Walter explains about his working life after National Service and his decision to emigrate to Canada.
INT: And you were coming back up to Glasgow?
W.G:Glasgow, right absolutely.
INT:So when you arrived in Glasgow, what was the community like then?
W.G: Well, I really wasn’t all that interested. First of all, because we really just circulated in the German Jewish community.
We belonged to Pollokshields Shul, which was just at the end of Leven Street and Maxwell Road there. I mean it was really close and it was turned into a Mosque several years later. And we really just went on High Holidays and Succot and Pesach [Passover].
INT:So there you are, you are back in Glasgow. You’ve done your National Service. What did you do next?
W.G:I started looking for a job – so the long and short of it was that the jobs I was offered didn’t look terribly good; prospects weren’t all that good. I did not mind the initial work at all. It just looked as if I had to get old before I got promoted – that was basically the nuts and bolts of the thing. I think that was generally how things worked. You had to have seniority.
I was working for a guy and after two weeks of sorting Invoices I was getting to know the mix of products that customers wanted.
So if I went to the farm – “I want such and such” – I would ask him does he need this as well, so you know I thought this was okay, showing I was keen. I was memorising all the stuff.
INT-2: You were not just filing; you were absorbing information.
W.G:Yea sure. I was not going to keep my eyes closed. Why not do something with the time. My Dad use to say, very simply, “Don’t waste your time”. He could have said, “Use your time well” – that is the bottom line. So basically if you are doing something it doesn’t matter how stupid the thing is that you are doing maybe you can do it a little better than somebody else, just a little better…. okay.
So the Boss said, ‘We should really be having you do advisory work but you look too young; you do not have credibility.’
INT: Where about in Glasgow was it?
W.G:It was in Kilmarnock but the company was in London. It was BOCM. And so I thought the idea of my getting training somewhere else was almost on a world basis, it wasn’t that it had to be in Glasgow; not that any country was ever mentioned but Dad did business with Canada, in Winnipeg where the grain exchange was and I always thought of experience being all over the place.
So I said, “How would it be if I got some experience overseas?”
“Oh “he said, “That would be wonderful; that puts a different complexion on things. That is experience that is unique and something that customers might be interested in, and the knowledge itself might be of value”.
He said, “Where?” And I thought, got to be an English speaking country. You have Australia, America, Canada. Australia is awful far away but I have a cousin there. I only had two first cousins – one is dead. America just had McCarthyism. That is no good. I don’t like that. It’s not a good way of operating a country and Canada will probably have the same wage scale as America, mainly high, and even better it has got big cars too, which I like.
He said, “Where? Canada. Where about in Canada?” and I said Winnipeg as that was the only place I knew and he said, “Wonderful. Would you want some references?” and I said, “No”.
Okay, the reason why I did not want references was that I wanted to get experience on my own and I didn’t want – ‘He only got the job because they felt sorry. He lost his Dad when he was seventeen’ and all that sort of stuff.
I had to go to the Canadian Consulate in Glasgow and he was very helpful. A young guy… He said, ‘We can offer you a free trip to a job in Canada”.
I said, “That sounds pretty good. Where is it?”
And he said, “It is in Northern Manitoba and you will get a free passage and a contract for three years”. Well that was job security, if ever there was one.
I think all important things over overnight so I said, “I will let you know”. And I came back the next day and I said, “I don’t know the cost of living in Canada and I don’t know exactly where Northern Manitoba is and what the social life is like. Riding in the range has a lot of appeal and it is a lot better than what I did in the Scottish Highlands with the sheep, with an unobedient sheep dog at my tail for two days, after that he was OK. Maybe horses are smarter, but I will look at the contract.
You can put my name on it but I am not going to sign it until I get to Canada and I know what is going on and I will let you know a week after I get there, because by then I will have an idea what is going on. He said that was not exactly what I had in mind but I will pay half, and you will report to the CNR people when you arrive in Winnipeg.
INT:Who is CNR?
W.G:Canadian National Railway. They are the people that sponsor this programme. Maybe CPR – Canadian Pacific Railway, the same thing. Canadian National Railway: they have been colonising Western Canada for the better part of the Century. They were the people that got people out there.
INT: Did they have to do background checks on you?
W.G: Maybe they did. I cannot remember.
INT:Basically they wanted bodies to go out to Canada.
W.G: He knew I had a degree, and I was single. Ten days before I left I got a letter from my father’s brother, who lived in Trinidad, and he said that he had a cousin in Winnipeg. Maybe you should write to him.
So I wrote to him and as I was leaving the house – my mother and I were getting a taxi to the train station because I had a trunk and a big suitcase the Postie, Mr Hawthorn, came running up.
I knew Mr Hawthorn very well as he had been delivering mail for over twenty years. I mean I really knew him. He came running up with a sealed airmail letter. “Walter you need to read this letter from your cousin in Winnipeg. He is going to meet you at the station.” He had opened the letter but that is okay, he was part of the family, but he absolutely made sure that I got this letter.
So the voyage was in February.
I sailed from Liverpool to Halifax but this Consul said, “You can take this boat, and there is no extra charge going Liverpool – Halifax – New York. Not only is the train fare cheaper (for them of course) to New York,
but it is a regular train, a regular compartment for regular people whereas the train from Halifax is a glorified cattle car for immigrants, not terribly comfortable at all. So, I recommend that you stay on the boat when you get to Halifax. It is a day’s sail then you get to New York. ‘
The only other thing he told me was that the problem is you have to get a visa as you only have a British Passport to go through the United States. So you have to go to the American Consulate in Glasgow to get the visa, no charge but you have to get it.
But he said they will ask you some questions and don’t be what nowadays they call a smart ass.
When they ask you, “Have been a member of a Communist Party?” just say No. Don’t say, ‘What the hell! I mean what are you trying to do here’.
“Not only that don’t wear a red tie and to be safe where black shoes not brown shoes”.
I did exactly that and I went there and got interviewed by this little kid, the Vice Consul. He said, “Have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?” I did not say anything. I did not breath. I just said no. So I got to New York.
I took the train. On the train there was a big French Canadian who wanted to see my passport and he saw this two year work permit that I had in there. He said “I am going to give you this.” and I said, “What is it?”
“It is a landed immigrant status”.
I said I didn’t want it because perhaps I would have to do National Service all over again in Canada. I didn’t want to do that.
He said you have to have it or I will throw you off the train. You can’t get into Canada. I said okay, so I got this lousy stamp and that was it. And nowadays that is what everyone had been looking for. It was just a little stamp. I operated with my British passport until 1975 because after three months I was able to vote. I had all the rights of a Canadian Citizen. In 1975 I changed because I had to be a Canadian Citizen as well as a British subject.