12 May 2005

S2M-2794 Scotland's Veterans

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 12 May 2005

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:15]

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Scotland's Veterans

The Presiding Officer (Mr George Reid): The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-2794, in the name of Malcolm Chisholm, on commemorating Scotland's veterans.


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Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): Much of war is about very hard choices and the agony of making them. On Saturday, I was at the RAF Banff memorial at Boyndie, with Polish, Canadian and our own air services personnel to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the final mission flown from RAF Banff. With the wee cup of tea and other stimulants that we had afterwards I heard a poignant tale, which I had not heard before, about the death of a young boy when Fraserburgh, in my constituency, was bombed. It turns out that he was almost a victim of friendly fire. A Norwegian, under the influence of the Nazis occupying his country, was sent to Scotland by submarine and landed near Fraserburgh as an enemy agent. Immediately upon landing he contacted the British authorities and offered to work for them. He remained in place as an agent for the Germans, but worked on our behalf for a number of years. The Germans had to deliver to him a new radio and supplies, for which the bombing of Fraserburgh was a cover. Of course, the agony for those who were making decisions on our side of the war was that they knew that the bombing would happen, but did not dare do anything to defend Fraserburgh, because it would compromise the contribution that that brave Norwegian, working as a double agent, was making to the war effort. A young boy—the only casualty of the bombing of Fraserburgh—was the price that was paid. That was the kind of hard choice that I hope we rarely, if ever, have to make again.

Helen Eadie mentioned visiting a war grave in Thailand. I commend the work of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and point to its website, which has photographs and lists of casualties from around the world. I know of many families who have used that resource to see where their loved ones have ended up with their memorial and where they fell. Many of the graves are beyond the realistic reach of relatives and friends who might want to travel to see them.

I was in Burma in 1978, which was in chaos at the time. Every street corner in Rangoon had an armed submachine-gun post. One hotel operated next to the presidential palace around which was a ring of tanks facing outwards. I was inside the ring, protected along with the president for the two days that I was there. The one place that worked north of Rangoon was the Commonwealth war graves. All the grass was cut to exactly the same height—12mm—the book of remembrance was in pristine condition and the graves were kept in apple-pie order. Nothing else in that country worked, but our servicemen and women were honoured.

Many of our civilians have contributed to the war effort. My aunt Daisy was a canary; she worked in a munitions factory and lost the middle finger of her left hand. She carried, in a relatively minor way by comparison with other sacrifice, the memory of her contribution. Many others did likewise and many paid a much higher price. My great, great, great grandfather served in the navy. He was on HMS Medway from 1780 to 1782—I have his certificate of discharge. We will all find papers about our family military history.

Herman Himmler died on 15 October 1946 at his own hand, two hours after I was born—he obviously knew what was coming and took the easy way out before I, and others, got to him.

In Moscow in 1972 I met a thrice decorated hero of the Soviet Union who was a KGB general and, interestingly, a Jew. We had little in common in language, but what the interpreter was able to tell me about his experience at the battle of Stalingrad was deeply moving. Around the world, people have made sacrifices.

Barra is one of my favourite parts of Scotland. It is where we have probably the most modern of our war memorials. It stands on the hill above Castlebay, to the west of the town. The memorial is a triangular obelisk and 132 names—from an island with a population of 1,200 people—are engraved on its granite. There is a cemetery down the hill on the west coast in which German sailors rest. They were the losers, were on the wrong side and were conscripted by fascists and therefore are not remembered as our people are.

Our remembrance nowadays is primarily an emotional matter—we want to register our debt of gratitude to our veterans. The issue is not administrative, but administratively we must ensure that we can support the march and celebration in Edinburgh, for example. There must be no constraints in respect of police power and resources to make that march and celebration a success.

There are 3,500 people in Scots regiments today. Some 57,000 died in the war. We are but grains of sand on the beach beaten by the ocean waves of war. Without the grains of sand there would be no beach and without the beach, there would be no land. Without the land, we would be overwhelmed and we would have nowhere to live. Our duty now is to win the peace for all those who gave us a peace to win.


Stewart Stevenson
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