Wullie gray: one of hawick’s larger-than-life characters

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He is well known for his involvement in rugby, his association with the Common-Riding, his great sense of humour and his straight talking.

He was involved in the plumbing and slating business for many years, is a weel-kent face in Hawick and, without doubt, Wullie Gray is a colourful character.

This the Hawick News found out in a recent interview, during which as much ground that stands between the top of the Nipknowes, to the bottom of Mansfield, was covered.

Brought up in Longcroft Crescent, Wullie had four elder sisters as well as two older brothers, and has many fond memories of his boyhood days in the west end.

Reflecting on these times, he said: “I went to Drumlanrig, but I never liked the school.

“What I did like was playing up the Vertish Hill and in the Moat Park. You could play all sorts of sports in these places.

“Games of rugby, football and cricket would go on for ages and there would be dozens in a team. They were great times.

“I was a member of a gang of boys which included Alex ‘Fake’ Graham, Tommy ‘Boko’ Lawson, Jim ‘Chipper’ Wilson and Kenny Graham in it – guys I’m still friendly with today.

“Although I was the smallest, I was the leader.

“We used to have battles with the gang from the Lynwood estate, but we never got into any real bother, only mischief.”

Another of Wullie’s loves during this period was working on Alec Cavers’ farm.

“I was about 11 when I started helping out for Alec along with other boys,” he said. “We used to do all sorts of jobs, like milking the cows, but the best one was riding out the horses. We couldn’t afford horses of our own, so to get out and ride a horse for nothing was just brilliant.”

Adding with a smile, Wullie went on: “Looking after hens was something else I did. One day I decided to pinch some eggs and stuffed them in my trouser pockets.

“Alec noticed but didn’t say anything. Instead, he came across to me smiling, asked how I was getting on, and slapped both my pockets, breaking the eggs and leaving me in a real mess! I learned a lesson there, never to steal.”

On leaving school at 15, Wullie started work as an apprentice plumber with John Rae.

And it was around this time that his rugby career kicked off.

Joining semi-junior side Hawick PSA, he immediately began to make a name for himself as a speedy try-scoring winger. This led to interest from the Linden and in his first full season with the Royal Blues he won the Border Junior League.

At 18 Wullie began to get a game for Hawick. Pulling on the green jersey was a big thrill for him, but it was while playing for the Greens against Glasgow Accies that he sustained a serious injury. He said: “I had to have a big operation and had my knee cap removed. They told me I might end up walking with a limp, but I wasn’t having that, so I sorted myself out and managed to get back playing rugby again.”

When he finished his apprenticeship with John Rae, Wullie was called up to do his National Service with the Army Catering Corps, as a cook.

This, however, wasn’t to last long. Wullie explained: “I’d never cooked before in my life and I was hopeless. After two weeks I got the sack. They must have thought I was going to poison the regiment!”

Fate and rugby was to come to Wullie’s rescue. He said: “I don’t think the army knew what to do with me. The regiment had a rugby team and although I told them I wanted to play, they didn’t want to give me a game because I was on the small side.

“I talked them into giving me a go and in my first game I scored three tries. In my next game I was captain of the side.” Wullie went on to become a physical training instructor and his rugby days continued as he represented the Services and played in the same side as greats like Tremayne Rodd and Bonzo Bruce.

On leaving the army in 1962 and returning to Hawick, Wullie set up his own plumbing and roofing business along with Rob Drysdale.

During the early years of his business venture, Wullie married his wife Alison, who he first met when he was an apprentice plumber. Alison worked in Braemar and walked across the Haugh every day to get to work. I worked at John Rae’s, which was next to the Haugh, and we often met and had a blether. One day I asked her to go on a date with me to the pictures, she said yes and that’s how it all started,” he said.

By this time Wullie was the Linden’s first ever player-coach and throughout this spell the Volunteer Park outfit won the Border Junior League seven times. A real ‘Mr Motivator’, he went on to coach the Wanderers to two semi-junior title successes and the Border Junior League with the Quins, while also being a selector at the Greens for six years.

Rugby, however, is second best to his greatest memory – being Acting Father to Cornet Tommy Smith in 1982. He said: “Being Acting Father to Tommy was the greatest thing that ever happened to me. It beat anything that I had ever achieved at rugby.Carrying the flag for the first time was one of the best moments in my life and it’s something I’ll never forget.”

Now 70, Wullie is as active as ever. As maintenance man for Hawick Rugby Club, he is rarely away from Mansfield Park, while he also enjoys walks with ‘Fake’ Graham.

It all began for Wullie in Hawick’s west end and the story of his life is as colourful as any production staged in the west end of London.