The Story of My Life. Chapter 1

A Very Ordinary Story

Chapter 1


I suppose it all happened in 1916. My father had been discharged from the Army, in 1916, unfit for duty because of lung damage. He was serving at the Front during World War 1. How, as a Farrier in the Royal Army Service Corps, he managed to get himself in the firing line, I don't know,but his horse was shot and fell on top of him. He lay there, for some time, trapped, when the Germans sent gas across the front. There was no way he could escape and his lungs were filled with poison gas. As a result he was discharged from the Army as being unfit for duty.

Teasses Toll Smiddy!

Before the outbreak of war he had served his time as a country blacksmith under the tuition of his father who was the blacksmith at Teasses Toll, in Fife. As far as I know they lived in the small village of Ceres, Fife. During my research into my family tree I have discovered from the 1881 census that my grandfather, at the age of 15, was an Apprentice Blacksmith with Robert Bonella, a Master Blacksmith in Dairsie, Fife. He boarded with the Master Blacksmith along with a Journeyman Blacksmith, David Skinner and a fellow apprentice, Andrew Ramsay, aged 17. His father, my great grandfather, William, was also a blacksmith at Teuchats Smithy, as was my great great grandfather, another William, at Craigrothie. All were in the county of Fife on the east coast of Scotland - the part known as East Neuk of Fife. Fife has been called the 'the beggar's mantle, fringed with gold', or sometimes the Kingdom of Fife.

By the time the First World War started my grandfather had graduated from being a blacksmith to farming. His first farm was at Cabbagehall, not far from St Andrews, Fife. He then moved to Nether Lochty, a small farm about two or three miles to the north of Pittenweem, also in Fife. This was an offshoot of the Big Lochty farm. Nether Lochty was rented and I don't know if it belonged to the big farm or was part of a local estate. My father managed to get a job as a blacksmith at the local village smiddy in Arncroach. By all accounts he was very popular in that country area and his younger sister, my Aunt Jean often told me, with a hint of pride in her voice, that he was known as the King of Arncroach. He was a good looking man and probably was popular with the girls!

I'm not sure whether he was called up to the Army or enlisted voluntarily but he was 18 at the outbreak of World War I. After his discharge from the army, my father assisted his father on the farm and, presumably, it was then that he met my mother. My grandfather's family attended Carnbee church which was only about a mile from Lochty. On one of the back pews in the Church the names of some of the young Cunninghams can still be seen carved on it.

Carnbee is what, I suppose, could be called a hamlet, consisting, at that time, of the big farm (Carnbee farm), the Church, the School, the Schoolhouse, the Manse, a few cottar houses and a wee sweetie shop cum Jenny a' thing. I seem to remember the schoolhouse front garden had a huge monkey-puzzle tree in it. The Manse was situated just outside the hamlet at the bottom of a steep road, (School Brae). This led to a small place at a crossroads called Ovenstone. It had one house, a smiddy (a blacksmith's workshop) and a large reservoir. The road then went on southwards towards Ovenstone Hospital, an isolation unit where patients with very contagous diseases were sent, past the 'squeaking gates'. This ws a large gateway to Balcaskie estate and if you stamped on the ground between the gateposts a sort of squeaking sound was heard. Then to Pittenweem approx. two miles from St Monans, on the Fife coast. All that area, now called North East Fife had an abundance of small villages and still has. Arncroach, Craigrothie, Ceres and Teuchats, to name but a few. My forebears all lived in the Craigrothie, Ceres area. I don't know exactly when my grandfather started farming at Lochty, but some of my uncles and aunts must have attended Carnbee school. My grandparents, my father, and all the rest of the Cunningham family are buried in Carnbee churchyard. Now, the school has been converted into a house, the wee shop has gone, but despite that, Carnbee still retains its charm. The Church is still in use. The 'big' farm - Carnbee - is, today (1998) farmed by Ian Carstairs, whose Grandfather, John Carstairs, and my Grandfather, John Cunningham, were very good friends and I can recollect some very pleasant evenings when the families got together.

My mother was the daughter of James Thomson Niven Miller who managed James N. Miller & Sons Ltd. of boat and yacht building fame in St Monans or St Monance, as it was spelt then, it was a very old established firm (1747). My mother was a proficient pianist and had many other talents, including photography using a Kodak folding camera. It was flat compact camera requiring a lid to be opened to access the lens. This was attached to a concertina type case. The lens had to be pulled out on slides so that the it was the correct distance from the film. The camera shutter was operated by what can only be described as a very small hypodermic needle pusher, using the thumb. My mother developed and printed her own photographs. She was artistic in several directions doing pokerwork, which involved burning patterns on wooden objects using an implement, something like an electric soldering iron. She was a keen knitter, doing needlework, crochet and also glass painting. These were some of her talents.

She was also proficient on the piano and had been appointed organist at Carnbee Church. I assume that was where she met my father. It must have been a difficult courtship, as St Monans is at least five miles from Carnbee, and Lochty was about another mile further on. I suppose the only means of transport was by bicycle. I do know that my grandfather had a pony (Beauty) and gig (trap, or two wheeled pony carriage), but I doubt if he would have allowed his son to use that. Anyway, love had its way and they were married. Eventually on 10th. August 1917, I arrived and was baptised by the then minister, the Rev. George Thomson in Carnbee church.

Over Carnbee, my birthplace

My father had managed to get tenancy of a small cottage, in the middle of a field, at Over Carnbee between Lochty and Carnbee, where we all lived. The cottage has long since been demolished, but I have managed to preserve a snapshot of myself  (aged about 9 or 10), standing in front of it.

At Lochty, with my Grandparents, were two younger brothers (my uncles David and Alex) and two sisters (aunts Elizabeth (Nan) and Jean) . My aunt Nan was disabled, probably caused by polio, and was not able to walk well. Actually I had another uncle who was killed before I was born. He was the eldest of the family and had falsified his age to join the Army at the outbreak of World War I.
The small farm could not feed all these mouths, so the plans were that we would go to Forfar, where my father was to set up business as a blacksmith. Alas, my parent's plans were not fulfilled.

During the influenza epidemic of 1918, my father was one of the victims , probably as a result of the damage to his lungs in the war, and hedied on 28th. October 1918. I was only 14 months old.
This resulted in plans for my future being being changed completely - life is full of uncertainties!

              Observer 1918 HdLine


Article Observer 1918

Early Days

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