A Wartime Escape: Another Arnold Kemp

This is an excerpt from Arnold Kemp’s family memoir: “The Sentimental Tourist”. It is his account of the wartime escape of another Arnold Kemp, his uncle, and the younger son of the minister in Birse who is also mentioned here, Rev Arnold Low Kemp

Uncle Arnold’s escape

A REMARKABLE TALE of the war comes to us from my Uncle Arnold (Addie).   Uncle Addie was also able, if less literary than his older brother (my father Robert Kemp), and an active and adventurous boy.   His informal education was to prove of at least as much value as his studies in the classroom.   Indeed, his childhood ploys on the Dee probably helped to save his life later.  He was dux of Aboyne intermediate school and then followed my father to Robert Gordon’s.  He took a diploma in tropical agriculture at Marischal College (the other wing of the university) and was appointed an assistant manager of a rubber estate in the state of Kedah, North Malaya.   He left in 1937 on the PO steamship Corfu and immediately joined the local volunteer force.   In 1940 he moved to Perak, transferred to the Federated Malay States Volunteer Forces and began extended wartime training.

In December 1941, while he was on long leave in Sydney, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and northern Malaya.   He joined the Australian Imperial Forces but on his urgent recall to Malaya by the volunteer forces was granted an immediate discharge to enable him to return.   He arrived in Singapore in January 1942 in the midst of a severe air raid.   He was sent by train to Kuala Lumpur but it was overrun by the Japanese and he had to withdraw by stages to Singapore.

The Japanese assault forces penetrated the Singapore’s island defences about the 6th or 7th of February.   Their gunfire turned night into day.   Addie was in charge of a section of about 10 men with two machine guns, deployed in pill boxes on the tiny island of Berhala Repin, straight across from Admiralty Steps on the Singapore sea front.   Fires raged throughout the city and the harbour area.  Some members of the company were killed as the Japanese strafed and bombed at will:  they had total control of air space.

On Friday, February 13, two days before the fall, a party of Allied soldiers was spotted on a pier half a mile from Addie’s pill box.   Their company commander, Eric ‘Whisky’ Bruce, ordered him to take a couple of men and guide the party back to company headquarters.   It was a hairy journey as Japanese planes searched for victims.    Addie and his men ducked and dived, cowering in the craters with which the road was pitted.   But when they reached the pier they found that the party had been cut to pieces.   Bodies were spread about everywhere.  They found no survivors but as they were about to leave noticed a man, half buried, who still seemed to be alive.   When they pulled him free, they found that his body had been severed;  ‘he came away with no lower part attached’.   Convulsed with nausea, they covered him as best they could and left.   Later that night their nerves were again shaken when a Japanese bomb fell on a rock near Addie’s pill box.   A jagged boulder crashed through its concrete roof and came to rest on the lid of a full box of hand grenades.

During this week many ships were sunk in the harbour roads.  Early one morning Addie saw an empty lifeboat gliding towards the pill box.   He swam out to it and, grabbing its trailing painter, beached it, and secured it to an overhanging tree.

Lavrenti Beria and The Collapse of the Soviet Union

A column from The Herald 1992 on an article by Donald Rayfield in the Scottish Slavonic Review.


That Lavrenti Beria was a monster is well enough known, though the full extent of his activities is still dimly understood. Apart from developing state terror as an instrument of policy, he killed and tortured personally, for the pleasure of it. He became Stalin’s secret police chief. When the Soviet Union finally acknowledged its responsibility for the Katyn Massacre of 1943 – when more or less the entire Polish officer squad was wiped out by the Soviet secret police – it named Beria as the guilty man, though his recommendation was countersigned by Stalin and others.

“Were we just wrong Jim?” – Sillars and devolution

From Arnold Kemp’s book, a personal history of post-war Scotland “The Hollow Drum”.

…Jim Sillars told me a story about himself which, he said, explained his character. When he was 15 he was apprenticed to a plasterer and was one of a team working on a job. Although he was the junior apprentice he found he was expected to do the labouring. On further inquiry he discovered from the boss that the job had been priced to allow for three labourers, a junior apprentice, a senior apprentice and a journeyman. The boss had not employed any labourers; he was skimming more profit by making the junior apprentice do the donkey-work.

Sillars walked off the job. There was an enormous row. His father was called to a meeting. But it was to no avail and that day the plastering trade lost a recruit. 

Crossoword tribute Herald

I APPRECIATED the tribute to the late Arnold Kemp by John McKie (alias Myops) incorporated into the Wee Stinker crossword on September 23. It was, as usual, very clever yet…

Richard Nixon

IT is one of the odd characteristics of our political life that the little things may be more dangerous than the large.  Chancellor Norman Lamont may with impunity squander billions on the fruitless defence of sterling. This matters little in the public mind beside his inability to keep his Access bill inside its credit limit.

Perhaps there is some validity in this way of assessing the real person. A character in a Jane Austen novel — one of her succession of charming men who turn out to be scoundrels — was found to be of light and careless disposition because he went to London to get his haircut.

And in London this week another victim of the treacherous turns of political life was making a triumphant return. They used to call him Tricky Dick but, thin as a cheroot, he received a standing ovation from a highly discriminating audience after a speech to a private dinner. Delivered with passion and fluency, without notes of any kind, it could only be described as a tour de force.

Alex Salmond renounces SNP leadership in 2001

  • From The Arnold Kemp Archives:  Observer, Sunday 28 January 2001
  • Somewhere at home I have a collection of tapes of political interviews dating from the early 1990s. I have always meant to listen to them again, not for their substance but for the eccentric extraneous noises.

    Interruptions by waiters have a deadly effect on anecdotes; they are always perfectly timed to ruin the punch-line. The chatter and laughter of fellow diners constitute other hazards.

Alex Salmond renounces SNP leadership

  • From The Observer, Sunday 28 January 2001
  • Somewhere at home I have a collection of tapes of political interviews dating from the early 1990s. I have always meant to listen to them again, not for their substance but for the eccentric extraneous noises.

    Interruptions by waiters have a deadly effect on anecdotes; they are always perfectly timed to ruin the punch-line. The chatter and laughter of fellow diners constitute other hazards.

Henry McLeish’s resignation as First Minister

  • The Observer, Sunday 27 January 2002 01.46 GMT
  • Article history
  • There is a school of newspaper writers who believe in adding culinary detail in order to satisfy the dictum of the great American journalist A.J. Liebling, who said that the first duty of the reporter was to convince the reader that he was there.

    In the heyday of the Sunday Times Insight team, a great deal of manpower was expended on what was called the theory of corroborative detail. A friend recalls phoning the butler at the Hirsel in 1963 to establish just what Alec Douglas-Home had for breakfast on the morning he received the call to lead the Tories.

Tom Johnston, wartime secretary for Scotland

THE day before the premature closure of Ravenscraig was announced I chanced to be in Caledonia Books, one of the excellent second-hand bookshops in the West End of Glasgow. Among my purchases was Memories, the autobiography of Tom Johnston, Secretary of State for Scotland during the war. He is remembered today mostly for the foundation of the Hydro-Electric Board but there was more to him than that.

When Churchill summoned him to London in 1941 and persuaded him — rather against his will, for he wanted to write books — to join the national Government he made two conditions. One was that he didn’t want to take any money for office during the war. ”My resources are adequate to my needs and I don’t want to make a song and dance about it.”

Gitobu Imanyara

EVERY so often you meet a person whose courage draws you up short and makes you ashamed of your petty grievances. Sometimes the courage is private and personal; sometimes it is in the public domain. In Budapest earlier this month I had the great privilege of meeting an African who has twice come within an inch of death in the cause of freedom.

I would like to be able to claim Gitobu Imanyara as a journalist, for he is the editor of the Nairobi Law Monthly. Indeed, he is a journalist in that his magazine goes far beyond the bounds of normal legal commentary and is detested by the Kenyan regime for its exposes of corruption, brutality and malpractice. But Imanyara is really a lawyer.

A tea party in Hungary

IT is a sunny spring afternoon in Buda. At the British Embassy they are giving a tea party. The guests, the Brits attending a conference in the town, are ushered through the magnificent old mansion, dating from the great days of the Austro-Hungarian empire. They admire the circular marble staircase and the Bluthner grand piano on which recitals are given from time to time.

Geoffrey Palmer, Scotland’s first black professor

ON the way back from Kelso races on Thursday the bus stopped at the little village of Oxton and our hosts got up an impromptu dominoes tournament in the pleasant little pub there. I was swiftly wiped out in the first round by one Godfrey (”Geoff”) Palmer. He went on to contest the final, in which he was narrowly beaten by a senior Labour local government politician.

A defence of Malcolm Rifkind

The Herald, Editorial Notebook, 24 April 1993.

THERE appeared in the London Evening Standard, on Friday, April 16, a vicious attack on Malcolm Rifkind. It was written by a Matthew Norman. I have never heard of him and I entertain absolutely no desire ever to meet him.

The article is a critique of Mr Rifkind’s considered response to pressure put on him by Lady Thatcher and others to support military intervention in former Yugoslavia.

Jimmy Logan, selling water and playing safe

The Herald, Editorial Notebook, 29 May 1993.

THE water in the Grand Canal looks filthy but the fat lady from the Bronx reclines in the gondola and trails her fingers langorously in it. This early in the year the smells are not yet ripe but the occasional pong wafts up to the restaurant where we sit in the garden as evening falls.

White Settlers

ON these sunny mornings of our Indian summer it is hard to feel bad tempered, but there are people whose behaviour can nudge you towards irritation whatever the weather. Among these, the imperious Englishwoman is a world champion.

Such thoughts occurred to me as I queued behind one of the breed at the express till at our local supermarket this week. She caught my eye because she was carefully reading the notice explaining that transactions were cash-only.

Rain in St Malo

St Malo

COCO the dog is a trifle wet. His mistress has taken him on his morning walk and, because it is raining, chained him to a banister rail until he dries and can resume his usual place on a settee. For most of his life the boxer, grave and dignified, has sat around the lobby of the hotel and watched the tourists come and go. They pet him still.

Nelson Mandela

NELSON Mandela joins us for a working breakfast though, at 8am, he has already eaten. He does not look his 75 years, and he speaks to the journalists, with energy and conviction, for more than an hour. Our breakfast sits unnoticed on the side table.

Pat Chalmers and the BBC

Pat Chalmers, controller of BBC Scotland between 1983 and 1991, has retired from the corporation after a two-year stint in Hong Kong, and this week friends and colleagues attended a dinner given for him in London.

Pat belonged to an era of broadcasting that seems now to be disappearing. Both in the Birtian BBC and in the commercial world increasingly ruled by market forces, it would now be difficult for an independent and rumbustious spirit like Pat to survive.

John Smith

ACROSS the Ness from the hotel policeman keep watch from the roof of the Eden Court Theatre where the Tory conference is in session. The Prime Minister is arriving shortly to bring this melancholy but oddly inspiring week in British politics to a conclusion.

It has been melancholy, of course, because of the cruel death of John Smith. In its grief the British political establishment has found a rare unity. Our adversarial system has the virtue of in the end producing a Yes or a No to any political question. Its defect is that its perpetual mutual slagging becomes arid. The prying eyes of television, and the eavesdropping radio microphones, have revealed also its petty, schoolboy side.

Billy Connolly

ONCE, during a short season on the staff of the old North British Hotel in Edinburgh, I took up in the lift such notables as Gene Kelly, Kenneth More, and Sir Arthur Bliss. Quite apart from acquiring a lasting appreciation of the patience of those who have to wait on the public, and a tendency, out of a lingering feeling of solidarity, to tip too much, I have been dining out on my days as a lift boy ever since.

Glamour rubs off on those who find themselves close to it but celebrity is a two-way street. This week in Edinburgh, a tourist in my own home town, shuttling about the place as a consumer of culture, I have again seen this truth at work.