It is probably very common for sons to feel remorse that they never took an opportunity in maturity to speak at length with their father. I certainly do, and I am left with an awful regret that these opportunities did not materialise. Father died when only 64 and frankly I did not mature 'til late.
I feel very flattered when told 'You are just like your dad', but I lack the excellence of his attributes while demonstrating several of his shortcomings. The fact that I am content with this perhaps reflects the admiration I had for him and also my love.
Frederick Smith Fiddes was born on 1 September 1907 in Bonaly Road, now Harrison Gardens, Merchiston, the younger son of Sergeant James Fiddes of Edinburgh's finest. He demonstrated his independence of mind quite early, becoming a choirboy at St Martin's Episcopal Church in Ardmillan, with no family connections to this church or denomination. Singing was obviously an early 'enthusiasm' at the time because, as far as I am aware, he didn't join a church or become a church-goer until the 1950s.
He won a scholarship to George Heriot's School and entered the school in September 1918. This was the start of a life-long association with Heriot's during which he was head of school, governor, president of the FP club, president of the rugby club as well as the proud but often exasperated father of three pupils of the school. The valedictory comments of his headmaster confirm that: 'He has done very well this year, with three medals to his credit, captain of the school (medalist in English, Latin and History), winner of the Robert Louis Stevenson prize for literature and quiet and gentlemanly – an excellent type of boy'.
He obviously felt enormous gratitude to the school for the opportunity he perceived it gave to him and this was reflected in his enthusiastic life-long involvement. I don't think my brothers and I, although affectionate Herioters, have ever felt quite as strongly. He was also captain of cricket at school and I have a cutting from the Scotsman which confirmed that, when captaining Edinburgh schools in Glasgow, he bowled I A R Peebles of Glasgow Academy, later of Middlesex and England. Again, cricket was a life-long passion which he passed on to me, believing that if a man was a cricketer there must be something fundamentally decent about him. Years afterwards medics in the university cricket eleven told me that in 'Vivers' they had only been asked about cricket and medicine was almost ignored.
He matriculated at Edinburgh University in autumn 1926 in the medical faculty, graduating five years later in 1931. Again, he had a notable academic record as medalist in surgery, top of the class in psychiatry and psychology and 'Proxime Accesit' in pathology and bacteriology.
On graduation he was offered a position as trainee with one of Edinburgh's leading surgeons, George L Chiene, but this opportunity had to be turned down as he had a living to make. And so he turned to general practice and his first appointment was as assistant to Dr George Hendry in Buckie from October 1931 to May 1934. Many life-long friendships were established at this time, one in particular – Alfie Duncan, much later banker at Maud – who shared dad's interest in piping, small bore shooting and the Famous Grouse.
Two other what may be called 'locums' followed, assisting Dr Ian Cameron in Tarbet, Argyll and Dr Campbell McIntyre in Bowmore, Islay. And then, surprisingly, he took a job with the Paddy Henderson Steamship Line and sailed in November 1935 as ship's surgeon on the SS Pegu from Liverpool to Rangoon. An 8,000 tonne steamship with a complement of 124 passengers, then on the Glasgow-Burma service, left Rangoon on her return trip in May 1936. Although he only alluded to these voyages briefly, I think he enjoyed the experience and popularity such a post ensured. He doubled up as entertainment officer and among other things arranged for celebrity passenger W B Yeats to give a recitation of his poems.
This post-university period seems to suggest a restlessness and possible frustration and at the same time his life reflected a partiality for taking 'enthusiasms' and demonstrates his diverse talents and interests. Returning to Edinburgh in autumn 1936 he became deputy superintendent of Gogarburn Hospital, at that time a large mental institution. He recounted how in late 1937 he met a colleague in a pub who was working as assistant in the department of forensic medicine in the university. They talked about their respective jobs and decided to 'swap' posts. This was duly made official and thus began his long and distinguished career in forensic medicine. They don't do things like that now. Shortly afterwards he was also made assistant in the pathology department of the university and assistant pathologist to the Royal Infirmary.
He seems to be settled there because a little over a year later he married Grace Fraser in Colinton Parish Church on 11 November 1938. For some obscure reason the reception was at the Gordon Arms Hotel, West Linton, and they honeymooned on Islay. Mum was from Evanton, Easter Ross, and at that time was a school teacher at Portmahomack. How or where they originally met I have never been sure. I think it may have been at a cricket match in Inverness.
Grandma Fraser was a severe Free Churcher and had high hopes of young Grace marrying a local minister but it seems to have been a whirlwind romance – the young highlander swept off her feet by the lowland medico. Angus Fraser gave his blessing but I'm not sure if Mother Johanna ever forgave dad.
They set up home in Paties Road, Edinburgh, just opposite Redford Barracks. Typically, on Britain entering the war 11 months later, he volunteered his services to the army and on 20 November 1939 he was ordered to report to the military hospital, Catterick. During the early days of the war he was for some time billeted at Peebles Hydro. I was born in March 1941 and christened at Eddleston where mum and I were staying with friends. But I didn't see much of dad after that until he was demobbed in November 1945 and I didn't recognise this man who leapt down from an army pick-up to embrace mum – how dare he!
Mum and I spent our time during the war at Paties Road or Evanton where there were many Fraser and Munro relatives to spoil me. Mum must have missed him though and a vivid recollection of this time was Grandma Fraser breaking down when she heard the news of the death at Arnhem of her son Willie, an officer in the Argyles who had transferred to the airborne division.
Father served in the RAMC with the successive ranks of major and Lt colonel and was with a divisional unit in the field, did administrative duties with a general hospital and commanded a casualty clearing station. He served with the Welsh division during the Battle of Normandy, having landed in France on 27 June 1944 and was with the division right through the Ardennes campaign. He was mentioned twice in dispatches for work with the divisional field ambulance and was later appointed OBE for being responsible for cleaning up the Sandbostel Concentration Camp near Bremen. Again, several names kept cropping up and many life-time friendships were made. He was obviously a good soldier and popular officer; his medico-legal experience was helpful and he obtained extensive experience of traumatic injuries and a unique insight into issues of malnutrition and starvation. Of Sandbostel he subsequently spoke little.
After leaving the army he resumed his position as lecturer in forensic medicine at Edinbugh University under Sir Sydney Smith and he would work at his Alma Mater until his death. He was delighted to accompany me to Heriot's on my first day of schooling in September 1946 and to be reconnected with the school which he would continue to be associated with for the next 30 years as parent, governor and president of various former pupil clubs.
My brothers Willie and John also went to Heriot's and I am sure that dad's loyalty to his sons' school and the city of Edinburgh prevented him from taking prestigious senior positions in forensic medicine at other British and overseas universities which would have been on offer over the years.
He was disappointed in 1953 not to be appointed to the chair of forensic medicine at the university but was content to be Professor Douglas Kerr's deputy and senior lecturer and deputy medical referee and police surgeon to the city. Douglas Kerr died in 1960 and dad was appointed by the university as acting head of forensic medicine and medical referee and police surgeon. Father's academic record was exemplary as was his experience and I don't need to expand here. He was liked and respected by staff and students and I have particularly enjoyed the approval of many senior legal figures who remember fondly his lectures and later admired his performance as expert witness in High Court trials.
He applied for the chair when it was advertised again in 1963 but changes in the university meant that no actual appointment was made and he was kept in limbo for several years. I think his disappointment at not being formally appointed was intense and certainly contributed to the deterioration of his health in the late 60s. The politics of a university are arcane to say the least and certainly he was not a political animal but at the end of the day he did not achieve the professional recognition that he should have and this hurt.
I don't know if he was seen as a maverick or outsider in university circles as certainly his politics were non-conformist although a good soldier and proud to fight for king and country and with a romantic vision of empire (I remember him singing 'The Road to Mandalay' very loudly). He was a great nationalist and signed the Scottish Covenant in 1946 and was friends with John MacCormick as well as Wendy Wood. In these post-war years his politics were probably of the left although he was a great admirer of Churchill and I know that he liked John P Mackintosh and voted for him when he stood unsuccessfully in Pentlands.
Although he had a very busy and significant job his main interest outside was his family, and I realise the tremendous time he spent encouraging me and my two brothers and ensuring that we had the best opportunities whether academically or at sport. My earliest recollections of watching sport with him were going to Tynecastle to see the Hearts in 1947 and in 1948 going to Headingly to see Don Bradman and his all-conquering Australians. Every Saturday morning he would be down at Goldenacre to see one of us play rugby or cricket.
A man of great outward serenity he did occasionally explode and I have seen him incandescent, for example, when I was foolishly run-out or be exasperated at some of brother John's constant guitar chord playing: 'For God's sake stop that constant twingy twangy!'. But he encouraged John's music and made sure that I was taught to play the pipes well. Willie had a short abortive career as a highland dancer.
Our family holidays were not exotic – we spent most of August on Donside in Aberdeenshire on a farm worked by a real character, Charlie Wyness, who was introduced to dad by his old Buckie contemporary, banker Alfie Duncan. Dad relaxed away from the pressures of his work and we all enjoyed working on the farm and exploring the Donside countryside. Highlights of the holiday would be the Tarland Show and Lonach Games and for me some piping tuition from Bob Brown at Balmoral – for dad jaunts to Boltinstone Inn for a dram with Mr Wyness were enjoyable, particularly as Charlie was a born raconteur and in later years became a well-known figure in the north-east for recitations at concerts. Mrs Wyness played the piano in a local country dance band led by another neighbour Dick Stewart, still going strong at Lonach last year.
At the end of the holidays we were sad to return to Edinburgh with only the highlight of an annual visit to the Edinburgh Tattoo to look forward to as school and work beckoned.
Father's interest in genealogy meant that he had traced our ancestors to Aberdeenshire and identified us with the county. We all had Gordon tartan kilts although mother had her Clan Fraser skirt, and it was no surprise when anticipating retiral he bought a plot of land near Ballater and had a house built there.
By the end of the 50s mum had gone back to teaching at Craiglockhart Primary where dad had gone to school. I'm not sure whether she was determined to do this or whether we needed the money as we were all at a fee-paying school (admittedly modest by present-day standards) and all unquestionably had to go to university and the professions.
Once again he was unstinting in the time and effort he put into helping his sons to make appropriate career choices and to look at every opportunity. I had expressed an interest in land agency and he made it his business to help me in exploring methods of getting into the land profession, getting advice from, among others, Kenneth Ryden who was to be my boss later. Father subsequently helped me obtain interviews with colleges in Cambridge which at the time had the only estate management degree course that accepted the Scottish leaving certificate. After assisting in the City of London for two years I eventually obtained a place at Gonville and Caius College – much to his delight.
Willie was easy. He always wanted to be a doctor and, although no pressure was brought to bear, he knew he was pleasing his father in making this choice, particularly studying at the University of Edinburgh.
John was more difficult to place. Music was really the most important thing to him but eventually he appeased his father with a Bsc (social science) degree at Edinburgh where he played a significant role in university Edinburgh Festival events.
I was away from home in the late 60s when dad's health continued to deteriorate but he was still working and attended my wedding in early 1970, but by 1971 he was unable to continue and was confined to bed, dying of heart failure in mid 1972. I could see how frustrated he was because there was so much more he had to offer. He did not live to be able to retire to his Deeside cottage where he would have undoubtedly written about his life and could well have compiled an interesting book on many Scots murder cases which could well have become a modern-day best-seller.
As years have passed I have regretted more and more this premature loss and have recognised how much I missed by not being able to spend time with him. There is so much I owe him and by talking to him and comparing experiences I may have been able to give some more satisfaction to him for all the love and care he had bestowed on me.
'You're just like your father', they say, and I take that as a compliment although he was better. I may well have inherited some of his characteristics – a degree of non-conformity; a Scotophile; a picker-up of enthusiasms; a dislike of the pretentious and conceited; and a natural diffidence.
Yes, there are regrets and so many more things we could have said and arguments we could have had but I do have warm and affectionate memories and am immensely proud that such a man was my father.
Jim Fiddes is a retired chartered surveyor who worked in London, Glasgow and Sydney, before spending 30 years with Kenneth Ryden and Partners based in Edinburgh. He has been a member of the board of Glenrothes Development Corporation, a member of the court of the University of Edinburgh and a trustee of the National Museums of Scotland.