Fife war hero celebrated in new book, The Piper of Tobruk

editorial image

A visit to the Mormon Church in Kirkcaldy saw former councillor Alice Soper start a family history quest.

With her dad being called Rob Roy, she had often wondered whether they were related to one of Scotland’s most famous sons.

The Piper of Tobruk...Robert Roy was not just a hero on the battlefield but also in his personal life, overcoming much opposition to marry the German woman who captured his heart.

The Piper of Tobruk...Robert Roy was not just a hero on the battlefield but also in his personal life, overcoming much opposition to marry the German woman who captured his heart.

Alas, that was not the case. However, Alice’s own parents’ remarkable story is nonetheless romantic, full of derring-do and love that conquered all.

And she decided to share their story after finding a suitcase full of papers and photographs when her mum Hilda died a few years ago.

The subsequent work, The Piper of Tobruk, is a labour of love recounting a remarkable chapter in Alice’s family history.

Alice said: “I’d always known my dad’s sobriquet when I was a child but never thought much of it – I just accepted it.

Labour of love...for former local councillor Alice Soper who made it her mission to tell the story after finding a suitcase of memories in her mum Hilda's home.

Labour of love...for former local councillor Alice Soper who made it her mission to tell the story after finding a suitcase of memories in her mum Hilda's home.

“But when mum died, I found a suitcase in her home in Kirkcaldy, full of papers, photos and letters, as well as dad’s written accounts of being taken prisoner in Crete and Athens during World War Two.

“I realised their story was amazing – it was history that needed to be shared.”

So, in addition to finding relatives all over the world on her family history search, Alice also started working on their story.

She said: “The family history search started when I visited the Mormon Church’s opening of its family search unit in Kirkcaldy – that really got me hooked.

“So I got sidetracked finding relatives all over the world – sadly, though, we weren’t related to Rob Roy, although most of our relatives are from the Perth, Kinross and Crieff area.

“I then decided it was time to focus on my dad, piecing everything together that was in the case.

“I discovered that the former governer of New Zealand, Bernard Fergusson, was dad’s commanding officer and he also knew Roy Farran, who was in the SAS.

“He was in Crete at the same time as dad and they met up at one point.”

Alice enlisted the help of the archivist at the Black Watch museum at Balhousie Castle in Perth to help piece the story together.

She said: “It took three years to research and write, bringing the many pieces of our life story together. It was a labour of love.”

Pipe Major Robert Roy, MBE, DCM, of The Black Watch, became known as The Piper of Tobruk, thanks to his heroic action at Tobruk, one of the fiercest battles of the Second World War.

The book also details his service in India, Greece, Germany and Britain.

And it recounts the very difficult personal issues he faced when he fell in love with a German woman at the end of the war.

Much maligned by other officers, whom Rob pointed out hadn’t actually seen action, he spent two years fighting to bring her to the UK.

They met in 1946 and were married in Perth two years later, in the same church in which Alice was christened a year later.

So the book is not only an account of one man’s incredible service to his country but also has a love story at its heart.

Alice said: “Although he returned to Britain after Tobruk, my father then volunteered for action in Europe, leading to the Rhine crossing and Allied control in Germany.

“He met my mother in Duisburg in 1946.

“His personal correspondence, which I have included, highlights the unsuccessful attempts made to discredit him because of his association with the ‘enemy’ and illustrate perhaps the most difficult challenge he ever faced.”

When Rob returned, he couldn’t find a council home in his native Glasgow so, when posted to Kirkcaldy with the Territorial Army, he and Hilda set up home initially in the army flats in David Street where the first of their three children, Alice (70) was born.

The couple had two other children, Margaret (68) and Robert (60).

Alice said: “Robert was just 11 months old when dad died but he’s his double!

“Both he and Margaret are delighted that the book tells mum and dad’s story.

“As for me, I’m just happy to have finished it and that the publishers, Tippermuir Books, have done such an incredible job with it.”

At Waterstone Kirkcaldy’s requst, Alice – who has four sons and four grandchildren – has been invited to launch her book on August 29 at 7pm. Admission free.

She added: “They were getting requests for the book and asked if I would do it!

“I was a wee bit embarrassed but it was lovely to be asked.”

The official book launch took place on Tuesday, August 6, at the Black Watch museum.

The Piper of Tobruk is available, priced £8.99, from all major outlets.