Martin Hannan: Civilians should not be forgotten

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Though I could only view them by television, I thought the ceremonies in Edinburgh at the weekend to mark 70 years of Britain’s VJ Day were appropriate and dignified.

Yet in Edinburgh and at almost every war memorial, these one-off events and the annual commemorations of those who died fighting for their country almost always omit an important segment of the population who sacrificed their commitment, energy and sometimes their lives for the cause.

Which brings me to Catherine McAleaney, or Cassie as she was known to her close-knit family in Dumbarton. She loved to dance and was very pretty, as surviving pictures of her show, and on the evening of March 13, 1941, she had everything to live for at the age of just 22.

She and her boyfriend, Willie Alderdyce, were driving home when air raid warnings sounded. High above them, a German bomb aimer panicked or just got his target plain wrong, because he dropped his parachute mine well away from the Luftwaffe’s designated killing zone of Clydebank.

The wayward bomb fell on the A82 in Dumbarton, and Cassie was killed outright, though Willie survived being blown from the car. Her family were not allowed to view the remains, such as they were, of their beautiful Cassie, who was the first person to die in the Clydebank Blitz, though she is not recorded as a victim of that man-made disaster as she died in another town.

I know about Catherine McAleaney because she was the younger sister of my much-loved grandmother Minnie, and thus my mother’s aunt. She was one of nearly 70,000 British civilians killed by enemy activity during the war, yet their sacrifice is rarely alluded to on Armistice Day.

Though she wasn’t quite five when the war blighted all her family’s lives, my mother distinctly recalls Aunt Cassie teaching her to dance the Lambeth Walk, and I know my grandmother grieved deeply for her sister until her own death 44 years later. Such was the lot of civilian families during the war – accept death and destruction, never complain, and keep going.

Cassie and many millions worldwide died as innocent civilians caught up in a global conflict. Yet I have always felt we never stop and thank the ordinary people who gave their lives that we might live in freedom.

I have long since despaired of persuading the military-minded powers in this country that there should be equally important commemorations of civilian sacrifice, so this year I am going to carry out my own small ceremony. On September 23, feast day of Iona’s abbot Saint Adomnan (Eunan), I will go to my local war memorial and lay a single flower – a white rose – in memory of my mum’s aunt that I never knew, yet feel I have known all my life.

Why St Adomnan’s Day? Because that great Celtic monk penned the first and greatest of all international laws – the Law of Innocents. It was the first internationally agreed treaty that gave rights to non-combatants in war, specifically women, children and clergy.

We should make St Adomnan’s Day the date on which we remember all the Innocents like Cassie McAleaney, and say on that day to all the surviving civilians from wartime just two words: thank you.

Irked Davidson avoids the issue

Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson was aggrieved at my suggestion that her decision to seek a seat in the Lothians rather than her current Glasgow billet is a piece of carpetbagging.

She protests she is an Edinburgh girl but, in typical politician style, Davidson avoided the main issue.

In 2011, it was ‘arranged’ for her to replace Malcolm Macaskill at the top of the Tories’ Glasgow list, thus ensuring her election to Holyrood. The only difference is we don’t know the name of the hard-working Tory who will now lose out on a guaranteed seat in the parliament.

Perhaps Davidson could enlighten us as to the names of the persons whose political careers she is shafting to save herself?

A wee Mone about Michelle’s role

Michelle Mone’s impending elevation to the job of new business tsarina was something dreamed up in London by Cameron, Osborne, Duncan Smith and co.

As was revealed at the weekend, the Scottish Conservatives were not even consulted about an appointment which owes much to the tabloid press’s fascination with her looks – do you seriously think that if Mone was frumpy with mousey-brown hair that she would get anything like the coverage she does?

That’s no insult to Mone. She is not responsible for the way the press portray her, but does Ruth Davidson endorse the forthcoming appointment?

I think we should be told.


Some people think I’ve been too hard in criticising the designs for the new hotels at the St James Centre and Royal High. Sorry, I just don’t think they are good enough for their locations.

Happy will be sadly missed

I WAS saddened to hear of the death of Alex “Happy” Howden, a fine comedian and a surprisingly good actor.

Happy always had a twinkle in his eye and a ready joke. The former bus driver used to say that he had given up that job because “I can’t stand people talking behind my back”. A one-off who will be missed.