By Bill McCall
As a regular reader of Piping Press it was a privilege to support last year’s competition to compose a tune for Flight Lieutenant John A Cruikshank VC. Indeed it was a pleasure to attend the formal luncheon at the Royal Northern & University Club (RNUC) in Aberdeen where, by happy coincidence, Mr Cruikshank and I are both members.
A glittering array of his fellow members of the Victoria Cross & George Cross Association attended and heard Piper Dave Mason, who had flown in from the USA, play the winning tune and what a tune it is. Also now adopted as the official march for the RNUC:
It was a celebration that will remain with those who attended the packed dining room at the old club for a very long time, not only to celebrate the Piping Press led competition winner, but also Mr Cruikshank himself. John is a remarkable man who, in his early twenties, had served King & Country and lived through an episode that simply beggars belief to win his Victoria Cross.
Thereafter, like so many of that golden generation, back to his career, in his case as a banker, working mostly overseas and now quietly retired in the Granite City. He is as sharp as a tack and I had, but for the lockdown, expected to meet him for lunch at the Club after the winter months passed us by.
In our discussions he usually wants to cover the financial news and he is the most senior member of the Chartered Banker Institute, the oldest banking institute in the world, where I currently serve as President. Little does he know that I have a fine bottle of Institute Malt and the warmest greetings from our Board and thirty thousand members around the world to pass to him in celebration of his 100th birthday on May 20th.
The malt can wait until better days but I’m sure the Piping Press readers will join me in wishing John a very happy birthday. It is almost impossible to try and contemplate what Flight Lieutenant Cruikshank’s generation did, mostly without drama, yet they remain the most humble and understated group of men and women, when today our social media channels are loaded by over sharing and angst, often about trivial matters.
Now we have a near contemporary example of selfless service through those who serve in the National Health Service and simply get on with it. How hard it must be to have to call a family with bad news, deal with the risk every day but press on because of the people to your right and left.
John Cruikshank’s VC story is remarkable, heroic, and yet was one day in his life.
Watch a reconstruction of the action that led to John’s VC, now on YouTube but taken from a 1995 BBC series, ‘For Valour’:
Compare that drama to the ‘matter of fact’ voice and manner of the Air Ministry dispatch, the whole circumstance and episode typed up in dispassionate terms in black and white contrasting with the heat and colour of the harsh reality I’m sure it was.
Real Heroes don’t say anything other than they were doing what they trained for, doing their job and often say ‘it’s what anyone would have done’. I’m never so sure about that part and that ‘anyone’ would. They also return to normal life, live it and see with a different perspective.
In that dining room last year surrounded by so many real heroes, it was clear to see that they, the greats, perhaps looked to John as greater, yet there was nothing to prove.
Firstly, they were there and their very presence elevated the gathering. There they were applauding enthusiastically for the new tune written to celebrate their friend. A unique man who carries two significant letters after his name: V.C.
I do hope you’ll join me on the 20th of May in raising a glass to a gentleman banker, quietly retired in Aberdeen, a true hero of Britain, the Commonwealth, the armed forces and his branch of service, the Royal Air Force. A very happy 100th birthday sir. To ‘John A Cruikshank VC’.
I’m sure readers might want to leave messages in the comments section below to show the regard and thanks we owe to John and others like him.
- Dave’s tune is to be found in Volume 3 of his collection of tunes ‘Tummel Yer Wilkies’ available here.