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Duncan Colquhoun

Duncan at a Gala in Redhall Park on 14 June 1975

Duncan’s Gait, a short lane in [Redhall between] Longstone [Grove and Longstone Place] is a permanent memory of a young man who, despite his serious physical handicap, gave his whole being to the communities of Longstone and Wester Hailes. It is named after Duncan James Colquhoun who was born in Currie [actually at the Western General Hospital, they lived in Currie at the time] on 29 January 1947. His parents, Eileen and Alistair Colquhoun, moved to Longstone in 194? But young Duncan was struck down with polio aged eight. He had attended Longstone Primary School but had to be tutored at home and in hospital. Duncan was to know the inside of several hospitals for the next few years – Queen Mary’s Hospital for Children in Carshalton, Surrey for a year in 1960, the City Hospital, Edinburgh where he spent five months in an “iron lung” followed by another eight months in the Princess Margaret Rose Orthopaedic Hospital. Bone grafting in two staged [sic], six months apart, meant eighteen months in plaster which led to partial success.

By 1963 Duncan, in callipers, walking with the aid of sticks, bravely attended Forrester High School where he gained his SCE ‘O’ grades in 1964-65. Aged eighteen he started work as a clerical officer in the Northern General Hospital and taking a correspondence course he studied for and gained his Scottish National Certificates in Business Studies as an external student. This gave him a qualification which with his special devotion to his work led to his promotion to Senior Administrative Assistant but not before gaining wide ranging experience working in the administrative service for several hospitals – Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, Princess Margaret Rose, the Western General, Astley Ainslie, Glasgow Royal Infirmary, Ballochmyle in Ayrshire and his last posting back to the Astley Ainslie.

When Duncan’s father died in 1969 he returned to Edinburgh and became a member of a Steering Committee called by the local minister of Longstone Parish Church – the Reverend Roy Manson who set out to explore the needs of his community. Duncan, not particularly involved in the church itself, immediately ‘switched on’ – he became the energy, the inspiration, the tireless worker who involved almost every family in Longstone. His dream was a gala day; but there had been no gala in Longstone for thirty seven years. He was insistent that a gala day would bring more people together towards a common aim than any other activity. Unerringly, he knew the needs of the community. He had of course a shrewd knowledge of many families as agent for the local labour party not simply for the District Council but also for the Regional Council elections.

This man was indefatigable; he bullied, cajoled, criticised, praised –ideas poured out of him. Late at night he would call on Bill Walker, a co-committee member and elder of the Church, “I was just passing” and two hours and several whiskies later in the ‘wee small hours’ they parted company having gone over, in meticulous detail, the arrangements for the forthcoming gala. He organised majorettes for forty girls; after all, he had already organised the under thirteen football league for the boys. A fancy dress competition for 160 youngsters had to be judged, the stalls organised, the pipe band, the dancers – a thousand things to be done.

The great day of the first gala for Longstone dawned - ?15th June 1975 [prob Saturday 14th]. Duncan with his fellow members of the Steering Committee – the Reverend Roy Manson, Bill Walker and Bob Gardiner were worried needlessly, the day was an outstanding success. It seemed that many thousands from miles around had taken part; but Duncan was not one for sittings still, there was no time for self praise, next year’s Gala Day had to be organised.

Duncan now organised dances and discos to raise money for his football teams and to pay for the training of the majorettes. At the dances he was the ‘bouncer’ – any troublemaker had to face Duncan. He had a special charisma which got through to the young people.

Bill Walker recalls the day of the under thirteen football match between the “Colts” (the sons of the Saughton Prison officers) versus the “Stingers” from Longstone. Bill was the referee and Duncan, from the side lines, roared his criticism. Eventually Bill had had enough, he approached the irate Duncan, handed him the whistle and said “See if you can do better!” Without hesitation Duncan took the whistle and with his two sticks he hobbled on to the pitch – there were no more fouls in that match!

Duncan’s name had become synonymous with enthusiasm, common sense, plain speaking, an enormous capacity for work and a special understanding of the needs of children. He was invited to membership of the Children’s Panel of Edinburgh in 1973-4 and he became a Justice of the Peace in 1974.

Duncan’s job at Astley Ainslie took him to the Hospital at Dingleton; a report he wrote about the visit and the meetings he attended at Dingleton gives a hint of his philosophy of life – a small extract reds[sic] “Yes! That’s the way it should be; the honesty of direct observation on a situation with no hypocrisy, no status problems, a recognition of conflict and a willingness to resolve it”. Duncan had no time for hypocrisy or snobbishness; he did [not?] suffer fools gladly; he was plain speaking to the point of bluntness; quick to criticise when it was deserved; a man of strong views and almost always right; but soft hearted, he could not bear to see anyone hurt and he was quick to offer help. It is interesting to note that even though Duncan was keenly interested and active in politics he would not allow the platform on Gala Day or at any other community function to be used by any Councillor or MP of any political party. He firmly held to the belief that the intrusion of politics would create factions and the prime purpose of the Gala Day was ultimately to unite the community.

In 1976 Duncan’s health began to deteriorate[:] he had to wear a special back support, his chest began to give him great pain. He was admitted to Hospital for treatment and the Gala Day Committee met regularly by his bedside. It gratified him greatly that the Citizens Advice Bureau had joined in the Steering Committee and was represented by another enthusiast in Betty McFarlane who worked closely with Duncan.

This was to be Duncan’s last Gala Day; he questioned every detail from his hospital bed; his enthusiasm seemed to increase as he grew weaker, Gala Day was Saturday 22 May 1976. Only two days before the great day he became so weak that his mother Eillean [sic] was summoned to his bedside. Duncan’s last words were a plaintive cry of; “Saturday, Saturday”. He died aged twenty-nine on Thursday 20 May 1976.

Duncan James Colquhoun had devoted every fibre of his being to his community which expressed its love for him in requesting that a street be named after him and collected sufficient money to set up the “Duncan Colquhoun Memorial Award” – a trust fund which annually awards a substantial sum to a member of the community nominated for his or her exceptional service.

But alas! The great Gala Day is no more, the fight seemed to be knocked out of it with Duncan’s death. Even the football teams have disappeared from both Westerhailes [sic] and Longstone where there is so much talent.

[Attributed to Stuart Harris, date unknown, and transcribed and edited by Steuart Campbell, December 2017]

After Duncan's death a trust was established in his memory. The Duncan Colquhoun Memorial Trust was responsible for getting 'Duncan's gait' so named, although today it would not be allowed to use anyone's given name for a street name. The Trust was later dissolved but disposed of its remaining funds by paying for a semi-circular outdoor classroom in the grounds of Longstone Primary School (2007) dedicated to Duncan. 

Later, Longstone Community Council arranged with the School to establish a memorial trophy shield to be awarded in memory of Duncan to a qualifying pupil of the school. See NEWS item about the presentation of the trophy to the head teacher.

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