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Duncan Fenton

Convener of the Society of William Wallace

Convener of the Society of William Wallace

Born: July 5, 1956; Died: May 25, 2014

DUNCAN Fenton, who has died of cancer aged 57, was the convener of the Society of William Wallace, the organisation dedicated to preserving the memory of the medieval Scottish patriot.

Born and educated in Glasgow, Mr Fenton moved to Cumbernauld, North Lanarkshire, in 1973, and lived latterly in the village of Greengairs with his partner of 22 years Jean Thomson.

His lifelong love of Scottish history saw him contribute to campaigns and radio broadcasts, one of which introduced him to the newly formed Society.

Driven to promote Scotland's history and patriotic figures, he joined in 1993, a year after it was formed, and quickly forged a strong friendship with fellow member and later convener David R Ross, the late author and "biker historian". He became vice-convener to Mr Ross and took over the leadership of the organisation in 2010 after his great friend's unexpected death.

He led the society for four years, during which time he spearheaded several campaigns, most notably to repatriate the Wallace Safe Conduct, a fragile letter believed to have been taken from Wallace by his English captors in 1305.

The letter, discovered in the Tower of London in the 1830s, was returned to Scotland for the first time in 2012, after a loan agreement was made with The National Archives in Kew. The success gave Mr Fenton one of his proudest moments after he campaigned for the letter's return for seven years. He said it was the society's greatest achievement as Scots could see the document with their own eyes and feel a connection to William Wallace.

Mr Fenton had been leading a bid to commemorate the little-known Battle of the Bell O' The Brae, in which Wallace overcame English troops in the streets of Glasgow. He also led an ongoing bid to bring to Scotland a sword, dagger and an emerald ring said to have been carried in to battle by King James IV. The artefacts are said to have been carried in the ill-fated Battle of Flodden in 1513, when the king and many of Scotland's nobles were killed in an English rout.

Mr Fenton was known for his warm nature, and calming and unifying influence on others. He has been credited with strengthening the Society of William Wallace in recent years and expanding its membership to more young people. He was keenly involved in setting up the Young Lions, a youth division of the society, to encourage children's interest in Scottish history. He also regularly visited primary schools, giving colour to the Wallace story, complete with claymores, shields and broadswords.

He loved writing speeches, which he would deliver at commemorative marches and gatherings throughout Scotland in his capacity as convener. His last was delivered at Loudoun Hill on May 10, where he commemorated those who gave their lives in battle in 1296, fighting under Wallace. Just two weeks before his death, fellow members were amazed by his strength and enthusiasm in the midst of his own fight with cancer.

Mr Fenton also wrote a speech for his successor Gary Stewart to deliver at Bannockburn this summer. Mr Fenton himself had made inspirational speeches on the anniversary of Robert the Bruce's 1314 victory for the past four years.

The society helps to educate, and also to collect data, both historical and contemporary, regarding the life and legacy of Wallace. It holds several annual events including walks and services to commemorate dates including Wallace's victory at the Battle of Stirling Bridge, in 1297, and "Wallace Day", held each year on the nearest Saturday to the anniversary of his execution in 1305.

Though the Society is not political, concentrating on the commemoration of Wallace, and other figures including Andrew de Moray, James "The Black" Douglas, and Robert the Bruce, Mr Fenton was also a nationalist, who had hoped to see an independent Scotland.

He was born in Anderston, in Glasgow, on July 5, 1956. He was the middle of three children to his parents, cabinet box maker Duncan, and Mary Fenton.

The family moved from Anderston to Pollok in 1960, where Mr Fenton attended McGill Primary School before moving on to Crookston Castle Secondary.

As a child, during summer holidays he spent his time playing at the River Cart, and enjoyed swimming and fishing and would walk for miles trying to catch fish, bugs and tadpoles which he would watch grow.

He also loved to build things from wooden go-karts to race with the other local children, to bicycles which he created from parts collected around his neighbourhood. He would then go for longs day cycling with friends, only returning home for something to eat when his mother would throw a "jam piece" out of the third floor window for him to catch.

His other great childhood passion was reading, particularly on Scottish history, which he was annoyed was not taught in great depth at school.

He later attended Springburn College to become an electrician, receiving first prizes during his time at the college. He then decided he did not want to become an electrician and joined a company which manufactured traditional sweets.

At 21 he joined the company which eventually became Mustoe Pallets and was still working there as a forklift driver until a few weeks before his death. He loved being outdoors and working with people who became like a second family to him.

It was in the pallet yard in Riggend, Airdrie, where he met his long-term partner Jean, in 1984, while she worked in the transport cafe across the road.

Though the couple never married, they were an item for 22 years, often travelling the country together to society events, and locations of Scottish historic interest. One of Mr Fenton's passions was visiting castles, and it was said he had visited every one in Scotland, often recording his trips with photographs. He also made Scottish-themed T-shirts, often working on new designs long in to the night.

He was diagnosed with bowel cancer in January and died at 8.30pm on Sunday May 25 in Monklands Hospital, Airdrie. He was surrounded by his family and close friends from the society. Tributes posted on social media from around the world described him as a true Scottish patriot, an inspiration, and a man of integrity, love and humour.

His funeral was held at Holytown Crematorium, North Lanarkshire. More than 250 mourners were amazed by the appearance of two saltires in the sky above the venue, caused by the coincidence of passing aeroplanes.

He is survived by his older sister Jean and younger sister Margaret, and his partner Jean. He has two children, Duncan and Jennifer, from his first marriage to Jessie and has six grandchildren from that relationship. He is also survived by partner Jean's daughters Julie and Stacey, and granddaughter Ellie.

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