Saturday, 1 January 2011

Hamilton war veteran to receive an MBE

Article by Gillian Provan from the STV News website. I've seen Ian at a number of remembrance services. My congratulations to him.

A Hamilton war veteran joins an elite group of Scots by featuring in the New Year’s Honour List.

Ian Forsyth, the president of the Hamilton branch of the Royal British Legion Scotland will receive a MBE from the Queen for his voluntary services to the charity.

Ian appears on the list alongside high profile Scots such as Annie Lennox and MP Anne Begg.

The 86-year-old, who is also convener of the Hamilton area branch of Poppy Scotland has spent years raising money for ex-servicemen and women after fighting for his country in the Second World War.

Ian said: "I never dreamed that I would be recognised in this way.

"It was a surprise and an honour when the letter came through the post and very difficult not to tell my friends and family.

"The letter said the ceremony could be held in Edinburgh or London. I’m hoping for my family’s sake that it will be in London so they can come.

"It would mean I can stay with my daughter in Reading!"

Wartime experiences

The grandfather-of-five joined the army when he was 17 and trained as a wireless operator with the 19th Hussars.

Ian was on board a Churchill tank and on reconnaissance with the 11th Armoured Division that landed in Normandy, fighting in France, Belgium and the Netherlands before going over the Rhine into Germany.

Three of Ian’s tanks were destroyed and he was lucky to escape with his life.

The most poignant of his war memories was his near death experience on board a tank beside the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp which housed around 60,000 people in 1945.

Ian revisited the former death camp, on the 65th anniversary of its liberation last year.

He said: “In war you witness first-hand the depths to which humanity can sink. I was thunderstruck by what I saw – it was the first time that I realised exactly why we were fighting the war.

"The sights that I saw still make me weep.

"To go back was very emotional - it was not the first time I’ve been back - but it was a very special event.

"It was extraordinary to go there and see men with their grandchildren - I can never really explain my feelings.”

Post war

After the war Ian went on to spend three years with the army in Palestine.

He explained: “It was completely different from the war time experience. It was a wonderful place, even though there were the same risks.

“We were supposed to keep law and order as the country was split between the Arabs and Isralis. I can understand the feelings of the Israelis they were dreaming of a better life away from the starvation and deprivation and there was this frustration and anger.”

Teaching life

In the 1950s following his spell with the army, Ian returned to his home town of Hamilton and began a new life as a teacher at Rutherglen Academy.

The father-of-two - who specialised in engineering and technology - also taught at Lanark Academy and latterly in Larkhall Academy.

These days Ian is kept busy with the Royal British Legion in Scotland, Hamilton branch.

The association organise a memorial service every year and look after the memorial garden.

Ian said: “I’ve been involved with the Royal British Legion from birth.

“My father, grandfather and uncle were founding members and I travelled around the country with them when I was a boy.

“Our work goes on all year and we have collections in Hamilton, East Kilbride and Motherwell to send to charities like the Gurkha Welfare Trust.

“We’re always looking for new members.”

The association meet at Greenfields Social Club every Wednesday of the month from 7pm.

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