Category Archives: Port Glasgow

One Lit Papa

Hope all you dads out there and the kids that adore you enjoyed a Happy Father’s Day.

To borrow a high rotation word from my teenage son’s vocabulary, my papa is totally ‘lit’. He’s a great role model who continues to inspire me in his fatherly ways. By my estimation, in the more than 40 years since I’ve left the nest, his daddishness has never wavered – once a dad, always a dad.

Father’s Day 2020 – Bob and Alex

On a recent afternoon visit to his house, a small paper booklet on a side table catches my eye. It’s an old, worn treasure with creases and faded ink, a scorecard from a model yachting regatta held nearly 70 years ago. On that day, in his hometown of Port Glasgow, Scotland, my dad was declared one of the the event’s champions. Asked if his dad had been there, he replied to the effect that yes, Alex had probably been his second that day.

Alex, my grandfather and namesake was an avid model yachtsman. His biggest win was a Commonwealth crown. On the local scene, he was the last to win the Port Glasgow Model Yacht Club’s Tosh Memorial Shield in 1952 when his handcrafted Fairy took the day.

Alexander Smith, Port Glasgow, Scotland – born 1904.

My dad accompanied him to these events as often as possible. Now, when he speaks lovingly of those times, he’s momentarily transported to races where he and Alex worked their not inconsiderable magic outmaneouvring all comers to conjure up another win on the water. Indelible memories navigating one generation to the next, the next, and next…

Hey papa, thanks from my younger self for all your encouragement and gentle pushing as I tried new things. You learned to ice skate so you could teach me. Your strong, steady hand on the back seat of my two-wheeler gave me confidence to push off unaided. Moments later, after shouting that I didn’t know how to stop, you sprinted to grab me making sure I wouldn’t tip over and fall. You volunteered to be Akela so the Cubs could do their best. At each step that I needed you, you were there.

Thanks too for investing a young boy with trust and allowing him to wander at large with friends by foot, bike and public transit. The kids only excursions to the swimming pool, the movies, the rink, the ravine, the dance were simple adventures that helped define our independence. As I got a little older, the canvas got larger and you let me loose to explore Paris, London and Edinburgh – exciting times for a 60s Toronto boy.

Dad and I with family car – 1966 Beaumont Acadian, ca 1968

Thanks for helping me to find my way from childhood to adulthood while preserving a child’s curiosity and sense of discovery. And last but by no means least, thanks for all the good examples, the tough lessons, the love and understanding that helped prep me for one of the best jobs of all time – being a dad.

We’ve got a few good laughs ahead of us still – may the adventures continue.


Always Remember

The last century saw millions die far from their own countries in conflicts scaled to a global level. In the Commonwealth and other nations, we commemorate that first great war’s armistice each year. November 11 is a day we remember and honour those who never returned and those who came home changed for ever from war’s horrific toll.

1922445322_1cbc83b8aa_bPhoto credit – Maureen Flynn-Burhoe. License – (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

War can also exact a fierce price on kids. Fathers, brothers, uncles lost forever. Homes, villages, towns destroyed beyond recognition. And, in heart wrenching incidents children themselves are killed, maimed, orphaned or pressed into bearing arms.

In the early 1940s, kids throughout the UK were evacuated from urban areas because of the Luftwaffe’s sustained bombing raids. In Glasgow, 120,000 kids were evacuated in a three day period in September 1939.

My folks were then primary school age and lived in shipbuilding towns on the River Clyde on Scotland’s west coast – Greenock and Port Glasgow. In addition to the shipyards there were other industrial targets including foundries, munitions factories, a rope works, a sugar refinery and a distillery.

In May of 1941, the Luftwaffe carpeted their towns with bombs for two consecutive nights. The industrial targets were practically unscathed but there was large scale damage to civilian housing and hundreds of deaths. The Greenock Blitz spurred on the evacuation of kids along this stretch of the Clyde.

Greenock blitzCraigieknowes School Playground, Greenock, Scotland. Photo credit – Ruth Kelly.

My father remembers being taken by his parents along with his two brothers to an assembly point for evacuation. At that time, he was 7, or 8-years-old and the middle child. When the time for departure came, he was separated from his older and younger brothers who were sent off together. That day he left with a group of other kids from The Port and wound up in Dollar, Clackmannanshire home of Castle Campbell.

He adjusted to his brothers’ absence and a new found family of 40 or so kids who lived and went to school together under the same roof. He met an older boy in Dollar a wild spirit sparked with mischief, charm and adventure – a natural born leader. Alexis Smith was the lad’s name and he made a lasting impression on my dad.

One day the burning spark took a bunch of the kids up to the attic full of armour and other treasures to explore and clatter about. He and my dad reconnected years later when they both worked briefly in the same co-op grocers. Alexis subsequently emigrated to the US and died in combat wearing an American uniform. Always remember…

7699921664_7f943aca66_bCastle Campbell, Dollar, Scotland. Photo credit – Mr. Evil Cheese Scientist. License – (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

Dad thinks he was at this 3 or 4 story estate for nearly a year. He remembers a summer and winter passing and occasional visits from my grandad. The boys and girls at this home for evacuees were looked after by women in blue uniforms wearing nurse like caps. They were warm and caring with their charges helping to comfort tears and homesickness away.

The large grounds had woods, a marvelous garden and a fountain with goldfish that my dad fell into on several occasions. The rural setting would have been a change from the more urban schoolboy life in The Port. He was very happy when my grandfather came to bring him home. He was the first of the three brothers to return and would have been glad to have his parents’ unwavering attention for a short interval.

My dad shared some of these memories when we spoke last night. He visited Dollar a couple of years ago on one of his annual trips ‘back home’. It was smaller than he remembered and a little worse for the wear some 70 years down the road. The fountain was still there but the goldfish were long gone.

He knew it must of been hard for his parents to make the choice about which of their sons they would separate from the other two. My father was never angry, or disappointed with them regarding this decision. He accepted it as his path, the one less traveled by, and carried on never looking back.

Alex, Dad&Beaumont

This is my dad and I looking pretty suave posing with the new ’66 Beaumont Acadian back when I was about 8-years-old. My lad Noah-David is just 8 now. I can’t imagine either Noah or I at that young age being taken away from the warmth of parents, family and home. But kids are resilient and the unimaginable can make them quietly extraordinary.

Don’t forget the fallen heroes, or the broken spirits but let’s always remember the children. Many kids from my dad’s generation were lucky enough to be removed from harm. In today’s world there are too many still suffering from the heartbreak and terror of war.

UNHCR, War Child International and a Canadian organization, Playground Builders are some of the groups hard at work to help kids who through no fault of their own find themselves in war zones. Check out the fine work that they do and give them a hand if you can.

Always remember…

I don’t know how we find truth in war but this poem by Wilfred Owen has spoken to me since I first read it more than 40 years ago – DULCE ET DECORUM EST