Skip to main content


I wrote a couple of days ago about finding during my daily walk a potential relative of my spouse's, Alexander Lobban, on the War Memorial at Ordiquhill Church. As we remember VE day 75 years ago, it is proper to think about all who we lost in wars.

I just haven't had time to pin down what the link, if any, is to her, but I do know that he did not come from a monied background.

His father was a widower aged 69 years when he married a spinster of 20 in 1882. It is a further 10 years before he is born, by which time his 79-year-old father is described as a retired farmer and a pauper. A year earlier in the 1891 census, there are four further children aged, eight, six, four and two to this 78-year-old and his 28-year-old wife.

Looking through my family research, and only looking for men who died in 1916 at Flanders, from where the idea of the red poppies we wear in November in remembrance come, I find seven entries.

My relatives among them are a cousin from Durham, another from Bradford, a great-uncle from Oban and further cousin from Bo'ness in West Lothian. All were young. Only one was old enough to be shown as having an occupation in the 1911 census, five years earlier. None held any rank above being a private soldier.

My wife's two cousins who died in Flanders that year came from Moray and from nearby Rathven. Both in their twenties in 1916. And once again, Privates.

Finally, one of my sisters-in-law lost a cousin from Brechin, who was a Lieutenant in the Cameronians.

These losses were in a single year. I think every family would be able to find similar stories about their relatives. Almost no one will be untouched.

My other sister-in-law sent us an email yesterday of her memories from around VE day in 1945. I can do no better than provide it here.

"I was in Burghead 75 yrs ago. We were special as we had a radio built by Uncle Ken which had acid batteries. Number 40 King Street was visited frequently to listen to the news.

"We all did our bit, but as a 7 or 8-year-old then I was spared seeing the horrors fed to us all daily on this new technology.

"Grandad was part of Dad's army. He was patrolling the beaches with me in tow at times. There was a small hexagonal hut in the dunes where he sat, binoculars at the ready. Looked for it a few years ago as it was near his salmon bothy. I guess it being wooden it either rotted or was removed.

"That beach was way out of sight of the Coastguard station so needed watching. Technology nil; rabbit gun yes.

"Auntie Chrissie & Ken spent a lot of time there as well. Grandad when the tide was out on the north beach, had a huke which he used to catch lobsters or crabs trapped under rock shelving & seaweed which was taken back to No 40 with the catch.

"I was a message girl usually to the doctor or the minister and was rewarded by one boiling sweetie. What a treat!

"Classrooms were always packed out. We were collecting for recycling, gathering rosehips, wild berries etc.; all for the war effort."

It's fascinating to listen to recollections of times past. The sister-in-law who emailed me had as a father-in-law a great character called Bob. He talked to me about his memories of them coming back from the Boer War in 1902. He went on to survive service in the Great War and lived to his late 90s. He was still getting on the bus each year to the Highland Show at that age. A great character.

And I believe there's a "character" in every person that's worth remembering.

When I was, for a number of months only, a nurse in Ward M2 of Stratheden Hospital in 1964, I learned a lot. Some of it about myself. Rather more from the 32 patients, we looked after. They were in a locked ward, for their rather than the public's, safety. But most would have done well enough, with a little support, had they lived outside the old Victorian asylum that looked after them.

There are always conspiracy theories around. Not just in modern times. The fall of Marie Antoinette was not simply because of her ill-advised advice, "let them eat cake", it was also because she was an Austrian princess. There was long-standing enmity between France and Austria that her dynastic marriage into the French Royal family was supposed to moderate.

She was the subject to a vile campaign in France by people not wishing to be reconciled to Austria. Cartoons circulated showing her engaged in many sexual acts. Her reputation was created in part by deliberate untruths created by her enemies.

On social media today, invented scare stories circulate with a rapidity previously not possible. Some sound plausible but can be seen to be unbelievable after the briefest of enquiry. But they can become fixed in some people's minds so firmly as to be difficult to dislodge. At times of crisis, this danger is greatest.

One of the patients in ward M2 had a particularly difficult path that had brought him into our care.

He was a Jew in Poland in about 1945 when the Russians took over the country from the Germans. He asked the authorities to be allowed to emigrate to Palestine. It was a few years before the creation of the State of Israel. Stalin's policies, he ran Russia then, saw him thrown into a Siberian Gulag, a prison camp for political prisoners.

He was tortured, starved and caught tuberculosis while there. We could see the permanent evidence of beatings on his body. Eventually, his mental health collapsed. The Russians then allowed him to leave the country and he ended up with us.

His TB was cured, and his body returned, to the extent that was possible, towards normality. But his mind remained in the grip of a deep psychosis. He believed that he was still in a Russian Gulag and that he continued to suffer from TB.

We might think there was decisive evidence to the contrary that he could see. We all spoke English, the ward radio was tuned to the BBC Light Programme (except when the ward sister was absent when it was Radio Caroline, the pirate station) and he was given a local daily paper to read. All this caused him to believe that he must be a very important prisoner. We were going to all this trouble to deceive him.

We must all help such people and must tolerate their actions, caused by illness, not malice.

But we must never read conspiracy as the first option as the cause for difficulties in the world.

And we must never tolerate untruths.


Popular posts from this blog

Train time

After one hundred and seventy-four days, I resumed sitting in our Parliament's debating chamber. It was the first time I have seen how members dialling in by video-link look and sound at the "business end". I found that I was a bit rusty. My only oral contribution this week was to ask a question. As I approached the end of it, a sound from a mobile phone totally distracted me. Worried that it was my own phone, I paused and for about a second, lost the thread of what I was saying. I wasn't that pleased with my neighbour when they returned to their seat. Their phone, not mine. It just shows that one can travel backwards in one's abilities. Like an athlete who has had an extended layoff and loses muscle tone, my brain had retreated from its previous peak of perfection. Next week will be our first proper three day week. I think I will ease myself in by participating in the two Member's debates scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday. That will be about eleven hu

A public debate about privatisation

Yesterday I tweeted from the Financial Times. I subscribe to the FT, so perhaps that's not too surprising. Martin Wolf is their Chief Economics Commentator and has seen sufficient economic shocks during his life as a journalist to deserve to be listened to when he writes as he did; "We almost certainly [...] need to take the provision of at least some essential public services out of the hands of privatised businesses." He has also commented, a week ago, on some of the effects of the pandemic on countries already struggling, saying; "in emerging and developing countries, the crisis threatens severe underfunding of important health and welfare programmes" I am not here to heap peons of praise upon his already "be-jewelled" shoulders. Others can do that. But he does alert us to the need for radical public policy and practice shifts. I have not seen him commenting on the merger of the UK's Foreign Office with the Government's internati

End of an Era 2016-2021

Written for  Holyrood magazine's "The End of an era 2016-2021"  published 07 April 2021.    Neil Findlay is the man who loves you to hate him. As he rises from his habitual place in a distant corner of the Parliamentary Chamber, a snarl as firmly attached to his face as he is disconnected to any symbol of middle-class values such as a tie, tension flows as he selects his target for the day. Is it dapper John Scott? The record-holder for the shortest time between his being sworn in and making his first speech in Parliament; a mere twenty hours. Does Willie Rennie attract his ire? Confession; we went to the same school. Almost anything liberal is bound to attract this Labour very-back-bencher’s contumely. Greens rarely attract his attention but he should remember that John Finnie, another member of this year’s escape committee, can efficiently direct a canine arrest. Now of course, I have sought to avoid any engagement with the fellow. I never, just never, even acknow