Thousands line streets of Edinburgh to pay respects to fallen firefighter Barry Martin

Thousands of people lined the Royal MIle in Edinburgh on Friday to pay tribute to a firefighter who died after sustaining critical injuries in last month’s fire at the former Jenners department store.

Under clear blue skies, hundreds of the late Barry Martin’s colleagues in the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) lined the route from his former station to St Giles’ Cathedral, with members of the public turning out in vast numbers every step of the way.

Mr Martin, a 38 year-old father of two twin boys, died in the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh on 27 January, four days after being suffering serious injuries while he and more than 100 other firefighters fought to bring the large-scale and complex blaze under control.

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Four of his colleagues who also sustained injuries in the incident were among those to attend Friday’s service of thanksgiving and celebration for Mr Martin’s life, alongside dignitaries including First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Lord Provost Robert Aldridge.

The occasion marked nearly 14 years since Scotland mourned the loss of Ewan Williamson, who had been the last firefighter to be killed on duty. As on that day, the farewell to Mr Martin, from Rosyth, was rich not only in emotion, but symbolism.

It was Mr Martin’s colleagues from McDonald Road community fire station near Bonnington who gave him a guard of honour, and several of his fellow firefighters in the Blue Watch - part of the SFRS duty system - served as pallbearers.

It was a sign of the public’s wish to pay their respects to Mr Martin that, even 90 minutes before the service began, people lined the barriers erected along the Royal Mile. Countless others turned out along Leith Walk, London Road, and Abbeyhill, where the funeral cortege passed through on its way from McDonald Road to the heart of the Old Town.

As the crowds swelled, ranks of Mr Martin’s colleagues in the Blue Watch, all in their yellow protective uniforms, gathered in a seven-deep formation outside the cathedral. Then, in their hundreds, but as one, they lowered their helmets to the cobblestones of West Parliament Square.

Hundreds of firefighters lined the route of the funeral cortege. Picture: Lisa FergusonHundreds of firefighters lined the route of the funeral cortege. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
Hundreds of firefighters lined the route of the funeral cortege. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

Ms Sturgeon, Cammy Day, the leader of the City of Edinburgh Council, and Lord Provost Robert Aldridge were among those to lay wreaths at St Giles’, and shortly after 12.20pm, the cortege made its way up High Street and onto the Royal Mile. Save for a lone piper playing ‘Scotland the Brave’, there was silence as a fire engine came into sight. The appliance bore Mr Martin’s coffin, his yellow helmet placed on top of it.

The hearse followed close by, containing twofloral tributes from his eight year-old boys, Oliver and Daniel. ‘Daddy’, they read. With that, Ross Haggart, the interim chief officer of SFRS, gave Mr Martin the last salute before his coffin was carried into the cathedral.

Inside, the Rev Calum MacLeod, the minister of St. Giles’, opened the service, which was broadcast on speakers to those standing outside, and online to thousands watching the nation over. It was, he said, a day of “great sadness” for Mr Martin’s family and the fire service he joined only three years ago, but also the city he helped to protect, and Scotland as a whole. The cathedral, he added, was opening its doors to remember “the best that our country has to offer.”

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Father Jim Thomson, the SFRS chaplain, gave a reading from the Book of Isaiah, before Mr Aldridge delivered an address, paying tribute on behalf of the city to a firefighter who “selflessly, heroically, and bravely worked with his colleagues to keep us all safe.” He told those in the cathedral: “I know it was with profound shock that the city learned of his tragic death.

A single fire engine carried Barry Martin's coffin to the service at St Giles' Cathedral. Picture: Lisa FergusonA single fire engine carried Barry Martin's coffin to the service at St Giles' Cathedral. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
A single fire engine carried Barry Martin's coffin to the service at St Giles' Cathedral. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

“Many of you, like me, will have visited the site of the fire at the former Jenners store, and read through the many moving tributes to Barry, each of them personal, each of them heartfelt. The tributes were sombre and respectful and reflected the quiet admiration and gratitude we all feel for our firefighters, who put their health and lives on the line to protect us day after day.”

Outside, the number of rank and file firefighters had grown, with around 500 standing in West Parliament Square listening to the service. Some closed their eyes or bowed their heads. A few tried to hold back tears as the hymn, ‘We Cannot Measure How You Heal’, was sung inside.

Mr Haggart then delivered a eulogy to Mr Martin, describing him as a man with “an unwavering commitment” not only to his wife, Shelley, and their sons, but also to being a firefighter. SInce joining the SFRS in January 2020, Mr Haggart said, Mr Martin had immediately stood out to instructors as "somebody who could be relied upon" to support his squad.

"When the instructor asked for a volunteer to be the first to climb the ladder, Barry stepped forward - displaying courage and putting others before himself,” he explained. “He was enthusiastic and passionate and he remained that way throughout his time in the fire and rescue service. He was the epitome of what you would want in a colleague and friend - hardworking and loyal, he always had your back.”

There was laughter when Mr Haggart told a story of how Mr Martin had tried to show the rest of his squad how to ‘bull’ their boots so as to give them the perfect shine, only for the floor to be left covered with polish. Above all, he said, Mr Martin would be remembered as a “kind” and “selfless” colleague.

The congregation was then invited to observe a minute of silence to remember Mr Martin, and the mourners who had gathered outside the cathedral also joined in. Mr Martin's wife and sons left the cathedral to make their way to his private committal, and as the cortege left the grounds, the crowds outside gave a respectful round of applause.



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