DCSIMG

The forgotten hero of a forgotten war

HE FOUGHT in a forgotten war and remains a relatively unhonoured son of Rangers. It's clear Harold Davis does not crave recognition. Over 30 years ago he took the decision to move with his wife Vi and son Alan to Gairloch, the sort of place where winning four championship medals for an Ibrox club operating at a gearing far above their present level counts for far less than being able to cast a line into the icy depths of Loch Maree.

One might assume that this hankering for a peaceful life evolved out in Korea, as mortar shells slammed down around him. But this is before the 73-year-old Davis reveals a lifetime's dedication to fishing, established when guddling trout as a boy. He might have joined Burnley as a teenager, but wanted to remain closer to his Perthshire home, and the river Tay. How he came to be fighting in a war on the other side of the world requires further knowledge of the man, and the pledge he made to himself when signing up for national service with the Black Watch in 1951.

Like most up-held promises, this one had ramifications. His included injuries so severe that even after battling back to fitness as a professional footballer his disability pension remained valid. He truly was the iron man of Ibrox, one whose tale makes a mockery of those who feel no shame in kissing the famous badge today. The reputation he earned in his playing days stands good to this day. Davis survived a car crash eight years ago which left this seemingly indestructible war veteran with a broken neck.

As we sat and watched Hibs against Hearts on television in his isolated Wester Ross home on Wednesday it was difficult not to blush on behalf of the present day Rangers players as the scoreline flashes from Ibrox appeared across the screen. How Paul Le Guen's side could have done with such men of substance as Davis and Bobby Shearer, whose funeral it was yesterday.

Few have fought for the Rangers jersey the way Davis did, and during his eight-year stay he overcame the odds to win four league titles, two League Cups and a Scottish Cup medal at Ibrox. But it was his experience in Korea which framed his life, and which this weekend is brought into sharp focus. At the going down of the sun across the bay of Gairloch, and again in the morning, Davis will remember fellow casualties of the Korean War, even if too few others will.

Having already begun to establish himself as a first-team player with the great East Fife side of the late Forties, Davis was offered several ways of avoiding active service in a war that had come out of nowhere. He might have taken a parachute course, or become a PE instructor. "They were keen on footballers, with the British Army team and all that kind of stuff," he recalls. "I had every opportunity to skip it. But I didn't like the backdoor stuff. I refused it. I said if there were boys going out then I am going out too."

He claims now that he wouldn't have missed the experience for the world, but just wishes he had kept his head down on one fateful occasion. That might not have mattered in actual fact. The high-calibre machine gun fire which erupted out of an enemies' barrel sliced away part of his instep and tore into his abdomen. His head, thankfully, remained intact. Before drifting out of consciousness completely Corporal Davis recalls the 'bubble' Bell H-13 helicopter later made famous in the television series M.A.S.H. lifting him away from just behind the front line. He estimates it was ten days before he came round again, in a hospital in Japan.

Later a fraught journey by ambulance plane to Britain delivered him into the hands of a Colonel Hunt, the surgeon who sought to make him at least function again. The brief he was following said nothing about professional football. Indeed, later, when Davis told him what he did, Hunt's reply was that he'd better start looking for another job. The surgeon also made a joke, along the unsavoury lines of Davis perhaps being able to claim an advantage over his opponents; when his colostomy bag burst as he was running up the wing then pursuers would be left floundering in its spilled contents.

Davis' injuries had devastated his insides, and the consequences he still lives with to this day. "I had an army check up a couple of years ago," he reports. "I still claim an army pension. They have been trying to take it off me for 50 years now. They think I shouldn't have been playing football if I was receiving a pension. But every time I go for a check-up, they back down. I still battle away with problems. My insides are so messed up it is like having a plumbing system that has been repaired piecemeal."

His team-mates knew nothing of the complicated procedures he had to undergo before being able to last 90 minutes of extreme physical exertion. His discomfort was certainly not apparent from his performances in the Rangers half-back line, where he excelled in his role as foil for more stylish colleagues such as Ralph Brand and Jimmy Millar. His scars betrayed him in the dressing-room, however. One stretched down from his chest to lower abdomen, although it was rarely mentioned by team-mates. "Whether that was out of respect because I never talked bout it, I don't know," he says. "They probably noticed, and wondered what the hell?"

That would have been a fitting response, since where these wounds were sustained all too often resembled someone's idea of Hades.

"It was pretty fierce stuff," he continues. "The North Koreans had pushed the Yanks back to Busan, but with an influx of Commonwealth troops had managed to advance all the way back up to the 38th Parallel. Then it became static. It was trench warfare, almost like the First World War. It was just a matter of blasting each other to hell. Then patrols would be sent out into no-man's land, just for something to do." They did, though, manage the odd game of football. "We'd bulldoze a bit of paddy field, and call down the regiment from up the road for a kick-about," he says.

While he calls Korea a life-changing experience, in one crucial way his life did not change. East Fife retained his registration and had admirably continued to pay him a small wage while he was with the Black Watch. When he was able to return to football, after another two years of rehabilitation, he reported back to Bayview. By this time Scot Symon, the manager who'd signed him from Newburgh, had left and was now at Rangers. But the luck which had preserved him - just - in Korea returned to bless Davis once more.

During a stay at the Bridge of Earn hospital in Perthshire Davis encountered Davie Kinnear, the former Rangers player who was now a PE instructor. He was employed in helping patients re-gain fitness, and took special interest in Davis. Kinnear subsequently left to return to Rangers as a trainer, and through him Symon learned that his former player was not only still alive, but thriving. "My physical well-being had much to do with Dave pushing me hard," recalls Davis. "A lot of the other patients were older, content to simply get fit enough to live. I wasn't. I was determined to get extra-special fit."

Davis maintains that this was necessary if he was going to make-up for the hidden cost of his active service in the Far East. He could not rely on being as fit as the next man, he had to be fitter still. Rangers could not possibly have survived with a passenger in the side, and while Davis is the first to admit he was not the most cultured player he had few equals when it came to physical prowess.

As well as being among the fastest over 100 yards at Ibrox, he was also the least likely to indulge team-mate Jim Baxter's antics. The pair were not close, with the smell of Baxter's boozy breath prior to kick-off representing an affront to Davis' keenly felt code of personal conduct. Someone who struggled so hard to make the best of himself was never going to connect with a supremely talented but wayward individual, even given their shared background as Fifers. Davis had grown up in Cupar before the family moved to Perth, with his father having purchased a pub.

"I might not have been the best player who ever put on that blue jersey but not one person who has put on that blue jersey started below where I had been in a physical sense and managed to reach the height I did," stresses Davis, more than a little perturbed by a Rangers Hall of Fame that includes such temporal talents as Paul Gascoigne. Davis played over 261 games for Rangers, including over 20 appearances in the nascent European competitions. He could easily have won more medals. He played a part in Rangers' two-legged defeat to Fiorentina in the final of the first European Cup-Winners Cup tournament in 1961. Injured after what he calls a "stinking" challenge from Celtic centre-half John Hughes in a Scottish Cup semi-final in 1960, he missed the victory over Kilmarnock in the final.

He was also present for the 7-1 cuffing by Celtic in the League Cup final in 1957. A happier memory was his inclusion in the party which travelled to Russia on tour in 1962, a decade after his involvement in a war that sought to restrict Communist influence in the Far East.

During this trip, which included matches against Lokomotiv Moscow, Dinamo Tblisi and Dynamo Kiev, Davis added another string to a bow that already included athlete and soldier. He was asked by one British newspaper to be their official photographer, since none had been permitted by Russian authorities to enter the country. His work is featured in a photo album which remains in his possession to this day. Also on Davis' sideboard in Wester Ross is a remarkable trinket offered as a gift, something which must surely represent the holy grail to Rangers souvenir hunters. Not only shaped like a Sputnik 1 satellite, the bauble even makes the beeping noise of one when switched on.

He gained no medal at Hampden Park in 1973, although the Dundee side he helped coach to victory over Celtic in the League Cup final claimed one each. Davis was simply content to have already secured a victory at Ibrox with Dundee. Asked back to Ibrox as a coach by Davie White, Davis had later been sacked when Willie Waddell took over as manager of Rangers. Another call from White, who by this time had moved to Dens Park as manager, had saved him from dealing with a few thousand chickens on the farm Davis had inherited near Dunfermline. As recompense to his wife, who'd been left in charge of this clucking brood, he moved up to the north-west coast in 1975 to open a hotel, where they have remained ever since.

A long way from being a religious man, Davis will not be present in any of the three churches which overlook the water at Gairloch tomorrow morning, as the eleventh hour chimes. Instead he will likely take his fishing rod to the bothy he rents in the hills and reflect in his own, quiet way on a life that must be considered exceptional even without knowledge of his efforts on a football pitch.

Large gathering expected for Remembrance Service

THE annual Remembrance Service at the Heart of Midlothian War Memorial at Haymarket in Edinburgh will take place tomorrow at 10:45am. The service will be taken by Salvation Army minister Ian Hudson, and attended by a colour party of nine soldiers from the Royal Regiment.

Hearts will be represented as usual by a number of staff and supporters, while officials from Hibernian, Raith Rovers and Falkirk will also be in attendance. The event is open to all members of the public, and there is expected to be a larger attendance than in previous years as this is the 90th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme.

Attendance at the service dwindled considerably from the 1970s onwards, but has taken an upward turn over the past few years as interest in and knowledge of the Great War has grown.

The War Memorial was unveiled in 1922 before a crowd of around 35,000 by Robert Munro, the Secretary of State for Scotland.

 
 
 

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