George Stewartson

A reminiscence of George Stewartson, the father of Keith Stewartson,
by D Woodruff, Whitley Bay, England.



Let me tell you about another of my heroes, one George Stewartson.

We picked each other up one Saturday morning at Seaton Carew Golf Club. That would be about 1961, 1 suppose, and we played together whenever possible on Saturday mornings until he died, in about 1966 or 7, 1 think.

The sixties, to me, are just a blur. The Beatles, and the stuff that John Betjeman was so envious of, all passed me by. Most of my time was spent battling with devious idiots of the Central Electricity Generating Board and George provided a blast of fresh air at the weekend.

He was one of the most straightforward and forthright chaps I have ever met. As he was slightly deaf (and therefore tended to shout) and had (what I regarded as) a strong Glaswegian accent he could be quite embarrassing. Until you knew the secret. Then it was a delight to be in his company.

He joined the army in 1914 and spent four years in the trenches.

Whenever I tell this tale (and I must have told it scores of times) I now add that George never talked about those days. But he must have done for me to be able to carry on with the story! (I did say it was all a blur.)

My version is that George joined the Black Watch or the Gordon Highlanders, one of the crack Scottish Regiments anyway. He rose in the ranks to Sergeant Major, was commissioned in the field, and demobbed as a Captain. More importantly, he survived four years in the trenches -- odds of a million to one ?

You don't have to have a vivid imagination to see how that experience might shape a chap's personality. Firstly, it must have given him an almost invulnerable feeling, and, secondly, he would be reluctant to recognise the authority of persons trying to exert it on him.

I do remember a tale of a battle with the Education Authorities when one of his sons failed to pass the entrance exam for the grammar school. George won and had clearly enjoyed the battle as he still talked about it thirty years later.

On the course George was a gem. He didn't play in competitions, even medals, but cheerfully marked my card when necessary. For a spell. of a couple of years we had a nice fourball with one Graham Brown, about my age, and Young Stappy who was in his early twenties. (You knew YS as Noddy because of his car; remember ?)A full-bloodied drive from George went about 150 yards, always straight up the middle. Young Stappy would belt one 250 yards - never up the middle. All arriving on the green YS would announce that he had played three and Geo would say, "And so have I", sink his putt, and console YS when he missed his.

I always thought of George as an old man! In fact, at that time he was only about as old as I am now! (This business of time perspective again!). He was well retired when I first met him and I don't think he ever talked about his work. He had been a master baker, which, I think, means that he had more than one baker's shop.

His pride in life were his two sons, both of whom had been to Cambridge. One was a director of Stewarts and Lloyds and the other was Professor of Applied Maths at Durham. George almost puffed like a peacock when he mentioned them and a young ICI whipper-snapper once really made his day. (As we say now.)

In those days the ICI recruited graduates at the rate of about twenty per annum and sorted the wheat from the chaff. We seemed to get most of the chaff at Seaton Carew; hoorah-Henries, we called them. What you would call lager-louts? Most of the wheat played rugby for Billingham, but that's another story.

Anyway, one day George was tying his tie in the changing-room when one of these chaps addressed him with a plum-accent: "I trust you have a right to wear that tie?" Bearing in mind that this chap had never spoken to us before, although we had seen him around, it must have flashed through George's mind that it was the same voice that he had heard in 1914/15/16 saying "Rightho, chaps, over the top you go." Although his complexion registered his annoyance he kept his aplomb and simply said (or, rather, shouted) "Considerin ma twa sons are for ever pinchin' MA ties I think I have the right to borrow one of theirs now and again." Collapse of hoorah-Henry.

Then came a spell of several weeks when George kept expressing his concern about the activities of his "young boy". "He keeps going over to America and he willna tell us what he's up to. Even his wife disna ken."

In those days the evening paper was a good read and I came home one evening and, as usual, there was the paper on the hall-table. On the front page was a picture of a car mangled-up under the front wheels of a huge lorry. The number-plate of the car was quite prominent ; and it was George's!

Poor George. He survived for about five days, I think, but lay in a most undignified state with tubes everywhere. He had lost a leg and goodness knows what else was damaged. It seemed such a tragedy that he had survived the War and then had to face that. I visited him several times and the last time nearly did reduce me to tears there and then. He greeted me with "The polis have been to see me. They're charging me with dangerous driving." I said something like "Oh, come off it, George, you can come up with better dreams than that." Well, he "drew himself up to his full height" and snarled "Ah didna dream it. Do you think Ah'm non comptos mentis?"

It was true. The police had been to see him and given him a grilling. Unforgivable. I think he died that night.

Now, if you think that was sad hang on! Two or three months later the Yanks landed on the moon. I can add two and two to make five, and it was clear to me that what "ma young boy" had been up to in America was advising the Yanks on how to get there. And George never knew! How proud he would have been.

That is the end of the story as I used to tell it. Now, in 2004, I can make it even sadder.

Although I wrote all that a few years ago I have had to re-type it (for reasons you are familiar with!). So it occurred to me that there might be, now, something on the internet which might lead me to checking my facts. Such as getting in touch with "ma young boy". Not being on the internet myself I mentioned the subject to George the Boots and what a new world he has revealed. Hang on to your hat.

Let me say firstly that it is clear that some of the dates mentioned earlier are inaccurate. I wonder how much of the rest of it is fiction? But does it matter? George was a great chap and I like to believe everything that I have written about him.

"Ma young boy" was not only Prof of Applied Maths at Durham, he was a giant in the field of fluid mechanics, which, as I am sure you don't know, is about as heavy in maths as you can get. He has been ranked with Rayleigh, Stokes, and Euler; names revered by all engineers and physicists. To be ranked with them is, in your field, like being ranked with Shakespeare.

How proud George would have been if he had known that!

Sadly, "ma. young boy" died in 1983 aged 57.


JOC/EFR May 2004

The URL of this page is:
http://www-history.mcs.st-andrews.ac.uk/Extras/Stewartson.html