A somewhat sobering moment for me. Watching Songs of Praise on Remembrance Day evening as it shows Highland soldiers in their kilts running into battle on a World War One battlefield. This was followed by footage of the barbaric and frightening conditions experienced by the Merchant Navy personnel on an Atlantic convoy.
Then you remember that this was your grandfather and your father…
Those handsome and proud Musselburgh men:
Henry Frew of the Gordon Highlanders
John Archibald Frew of the Merchant Navy
This evening I salute you both and each and every one of your brave comrades.
ON THIS DAY that we remember and hopefully learn from the declaration of World War One, exactly one hundred years ago today, my thoughts go to my grandfather, Henry (Harry) Frew of Musselburgh, East Lothian, Scotland. Grandad was a Gordon Highlander who served on the Western Front in ‘The war to end war’ – that most honourable and decorated of Highland regiments with their proud motto emblazoned on the Gordon badge, ‘Bydand’, which means ‘Bide and Fecht’ in Scots – literally ‘Stand and Fight’.
In truth, it’s so very little of my father’s father I know and my memories of him are scant as he died when I was a young boy but those memories that have survived are incredibly vivid. A big man, one of the first images that set in my mind of him are when at his home one day he took out his old Gordon army kilt and showed me how he got into it in the old days. Laying down on the floor on what seemed to my young eyes like yards and yards of thick green plaid material, he belted it up and draped it over him just like he would have done in those former days.
It was an impressive sight indeed and one I have never forgotten.
Life was by no means easy for young Harry. His lost his wife Elizabeth ‘Bessie’ Archibald who worked as Head Seamstress at the impressive and iconic North British Hotel on Princes Street in Edinburgh when they had a young family of two boys aged just four and six years old. Those young laddies were my dad, John and his older brother, Alexander ‘Sandy’. Eventually, Harry remarried and had no less than eight more additions to the family – all boys excepting one girl. The family spent some time near Bellshill in Lanarkshire with Harry, I understand, going about his old business as a coal miner.
Harry was an expert ballroom dancer and would give dancing tuition. My mother would often tell of the times he would take her to Barrowlands in Glasgow for the dancing.
In later life, to keep him our of mischief, he took a part-time job at the local cemetery near Bellshill. A man of very dry wit, I came across a beautifully hand-written letter to my mum and dad in England in later years. Asked how ‘business’ was at the cemetery he comically replied, ‘it’s alright son but we’d be a lot busier if they weren’t burning so many up the road at the crematorium’!
Living in Lanarkshire he didn’t get the opportunity so often to see his beloved Hibs and adopted nearby Motherwell FC as his ‘second team’. I guess for that reason I still don’t mind seeing the ‘Well experiencing a bit of success.
The word ‘Bydand’ is inextricably linked with his old regiment, the Gordon Highlanders, the regiment for whom he was highly decorated for bravery though you wouldn’t know it because he would never mention it, being a modest man. It holds great meaning for me as I see it as an honest approach to life itself – to stand and fight. We all of us have experienced our difficult and trying times – heaven knows I could write a small handbook on that of late – and the mark of us is what we do during those times and how we react. When the world and its workings appear against you, you must ‘stand and fight’ – face your problems with bravery, courage and honesty. Always stand and fight – never give in – face up and never run. Just like those Gordons.
That’s why my granpaw Harry, the motto ‘Bydand’ and the Gordon Highlanders mean so much to me.
In Loving Memory of Henry (Harry) Frew and his brave comrades. Lest we Forget.