The quiet, gentle hero who helped to liberate France

Jackie Webster said he was 'absolutely thrilled' to receive the Legion d'honneur from French vice-consul Emeline Javierre in 2016.
Jackie Webster said he was 'absolutely thrilled' to receive the Legion d'honneur from French vice-consul Emeline Javierre in 2016.

A man whose heroism during the Second World War was honoured recently by the French government has passed away, aged 99.

Born in Galashiels on August 23, 1919, Jackie Webster grew up at Buckholm Mill cottages and was a keen pupil at both Glendinning Primary and Galashiels Academy.

Jackie Webster proudly displays his French Legion of honour medal.

Jackie Webster proudly displays his French Legion of honour medal.

He followed in the family tradition of joining the Boys’ Brigade, and followed in his father Frank’s footsteps by beginning work at Buckholm Mill once he had finished school.

However, he and his brother Farquhar enlisted together in the King’s Own Scottish Borderers at the outbreak of the war.

He felt immense pride in the fact that he and Farquhar had consecutive army numbers ... which Jackie never forgot.

However, the two Webster lads did not serve together, with Farquhar being seconded to the Black Watch, and was killed in Italy in 1944.

Humanist preacher Stewart Allan, who conducted Jackie’s funeral, said: “This must have been a terrible blow to Jackie because the brothers were close, but he didn’t talk about this, or his army days until much later in life.”

Jackie himself served int he 6th batallion KOSB, beginning his campaign in Normandy a few days after the D-Day landings.

His company fought through France, Belgium and Holland, ending up on the shores of the Baltic Sea in Northern Germany, when the enemy surrendered,

It was a tough campaign, and he experienced many horrors, of which Jackie never liked to talk of.

However, he regularly paid tribute to his fallen comrades at KOSB reunions and occasionally at the Minden Day parade in Berwick.

When he and fellow KOSB veteran George Coltman was presented with their Légion d’honneur medals in a ceremony in Quins restaurant in Galashiels for his service during the Second World War, we asked him how it felt to be honoured in this way.

He said: “I’m absolutely thrilled. George and I were in the same unit ... but it was all such a long time ago.

“But it’s really good to be here and meet all these people.”

At the ceremony, Emeline Javierre, the vice consul to France in Edinburgh, who presented the medals, said: “France will never forget the gallantry and bravery veterans showed when taking part in the liberation 72 years ago.

“This ceremony today is not only an expression of our gratitude to men who were ready to give their lives, it is also a message to each of us that we in Europe shall never forget what they did.”

Back home after the war, he returned to work at Buckholm Mill, where he met Mae Todd, who worked in the office.

The couple was married on Hogmanay 1948, and went on to have two sons, John and David, and a daughter Lesley, and the family lived in the old stables at Glenmayne on the outskirts of the town.

The family eventually moved to Langlee, and Jackie became a grandfather to seven and, later, great-grandfather to eight, all of whom were loved as much as the first.

He had his hobbies – mainly growing remarkable flowers and bowling, a sport he enjoyed well into his 90s.

In his later life, he became afflicted with Alzheimers, and passed away on Saturday, March 23, just a few months short of his 100th birthday.

Mr Allan described Jackie as a “quiet, gentle man, a man of integrity, with a very developed moral compass”.