On the left is my great-grandmother Nettie Stephen, taking a break on Aberdeen beach from her day job working in Birnie’s hat shop in George Street. She was a lovely gentle lady, who spent her days in the Stewart Park playing tennis or taking part in the church charity sales.
This is my great-grandfather Peter Macnab. A mercantile clerk for a sugar-sack company by trade, he was called up in world war one and served in Mesopotamia with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. He had a love of English, of words and rhymes, and even when dying too soon from cancer he would entertain my Grandma with his stories. Years later my Grandma would be the first person in her family to graduate from university, with a degree in English.
Front row, second from the right and smoking a pipe is my great great grandfather Tom Stephen. Expelled from Gordon’s college at 14 for hitting a teacher, he set off across the ocean with a shipment of his father’s Shetland ponies and was the first person to bring Shetland ponies to Canada. He worked his way around America on ranches before meeting and marrying my great great grandmother Jessie May in Toronto, Canada. They came back to Aberdeen during the first world war so Tom could sign up and serve in the RFA as a gunner, and so he could lug a Mesopotamian bomb shell across the desert and back home, to where it currently sits on the floor of my bedroom. Back home and after having retired from joinery he lived out his days in a little pensioners cottage dishing out tuppence to visiting grandchildren from a pile in his sideboard, so they could buy themselves a cappie.
Here’s my Grandma on the right, with her friend Dodo in London in 1945. At the end of the second world war prisoners were being marched back to Britain via a camp at Uxbridge, and with the influx of people wanting to phone home the British Telephone Exchange needed volunteers from their regional offices to cope with demand. Every night my Grandma and Dodo would sleep in bunkbeds in an underground bunker with other girls from all over the UK, and all day they would put through calls from ex-prisoners of war phoning home. They would listen to them sobbing and telling their mothers they were alive, and even though a call home cost a shilling they never charged them a thing.