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The Royal Caledonian Society of Melbourne
Chapter XV


National work in wartime - 727 food parcels for Britain - More distinguished guests - Thomas Ritchie as first Chief - Pipe Band wins Dewar Cup - Lord Montgomery autographs drums - Society gives college scholarships - Warm Welcomes for New Settlers - R. G. Menzies again Prime Minister.

IF it were possible to assess the amount of money raised for charitable and patriotic purposes by Melbourne's Caledonian Society, from 1858 to the present day, what an imposing figure would be presented!

In the present record it has been shown that "benevolence" was one of the objects of the original Society, that a great deal of social service was rendered by the reconstructed Society from 1884 onward, and that the Royal Caledonian Society raised considerable sums for patriotic purposes during World War I. Now it is to be indicated that much national work, of a social character, was carried out by the Society during and after World War II.

Here are figures relating to some of the Society's donations during a few years:

1941-42 . . . . 220
1942-43 . . . . 266
1943-44 . . . . 194
1944-45 . . . . 217
1945-46 . . . . 353
1946-47 . . . . 95
1947-48 . . . . 403
Total . . . . . 1,748

In the war years the Society's benefactions went to such worthy causes as the Prisoners of War Fund, the Red Cross Society, the Merchant Navy, etc. Later the Orthopaedic Hospital at Frankston benefited to the extent of 135 and the Food for Britain appeal was given 427.

But those figures, worthy as they are, tell only part of the story. The other portion relates to the work of the Ladies' Auxiliary of the Society.

Formed late in 1940, mainly for the purpose of working in aid of the Fighting Forces, this band of loyal and devoted women did much valuable service during the war years. With Mrs Dixon, Mrs Eddy, and Mrs Burgess acting in turn as president; with Mrs Miscamble, Miss B. Dixon, and Miss M. Seed filling from time to time the secretarial position, and with Mrs McPhee serving as treasurer throughout, the ladies laboured long and earnestly in many ways, and as a result they gave money or valuable gifts in kind to the Scottish Regiment, the Limbless Soldiers' Association, the Merchant Navy, the Comforts Fund, and other organizations.

Annual reports of the Society reveal that in one period of three years the Auxiliary raised, by its own efforts, 555 for national purposes.

With the ending of the war the ladies took cognisance of the need to send food to Britain. Accordingly, they concentrated most of their efforts on this work and within a brief time they developed marked skill in the selecting of goods and the packing of parcels.

Following the forwarding to Britain-not to Scotland alone-of more than 100 parcels up to August 1947, no fewer than 500 parcels were sent during the ensuing twelve months, and more than 100 additional parcels went off within the next few months.

In brief, the ladies of the Royal Caledonian Society were responsible for the buying of material, the packing, and the posting of 727 food parcels to Britain between April 1946 and October 1948.

That, clearly, is a remarkably meritorious record, and it need scarcely be added that hundreds of letters expressing warm gratitude have been received by the Ladies' Auxiliary from recipients of food parcels in all parts of Britain.

Members of the Society as a whole, and the Council in particular, have long been sensible of the high value of the Auxiliary, and on two occasions complimentary dinners were tendered to these self-sacrificing workers, the leaders of whom were given tokens of appreciation.

Soon after the war began the Society placed all members of the Services on the honorary list, and that privilege was continued for a considerable period. Also, the various members of the Society who enlisted were entertained, and in other ways the work carried out during World War I was repeated.

Functions of a general nature continued to be held from time to time. They included the celebrations of St Andrew's Day and Burns Day, Cup Eve socials (Messrs. McPhee and Farndon were given a complimentary dinner for their valuable work for charity at these socials), Christmas treats for children, and competitions for the Heriot and Denham Shields.

An interesting interlude was when, in September of 1941, the Society took part in a Cavalcade of Empire, which was presented in the Princess Theatre for ten nights. Officers of the Society who gave character studies included Messrs. E. W. Cox (Prince Charlie), J. Burgess (Sir Walter Scott), and E. W. James (John Knox ). It is alleged that on one occasion Mr James, having forgotten his devotional volume, fell from Knoxian grace by using a race-book!

Proposers of the main toast during the wartime period included Lieut.-General E. K. Squires, Wing-Commander T. W. White, M.P., Major-General A. H. Ramsay (now Director of Education), Mr C. M. Gilray (Principal of Scotch College), Mr J. Stewart (President Canadian Bank of Commerce, Toronto), Hon. A. G. Cameron, M.P., Messrs. Alex. McDonald, M.L.A. ( Ararat ), Hector McKenzie ( Echuca ), J. A. Wilkie ( Ballarat ), J. T. Picken (son of a former President of the Society), Frank Mackie (formerly of Japan), W. A. Tainsh and A. H. Chisholm.

Among the guests at the Cup Eve socials may be mentioned General Sir Thomas Blamey and two Lord Mayors in the persons of Sir Thomas Nettlefold and Sir Raymond Connolly.

Special speakers on other occasions have included the Rt Hon. R. G. Menzies (present Prime Minister, the Rt Hon. R. G. Casey (former Federal Treasurer and later Governor of Bengal), Sir William Jenkins (formerly of India), Cr A. G. Coles (then Lord Mayor of Melbourne), and Pipe-Major Forsyth (the King's Piper). When Mr Menzies was leaving for Britain in 1948 he was specially entertained by the Council.

Developments of wartime brought a number of international guests into the Society's fold. On one occasion a group of American Army officers were entertained on their national Day of Independence. Again, in 1944, members of the celebrated Black Watch who were visiting Melbourne on duty became guests of the Society during their stay. In addition (and this association was of a more lasting nature) the Society welcomed in 1942 a number of Scots who had been forced to leave Malaya, Japan, and Hongkong. These good fellows-notably Messrs. Frank Mackie, Alex. McPhail, Donald Forbes, and Colin Chisholm-soon adapted themselves to local conditions and became distinctly useful members of the Society. They appeared to have found their tastes entirely suited by Australia in general and two of its features in particular: those two features being, of course, the Royal Caledonian Society and the national code of football.

Inevitably, there were losses as well as gains during the wartime years. Old members to pass away included two former Presidents in the Hon. J. A. Boyd and Mr J. Glen Currie, as well as Messrs. J. Lochhead (a former officer and entertainer), and A. Cochrane. Other leading members who died were Harry Chaffey (possessor of the heartiest laugh in Australia), Andrew Christie, R. L. Duncan. C. C. MacRae, and a sturdy worker for many Scottish and other useful movements, John Burgess.

In this period, too, the Society lost a good friend by the death of the Rev. D. A. Cameron, and one of its oldest associates by the death of the Scottish Union founder and champion, J. Burt Stewart.

A notable development in 1944 was the decision of the Society to create the position of Chief and the appointment of that hearty veteran, Thomas Ritchie, to the position. A special gathering marked the occasion and the ceremony passed off very agreeably.

Meanwhile, Mr Ritchie continued as President and Mr James as Secretary, but changes occurred in the offices of Vice-President and Treasurer. Vice-Presidents in recent years have included Messrs. J. A. Woodard (he retired in 1948 after lengthy and valuable service, to mark which he was given a presentation), Alex. Maxwell, J. S. Yorston, A. H. Chisholm, and E. S. McPhee. Mr Maxwell had been Treasurer for a time up to 1940, after which he was followed by Messrs. J. H. Sinclair, F. S. Beckwith, and E. S. McPhee, the last-named holding the position from 1941 until he became a Vice-President in 1948, whereupon he was succeeded by Harold Staley.

One other personal item to be noted is that in 1944 James Yorston was elected to life-membership of the Society. The honour was fully merited, for, in addition to serving well the interests of the Caledonians, Jim Yorston had been a leading figure in the Scottish Union right from its inception.

In the following year (1945) Alec Chisholm was given leave of absence from Council duties for several months while serving as Press Liaison officer to the Governor-General, H.R.H. the Duke of Gloucester.

Another personal matter meriting reference here is that in the postwar period many members of the Society joined citizens generally in doing public honour to Donald Cameron, who for several years had held the responsible position of Director of Manpower for Victoria. Even in that position Mr Cameron had retained, as he does still, a close interest in the affairs of the Society.

Although weakened to some extent by enlistments, the Pipe Band of the Society kept together during the war and rendered much useful service. It had gained at Sydney in 1939, under Pipe-major Hugh Fraser and Drum-major C. J. Fegent, a second "leg in" for the Dewar Cup, and when the competition ceased because of the national emergency it turned to the entertaining of Servicemen and hospital patients. Unfortunately, Drum-Major Fegent died in 1940. His place was filled by J. Davies and later by Len Byron. Meanwhile, Hugh Fraser retired from the position of Pipemajor and his place was taken by Danny Macpherson and later by Ernie Yorston.

The Dewar Cup competition was resumed at Sydney in January of 1947, and away went the Band, under pipe-major Yorston and Drum-major Byron, with Cr J. H. Sinclair as manager and veteran Dan Macpherson among the pipers, to make an attempt to win the coveted Cup outright. It scored a brilliant success over eight Interstate bands.

On return to Melbourne, the Band marched in triumph from the railway station to the Society's rooms, where it was treated to a special reception and toasted very cordially. A few days later the "conquering heroes" were entertained at dinner at the Hotel Australia by George Dickson, that veteran of many piping and dancing contests and the man who had formed the Society's Boys' Pipe Band many years before.

A few weeks later again the Society entertained the Band at a complimentary dance in Melbourne Town Hall, and at that function the Dewar Cup and supplementary medals were presented.

Another honour for the Band was its selection (July 1947) to play at a welcome given Field-Marshal Lord Montgomery by The Rats of Tobruk Association. So pleased was the eminent visitor by the performance that he autographed the Band's drum-and that skin, being removed from its setting, was placed among the Society's treasures.

More recent developments in Band circles have included the appointment of Messrs. D. Fairweather and L. Atkinson to replace Ernie Yorston and Len Byron (retired) as Pipemajor and Drum-major, the retirement of Dan Macpherson to take over the forming of a band at Scotch College, and the appointment of Piper W. Wallace (of the Society's Band) to act as Pipe-major of the reconstructed band of the Scottish Regiment.

Here it may be said that the rejuvenation of the Scottish Regiment (5th Battalion) is typical of the general activity manifested in Victorian Scottish circles subsequent to the war. The Scottish Union, for example, has caused folk dancing to become strikingly popular; it has set afoot a movement to establish a Scottish House in Melbourne; it has fostered migration; it has held several carnivals; and, not the least important, it has sponsored the production of The Victorian Scot, a most useful little quarterly journal, which was established in November 1947 by Mr W. J. Rose of Brunswick.

In all these movements the Royal Caledonian Society, as a foundation unit of the V.S.U., has played a worthy part. It has frequently given the Union the hospitality of its premises, and it has done the same for various other Scottish groups, including members of the Delegation of 1928, who have held annual reunions. Also, the Society's Secretary (Mr James) has continued to serve as Secretary of the composite body. Following an illness, Mr James had to retire from the secretaryship of the Union in 1948, after nearly 14 years of service, and the position-entailing at present the care of 29 societies-was taken by John McKerral.

Continuing its public service, the Society established in 1944 two scholarships, each tenable for four years, at Scotch College and the Presbyterian Ladies' College. Both the institutions concerned warmly welcomed the scholarships and subsequently reported satisfactory progress. Thus the Society carried through the enterprise which had been attempted by the Scottish Union nearly 40 years earlier.

In addition, the Society struck a special medal and presented it for annual competition at the Cowal Gathering, Scotland. Cowal authorities gratefully accepted the medal and decided that it should apply to a World's Adult Dancing Competition.

Perhaps the most valuable work to which the Society has set its hand in postwar years-aside from the sending of food parcels to Britain-has been the reception and assistance of new settlers. In this it has been following up the precedents established by its predecessors in 1858 and 1884, and by the men who worked in conjunction with the New Settlers' League in the 1920's. One in particular of the Society's officers, Henry R. McKenzie (operating as representative of both the Society and the Scottish Union on the State Immigration Committee) has been assiduous in meeting ships and advising migrants.

In 1948 the Society was chosen to represent all the Scottish bodies of Victoria on a newly-formed Council of British Societies. In the same year it spent approximately 1000 on improvement to its premises. And, for another thing, the Council put in hand arrangements for the writing and publishing of the Society's History.

Notable events during 1949 were largely personal. Sadly, they included several deaths, among them those of W. D. Leckie (one-time Secretary), George Downie (formerly Secretary of the Pipe Band), Colin Chisholm (a Scot from Malaya), Fred Dixon (former councillor), L. H. Caughey (an old and esteemed member), W. Stevenson (another old member), and J. McSweeney (who died suddenly on the Society's premises).

On the other hand, members had the pleasure of entertaining and making a presentation to a colleague of long standing, Neil McPhee, in honour of his 90th birthday. An additional item of interest was the entertaining of J. T. Picken on the eve of his departure for Scotland; subsequently, in the course of a tour of several months, he impressed Britain as a speaker on Robert Burns and other Scottish subjects.
Several developments affecting officers occurred during the latter part of the year. Early in August the Senior Vice-President, Alec Chisholm, left Melbourne for Sydney to take up the position of editor-in-chief of The Australian Encyclopaedia, and at the Annual Meeting soon afterwards James Yorston was elected President, the venerable Thomas Ritchie having decided to retire (though still retaining the position of Chief) after 20 years of faithful service in the Chair. Messrs. Ritchie and Chisholm were given presentations at special functions and Mr Ritchie was made a life member.

In the following month Henry McKenzie, for several years an active Caledonian councillor, became President of the Scottish Union in succcession to a country member, Donald Gillies of Maryborough.

Meanwhile, a distinguished friend of the Society, Robert Gordon Menzies, had become President of The Melbourne Scots, and in December he achieved again the position of Prime Minister of Australia. At the same time another good friend of the Society, South Australian Archie Cameron (chief guest at a recent St. Andrew's Dinner) was chosen to be Speaker of the House of Representatives.

Mr Menzies, it may be noted, is the fifth Prime Minister whom the Society has had the honour of entertaining from time to time (the others being George Reid, Andrew Fisher, Joseph Cook, and Stanley M. Bruce); and, of course, there has been pleasure also in frequent association with three Governors-General, several Governors, and a considerable number of Premiers.

Membership at the end of 1949 totalled 450. At the same date the Accumulation Account amounted to approximately 18,600, including 14,500 in Commonwealth Bonds.

So the flag is kept flying. The story of our organization, in all its facets, is one of national significance, and it bears out the claim made by President Gibb, in 1903, that "Melbourne's Caledonian Society has a history of which it may well be proud".


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