St Andrews Saltire

Scottish Royal Lion Rampant Flag

 

 

 

 

 

1930's  Monty on the far right, next is Commander Heathcote of The Deck, at Chapel Green, Earlsferry,

center is Stanley Norie-Miller of Perth. Two Cripps brothers on the left. At the ivy

covered front door of Bandirran House.  The two, twelve pane windows on either side

of the front door and the six similar windows on the two floors above had curved

wooden frames. The glass panes were also curved to the same curvature as the

surrounding stonework. The ivy was removed in the mid-thirties.

 

Gerard Alexander Moncrieff (Monty) who was born on the 23rd. of August 1878  was my very good friend and was the second son of Sir Alexander Moncrieff of Culfargie, KCB, FRS in Perthshire. Monty was educated at Winchester, Eton and Cambridge. He told me that after he completed his formal schooling, his father, Sir Alexander, loaned him two thousand pounds which he was to pay back as soon as possible. This he said he did in nine months. Monty had two sisters, and four brothers, (Maud, Gladys, Malcolm, Alaric, Roger, Duncan ) several nephews and lady friends but he never married. The Moncrieff family home was the mansion house on the Estate of Bandirran near the village of Balbeggie. There is record that in the year 1248 the name was spelled Muncrefe which always has been the vernacular of my speech. Monty was more than just a man whose garden I helped to take care of and for whom I caddied on the days that he played golf on the Elie and Earlsferry golf course. Monty was a very good friend of our family and I admired the man. Like wise he took an interest in me and in time he became my mentor. Often on his walks around the village of Earlsferry he would drop by our house and spend an hour or so while he joined us for a cup of tea. He was two years older than my father and was a man who had a friendly smile and a welcome for everyone.

 

1942  In Monty's garden, Seaforth, Elie.   Monty at 64. I'm 16.

 

This beautiful soft suede leather coat with black astrakhan collar and cuffs  is exquisitely adorned with gold embroidery and is fashioned from the hides of Tibetan Yak, fur side in. The coat was gifted to Monty by the Dalai Lama at his palace at Lhasa  in Tibet. Monty was one of very few Westerners who had ever been invited to visit and stay at the palace, high in the Himalayan mountains. The final part of his journey to get there was by a caravan of yaks. This photo was taken and developed by my brother Noel using his home made, cigar box, cut film camera. The cigar box had contained Havana Corona cigars that were sent anonymously to Monty on a regular basis from someone in Cuba. (Monty's favourite pipe tobacco was Charles Rattray's Old Gowrie.) One of Monty's projects had been  the building of a railroad in Cuba to transport sugar cane and tobacco leaf from the Cuban outback to warehouses that Monty  had built in Havana. (United Railways of the Havana and Regla Warehouses) Another interesting and anonymous present that was sent to Monty every year from someone in China was a two foot cube size box of the most delicious Chinese tea. At the time that I knew Monty he had three pets that also were gifts, a Capuchin monkey named Tony who had his hut and run in the garden and indoors a black cocker spaniel and a gray and red African parrot that was a good speech imitator and could squawk several words and phrases. I almost forgot about friendly "Balloch", one of a small herd of shaggy highland cattle that Monty had kept in the pasture between the curving driveway in front of the big house at Bandirran and the  cottage by the pond.

 

In the world of merchant banking and world wide corporate finance, Monty was a man of great accomplishment. He was on the board of numerous world wide corporations and his financial empire which ran the gamut from the General Accident Fire and Life Assurance Corporation, (GAFLAC) in Perth, Scotland to sheep estates in Perth, Australia (Australian Estates), took him to the far reaches of the globe. He maintained an office and staff at 56 Gresham Street, London EC2  which is the heart of London's financial district, the Inner Temple. Those who have business fronts there are the elite of the elite in the global world of finance and are members of a very exclusive club. Monty conducted his business by daily telephone instructions from his Elie home, Seaforth, that overlooks the harbour. John Richardson of the Edinburgh law firm of Scott, Moncrieff and Trail carried out his legal work. Monty's daily morning routine was to read the Financial Times and The Scotsman newspapers. From these he got information for his next game play in the market. His modus operandi was to search for the best known  corporate name in the most depressed and ailing industry. He and his friends/business associates then bought shares on the open market until they had the controlling interest in the company. After this was accomplished a team of analysts and specialists went on site to determine what it would take to bring the company  back to profitability and to be the leader of the industry such that others who at a later time would buy in  would know that they had made a wise investment.  Usually it meant new management and a huge infusion of new money which Monty and his friends could round up. I do believe that Monty accomplished more in a few hours on the telephone that most do in an entire lifetime. After he finished pulling his strings and setting his wheels in motion for the day Monty did The Scotsman's crossword puzzle which he usually completed in less than an hour. He was an extensive reader and a member of the Book of the Month club. His magazines were Time, Life, the Readers Digest and the yellow covered National Geographic, many of which he passed on to me.

 

Monty was the most modest, humble and generous man that I have ever known. He did his best to convince me to join him in his business and go to his London office to learn first hand what went on there and I made one trip with him to London to meet his private secretary John Grammer who would have been my superior had I gone to work there. To transition from Earlsferry to London, two extremes, was just more than I was prepared for so I had to say, No. 

 

Monty was chairman of the board of a company called Ralph W. Stewart & Co. Ltd.,  located in Dunfermline, Fife, which processed raw rubber and manufactured rubber products such as sports shoes. As a war time measure Stewarts had also expanded, in conjunction with Lamond and Murray of Inverkeithing who cut the gear teeth of the elevating arcs, to manufacture the main components of Bofors anti-aircraft machine guns and also parts for army tanks. As a corporate perk from Stewarts Monty had a company owned house, complete with a housekeeper, assigned to him. Monty suggested that I sign up with Stewarts to serve a 5 year mechanical engineering apprenticeship and while doing so live in his Dunfermline house which I did.

 

Nov. 21st. 2014

This in an email to me from an ex Dunfermline lady who remembers me from her younger years.

 

I have just finished reading your recollections of your wonderful times with

Mr. Moncrieff and I am so happy that I discovered your site.

I remember you and I have a hazy memory of Mr Moncrieff when you were

in residence at Elgin Street in Dunfermline and being looked after by Mrs. Bower.   

My Dad was an employee of Ralph W. Stewart Rubber Factory and we lived

just a few houses further along the street.    I was a very little girl but it was

made clear to me that Mr. Moncrieff and Sidney Reekie were very special gentlemen and to be treated with much respect.

I came to Canada 56 years ago but I walk down memory lane and enjoy those old

days and wanted to say that I do remember you.

Be safe, be well,

Nancy ------------

Thanks Nancy. After all these years it is amazing that you remember me and Monty and Mrs Bower who took care of us in the Dunfermline, Stewart company house which for five years was home to me.

Going to Dunfermline created the problem for me in that I would be unable to take care of my Golden Labrador dog "June". It was timely in that my going to Dunfermline coincided with the death of the head keeper (Thompson-I never did know his first name) at Bandirran's gun dog. He knew June and that she was an obedient and  well trained dog and he was very happy to provide a place for her at Bandirran where she  lived out her life as his dog. When I completed my five years with Stewarts I joined the new firm that Monty had created in Elie called The Fife Engineering Co. Ltd. (FENCO)   It became my job to run the manufacturing side of the business.

 

To the rear of Bandirran House and parallel to it was a long building that was divided into compartments. These were for the stabling of horses, tack room, horse drawn carriages, general storage and a garage that housed the 1911 family Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost. The space between the buildings was an open courtyard about eighty, maybe a hundred, feet wide. During the years of World War II when a detachment of Polish soldiers occupied the house, the Polish soldiers, using Bandirran milled lumber, constructed a roof over the courtyard and closed in the ends to make the area secure, dry and weatherproof. In this enclosed space they housed their army lorries, mobile guns, towable fuel tanks, caterpillar track armored tanks and general military equipment. At the end of WWII Monty had the entire structure removed that the Poles had built and taken to Elie in Fife where it was re-erected to make a new "north light" roof over a commercial automobile garage that Monty owned. Other remodeling for Fenco included offices, an all new concrete floor and a vertical recirculating steam boiler for winter  heating. Above on a second level was created a very nice flat for his nephew to live in when he came from his home at Notting Hill Gate, London to Elie and to Fenco.  

 

The location of Elie is maybe the last place you'd think of to start up an engineering business that required heavy cast iron and brass castings to be obtained and shipped long distances, both in and out. Monty's reason for bringing about the existence of Fenco was a personal one and the making of money was not his prime reason for establishing Fenco.  Fenco's location was good in one respect in that all of the machinery's connected electric motors required 440 volt 3 phase AC power and the village's main line incoming power to the high voltage step down  transformer was located just a few steps from Fenco. The products that Fenco became tooled to manufacture were a line of "Scarab" oil firing burners and  "Ismailia" non-return penstock valves the patents for which were owned by one of Monty's brothers in law and administered by his nephew. The unique thing about the Scarab oil burner was that it could steam atomize and burn low cost fuels of high viscosity (even tar) that could  be heated and thinned and by gravity made to flow down a pipe to a burner that could not clog. (Until the boiler got up a head of steam the fuel oil was atomized by compressed air.) The Ismailia valve was a unique design in that the free swinging cam operated lid of the two piece non-return valve  had no hinge pin to rust and jam. Prior to Fenco these products were machined at Sunderland in England at the Sir James Laing shipbuilding yards. Monty's Fenco venture was short lived as Fenco had not yet become self sustaining when, without being prepared for this event, Monty did not return from his wintering abroad on the island of Madeira.  After this untimely happening, Fenco's orders for burners and valves ceased and without these Fenco had no reason for being. For a time I kept  the enterprise semi-afloat by obtaining contract machining work from two Aberdeen companies, Tullos Engineering and Allan Brothers Oil Engines but without Monty Fenco's demise was inevitable. At the ventures end I advertised for sale the entire contents of Fenco that consisted of heavy manufacturing machinery. The buyer was a representative of the Israeli government. It had been my job to determine, find, purchase and have installed all of the machinery and equipment that was required to carry out Fenco's stated business. Apart from two, 4ft. diameter chuck, gap bed, German made Bernhardt Escher, engine lathes that I found in the bowels of a captured German, Hitler  youth, "Strength through Joy" ship (from Wards of Inverkeithing ship breaking yard) that had been converted to become a floating and permanently at sea German naval repair ship, all of the rest of the machinery I obtained by bidding on it at government surplus machine tool auctions. Most all of this equipment was almost brand new American World War II lend-lease machinery that had become redundant when World War II ended. Now to pay outstanding bills it became my job to close the door. When the contents of Fenco were advertised for sale in the national machine tool newspaper, "The Machinery Market", a man who was a machine tool scout for the Israeli government chartered a plane to fly him from London to Edinburgh and back. From Edinburgh he hired a taxi to bring him to Elie. It was obvious that the man had made a "find". After a brief look at Fenco's machinery he announced, "I'll take everything." He then gave me instructions to have the many tons of machinery crated and shipped to Tel Aviv in Israel where the Israelis were starting to build big guns and tanks and were tooling up for the possibility of a war breaking out in which they might have to defend themselves.

 

There was one caveat that had to be signed when a purchase of UK government war surplus machinery was made and that was that if the buyer were to resell this machinery, that had been part of the US/UK Lend/Lease program, that to protect the American economy it could not be sold such that it would reenter the United States.

 

(After the ending of Fenco I was at a loose end and responded to a newspaper Help Wanted ad. which resulted in my next place of employment becoming The English Electric Company in Stafford England.)

 

I don’t know what Monty did to acquire it but he had the green uniform and regalia and held the ancient title of Royal Scottish Archer which, Monty said, gave him the right and the expectation to be in the presence of any of the Royal family whenever they should be in Scotland.  

 

Monty was a practical man. He knew that I was mechanically inclined and at an early age he gave me my first lessons in mechanics by teaching  me how to drive and take care of his car, first a fluid flywheel Daimler then a Rover, including religiously doing periodic oil changes. (Before the Daimler he had a Lanchester) Now at 90 years of age I still like to change my own oil and maintain my vehicles and mechanical devices that in past years have included boats and airplanes to the extent that I never have had a mechanical breakdown of any kind nor the need to employ the services of a commercial mechanic. Monty really liked cars. In 1937 at the Ford dealer's place of business in Kirkcaldy be bought two American Ford V-8s which were identical except that one was dark green and the other was tan. Monty believed in having an on hand supply of spare parts, should he ever have the need. Later I ended up with the tan one.

 

The Moncrieff family home of Bandirran House when I began to know it in the 30’s was fully and lavishly furnished but it had not been lived in on a regular basis since 1920. At that time the 1911 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost  (Gertrude) with but 20,000 miles on the clock was put up on blocks and there it remained for 20 years until the Military, including a detachment of Polish soldiers, occupied the mansion house during the years of World War II. However, while up on blocks this great old car wasn’t neglected.  It's engine was run once a week and it’s oil was changed on a regular schedule for all of these years. What a wonderful machine it was for it’s day. Every car superlative of excellence in the dictionary applied to that Rolls-Royce.   It left the Rolls-Royce factory at Derby in England in June of 1911. During that particular month Rolls-Royce produced only two cars.  Rolls-Royce made only the engine, the running gear and the chassis. The coach building firm of Hooper and Hooper in London made the body. The interior was all leather with the filling of the upholstery entirely pure white long horse hair from the tails of white mares. One potential inconvenience was that the back and front wooden spoked wheels were not interchangeable. The Rolls- Royce  was taken to Dunfermline in Fife  where it was stored at the Stewart factory and while it was there  I had the pleasure of taking care of it and keeping it in running order. One thing I have to say about a Rolls-Royce is that once you've driven or ridden in one, every other car forever after is just transportation. The Silver Ghost was well named as it was designed and built to be absolutely silent when it's low compression engine was running and that it's moving parts were balanced to the degree that there was not the slightest hint of vibration. While it had three forward gears, when it was in high gear it could efficiently decelerate to a crawl then, if you were easy on the pedal, it would smoothly accelerate back up to speed on the straight away without the need to shift gears. And if you really wanted to be sporty this Rolls-Royce had a stainless steel exhaust system that when out on the highway the silencing muffler could be bypassed by pulling a lever that made the exhaust pipe straight open pipe. The Rolls-Royce was later acquired by David Wemyss of Wemyss who had a July 1911 sister model. Where ever Gertrude is today she is now past her 2011, 100th birthday. Quite a mile stone.

 

 Prior to the occupancy of Bandirran House by the military for the years of World War II the entire  contents of the house were removed to Perth for storage with one exception. One of the many oil paintings in the house was his own oil painted portrait that was painted when he was a small boy. This portrait he kept for himself to hang on the living room wall of his Elie house, Seaforth.  In 1942 he gave his portrait painting to me as a gift.

 

The Estate of Bandirran as I knew it comprised many square miles and encompassed terrain of every description from  sheltered fertile farmlands to timbered hillsides and wild  heather covered  moors.  

 

In addition to a great many varieties of flowers the high walled Bandirran garden produced an abundance of vegetables and fruits. Bandirran strawberries, black currants and huge red table gooseberries were out of this world. Espaliered on the walls were apples, pears and several varieties of plums. 

It was the gardener's job to take care of the bee hives in the garden but Monty and I both liked to work with the bees and early in the season to start new colonies so the gardener indulged us by letting us help.

 

"A swarm of bees in May is worth a load of hay:

A swarm of bees in June is worth a silver spoon:

A swarm of bees in July is worth a butterfly."

 

The hives produced several hundred pounds of comb honey. Starting in May the hives were moved from the garden to the clover fields, to the lime trees, to the epilobium (fireweed) and the wild flowers in the woods to finally, in late July, ending up high on the purple heather covered moors. Dark heather honey was my favorite. The greenhouse in the garden furnished tomatoes and grapes.

 

People who live on estates while they may not make a lot of money actually live quite well. Most all have gardens that provide for their needs for vegetables, berries and fruits and estate people know how to live off the land. Local farms provide farm crops on a low cost basis. I don't know how it is today in Scotland but in my early days most every man who lived in the country had one or more shotguns and knew how to use it to provide for the needs of family and in many cases also to provide for others who weren't gun oriented. The country had a prolific supply of very good rabbits that made for an excellent source of low cost meat. Monty taught me gun safety and gave me my first shotgun that was a folding BSA single shot .410 with which I became quite proficient. Years later he gave me a beautifully hand engraved 16 gauge double barrel that was made in France then later a very nice Belgian made 12 gauge side by side double barrel. He also had a beautiful matched pair of 12 gauge Holland and Holland's that were a delight to carry and use.  Monty also gave similar guns to Noel my brother and the three of us had many great days as with game bags on our shoulders we walked the fields, the woods and the moors. There were other times that Monty invited groups of his friends to come for a day's shooting. What great days these were. On these days Noel and I elected to be beaters  as we had the run of the estate at all other times. When  a big shoot was held and lunch time was called and blankets were spread on the ground and goodies of every kind appeared, these events did indeed make for memorable and unforgettable times of le joie de vivre.

 

One day I had been out shooting in the fields to the south of the cottage. As I walked I spotted a large bull coming at me at a gallop. There was one tree nearby that had low hanging branches which I hastily climbed up into. Before doing so I propped the 12 gauge shot gun that I was carrying against the tree. Both barrels were loaded and cocked ready to fire. In my haste I had neglected to put the gun on "safe". As the bull snorted and stamped its hooves at the foot of the tree I could see that the barrels were pointing straight at me. The bull spotted the gun and licked it which caused it to fall over. Some one was looking after me that day as had the gun fired I could have received its full blast. Another day I returned to this place and found a single cylinder head that had come off and fallen from an airplane's radial engine.  I surmised that the airplane that had shed the head was of American manufacture as the precision machined overhead valve cylinder head had Hoover USA needle, roller bearing activated tappets which to me was a very advanced design. It must have been a twin engine airplane as I doubt that a single engine plane could keep going minus one of its cylinder heads.

 

Several times in the 30's Monty took me to the small church that he occasionally went to that was but a few miles from Bandirran.  I've forgotten it's name and just where it was or is located and if anyone who reads this recognizes which one it was I'd very much like to hear from you. The only way I can describe the church is that, beside others, it had two very beautiful stained glass windows that were alongside of the Moncrieff pew.  One window depicted Jesus knocking on a door as he held a lantern and had the wording, " Behold I stand at the door and knock."  The other window had Jesus the shepherd with his flock of sheep and the wording, " Lo, I am with you always even unto the end of the world." 

 

In one of Bandirran's woods, near a pond we called the Curling Pond, for the reason that it was always the first on the estate to freeze, is an ancient Druid Stone Circle and close by that is Dunsinane Hill that Shakespeare tells of in his play Macbeth.   Imagine walking on the ancient lands of Moncrieff and treading amidst  a Druid  stone circle and thinking of the rituals that went on in this place by the ancients that inhabited the region, then scrambling to the top of Dunsinane Hill and tracing the outline of where Macbeth's castle had stood, then looking about 15 miles to the north-west to Dunkeld and Birnam Woods and thinking of the battle at which Siward, Macduff or Malcolm Canmore slew Macbeth and Malcolm was proclaimed the new King of Scotland. In addition to all of this your home is in the village of Earlsferry and your playground is Macduff's cave at the Earlsferry cliffs where Macduff sheltered as he was waiting for a boat to take him to the other side of the Firth of Forth to evade his pursuers. Such were the places of my childhood. 

 

One day in what must have been April or May I filled a back pack with supplies for a possible over night campout and  hiked for several miles to the southeast of Bandirran House and up on to the high heather covered moors until I had almost come to Kinnaird Castle and the valley of the River Tay. In late August and September when the wind is calm and the sun is shining it's a wonderful sight  to see  coveys of grouse as when startled they skim low over the curves of the high moorlands. At that time of year it's a very special  experience to see and smell the heather when it's in full bloom  and to  hear the whirring of the wings of the  grouse when  in rapid succession they call to each other,  go-back, go-back, go-back, go-back. The red grouse has the distinction of being the only bird that is exclusively British and primarily Scottish.  On that spring day afternoon as I was thinking of turning around to head back I was approached by a  girl of about my own age, the only person I'd seen all day. She just appeared from nowhere. She came towards me and looked me straight in the eye.  Without the glimmer of a smile she was the first to speak and in a very English  and authoritative voice she asked, “Ah you  away ah that you  ah on Fingaaask ?"  It was obvious that she was oblivious as to the difference between Scottish and English law as to a walker's right of passageway over land.  I think she thought I was a poacher so I responded in my best Scottish brogue,  “No, but I think you may be on Bandirrrrrrran---not that it matterrrs."  We both let down our guards as laughter prevailed and the ice was broken.  (People who are natives of the land to the south of the Scottish border draw out the letter  "a" and don't burr the letter "R" like  persons from further to the north do.) She said that once a year in the spring she came north to visit her relatives at Fingask. The purpose of her visit was to see her special place high in the heather hills that was a moorland marsh. In the springtime her marsh was home to hundreds of black headed gulls, ducks and snipe. She volunteered, ”I’ll show it to you but you must tell no one that you know of it."  I promised not to tell. When we got to her place we took off our shoes and waded amongst the nesting birds. What an experience that was. I was sorry when she had to leave and head homewards.  I later found out that where we met I was on Fingask---not that it mattered. One other day near this place that I called the seagull pond, I found a shattered wooden propeller that must have come off a Tiger Moth trainer. Nearby on the ground was all the evidence of a crash site but no sign of the airplane which no doubt had been carted away. Not very far away was Scone airport which at that time was in use as a wartime training airfield.

 

My brother Noel and I were very fortunate in that Monty took us along with him on day and sometimes week long trips where we camped out in the spotlessly clean but unoccupied old mansion house. (in the years before the gardeners cottage was added on to) While there we hiked over the hills and the moors and hunted and fished to our heart’s content. What glorious days these were. Monty told Noel and I to come to Bandirran and to use the house and the estate just like we owned the place, any time we wanted to, even when he wasn’t there which we did on many occasions.  The estate of Bandirran abounds in a wealth of game animals such as rabbits, hare and some deer. The game birds are wood pigeons, partridge, pheasant, woodcock, blackcock, grouse, mallard and other ducks, snipe, geese and a few capercaillie. In the winter time when the snow was on the ground, great flocks of geese descended on to the harvested stubble fields. Sometimes late summer winds and rains flattened the grain in the fields to make it difficult to harvest. When this happened it was just left for the geese to feed on. At other times the farmers of the fields just left several acres unharvested for the geese. In such fields I used to make a blind out of corn stooks in which I would conceal myself just as it was beginning to get dark when the geese would descend in their hundreds to within inches of me.  The more or less triangular shaped pond by the gardener’s cottage and the two hillside burns that fed it was home to numerous speckled brook trout. Unlike the burns that were great places to dangle a worm in the deeper of the pools, the pond by the house was a great place to fly fish. My fly of choice was a Malloch tied Greenwell's Glory in an either wet or dry fly pattern. In the winter time the pond would freeze over with clear black ice and it was a great place to skate. There were occasions when we put Aladdin lamps out on to the frozen  pond and we skated till almost midnight. A favourite ploy was to go clockwise clear around the edge of the pond on the skate outside edges in a series of semi-circles, like a sine wave, then when the black ice was thoroughly marked up to turn and go counter clockwise to complete a chain of continuous circles.

 

 

Added-on-to gardener's cottage. My brother John designed and built the lapstrake copper rivet and rove fastened boat from Bandirran milled lumber. I was John's helper to buck the copper rivets.

In the winter time when the burn ran full there was enough water to rotate the water wheel that powered the estate saw mill. (At that time the Head Forester's last name was Ferguson but I have forgotten his first name.)

Monty and I working together laid the masonry that surrounds the two windows of the lower level living room.

 

As Bandirran mansion house was way too big to be kept staffed for only the occasional visitor, Monty got the great idea of adding on a living room and bedroom extension wing to the gardener’s home by the pond. This was highly successful. Part of the original gardener’s cottage house was combined with the new addition which became the dining room and an upstairs bedroom. The overall result was that instead of being only the gardeners cottage there were now two separate but connected homes. All of the downstairs addition became a great south facing living room that overlooked the pond. The upstairs, over the new addition, became two new bedrooms and a bathroom to give the addition three in all bedrooms upstairs. The cottage had no electricity but what a snug, cozy house it was when Aladdin mantle lamps and a big flickering wood fire were lit in the evenings and the rooks and the knights were set up on the chess board. At the time of the make-over Monty had the kitchen of the gardener and his wife’s part of the original house completely remodeled and a wonderful new AGA heating and cooking stove was added. The gardener became the caretaker of all and his wife became Monty’s cook and housekeeper. It was a great arrangement.

 

1937. Yews made an arched central focal viewpoint in Bandirran's garden.

Beyond the arch is the west door-in-the-wall entrance to the garden.

I took this photo with a very old but still functional Kodak bellows camera.

 

Shortly after the remodel of the cottage the pond to the front that over the years had become silted up was drained and dredged. In a way I was sorry to see this happen. The material that silted up the pond was mostly leaf material that over the years had washed down the burn. By slightly agitating the ooze layer I successfully collected marsh gas (methane) that I did manage to ignite.  I had visions that with sufficient ingenuity the entire house could have been lit and maybe even heated by the collected fuel. To prevent future silting  we decided that a bypass burn could be created by the making of a burn diverting sluice gate that would be operated when at times of heavy water flow the burn ran full. The engineering of the bypass sluice and the diversion of the burn became my project. My method of finding the take off point for the new watercourse of the bypass was to go upstream where, with a stick, I made a scratch on the ground alongside of the flowing water. The bypass watercourse would have to flow through the woods that were above the level of the pond so it was essential to maintain as much elevation for the new bypass burn as possible.  If a lot of water flowed into my scratch then my scratch was heading too much downhill and if no water flowed into my scratch then my scratch was going too much uphill.   A primitive method but highly functional, even better than using an expensive theodolite transit level. While the pond was drained I oversaw the installation of the new draw-down pipe line, the  "Ismailia" (no hinge pin) penstock drain valve and the connecting chain to the lever operated valve opening mechanism. Since I was also the overseer of the machining of this valve, which was the first one to be made at Fenco,  I got the honor of closing the valve to fill the pond.

 

My brother Noel and I treasured Monty’s companionship and it was obvious that Monty valued our youthful exuberance for him and his Perthshire, Bandirran property. (and Pittarthie in Fife)  Bandirran House comprised three stories above ground level and one complete basement level, which when the house was occupied was the domain of the household staff.

 

There were several things that intrigued me  about Bandirran House.  On the second floor above ground level if you counted the windows of the house on the outside then went inside to do the same thing there was one less window on the inside. A room of the house was sealed off such that, from the inside, it’s existence was undetectable. I often wondered as to what was it that was hidden there?  Maybe the Stone of Destiny.  Also in addition to the grand stairway that went from the foyer to the upper levels, there was an internal stairway that the staff used that allowed them to freely come and go from the basement level to the top level without being seen.

 

Below ground in the basement, near the south-east corner of the house and also completely undetectable was what looked like a cupboard door. Far from being a cupboard door Monty showed us that it was the secret entrance to an escape tunnel that exited some hundred or more yards away in a tree and brush covered dell. At the dell the exit of the tunnel was completely camouflaged such that it’s existence was undetectable. The tunnel shaft was about five feet high and three feet wide and was completely constructed of heavy stone. The roof was arched and the floor was V shaped such that the center provided a drainage channel for seeping ground water. Twice in my years of visiting Bandirran I traversed the tunnel from the house to the dell. Spaced along the tunnel were two ventilating shafts to the surface that let in a tiny amount of light. To traverse the length of the tunnel was quite an experience.

 

Bandirran House had the legend of a ghostly visitation. As Monty told it to me, each time one of the Moncrieffs died, a hearse with a team of horses was heard to clomp and clatter up the curving driveway to the front door of the house, stop for a period of time then turn around and drive away till all was again quiet. Supposedly this phenomenon had happened each time after a member of the Moncrieff family had died.

 

In Monty’s later years he suffered several mild heart attacks, twice at Bandirran when I was with him, for which  he carried pain killing nitro-glycerin tablets or as he called them his dynamite pills. During the last three years of his life his doctors advised him to spend his winters in a warm sunny climate. His place of choice was the Portuguese island of Madeira where he lived in the Reid Hotel in the town of Funchal. (On the island he owned a winery) While he was at the Reid he kept in touch by infrequent postcards except for the last year. Since I had not heard from him for several months I went to his Elie home, Seaforth, to ask his two house keeper sisters if they had heard from him. When they answered my knock on the door it was obvious that they had been crying.  Without a word being spoken a telegram, sent from someone, was handed to me to read which was to inform his housekeepers that Monty had died.  

 

The next day after learning about this totally unexpected and devastating news an overpowering force compelled  me to go to Bandirran. When there and for the first time in my life I felt an ominous sense of foreboding and loneliness.  Knowing where a key to the house was hidden I entered the big house then locked myself in. The silence was total. I went into the oak paneled library which was a large room. The  ceiling of the library was also oak paneled and  was completely covered with carved  Moncrieff coats of arms that traced the lineage of the family over the centuries. As I stood there in my grief as to the loss of my friend my hair raised up as I heard the rumble of wheels and other loud noises on the driveway. The sounds came nearer then stopped. I heard voices and a rattling of the front door. The empty house echoed. (After all these 65 years ago I can still hear these sounds and echoes.) Others had arrived for some reason. For what? Maybe to hunt for the true Stone of Destiny that rumour had it was concealed for safe keeping within the confines of Bandirran House. Unoccupied and far from view, Bandirran House  would certainly have been the perfect place to hide the Stone. Why and for what were men, without a key, shaking the front door and trying to enter the house. The big house had stood empty since the military vacated the property at the end of World War II.  I felt an oppressive weight descending on me and I fled to the basement to where was the entrance to the escape tunnel. By now I was in a cold sweat and my heart was thumping. I opened the entrance door to the tunnel, climbed into it, ducked my head and made a hasty exit for the other end of the tunnel that exited  into the dell. The exit was completely covered over in brush and thorny bramble-like vines and I had to push my way through which caused me to get thoroughly scratched and bloodied up in the process. In a blind run I fled through the trees and the heavy brush till I came to a clearing in the woods where there was a downed log that I sat on to get my breath back. As I looked up at the puffy white clouds in the blue sky I was looking at the trunk of a tree on which was nailed a wooden crucifix.  In that moment I was transfixed. I felt as if Monty had come home. As I gazed in amazement at the cross, the weight that was pressing on me lifted and a voice seemed to say, “Dry your tears, I’m all right.”  To this day I still wonder if Monty had nailed that  cross to this tree as a marker to indicate something? 

 

   "But now farewell for I am going a long way, 

to the island valley of Avilion

where falls not hail, or rain, or any snow,

nor ever wind blows loudly;

 but it lies deep-meadowed

happy, fair with orchard lawns and bowery hollows

crowned with summer sea,

Where I will heal me of my grevious wound."

.

The foliage  of the place that I stopped at showed no sign that anyone had  visited the place in years yet the wood that comprised the cross was unweathered and looked recent.  How did that crucifix come to be nailed up on that tree ? Did Monty have a premonition that he would not be returning and he put the cross there before he left for me to find ?  Why did I find it at this time ?   To this day I still wonder.

 

Several years later I made one of my compelled-to-return visits from the USA to Earlsferry.  In short time I went to Bandirran to once more wander it’s hills, retrace my steps and live in the past as I remembered my dear friend and the many happy times that  over the years that I had spent there with him.

 

When I got to Bandirran, the historic  mansion home of the Moncrieffs of that Ilk had been totally removed and someone else's family crest was fastened on to what had been Monty's little house by the fish pond. 

 

Bandirran Mansion ~ Gone but not forgotten

The square stone inset above the library windows, which now reposes in the churchyard at  Abernethy in Perthshire, is the Moncrieff coat of arms. The basement escape tunnel was below and right behind this yew. 

 

I should know but I never heard  where and how Monty died or anything at all about this happening. I just know that I took him from his home in Elie to get on the Aberdeen to London overnight train at Kirkcaldy and I brought his car back. I'm sure I was the last person in Scotland who knew him to see him alive. From Kirkcaldy he went to Southampton where he got on a ship to the Portuguese island of Madeira. On his return I was to pick him up but he never came back. Taking him to Kirkcaldy was the last time that I was to see him and the only information that I ever gleaned that he was not coming back was what was said in the brief message telegram that someone sent to his housekeepers.  Monty just vanished out of my life and for me a beautiful and a wonderful era came to an unexpected and an abrupt ending. As you may conclude from this writing I've had no closure as to Monty who despite our difference in age of 48 years, was and still is such a part of my life.  It has now been 66 years since I last saw him but not a day passes that I do not think of him.

 

On a Moncrieff family stone tablet in the churchyard at Abernethy in Perthshire, Scotland has been recorded the date of his death as being the 31st of January 1950.

 

I feel sure that the Monty that I knew "came home" but I never learned as to whether his body ever did. 

 

I'll always remember him as a very special person.

 

"And on the mere the wailing died away." 

 

Update 4th August 2010.

 

I still have no information whatsoever as to how Monty died but today an email has let me know that the place of burial of my friend Gerard Alexander Moncrieff, (Monty), is in the English cemetery on the island of Madeira. 

 

Update November 20th. 2011

 

Today,  (61 years after Monty's death), a friend in England sent me this photo that was sent to him from a helpful deacon of the Church of England in Madeira of an unkempt and  sunken plot of ground that is marked by the code letters 20NCC which is wherein the deacon states that Gerard Alexander Moncrieff was buried on the island of Madeira.

 

 

  ?

This beautiful old classical Scottish house in a setting of numerous large rhododendrons was Monty's ancestral home.

Note the square stone inset of the Moncrieff family crest that is above the two windows at the right hand lower corner.

Photo courtesy David Robertson