Halberdier Jim's final hurrah

AN ERA is about to end. The door is to close on a 50-year period. For after half-a-century of being a halberdier, Jim 'Dimmer' Anderson is to hang up his chocolate-brown uniform edged with a golden yellow.

Retiring from a post that he has very much made his own he may be, but Jim leaves with many wonderful memories of a period of time that has seen many changes.

It could well have been so very different for 76-year-old Jim could quite easily to have become a halberdier all those years ago. Taking up the story, he says: "I never had any thoughts whatsoever of being a halberdier. Even in my wildest dreams it had never occurred to me that I would do the job.

"However, that amazingly was to change. I worked for the town in the maintenance department and one day was working on a dyke at the old slaughterhouse when Bill Allan, who was the Burgh Officer, arrived and out of the blue asked me to be a halberdier for the town, as Alec Dobbie, who had done the job for a few years, was retiring.

"My first reaction was to say no, but Bill persuaded me to go home and talk it over with my wife Olive. I did this, and as you do listen to your Mrs, Olive told me I had nothing to lose and to give it a go. So I accepted the job, never ever thinking I would be doing it for 50 years."

Going on to recall his very early days, Jim says: "I remember going to see Johnson the Taylor, who had a little shop behind Miller the Butchers on the High Street, to get measured for my first uniform which was made of the very best of curtain material. Unfortunately he (the taylor] died before the job was completed and the uniform ended up being made at the Co-op in Edinburgh.

"My first duty as a halberdier wasn't a very glamorous one, as it was the opening of the new sewage works in Mansfield Road, but I am happy to say many great and memorable occasions were to come along." And they certainly have, for Jim has enjoyed many golden moments over the years.

Having done his national service with the Kings Own Scottish Borderers – seeing his battalion get the freedom of Hawick in 1974 and the freedom of the district in 1989 – has given Jim a thrill. He continued: "Acting as a halberdier and being involved in watching my own regiment get its freedom ceremonies was very special for me. The fact that Bill Allan, the other halberdier, had also been with the KOSBs, made it evern more special.

"I enjoyed my army days and being an ex-soldier has helped me in my duties as a halberdier."

Chay Blyth receiving the freedom of Hawick and Hawick's great involvement with French twin-town Bailleul have also been features of Jim's reign. And talking of the latter, he comments: "The twinning of the towns began in 1973. I was involved then and have been associated with Bailleul ever since. Latterly, I've been across to France with the Hawick Pipe Band. They know me as the halberdier in Bailleul and on my last visit I discovered they had posters of me in the bars and cafes, and I found this quite an honour."

It is at the Common-Riding time that Jim's role as a halberdier really comes to the fore, though.

A halberdier's appearance adds dimension and a touch of dignity to Hawick's historical events. And Jim has fitted perfectly into this role.

He has witnessed many changes over the years at the Common-Riding, of which he says: "A lot of people say the Common-Riding is and 'aye-been' time. But it's not. Certainly some things have not changed such as the following of the Cornet, the riding of the marches and several ceremonies. And it's great that traditions are kept. But there has always been changes over the years at the Common-Riding, even if little ones."

A halberdier plays many important roles throughout the Common-Riding beginning with the Cornet's picking night. Jim says: "The halberdier, accompanied by the Drums and Fifes band goes to the home of the Cornet-elect with a letter inviting him to be Cornet. And with the invitation accepted, the halberdier receives a new shilling. This goes on to this day but it's a new five pence now.

"The Common-Riding officially starts on the Thursday evening at the Kirk Wynd on the first chime of St Mary's Church clock at 6pm," explains Jim.

"Not a lot of people watch this but the Drums and Fifes band then begins to play and march up to the toll in the Loan, before coming down through Drumlanrig Square and the Howegate and going along Buccleuch Street.

"On the Friday morning at 6am on the first chime of St Mary's, the Drums and Fifes start to play again before going on parade.

"And it's the halberdier's job to make sure that everything goes to time.

"This has brought about problems as the clock has not always been at the correct time, and I remember a few years back Bill Allan and myself having to work on the clock on the Thursday night to make sure it was right for the Friday morning.

"Another job is making sure that the Friday procession starts precisely at 8.45am, while another task is looking after Cammy Renwick of the Drums and Fifes!"

This year, however, will be Jim's last Common-Riding and looking back over his 50 years during which he has served Hawick in so many ways as a halberdier, Jim concluded: "I finish with a touch of sadness as it's been a way of life for me for such a long time.

"But I have a lot of wonderful memories to take with me as I have had great times and met some great people. And I wouldn't change any of it."

Remembrance Day this year will see Jim on official duty for the last time. And it's another event he has taken a great deal of pride at being involved in.

Jim will be well remembered as a halberdier, and the Common-Riding and many other big occasions in Hawick won't be quite the same without him.