Our Society welcomes stories regarding the history of a Carruthers. This blog celebrates the life of one of our own, James T Carruthers. It was written by his daughter Marie Carruthers, with input from her cousin Stewart Carruthers, from Haddington, who has carried out some background work on the family history. It therefore offers a personal and heartfelt perspective on Jim as we come up to the 100th anniversary of his birth.
Jim worked on the famous Edinburgh Mound ‘Electric Blanket’, a great engineering feat in its day placed under the road surface, which helped keep the road clear from ice and snow. making travel safer.
The Mound itself is a man made and quite steep hill, constructed to connect the old and new towns of Edinburgh which divides the East and West Princess Street Gardens.
Born in Edinburgh, on 20th January 1920, my father, Jim, was the youngest of seven children. His father, Thomas, (born 1880) was a cab driver, railwayman, and WWI soldier. Grandad was descended from the Carruthers in Raffles (Parish of Mouswald, Dumfriesshire) according to cousin Stewart’s genealogy research. He married Elizabeth Turnbull in 1901. I remember her staggering up the stairs in our Windmill Street tenement (circa 1959) to give me a ‘wee dolly’. A powerful woman in her own right, it was said that Grandma could empty a pub with one gesture and the word; “Oot!”
Of the five brothers, there was a division created by the tram strikes in the early 1930s and I only remember us having contact with Uncle Stewart and Uncle Bert (Herbert) and their families. Stewart, a master baker, and his wife, Betty, ran a café in Dunbar for many years. We often went for holidays there and I got car sick on the way, even though it was only a short trip. Our sand buckets came in very handy.
My Aunt Charlotte Todd (14 years older than Jim) remained close to our family and I remember a teary send-off at Edinburgh Waverley Station when we left for Australia. She had practically raised my father and they kept in close touch by letter.
In typical Edinburgh fashion, Jim was taciturn about his war experiences. He never bragged about his achievements. As a child I couldn’t help noticing the shrapnel scar on his knee and asking the inevitable questions.
Jim fought in the gruelling Burma Campaign from 1939 to 1945. He was in charge of a ‘gun and subsection in action’. His conduct as a Lance-sergeant was regarded as ‘exemplary’ but sadly he contracted malaria during the conflict. It’s hard to imagine the terrible conditions the troops served under, but it was a vital part of the war effort in keeping the Japanese at bay.
After redeployment in 1946, Jim started as a labourer on the roads with the Edinburgh Corporation City Engineer’s Department. With the winding down of the tram network, he advanced to supervisory reconstruction work in 1952. In 1958, he was promoted to Inspector-In-Charge of reconstruction work, where he was ‘a key link’ between the technical staff and contractors. He often mentioned having worked on the Mound’s hi-tech electric blanket. The Mound was a notorious black spot for ice, so a heating system was installed in 1959. It required 37 miles of electric wire and a high degree of accuracy in the amount of asphalt covering this [i]
Jim married my mother, Mary Mercieca, in 1950. With her Maltese background, Mary showed a lot of affection and was able to win over Dad’s family as well. By 1955 they had three children; James, Jeanette, and myself, Marie.
He became a Senior Inspector in charge of the Direct Labour Squads in one of the five districts in 1962, supervising maintenance and improvements on city streets. I remember Dad driving a work car, a yellow Ford Anglia when we lived in Windmill Street. Later, he was issued a work phone for emergencies; we were the only family in Glenvarloch Crescent (The Inch) to have a phone. I can still remember the number – LIB1735.
Jim left the Corporation in 1965, just before the family migrated to Adelaide, South Australia. There, we stayed in tin huts in a migrant hostel, where conditions were very basic. Dad went to the silos to load wheat. I remember the shock at seeing his hands completely swollen from mosquito bites. My brother also contracted hepatitis and it was a period of struggle for the family.
Opportunity did eventually come knocking. After nine months in the new country, someone at the SA Highways Department noticed his application and Dad was able to secure a position where he could apply his road-building skills. We moved to a house with a large garden in the suburb of Para Hills. There was enough income to allow my parents to take extended holidays back to Scotland.
Dad went on to supervise the construction of many regional roads in South Australia, particularly around Renmark. He was often away for several days at a time. These roads were on a huge scale and have stood the test of time.
After a long struggle with multiple myeloma, Dad passed away in 1978. I remember the funeral was packed with colleagues from the Highways Department, as he was very popular and a bit of a joker at times. He was also highly regarded for his clear instructions on the two-way radio. At 22, I felt like an orphan.
A man of modest tastes, Jim liked butter beans and, for a treat, tinned pears with evaporated milk. In Edinburgh, I remember on a Friday night he would bring us the best toffee apples covered in shredded coconut. Who knows where they came from?
Like many of his generation, Jim left school at an early age. He nevertheless was able to teach himself through extensive reading. He also liked to write letters back to his family in Scotland and had beautiful cursive handwriting. In Australia, he became something of a patriot, enjoying anything that gave him a taste of the old country.
When I look back at some old photos, I see a man with movie star looks and stunning blue eyes; the build of a man who has done a lot of physical labour; whose favourite song was Frank Sinatra’s ‘Moonlight in Vermont’; who loved his family. He is still my hero.
This month marks the 100th anniversary of Jim’s birth. He is survived in Australia by his daughters, Jeanette Hancock (living in Perth, WA) and Marie Carruthers (living in the Gold Coast), granddaughters, Jasmine, Jade and Charlotte, and great-grandchildren, Knox, Indi, Alirah, and Owen.
The Society, welcomes input from any Carruthers for the Society blog, it must be fact checked and be accompanied with photographs to be considered. We also welcome members to our ranks: Membership
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