"My Hero, My Soldier Laddie"

Part of Decision Time – in the Scottish Parliament at 5:16 pm on 10th June 2010.

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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?