Obituary: William Archibald Frazer, chartered accountant

Born: 24 July, 1923, in Glasgow. Died: 21 October, 2013, in Edinburgh, aged 90

William Frazer: Modest veteran of Monte Cassino who was coal board accountant during miners strike

Bill Frazer may have been born in Glasgow but his family had its roots in Largs, Ayrshire, where, for a number of generations, they had been blacksmiths.

In the 1920s his father had opened his own business in Glasgow and had done well. It was clear though that the depression of the 1930s had its effect and his father lost his business. Bill left school at 14 and began a journey towards ­accountancy and though it was a departure from the physical activity of his forebears for generations, he had a natural aptitude for figures and could look at a page of accounts and spot where the error was at a glance.

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In the midst of his training, the Second World War began and Bill was called up and served in the Royal Artillery seeing active service in North Africa, Italy, Greece, Palestine and Austria. When his children asked what he did during the war, the only information given was that he had carried a radio and a shovel and not a gun. It emerged only towards the end of his life that his shovel had been needed in order to dig a slit trench, his radio was required to call in the artillery.

In one of the few conversations he ever shared about his war experience, he described how at the siege of Monte Cassino, he had to climb up the mountain and dig in as close to the monastery as he could get and then radio back with instructions to the artillery and aircraft who would commence their bombardment.

The risk of being killed by your own side was great, but even greater was the risk of being shot by a sniper if you stood up. He did indeed lose many friends. He also told how his radio batteries would last only about 24 hours and then he’d need a new one; but no-one would come up to his very exposed position to resupply him, the risk was too great. So he waited till it was dark and went down the mountain and got the batteries himself. He couldn’t have done his job otherwise.

Prior to landing in Italy, as a competent swimmer, he was asked to give swimming lessons in the middle of the Mediterranean. This was in preparation for the disastrous landings at ­Salerno in which he was involved, a time of great loss of life and brutality.

Some of the events he was involved with were among the hardest fought battles of the war. This may explain his reluctance to share stories of these experiences and the fact that his campaign medals stayed very firmly in their box and were never worn. There was no glory in it.

At the end of the fighting, when peace came, he volunteered enthusiastically to join the Pay Corps of his Regiment and, in a glowing reference issued by his commanding officer on the occasion of his leaving the army at the end of 1946, he was described as, “a true Scotsman of high intelligence and high moral character, conscientious and painstaking in his work and pleasant to deal with. He has recently done splendid work as a member of a board examining and advising on the workings of the new system of army pay where his knowledge of his subject and his sound advice have been most helpful. He leaves to return to his old work in accountancy with our sincere regrets and highest recommendations.”

When he qualified as a chartered accountant he was recruited into the National Coal Board, which had been set up after the war to secure the nation’s energy supply and he served the NCB throughout his working life until its demise with the miners’ strike in the mid-1980s.

He began as a colliery accountant in Clackmannanshire and eventually rose to be chief accountant for the Scottish area of the coal board. He often went underground and was a strong advocate of the introduction of steel pit props to the Scottish coal-field. He had noticed that there were a great many annoying roof collapses with wooden props and campaigned for the introduction of steel ones. His argument was that this would be far more efficient, but it also undoubtedly saved many lives.

In the early 1970s he transferred to the Yorkshire coalfield and was at first asked to oversee the selling off of NCB ancillary industries to the private sector and then became chief accountant for the Yorkshire area. The miners’ strike was a traumatic time. In Scotland, Bill had enjoyed the company of Mick ­McGahey, the mineworkers union leader in Scotland and got on well with him. A management colleague in the coal board tragically lost a young child and, despite their differences, Mick turned up and unobtrusively joined the mourners at the funeral. Bill always remembered this act of human solidarity at a time when the NUM leadership was being demonised.

The office in Doncaster where he worked was picketed throughout the strike. And every day Bill would arrive at work before his staff and personally escort them through the lines, having abuse hurled at him as he went by. He felt a profound responsibility to those who worked for him. The end of the strike more or less marked the end of the industry and he felt very deeply for all the communities that had lost a way of life.

He took the opportunity to retire and returned to Edinburgh where he immediately began working for an enterprise support organisation that was seeking to help with economic regeneration in the former Scottish coalfield. At this time he also became a director and treasurer of the Eric Liddell Centre almost from the start of its life in the mid-1980s until he hit his 80th birthday ten years ago and was told he could no longer be a ­director.

He was also a devout man, who walked humbly with his God and sought to serve his community as best he could. He was ordained as an elder by Ian Cowie at Tullibody St Serf’s Church in about 1950 and was Kirk treasurer almost everywhere he went.

He had been a Boys’ Brigade leader in his youth and met his wife, Joan, who grew up in the same neighbourhood where she ran the Life Boys. He became a Group Scout Leader in Doncaster.

He had also been a Sunday school and Bible class teacher in Windsor Place Church in Portobello and was active in Hallgate United Reformed Church in Doncaster and latterly Greenbank Church in Edinburgh where his funeral service was held. He was pre-deceased by his wife, Joan, after 58 years of marriage and is survived by his four children, 13 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.