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Forres obituary: Hugh Robertson

By Alistair Whitfield

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Hugh Robertson, whose funeral is being held tomorrow, retained a deep love of learning throughout his long life.

Hugh Robertson, pictured in 1963.
Hugh Robertson, pictured in 1963.

The 99-year-old taught history at Forres Academy for three and a half decades.

During that time he inspired hundreds of pupils with his ability to make the past come alive.

A natural storyteller, he also had the gifts of humour and quiet authority.

Seldom having to raise his voice in the classroom, he never needed to resort to corporal punishment either.

Hugh was born in 1921 to a farming family at Balnageith, near Forres, and educated locally.

An early memory involved ringing the school bell which heralded break time.

Years later he recalled: "It was while engaged on this important mission that I fell down the front stairs, complete with bell; it was one way to publicise an accident."

The war broke out when he was 18 and Hugh joined the RAF.

After training in the US and Canada, he served as a navigator with 614 Squadron in North Africa and Sicily, engaging in air raids known as 'night intruders'.

Hugh said: "These, in theory, were designed to upset enemy communications, but in practice meant we got shot at by everyone, German and British alike."

During the war he also met his future wife Wynnie, a fellow member of the RAF, who drove an ambulance or "blood wagon", as she used to refer to it.

The couple went on to spend nearly 70 years of married life together.

However their first encounter – a blind date – didn't go so well.

To compensate for nerves he ended up having a bit too much to drink, while she was out of sorts because her ambulance had just been pranged and left with a dent.

Upon eventually being demobbed Hugh went to university in Aberdeen where he studied History and English.

He recalled: "I enjoyed my studies very much but after five war years of intellectual stagnation and irresponsibility, I found the work very hard.

"By that time I was married with one child, as we only had a basement back room, for a long time life was not very easy.

"Fortunately, we were still young enough to take life as it came and were not 'hard done by'."

After a brief stint at a primary school in Cawdor, he returned to Forres Academy ten years after having left there as a pupil.

On his first day back, one of his former teachers accosted him.

"Good grief Robertson, what are you doing here?"

"I'm joining the staff."

"Have you no ambition?", came the reply.

But he did have ambition – he wanted to be a good teacher – and in that he succeeded.

Hugh and Wynnie moved in 1951 to Burdshaugh, the family home which was where he would remain until nearly the end of his life.

Aileen, the eldest of the couple's two daughters, says: "Having grown up on a farm, my dad was immensely practical.

"The house needed a large amount of work when they first moved there so he became very adept at DIY.

"It also has a huge garden which he cared for.

"He was really interested in nature and wildlife.

"In fact, he was interested in so many things – classical music, philosophy, old films, the list goes on.

"He was a very learned man who possessed such a wide range of knowledge.

"If any of us had ever gone on that TV show 'Who Wants to be a Millionaire' and had to phone a friend, we'd have all chosen Dad.

"When he was already quite old he was initiated into the marvels of the internet by his lovely and kind neighbour Julie Gammie.

"His eyesight had deteriorated by then, but if there was anything he wanted to know more about he'd ask her to google it.

"He stayed curious about life."

Hugh managed to live in his own home until quite recently.

Following a bad fall in which he broke his shoulder, he was latterly looked after at Seafield Hospital in Buckie.

His family would like to pass on their immense thanks to the staff.

Aileen says: "It's the most wonderful place in the world, and they are the most wonderful people."

The last word, though, goes to the man himself, who retired from Forres Academy in 1985.

It comes from a 1963 interview he did with, The Varrissian, the school magazine.

One question asked: 'Have you any advice you would like to pass on to the younger generation?'

He replied: "Only a rash fool would dare ... so here goes.

"Never believe stories about the 'good old days'.

"You live today in a country where opportunities for self-realization have never been greater.

"Make use of them.

"At the same time you are subject to more pressure than any previous generation to accept standards in all things which are flashy and mediocre.

"Be careful and critical and keep your sense of values."

Hugh Robertson leaves two daughters: Aileen and Alison; four grandchildren: Iain, Neil, Gemma and Ben; plus six great-grandchildren: Molly, Maisie, Lewis, Owen, Findlay and Theo.

His funeral tomorrow will be at the Moray Crematorium in Buckie.

Andrew Smith from Forres will be the funeral directors.

A video of the proceeding will be available to watch online from 11.25am onwards.

Go to www.obitus.com

Type in the username veha5111 and password 633746

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