"My Hero, My Soldier Laddie"

Decision Time – in the Scottish Parliament at 5:00 pm on 10th June 2010.

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Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party 5:00 pm, 10th June 2010

The final item of business is a members' business debate on motion S3M-6437, in the name of Christina McKelvie, on "My Hero, My Soldier Laddie", which commemorates Scotland's Victoria Cross recipients. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament welcomes the publication of My Hero, My Soldier Laddie by artist and writer Duncan Brown, the illustrated story of Scotland's 172 recipients of the Victoria Cross (VC); notes that the book tells the individual stories of each of the 14 VC recipients who came from Lanarkshire, one in every hundred of all VC recipients ever awarded; further notes that, in 2001, Duncan Brown was instrumental in securing the raising of the monument that now stands in Hamilton Town Square to the memory of these 14 men, David Mackay of Auchenheath, Frederick Aikman and John O'Neill of Hamilton, William Gardner of Bothwell, Willie Angus, Thomas Caldwell and Donald Cameron of Carluke, David Lauder and John Carmichael of Airdrie, James Richardson of Bellshill, William Milne of Wishaw, John Hamilton of Cambuslang, William Clamp of Craigneuk and Bill Reid of Coatbridge; believes that the type of oral and social history found in My Hero, My Soldier Laddie plays a crucial role in uncovering, illuminating and preserving Scotland's past and the lives of ordinary Scots who made extraordinary contributions, and congratulates Duncan Brown on his considerable achievement in this respect.

Photo of Christina McKelvie Christina McKelvie Scottish National Party 5:07 pm, 10th June 2010

I thank everyone who has stayed in the chamber for the debate and all the members who supported the motion, which received cross-party support from members of all the parties that are represented in the Parliament.

I pay tribute to the man who inspired the motion—Duncan Brown, who is in the public gallery tonight. When I say that he is an amateur historian, I mean that in the best sense. He pursues his passion for Scots history out of sheer love and an unshakeable belief in its importance and not for income or recognition. He is not attached to any academic institution and he undertook his research under his own steam, with painstaking dedication.

Duncan was lucky enough to count as a friend the late Nigel Tranter, whose books opened my eyes and those of many of us to the endless thrills and excitement that are to be found in the tales of Scottish history. Duncan continues to work in that tradition today. He is also a talented artist and a piper, by the way—I become exhausted just thinking about his talents.

Scotland has a long tradition of chroniclers such as Duncan—I lean often on my copy of Blind Harry's work to look back at Scotland's history.

Such chroniclers work in local history and archaeological groups or just beaver away on their own to add layers and nuggets of fact and detail to our nation's story. They are sometimes small and sometimes monumental, but they all enhance our understanding and our enjoyment of Scottish history. It is often said that such amateur historians have provided us with the tales of ordinary lives in towns and villages throughout the land—those of the farmer, the weaver, the rent striker, the dominie or the soldier—that bring depth, richness and colour to Scotland's story.

I realise that it is a bit unorthodox to plug items in the chamber, but I hope that members will not mind if I recommend to them all Duncan's book—"My Hero, My Soldier Laddie". The title comes from Robert Burns and the book is in the best tradition of the history that I have described. Half of all the proceeds of sales will go to the Erskine veterans charity.

Duncan's search for Scotland's Victoria Cross recipients began by chance when he played the pipes at a wedding in Cheltenham, of all places. A guest mentioned that she believed she had a Scottish ancestor—a David MacKay who had been in a Highland regiment and was awarded the Victoria Cross.

Duncan has painstakingly pieced together MacKay's life story. He discovered that MacKay not only took part in the famous thin red line during the Crimean war, but went on to be among the first group of men ever to be awarded the VC for the heroism he displayed during the siege of Lucknow in 1857, having been nominated by his fellow Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders for the honour.

MacKay was badly wounded but survived and returned to Lesmahagow, where Duncan eventually traced his remains to an unmarked pauper's grave. Discovering that sad fate of a man who should still be recognised as a Scots hero, regardless of our feelings now about the role of the British empire in India, prompted Duncan to go on to uncover the details of 172 Scottish VCs. He found that no fewer than 14 among them hailed from the towns and villages of Lanarkshire.

Before I speak about Lanarkshire, I pay tribute to Thomas Peck Hunter, a Royal Marine who received the Victoria Cross and who happens to be the uncle of a proud John Swinney.

In fact, one VC in every 100 awarded has gone to a Lanarkshire man—an astonishing record for our small county. Three recipients came from Carluke alone. I wish that I had time to talk about every one of them but, having spoken about the first, I also want to say something about the last VC recipient, Bill Reid, whom Duncan Brown was able to meet and talk to before his death in 2001. I feel a particular affinity with Bill, because he was originally a Baillieston native and that is where I live now.

In November 1943, the Lancaster bomber that Bill was flying across the Dutch coast towards Germany twice came under attack. His navigator and wireless operator were killed, he himself was badly wounded, the plane's oxygen system ruptured and the hydraulics were damaged. However, instead of turning back, Bill fought his plane back under control, flew on and completed his mission.

After recovering from his wounds, Bill joined the 617 Squadron with Leonard Cheshire and, on his first flight, he fouled up his landing and knocked the tail off his plane. He had an endorsement put in his logbook and later joked that he was surely

"the only pilot to get a Victoria Cross on one trip and a red endorsement on the next."

Bill Reid was an extremely modest man and modest about his bravery. I am sure that some other men would have used it as a great chat-up line but, when Bill got married in 1952, he had not even told his wife.

Explaining later how he had been able to act with such heroism, Bill simply said:

"When you lost people who were your closest friends, the danger certainly came home to you. If you'd thought it would happen to you, too, you'd simply never have been able to fly again."

People such as Bill who did not perform great acts of bravery for Queen and country usually performed them for their band of brothers or the man standing next to them. That is an important piece of history that all our young people should know about. Reading stories such as his brings home not only how much we owe men such as him and his fellow VC recipients, but how important it is that those of us who live in Scotland now and in future generations continue to read and hear those stories and do not forget the extraordinary contributions that ordinary people made to secure our freedom and democracy.

If members are ever in Hamilton, I encourage and invite them to visit the memorial to the Lanarkshire VCs in the town square, which was unveiled in 2005 after a campaign by Duncan Brown and a public appeal by the Hamilton Advertiser. The poem inscribed on the memorial is by 12-year-old Anna Smith from Our Lady's high school and it captures the spirit of tonight's debate for me. It reads:

"You are heroes in our hearts, and that you'll always stay

Courageous and heroic in every possible way.

You sacrificed so much for us - a debt we can't repay.

You fought for us and bled for us and we thank you on this day."

I thank all members who are taking part in the debate.

Photo of Andy Kerr Andy Kerr Labour 5:13 pm, 10th June 2010

I congratulate Christina McKelvie warmly on securing the debate. The motion says so much, but I also warmly welcome her speech, which gives an insight not only into how the book came about but the thoughts and values that are inherent in its content.

I have had the pleasure of attending veterans day in East Kilbride over many years and have had the opportunity to discuss with veterans who are still with us their courage and their endeavours, and to recognise those. The things that those people went through and the valour and courage that they showed are almost unthinkable to us—perhaps there are a few exceptions to that among members—and we deserve to recognise them.

Christina McKelvie talks about Scotland's rich history and the books that we have in common. I remember reading "McCrae's Battalion", which is about Hearts football club in the first world war. It is a heart-rending story, but it also gives the reader a social consciousness. It brings Scotland's history together and allows us to understand some of the values that were applied at that time to footballers, who were seen to be dodging the war. If members recall the story, those footballers went off to war and most of the team were wiped out in a single action.

Such books bring together our rich history. They are a great reminder to us, young and old alike, of the contribution that individuals have made to Scotland and the UK and to our lives in general. It was interesting to learn about the proud role that people from Lanarkshire have played in our armed forces and the number of VCs that they have gained. It is right that many members from Lanarkshire are here for the debate. I, too, welcomed the unveiling of the arch memorial in Hamilton. We should ensure that our children see such memorials and we should talk to them about the issue, so that we can create an understanding and so help to avoid the catastrophic wars that sadly continue throughout the world. We must try to educate and allow people to understand the contribution that people such as those who are mentioned in the book have made over the years to our nation and the lives of the people of Scotland and beyond.

I thank Christina McKelvie for the motion and for drawing the Parliament's attention to the book. I hope that it will continue to play a part in creating the respect that we must all show those who serve Scotland and the nation generally.

Photo of Willie Coffey Willie Coffey Scottish National Party 5:16 pm, 10th June 2010

I, too, congratulate Christina McKelvie on bringing this members' business debate to the Scottish Parliament and on bringing the rightful recognition to the men who are in the book. Their families, descendants and many friends must feel pride in seeing such a wonderful record now in print.

We do not see the word "valour" very much these days, but the simple words "For Valour" on the Victoria Cross tell us that something special occurred in the life of the person who proudly wore it or was awarded it. Those acts of bravery and heroic courage could not have been predicted and certainly not expected of ordinary men in such circumstances. However, they occurred time and again, and that is why "My Hero, My Soldier Laddie" is important. When I first saw Mr Brown's book, I was struck by the beautiful artwork that accompanies the testimonials that make up that fine piece of work. It is very readable and I like the way that the reader can easily dip in and out to pick the stories that they want to read. Scotland's schoolchildren would certainly do well to take a look at it.

I was intrigued to read how Mr Brown started on his journey of finding out about Scotland's 172 Victoria Cross awards and the incredible 14 that were awarded to men in Lanarkshire alone. This is how he describes his encounter with Private David MacKay, who was among the first to be awarded the VC:

"Suddenly, there he was. In bold capitals. PRIVATE DAVID MACKAY, LUCKNOW, 1857. I stared at his name over and over. He does exist! What must I do now? My mind was racing. I dare say an experienced family researcher would have reached this stage quicker than I, but David Mackay seemed to be waiting just for me. And no one can ever take that from me now."

What a wonderful description of the moment that led to the fine book that we are discussing.

We can tell that Mr Brown was immediately drawn to the story of David MacKay, who was a mere 23 years old when he stood with his Highland comrades in the thin red line at Balaclava in 1854. Those were dark days in Scotland, with the cholera epidemic claiming thousands of lives and the scandal of the clearances still going on in the Highlands. As Mr Brown says, they were turbulent times, but when was it ever anything else?

Our connection in modern times with our armed forces personnel is mostly through remembrance day in November each year when we, as elected members, have the privilege of laying wreaths on behalf of our communities for our fallen heroes. I have had the honour of doing that for some years as the constituency member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun, but I have been a regular at Kilmarnock cenotaph since I was a boy. I was taken there by my father in my childhood to remember the Scots who gave their lives in the ultimate sacrifice.

When one reads about the men in "My Hero, My Soldier Laddie", one after the other, putting their lives on the line for their friends, comrades and their country—as our serving personnel are still doing now as we have the debate—one cannot help but feel a sense of humility along with a feeling of pride and admiration for their bravery. Surely we cannot reasonably expect them to demonstrate such heroism and determination in the face of so many dangers, but they do it time and again. No one could possibly tell what the future would hold for Private David MacKay in the 1850s or what the future will hold for a young constituent of mine, Robert James Miller Scott, who only yesterday set out on his journey to be a Scottish soldier. Of this I am sure: all the serving Scots who put their lives on the line for us deserve our respect and much more than our thanks.

The present times in Scotland might also be fairly turbulent, in different ways of course but, as Mr Brown says in his book, when was it ever anything else?

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative 5:20 pm, 10th June 2010

I congratulate Christina McKelvie on securing the debate and commend her for her excellent motion, which I was pleased to sign. I join her in congratulating and thanking Duncan Brown for his considerable achievement, which she set out in her speech.

As we have heard, the Victoria Cross is the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces. Some say that we use the term "hero" too often these days but, without doubt, individuals who receive the Victoria Cross are true heroes who have put their lives at great peril or have lost their lives serving this country and protecting their comrades.

Christina McKelvie's motion rightly highlights recipients of the Victoria Cross from Lanarkshire, as we would expect. My region of Mid Scotland and Fife is the birthplace and resting place of many men who won the Victoria Cross. If members will indulge me for a moment, I will mention one or two of them.

Kirriemuir cemetery in Angus is the resting place of two Victoria Cross winners: Private Charles Melvin of the Black Watch, who won his VC at Istabulat, Mesopotamia—modern-day Iraq—on 21 April 1917 and Corporal Richard Burton, who won his VC at Monte Ceco in Italy on 8 October 1944.

Captain William Stewart of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders was born in Grandtully in Perthshire and is buried there. He won his VC at Secundra Bagh during the Indian mutiny on 16 November 1857.

Flight Lieutenant William Reid of the Royal Air Force won his VC during the raid on Düsseldorf on 3 November 1943 and now rests in Crieff cemetery.

Sergeant Alexander Thompson of the Black Watch won his VC at Fort Ruhya during the Indian mutiny on 15 April 1858. He lies in Wellshill cemetery in Perth.

Dunfermline's cemetery is the final resting place of Dunfermline's Sergeant David Hunter of the Highland Light Infantry, who won his VC at Moeuvres in France on 16 September 1918.

The spread of those names and the different conflicts in which they fought in all parts of the world illustrates the tremendous contribution that Scottish soldiers have made over the centuries as part of the British Army. Of course, those men are just some of the brave men who have risked their lives for their country and the cause of freedom. I welcome the opportunity to put on the record my gratitude for their unflinching courage in the face of the enemy.

I am sure that Christina McKelvie and all members present will want to join me in thanking Michael, Lord Ashcroft, who has the largest Victoria Cross collection in the world, for allowing his collection to go on public display, following his £5 million donation to the Imperial War Museum. I am sure that we are all grateful to Lord Ashcroft for his generous support of many good and worthwhile causes. Lord Ashcroft is also the author of the book "Victoria Cross Heroes", which was published in 2006 to mark the 150th anniversary of the creation of the Victoria Cross. I hope that Christina McKelvie and all other members present will take the opportunity to read that publication if they have not already done so. The nation genuinely owes a debt of gratitude to Lord Ashcroft for bringing together so many VCs, which in themselves are worth several million pounds, and providing the funds for a new gallery to show them to the public.

It is hard, if not impossible, to set out in words the bravery, devotion and sacrifice of all the individuals who have been mentioned in the debate and in Duncan Brown's book. I hope that the debate goes some way towards showing our respect for and debt to those men. I thank Christina McKelvie for giving us this opportunity.

Photo of Jim Hume Jim Hume Liberal Democrat 5:24 pm, 10th June 2010

Like other members, I congratulate Christina McKelvie on bringing the debate to the Parliament. I also congratulate Duncan Brown on the publication of his book on the 172 Scottish recipients of the Victoria Cross.

This week, I am hosting the Royal Air Forces Association, which has a display just outside the chamber to mark the 70th anniversary of the battle of Britain, a battle that started just a few miles from here over the Forth and a battle for which many air fighters won the Victoria Cross in defence of our nation. Many Royal Air Force men who won the Victoria Cross made the ultimate sacrifice, such as Ayrshire Flying Officer Kenneth Campbell, who, with 1,000 guns firing at him, ran the gauntlet at 50ft above sea level in Brest harbour and successfully released his torpedoes at an enemy ship, but never got out of the harbour. The Germans gave him full military honours at his burial. I think that we all agree that we owe so much to those few.

We should also remember recipients of the Victoria Cross who were not from these British Isles. I refer to recipients from what used to be called the British Empire and from the Commonwealth. Many of them were Indian, Caribbean, Canadian, Australian, New Zealander, Nepalese or from the African Commonwealth countries.

The Victoria Cross has been awarded to more than 1,350 people. We owe a great debt to those individuals.

Nearer to hand, if I may be parochial, my South of Scotland region was the home of individuals who went the extra mile in their duties. One such individual was Thomas Caldwell of Carluke, who is mentioned in Christina McKelvie's motion. In the closing weeks of the first world war, he courageously and under close-range heavy fire ran single-handedly at an enemy position, took control of it and captured 18 prisoners.

Elsewhere from my region, James Blair of Melrose was injured while serving in India, but with not much more than the hilt of a sword he headed up his men and charged rebels, with total effect. Also in India, Tom Cadell of Cockenzie in East Lothian risked his life to save his fellow men by twice going under heavy fire, once to pick up and rescue a wounded bugler and then, again facing a wall of lead, to rescue a wounded man from the 75th regiment who had been left behind.

In Moffat, there is the grave of Lieutenant Wallace from Thornhill—no relation to Jim Wallace—who, on finding himself completely surrounded and with only five men, maintained firing by running from gun to gun for eight hours until, completely exhausted, he retreated successfully, taking all his wounded men and guns with him. That was real courage in an impossible situation.

An Ayrshire private, Ross Tollerton, is also mentioned in the book. He put others' lives before his own in going under heavy fire. With head and hand injuries, he returned to rescue his wounded lieutenant. That not being enough, he resumed his post, held the position and nursed his lieutenant for three days until they were rescued. Again, his actions went well beyond the call of duty. Like many others, Private Tollerton never recovered from his injuries and died at the young age of 41.

Tomorrow sees the famous Hawick common riding, which celebrates the daring raid on English troops by Hawick men and their return with the English standard in 1514. Five hundred years later, a certain Hawick man called John Daykins inspired his fellow troops by rushing two machine gun posts in France. By hand-to-hand fighting alone, he returned with 25 prisoners and the enemy's machine gun. Without doubt, that was bravery in the extreme.

One other special Victoria Cross was awarded. In 1921, in the United States, it was awarded to the unknown soldier to mark those who fell for us all, whose deeds were never witnessed but who made the ultimate sacrifice so that we all could have the liberty that we often, but should not, take for granted.

The Victoria Cross may be made of fairly cheap bronze, but it is the ultimate recognition of what is often the ultimate that someone can do for others. I welcome the motion and the book that recognises the 172 Scottish Victoria Cross recipients who showed

"conspicuous bravery, or some daring or pre-eminent act of valour or self-sacrifice, or extreme devotion to duty in the presence of the enemy."

The debate, book and motion are a small way of showing our gratitude for the valour of all those—past, present and future—who were and are prepared to put themselves in danger for others.

Photo of Alex Neil Alex Neil Scottish National Party 5:29 pm, 10th June 2010

Although my job title is Minister for Housing and Communities, I also have ministerial responsibility for veterans. Some of my duties in that role are the most pleasant that I have to carry out as a minister. Speaking in tonight's debate is one such duty.

Like all the other members who have spoken, I congratulate Christina McKelvie on securing this debate. I welcome Duncan Brown to the gallery and hope that he is enjoying the debate. His book is fascinating and told me a thing or two that I did not know about the history of the Victoria Cross. Until the Crimean war, the only real medal was the Order of the Bath, which was for those and such as those. The book describes how, after the Crimean war, the Duke of Newcastle wrote to Prince Albert, Queen Victoria's husband, to suggest that an award be created, as there were so many brave people who should not go unrewarded and unrecognised. Eventually, the Queen and the Secretary of State for War agreed that there should be such an award. Originally, it was to be called the Military Order of Victoria, a title that was eventually shortened to Victoria Cross.

Also unbeknown to me was the fact that, when people received the Victoria Cross in those days, they were awarded what Duncan Brown describes as a parsimonious annual £10. I do not know whether that is still the case. Arrangements were made for the first presentations of the medal to take place on 26 June 1857, in Hyde Park in London.

The book provides a fascinating account of the history. In particular, it points out the importance of Lanarkshire. I have tried but have so far been unable to check whether the figure of 14 for a single county is a record for the whole country. If it is not, it must be close to being one, despite the attempts of Murdo Fraser and Jim Tolson to make such claims for Perthshire and Kinross and the Borders. As Jim Tolson rightly pointed out, many brave and valiant fighters came not just from the rest of the United Kingdom but from the rest of the empire.

I am particularly gladdened by the fact that a large part of the proceeds from the book and the profit from the sale of prints of its illustrations will go to Erskine Hospital Ltd, which is one of the finest institutions in Scotland. I am sure that Duncan Brown's generous offer will be warmly applauded everywhere.

As members have pointed out, the bravery, gallantry and achievements of the 14 Lanarkshire-born Victoria Cross recipients, all 172 Scottish recipients of that accolade and all other veterans, irrespective of whether they were awarded a medal of whatever type, cannot be ignored, forgotten or lost in history. We should acknowledge on a regular basis their sacrifice and selflessness in securing the freedoms that all of us now take for granted. To ignore those men and the history of the Victoria Cross and those who won it would be a disservice to them. Their stories are important. History is important. We, our children and future generations must maintain the link with the past.

The monument in Hamilton to the Lanarkshire-born Victoria Cross holders is a fabulous way of keeping their memory alive. It is a fitting tribute to those 14 brave men. I congratulate everyone who was involved in the fund raising to make the monument a reality. Duncan Brown's book is an excellent way of recording and learning about the achievements of the men who are commemorated on the monument. It is both an easy and an engaging read—once someone has started to read it, they will want to finish it—and is one of the best-written books that I have ever read. Willie Coffey was right to say that many schoolchildren—not just the length and breadth of Scotland, but throughout the United Kingdom—will want to read the book and will find the history and stories that it contains fascinating.

I will say a word or two about monuments, given that we have talked about the Hamilton monument. There is a body of opinion in Scotland that the Scottish Government should maintain war memorials in Scotland. That is a perfectly justifiable view and I understand and sympathise with it. The problem is that the Imperial War Museum has estimated that there are between 3,000 and 5,000 monuments in Scotland, and keeping up the standard of monuments involves a huge cost.

Therefore, I take the opportunity to welcome the establishment of a new graves and monuments trust in Edinburgh, which will have the task of maintaining some of the monuments in Edinburgh. I hope that we can do something similar in Lanarkshire, Ayrshire, Glasgow and Dunbartonshire—and in every city and county the length and breadth of Scotland. That would be a fitting tribute from our communities to those to whom we owe so much.

We are proud of our heritage and we are very proud of the people who fought for our freedoms. It is right that the national Parliament of Scotland should recognise and pay tribute to them and that it should thank Duncan Brown for having done such a wonderful service for the whole nation in writing his excellent book.

Meeting closed at 17:36.