“I was really born in to the legion,”

says 89 year old veteran Ian Forsyth from Hamilton,

“my Father, Grandfather and Uncles were all founding members of their local branches– the history stretches far back.”

Ian, who was awarded an MBE in 2011, is hugely active in Legion Scotland. He has been the president and secretary of the Hamilton branch of the Legion for many years. He was also previously a member of the original National Executive Council of the Legion and the Area Chairman of the Glasgow and West of Scotland region. Ian also founded the Joint Ex-servicemen’s Association in Lanarkshire.

Ian joined the army in 1942 as part of the 1st reconnaissance Regiment at Lockerbie. He then moved to the 15th - 19th Hussars Reconnaissance for the 11th Armoured Division where in April, 1945 he was one of the first to arrive at the gates of the German Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Ian, who was 21 at the time, remembers that it was a huge shock when they arrived at the camp gates.

He said:

“This was not only a shock to the system, but a nightmare.  It was totally unexpected, for we had not been informed as to the location of the camp or what to expect.   Until that moment we had been fighting to survive, now for the first time we understood just why we were there at all. I cannot fully describe it, but it completely changed my outlook on life - Man's inhumanity to man.”

They were told that they could not feed or free the prisoners. Ian continued, “One of the soldiers with me threw some food to the prisoners and many were trampled in the stampede. The food we had would have killed them as it was so rich. When you are starving really fatty food is toxic to your body.”

What Ian witnessed at the camp was life changing, he says “I was shot and injured. I said to myself, if I survive I am going to spend the rest of my life helping others. Seeing the concentration camp really changed my life.”

And he did. After the war his remaining years in the Army were spent in Palestine.
When he eventually returned home he trained as a teacher and taught in various schools in Lanarkshire before an appointment to Larkhall Academy.   He also dedicated much of his time working with the Polish ex-service community in Glasgow. His work there being recognised first by the award of the Cavalier Cross and then the prestigious Officers Cross of Merit of the Republic of Poland.

Legion Scotland has also been a big part of Ian’s life.

“The Hamilton branch is very active”, he says, “We established the annual Festival of Remembrance and Garden of Remembrance. We also do lots of collections which get split between charities that support veterans.”

Ian also believes in the support that the legion gives to others. He says,

“I see lots of young people coming back from Afghanistan and I can’t believe I was that young when I joined the army. The legion is active in supporting young families who have lost their loved ones as well as helping ex-service men and women who are struggling to cope mentally after leaving the military.”

Ian also thinks it is important that young people become part of their local legion branch, he says,

“I would encourage young people to join and to come with the right attitude. The legion is there to support them but by joining, they also are there to support others.”