Oliver Turnbull

Scotland rugby internationalist

Born: 3 June, 1919, in Eildon, Melrose.

Died: 19 February, 2009, at St Boswells, aged 89.

OLIVER Turnbull was a well-kent face in and around Kelso and the Borders farming community, but the messages of condolence that have been sent to the area from all over the UK since his passing have provided an indication of the high regard in which he was held further afield.

Not only did Turnbull play for Scotland, but he was one of the country's oldest debutants, pulling on the navy jersey for the first time aged 32, against France, having already left his mark on many rugby fields. The Kelso centre never spoke of being disappointed at his late call-up; a modest, down-to-earth character, he was hugely honoured to have been selected for Scotland at any time. He even managed to acquire two caps – internationalists are usually given just one, irrespective of how many games they play – having lost the original only to rediscover it recently.

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But, talk at his funeral in Kelso recalled the feeling among many of his peers at the time that the SRU selectors had missed a trick during a tough post-war period by waiting to cap Turnbull. He was unlucky. He was one of nine new caps to face France in the Stade Colombes in 1951 – the venerable Scotsman rugby writer Norman Mair being another – but after the side was narrowly beaten 14-12 in Paris, he was injured for the next game, against Wales.

Scotland recorded an emphatic 19-0 win, described as "the most famous David and Goliath act in international rugby", Wales having won the Grand Slam the year before. Turnbull was named on the bench for the next two games without getting on, and when he did return to the starting line-up, it was for the now infamous November 1951 Test with South Africa. He hardly glimpsed the ball as Scotland went down 44-0.

Like several players from that fateful game, he was never given another chance, and having captained Kelso that year – he had also played his part in the championship season of 1947-48, when Kelso shared the Scottish title with Aberdeen Grammar FPs – he retired from rugby in 1952.

Turnbull had also played for the Barbarians, against Newport, Cardiff and East Midlands, captained the Co-optimists and been a stalwart of the South of Scotland teams for more than a decade.

One of five children, Francis Oliver Turnbull attended Kelso High School and, after a year with the King's Own Scottish Borderers, he returned to his father's wood production and sawmill business in Kelso.

He married Sheila Cameron in Kelso in the late 1950s and they had two children, Karen and Cameron, but he lost Sheila only a few years later. A good family man, he remarried, to Joyce Plenderleith in 1967, and became step-father to Christopher and Wendy, Joyce passing away just five years ago.

His son recalled him as seeming strict to some on the outside, but being "a big softie really", who loved all of his and Joyce's children, and had great fun with them.

After rugby he moved into farming at Hiltonshill near St Boswells and turned his hand to golf, with some aplomb, becoming a popular figure at Kelso as well as the Northumberland links course of Goswick. His handicap fell as low as four at one stage.

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Kelso Rugby Club and Kelso Golf Club remained close to his heart, and though problems with his knees made lengthy walks more difficult in recent times his fitness was such that it came as a great shock to many when he suffered a heart attack last month.

The presence of great Scotland players of the past, such as Arthur Dorward and Ken Smith, at a big funeral just a drop-kick from Poynder Park underlined the affection in which he was held and which garnered a large collection for the Wooden Spoon Society, a UK rugby charity.

He is survived by his sister, his two children and two stepchildren.