Billy puts his poetry where his heart is

Billy Gillies, the handba’ historian from Jedburgh, has put his life’s work into book form … and it’s selling fast.

By Kevin Janiak
Monday, 30th May 2022, 12:43 pm
Updated Monday, 30th May 2022, 12:43 pm
Billy Gillies of Jedburgh with his new book of poetry. Photo: Bill McBurnie.
Billy Gillies of Jedburgh with his new book of poetry. Photo: Bill McBurnie.

Billy, well known in the town and further afield for his vast knowledge of the Borders handba’ circuit, which sees “Uppies” and “Doonies” in several towns and villages battle for supremacy one day a year, has waxed lyrical in the Jethart Festival magazine every year for more than 40 years, and now has arranged to print a collection of his poems in his first book, titled “The Boog and the Giant’s Grave and other poems”.

The 78-year-old told us: “When I was approached to write for the festival magazine, I found it easier to write in rhyme.

"The poems are all about my experiences: coming home to Jedburgh after serving abroad for three years with the KOSB and seeing the Abbey; what we did as kids, playing keepie-uppie at Porthill, raiding each others’ bonfires; the monkey puzzle up where the new school is.

"All these places are still there, and you can still visit them, and there’s many local people I’ve been friends with over the years mentioned, such as Hugh Hornby, who wrote the History of the Handba’; my mate Doddie Ferguson who I couldn’t visit for his 60th birthday so I wrote him a poem; and my friend Jack Wiffin who used to sing “Vera Lynn Evermore”.

And, of course, there’s plenty on Billy’s favourite topic.

He said: “Anything I do, the hand ba’ gets involved in it!”

"I had just helped Ian Landles and the Duke of Buccleuch launch their book about the Carterhaugh Ba’ at the book festival, and I decided I'd like to publish the poems.

"I got it printed at Footeprint in Jedburgh, and they did a great job of it.

"I got 100 printed and there's been about 80 sold already.”

Billy said he’s not gone into the writing game to make a profit.

He said: “I just want people who might be interested in reading these poems to have the chance to do so.

"I saved up for quite some time to get the book printed in the first place.

"The money raised from sales will probably go towards printing another 50 copies, I’m not in this for the profit!”

The book is for sale in the From Me To You shop in Jedburgh, priced £5.