There Was a Soldier, a Scottish Soldier

Happy days — these three fine-looking boys are (from left) Hamish, David and John Symon.

Happy days — these three fine-looking boys are (from left) Hamish, David and John Symon.

My brother John was 22 at the time of his death, when he was a Lieutenant in the Royal Engineers.

As a boy he often got into mischief. I remember once when he dammed the Derrybucht stream, causing the water to be diverted and flooding the neighbourhood. For this early feat of engineering he was chased all the way up Stephen Brae by a policeman, but John was a fast runner and was nowhere to be seen when the Law appeared at the top of
the hill.

Life was very happy in pre-war Inverness, but we moved to Edinburgh in 1934 and this meant big changes for us and our young brother. Now, instead of walking to school, we had to take a four-mile tram ride. To save money on tram fares we would cycle, and I can still see John going ‘hell for leather’ past me down the Mound to beat the bell.

We put on kilts and uniform every Friday and paraded after school. John soon excelled at anything to do with the
Officers’ Training Corps and was promoted to Sergeant-Major,

The last holiday when we were all together was during the late summer of 1939 at Crail, on the east coast of Fife not far from St. Andrews. We three boys spent the time golfing with friends. We were 17, 16 and 14 then. Little did we realise what lay ahead, for before long we would all be in uniform.

One of our golfing friends went on to become an air gunner on Lancasters, and was shot down and killed in 1943. His brother was wounded in combat in Italy and subsequently lost a leg.

Lieutenant John Parker Symon, 1921-1944.

Lieutenant John Parker Symon, 1921-1944.

I’m glad we all had happy memories of that holiday in the dark days of war which were to follow.

I don’t remember much about John’s Army training, except that on one exercise he walked steadily for two days and two nights to get back to base from the Welsh hills.

I joined the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve and was waiting to go to Canada for flying training. I spent part of my leave with John, who was stationed near Girvan, in Scotland.

That was to be the last time I saw him. He wrote to me once I’d sailed to Canada to say that I would have a friendlier welcome when I stepped ashore than he was going to get across the Channel. He knew the Allied Forces would face stiff opposition.

I was in class when a telegram from my parents was handed to me, saying that John had been killed during the D-Day invasion.

They bore the news bravely, and when John’s effects were sent on to them, my mother took his list of his men’s wives who were now widows, and was able to contact and help those who fared badly after the war.

There was also a copy of the poem given to every man taking part in the invasion on D-Day, from General Montgomery, written by the Marquis of Montrose (1613-1650).

He either fears his fate too much,

Or his deserts are small,

That puts it not unto the touch,

To win or lose it all.

I look at the old photograph of John, and in it he is young and full of life, and that is how I remember him still. Now I am in my seventies, but he is still 22.

H.L. Symon