After the War – Amateur Dramatics

History of the Byre, St Andrews between the Wars

Prior to, and in the years immediately following, the First World War, amateur musical and theatrical productions formed part of the entertainment in St Andrews.

Enthusiasts came together largely to perform sketches, plays, musical numbers or light opera to raise money for good causes. Two leading lights in the pre-war years were Mr Walter Mitchell and Miss J E Huntingdon (later Mrs Stuart McEuen).

In September 1921 for example, a performance of “His Excellency the Governor”, a farcical romance was performed on several nights in the Town Hall to raise funds for local war widows and their children. It was largely due to the efforts of Mrs Stuart McEuen that the performance came about and Mr (now Major) Walter Mitchell returned to St Andrews to take a part in the play.

The decade following the end of the First World War saw an upsurge in Amateur Dramatic Societies in every corner of the country. In fact, throughout Scotland, the number of Amateur Dramatic Societies had doubled between 1914 and 1929. Why was this?

One answer might be that people had survived the carnage of the war but none of them has been left unscathed. Many had lost family members and friends; large numbers had themselves been wounded. With the coming of peace, the public at large was, perhaps, in the mood for the lighter things in life.

In October 1929, just after the town had said goodbye to “Jo” the Tank and the German artillery gun from the Kirkhill, St Andrews formed a Dramatic Association. It was seen as:

“a common meeting ground for all the dramatic enthusiasts in the place [regardless of] whatever other societies they might belong. By this means it was hoped to discover and encourage any talent that might be latest.”

One of the office bearers of the newly formed St Andrews Dramatic Society was local journalist and playwright A. B. Paterson.

One of these “other societies” mentioned was Hope Park Church Bible Class Dramatic Society.

In “The Byre Theatre – Through the Years”, Alex Paterson relates:

“…Hope Park Church Bible Class produced one full length play every year, and in addition, entered a team in the one-act play festival of the Scottish Community Drama Association. I was Director of these productions, and I was to bore the members by telling them that the development beyond the Kirk Hall performances would lie in our finding a little theatre of our own.”

This dream was, of course, realised in 1933 when the St Andrews Play Club was formed from members of the Hope Park Church Bible Class Dramatic Society, and they took possession of a semi-derelict cow byre.

But that is another story…

The St Andrews Play Club during a performance in 1935 of “Murder Trial” in the original Byre Theatre.

Photograph courtesy of the St Andrews Preservation Trust

Text prepared by Fiona Gray and Kate Owen

The First World War Tank at Kirkhill

St Andrews in the First World War

In 1919, many battle-scarred tanks were presented to towns and cities across Britain in gratitude for their particularly noteworthy financial achievements in the purchase of war bonds and savings certificates. One of these Presentation Tanks, “Jo” was given to St Andrews along with a German artillery gun war trophy.

St Andrews to get a Tank

The Scottish War Savings Committee has awarded St Andrews a tank in recognition of its large contributions to the War Loan. Our City is one of the few places in Scotland that has earned this award.  The War Trophies Association have awarded St Andrews a German heavy gun and carriage.
7th June 1919

The Tank arrives

Some gifts are embarrassing, and this would appear to be the case with the tank which St Andrews was presented with in recognition of its large contributions to the War Loan. The derelict war monster has arrived in the Ancient City; and finding that without its internal machinery being in good working order the tank required quite an engineering feat to move it about. The City Fathers would be glad to hand over the gift to some other town with an ambition to possess this kind of war relic.

It will require three traction engines to drag it to a suitable resting place if that can be found.  Then considerable damage would be done to the streets, and the Town Council is not keen to undertake this risk. They have decided to dump the tank down near the Old Station, where it now lies, so that as small an expense as possible may be incurred.
6 September 1919

“Jo” the Tank placed at the Kirkhill

“Jo”, formerly known as “The Adventuress”, the “female” tank [so-called because they were the smaller type and used small guns], has now taken up her last resting place at the historic Kirkhill.

As “Jo” weighs thirty-two tons, she is a very bulky lady. It was discovered that with a little internal “fixing-up”, she would crawl along by herself and the order for traction engines was cancelled.

Crawling along at a fair pace, she started out on her last journey, and proceeded by way of Pilmour Place and North Street Kirkhill.  A little difficulty was experienced in negotiating the corner at Gregory Place, but she was well manoeuvred, and got through the lane without any mishap.

With remarkably little manoeuvring, “Jo” was successfully run on to the concrete bed where one of the old cannons formerly stood.

The site chosen for the tank is probably as good a one as could have been got for it, but there is a danger that unless precautions are taken, children who venture to the edge of the cliff to inspect the front of the tank get a fatal fall.

13 September 1919

“Jo” the WWI Tank at the Kirkhill. The German artillery gun can be seen on the extreme right of the picture. The girl in the foreground is one of the Gourlay family.

“Jo” the Tank was to survive 10 years at Kirkhill before being sold for scrap. By the time of WWII, the majority of towns and cities throughout the UK had done likewise, for various reasons:

  • Town councils were not prepared to pay for their upkeep (they rusted very quickly)
  • Many were scrapped as part of the WWII war effort (although the metal was very low quality and of little use);
  • The Pacifist Movement objected to them as they glorified war;
  • Many people disliked the continuous reminder of the trenches or the loss of family members during WWI.

For St Andrews, it was ongoing Health and Safety concerns that finally the sealed the fate of “Jo”.

 

Tank and Cannon to go from the Kirkhill

A number of residents in the area petitioned the Town Council with respect to the erosion of the cliffs around Kirkhill. It was stated that the cliff, which is undermined at the tank site, is another increasing source of danger.

Based on the [Burgh Engineer’s] report it was agreed that the tank and cannon at the Kirkhill should be removed forthwith.

11 May 1929

 

The Tank Sold for Scrap

Dean of Guild Linskill has his troubles in these days, but one thing that has rejoiced his heart is that he is at last to see the success of his effort to have the tank removed from the Kirkhill.

He has always maintained that it marred its historic surroundings. He does not forget what the tank did for us in the War, but he does not think that the historic Kirkhill is the place to preserve one.

It is understood that a purchaser has been found for the tank and that it will be broken up. The cannon will also be removed. The tank has become a danger in its present position, for landslides are always threatening at this part of the cliffs.

1 June 1929

 

Goodbye to “Jo”

The tank and cannon have now been removed from the Kirkhill and the uninterrupted sea view is a great improvement.

13 July 1929

 

Photogragh courtesy of the St Andrews Preservation Trust

Text prepared by Fiona Gray and Kate Owen