"My Hero, My Soldier Laddie"

Part of Decision Time – in the Scottish Parliament at 5:24 pm on 10th June 2010.

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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.