Ian Little’s great-grandfather George came to Kirkgunzeon parish in 1865 to farm at Drumjohn on the road to Beeswing.

He was accompanied by wife Eliza and six young children, Ian’s grandfather William among them.

It was the year of President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination.

“Times were hard for them and fodder was scarce as it all had to be cut by scythe,” Ian related.

“George had a cuddy and his practice was to ride out and check the stock in certain fields.

“I’m told this was a comic sight because he was a big man and the cuddy was small so his feet would trail in the grass.

“He used his cuddy to transport him to railway stations regularly.

“If he was going to Dumfries he would choose to go to Killywhan (a stop near Beeswing) even though it was further from Kirkgunzeon because it was a penny cheaper!”

By 1875 Drumcoltran was sold to Alfred Peter Constable-Maxwell of Terregles for £20,000.

Ian Little.
Ian Little.

A man called Flynn farmed there before William assumed the tenancy along with elder brother Robert in 1886, moving from Breckoniehill, near Dalbeattie.

“An arrangement had been made that whoever was first to marry would move away from Breckoniehill first,” said Ian.

“William married Janet Baird from neighbouring farm Meikle Dalbeattie in 1885 and was lucky to get Drumcoltran soon after.

“He was spending a lot of time sowing and getting the farm sorted out which had been in very poor condition.

“Baby George, my father, had been born several months before and Janet was anxious to move in.

“It was a fairly traumatic event for her.

“When she saw the state in was in – dirty and with broken windows – she sat down in a flood of tears and said ‘Oh William, what’s this you’ve brought me into?’

“Seeing his young wife in such a state William was full of remorse that he had been so neglectful.

“He got people in and soon the house was made very respectable.”

The old church and graveyard.
The old church and graveyard.

George was helping his mother feed the older calves one day when disaster struck.

One of the animals suddenly punched the bucket and gashed the front of Janet’s leg.

“The wound did not heal up,” Ian recounted.

“The doctor was not happy and sought the help of a consultant, Dr Walter Lorraine.

“He was concerned the wound had turned gangrenous and ordered the leg to be amputated below the knee immediately.

“Dr Lorraine was to travel out with an anaesthetist to Kirkgunzeon by train and would be met there and taken to the farm.

“William was at the station in good time for the doctor.

“As they left William told stationmaster Hugh Patrick he would be back for the Dumfries train at five o’clock.”

Meanwhile back at the farm, everything had been made ready as advised by the doctor.

The kitchen of the old tower was to be the operating theatre.

Robin Gilchrist.
Robin Gilchrist.

“Dr Lorraine and the anaesthetist soon got busy with the operation,” Ian said.

“He removed that part of her leg below the knee.

“Janet was being closely observed and was administered laudanum for the pain.

“At four o’clock it was decided they would soon leave for the train back to Dumfries.

“William was all ready to go and they set off at a casual pace – no doubt with plenty to talk about.

“But as they got over the hill at Gateside there was the train already standing in the station.

“William stood up and used the whip to complete the journey at great speed.

“Dr Lorraine gave a big thank you to Hugh Patrick for holding the train for him.”

Janet recovered well from the amputation but had to travel to Edinburgh for parts for her artificial limb.

Sometimes parts would arrive by post from Arch. Young and Son, stockists of surgical instruments and appliances.

Ian still remembers one bill – nine shillings and sixpence, dated November 21st, 1912.

Ian took over Drumcoltran from his father George and remained there until retiring in 1986 – exactly a century after William arrived from Breckoniehill.

Over at nearby Byrecoft, life was not without its dramas either.

“In 1947 there was a huge snow storm,” recalled Robin.

“The drifts covered the dykes and went right over some of the single story buildings.

“All the roads were blocked as well.

“My sister Betty was ill with appendicitis and needed to go to Dumfries for an operation.

“The doctor told my mother to telephone the Dumfries stationmaster to ask him to send a engine up to Blairshinnoch crossing to pick her up.

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“After it was pointed out to him that it could be life threatening he agreed to the proposal that my father should pull my sister on a sledge over the fields to the railway crossing.

“There they observed three engines with showploughs steaming through to clear the snow drifts.

“Betty was taken to the hospital where she recovered.

“We had a lot worse winters in those days.”

Robin left Byrecroft in his mid-twenties to plough his own furrow along with wife Ann and their young daughter.

He took with him a rich crop of memories of his life at Byrecroft and Kirkgunzeon.

“I attended the local school which is now converted into a house,” Robin said.

“I walked two and a half miles to school and back every day – rain, shine or snow.

“When I first went the headmaster was a Mr Taylor who was followed by Mr and Mrs Lindsay.

“At that time Kirkgunzeon had a shop, a post office and a blacksmith.

“We also had the garage and petrol station.

Memorial to Robert McWhire, merchant in Halifax.
Memorial to Robert McWhire, merchant in Halifax.

“I was too young to remember the war – my father told me stories of him being in the Royal Observer Corps.

“They used to listen for the enemy planes coming over Kirkgunzeon heading for Glasgow on their bombing missions.

“They could tell by the sound of the aeroplanes’ engines whether they were friend or foe.

“If they were enemy aircraft they would telephone a warning to the headquarters giving the numbers.”

As a boy Robin loved outdoor farmwork and learning traditional skills.

“After school I could not wait to get back out on the farm to do jobs,” he said.

“When I was about 12 or 13 I would often go with the tractorman.

“That was how I learned the ploughing.

“As a boy I remember the corn (oats) would be cut in August and put into stooks in the field.

“The tractorman would bring them in and build the stacks in the stackyard.

“He took a lot of pride in doing it – the stacks were circular with a coned top and tightly thatched to keep the rain out.

“Kingan’s from New Abbey would bring their threshing machine to the farm at the back end of the year.

“It was always quite an event.

“We had a threshing machine of our own but the main thresh was done with Kingan’s before the winter.

“We would bag the grain up from the threshing mill and use a pulley system to pull the bags up into the loft.

“They would be kept there until the oats needed bruised.

“The grain was put through a couple of rollers to flatten it which made it more palatable for the cattle.”

Excursions to the seaside were highlights of the year for local children, Robin remembered.

“We would get a scotch pie, ice cream and drinks and head off on trips to Rockcliffe or Sandgreen.

“These summer trips were great occasions and there would be three busloads of families and weans from the Kirkgunzeon area.

“Everybody joined in.”