In Memory of Murray Cook
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James Murray Cook  22.6.1924 - 25.1.2014

Old soldiers never die, they only fade away,” was very true of James Murray Cook, known to his friends as Murray, and, for a while in Maybole, as The History Man.

He earned a reputation in his home town as the “go to” person for anyone interested in the town’s history, which was partly earned through his career, one that spanned at least 30 years, as a brilliant public speaker.

Murray was Honorary President of Maybole Historical Society, of which he was a founder member, and which was part of the reason that he received a Scroll of Honour from Maybole Community Council. He also served on the community council.

It says something about his value to the historical society that, as Honorary President, he was the only permanent member of its committee. That value was based on his deep personal knowledge of the town but also his firm grasp of the Scottish and European history that it fitted into, in turn a result of being extremely well read in those subjects.It helped, too, that he was a broad-minded individual who had a philosopher’s ability to take a detached view of people and their behaviour, combined with empathy for his fellow men and women. His version of history was balanced and rounded.

His motivation was not king and country, nor “public men nor cheering crowds” to quote Yeats. Rather, it was a very personal belief that evil in the form of Fascism was on the march and that the only honourable thing to do was join the fight against it. So it was that he lied about his age, ran away from home and joined up at the age of 17 in 1942. He had, as he later wrote, “about as nasty a war as he could stomach” of which the following is a very brief summary.

Wounded and captured in his first engagement with 1st Battalion Paratroop Regiment in north Africa, three years spent in a Prisoner of War camp in Poland, escape from a marching column as the inmates were being evacuated due to Soviet advances and then eventual return, courtesy of the Red Army, to Britain.

The nastiness to which he referred was without doubt the horrific cruelty and suffering that he witnessed a good deal of, more even than the personal pain and discomfort that he experienced, bad as that was. It is characteristic that in his entry in the book produced by the community council, “Maybole Memories World War II” he chooses to recount a farcical episode a few days before his capture. A man capable of great passionate commitment, he seldom lost for long his appreciation of the ridiculous. After the war he was stationed in British Mandated Palestine prior to the creation of the State of Israel, in what was essentially a policing role.

On his mother’s death, soon after the war, he ran away to London, to a friend’s house, unable to cope and “stared at a wall for three days.” He had left the army with un-diagnosed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which was no doubt common and which made him unable to make use of the Government’s offer to allow returning service men to study for a degree. In 1940s Britain he was another angry young man with a tendency to drink.

His saviour came in the form of Liz Macpherson, whom he met when they were both employed at St Thomas’s Hospital in London, where he worked in the department sterilising equipment, and she was a Theatre Nurse.

Desperate to settle down and have a family, he did so happily until he had to face the greatest tragedy of his life; the death, at the age of 9, of his first son, Quentin in 1964, from a measles infection. This was a blow from which neither of them fully recovered.

Above all, he was a family man who spent what little free time he had with his wife and children. The “Glasgow Fair Fortnights” at Maybole Shore with his wife, his children, and his closest friends, including his brother Tom were precious to him. It was difficult for him to keep in as much contact as he would have liked with his extended Cook and Murray relations due to his job, which was a real regret.

For over 20 years, Murray worked six days a week at Jellieston Farm, by Martnaham Loch, for most of that that as a Pigman running the piggery. The demanding exercise and fresh air suited him but not much else. He always regretted the way he had to treat the animals and for years afterwards avoided eating pork. He became a good friend of his employer, Ewan Frazer, and his family.

For a few years after that he was a care officer at the List G residential school, Lumsden House, in Maybole, again becoming a good friend of his employer, Robin Dalrymple and his family.

Due to his determination to fight in the war he got off on the wrong foot professionally speaking. His real talent was communicating to audiences. Much as he enjoyed his own company and the solitary pursuit of reading, he thrived in limelight, being a natural performer like his father Jimmy. He was a member of Carrick Speakers Club for a great many years, gave innumerable addresses at Burn Suppers and St Andrew’s nights, and was for several years the judge for the annual Jean Falconer Literary Competition open to the pupils of Carrick Academy.

In retirement, he was able to follow his wider interests in music, the visual arts, and cultural activities generally, with a group of like-minded friends. He leaves behind a daughter and three sons.
A collection taken at the funeral raised £404 which will to go to Prisoners Abroad.