Archive for the ‘Scotland’ Category

Cyril Hall – Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve (Service Number 990275) – was not really a blood relation. In my childhood he was the third husband of my grandmother’s sister. He used to sit in the corner looking all “crusty”, having a cocktail and making a great art out of the smoking that eventually killed him. My grandmother’s sister has recently died and my Uncle was clearing out the house. He came across Cyril’s RAF logbook from the war and had a copy made for me. It was always vaguely thought that Cyril “flew Spitfires” during the war. In fact the logbook shows he did not – but he did fly in the Battle of Britain and was incredibly lucky to survive. He was in the thick of the battle and in far worse circumstances than the immortal “few” fighter pilots. In his case he was a member of a very small subset of the “few”.

The logbook opens with a note that he flew 631¾hours as a Wireless Operator/Air Gunner and Nav Radio Specialist (cover for Radar Operator) from May 28th 1940 up till April 1944. From the Record of Service in the back of the logbook plus some Internet research:

Cyril Hall flew in the Battle of Britain with 18 Squadron from May to August 1940 in the staggeringly underarmed, unarmoured and underpowered Blenheim IV. He joined the remains of 18 squadron as it evacuated out of France. He flew with the squadron from 26 May-12 June 1940 from Gatwick and 12 June-8 September 1940 from West Raynham. The squadron was tasked with attacking the German buildup for the invasion of the UK in the Channel Ports, France and the Low Countries. Casualty rates on these missions were routinely 50% losses and often approached 100% losses. He was lucky to survive and was truly one of “the few” of the UK bomber force that survived the Battle of Britain period.

From August to November 1940 he attended No 2 Electrical and Wireless School Yatesbury flying Dominies and training as a “Wireless Operator”. As he already was a W/O – this note was probably cover for Airborne Interception – later known as Radar.

November through December 1940 found him at 23 Squadron again in Blenheims in their role as Night Fighters with early Airborne Interception (Radar). The Blenheims tackled the German bombers through the winter of 1940-41. January to June 1941 he was with No 3 Reserve Squadron in Wick in Scotland. Primarily equipped with Hurricanes flying as night fighters – Cyril flew in Douglas Havoc twin engine “night fighters” equipped with Turbinlite. The Turbinlite was an immensely powerful searchlight carried in the aircraft nose that was used in an attempt to illuminate German bombers for the Hurricances to shoot down. The Havoc itself was unarmed as it was all it could do to carry the searchlight. It was not a very successful method of finding bombers and was replaced as soon as airborne radar was available in night fighters. At this time he would almost certainly have been part of the defences over Scotland trying to stave off the Blitz on the Clyde shipyards.

June to August 1941 saw him at 25 Squadron in Blenheims equipped with airborne radar – he would have been the operator in the back talking the pilot on to the target in the dark of night – though the RAF record of duty suggests they were engaged on convoy protection duty for much of the time. August to October 1941 he was back with No 3 Reserve squadron. I can’t specifically find their task at that time but probably training or training other operators. He spent two weeks in October 1941 with the Canadian 406 Squadron in Beaufighters in the night fighter role. October and November saw him back at No 3 Reserve.

He spent December 1941 with No 29 Squadron who were flying a mixture of Blenheim and Beaufighter night fighters as they converted over to Beaufighters. Then from Dec 1941 to June 1942 he was with No 3 Reserve Squadron again. Then from June to September 1942 he was with 54 Operational Training Unit in Beaufighters but it is not clear if as an instructor or under training. Given his next deployment – probably under training.

Then a whole year from September 1942 to August 1943 with 141 Squadron in Beaufighters. 141 had been equipped with the disastrous Defiant during the Battle of Britain and had been shot to pieces and when Cyril joined it had just been reformed – flying Beaufighter night fighters in Ayr in the defence of Scotland. He joined just after they were moved south to Tangmere which became its new base in June 1942 and Predannack in February 1943. In April 1943 it moved to Wittering, from where it began night intruder operations over German airfields in support of Bomber Command. A horribly dangerous task. British four engine bomber crews would shoot at anything with two engines – assuming it was a German night fighter. It might just as well be a Beaufighter. It was during this period on the 18th March 1943 that Cyril was promoted from Warrant Officer to Pilot Officer on Probation (emergency) and his service number was changed to 146289 in the “officer” series of numbers. (Promulgated – London Gazette 9th July 1943). He left the squadron a month before it got re-equipped with Mosquitos.

In August 1943 he was “rested” and rotated out to 53 then 54 then 52 Operational Training Units till May 1944. He was promoted Pilot Officer (Flying Officer on Probation) on 18th September 1943 (Promulgated – London Gazette 15th October 1943). He would have been instructing and like most of his contemporaries – they considered it more dangerous than actual missions and deadly boring.

To get out the OTU he volunteered as a pilot and from the 12th May to the 8th June he attended No 7 Elementary Flying School – Desford – for a Grading Course. He flew a total of 10.5 hours in a DeHavilland DH 82A Tiger Moth – mainly with a Sergeant Mortimer. It was two lessons a day sometimes three. Spin recovery was actively practiced on lessons 4, 11 and 13 (it is highlighted and underlined in the logbook). He soloed on his 15th lesson on the 8th day for a whole 10 minutes after 7 hours 45 minutes instruction. He actually had 4 lessons that day – including the solo. He passed the Grading Course on 6th June 1944.

Then on October 4th to a “War Course” at No 28 Elementary Flying Training School. October 6th he was flying again in a Tiger Moth. 19th October he was endorsed as knowing how to swing a propeller and he was also endorsed that he understood the petrol, oil, ignition and cooling systems. He flew through October – sometimes solo and the lessons were building on skills, adding emergencies, forced landings and side slipping. There were also plenty of practice spins – again underlined. He was 20 hour stage checked in November and on passing that – started on aerobatics and LOW FLYING (again underlined). By the end of November he had started work on Navigation away from the airfield. He also spent time in the LINK trainer (a mechanical simulator for instrument flying practice). December included more LOW FLYING, aerobatics and cross country trips. By the end of the year in 1944 he had amassed 43 hours of dual instruction, 24 hours solo time, 4 hours of night instruction and an hour solo at night.

In January 1945 he flew for the first week of the month and on the 8th January 1945 he was awarded his wings. 37.25 hours dual instruction, 32.05 hours solo time, 10.15 hours instrument time. Progress was “Average” and Special Faults to be watched was “Nil”. He was confirmed promoted to the rank of Flying Officer.

It looks like he was awarded two weeks leave because he did not report to Secondary Flying Training School No 17 – Cranwell till the end of January where he was introduced to the twin engined Airspeed Oxford. After just 6 days and 5 hours actual flying in the Oxford he demonstrated his cockpit drills to Warrant Officer Fisher and passed his presolo written exam. Then a few minutes later he soloed the Oxford on February 8th. He then carried on Flying 2 -3 times a day in the Oxford often solo till June 25th. He amassed 75.15 hours instruction and 65.30 hours solo in the Oxford and was passed out at “Proficient” on the 27th June 1945. The War in Europe had been over for 6 weeks. The war with Japan was still raging. He spent July at RAF Spitalgate – reason unknown before heading for No 21 Advanced Flying Unit at Wheaton Aston where he flew Oxfords again from August to September. But the tempo was much reduced. Sometimes a week would pass between flights. Then in October 1945 he spent a month at RAF Perton where he only flew 7 times in the month. These were his last flights with the RAF. He passed out from the Advanced Flying Unit course as a “Proficient” pilot and “Proficient” at making Standard Beam Approaches.

More popular and outsells Coca-Cola in Scotland. Great cure for the “morning after….”

More Irn-Bru ads here.

Mystic Highlanders wow the guests

Burns Night Rhode Island – a pretty big deal. The St Andrew’s Society of Rhode Island takes the Rhodes on the Pawtuxet Ballroom – largest in the state – and goes all Scottish as interpreted by America…. The society has to make the haggis as it is unobtainable in the US – in fact they sell it to other Burns nights to raise funds! The Mystic Highlanders put on a display of piping and sword dancing and after dinner we Scottish Country Dance the night away.

This year they were silly enough to ask me to give the Immortal Memory. Speaking notes and some pictures follow……


For those who have not been to one of these events before – traditionally there is a toast at the end of this piece – you might want to keep a wee drop in your glass so you are not toasting on fumes!

Robert Burns – a poor farmer who tried his hand at tax collecting, who turned a hobby of collecting old Scots folk stories into a career as a poet – dying an untimely death from a rheumatic heart brought on by early grinding labour in the fields. Some say dying of the effects of womanizing and drink. The truth probably lies somewhere in between.

He was a media sensation in his time – before the term “star” was ever invented.
His friends gathered on the anniversary of his death to remember him – starting the tradition of the Burn’s Supper.

So why Burn’s longevity in the collective memory?

Why after 211 years are WE still doing this?
Will mankind be celebrating the Beach Boys in the year 2219?

The memories

When asked if I would propose the Immortal Memory I had to think carefully. On reflection I realized that Burns has been with me throughout my life – though I did not always recognize or appreciate it at the time!

In my early childhood in Glasgow – Christmas was for children but Hogmany was for the adults (you call it First Night here). There was huge celebration and threats of “Old Man Time” coming to catch any children who stayed up past their bedtime. At the bells all the adults gathered around and sang – “Auld Lang Syne”.

Auld Lang Syne – I was told was by “Burns” – which in my childish mind was what happened when I got too close to the fire in the kitchen.

Later in the year there was a “Burns Night” – but next morning the adults were not covered with sores and peeling skin. Breakfast table conversation centered on the previous night’s entertainment. My mother showed me the bruises on her arms from “Stripping the Willow”. It seemed terribly adult – though I was assured it was a dance! There would be discussion of the flavour of “the haggis” and the quality of the “the address” (and wasn’t John MacLean’s address tonight excellent – he does it SO WELL!)

Graeme Smith – The Immortal Memory
John MacLean – The Address to the Haggis
Joyce Dell – The Chair (and from Glasgow!)

It was a long drive from Glasgow to the village of Mauchline in Ayrshire where we used to visit my godmother Auntie Phemie and her brother Uncle Robert. Truth to tell I was terrified of Uncle Robert. He tweaked my ear while speaking to me in a completely un-intelligible accent – I think making jokes at my expense.

Eventually we would make the trip across the street to the café for ice cream served by Auntie Senga – Robert’s wife. On the way – a bar – just four doors down the street – would always be pointed out:

“That’s Poosie Nansie’s Bar” my mother would declare. “Burns used to drink there.” At that age I was more interested in ice-cream.

A summer trip to the beach at Ayr always included a drive past a low lying white painted cottage with a thatch roof – “That is Burn’s Birthplace” we would hear.

We lost touch with the Ayrshire relatives. Last year I retraced the journey to Mauchline for the first time in nearly 40 years. Godmother Auntie Phemie hadn’t changed; Auntie Senga was still serving ice cream at the café. And my nemesis Uncle Robert was still there – though these days he has to reach a bit to tweak my ear. Burns favourite haunt – Poosie Nansie’s bar is still open for business.

And I understand a little more – Uncle Robert is not un-intelligible – he does speak English though he speaks the dialect known as Lallans – It is as near to life as Robert Burns spoke when he was alive.

Don’t get the impression that Burns filled my childhood. The Beatles were a new sensation; I played with my model trains, my Lego and generally scraped my knees as I eventually learned to ride a bike. I was a pretty normal kid.


But Burns was always hovering – waiting to catch me out:
Mr. Wylie the school music teacher was a stern disciplinarian. Communal singing was a regular activity in his class.

..sing titles….

“John Barleycorn is dead”, “Green Grow the Rashes Oh!” and on one fateful day:

..sing falsetto drop some notes….
“Ye Banks and Braes of Bonnie Doon
How can ye bloom sae fresh and fair?”

Mr. Wylie headed my way – he didn’t like people messing around. I quickly scanned the music – ready for one of the three standard questions:

  • Composer – Trad – that meant Traditional – we had a lot of that composer.
  • Time Signature – 6/8 – Heck a tough one to explain.
  • Lyrics – Burns – that struck a distant chord

But instead I got worked through the So-Fah on the wall.

..sing falsetto drop more notes – croak..
Do Re Me Fah So La Ti Do

After a few unsuccessful tries Mr. Wylie stopped me.

“Just sing where you feel you can fit in and don’t worry about it.”
he offered rather gently. I was confused.

To the class:
“Graeme’s voice just broke – it is normal”

and with heavy emphasis directed at the other giggling boys –
“He is growing up – faster than some”.

It brooked no argument but I sat and rued this guy “Burns” for singling ME out that day.

Oor table!

Terror of the English class – Mrs Mizen – insisted that every word of our work could be verified in the English Dictionary. The exception was when Burns was on the desk. “Scotland’s National Poet” seemed to be sufficient excuse for the fact we couldn’t find many of the words HE seemed to use in the dictionary.

The onomatopoeia of a terrified mouse’s “bickering brattle” as it was turned over by farmer Burns reaping the corn in “To a Mouse” fell on my deaf ears.

I would flick back and forth through the collected works – trying to find something more interesting or that I could even comprehend!

I found:

“To a Louse”
” Ha! whaur ye gaun, ye crowling ferlie? Your impudence protects you sorely”

as a louse crawled across a lady’s hair in church one Sunday morning.

This Burns character – like me – didn’t like church on Sunday either. He was easily distracted.

….and then the teacher asked me to take up the next verse in the mouse poem she and the rest of the class were reading about.
Burns struck again – I was lost with the louse.


Annually Scotland played rugby in the Five Nations Championship. The event was like the Superbowl on steroids. Only NATIONAL pride was at stake. When the Scots were playing at our national stadium – we got cheap “schoolboy” tickets.

With Scotland suddenly oil rich and thinking of independence – in our youthful rebelliousness there was debate about having our own national anthem. We observed the Scots team decline to sing “God Save the Queen” – the anthem of the United Kingdom. However they did not go so far as to sing the alternative we offered from the sidelines-

“Scots Wha Hae” – Burn’s collected words of Robert the Bruce addressing his barely trained peoples’ army before they fought the invading English army in 1314 – unexpectedly trapping them in the Bannockburn and routing them.

660 years later we were up against the invading English again – even if it was only rugby. We were playing at home and the Scots were not fancied to win. Throughout the match we were the underdogs – never quite keeping up. With just moments left to play the English were one point ahead. Then the English fouled.
Trapped deep in our own half of the field there was little hope but from the sidelines we gave the Scots team our best:

Scots, who hae wi’ Wallace bled,
Scots, whom Bruce has aften led,
Welcome to your gory bed
Or to victorie!

Scotland’s Andy Irvine set the ball up for an impossibly long penalty kick at the English goal – over half a field away. He stepped back, lined up, cleaned the toe of his boot, danced on his toes:

Who for Scotland’s King and Law
Freedom’s sword will strongly draw,
Freeman stand or freeman fa’,
Let him follow me!

Irvine struck the ball and the Scots charged forward. The ball lofted high and hung teetering in the breeze, wobbling and dropping – miraculously – between the English posts.

The Ball Soared……

Three points to Scotland and a two point lead. The referee blew the final whistle and the English were left – as at Bannockburn – defeated against all predictions.
The spirit of Burns and Bruce was surely there that day.


I later came to understand how much of a radical Burns was. He was keenly aware of the contradiction between the increasing wealth of the Lowlanders and the plight of the dispossessed Highlanders whose kilt and bagpipes were banned by the Act of Proscription after the 1745 rebellion.

An educated man in the Age of Enlightenment – Burns trod a fine line:

His fame and wealth came from the establishment who were rich enough to pay for his work. They represented the status quo. Burns was a respected Free Mason.
But he was not afraid to record “Sco’s Wha Hae” which in his day many considered a “call to arms” for the Scots to revolt against English rule again.

He composed an “Ode for General Washington’s Birthday” – a pretty daring act of admiration in a country that had just lost a major war to a bunch of colonials.

His poetry eloquently recorded his dalliances with many women admirers and lovers while he was very publicly condemned from the altar for his philandering.


A few minutes ago I posed the question – After 211 years why IS Burns still in the collective memory?

  • Wonderful poet, songwriter and story teller? – - Sure
  • Scotland’s first media star? – - Perhaps
  • Bane of schoolboy’s lives? – - Doubtful.
  • More likely is because he eloquently expressed his beliefs in liberty, freedom and the rights of man – - in the tongue of the common man.

Written in his final year – and published at risk of prosecution under King George III’s Royal Proclamation against seditious writings – his legacy echoes through the years and these words are as valid today as when they were first penned:


Then let us pray that come it may
As come it will for a’ that
That Sense and Worth over all the earth
Shall have first place and all that!

For all that, and all that,
It‘s coming yet for all that,
That man to man the world over
Shall brothers be for all that.

Ladies and Gentlemen – please rise and join me as I propose a toast to Robert Burns and –

“His Immortal Memory”

The waitresses were rightly amused by our celebrations – though they fell for the story about the haggis having two long and two short legs to help them negotiate steep hills!

Superbowl on Steriods – the next day was the annual US Superbowl for American Football and Baseball was in the midst of an investigation into drug use by players

Having just got back from a 12 day whirlwind with my partner and my first serious look at (part of) Scotland in 20 years – and in no particular order………

Ice Cream
Dino’s Radio Café on the front in Helensburgh for an award something along the lines of:
“Greatly anticipated, likely to disappoint – but didn’t” (if you get my drift)

Still in the same family and still making their own ice cream daily to the family recipe. Quality has not been compromised and it tasted as good as ever and was a wonderful value £1.60 for a single nougat slider!

Nardini’s – where did you go wrong? Thank goodness their boarded up eyesore was hidden behind the “Viking” Festival we attended in Largs.

Best Coffee on the whole trip
The waiting room at Fionnphort while waiting for the ferry TO Iona

Worst Coffee on the whole trip
The waiting room at Fionnphort on returning FROM Iona. Eugh! You switched to instant during the day – while we were on Iona.

Journalism Award
To Jamie Cossar of the Cumnock Chronicle for running a story inquiring about long lost cousins removed who died in WWI and which turned up my still alive godmother – who I had lost touch with 34 years ago. It was great to see her again.

Journalism Award – Runner up
To “Scottie” at Rampant Scotland for keeping me well informed about the state of the country in my absence – you got it about right!

Best Read on the trip
Walking with Murder: On the Kidnapped Trail – Ian Nimmo. I didn’t realise Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Kidnapped” was based on so much fact……. You learn something every day.

Architectural “Carbunkle”
To the housing development at the old Meadowside Granary. I know Glasgow is trying to enlarge its tax base to pay off its poll tax debts but in the words of Billy Connolly – “Aw Come Oan!” What a positively awful mess. I didn’t meet one person who liked it.

Lump in the throat and tear to the eye
To Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum for having remade itself to a standard that has little kids hanging onto their parents hands – staring in wonderment at the newly presented collection – just like I used to 40 odd years ago. The cleaning of the ceiling in the main hall was pretty good too. As I say – I had a lump in my throat watching the kids….. However I did miss the dioramas with the animals in them.

Going to rack and ruin
The “Vital Spark” lying in Crinan Basin. Would the gentlemen in Edinburgh who reportedly owns the remains of the puffer – please accept one of the many offers I am told have come your way by people who DO want to restore her. She is not appreciating in value – and the BBC are unlikely to try again after their last dreadful outing with Gregor Fisher as Para Handy. BBC – give up – you are not going to find another Roddy McMillian who with a slight pursing of the lips and keek of the eyebrows could speak volumes to the original stories.

Most confusing city redevelopment
Inverness – I might as well have been in America in the “Mall” area of town.

Bought up by foreigners
The Island of Mull – where did all those English people come from?

Best Bed and Breakfast
Taking account of location, location, location, value, quality of accommodation, breakfast and host – Captain Blair’s “Tir-Na-Glaic” in Crinan.

Most Interesting Breakfast Conversation
To Shirley Strachan – host at Ronebhal Guest House in Connel – for insights into how to dye and blow dry your sheep to look good before putting them up for auction (I kid you not) thus levering your price on the day by 26%.

Biggest Disappointment
City Litter – it’s better than it used to be – but it is still not great.

2nd Biggest Disappointment
The 4 lane path up from Arrochar to Ben Ime with branch to Ben Arthur. I KNOW we need to deal with erosion but it was a bit of a shock….. Mind whoever planted all the brambles along the side of the path deserves an award for “part of the walk likely to be taken most slowly”.

3rd Biggest Disappointment
Glasgow Parks Department for the Fossil Grove in Victoria Park. If the sign says it is going to open at 11am then it would be nice if it did. We hung around and hung around and made pantomime at the CCTV cameras – but no one ever showed up to open it.

Really moving award
The new memorial spot to the side of the Commando Memorial at Spean Bridge. The many hand made personal markers laid in the peat with mixture of name of veterans of WWII and victims of the current mess in Iraq was pretty raw.

Best Interpretation of a Historic Area.
To the National Trust for their visitor center at Glen Coe.

Runner Up Interpretation of a Historic Area
Stirling Castle for their display on the history of the kings and queens of the castle as it related to Scottish History. If you are trying to give someone a geo-political history of the period in a nutshell – This was pretty good.

Arranger of best scenery of the trip
To Icelandair for working with the weather guys to arrange a landfall in clear skies that allowed spectacular views of: St Kilda, Benbecula, Skye, a view across the Great Glen to North Sea, Loch Fyne, Loch Long, Balloch and the Maid of the Loch on Loch Lomond, Campsie Fells, landing at Glasgow Airport. Nice job!

Worst Political Comment by the locals
The cost of the Scottish Parliament Building

Best Political Comment by the locals
The way services have improved for the disadvantaged and elderly and with new schooling initiatives under the new Scottish Executive compared to the situation in England.

Best part of the trip award
Sure things change in 20 years – but not as dramatically as I expected. It’s still Scotland. There really were not that many surprises that were as bad as the disappointments I’ve listed! It was nearly all to the good.

This post is 650 years after the actual event!  (Blogging software can’t cope with these older dates!)

The Declaration of Arbroath was written in Latin and promulgated on April 6th, 1320, at Arbroath Abbey (on the east coast of Scotland, just north of St. Andrews, the home of golf). Its purpose was to convince Pope John XXII, resident in Avignon, France, that Scotland was an independent country.

US Senate Resolution Number 155 of March 20th 1998, recognises April 6th in the USA as “Tartan Day”