Alcoholics Anonymous History In Your Area
How AA Got Started in Scotland
One Day At A Time Into The 1950s — the Loners make contact…
Alcoholics Anonymous came to Scotland about the same time that it arrived in England, though reports on the earliest meetings sometimes conflict. The man who played the biggest part in getting meetings established was Philip D, [Sir Philip D.] whom New York registered as a loner in Campbeltown in 1948.
In February that year, New York wrote to the London members about him, describing ‘an alcoholic who stopped drinking some four years ago on spiritual principles, but on his own and before he heard of AA.’ Philip, a titled Scottish gentleman farmer, had gone to a World Christian Association conference in the USA, where a group of businessmen were trying to bring God into industry by setting up breakfast clubs for prayer. Philip thought that maybe doing good work like that would help him stay off drink. ‘At the very first session he met an old time Philadelphia AA, George R, who gave him AA right off the spiritual main line.’ wrote Bill W in AA Comes of Age. The head of one of Scotland’s most ancient clans sobered up on the spot. ‘In March, Philip visited London and contacted general secretary, Lottie.
A month later, she was referring enquiries to him, and Philip began what was to be a series of 12-step visits to hospitals and prisons criss-crossing Scotland. ‘My difficulties are several,’ he wrote to her that same month. ‘I am actively engaged in farming and what with lambing and seeding I have been up to the eyes.
‘My next problem is that I live in the most out of the way spot imaginable … a very small size fishing town and the fishermen are a comparatively sober lot so not much scope locally. It is obvious to get AA going in Scotland I shall have to collect one or two in either Edinburgh or Glasgow. Possibly out of the letters you say you have which please send on, I may be able to make a start.’
Philip paid Forbes C to go round Scotland telling interested parties about AA. It wasn’t easy. ‘You know as well as I do that the Scottish alcoholics are pretty tough cases,’ wrote Lottie in September 1948.
According to this letter, Forbes ‘was asked by Marty M. (the visiting alcoholism expert from the USA who was also an AA member) and Philip to go off … to see if a real group could not be started. Forbes succeeded and there is one group in Perth and another one will be in Edinburgh and Glasgow.’ The first Edinburgh meeting was held in Mackie’s Restaurant, Princes Street.
Philip had made contact with Jack McK of Glasgow, who had been a patient at Gilgal Hospital in Perth. And in the spring of 1949, other patients in the same hospital became interested. In February that year a meeting was held in the Waverley Hotel, Perth. Five people attended.
Meanwhile, in Glasgow, Philip and Jack McK had contacted Jimmy R, a patient of Crichton Royal, Dumfries, and an alcoholic named Charlie B. In March 1949, there was a public meeting held in the St Enoch’s Hotel, Glasgow with 54 people present. Fourteen expressed some interest but only four showed up at the second meeting – Philip, Jimmy R, Jack McK and John R. Philip paid the expenses for the first three or four sessions and they decided to hold regular meetings every Tuesday evening.
Attendance was not encouraging. But a visit from Gordon M, an American, persuaded them to register as a group with the New York office. Thus in May 1949 both Edinburgh First and Glasgow Central became part of the official record.
By November 1949 a letter from Jimmy F reported that the Edinburgh group was flourishing. There was ‘a stable nucleus’ by the end of the year and a Dr Clark in charge of a ward in Edinburgh Hospital was referring patients to the Fellowship.
The Glasgow members were also active in contacting doctors. Consultant Psychiatrist A. Balfour Sclare recalled: ‘To the best of my recollection Alcoholics Anonymous first made its impact upon psychiatrists … in the Glasgow area when a member of this Fellowship gave an address on its modus operandi at the Lansdowne Clinic in 1949.’
Philip continued to do his best from his Scottish farm. One of the prospects he interested was a John MD, an inmate of Greenock Prison. He sent Forbes to talk to the governor and later wrote himself in August 1949: ‘If you feel it would be any use either I or one of the Glasgow members would be only too willing to come to Greenock and have a few talks with him about the movement … I am perfectly willing to have a try with him provided he, himself, will honestly make up his mind to chuck alcohol for good, otherwise it is just a waste of time talking to him.’