Obituary: Reverend William Speirs, 96

William Speirs. Picture: contributed
William Speirs. Picture: contributed
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The oldest and longest-serving Baptist minister in Scotland has died at the age of 96.

The Reverend William Speirs was born in Edinburgh on June 10, 1917, the son of an elder at the Bristo Baptist Church. After winning a scholarship to George Heriot’s School he read Divinity at Edinburgh University. However, his studies were interrupted by the Second World War.

In 1942 he was appointed as an army chaplain to 1st Worcestershire Regiment. During 1944’s Operation Jupiter he witnessed horrific scenes at the battle for Hill 112.

That year Speirs married Annie Gray Mitchell, whom he met in 1942, while still serving in the army. Their wedding, which was organised in two days, took place during a weekend he was given on leave.

After being sent home in 1945 for treatment to a wound, Speirs decided to return to the army for two more years. He was placed in Italy where he offered support to German prisoners of war, setting up a theological seminary for those who wanted to become pastors. The friendships he made during this time lasted for many years and the seminary still stands. His German friends told him they would “never forget what you have done for us . . . a friend and brother in Christ”.

After being demobilised he completed his PhD from home, which between 1947 to 1952 was the Baptist church in Redcar. He then served the Baptist community in Derby by teaching religious instruction at local schools for 20 years, while also serving in the Territorial Army, acting as chaplain to Kingsway Mental Hospital and serving as president for the Derby Scottish Association.

In 1982 he returned to Scotland and spent his last five years before retirement as third pastorate at the Free Kirk in Canonbie, Dumfriesshire. He moved to Innerleithen after retiring in 1987, but continued to help out the local community through various activities involving the church, the British Legion, the Liberal Democrats and Probus. He was also heavily involved in the Scout movement throughout his life and would march at the head of his troop on the St George’s Day parade in full uniform and kilt.

Ian Gray, the current minister at Peebles Baptist Church, said: “I am one of the newest – as distinct from the youngest – Baptist ministers in Scotland. Bill, by contrast, was both the oldest and the longest serving.

“Bill knew his mind and was a much respected figure throughout the Baptist Church in Scotland. At the recent Baptist Conference in St Andrews I was informed of his death from Peebles and I informed my colleagues at the conference. There was an audible sigh of regret and many spoke of their admiration for his life’s work.”

Rev Speirs died on June 13 in Melrose. His wife Annie had passed away in 2003. The couple are survived by their two sons and two daughters.