Allan McGhee: Frugal but Generous

Mr McGhee lived on Queen Street in Castle Douglas next door to Jim and Doreen. He loved the Rae’s dearly and was apparently heartbroken when they announced they were moving only round the corner to a bigger house with a cracking view of Carlingwork Loch and beyond. Still, they remained very close until his death and many of his possessions are now heirlooms in my family.

Allan Bertrum McGhee was born in Glasgow in 1900 to John and Margaret, joining his elder brother Andrew. When Allan was only 4 years old, Andrew, then aged 6, died, leaving Allan as an only child. By 1911, 10 year old Allan is not living with his parents but instead with his uncle Andrew at Ayr Prison. I was initially confused by this revelation – not many young boys would be imprisoned in an adult jail! I was thankfully reassured to learn that Andrew was in fact the Governor of Ayr Prison. Andrew held that post for some time, it would seem, as it’s the retired occupation listed on his 1931 death certificate. Past Allan’s birth, I can find no trace of either of his parents. Since census records for 1921 and 1931 have not been unsealed yet, I have no idea what Allan did between the ages of 10 and 30. Aged 31, he married his first wife, Hannah McGaw. Sadly, Hannah died during and as a result of childbirth less than 2 years later. I found neither a birth or death certificate for the baby, suggesting it also died. (Until fairly recently, stillborn babies were not recorded as births at all since they did not survive. I think that has now changed to recognise that they were alive.) Allan found love again later in his life and married Maren Jorgensen in the late 1950’s. Given his and his new wife’s ages, it is understandable that they had no children together, although by all accounts they shared a happy life. Maren died in 1981, leaving Allan as a widower once again. Allan died in Dumfries in 1991, aged 91.

I was only 6 when he died but his name was mentioned a lot in stories that Doreen told me in the years after his death. Andrew had never married and with no siblings or children, Allan left most of his belongings and affairs to Doreen. My family still owns and rents out his home on Queen Street, the fancy (only ever on display, far too nice to stick your Sunday roast in) China serving dishes were displayed in Doreen’s home and are now divided between my dad and his brother, and we have many of his personal effects which Doreen deemed important enough to keep. Mr McGhee always looked after Doreen and her family, gifting my dad and his brother their first cars. While incredibly generous to those he love, it seemed he preferred to live a more frugal life himself. My dad often recounts the now-famous take of Mr McGhee’s own car. Back then, lots of things we would now consider standard fitted on a car had to be paid for as optional extras. Mr McGhee had no desire to pay more than necessary for anything so declined to buy everything offered to him, including mudguards. If you’ve ever driven around Dumfries and Kirkcudbrightshire, you’ll understand why mudguards are somewhat useful! Instead Mr McGhee sliced up a pair of his old Wellington boots and stuck them to the car. Ta-da – homemade mudguards!

Something I knew Doreen had kept tucked away safe was some war medals. They were still in an original woven envelope addressed to Mr A McGhee, Governor, Ayr Gaol. As a youngster I assumed A McGhee was Allan McGhee. With my new knowledge I know they were sent to Andrew McGhee, his paternal uncle. There are 2 medals, both from WWI, 2 pins, presumably from the regiments served in, and what I think is a soldier’s medal of some kind. The latter is engraved on the back with Pte J McGhee, Andrew’s brother and Allan’s father. I would like to search further to find out more about John’s military service and potentially find out why Andrew would be sent his brother’s war medals in an official delivery. I had initially thought perhaps it would be nice to return the medals to a living relative, to somebody I thought might be their more rightful owner. It’s dawning on me now that they were returned and looked after by exactly the right people: Andrew, Allan, Doreen and now me. With no relatives, there is nobody to remember any of their stories or their service. John McGhee served his country and that deserves to be recognised and honoured. Every person deserves to be remembered, but who remembers people that don’t have anybody to remember them? So I gladly adopt the McGhee’s into my research to ensure that at least somebody knows their story.


21 & 22. Campbell and James Wotherspoon: More Missing Twins

Another pair of missing babies. Some ancestral patterns are cruel and totally heartbreaking.

My great-aunt Ethel was very young when she met Robert Wotherspoon. Aged 18, she and Robert welcomed their first child together, a little girl. Over the next few years, they got married and welcomed another daughter, although I’m not sure whether wedding or baby came first. Many years later, I n 1964, Ethel and Robert prepared for the arrival of more little feet into their family, this time twins. At around 6 months pregnant, Ethel went into labour and Campbell and James were born in July 1964 in Dumfries. My great-aunt, Ethel’s sister, told me the boys weighed just 1lb 2oz and 1lb 10oz at birth. With today’s medicine, the boys may have had a fair chance at surviving their first few weeks of life with the wonderful medical care that modern neonatal specialists are able to provide. Back then, babies born so prematurely had it much harder and the boys chances were very slim. Robert, aware of his sons’ likely fate, chose not to visit his sons’ in their hospital cots. He decided that he did not want to learn and remember their tiny faces if they were not going to survive. James died just a day old. Campbell followed him a week later, aged 8 days. Prematurity was listed as a factor in both of their deaths, their little lungs just not developed enough to survive outside of their mother’s body on their own.

Now adults, the boys’ eldest sister is particularly keen to find them. Ethel, my great-aunt suggested, had arranged for her sons to be buried together in the same coffin, which I though was heartbreaking but also incredibly fitting for them. That said, she also suggested that nobody attended a funeral. As such, nobody living know where the boys final resting place was, not even their sisters.

History repeats itself sometimes, in this case just one generation later. While it pains me to visit gravesides, I feel blessed every time I do because I have something to physically visit. The headstones are a stark reminder of the loved ones I’ve lost but they also mark where my loved ones chose to finally rest. I hope to help in the search for these two tiny boys to allow their sisters to grieve properly for them and hopefully offer them some closure and some connection to their lost little brothers.