‘Scottish Characters — Jock M’Cue’ (22 December, 1888)

The following is one of a series of stories and anecdotes about local Scottish eccentrics. They remain an insight into the characters and exploits that had already passed into folk memory by the late 19th century.

Private M’Cue, better known among his intimates as “Big Jock,” was a bit of a character in our regiment, from which he retired not so very long ago. By way of introduction, I shall relate a story of which Jock was the actual hero, which went the round of every Scotch regiment a few years ago, and eventually, I believe, found its way into print.

At the time the incident happened Jock was a recruit of a week’s standing in one of our Northern depots: and while in the hands of a drill sergeant on parade, he drew upon himself the notice of the Sergeant-Major by his inattention. The Sergeant-Major was a very little man, and coming up to Jock, who was looking about and did not see him, he seized him by the shoulder, turned him round to the front, and shoved his chin upwards till his gaze was fixed on the sky above. “Now, my man,” said he, “that is the position of a soldier; see that you keep it.” “And have I always to be like this,” sad innocent (?) Jock. “Yes.” “Weel, Sergeant-Major, I’ll bid ye guid-bye, for I’ll ne’er see ye again.”

During the few months Jock remained in the depot he proved a thorn in the side of his more immediate superiors by his assumption of stupidity and habit of getting drunk regularly every pay night. On one occasion when standing half-drunk by his berth at roll call, he was the recipient of a torrent of abuse from his pay sergeant, who wound up by asking Jock if he thought the non-commissioned officers of his company had nothing to do but look after him. “Weel, sergeant,” was the reply, “yer non-commissioned officers micht as weel be lookin’ after me as be n the puirshoose.” As the pay sergeant was known to have emerged from a charity school, and was besides universally unpopular the hit told, and Jock had more peace afterwards.

One afternoon Jock and some cronies having got half fou’ in the canteen, resolved to finish the spree in the adjoining village. They proceeded to leave barracks, but were met at the gate by a lady who took a great interest in the welfare of soldiers, and was much respected by them in consequence. Saluting her they attempted to pass on, but their evident hurry and disinclination to speak at once caused the lady to guess what was the matter, and hurry back after them with an invitation to tea at her house. She was well acquainted with all but Jock, and as she would not be put off, the whole party accompanied her to her residence, which was not far distant. At the door they were met by two young lady visitors, who, after seeing our friends settled down to their tea, prepared to enliven the meal by singing a hymn. While doing so one of our soldier friends, with the laudable desire of making the best of his position, quietly appropriated a large jar of jam which had been placed near him on the table, and began surreptitiously to sup it with a table (not tea) spoon. This was too much for Jock, who, after looking wistfully at the jam for a short time lost patience: and while the singing of the hymn was in full progress he seized a loaf near him, and flung it across the table at the offender’s face shouting, “For G—d’s sake, man, hae some decency afore folk.” Thereafter, in the language of the newspaper reporter, the meeting broke up in confusion.

After some months spent in the depot, Jock, with others, was sent to join his regiment in Egypt, and early brought himself under the notice of his officers. Jock had been taken to the orderly room as second evidence in a case of drunkenness, the prisoner being a crony of his own, and was asked if the man had been drunk when he was arrested. “Weel, sir, he had yill [beer],” was Jock’s reply. The Colonel was more French than Scotch, and had not the slightest idea what Jock meant. This was exactly what was intended by our hero. He was tried again, this time by the Adjutant, “Was the man drunk? Yes or no?” “Weel, I wadna like tae say the man was drunk, but there’s nae doot he had yill, sir; the man had yill.” After another attempt to get a precise answer, equally unavailing, Jock was dismissed as incorrigibly stupid.

Jock’s next appearance in the orderly room was, I am sorry to say, as a prisoner himself for being drunk and notions. The evidence of the sergeant who had confined him was clear and convincing, but Jock was asked what he had to say for himself, more as a matter of form than anything else. “I’ll tell ye whit, sir,” said Jock, with well-feigned indignation, “it’s nae use me sayin’ onything, for nae maitter whit lee I can tell, the sergeant can tell a bigger ane.” Needless to say, the defence was not sufficient to acquit him.

After keeping out of trouble for rather a longer period than usual, Jock’s size and strength secured him an appointment in the garrison police, and soon afterwards promotion to the rank of lance-corporal. After escaping notice for some time, it began to be suspected that he utilised his position more for exercising his own liberty than curtailing that of others. One day the provost-sergeant happened to mention that M’Cue had never been known to confine a man, and the hint was enough for Jock. He did not allow the grass to grow under his feet, but that same night, when accompanied by two likeminded policemen, to whom he had explained his views, he seized on an inoffensive-looking recruit, returning quietly to barracks, and carried him, despite his protests, before the sergeant of the guard. “Well, Jock,” said the latter, pen in hand, “it’s something unusual for you to bring in a prisoner but what’s the charge?” “Assaulting his superior officer,” was the grandiloquent reply. “Who?” “Me.” “You! why, he’s not half your size, and is a quiet fellow besides. Your statement will require some proving.” “Nae maitter. Say he was drunk.” “But he’s quite sober.” “It disna maitter a d—n; mak’ a case o’t some way.” The sergeant did “mak’ a case o’t, with the result that Jock was relegated to “private” life.

Jock was a great dog fancier and his natural shrewdness enabled him to indulge this fancy to the best advantage. He had a favourite bitch which followed him everywhere, and whenever the supplies for “booze” ran short, the bitch was sold to meet expenses; but no matterhow far from barracks the sale took place, it always found its way back to barracks. When the bitch had a litter the pups were much sought after and sold at high prices. A woman who sold fish to the troops, and was known as Sally, took a great fancy to one of them, and was sadly victimised in consequence. She had previously refused Jock “tick,” as he was a bad payer; but one day when she was going into Jock’s room with fish, he was bending over the litter, with his back (intentionally) to the door, and fondling his puppies. “Mind, Sally,” he was saying, “you’re the brawest pup, an’ you’re to be ma present to the fishwife, wha’s sae guid to us. I wadna think o’ selling ye to the like o’ her, bit as sun’es ye’re big enough I’ll gie ye to her for naething. So lie doon an’ be quite,” Needless to say Jock got free fish to hi breakfast for some weeks after, until, in fact, the pup disappeared but not in Mother Sally’s possession.

One day when Jock was hard up and very “dry,” he was persuaded to sell his bitch to a talor, who fancied himself quite “’cute” enough for our hero. He took Jessie away, and tied her up in the workshop; but in spite of his vigilance and that of his brother tailors, she gave them the slip in a day or two and made her way quietly back to Jock’s quarters. The tailor soon made his appearance, breathless; but Jock stoutly denied that the dog sitting on his berth was the one he had sold. As the other men in the room backed him up, all being fond of Jessie, “Snip” went away in a rage to fetch the master tailor, who had also taken a fancy to the bitch. He returned with that important personage, but in the interval Jock had taken Jessie in hand, rubbed her completely over with soot, and so completely altered her appearance that, as no other dog could be found in the room, the tailor had in the end to go away minus his dog.

On the day that Jock finally left Her Majesty’s service, an inquisitive acquaintance accosted him with “An’ whit are ye gaun’ to tae dae whan ye gae ‘wa, Jock?” “I’m jist gaun to min’ ma ain business,” was the reply which closed his questioner’s mouth, and likewise the present sketch.

 

The writer of the above, to whom a prize watch has been awarded, is

Mr Ben. Thomas.

69 Highriggs,

Edinburgh.

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