Obituary: Bill Knight, fireman, trade unionist and pensioners’ rights activist

Bill Knight
Bill Knight
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Born: 15 October, 1920, in Aberdeen. Died: 7 February, 2013, in Tarland, Aberdeenshire, aged 92.

Growing up in a household with a former Suffragette and a decorated First World War soldier it was 
perhaps not surprising that Bill Knight would develop a highly honed sense of the need to stand up for others.

His mother Annie, the UK’s oldest person when she died aged 111, campaigned for justice for women and was politically active all her life. His father, William, awarded the military medal for rescuing a German from no man’s land, was a police officer in the Royal Ulster Constabulary.

Their son also served his country, as a leading aircraftsman during the Second World War, and later became a fireman, union representative and campaigning champion of senior citizens throughout north-east Scotland.

A committed socialist, who regularly took the Communist-supporting paper the Morning Star, he stood up against the National Front, fought countless issues, including plans to close urban post offices, and was invited to meet figures from the Queen to former Soviet Union president Mikhail Gorbachev. Articulate, well-read and straightforward, he was a man who simply got things done, arguing his case effectively and eloquently.

Born in Aberdeen, he grew up in the city’s Cattofield area and was barely out of his teens when he joined the RAF at the start of 1941. He trained initially in Blackpool, marching up and down the promenade where many of the boarding houses had been taken over by the Air Force. A mechanic, he became a leading aircraftman and served throughout the rest of the war at various bases, including in India. Following his demob in 1946, he returned to Aberdeen and joined the North Eastern Fire Brigade where he was a firefighter for almost 30 years.

During his time there, he fought for the rights of many colleagues as a representative of the Fire Brigades Union and, through his union links, visited Russia in the 1970s.

Knight, who retired from the fire service in 1975, then worked as a minibus driver and handyman for Grampian Regional Council and went on to become a school welfare officer for the council. He was also a member of the Children’s Panel and the Trades Union Congress. Well-used to taking up the cause for others, in 1991 he became a founder member of the Grampian Senior Citizens Forum, an organisation established to campaign for a better quality of life for older people in the region. He was its president for approximately 14 years, working diligently on a range of issues affecting the elderly. When the far right National Front applied to march down Aberdeen’s Union Street he was appalled, particularly on behalf of people who, like himself, had fought the Nazis during the war. He rallied support to form a human wall of pensioners prepared to risk arrest in protest against the event. Objectors won and the march was banned.

He also battled successfully against plans to close his local post office and implement rent increases in Aberdeenshire. Modest yet determined, he was a consummate campaigner and a match for the authorities in any joust with officialdom.

He made the Senior Citizens’ Forum a force to be reckoned with and was always treated with great respect by councillors and local authority officials. “His contribution to pensioners in the area was immense,” said the Forum’s current president, George Thomson. “His whole life was involved in sacrificing time for others. He wanted a better society for everybody.”

His work on behalf of so many others was celebrated by the organisation he helped to set up, which presented him with a plaque in recognition of his contribution, and by Grampian Police’s Diced Cap charitable trust, which honoured him with a Good Samaritan award.

He remained active with the forum until well into his 80s and his community work left little time for other interests, save his family, music and walking. Predeceased by his wife May, whom he married in 1956, he is survived by his son Bill and four grandsons, Jamie, Lewis, Kristopher and Kallum, on whom he doted.