A Gala man who gave his all to save the rich history of the KOSB

Despite having served as an officer with the King’s Own Scottish Borderers during the Malayan Emergency of the 1950s, Donald Fairgrieve’s greatest contribution to his beloved regiment was to come much later in life when he was long since out of uniform.

Monday, 3rd August 2020, 11:30 am
Updated Tuesday, 4th August 2020, 9:47 am
Donald Fairgrieve.

Donald, who died recently at the age of 82 after a brief illness, was a co-ordinating force behind the successful Operation Borderer campaign in the 1990s to stave off the government’s defence cuts plan that would have seen the KOSB amalgamated.

His account of the campaign led to him becoming a published author with the book, Operation Borderer.

Sadly, efforts by Donald and other fellow campaigners failed to fend off a later round of Government defence reductions that finally did see the KOSB forced into a merger with the Royal Scots, as part of the 2006 creation of The Royal Regiment of Scotland.

Sign up to our daily The Southern Reporter Today newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Donald's book on the bid to save the KOSB.

A resident of the Scottish Borders village of St Boswells where he lived with wife, Pat, Donald maintained an involvment throughout his life with his regimental association and in later years had much enjoyment from assisting at the regimental museum at Berwick Barracks.

Such was his profile in the Borders as the public face of the campaigns to save the KOSB that people could be forgiven for overlooking Donald’s contributions to local and national sporting life.

A former Scottish international athlete, he also played 166 times for Gala RFC and captained the senior side in seasons 1962/63, 63/64 and 64/65. Donald also served on the club’s executive for a number of years and was president in 2004/05.

A highly accomplished horseman, Donald was also a great follower of the Braw Lads’ Gathering, serving as head marshal for a number of years before filling the post of chairman of the Braw Lads’ Executive in 1972.

Born in Galashiels in 1938 into a family of spinners, Donald was the eldest of the two sons of William Ernest Fairgrieve and Ella Hogg Mercer.

Educated at Galashiels Academy and then St Mary’s in Melrose, he and his younger brother, Jock, then attended Gordonstoun together.

Donald thrived at the famous public school, eventually becoming ‘Guardian’ or head boy and credited his time at Gordonstoun with making him the man he was.

It was shortly before his National Service that the then 19-year-old Donald met the 17-year-old Pat Lawrie, from Melrose, at a party given by Jock Hunter in Galashiels.

But his pursuit of Pat had to be curtailed, however, when Donald was deployed with the army to Singapore during the Malayan Emergency.

It was, however, only to prove a temporary break in their relationship, with the couple eventually marrying in 1962.

Donald and Pat made a striking couple even then and it was a partnership that was to endure, with the couple marking 58 years of marriage this year.

His time in the KOSB would see the regiment become a second family to Donald and it was somewhere he made lifelong friends.

At the time of their wedding, Pat’s father was president of Melrose RFC.

Coupled with the fact Donald was the captain of Gala RFC at the time also saw the wedding announcement featured in the sports section of the local newspaper.

As Pat always said, she and Donald were meant to be together and so it proved.

The couple went on to have daughters, Susan and Joy, followed by son Michael, and they spent their formative years growing up first in Barr Road, in Galashiels, before a move to Bridgeheugh, near Lindean.

Donald and Jock had taken over the business of WS Robertson’s in Hawick in 1964 and would later expand the business to include another shop in Galashiels.

Donald also found the time to concentrate on his passion for training racehorses.

This passion was passed onto Joy, who proved a natural horsewoman. Susan and Michael, on the other hand, were slightly more reluctant stable hands, often being dragged off their feet by the skittish horses that passed through the family’s yard at Bridgeheugh.

But Donald’s son Michael is able to boast that, thanks to his dad’s care of the legendary Rubstic one summer in the late 1970s, that he has ridden at least one Grand National winner.

Donald was always a conjenial host and a succession of local and not so local colourful characters regularly trooped through the kitchen at Bridgeheugh, where they were all generously fed and watered by Pat.

The discipline of military life meant Donald was always ‘well turned out’ as they say in horse racing parlance – always in a shirt and tie and with the more often than not in the KOSB regimental colours.

As a young family, the Fairgrieves often spent summers on the beach at Beadnell in Northumberland, although Donald was often only present for part of these getaways, with matters at home, including the horses, frequently needing attended to.

Giving the eulogy at his father’s recent funeral, son Michael recounted how his dad had once arrived to join his family for the day during one of these trips to Beadnell and, quickly tiring of paddling in the sea, had started digging a hole in the sand.

Several hours later with the sun setting and Donald now down a good six feet, he had to be helped out of the hole by other fathers nearby, and all while in his customary shirt and the ever present KOSB tie, of course.

Donald also took much joy from his role of proud grandfather to Bena, Joe and Michael.

But contrary to his military training, Donald, was not one to stick to the rules when it came to the grandkids, happily disobeying all instructions about no sweets before meals, or not to give them fizzy drinks.

In recent years Donald also took great pleasure in regularly helping out at the regimental museum in Berwick. He also returned to his beloved Netherdale to serve on the executive committee of the rugby club, eventually becoming a popular choice as president in 2004.

He also loved his garden at Smithy House in St Boswells and if you go onto Google Streetview for a virtual drive along the village’s Springfield Terrace, you can spot Donald in his garden – edging the lawn, all the while in shirt and, yes, a KOSB regimental tie.

Donald and Pat enjoyed a number of adventures abroad, going to Singapore for the 50th anniversary of the KOSB’s deployment, as well as to Canada several times to visit Pat’s sister, Noreen, and husband, John.

In Australia they even dived the Great Barrier Reef and while in the USA, helicoptered into the Grand Canyon.

Restrictions on the numbers of mourners permitted at funerals due to the coronavirus lockdown, meant the service for Donald at Melrose crematorium in July was not attended by anything like the large number who almost certainly would have wanted to be present to pay their last respects.

However, a number of former comrades from the KOSB, among others, had lined the streets as the funeral cortege had passed by.

And it was fitting that mourners left the crematorium to a poignant recording of the KOSB pipes and drums playing the regimental march, Blue Bonnets.

Those who served with the KOSB long cherish the motto ‘Once a Borderer, always a Borderer.’ It is a motto Donald Fairgrieve exemplified throughout his life.

He will be much missed by all those who either knew him from his involvement with the army, rugby, horse racing and business or were privileged to be simply called a friend.

Donald is survived by Pat, Susan, Joy and Michael and his grandchildren, Bena, Joe and Michael.