George Gimson

George Stanley Gimson, Sheriff Principal of Grampian, Highland and Islands, 1972 to 1982

Born: 6 September, 1915, in Glasgow

Died: 30 August, 2003, in Edinburgh, aged 87

STANLEY Gimson was born in Glasgow, educated at Glasgow High School and then, after the Second World War, at Glasgow University where he studied law. Like many young men of his time, he joined the Territorial Army in 1938, little realising the course his life was going to take over the next six years.

He was commissioned in 1941 into the 2nd HAA Regiment, Indian Artillery, Singapore, and found himself in the Far East. It was only a short time before Singapore fell and Stanley was one of the many unfortunate men who were captured and taken prisoner by the Japanese to work on the Burma-Siam railway. Suffering from dysentery and malaria, he was unfit for work on the railway and was sent to a prison camp at Changi where, in time, he became an orderly in the prison hospital.

The treatment they received at the hands of the Japanese guards was unspeakable and the cruelty was quite barbaric. Shortage of food and medical supplies would have been hard enough to bear, but the savagery and the beatings were difficult for anyone even to understand. Conditions in the hospital were equally bad, with a rigid, cruel discipline causing awful suffering.

These three and a half years as a prisoner had a profound effect upon him and in later life he devoted much of his time to looking after the welfare of the many PoWs who had suffered from terrible illnesses and disabilities. As chairman of the Scottish Far East Prisoners of War Association from 1996 until his death, he worked hard to get them war and disablement pensions and kept up the struggle for some compensation for them for what they had been through. These men could not have found a more conscientious and able person to help them in their cause. Although Stanley was quiet and gentle in character, he had a strong legal mind with the ability to fight for what he thought was right.

While he was in Changi PoW camp, despite his frailty and sorry state of health, he started to draw a series of sketches showing conditions of the prisoners and the camp. Paper was difficult to come by and it was strictly against the rules to be found in possession of any drawings. He managed to roll the sketches into a bottle, which he buried in the camp cemetery where it lay until the end of the war, when it was recovered by the British army and brought to this country. These sketches told a great story and have appeared in many exhibitions. In making them, he clearly risked his own life.

Stanley was barely five stones in weight when released from prison at the end of the war and, for a period, he had to stay in hospital in India. On his return home, his health improved and he began to think of a career. After graduating in law, he was called to the Bar in 1949. He was then 34 and had, like so many of the post-war intake to the Faculty of Advocates, a wealth of experience of life.

In contrast to the years of cruelty and inhumanity that he had suffered, Stanley was a quiet, calm and modest person, full of kindness and thought for others. He set up practice as an advocate in Edinburgh and soon gained much respect. The hurly-burly of crime in the High Court in Glasgow was not for him and his practice was almost entirely in civil cases. He was a clear thinker with an acute mind. His style was kindly, punctuated with some humour, and he showed a great understanding of all points of view, but always had his goal in mind. He was appointed standing junior counsel to the Department of Agriculture and to the Forestry Commission. He took silk in 1961 and presided over the Edinburgh Airport inquiry into the proposed extension of runways - a vexed subject that caused much anguish in that part of Edinburgh. He also acted as counsel for the hospital board in the long running Ninewells arbitration.

In 1972 he was appointed Sheriff Principal of Aberdeen, Kincardine and Banff, and in 1974, after local government reorganisation, he became the first Sheriff Principal of Grampian Highland and Islands. This was a heavy task - there were 11 sheriff courts over the North of Scotland and Outer Isles to administer and in which to hear civil appeals. He enjoyed the work and earned himself a reputation as a most able lawyer and for the polite, kindly atmosphere which he seemed to engender in court. Having been one of his sheriffs throughout his ten years there, I could not have looked for anybody nicer or more understanding. In Aberdeen there were many other duties to attend to, such as the odd invitation to deliver a lecture, the address to some association or body, big dinners when a speech was called for. In all these, Stanley excelled and Aberdonians took to him. He was made an honorary LLD of Aberdeen University in 1981. He retired as Sheriff Principal in December 1982.

He refused to confine his activities to the narrow bounds of the law and could always see the wider side of life. Despite the burden of his legal work, he took an active interest in music and outside affairs, where his ability was recognised. He was chairman of the board of management of Edinburgh Central Hospitals; vice-chairman of the Royal Victoria Hospital; chairman of pensions and medical appeal tribunals; a leading light in the charity now known as Children 1st, and a trustee of the National Library.

He was interested in people, and particularly children, whom he used to visit in hospital and take out, when well enough, in his lovely, open Alvis car of the 1950s. His visits to children’s homes were always greatly welcomed and he gave much help and comfort to young people, who appreciated his interest and great sense of fun.

He had a great love of music, was a director of the Scottish National Orchestra and was very interested in art and historic buildings. He adored India, where he would go on holiday, walking, trekking and meeting local people. He was fluent in Urdu and the stories he brought back were wonderful to hear. It was there he met families whose children he helped through education over many years. One of his strangest hobbies was that of a tree surgeon, and, well into his 60s, he could be seen roped 40ft up a tree, ready to start operations. His visits to my own family in Aultbea were a joy to young and old.

Stanley Gimson was a man of extraordinarily broad interests, of great ability, with a natural sense of unselfishness and a desire to help and show kindness to others, when in earlier life he himself had been exposed to such horror and cruel brutality. He will be missed by all who knew him, and especially by his two nieces, Di and Val, and their families, who loved their uncle dearly and who deserve all sympathy.