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.
My dad, John Archibald Frew, of Musselburgh, Scotland died thirty years ago this New Year’s Day, just after midnight on January 1st, 1984, shortly after I’d celebrated the bells with him.
Consequently, the festive time of year and particularly when midnight strikes to welcome a new year, is never easy – even after all these years. In those early years afterwards it somewhat haunted me and I would make the journey off to Edinburgh each year and stand outside at the Tron with 30,000 other souls in order not to feel stifled and suffocated at the thought of losing him.
There is never a day that passes when I don’t think of him and all he imparted to his son – the lessons he taught me and wisdom he shared. I can still hear the soft tones of his voice any time I care to listen, in my mind. That last night we were together which was at Hogmanay I kissed him, during the celebrations, the first time since being a little boy. It was uncharacteristic of us and was to be a goodbye kiss. It was almost as though we had known…
John or ‘Jock’ as he was known by friends was the product of a very hard background. Poverty meant that he routinely went without shoes on his feet as a bairn. As infants in Musselburgh he and his brother slept in makeshift beds made from the drawers of an old chest. Subsequently, the wee boys’ mammy, Elizabeth, died when John was just four years old. Those early life experiences toughened him as hard as teak for the trials he would go through in his life. Let it not be ignored though that he could show rare wisdom and at times be a very funny man indeed. People told me he was a most popular and loved man in the town we lived. Wherever he walked, he would speak to all and greet them cheerily as an old friend.
As a youngster he had a roaming spirit and attempted to run away from home on many occasions. Later on, he was to painstakingly save the money on returned ‘jeely jars’ and acquire himself a ramshackle bicycle with which he cycled all the way from Lanarkshire in Scotland to Doncaster in England, a cool 230 miles, before falling off the bike during the monumental journey and sleeping, exhausted, in a deep ditch for the night. A quizzical passing policeman helped him out of there in the morning when he woke.
He actually attended for trials with professional football club, Doncaster Rovers during his brief stay there, being a twinkle-footed footballer but decided against it as ‘there was no money in it’.
John strove for a living in the pits of Scotland as a young boy of just fourteen, working all day long on his hands and knees in eighteen inches of water. He then worked on the Scapa Flow naval base on Orkney with his beloved brother, Alex ‘Sandy’, before travelling the world several times over as a proud Merchant Seaman. The German U-Boats tried their best on those horrific Atlantic runs but couldn’t kill him off in the icy waters of the North Atlantic when he was left clinging on, waiting to be rescued from certain death.
For the year coming, he would have been proud, I know, to think that the country he loved so, his dear, beloved Scotland, could have the opportunity to stand alone and look after itself.
My dad was my rock and his memory remains that to this day. I owe him much.
Fond memories. God bless you, Paw.
John Archibald Frew 1921-1984 ‘Life’s work well done’.