Syd Scroggie

Mountaineer, poet and author

Born: 1919, in Nelson, Canada.

Died: 9 September, 2006, in Dundee, aged 86.

ONLY those with a passion for the hills will understand why a blind, one-legged man would want to continue mountaineering after an accident that left him in such a debilitated state. But Syd Scroggie was not one who succumbed easily in the face of adversity, and his devotion for mountains, especially those of Scotland, was etched into his soul.

The incident that deprived Scroggie of his sight and the lower part of his leg came during the Italian Campaign in the Second World War. He was a lieutenant in Lord Lovat's Scouts - a ski-mountaineering regiment for which, with his climbing skills, Scroggie was well suited, having participated before the war in first ascents of routes on Lochnagar and Ben Nevis. Among other places, the soldiers trained at the School of Mountain Warfare, then in existence in the Cairngorms.

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Scroggie, aged just 25, was involved in action against elite German mountain troops on the Gesso Ridge, in April 1945 - only weeks before the end of the war - when he stood on an anti-personnel mine that blew off his leg and blinded him. The last thing he remembered seeing was the mountains of Italy and the azure blue Italian skies.

But rather than marking an end to his mountaineering, the accident began a remarkable and inspirational period which lasted the rest of his life. That Syd Scroggie's response to his devastating injuries was going to be different from what we might expect, came in a report from one of his fellow patients in the Naples hospital where he was treated after the accident. The patient recalled that he'd heard a lot of noise from an adjoining ward and went to investigate. What he found was Scroggie, surrounded by patients with whom he was laughing and joking. Already he was beginning to inspire those around him with his positive attitude to his physical loss. "I can do without my eyes," he reflected, not long after his accident, "but I can't do without my mountains."

Perhaps, too, he never forgot the advice given to him as a boy by another lover of the Sidlaw Hills, John Ireland, who told him that: "Efter his mither, a man's best freend is the hills".

A character in the true sense of the word, Scroggie became renowned not just as a "gangrel" of the hills, but as a poet, a self-taught Greek scholar, learning the language in braille, and had an honorary Doctor of Laws conferred on him by Dundee University in 2001.

Born William Sydney Scroggie in Nelson, Canada, he moved to Scotland after his father, originally from Fife, was killed during the First World War, fighting for the Canadian army.

He attended John Watson's Institution, in Edinburgh, and Harris Academy, where he played wing-forward in the school rugby team of 1935-6 that won every game.

On leaving school, Scroggie joined the Dundee publisher DC Thomson's, where he was employed as a sub-editor of The Hotspur - a comic well loved by boys for its tales of derring-do that Scroggie was to match in his own life.

After the Italian accident, he was given an artificial leg and then went to St Dunstan's in London, an institution for ex-servicemen and women who had lost their sight. From there, Scroggie studied at New College, Oxford, before returning to Dundee, where he got a job working on the switchboard at the technology firm NCR, where he remained until he retired, 23 years later.

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His disability did not stop Scroggie walking to work from home, and he resumed tramping the hills again with friends, and later his children and wife, acting as guides.

In 1954, he began teaching himself Greek, learning from a grammar book in braille and eventually working his way through the works of Herodotus and Thucydides.

In 1964 Scroggie was the subject of the television programme This is Your Life.

He described his blindness as "a sort of adventure" and there is sense in which he relished it, as can be gathered from the title of his 1989 book The Cairngorms, Seen and Unseen. It was that refusal to accept blindness as a physical prison, instead viewing it as a challenge, which inspired his many admirers and turned him into something of a legend in the mountaineering fraternity.

No stranger to controversy, Scroggie's friendship with the Dundee painter Lex Braes resulted in a bizarre episode in his life. In 1988, when apartheid still held South Africa apart, Edinburgh District Council purchased Braes' portrait of Nelson Mandela. It sparked a furore and prompted Scroggie to write in defence of his friend, which led to him being deemed a subversive by the right-wing group the Economic League - not something that would have worried Scroggie in the slightest.

In recognition of his achievements, a cairn and indicator were erected on Balluderon Hill in Scroggie's beloved Sidlaw Hills in 2000. Although 81, he climbed to the top of the hill, guided by his second wife, Margaret, for the official unveiling of the cairn.

Pre-deceased by his first wife, Barbara, Scroggie is survived by Margaret and their three children and four grandchildren.

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