. I cannot recall how many of the family were put up in this way as some of the family had found their own accommodation and one of my sisters may have had a live-in position as a housekeeper. Within the month the Social Works Dept came to visit to see how we were. One of my sisters complained about the nutritious value of the food my mother was preparing and she pointed out to the staff that I was losing weight and was covered in bed bugs, something that never happened at the Orphanage.
So my trip home to my parents only lasted less than a month and I suppose this gave ECSW some measure of justification to remove all of the family from our parents away back in 1950.
My relationship with family is not a very warm one. Being brought up at the Orphanage certainly gave one a spirit of independence, so much so that during my working career I completely ignored them and got on with life as I saw it. As we are getting older I do find visits with my family are much more enjoyable as I feel I have the confidence to be my own man amongst them.
I am now retired with 2 of my children and have 2 grandchildren. I live in Craigellachie, quite close to the old Orphanage grounds, and very much enjoy the projects that I do for Aberlour Orphanage.