Soldier and drummer
Soldier and drummer
Born: April 14, 1920; Died: February 21, 2014
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Musician George Sim, who has died aged 93, once smashed up his wartime drum kit rather than see it fall into the hands of the Germans. But in a piece of divine retribution - and a scene worthy of 'Allo 'Allo - he acquired another set, this time the property of the enemy. Abandoned in France as German troops fled the advancing Allies, the drums fulfilled an immediate need the young Aberdonian soldier and his fellow bandsmen had for music.
Little could Mr Sim have known that 70 years on he would still be keeping the beat with the remnants of the foe's instruments and continuing to take to the stage with his drums until just a few weeks before his death, the culmination of a career that saw him entertain the troops throughout the entire duration of the Second World War, accompany the legendary comic entertainer Harry Gordon and perform for royalty with the Jack Sinclair Showband.
Born in the family home at 172 Skene Street, Aberdeen, where he lived for the next 55 years, he was the son of a joiner - whose trade he failed to master - and a pianist, which probably accounted for his musical talents.
He left the city's Mile End School to join his father as an apprentice joiner but did not prove a success - evidently incapable even in later life of putting together a piece of flat-pack furniture.
Having begun playing "the bones", a skill similar to playing the spoons, he joined the Northern Airs Dance Band in 1938 around the time he also signed up with Territorial Army's 239 Field Company, Royal Engineers.
When the war broke out, he left the joinery business and served throughout the conflict with the Royal Engineers, staying on with the army until 1948.
A tank driver, though he never gained his driving licence in civvy street, he served in France, Belgium, Italy, North Africa and Germany. His musical talents first came to the fore in the army while training at Pangbourne, Berkshire, when he met Bertie Duff, a well-known band leader from Aberdeen. After officers asked Corporal Duff's band to play for them, they went on to entertain troops throughout the war, performing as the Balmoral ceilidh band, with Mr Sim also playing with big bands.
It was during the evacuation of Dunkirk that he destroyed his drumkit, after a mix-up about departure points. On discovering that he was to leave on a ship stationed further round the coast, and realising he would be unable to take his instruments with him, he smashed the set of drums to prevent them being used by the Germans. Then, minus the kit, he swam to the neighbouring port and subsequently went without his drums for some time.
Later in the war he returned to France, arriving on Sword beach in Normandy during the D Day landings and made his way through the French countryside with the Royal Engineers, helping to liberate communities en route. After reaching Paris he discovered someone had told a French café owner what had happened to his drums. He was duly informed the Germans had left behind a set to which he was welcome. The irony was not lost on him and he ended up coming home to Scotland with part of the German kit on which he played for the rest of his days, still performing with it up to the astonishing age of 93.
By his own admission, he had had a whale of a time playing with bands during the war but he had also witnessed some harrowing sights on his way through France and Germany, particularly when liberating prisoner of war camps. However he was a man who preferred not to dwell on the negatives but to focus on the positives, recalling one lucky escape when he stepped on an anti-tank mine, heard it click under his feet but fail to go off.
Following the end of the war, he played drums in a tour of Germany, helped to rebuild the country's infrastructure and, after being demobbed in 1948, returned to Aberdeen. There he met his wife Margaret, whom he married the following year, and began work in the furniture business, becoming a dispatch manager for local firms Smart's Furniture and Henderson's Furniture. Bored in retirement, he went back to work as a courier for a solicitors' firm.
Meanwhile he continued to perform in various bands, playing with Bertie Duff for Harry Gordon and regularly performing at Aberdeen's Tivoli Theatre with various artists including the George Seivewright Band.
He was a regular with the Jack Sinclair Showband, playing for 25 years at Balmoral where he was well known by the Royal Family. He was invited to tea at Birkhall and the late Diana, Princess of Wales, would sit and chat to him while he packed up his drumkit after dances.
More recently he had been involved with the Aberdeen Strathspey and Reel Society, the Aberdeen Accordian and Fiddle Club, the Scottish Accordian Music Group and Mrs Gerrard's Accordian Band.
He also played at the city's His Majesty's Theatre at fiddlers' rallies and performed at fundraisers for Aberdeen Students' Charities Campaign, winning the admiration of the young university crowd.
Fit, with a youthful outlook and zest for life, he used to give talks to primary school pupils studying the Second World War and had even joined the Facebook generation where his page was full of pithy comments in his native Doric, plugs for and snapshots of his gigs.
Mr Sim, whose last performance was at a Christmas party in December, passed away listening to the final bars of a recording of Now The Day Is Ended, featuring his daughter on the pipes accompanied by her father on his beloved drums.
Predeceased by his wife Margaret and their daughter Carol, he is survived by daughter Alison, four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.