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Common Ground

Sadly, little knowledge about the way life was lived at Keabog has come down the years and one can only conjecture what it was like for the children and their parents all residing in a house which was not designed for so many occupants and with only primitive facilities. Lighting would have been provided by paraffin lamps and heating by wood and coal fires which would also have been the means of cooking. (There is a memory of maids - living in an outbuilding perhaps - getting up at three in the morning to light the boilers for the weekly wash). Certainly life must have been spartan and Gordon spoke of washing at an outside pump to ease congestion inside. In 1993 there was still only one bathroom.

Of course not all fifteen children would have been at home at the same time, but in 1887 there would have been nine and in 1902, when the last (Ronald) was born, eight, with those who had left home by then visiting and staying - somehow - from time to time; Gordon (again) spoke of occasions when the younger children slept four to six to a bed, alternately head to toe! Moreover, when the whole family was at home it was customary for there to be two sittings at meals; food consisted mainly of porridge and rabbits shot on the farm.

But there was also much enjoyment. Tales have been told of races, adventures in the surrounding farmlands, fun and games with the farm animals - and plum duff was served on birthdays

Every Sunday the whole family would go to the United Free Church at Drumlithie. Some would go by horse and cart and the others on foot. In the cart, the parents would sit in front with three of the children chosen by rota in the back. If, for some reason - ice or snow - they were prevented from attending or there was no Service, a family one would be conducted by Thomas at Keabog. This unvarying Sunday routine, coupled perhaps with the difficulty of comprehending the liturgical language, was probably the reason why many of the Keabog Grays were such reluctant churchgoers in later life.

On reaching the age of 5 or thereabouts (the records show that Andrew and Ronald were 6 and Douglas just 41/Z) all in turn went to the local school in Drumlithie but called Glenbervie after the Estate. (It still operates as such though only a small part of the old buildings remain). They all walked to and from school, a distance of 3 miles each way. The number going each year would have varied but over the years there would have been a regular posse of five of them making the journey together. There were no school meals and they either took their lunch or bought for a 1/2d. a slice of bread and syrup from the village shop. To drink they either brought milk from the cow at the farm or again purchased it at the shop.

For the next step in their education, the older brothers - Gordon, Alfred and James - had perforce to go to Robert Gordon's College in Aberdeen, there being no nearer secondary school. They would have travelled there and back from Drumlithie Station which was built about 1850 as part of the Aberdeen Railway which later became part of the Caledonian. However, in 1893, Mackie Academy opened in Stonehaven in time for Alfred and James (but not for Gordon) to transfer there accompanied as it so happened by its first Rector, a teacher at Gordon's. Alfred, James, Lyall and Herbert were all founder pupils at Mackie Academy and were followed there by the subsequent children. The Academy was at that time a fee-paying school and the minutes of a meeting of the Governors in 1894 records:

"A letter from Mr Gray, Keabog, anent an abatement of fees in the case of more than two pupils from the same family attending the Academy was submitted and read and it was resolved in such case to allow an abatement of one of one half of the fee for the third pupil where three attended and where four or more attended that the fourth should be free, the eldest in every case to be the one partially free or wholly free" - !

After Mackie Academy, the further education of the family is not so clear-cut, but what is known is included in the individual records which follow. In summary, however, taking the sons first, two - James and Andrew - moved straight to Aberdeen University to study to be doctors. Alfred at 16 went to be trained as a civil engineer by the Great North of Scotland Railway and five of the other brothers - Lyall, Herbert, Patrick, Charles and Douglas - left at the age of 15 to undertake basic engineering apprenticeships at the Great North of Scotland's locomotive works at Kittybrewster, and when the Railway expanded, at the new works at Inverurie. The conditions, especially in the winter months, must have been hard and Douglas recalled that they had to work from six in the morning to six in the evening, followed in the winter months by lectures, and that in the cold their hands at times stuck to the metal. However, some amenities were provided, especially at Inverurie where there was both a dramatic and a musical society in whose activities some of the brothers may have taken part. Certainly, the training they received must have given them a basic understanding of practical mechanical engineering which stood them in good stead for their subsequent occupations, all of which involved engineering to some degree. Accommodation was provided for them at Inverurie and probably at Kittybrewster too, and they would no doubt have gone home at weekends.

The sons at either end of the family did not have the benefit of further schooling and Gordon, Maxwell and Ronald all went directly into local jobs; and Cecil is thought to have worked around local farms before he emigrated to Australia. In Gordon's case, the reason for the decision is not clear but as the eldest son he probably went to work either from the need to supplement the family income or because he wanted to contribute to it; however, Maxwell and after Maxwell was killed, Ronald, needed to be on hand at home to help lift their father when he became ill.

Most of the sons played rugby, principally for the Aberdeenshire sides, and some probably served for a time in the Fife and Forfar Yeomanry, the local volunteer Army unit; Patrick certainly did. The factors and method by which those who went overseas came to do so are not known; was it through advertisements, word of mouth or perhaps careers advice? Certainly there was imitation in the way brothers followed in the steps of older brothers: Herbert after Lyall to Canada and Douglas after Charles to Sumatra; and at home, Andrew after James as doctors, including service as ships' doctors, in addition to the five who all took railway apprenticeships.

As to the girls, Isabella is thought to have had some private schooling after the village school, but was required at Keabog to help her Mother, particularly with the later children as they arrived; there is some parallel to Gordon in this. Muriel and Adaline both attended Mackie Academy but received no further formal education and also helped at home with their growing siblings and the later arrivals.

In adulthood the lives led by the fifteen were very varied and their fortunes equally so, as shown in the biographical details which follow. More went overseas than stayed at home, as was typical of many Scottish people of their generation - which, it is alleged, 'built the British Empire'. The First World War found them spread far and wide, but Herbert and Cecil served in France with the Canadian and Australian Armies respectively, as from home did Andrew and Maxwell, who was killed close to the Armistice. Gordon in a reserved occupation was a Special Constable. All were too old to serve in the Second World War, but Douglas was a victim of the Japanese invasion of Sumatra and Gordon and Ronald both experienced the London blitz.

In seeking family characteristics there was a clear family likeness facially and in stature and some of the sons were unmistakably and strikingly brothers. Most were short and stocky and on several of them, necks were short. There was also a Gray Romantype nose. Many had clear blue eyes, shapely hands and nails and there was a family laugh beginning with a throaty chuckle and accelerating to a near hysterical and uncontrollable guffaw common to most. All were very much their own people who kept their thoughts to themselves and were probably fairly self-contained; the wives of some of the sons found them to be overbearing and stubborn! There was a tendency to laziness perhaps, but when motivated a briskness about their physical and mental activity. But all had an innate honesty and integrity, were good husbands and fathers and much to be admired for what they were and what they achieved.

Their longevity was also a characteristic and is shown on the home page.