Alexander (Alex) Gourlay
Born 13th August 1919
26 Thompson St, Kilmarnock
Alex was the first born of eight children, to James and Annie Gourlay. Three of his siblings Madge, Ellen, David – are all still living in Kilmarnock
Growing up in tough times, Alex always showed great commitment to his family
and, as a boy, he left school to work to help support them through the
On December 19th, 1938 he joined the army, serving in the Royal Artillery. Following military training, he was posted to the Far East, based in Singapore. Alex was one of many thousands of armed forces personnel who were captured by the Japanese when the island finally fell in February 1942. It was here, at Changi prison, that he was held as a POW and was subsequently put to work on the infamous Burma railway.
During his incarceration, Alex experienced many hardships, atrocities and illnesses, but despite these challenges he managed to find the strength to form close bonds with fellow POWs and survive this incredibly harsh ordeal.
However, typical of Alex, all was not doom and gloom. In later life he shared numerous stories about humorous incidents from his time as a POW. Such stories often involved the stealing of food, usually in the form of scrawny chickens and stolen vegetables. More spectacularly, he earned the nickname “Rustler” by diverting a stray buffalo into the camp, where it was promptly requisitioned and shared by the starving prisoners and their guards!
Alex also regaled us with tales of “fine cuisine”, detailing meals of less than appetising rice bulked up with blades of grass and tasty snake meat.
When Singapore was liberated the surviving prisoners, including Alex, made their way home to their families. Alex’s choice of transportation being the HMS Ettrick.
Following the war and now as an amputee he took up his former occupation as a brushmaker and married his long-time friend Margaret Proudfoot on Feb 4th 1947. They had their first son, Alistair, before heading south in search of better pay and work in the Midlands. Settling in Cannock they raised their family with two more children, Ronald and Linda. Alex was a keen gardener who grew vegetables and fruit for the household but his passion was always for his beautiful flowers.
Alex remained with his company as it became part of Slumberland and Dupont group, eventually retiring on ill health grounds. He saw his children marry and start their own families, Ron emigrating to Canada in 1977 with his wife Lynne and their daughter Ethna. In 1978 their second child Phillip was born.
Alex moved to Manchester with Margaret in 1982 to be closer to his family, Linda, Alan, and their daughter Felicity. Sadly in April 1985 his older son Alistair died in a car accident, leaving his wife, Anne and their three children; Richard, Helen and Fiona. Later that year he suffered another loss when Margaret his wife succumbed to cancer. In December 1985 Alex himself was diagnosed with cancer and underwent major surgery which culminated in the removal of one of his lungs.
After convalescence he moved to Hastings to live with his daughter Liz (Linda) and her daughter Felicity. Liz and her new partner, Rob, gave him another granddaughter, Genevieve, in 1989. In 1991 they moved to Scotland.
In 1994 his grandson Jordan was born. However sadness was never far away with the tragic death in 1997 of his grandson Richard. In 1999 his first great grandchild Leighton was born to Felicity, followed by Ethna and Clark’s children, Evan and Gwenyth.
Over the next few years Alex spent many holidays at the Ancaster BLESMA home at Crieff and enjoyed the area and the company. When his health started to fail and he could no longer cope with the hustle and bustle of family life, he became a permanent resident in 2002.
Alex’s memory and faculties have been slowing failing over a long period of time but he managed to keep a chatty disposition and a twinkle in his eye for the ladies right to the end. Alex was a man with very high principles, who loved his family and also loved to socialise, chat, dance, sing and party.
Alex was father to 3, grandfather to 8, and great grandfather to 3 with a fourth great-grandchild due imminently.
For all that happened his attitude was very much positive and optimistic and he would often be heard saying “well we need to just get on with it”. This was a strength that carried him on to a grand old age of 86 years…against the odds.