William Doig – Some Reminiscences of a Country School Headmaster

It was during the 1960s and early 1970s that I enjoyed eleven happy years at the village school in Aberlady. The other two members of staff were both experienced and competent teachers and were a delight to work with but, inevitably, as the village grew, so did the roll. When I left, there was a staff of five, including two probationers. In addition, we were supported by three peripatetic specialists in art, gymnastics and music. Two extra classrooms were provided in the form of large mobile units.

Aberlady village school

To finance extra curricular activities and the purchase of library books and other items, the parents rallied round to arrange what became an annual Sale of Work, which invariably raised £150 – £200 – a not inconsiderable sum in those days. The Sale of Work was always opened by some local dignitary. Once it was Chief Constable William Merrilees of Lothian & Borders Police, who appeared in full Highland evening dress – his chauffeur wore the kilt too! That was the day when the United States President, John F. Kennedy, was shot in Dallas.

Sports Day in June became a highlight, with high jump, long jump, relay races, foot races, dressing up races – even parents’ races. Only once was it postponed because of rain, but only for one day. The ‘Dressing up Race’ was always eagerly awaited. The contestants laid their packed suitcases ten yards in front of the starting line with their rolled umbrellas on top. The Headmaster then opened all the cases and threw their contents in all directions. The race began and each competitor had to find his or her own socks, shoes, coat, scarf and hat, and then run fully dressed, with umbrella up and empty case, to the finishing line. Great fun!

As we lived so close to the river Forth, it was decided that all pupils would be given the opportunity to learn to swim. This was after I saw so many of the pupils happily but aimlessly splashing about at Shell Bay, which was less than a mile away. We had no heated indoor pool in the county then. With the help of three, sometimes four, parents we transported 12 to 15 excited youngsters by car to the heated indoor pool at Portobello every Wednesday after school. Mrs King, the swimming instructress, soon had them earning 25 metre, 50 metre and 100 metre badges. Once, a new non-swimmer misunderstood her instructions when the class was divided up – swimmers to the deep end, non-swimmers to the shallow end. She went with her best pal, a good swimmer, to the deep end, where she listened intently to an explanation of the ‘doggy paddle’. Instructions completed, the pupils had to dive, jump or fall in and paddle once across the pool. Needless to say, the onlooking parents need not have worried – the girl paddled across successfully and was awarded a 25 metre badge! What an example to set the others at her first swimming lesson.

One afternoon, just before Christmas, the school paraded to the parish church for the Christmas service, during which several readings were given by selected pupils. The janitor, who was a part-time Special Constable, donned his police uniform and stopped the traffic on the busy main road to allow us safe passage to and from the church.

Finally, lest the impression has been given that schooldays were all fun and games, much excellent, serious work, I assure you, was done during the year.

William (Bill) Doig was Headmaster of Aberlady Primary School from 1960-72.