WW1 tragedy of Cranston Fiddle

The Cranston Fiddle
The Cranston Fiddle

Cranston Fiddle is a World War One story with a difference - a tale told through the mournful tunes of a violin belonging to a Borders family.

Borderer Alexander Cranston gifted the fiddle to his son, William, an accomplished violinist, on his death from cancer in Haddington on October 9, 1911. He left a wife and 11 children but within a decade four of their seven sons were killed, with two horrifically maimed, in the ‘Great War,’ between 1914-18.

Only one child would be left in Scotland: Willy, a forester at Earlston, disfigured by an exploding German stick grenade in the Battle of the Somme, and still playing his father’s fiddle, despite losing an eye and three fingers on one hand.

William and his violinist wife Martha, who married him while he recovered from his ghastly wounds in a military hospital, raised three children in Lauder, where he worked as head forester on the Earl of Lauderdale’s estate.

After Martha died in 1953, and William in 1957, the fiddle fell into the hands of Earlston High School and, decades later, to teacher Sheila Sapkota of Riddell Fiddles, who decided to continue to play it and tell its story, in the centenary of the start of the First World War.

Selkirk based Riddell Fiddles take up the story - text and narration by Haddington author and historian Bob Mitchell and the production featuring musical pieces composed by Donald Knox.

This story of loss is uniquely told from the perspective of the surviving fiddle and the traditional music it played and continues to play is related in terms of the music of the time.

The project features fiddler, singers, guitarists, percussion, whistle and a small group of teenage musicians from Selkirk based Riddell Fiddles (www.riddellfiddles.co.uk) with slides put together and presented by local photographer Ian Oliver (www.ianoliverphoto.co.uk).

The song ‘Calling doon the Line’ by Hawick singer/songwriter Alan Brydon is beautifully delivered by Ron Hastings in an emotive rendering which summarises the awfulness of the was.

Interwoven through the whole performance there is the message that out of all the sadness comes hope, with the younger musicians participating and the fiddles singing in and out of the tunes.

Supported by a grant from the First World War Heritage Lottery fund ‘Cranston Fiddle’ has been touring village halls across the Scottish Borders and the south of Scotland telling the story of a local family through music and with a fiddle which has continued to play through the years and the sadness.

The Cranston Fiddle will be performed in the Royal British Legion Scotland hall, Coldstream, on Sunday, November 9, at 3pm.

Phone the dedicated phone to book a seat at 07719451444.

The organisers are particularly keen to allow all who wish to attend this event and tickets are free (a donation can be given) but it may be best to book.

All donations are towards running costs with any excess going towards the Riddell Fiddles ‘junior ceilidh band’.