TWO Scots heroes of an infamous shoot-out at a remote bothy in the Highlands have finally been honoured, almost 100 years later.
When police constable Geordie Greig and local farmer John Grant confronted on-the-run murderer Percy Toplis – the reputed “Monacled Mutineer” – in Tomintoul, Moray, the incident went down in Scottish history.
In 1920, serving soldier Toplis went into hiding in Scotland after killing a taxi driver in Andover, Hampshire.
He miraculously escaped the Tomintoul shooting, after seriously wounding PC Greig and Mr Grant, only to be shot dead in Cumbria five days later.
The shoot-out provoked a public outcry and became known as the “Tomintoul Outrage”.
While both men recovered from their injuries, they never received official recognition for their bravery. But yesterday that was put to right when special commendations were presented to PC Greig’s grandson Alistair Greig, from Collieston, near Ellon, and Iain McAllister from Elgin, the surviving grandson of John Grant.
Chief Superintendent Mark McLaren, Police Scotland’s Moray and Aberdeenshire divisional commander, decided to make the awards in the run-up to the opening of the new Tomintoul police office.
He said: “I felt that it was only fitting even after all this time that these men were given full and proper recognition for what happened.
“It is a remarkable story that has gone down in folklore and the men deserved to be honoured for their part in what happened.”
Toplis had been hiding out in a bothy near Tomintoul, where he broke up chairs and fence posts to make a fire. The smoke from the chimney alerted gamekeeper John McKenzie, who went to the scene with PC Greig and Grant.
Rousing the sleeping Toplis, Greig and Grant were shot by the fugitive while McKenzie escaped unhurt to raise the alarm. Toplis vanished into the darkness on his bicycle.
PC Greig was shot in the shoulder and had the bullet removed three weeks later. Grant was shot in the thigh. The policeman’s grandson Alistair, 60, an accountant, proudly showed off the bullet yesterday and said: “It’s an honour after all this time to accept this award on behalf of the Greig family.
“Percy Toplis thought he was safe hiding out up here but he was rumbled.”
PC Greig later returned to duty but was pensioned off on the grounds of ill health a year later. He died aged 75 in 1956 in Cuminestown, Aberdeenshire. Iain McAllister, 58, said: “My dad Edward used to tell us the story about the Moncolced Mutineer when we were small.
“He’d take my brother Edmond and I shooting rabbits at the bothy where it all happened, and was happy to regale everyone with grandad’s story.”
Toplis was an army deserter who was suspected to be the ringleader of a mutiny at Étaples in France in 1917. He later posed as an officer, complete with monocle, and was nicknamed the Monocled Mutineer.
After fleeing from Tomintoul, he caught a train in Aberdeen and was later spotted near Penrith in Cumbria, where he was cornered and shot dead, aged just 23. He is buried there in an unmarked grave. The Toplis story was turned into a BBC drama starring Paul McGann.
Police Constable Andy Main, the current officer in Tomintoul, said: “It’s a fascinating story and shows that even almost 100 years ago, police officers could face unexpected dangers in the most unlikely places.”
Despite PC Main’s best efforts, no trace of any relatives was found for gamekeeper John McKenzie, although he is buried at Tomintoul, but an official commendation has also been made for his relatives should any come forward.