We left Butterworth and its High School at the end of 1972 and in December of that year moved to a house in Gonubie [a seaside resort town outside East London in the Eastern Cape] which Margery had chosen and which our great friend ‘Thabo’ Rust, our Joan’s [actually Tony’s first wife] uncle, had bought for us. It is a lovely house and, during the first part of 1973 we had first my sister Hettie (from Paarl) and then my sister Lucy (from Klerksdorp, Transvaal) to spend some months with us. It was lovely having them. We all used to go every Sunday to the Anglican Church in Gonubie itself (our house was in its ‘outskirts’) for the morning service. We also had many visits from our dear friends Mark and Helen Taylor, and also went to visit them in East London, each visit being a week end one, so that we had at least two days together each time.
Most of 1973 we spent overseas, staying with Margery’s niece Barbara in London and with my good friends Michael and Oona Crowdy in Kendal in the south part of the Lake District, and travelling from these headquarters to many other places of interest in England and Scotland. As usual when in Scotland we went to Greenock to our friends in the Trinidad Hotel where we were very heartily met by Mrs Murray, who greeted us with: “Mr McGregor, your room No 10 is ready for you!” I had chosen this room on our first visit in 1952, as it overlooked ‘The Tail O’ The Bank’ in the River Clyde, where all the big ships had to anchor until high tide.
It is always lovely to be received as an old friend! In Southampton, London, Liverpool, Glasgow and Edinborough there were fellow-members of the World Ship Society (WSS) who were old friends and were very pleased to see us again! That I always think is one of the greatest advantages of belonging to a world-wide organisation like the WSS. From our HQ in Greenock we made expeditions to other parts of Scotland, including one trip all round the seaports in an anti-clockwise trek that ended in Newcastle. We were very sad when we passed through the parts of the north of Scotland, where many happy villages had been, until the Lairds who owned the land decided in the early twenties of last century [that’s the 19th Century now – this was written in about 1990] to go in for sheep, from which they got much money for their wool and their mutton, so that all the villagers were ejected from their age-old homes, usually by a company of soldiers. The lucky ones were those who made it to Nova Scotia, the drive that was started by the Church of Scotland. Many of these poor people died during or just after they had been driven out of their homes, many more in the long and dangerous voyage from Scotland to Nova Scotia, in which many of the ships (remember they were sailing ships of anything from 300 to 700 tons!) foundered during the trip or were wrecked on the dangerous coast of Nova Scotia. So as Margery and I walked around the remains of the foundations of hundreds of small cottages we remembered these poor people and their tragic fate.
From here we went to Golspie in Sutherland, at the North east tip of Great Britain, from which my grandfather Andrew McGregor had come to South Africa. We were looking for two things mainly, first the ‘Emporium’, the shop started by our great grandfather Alexander McGregor, always referred to by our family as ‘Alexander McGregor, merchant of Golspie.’ That is what our Aunt Hettie, the family historian, always called him. We also hoped to see his tombstone.
When we arrived in Golspie we soon found the Presbyterian Church and next to it the Manse. We knocked at the door and asked to see the minister. When he appeared we introduced ourselves and told him that we were looking for the grave of my great-grandfather, ‘Alexander McGregor, merchant of Golspie.’ He immediately agreed to help us and took us to the graveyard to see if we could find the grave. We divided the search into three, he taking the far side, Margery the middle and me the near (left) side. So we walked along slowly reading the names on the gravestones and, after about ten minutes, I suddenly came to two huge gravestones, at least seven foot tall, some three foot wide and about 6 inches thick. The one of the right had fallen on its face and, of course, we could not lift it up-, but the one on the left was still standing. It was covered with moss, but I found a stick long enough for me to scrape most of the moss off the name and. To my delight, I found that it was the name of ‘Elizabeth, wife of the late Alexander McGregor, Merchant of Golspie’! So obviously the stone on its face was the one that we had come to see. The minister was as pleased as we were and so invited us to go into the church. When we got into it he showed us that it had been enlarged some twenty years before, but he could point us to the old portion, in which my ancestor must have worshipped. He was very good to us and took us along to the office of the local newspaper to introduce us to the editor. He told the editor that we had a good story but then had to leave us to go to a meeting, or something like that.
At first the editor did not seem to be very interested in us but, when I told him that my great-grandfather had been the man who had started ‘The Emporium’, a business which was still going strong (we went to see it later!) and that we had found the grave stone of ‘Alexander McGregor,
Merchant of Golspie’, he became more interested. He asked me all sorts of questions about the family and myself, about our next movements, etc., and all about the grave-stone so that no doubt we would have been on the front page of his paper in a day or two (it was not a daily). I should have asked him to send a copy top our HQ in London, to see what he made of the story, but it did not cross my mind; Margery and I were both keen on getting on with our next engagement in Golspie: the Duke of Sutherland.
He had been one of the first of the noblemen who had thousands of tenants on his property and who, when sheep farming was introduced, got rid of them as quickly as possible, not having a care as to what would happen to them afterwards. In the Cathedral at Dornoch there is a memorial tablet to him and, on the hill overlooking the town, a huge statue of him on a high stone pedestal, all trying to show what a great person he had been!
We were very lucky to be able to ride over that northern road as, a year two later, the whole of the northern part of Sutherland was taken over by the Defence Department, closed to travellers and used in atomic energy experiments.