Tanks for the memory as Andrew rebuilds a piece of village history

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Smailholm man Andrew Fairlie has rebuilt a village wall 67 years after he saw it destroyed by Polish tanks stationed in the Borders to help the British war effort in 1945.

“I remember as a wee laddie the tank coming burling round the corner, and knocking down the wall. It’s never been rebuilt since,” said Mr Fairlie, 75, who has lived in the village since he was a year old.

“I tidy up the village. That’s my pleasure,” explained Mr Fairlie, who rebuilt the wall using the stones knocked down by the tank. “I’ve just done it all myself, just in my leisure time. It only took three or four days to do it.”

He added modestly: “I don’t want any publicity. I’m a secret service!”

Elise Ross, chairman of the village fete committee, is full of praise for Andrew’s repairs to the wall nearly 70 years late in the middle of Smailholm at the T-junction opposite the church.

She commented: “We were most impressed with the work he’s done on the wall. The whole village is very proud of Andrew and what he does.

“Andrew likes to keep the place looking pretty, and I suspect that corner has been annoying him quite a bit. He cuts all the grass around the hall, and does the planting around the church and village centre.

“If anybody wants to know anything about local history, he’s the one to turn to.”

“I’m the only person still here to remember the wall being destroyed,” said Mr Fairlie, who recalls the Polish troops stationed nearby at Springwood Park in Kelso during the Second World War. He continued: “You could hear the tanks clattering around the roads at night. They used to come straight into your house to see what was going on. They were nosey buggers.”

During the war, more than 50,000 Polish soldiers were stationed in Scotland, with 1,600 based in the Borders. The troops gave concerts and talks, danced with the local girls, and married some of them. After the war when Poland found itself behind the Iron Curtain many of the soldiers came back to settle in the Borders.

A booklet, Polish Soldiers in the Borders, by Brigid McEwen, celebrates their contribution during and after the Second World War, and describes the long links between Poland and Scotland.

In the 17th century a third of the Baltic port of Gdansk was of Scottish blood, and Bonnie Prince Charlie’s grandmother was Polish: Clementina Sobieska, granddaughter of King Jan Sobieski, who routed the Turkish forces at the gates of Vienna in 1683.

When Germany invaded Poland in 1939, Britain declared war and Polish and British soldiers, sailors and airmen fought side by side.

The Poles appreciated the friendship extended to them when they were stationed in Berwickshire, and presented a plaque which still hangs on the county buildings in Duns. It was unveiled by the Earl of Home who said: “It is a gift which we in our time will greatly honour as a token of your friendship and alliance in our common cause and future generations will look up to it in grateful memory of the strong links which bound together the hearts of the Polish soldiers and the Scottish Borders people in their united struggle for freedom.”

Ms Ross concluded: “The village likes to keep its history, so we’ll be putting up a display of Smailholm’s history in the telephone box.”