Tragic tale uncovers heroes

John Duncan, Military historian at Newtongrange War Memorial
John Duncan, Military historian at Newtongrange War Memorial

James Holgate enlisted to fight for his country in World War Two with his cousin Joe Walker. Little did he know that his relative and fellow surface worker at Lady Victoria Colliery would be used as a test case by his employers, forcing him to stay at home and work.

After Joe Walker’s case was won by the Lothian Coal Company every surface worker after him was exempt from Military Service, meaning that James Holgate was one of the last to fight for his country.

Tragically, he was killed at sea when his ship, SS Benalbanach was torpedoed by Italian planes on January 7, 1943, east of Algiers. The ship, which was carrying explosives, caught fire and blew up. Of the ship’s company of 430 all but 20 were lost at sea.

Joe Walker’s daughter, Cath Scott (72), grew up hearing this tragic story and has pushed for James Holgate to have his name added to the war memorial.

Read more on this feature in the February 21 edition of the Midlothian Advertiser.