Born in Edinburgh in 1918, Gordon spent most of his working life in the family business as manager of the Greyfriars Bookshop in Candlemaker Row. Late in his 80s, eyesight deteriorating and his mobility failing, he was still first ‘on duty’ on the morning of ‘Let it Blaw’ decorating the room for the evening’s festivities…..
Honorary Member of ‘Let it Blaw’
Born 23rd June 1918 in Edinburgh
Died 13th March 2006 in Edinburgh, aged 87
Honorary Vice President
Recited the Address “To a Haggis” 1985, 1995
Proposer of the Toast “The Lasses” 1986
Proposer of the Toast “The Immortal Memory of Robert Burns” 1987
Proposer of the Toast ” New Members & Guests” 1991
Recited “Tam o’ Shanter” 1994, 2004
Gordon became a Member of ‘Let it Blaw’ in 1983 when he retired from Colinton to Balerno. He had been educated at George Watson’s Boys College where (by his own admission) he distinguished himself more on the sports field than in the classroom. From school, he began studying lithography and photography at Edinburgh College of Art, but war came along and, at the age of 21, Gordon joined the Royal Engineers.
As was typical of this unassuming man, he didn’t seek a commission preferring to “stay with the lads”. After basic training at Aldershot, he was posted to north-east France with the British Expeditionary Force and, eventually, found himself at Dunkirk. There the hospital ship St Andrew was torpedoed and set alight. With little thought for himself, Gordon entered the blazing ship and rescued nine men. The flames beat him when he went back for the tenth. Rather than board a ship, he helped the wounded back to Dunkirk, taking refuge in a convent. Three days after the official relief was over, he and a bombardier made it home. For his actions he was awarded the Military Medal. He was commissioned in 1941 where his main work was training others at Hull, Aldershot and Ripon, then reconstruction work following Rome’s liberation, then on to Greece after which he was demobbed in 1946 with the rank of Major.
During a training period in Northumberland, Gordon met a land army girl, Wyn Rawlings, whom he married in 1943. They were a devoted couple and went on to have three children, Carol, Pat and John. Settling back in the Grange, Gordon took up employment with Bruce Peebles. In 1952, he joined the family business ‘John Grant, Booksellers’, initially at the main shop on George IV Bridge and, latterly, running the Greyfriars Bookshop which was precariously located at the point where George IV Bridge meets Candlemaker’s Row. just beside Greyfriars Bobby’s statue.
- Greyfriars Bookshop
There, he immersed himself in the book trade until retirement. He met people from all walks of life, including Walt Disney, and took much delight in sharing his passion for the written word and Scotsman crosswords.
At this time, Gordon renewed his interest in golf. He was a perfectionist in everything he did, not least sport and read copiously on the subject. He later became a captain at Baberton Golf Club and wrote its centenary history. Another passion was Freemasonry. He joined the Watsonian Lodge (1375) becoming Master in 1966. He worked tirelessly behind the scenes, not only for 1375 but also for Grand Lodge charities. For his outstanding services, he was awarded the rank of Honorary Grand Bible Bearer.
It followed, that being in the book trade and participating in Freemasonry, Gordon became a Burns Scholar. Gordon liked nothing more than arranging and participating in countless Burns Suppers. Again, perfection was the word and his words, “Right! Let’s get organised” will long be remembered.
After Wyn’s death in 1985, Gordon moved from Colinton to Balerno which he adopted as his home ground, showing a keen interest in the neighbourhood, local characters, the Currie Riding of the Marches, and researching local history
Within ‘Let it Blaw’, Gordon will be remembered as one of those individuals who would always step forward when something was needing done. Records show that he served as Club Secretary for seven years, but the mass of work done behind the scenes promoting the School’s Competitions in Balerno, in the Edinburgh area, and also nationally, combined with other services within Burns Federation circles, is often overlooked when his contribution is considered.
On the morning of our annual Suppers, Gordon would always be at the venue helping to decorate the hall whether he was on the Committee or not; he generated an air of anticipation on those morning sessions. His renditions of ‘John Barleycorn‘ at our annual Suppers were legendary, normally accompanied by several drams and everyone leaping to their feet in Toast every time ‘John Barleycorn’ was mentioned.
- On this occasion, one of the Drams seems to have gone all over the place …. not an unusual occurence !
Unfortunately, not every occasion on which Gordon gave us ‘John Barleycorn’ are recorded in the Supper Records, as they were often additional items, at the request of the Chairmen or Croupiers, late on the evenings when recording such goings-on becomes a challenge. His renditions of ‘Tam o’ Shanter‘ and ‘Willie Wastle‘ are also remembered, and I recall the occasion he ‘Addressed the Haggis‘ using a highly polished and ornate silver sword to do the carving. At one point he brandished the sword so recklessly to one side that those sitting close by swore it cleared poor Willie Shanks’ head by the merest couple of inches.
Gordon held the position of Honorary Vice President of ‘Let it Blaw’ for 11 years until his death, at home in Balerno, in 2006. It was a great credit to someone in their 88th year, that over a hundred people attend the funeral; organised, of course, by Gordon himself. He requested a special rendition of ‘The Battle Hymn of the Republic’ at his funeral but the recording didn’t arrive in time so, in addition to one or two well-known Burns’ tunes, a 1920s jazz selection was played instead and, with everyone’s toes tapping in time, Gordon said his goodbyes.