Generation: D

William Nicolson

Born: 1890
Father: Malcolm Nicolson
Mother: Helen Mackay

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I see William occasionally at 1414, Paisley Road West, Glasgow. A retired electrical engineer and musician. Married Florence, who died in 1967. No children. Was in Red Cross and then RFC in War I. Kindly chap, but poor correspondent. Still playing a wind instrument in a senior citizens orchestra, Glasgow, at age 84.

William Nicolson is still alive, and must be about 76 years old. I wrote to him last night commiserating with him on the death of his wife, Flo, lately, a nice letter it was! Telling him also of my present biographical activities, asking him for his co-operation. We'll see what reply we get!

When Father and I visited at his home I saw him more often than his brother Donald. My impression is that he was a "quiet child" (except when he was practising on his cornet) and a good one. He may have gone to Sunday School (we all did in those days), but I think he was not religiously inclined. It was a good way (joining the Salvation Army) to learn to play a musical instrument. All his life Willie seemed to be playing in some orchestra or other, in middle life probably as a professional. Now, or lately, he was an unpaid member of three orchestra groups, merely because he loved it, playing the cornet. Last I heard about that was that he was getting a bit short of breath, and was taking to playing the drum.

As a young man he played golf, and I was his guest at least twice on some local course. He trained, probably in an apprenticeship, as an electrical engineer, and went to Canada about 1912, finding a post with the Corporation of Saskatoon, probably in that line. From there he sent me several postcards, in very small cramped handwriting, which still tends to persist. He returned to U.K. on the outbreak of War 1 and very soon became an ambulance driver with the Red Cross in France. And very well turned-out he looked for I remember a photograph of him in uniform then. A handsome fellow, and pleased with himself. Why not?

At the end of that war he got a job with the Glasgow Corporation Electricity Department, where he remained all his working life, being I think, the engineer in charge of some sub-station. Thus he could retire on a pension, probably at 65 years.

After that first war, our ways seem to drift apart, for Bill Mackay and I went to the University where we were very active in many ways. William lived with his mother, my Aunt Helen, and I have no doubt at all but that he was her main support for the rest of her life. She died in 1941. This may indeed have delayed the question of marriage in his life, but I do not know. He must have been present with his mother at our wedding in 1925, but I do not remember, and in the last 40 years I have only visited him some four times (we live 300 miles apart). He married later on, to a widow (Flo) with a grown-up daughter, and I heard last week that his wife had just died.

Thrice anyway I visited them at their flat at 1414, Paisley Road West, being very well received each time. Everything was neat and tidy therein. They had a big dog, which William had to take for a walk on the lead along the noisy busy street below. I put my foot in it last visit when they kindly offered me a cup of tea (it was evening and I was thirsty, and don't sleep after tea in the evenings). I had to refuse. Hoping for something better. Then I recollected he was teetotal (the only one in the whole clan). They had no other drinks in the house. Suddenly I felt things were chilly, (and I was bound for Hell).

Twice when I was in Glasgow I had invited him and his wife to lunch in some hotel. On the first occasion, hearing that he had just had an operation for hernia and could not come, I went down to his house at 1414 to see him (and sympathise if need be). But he had gone to Helensburgh for the day! On the next occasion when I invited him and his wife he refused on the grounds that he was going into hospital for some minor operation (piles or varicose veins?) in THREE days time. Really I think his refusal was due to the fact that I had asked not only Jessie Petterson (who was naturally disappointed) but also Dr. John Buchanan, his doctor and cousin, with whom he had "fallen out", unknown to me.

We met again, five of us, all full cousins, at Bill Mackay's funeral service near Dunblane - a row of black-coated, white-haired, broad-shouldered, biggish-headed, solemn old men, waiting to greet poor Eileen in her sorrow. I was happy enough later to employ myself in helping Eileen (Bill's widow) to hand round the funeral meats and drinks (Bill and Eileen always did things well) at her pretty house in Dunblane, and thus assist for the moment to dispel some of the gloom in which we all shared.

William, as I knew him, was a kindly chap, a very good son to his mother, very steady, not given to frolics, not devout nor learned, modest in a kind of a way. (Sorry, reader, for "was" read "is" he is not dead yet!).

William has had no children by his marriage. Perhaps he is a bit of a "loner" too. And too steady to be very interesting. There are no good stories about him. The vital spark is missing.

Dr. John Buchanan, our mutual full cousin, in medical practice in Glasgow, became William's medical adviser. John told me that William knew all "his rights" under the National Health Service Acts, and had become excessively demanding, asking for things, treatments etc. which Dr. John did not consider clinically indicated, and he had therefore to write him off his panel list. And they parted.

28th March 1967. I've had a letter from William about his wife Flo. "It was an extremely sudden call. No suggestion of anything the matter at 10.30 on the Friday night, and AWAY she was when I sent to see why she wasn't on the move at 8 a.m. on the Saturday".

MBM's comment: "She might have given him some warning". RLM's comment: "She might have waited until after she had made breakfast".

It also reminds me of Old Robertson, the vet at Ben Reay, damning because his third wife (my cousin Margaret) had thoughtlessly died without leaving a will.

Nonetheless, it is my belief that William will ultimately pass through the pearly gates before some of us - writers and others!

Jessie Howie writes:

"Willie was different, or so it seemed when not viewed through rose-coloured spectacles of adventurous life as imagined in connection with his brother. He remained at home looking at life seriously and giving to his work and no doubt his pleasures also, that incentive to make good for the well being of his house. How is it that duty well done so often lacks glamour? Willie had some position with the Glasgow Council (Electricity Department). I have seen him standing beside some road construction or hole in the ground, notebook in hand, seriously considering the next step to take, and although I dearly love peering at excavations and am curious about holes in the ground I never felt I could join Willie in his survey. Time passed but as we grew older it did nothing to break down the habitual reserve between us."

Frank Macdonald wrote:

"Willie and his wife, Flo, came twice to the Breadalbane Arms for a holiday. It was pleasant for all parties. Flo was a very great help in the servery and enjoyed working there. Meanwhile Willie would go for a walk somewhere around. He was shy and reserved."

In September 1968 Margaret and I visited him at his house and were very well received. He met us in his shirt sleeves, and immediately said he was expecting a lady visitor, 11 years younger than himself and widow of a musician friend. The little table was laid for two. The house was very tidy indeed. He had white hair, thin face with big flat vault to his skull. He is 78, plays two rounds of golf per week in spite of a hernia and prostate surgery in the last two years. He is busy playing in several amateur orchestras, plays four different wind instruments. He and Margaret had a grand talk. He displayed no interest so far as I could see in the fate of Donald's widow and child in America. He did not go to the funeral of young Dr. George Buchanan. "Why should I go when his Uncle John didna come to my wife's funeral?". Mrs. Bagnall pleasant lady. "He could do worse".

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