Hawick in mourning for former cornet Chuck Whillans

Former Hawick cornet Chuck Whillans.
Former Hawick cornet Chuck Whillans.

Hawick is mourning the loss of a common riding stalwart after the death of its oldest living cornet at the age of 94.

Charles Whillans, better known as Chuck, carried the banner blue 70 years ago and was often referred to as Mr Common Riding.

He was acting father to George Peden Jr in 1967, master of ceremonies for 18 years, chaired the hut for provost Myra Turnbull and was president of the Mosstroopers and callants’ clubs.

However, it was leading the cavalcade back in 1948 that he called the “best experience of my life”.

During his working career, Chuck was also respected for carrying on his family’s cashmere business, Chas N Whillans.

Speaking to the Hawick News five years ago, he said: “Since I was a laddie, I have always loved the common riding and horses.

“I followed the cornet for the first time in 1938 when John Martin was cornet, and it cost me £2 10s for a horse called Tommy for the six weeks of the common riding. That was a lot of money, and the thing was I didn’t have much, but it was money well spent.”

In 1948, Chuck’s dream of being cornet came true, and he recalled: “I was absolutely thrilled when asked to be cornet. Really, it’s difficult to put into words how I felt.

“Bert Scott and Charlie Bell were my right and left-hand men. They were both close friends of mine, and I got marvellous support from them.

“My acting father was George Peden, the butcher. He was much more than an acting father, though, and was more like a real father.

“He took me under his wing and treated me as if I was his own son. I’ll never forget what George did for me. He was a great man.

“I loved every minute of being cornet and had an absolutely fantastic time.

“Everything went so quickly, though, but I have plenty of memories.”

His stint as acting father gave him a chance to return the favour George Peden Sr did him, and Chuck said: “It was a great honour to be an acting father, and the fact that I was acting father to young George Peden made it even more special.

“It’s quite amazing that I was acting father to the son of the man who had been my acting father. Sometimes things are just meant to be.”

Chuck was also actual father to a cornet in 1985, when his son Ian wore the green jacket and carried the banner blue.

“It gave me a lot of pride having a son for cornet, and Ian did me proud,” he said.

“I’m very proud of my other sons Alister and Donald as well as they have shared my great passion for the common riding and my passion for horses.”

Chuck is survived by wife Nan and sons Alister, Donald and Ian.

Tributes have been paid to his years of service.

Former Hawick councillor John Ross Scott, now living on Orkney, said: “Chuck was a close family friend and was always supportive to me during my time as honorary provost of Hawick.

“His good humour and caring attitude, I know, helped many people through difficult times.

“Thanks, Chuck, for what you did for me. You will be sorely missed by the entire Hawick community.

“Goodbye, auld freend.”

The town’s current honorary provost, Hawick and Hermitage councillor Watson McAteer, said: “Hawick has lost a very special son who may have been small in stature but was huge in personality and kindness.

“As a common-riding icon, his knowledge and experience will be sorely missed.

“However, he has left a legacy that will stand the test of time. I would wish to express my sincere condolences to his family and many friends at this sad time.”

Hawick and Denholm councillor Stuart Marshall added: “I was deeply saddened to learn of the sad news earlier this week and, like many people in the town, I will always have so many wonderful memories of Chuck.

“I will always be grateful to him for the advice and support that he gave to me during my terms as honorary provost and chairman of the common riding committee.

“His passing leaves a very large void in our common riding, and he will be greatly missed by those that had the privilege of knowing him.”

Mr Whillans was also president of Hawick Rugby Club for two years in the mid-1960s, and a spokesperson for the club said: “We are saddened to hear of the passing of one of our former presidents, Charles Noel Whillans, who held the post from 1964 to 1966.

“Our sympathy and thoughts are with his family at this sad time.”