Jack Smith

Scots Guards campaigner
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The Independent Online

John ("Jack") Smith, soldier and policeman: born Longniddry, East Lothian 15 August 1930; married Effie McRobert (one daughter); died Torphichen, East Lothian 6 December 2006.

More than four decades after he served his National Service with the regiment, Jack Smith became the standard-bearer of the Scots Guards in the controversial Fisher and Wright case.

In September 1992 two Scots Guardsmen, James Fisher and Mark Wright, shot dead a Northern Ireland Catholic youth by the name of Peter McBride, on a split-second impulse, fearing that the object that he was carrying might have been a bomb with which to destroy their own lives. There had been ugly incidents in the preceding weeks. However, there were bitter recriminations against the British army from many people in Ireland, not only Republicans. A cause célèbre followed and Fisher and Wright were convicted in 1995 of murder and sent to prison.

The regiment was incandescent. And a lot of other people felt that the responsibility lay more with those who sent troops to Ireland at the behest of the government, than with soldiers having to act on the spur of the moment. The Scots Guards did a very sensible thing. A consensus among them emerged that I was the most likely Labour MP, having been one of the few to wear the Queen's uniform as a National Serviceman, to take their part in Parliament.

Rather than contact me through their generals (friends of mine, Sir Michael Gow and Sir David Scott-Barrett), it was decided that a guardsman, a National Serviceman to boot, one of my constituents, should act as the lead complainer. Indeed, it was much easier for me to say in the Commons that I was acting at the prompting of an ex-private soldier rather than at the behest of decorated generals. And the fact that I could parade as my main source a civilian constituent did something to assuage the flack coming from many Labour MPs, not all on the left, who were sceptical and angry with me for espousing the cause of the soldiers, but not half as angry as the McBride family and their friends.

Our campaign gathered pace, with the support of other MPs including Martin Bell and George Foulkes. In September 1998 Mo Mowlam, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, ordered the release of Fisher and Wright. They were later reinstated in their regiment.

Jack Smith was born in 1930, the son of a dairyman in East Lothian. His first job was to collect rubbish from camp sites. After his time at Longniddry School, where he learned to play the fiddle, and a spell working for construction firms, he joined the Scots Guards in 1949 to do his National Service.

To his surprise he enjoyed the discipline and camaraderie imposed on the recruits at the training camp at Caterham in Surrey. He went with the regiment to Egypt and Cyprus. Taking the opportunity to visit in his spare time some of the biblical sites, he became a serious Christian and was to be an elder of the Church of Scotland for 48 years. He kept close links with his regiment, remaining an active member of the Edinburgh branch of the Scots Guards Association all his life.

On demobilisation he carried out his intention of joining the police, serving as a highly respected and contented constable for Lothian & Borders Police in Currie, Musselburgh and, from 1966 until 1980, Torphichen. But Smith was far more than the village policeman. He served on the committee of the International Police Association; he was a main stay of the prize- winning Torphichen and Bathgate Pipe Band, and was the Chieftain of the Bathgate Highland Games in 1987.

But perhaps his greatest interest was as an Officer of the Knights of St John, descendants of the Knights Templars who had settled in Torphichen in the early Middle Ages, since the village was then deemed to be the most urgently needful spiritual slum in Scotland, with all sorts of landmarks round about such as the Devil's Elbow and Cairnpapple Hill (with its associated witches), designated by Historic Scotland as the most important Bronze Age site on the Scottish mainland (and excavated as his first dig by Professor Stuart Piggott).

Jack Smith was the best kind of local historian, a breed which enhances many villages in Britain, and the author of two erudite booklets, Torphichen Preceptory and Torphichen Kirk (2001) and 250 Years of Torphichen Kirk (2006). The ancient church which still stands was known for hundreds of years as the Quahair of Torphichen, but in the 20th century the pronunciation could lead to ribald misunderstanding and Smith, ever streetwise, decided to give a different title to his book.

Tam Dalyell

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