The role played by a Selkirk man in monitoring secret radio transmissions being broadcast from occupied Europe has finally been revealed.
The late John Blair grew up in Selkirk, living above the family grocery businesses in the town’s Market Place.
Years later it emerged that John, a veteran of the First World War who served in the Royal Navy, had spent the conflict against Hitler running a listening station in the flat above the shop, tuning in to receive coded messages from the underground in the occupied Low Countries.
His fascinating story was brought to the attention of The Southern by Jean Wyllie from Edinburgh, who is married toJohn’s nephew, Eric Wyllie.
John’s parents ran the grocery shop and after he came back from serving in the navy during the First World War, he started helping them in the business and would eventually take it over.
John was always very interested in radio and a small part of the shop was given over to selling radios and carrying out radio equipment repairs.
After he got married, John and his wife, Barrie, lived in the flat above the shop and he used a spare room to house all his equipment for his hobby as a radio ham.
By this time his parents were living in a big house at Ettrick View. Mrs Wyllie told The Southern that, although John was on the navy reserve list and eligible to be called up for the Second World War, he was not required to serve and this seems to have caused a bit of resentment in some quarters.
“There seems to have been a wee bit talk and gossip in the town about why he was never called up for the Second World War, but years later he told my husband that he had been contacted and asked if he would do some secret official work,” she explained.
“This involved monitoring certain broadcasts coming out of occupied Europe. The broadcasts were at certain times, like 2am, and he had to be ready and waiting to jot down the code that was being transmitted.
“Once he had taken it down, he had to take the message immediately to the police station. He never knew what the information contained was.
“The messages usually consisted of one or two words and a few numbers as you can see from the cards I sent to The Southern.
“But he had no idea what happened to the information once he gave it to the police.
“After the war, he managed to get back in touch with several of those who had been responsible for broadcasting the coded information from Europe.”
Mrs Wyllie is not sure whether the family still have links with Selkirk. She said John, who she thinks died during the 1960s, and Barrie, had one daughter and one of their grand-daughters lived in Galashiels.
“My husband was very fond of his uncle and I can remember coming to Selkirk to visit him in hospital. He was always very kind to my husband.
“I don’t think he had ever told anyone up until he mentioned it to my husband, about what he had been doing in the war and I think there might be some people surprised to learn about this. John eventually gave all his radio equipment to a young enthusiast in Selkirk.
“No-one in Selkirk knew he was doing this secret work except the police.”