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How Ballater veteran Hugh Inkster celebrated VE Day in a double-decker bus in London

Mr Inkster with Davie Paton from Legion Scotland.
Mr Inkster with Davie Paton from Legion Scotland.

Hugh Inkster was among the millions of Britons who celebrated the end of the Second World War in Europe 75 years ago.

But he must have been one of the few Scots who marked VE Day by spending the night in a London double-decker bus.

Unstinting care and attention

As a teenager who had grown up in rural Aberdeenshire, Ballater-based Mr Inkster went on to spend more than 40 years in the military and, even today in his 90s, he has a sharp memory and a steely determination to ensure that the sacrifice of those who perished during the conflict is never forgotten.

Indeed, he has preserved and maintained the war memorial in the Deeside community with such unstinting care and attention that it has regularly been recognised as one of the best in the whole of Scotland.

He vividly recalls the circumstances which led to him enlisting towards the end of the hostilities in 1945.

He said: “I was about 18-years-old and I remember being told we had a one-in-ten chance of being sent down the mines.

A young Hugh Inkster spent VE Day in London.

“I had grown up in the countryside at Crathie – my father was the electrician at Balmoral – and I didn’t fancy that at all, so I joined the army and I did my basic training as VE Day approached.

Hugh Inkster and John Forsyth at the Ballater War Memorial.

“I was down in the south of England and we were given three days off.

“So we travelled up from Woking to London Waterloo and there was this massive party going on.

Innocent fun

“We joined the crowds in the streets and we were singing, dancing, celebrating wherever you looked and it was like the Coronation and the Diamond Jubilee in one.

“There was a group of us who finished up in an empty double-decker bus.

“We slept in it and I was on the top deck and we were all so excited by what was happening.

“It was innocent fun – I know that the bars were doing a roaring trade, but we didn’t need alcohol, we were young, we were soaking up the freedom and the chance to have a laugh and escape from the normal day-to-day life in the service.

“Eventually, I ended up in India, two months after VJ Day and I liked being a soldier, so I signed up with the Royal Artillery for seven years – and I ended up doing 42 years!

Hugh Inkster salutes the efforts of those who preserve war memorials.

“I spent 20 of these in the sergeants’ mess, then I became a commissioned officer and I went on to become a Lieutenant Colonel before retiring and returning to the north-east, but I like to keep active and find things to occupy my mind.

“I’m 93 now, but there are a couple of us who help maintain the Ballater War Memorial, which keeps us busy and attracts a lot of interest from locals and tourists.”

Best kept memorial

He has now tended the site in the centre of the village with his colleague, John Forsyth, for a decade and the duo’s efforts received a perfect score of 100 points to win last year’s Best Kept Memorial award from the Royal British Legion Scotland.

Mr Inkster said: “We are both really pleased, if a bit surprised, because we were worried that the surrounding grass may have been damaged by dogs.

“But fortunately, we managed to keep everything well enough for the judges to deem it immaculate with full points.”

At the moment, Mr Inkster is as frustrated as everybody else at the lockdown which has been imposed by the Covid-19 outbreak.

Remembering those who fell

But he will be among those who will be joining the virtual commemorations to his fallen compatriots on VE Day later this week.

He said: “I know it’s a strange time for everybody with the restrictions and it’s a shame that so many events have had to be cancelled.

“But it’s very important to honour those who fought for our liberty all those years ago and I hope everybody stops for a few moments to remember those who fell.”

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