Thinking of the now headquarters of the British legion and Toc H, I walked up Quarry Street to the site of the old town hall. There I took a seat, as the burgh has placed several benches around as a temporary means of beautifying and utilising the spot while awaiting development.
In imagination I was soon inside a packed hall listening to the Albatross Singers who came periodically to delight audiences with their sacred music. The faces of Hamilton songsters and talented entertainers flagged before my eyes, among them Messrs Gold, Millar & Black, also Miss Pug, Mrs Thompson and a special friend Miss Tina Brunton, a contralto of some repute. For several years before her death Tina was partially blind but she maintained a courageous front and remained cheerful to the end.
I also recalled many amateur dramatics and the words of one little girl making her stage debut ran through my ears…..”Duncan and a’ sodgers made o’ wid?” Somehow I have never forgotten that line or the child’s resounding voice.
I, however, associate the Town Hall mainly with the First World War, the War Pensions Office held therein and the suffering of the men who queued for their disability pensions. Full treatment allowance at that time was £3 per week for a single man, as compared with a basic allowance of £6.15 Shillings today plus the various other amounts to which he may be entitled.
All types were dealt with among them hard cases who knew every trick and device by which they could obtain something for nothing. Others were so grateful for a crumb of comfort that they almost worshipped the staff whom they would occasionally make a small gift. I still cherish such a present, beautifully embroidered by the wife of the war veteran called “Thomas Barr”. He had heart trouble and was crippled by rheumatism, yet one never herd him grumble.
To observe these men and note their reactions to certain circumstances was an education in itself. Returning to “civvy” street totally totally or partially disabled was always a problem and a number could not adjust themselves. Some refused to wear their artificial limbs. One man in particular came in almost fortnightly and threw his artificial leg on the counter accompanied by a torrent of abuse not so John Robertson of Meikle Earnock. Despite severe agony he preserved and for years one did not suspect that he had an artificial leg. Now over seventy his disability tells but he remains a fighter and a hero.
Many disabled accept government grants or had their pensions commuted for a lump sum which to set up in business. Dozens did this but I can name only one who made a success of it. Opportunities were also given for a collage education.
Two men, both joiners, accepted the challenge and they became woodwork teachers at the academy and St Johns respectively. They too deserve praise for making a new life for themselves. Although in retirement now they are still outstanding citizens ans model ex-servicemen.
But it was in a large measure due to the insight and understanding of the various sectaries of the war pensions committee, that the pensioners found new hope. The first was Walter Henderson, depute town clerk. He conducted business in an office in the municipal buildings ans continued from there until work grew to such dimensions that he could not cope with two jobs satisfactory, so he resigned. A new salaried secretary was elected in the person of J Glen Boyd of Lanark, and business was transferred to a larger premises in the Town Hall.
Walter Henderson who died recently, held many positions of trust, including that of county clerk. He was a tireless worker and could not tolerate laziness and inefficiency in his staff. Able and just he was respected by staff and colleagues alike and if I were asked to name the perfect boss it would be Walter Henderson.
Glen Boyd, who suffered a hand injury in the war, had a charming personality. He was tall and handsome, broad shouldered and solidly built. His blue eyes under well groomed fair hair could split fire if necessary. But “Glennie” was a big man in every way and became a very popular secretary. He resigned to become the secretary of the sick children’s hospital in Glasgow. His marriage partner was Miss Constable, a teacher at St. Johns.
John Robertson of Blantyre was the third secretary. He was an older man, whose benevolent disposition prevented him from getting tough with any client, however trying the circumstances. His term of office was short for the Hamilton War Pensions office was closed in December 1922 and all work transferred to Motherwell, the area office.
Before I close the door on that part of the Town Hall’s history, mention should be made of the medical referees, Dr Hugh Miller of Auchingramont Road and Dr Robertson of Union Street. The latter always breezed in with his reports, his military training evident in his bearing and his air of authority, whereas Dr Miller was polite and unassuming. Both were well liked by the pensioners.
Dr Robertson vaccinated the staff during the smallpox scar, and the penny-sized dent in my arm is attributable to him and a constant reminder of those far off days. In Mr Henderson’s time Dr J Murray Young was referee with all the traffic on the Town Hall stair, cleaning was no easy task but this was ably undertaken by Mrs Robertson, widow of Charles Robertson, the renowned Town Office and hall keeper. Mr Robertson was allowed to retain the latter post as long as health permitted.
By this time of course, Alfred Duke was the town officer and caretaker of the municipal buildings. I knew Mr Duke and admired him as a smart, intelligent and affable officer. But he is associated with a different story…….