Obituary: Robert Erskine, 104

Robert Erskine was 21 when he met his future wife, Susan
Robert Erskine was 21 when he met his future wife, Susan
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Robert Erskine, a wartime despatch rider and joiner, has died in Uphall at the age of 104.

When Robert Erskine met Susan Ralston at a church dance in Bo’ness it marked a defining moment in both their lives, igniting the spark of a ­romance that was to span an ­astonishing 83 years.

It was 1932, Scotland was in the grip of the Great Depression and the era was characterised by mass unemployment, social unrest and the Hunger Marches. But all that was forgotten for a few hours amid the whirl of dancers at Carriden Parish Church – where some were more competent on their feet than others.

They finally married in Carriden Church in 1937 and, since the Second World War, were never separated for more than a day, going on to enjoy Scotland’s most enduring marriage and celebrate their 78th anniversary this year – a uniquely long and happy union that came to a poignant end with the death of Robert this month.

Thought to have been named after the poet Rabbie Burns, on whose birthday he was born in 1911, Robert arrived in the world in the village of Forth, South Lanarkshire, the son of mining engineer William Erskine and his wife Marion.

The couple, who also had two other sons and four daughters, moved to Bo’ness where young Robert, then aged seven, completed his education and on leaving school he became an apprentice joiner and subsequently a skilled cabinetmaker.

He was 21 when he met his future wife at the church dance and they married in 1937, on New Year’s Day, a popular day to tie the knot then as it was the only day everyone was guaranteed to be off work, enabling all their family to attend the wedding.

Their first son, William, was born in January 1939. That autumn the Second World War broke out and Robert served in the Royal Corps of Signals, as a despatch rider in Baghdad and Cairo, delivering vital documents to the front line. His daughter Margaret was born during the war but, like many returning fathers, he was initially a stranger to the little girl.

In the 1950s the couple became parents for a third time when son Bobby was born. They also moved to Edinburgh where Robert worked with Colin McAndrew & Son until he was in his late 60s, ending his career as a manager in a joinery shop. He then took on a job at Dunfermline College in Edinburgh, finally retiring aged 78.

After that he and his wife decided to return to Bo’ness. A keen cricketer, he had played for West Lothian Cricket Club and when he retired from the sport he spent most of his time in his garden, producing gloriously colourful floral displays.

According to Susan, the secret to a long life was plenty of exercise and a diet of porridge, soup, mince and fruit.

Robert, whose funeral service was held in the church where he met and married his wife Susan, now aged 103, is survived by her, their children William, Margaret and Bobby, six grandchildren and seven 
great-grandchildren.