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My father, the hero I never really knew

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BerichtGeplaatst: 12 Nov 2006 16:12    Onderwerp: My father, the hero I never really knew Reageer met quote

My father, the hero I never really knew

IT was only after he died that I came across my father's Military Medal. I was helping to clear out his belongings from my parents' home in Spottiswoode Road when I found it in a little box in his bedside drawer; a small metal disc inscribed with the words "For bravery in the field".

I knew that my father, Robert Birnie Grubb, fought in the First World War. I knew he had lost a leg. And I remember as child half-listening as he reminisced with my Uncle Patrick, who had served in the Black Watch.

When he died in 1957 on the brink of retirement, I was just 21. I wish now he had sat me down and told me what he had been through when he was 17 or 18, but was I still young then and probably wouldn't have been interested. Though I was amazed to find the medal, it would be several more years before I began to really investigate my father's history, meaning I lost the chance to ask my mother and my uncle about him.

I went on to find a letter inviting him to the City Chambers for the award of his medal by the Lord Provost, a photo from the Daily Sketch and a report on the ceremony. Other photos show him as a youngster at the Royal High School, and later in the uniform of the Royal Scots.

Later, I found some pictures taken when he was in hospital at Stoke on Trent, recovering from his amputation. He had gone through a lot by the time he was 20. I used to come home and tell him stories of what I'd been through during my National Service days in the Army. He would just sit there and listen, and never mention the trenches.

In the years since his death, I've been able to piece together some of his history.

Born in 1898, he was only 16 when the war started. He enlisted in the Royal Scots on September 7, 1914. After basic training, he joined the 2/5 (Queen's Edinburgh Rifles Battalion) Royal Scots, which was a territorial force.

Appointed Regimental Postman on May 24, 1915, his regiment later went to Ireland. He also completed a course at the Ingatestone Bombing School. His course notebook makes fascinating reading, and describes the weapons used in the trenches, the supply lines, the position for a sniper, and how to build barricades. I was proud to find his second lieutenant's remarks of "Notes very good".

Thanks to the curator of the Royal Scots Regimental Museum, I have also been able to fill in some of the gaps in his military career.

He fought in the last stages of the battle of the Somme, then was on operations on the Flanders Coast. And he fought in the battles of Arras, Ypres and Cambrai. He was serving with the 9th (Highlanders Battalion) in the latter part of 1917 when he was awarded his Military Medal for an act of "Gallantry on Active Service". Although the date was December 17, I have been unable to discover what that act was, and whether it is how he lost his leg.

I wish I'd listened more attentively as a child to his stories told to others - but never to me. The one story I remember, with some slight shame, was him relating to my uncle the time he was in a wood and observing the German lines. He saw the machine gun crew come forward and set up the gun. He seemed to know he was in danger and unable to escape.

"Why didn't you run, dad?" I asked. He looked at me, but did not answer. Could it be that attempting to escape led to the loss of his limb? I imagine him in No Man's Land, lying wounded, unable to move, but I'll never know.

There are photographs of him in a wheelchair in a military hospital near Stoke-on-Trent, and later in huts at Harthill. He was only 19, and was no doubt fitted with an artificial limb by the time he appeared at the City Chambers to be given his Medal by Lord Provost Sir J Lorne McLeod on March 14, 1919, who called him a "Prop of the Country".

As a local councillor, I often think about him receiving that medal. Was there a reception? What was said? Did he enjoy the event, or was he just there because it was the military thing to do?

I do know that my dad was different because of his one leg.

My aunt, his sister, told me about an incident on a tram in Edinburgh in 1918, towards the end of the war, when he was offered a white feather - a symbol of cowardice, given to men assumed not to have served with the colours. He had said nothing, but got up and moved to the door, still walking awkwardly with his new leg.

He was a member of Portsburgh Cricket Club, and after the war acted as a scorer. He was a good shot, and a member of a rifle club. And he played bowls.

He was always supportive of his sons' sporting activities. My brother, Douglas, played for Heriot's FP and dad supported their home games at Goldenacre. My brother and I were both athletes, and managed to win Scottish School and Scottish Junior championships in the mile and half mile. Dad was always there to encourage us. I suspect he was living out some of his own hopes and aspirations through us.

He went into the Civil Service after a brief career with an insurance company in Edinburgh. He was being groomed to take over as company secretary, but the Clerical Workers of Edinburgh went on strike when a pay cut was enforced. My dad was quite well-known, with having been in the Royal Scots, and I suppose his Military Medal also helped, so he was elected secretary of the striking workers.

After the settlement, the managing director told him he would never get promotion there because of the action he had taken. It was the end of his insurance career - a great welcome home for a local hero! He spent the rest of his working life in the Civil Service, and seemed to enjoy it.

His death was sudden: a massive heart attack, perhaps caused by his smoking, combined with his years as an amputee, struggling in his daily life to walk along the road to get his tram down to Register House and then walk up Waterloo Place to the Inland Revenue office. Sometimes I was asked to go with him during the winter months when the roads were icy or snow had fallen. I gave him a shoulder to balance on. Sometimes he fell, but he always managed to get up with help, and a smile of thank you. In those moments, looking back, I often wondered what was going on in his mind.

There are so many questions I should like to be able to ask him. Above all, though, is what did he do to receive that medal? I'm unlikely to ever find out now. Anyone who could tell me is dead and there was no citation, which wasn't unusual then.

After his death I returned his artificial limb and the spare one to the Ministry of Pensions. A clerk nodded to me and told me to just put them in a corner. I hope the departments are a bit more sensitive nowadays, and that the wounded servicemen in all the conflicts that are going on are treated with dignity and thanks for what they have done in our government's name.

There seems a huge imbalance in politicians sending young men off to fight and speaking words of service, courage, peace, a deserving cause, but neglecting those same heroes who have to struggle on for the rest of their lives after.

My father didn't do Remembrance Day Services - perhaps his time in the trenches and his amputated limb made every day a remembrance day. But on this, as every Remembrance Sunday, I shall remember my dad with huge pride and thanksgiving.

ē George Grubb is the Lib Dem councillor on Edinburgh City Council for Queensferry
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