After scandal of Edinburgh's burning benches, family of Scotland's soldier golfer welcomes new memorial

The family of a Black Watch soldier and national golf hero who was commemorated with a bench in Princes Street Gardens were horrified when they read the Evening News' revelations last year about the burning of 70 benches by council workers.

Thursday, 9th September 2021, 4:55 am

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But now they say they are delighted that, 18 months on, a new replacement bench dedicated to Lt Frederick Guthrie Tait has been put back in the gardens complete with replica plaque.

Lt Tait died in 1900, at the age of just 30, fighting in the Boer War but he had already made his name as a top amateur golfer.

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The bench dedicated to Lt Frederick Guthrie Tait Freddie's has been replaced

Sue Rutherford, 82, never knew her great uncle but is nevertheless proud of his story and remembers when her aunt – Lt Tait's niece – decided to donate a memorial bench to mark the 100th anniversary of his birth in 1870.

"She arranged it with the city council and the seat was acquired through them. I happened to come across the actual receipt just in the past few months amongst family junk.

"The seat was in Princes St Gardens adjacent to the St John’s Church graveyard where his parents are buried. And also, coincidentally, it was overlooked by the officers' quarters at Edinburgh Castle, where at one time I believe he was based."

However when Ms Rutherford was in the gardens one day she was unable to find the bench. Then she saw the Evening News story about the benches being burned at the Inch depot.

The new replacement bench in West Princes Street Gardens

Photos passed to the Evening News showed council workers setting fire to damaged benches intended to commemorate lost loved-ones. Council whistleblowers told the paper they had been removed from West Princes Street Gardens – some of the benches memorialising Victoria Cross holders – and were stored at the depot for more than a year before managers told staff to put them on a bonfire to save money from their budgets.

Ms Rutherford suspected Uncle Freddie's bench could have been one of those which went up in flames.

She said: "Burning benches is pretty insignificant in the big scheme of things with what is happening in the world today. But it is a matter of principle. The fact of the matter is that people donated these benches from the goodness of their hearts for the benefit of the citizens of Edinburgh."

She made inquiries with the council but they were unable to confirm whether or not Uncle Freddie's bench was among those burned.

Freddie Tait with the amateur championship trophy he won at Hoylake in 1898

"They didn't have a record of it being decommissioned and they hadn't removed the plaque.

"They did their best to find out what had happened and they couldn't trace it, but then they said they would put in a replacement bench with a replica of the plaque.

"We're delighted they saw fit to replace it."

The plaque reads: "In memory of Lt F. G.Tait , the Black Watch - Scotland’s Soldier Golfer. 1870 - 1900."

Freddie Tait attempting to play out of a water bunker during the 1899 Open at Prestwick Photograph: Allsport Hulton/Archive

Golf champion’s name lives on

Freddie Tait was killed in early 1900, leading the Highland Brigade in a charge at Koodoosberg Drift during the Boer War in South Africa.

Born in Dalkeith, he was the third son of a professor at Edinburgh University.

He was educated at Edinburgh Academy, Sedbergh School in Cumbria, Edinburgh University and Sandhurst from where he was commissioned into the Leinster Regiment and posted to the Black Watch.

He spent many childhood holidays at St Andrews where he developed a love for the Old Course.

He was one of the best amateur golfers of the 1890s, finishing as British amateur champion in 1896 and 1898 and losing in the final in 1899.

The bench has a replica of the original plaque

He finished third in the Open championships of 1896 and 1897 and had several other top 10 finishes in Opens between 1891 and 1899.

He was also an expert rifle shot, and a first-class rugby player and cricketer.

And his name lives on in golfing titles in Scotland and South Africa.

Golf clubs in St. Andrews play each year for the F G Tait Memorial Medal.

And 6,000 miles away, the Freddie Tait Cup is awarded annually by the South African Golf Union to the leading amateur.

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