Dalkeith lays the foundations of link with Jarnac

Members of the twinning associations of Dalkeith and Jarnac in King's Park, Dalkeith, in the process of signing the twinning charter.
Members of the twinning associations of Dalkeith and Jarnac in King's Park, Dalkeith, in the process of signing the twinning charter.

June featured one of the biggest stories of the year, the arrival of the Jarnac delegation to sign the town twinning agreement between Dalkeith and Jarnac, one of the first such agreements in Scotland.

The idea of twinning had first been suggested by councillor James Quinn two years before, as a means of promoting international peace and understanding. Jarnac, in the Charente region of France, was looking for a twin at the same time, so in 1959 councillors Quinn, Robertson and Hutchison made separate visits to Jarnac, at their own expense. On their return, they recommended that official exchanges should take place in 1960.

Preparations for the visit to Dalkeith had been taking place for some time. Dalkeith High and St David’s Secondary had organised penpals in Jarnac for any pupils who were interested, and plans were made for an arts and crafts exhibition in the Corn Exchange.

Provost Lean asked the people of Dalkeith to “put on a show” by putting window boxes on their window ledges and putting up hanging baskets. Shopkeepers were asked to decorate their shop windows and the town council put up bunting in the streets and flew the French flag at the council chambers.

The official party of nine people arrived on June 9, greeted by brilliant sunshine. With their hosts, they assembled at the Corn Exchange, and led by the Burgh Band they drove “in five gleaming cars” to the council chambers for a civic reception. Hundreds of people lined the streets to welcome them.

The visitors spent the week being wined and dined and visited Dalkeith, Midlothian and Edinburgh. On the Saturday, the official twinning ceremony took place on the Dalkeith Thistle football pitch, followed by a football match.

The day before, a group of 25 football players and supporters had arrived from Jarnac to play in a match against a Dalkeith Select.

Helen and I were in Jarnac in 2010 to take part in the twinning’s 50th anniversary celebrations, and our host, Bernard Roger, was a member of that visiting team. He told me they had been well entertained by the Dalkeith Football Club on the Friday evening, and beer and whisky had been liberally sampled by all. Of course, when they lined up on the Saturday, none of their drinking companions was in the Dalkeith team, and Jarnac lost 3-1! The Advertiser said that the large crowd “saw a demonstration of continental footballing skill, matched by traditional Scottish punch”. I hope they didn’t mean that literally!

The following month, youngsters from both Dalkeith High and St David’s went to Jarnac, and so were the first official visitors. Then in September a Dalkeith delegation, led by provost Tom Lean, spent a week in Jarnac and were royally entertained.

It’s difficult for us now to realise what a great adventure a trip to Jarnac was, especially for the Dalkeith High pupils, who spent three weeks living with French families. It took them three days to get there by train and bus and for most of the youngsters it was their first time abroad.

June was a busy month for schools in the area. Gorebridge, Newtongrange and Easthouses all had gala days, though there was none in Dalkeith due to lack of support. The last gala in Dalkeith took place in 1958 when Billy Angus and Margaret Hogg were king and queen.

It was also the month for the school sports and at Dalkeith High I helped Buccleuch win the sports trophy. Dalkeith High also won the county sports at Pinkie for the fifth time in six years.

One of the events at the King’s Park Primary sports made me smile – it was called “Bag on Head”. Now, I was a graduate of the best primary school in Dalkeith, the Burgh School, and I knew there were some less than attractive kids at King’s Park, so it took me a wee while to work out that they didn’t have paper bags over their heads, but that the competitors ran with bean bags balanced on their heads!

The Advertiser reported the success of the combined X-ray and polio vaccination campaign, in which 13,000 people had been X-rayed and 10,000 had been vaccinated. The campaign lasted five weeks and the mobile X-ray units were set up at King’s Park and Woodburn Primaries. TB was still a major problem, with 50,000 cases a year in the UK in the 1950s, compared to 8,000 now, and because of the mass X-ray campaigns most cases were caught early and could be treated.

Polio, also known as infantile paralysis, was a disease every parent feared, causing paralysis and death or disability, with 8,000 cases a year in the UK. The Salk vaccine had been developed in the US in 1955, so the vaccination was still a fairly new procedure. By the mid-’60s, thanks to campaigns such as this, polio had been wiped out.

The top song in May, Cathy’s Clown, was sung by the fantastic Everly Brothers, and it was still No1 in June. Do you know how many weeks it held that position? (Clue – more than five, less than ten).