Ex-KOSBs’ 90th birthday rendezvous

L-r, Bill Watson, George Coltman and Peter Keddie at Quinns Restaurant for their reunion.
L-r, Bill Watson, George Coltman and Peter Keddie at Quinns Restaurant for their reunion.

three local KOSB veterans of the Second World War celebrated their 90th birthdays in Galashiels last week.

And Lieutenant-General John Cooper, the last colonel of the KOSB before amalgamation, joined the men for the dinner at Quins, organised by the honorary treasurer of 6th Border Battalion KOSB Reunion Club, Michael Hall.

Veteran George Coltman said: “It was an excellent evening. The highlight was that the company was so good. Lt-Gen Cooper is a great lad.

“We were delighted Michael organised it – he did it off his own bat.”

Mr Coltman, William Watson and Peter Keddie of the 6th Border Bn KOSB will all be 90 this year.

Mr Hall said: “I felt that shouldn’t go unmarked – and if you need an excuse to enjoy yourselves, you couldn’t get a better one.”

The wartime battalion of the 6th KOSB was raised in 1939 and disbanded at the end of the war.

The three joined up within weeks of each other in April 1939: Mr Coltman said: “Everybody knew that war was inevitable, despite the fact that it didn’t happen until September, everybody just knew. There was a call to arms and the young men of the Borders responded with a rush to the recruiting headquarters of the KOSB territorial army.”

The younger men formed the 6th battalion and after “a few months of hard drilling” the recruits moved to the south of England

“We were used in aerodrome defence close to the eastern suburbs of London where we were caught up in the horrors of the London blitz, ” Mr Coltman remembers.

It was then the battalion suffered their first casualties: “A Luftwaffe bomb destroyed the billets of A company in Epping Forest, killing over 30 of our soldiers.”

The battalion left for Normandy in June 1944, part of the 15th Scottish Division.

“The division fought with distinction throughout the entire campaign in Normandy and made the initial crossing of the river Seine which allowed the armoured divisions to advance across northern France,” commented Mr Coltman in a written account.

The men encountered “fierce resistance” on the Belgian-Dutch frontier when there were many casualties but they pushed on and liberated several towns around Eindhoven. The division continued to advance against fierce opposition, liberating, among others, the town of Blerick, to the river Maas where they spend Christmas and the New Year.

“Then it was a move to the city of Nijmegan where a massive attack was launched through the Siegfried Line towards the German towns of Cleeves and Goch and this cleared access to the Rhine.”

The division pressed on across the Elbe and north, bypassing Hamburg, to Lubeck on the Baltic Sea.

“The Germans finally surrendered and our journey from Normandy to the Baltic was completed. The 6th KOSB had casualties in excess of 1,400,” wrote Mr Coltman.

Last Tuesday evening Lt-Gen Cooper proposed a toast to the three men and presented them with cards and gifts: “The veterans really enjoyed his being there,” said Mr Hall.

Piper George Wood, whose father was killed at Normandy before he was born, played the KOSB Regimental March Blue Bonnets and Happy Birthday. Grace earlier was given by John Aitkin from Hawick.

Mr Hall said: “The evening went extremely well. Everybody thoroughly enjoyed themselves. I didn’t want to put any stress on any of the veterans: I think they were able to sit back and enjoy themselves, that was good, that was what I wanted.”

The 24 diners included fellow veterans Jack Webster, 91 from Galashiels and 87-year-old Rob Cranston, 87, from Hawick and others, widows and wives of those in 6th Border Battalion KOSB and past regimental secretary Colin Hogg and his wife Cynthia.

And for the veterans this was a welcome extra chance to meet up and remember as they have an annual gathering of their Normandy to the Baltic Club.