Remembering the fallen: The lost life of Jock Hunter from Hawick, a man I never knew, still saddens me – Christine Grahame

Although I was born towards the end of the Second World War, I recall my dad’s stories about his exploits during his war-time service with Jock Hunter from Hawick.

Christie Grahame, left, with his friend Jock Hunter who was shot dead while parachuting into Arnhem during the Second World War
Christie Grahame, left, with his friend Jock Hunter who was shot dead while parachuting into Arnhem during the Second World War

They turned up at Leith recruiting office to join the King’s Own Scottish Borderers to find it wasn’t even open. There were exploits which explained his boomeranging rank from Private Grahame to Corporal and back. I think whisky was involved.

Dad’s narrow (triple A) and dainty feet, which incidentally I inherited, probably saved his life. Those boots were not meant for walking, not with those feet, so, medically unfit to be parachuted into Arnhem, he was stationed on Shetland, where he claimed it was so windy the sheep were tethered to the ground to stop them blowing away, along with the men posted there at times.

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Yes, he could tell tales and for a while we children believed them, but Jock had no tales for incredulous children. At Arnhem, he was shot dead before his parachute hit the ground. Such is the randomness of war.

Years later, I took dad on a wee jaunt to Burnmouth where he’d been posted with machine gun, later claiming to have to stopped “Gerry” invading Scotland, and then Hawick. There, as in so many places, is a memorial to the fallen, and in Hawick dad found Jock’s name was missing.

Another twist of fate, and there appeared a man who turned out to be a park trustee. After a quick chat with dad, Jock Hunter’s name is now there. But when I think of the life Jock never had, a young man grinning side by side with dad in their tartan trews and jaunty Glengarry, a man I never knew, it still saddens me.

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He came alive in dad’s undoubtedly exaggerated war stories, but had no life after Arnhem. He did not meet, marry, have almost 60 years with a loving partner, five children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren. Jock is one of the thousands upon thousands, some whose names we’ll never know: the dead with no inscription, and the damaged, those in uniform and those civilians caught up in war.

Over my lifetime and today, wars have raged throughout this tiny vulnerable planet. In Europe, we’ve watched the illegal annexation by Russia of Crimea, then Donetsk and Luhansk, and the bombing of Ukrainian cities.

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The bravery and commitment of the Ukrainian people, in and out of uniform, is daunting. It will end, as all wars generally do, but not ’til after the brutalities, the war crimes, the deaths, the scarring of the land and of people physically, mentally, and emotionally.

I wear both red and white poppies. The red is remembrance, white is for peace; because when politicians fail, when despots and dictators rule the airwaves, it is the armed services, not politicians, whose lives are on the front line.

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Within those Russian conscripts are young men who do not wish to spend their youth, their bullets and bombs in Ukraine. There are the brave Russian people who speak out at risk to their own lives and we must pay tribute to and remember them as we also pay tribute to and remember the fallen and the damaged of all wars. Lest we forget.

Christine Grahame is SNP MSP for Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale