At the age of 97 my grandfather, Hunter Cosh, passed away in the idyllic town of Ayr on Scotland’s west coast, where he spent most of his life. Just three short of his century, he did reach an incredible landmark a week prior, when he celebrated his 75th wedding anniversary. After receiving letters from the Queen for his Diamond, Blue Sapphire and Platinum anniversaries, he commented about his 75th, “they’ve run out of names to call it, we’re too old”. He passed away on March 15, the Ides of March, famous for the death of Julius Caesar. And, incidentally, it was the date of the first ever official cricket Test match, when England played Australia, which would later become The Ashes.
My earliest memory of my grandfather is vivid, due to the severity of the situation. While visiting us in Zambia, and on safari, our Land Rover broke down next to a pride of lions, who had just killed a buffalo. My grandfather was the first to volunteer to push – even the armed guard didn’t leave the vehicle – and this epitomises his strength of character and leadership qualities, which became prevalent during the war, and on the sporting field.
Captain of the school 1st XI
Hunter Cosh boarded at the Edinburgh Academy (EA 1930-38), a school selected by his father, a prominent attorney, to follow in his footsteps of becoming a lawyer. He captained the school cricket XI and athletics team, and was head of the Officer Training Corps, and head boy. In 1938, he played fly half for the Scottish schools’ rugby team against the English schools’, and scored a try from his own 22 metre line, crucially kicking the conversion in Scotland’s 14-13 victory. He also scored 90 runs in a school cricket match against Watsonians, that prompted their Headmaster to write a letter to his parents to say it was the “finest innings” he had seen. Our family has since had a long history of Academicals, as my father, brother and I, all attended the Academy.
Wedding photograph, 1942
After school, he began training as a lawyer until the outbreak of World War II when he joined the army, and was commissioned as an officer, aged 19. I recall my grandfather telling me while I was at University, “when I was your age, I was in-charge of 30 men”. He married my grandmother, Betty Naismith, in 1942, whom he met at the sergeant’s dance in Callander, Perthshire, while receiving mountain warfare training with the Royal Scots Fusiliers. Although he rarely mentioned the war, my grandfather saw action in France and was part of Operation Ariel, where he was evacuated, incredibly, on the last ship to leave the port of Cherbourg. Winston Churchill would describe the event as a “miracle of deliverance”. When World War II ended, Hunter Cosh was in Germany, having travelled through France and Belgium, aged 25, with the rank of Major. He would accept the formal surrender from two German Generals, who each handed him their Luger pistols.
For his war services in Operation Overlord, my grandfather received an MBE from King George VI.
After the war, he became Managing Director of two prestigious retail outlets in the High Street, Ayr, which established into a successful wine & spirits company. Hunter Cosh resumed playing cricket for Ayr, as a wicketkeeper and hard-hitting batsman. He also played for Ayr Rugby 1st XV, as fly half and full back.
A formidable batsman, he scored 80 runs in Ayr’s T20 Rowan Cup final win against Clydesdale in 1951. He also broke a ground record, scoring 142 against Drumpellier at Cambusdoon. His performances for Ayr earned him selection for the Scotland national cricket team, who he represented 42 times as a wicketkeeper, batsman, and latterly as Captain. My grandfather achieved a few records for Scotland, notoriously for hitting boundaries. He scored 81 not out against Ireland, at Raeburn Place, which included 4 sixes and 10 fours – a remarkable strike rate for a three-day match in 1956.
This era was before the time of cricket helmets, and while playing for Ayr against Greenock, my grandfather top-edged the ball while playing a pull shot, and spat out two teeth. Retired hurt, he was taken to an emergency dentist, before returning to the match to resume his innings, and scored 84 runs, including 5 sixes.
Among my grandfather’s cricket highlights, he hit Fred Truman for six through the visitors dressing room window, when Scotland played Yorkshire in 1951. He also hit Athol Rowan, one of South Africa’s best off-spinners, for six off the first ball of his innings, in a two-day match.
Captain of Scotland v Australia
My grandfather’s highest score for Scotland was 99, against Derbyshire at Buxton, in 1954. He was run out, not realising the fielder was left-handed, while attempting to take a quick single. He is one of Scotland’s highest run scorers not to reach a century. A strong fielder, he took 4 catches against Lancashire in 1956 and, as a wicketkeeper, claimed 5 catches against Ireland in 1950. In his final match for Scotland, he captained the team to Scotland’s first win over an English county, when they beat Warwickshire at Edgbaston in 1959.
A talented sportsman, he took up golf after cricket, becoming the Secretary of Prestwick Golf Club, and playing off a handicap of 2. I fondly recall playing catching practise and French cricket with my grandfather in his garden during the summer. And our many holidays to Tenerife, playing with a bat and ball on the beach. Even at the age of 75, he was sharp in the field.
As with cricket, he wouldn’t quite reach a hundred, but he would have some incredible highlights along the way.
My grandfather and I, Airlie House
Updated 01:35 - 1 May 2017 by Edinburgh Accies