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Hamish Henderson: Wikis


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Hamish Scott Henderson, (11 November 1919 - 8 March 2002; Scottish Gaelic: Seamas MacEanraig (Seamas Mòr)) was a Scottish poet, songwriter, soldier, and intellectual.

He has been referred to as the most important Scots poet since Robert Burns and was a catalyst for the folk revival in Scotland. He was also an accomplished folk song collector and discovered such notable performers as Jeannie Robertson, Flora MacNeil, and Calum Johnston.


Early life

Born illegitimately in Blairgowrie, Perthshire, Henderson eventually moved to England with his mother. He won a scholarship to the prestigious Dulwich School in London; however, his mother died shortly before he was due to take up his place and he was forced to live in an orphanage while studying there.

He studied at the University of Cambridge in the years leading up to World War II and spent spare time running messages for the Quakers in Nazi Germany. He also worked to smuggle Jewish people out of the country right up until the outbreak of war.

World War II

Although he argued strongly for peace, even well into the early years of the war, he became convinced that a satisfactory peace could not be reached and so he threw himself into the war effort. Joining as an enlisted soldier in the Pioneer Corps, he later applied for and received a commission in the Intelligence Corps. He was quite effective as an interrogator due to his command of six European languages and deep affection for German culture.

He took part in the Desert War in Africa, during which he wrote his poem Elegies For the Dead in Cyrenaica, encompassing every aspect of a soldier's experience of the sands of North Africa. On 19 April, 1945, Henderson personally accepted the surrender of Italy from Marshal Graziani.

In response to Lady Astor's disparaging comments about the "D-Day Dodgers" in Italy and the high amount of Scots, Welsh, and Irish serving in the 8th Army, he wrote satirical lyrics to the tune of Lili Marlene called, "We Are the D-Day Dodgers."

Folk song collector

Henderson threw himself into the work of the folk revival after the war, discovering and bringing to public attention Jeannie Robertson and others such as Flora MacNeil (see Flora MacNeil, Gaelic singer), and Calum Johnston (see Annie and Calum Johnston of Barra). He was instrumental in bringing about the People's Ceilidhs, celebrations of traditional Scottish culture that foreshadowed the modern Edinburgh Festivals. Dividing his time between Europe and Scotland, he eventually settled in Edinburgh in 1959 with his German wife, Kätzel (Felizitas Schmidt).

Henderson collected widely in the Borders and the north-east of Scotland, creating links between the travellers, the bothy singers of Aberdeenshire, the Border shepherds, and the young men and women who frequented the folk clubs in Edinburgh.

From 1955 to 1987 he was on the staff of the University of Edinburgh's School of Scottish Studies which he co-founded with Calum Maclean: there he contributed to the sound archives that are now available on-line. Henderson held several honorary degrees and after his retirement became an honorary fellow of the School of Scottish Studies.


He died in Edinburgh on 8 March 2002 aged eighty-two, survived by his wife Kätzel and their daughters, Janet and Christine.


Henderson's complexities make his work hard to study: for example, Dick Gaughan's commentary on the song-poem The 51st Highland Division's Farewell to Sicily, while insightful, does not take into account the traditional divide between pipers and drummers in the Scots regiments, the essential key to one reading of the text.

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