Patriot mechanic who sheltered Hungarian refugees dies aged 90

Hungarian Steven Brandon- Earlston
Hungarian Steven Brandon- Earlston

his FAMILY and many friends were joined by members of Scotland’s Hungarian community for the funeral on Friday of Steven Brandon who died in the Borders General Hospital on December 28 after a long illness. He was 90.

Mr Brandon, who lived latterly in Earlston, almost single-handedly made the Borders a special place of pilgrimage for his compatriots living in, and visiting, the UK.

For although immensely grateful to his adopted country of Scotland – he came to live and work in Selkirk in 1948 – he remained a proud Hungarian, the national flags which flew outside his house bearing testimony to his undying patriotism.

The son of a peasant farmer, Steven Brandon was born on November 8, 1920, in Komadi on Hungary’s Great Plain. He helped out on the farm as a child and after leaving school had several jobs before realising his ambition of enlisting in 1943 as a trainee policeman in the Hungarian gendermarie – known as the Csendorseg – going on to attain the rank of sergeant.

The police were drafted in to support the occupying German army with Mr Brandon’s skills as a driver and mechanic used to service vehicles behind several fronts, including that of Russia.

At the end of the war, the newly-formed Hungarian communist government decreed the break-up of the Csendorseg and declared all its members, past and present, war criminals. Mr Brandon fled his homeland in 1945 for Austria where he was offered food, shelter and a job at a smallholding near Litz.

In 1947, he answered the call of Clement Atlee’s Ministry of Labour to help Britain’s rebuilding effort, arriving as a displaced person and settling in the Selkirk area the following year.

He met and married local girl Mary Ferguson and the couple bought a house at Lindean.

Mr Brandon worked as a mechanic in Gibson & Lumgair’s woollen mill in Selkirk, supplementing the family income by working on local farms and knitting socks, which he sold to friends and workmates.

He bought his first car, an Austin, in the early 1950s and often recalled that, at the time, he and his employer were the only car owners at the mill. He began using his skills to repair other people’s vehicles and, when he was made redundant from the mill in the 1970s, he started up his own repair and restoration business, creating garage premises first at Lindean and then at Selkirk.

He earned a reputation as an accomplished jack of all trades, using his skills as a builder, electrician, plumber and decorator to extend his home at Lindean. When he moved to Earlston in 2001, shortly before his wife’s death, he converted the buildings at Blair’s Yard into a comfortable home.

Steven Brandon first came to the attention of Southern readers in 1956 when he was a regular correspondent in support of Hungary’s student-led uprising against his native country’s Soviet-backed communist leaders. In the bloody aftermath he allowed refugees to stay at his home and sent medicines and clothes home to relatives.

In one letter he highlighted that it was 100 years since the great Hungarian patriot Lajos Kossuth had visited the Borders while in exile seeking to raise awareness, money and international support against the ruling Hapsburg dynasty.

Kossuth had himself led an abortive Magyar revolution – on March 15, 1849 – against the imperial rulers and was appointed Regent-President of Hungary before being forced into exile.

In 1856, Kossuth arrived by train in Selkirk and was led in procession to the County Hotel where, from the balcony, he addressed a vast gathering. Similar rallies took place in Galashiels and Hawick.

In 1994, Mr Brandon used his own money to commission and erect a plaque at the County to commemorate Kossuth’s visit and two years later at the same venue he held the first of many dinners for ex-pat Hungarians to celebrate their national day (March 15). These events alternated between the County and the King’s Hotel in Galashiels where a plaque was also installed by Mr Brandon.

Around 50 of his countrymen and women attended the inaugural dinner at which the late Stewart Roberts, whose great grandfather was the Selkirk provost who greeted Kossuth, was guest of honour.

At Friday’s funeral service in the Pentland Chapel at Mortonhall, tribute was also paid to Steven Brandon, the family man, for his devotion and support to his children – Joy, Roy and Marlyn, his four grandchildren and three great grandchildren.