Alexander Davidson Cormack, known as Sandy, was born on 15th January 1922 in Airdrie.
His Father who has been in Mons, France in WW1 had been involved in a gas attack. He passed away before he was 40 years of age, ruined lungs cutting short his young life. His widow was left with a young family.
On his father’s death Sandy’s mother moved the family to Dennistoun, Glasgow, in the 1930s.
He left school at 14 and was a butcher to trade. In the run up to him being called up in October 1941 he was notified of a date when he had to register. He was keen to get into a Scottish Regiment or the Navy and put these down as his preferences so when he got called at the age of 19 it was for the Royal Marines which he mistakenly thought that would be the same as the Navy!
Sandy had never been out of Scotland before and was sent down to Portsmouth - another world. He was in training barracks in Exeter - Lympstone. There were Irishmen, Geordies, Scousers, Scotsmen, Cockneys - nobody could understand what each other was saying for the first few days! After six weeks of training they seemed to find a common tongue and they were then all shipped out to different places.
Next step on his journey was sailing out of Greenock on the RMS Maloja, a British ocean liner that saw service from 1923 to 1954. They were headed down to Durban where they spent a couple of weeks. By this time he had a job as a butcher on board ship which he enjoyed. Next stop was the Egyptian port of Taufiq then transported to somewhere just outside Cairo. Then there was another troopship to Malta where they were based for six weeks. He spent his 21st birthday on yet another troopship heading towards Italy.
He was involved in the invasion of Sicily and Italy as the Marines set up a mobile naval base and defended it. By this time many of the Italian soldiers were disillusioned with the war and were keen to surrender with many asking the British soldiers to take them to a POW camp! From Sicily it was over to Taranto then another troopship back to Portsmouth.
Then there was a spell at Achnacarry for Commando training. By this time the Press were talking about a second front - which turned into D-Day! Sandy arrived in northern France with the Royal Marines 4 Commando about a week after the 6th June 1944 invasion. He modestly states that he doesn't have any "great, daring stories" but "just ran with the rest of them".
When he arrived in France the Germans were holding up Caen. British soldiers needed to reclaim Caen to use the roads and, after they defeated the Nazis, he says they were "chasing them all the way" along the coast - Dieppe, Le Havre, Calais.
He then continued through northern France, Belgium, Holland and then into Germany. "You had a job keeping up with them. It was pretty rough". On one occasion he was travelling in the back of a truck with other fellow soldiers when he noticed holes appearing on the canvas cover. It dawned on him that they were being shot a: "All of us got out of that truck and into a ditch quicker than you can imagine."
During the fighting at Walcheren he lost a couple of good pals. Going through Germany he witnessed many women and children hiding in cellars, terrified of the British soldiers. It was difficult to persuade them to come out and convince them they had nothing to fear. He mentions Padre John Costello being especially kind to these families and giving them small treats to eat. Going further into Germany, he noticed the German soldiers were getting younger and younger, 12 year olds, just boys who burst into tears when they saw the British soldiers.
One of the memories he has of these days is that in every little town and village he went through there was a particular film that every cinema was showing and everyone loved. This was the Laurel and Hardy film, "Bonnie Scotland!”
He was back in Holland, in the small town of Goes, when the war in Europe ended. Then it was back to Bruges where he became friendly with a family by the name of Snett who he stayed with for a while. Many years later, he went back to visit them with his wife Renee but by that time Mr Snett had sadly died. Sandy, however, kept in touch with Mrs Snett for many years after this.
He was demobbed from Portsmouth 13 May 1946 and returned to his job in Henderson’s the Butchers in Possilpark.
He married Renee his wife (who moved into Erskine with him early 2022 but sadly passed in June 2022) and he moved to East Kilbride. Very exciting as it was just being built and was all new. Sandy remembers it being called polo Mint city due to all the roundabouts. They had two daughters
In 2004 Sandy chose to make his first visit to the Normandy for the 60th Anniversary of D Day commemorations. He met up with some old comrades and visited many places including Omaha Beach where so many Americans died. He also attended a ceremony in Bayeux which has a British war cemetery. "The French people made us feel very special and during a march past. Many locals - including lots of children - were asking to sign our names. Many older people would also shake our hands and tell us about their experiences of the war. It was sad at the cemetery itself as there was just line after line of young men's names. It was the same at the memorial to unknown soldiers, those who were killed but never identified." He shook hands with the Queen.
In 2017 Veteran Sandy Cormack was awarded the Légion d’Honneur for his service in Normandy meaning if Sandy takes a trip over the English Channel he would be known as a ‘Chevalier’ – or a knight. The ceremony took place on board the French frigate Provence when it was berthed on the Clyde in preparation for exercise Joint Warrior.
“If we go to France we will need to tell them who I am,” he known to joke.
All soldiers who helped the war effort in France can receive the honour. Sandy getting is very proud of his hand-crafted medal which he wears with pride.
He adds with a smile as he looks at his impressive medal: “I’m not sure why they did it. It all it’s a mystery! If they wanted to reward me I might have preferred a wee villa down the coast!”
Despite some hard memories, Sandy has enjoyed educating future generations about the hardship of the frontline.
He would regularly go into schools and have chats with youngsters which he said he enjoyed.
“After I had done my wee spiel one of the teachers would ask if the kids had any questions,” he said.
“I’ll always remember a wee boy who sat up and asked ‘Mister, did you ever stab anyone?’
“I think their war had been through Hollywood!”
Sandy came to live in The Erskine Home in 2022 with his wife Renee. Sadly Renee passed in June 2022. Sandy, since making Erskine his home, has thrown himself heart and soul into the Erskine way of life. He loves to get out every day for fresh air and often he can be found sitting on the garden balcony of Pearson House which is a suntrap filled with pots overflowing with flowers.
He has attended Erskine events such as the Erskine Military Jubilee Ball and the Queens Funeral event in The Bunker. The Sporting Senior Games were high on his agenda and at the Award ceremony in the Glynhill Hotel he came away with a handful of medals. He also loves getting out and about with his fellow Veterans on outings most recently to the Burrell Collection and The Transport Museum. He also enjoys a walk around the Erskine Veterans Village grounds, a favourite route is along the woodland walk way.
More recently Sandy attended the Armistice Day Service in The Erskine Home and was interviewed by STV for the 6.30pm STV news. He was also interviewed by BBC team keen to capture his story not only for the BBC Armistice Day coverage but also a project which will commemorate the 80th anniversary of the ending of WW2 in 2025.This Case Study has been complied by Susan Hamilton Comms Officer on 16th November 2022 from talking to Sandy, information from his daughter Isabel Grant, from articles commemorating events in his life provided by his daughter Isabel and a BBC interview. Full permission has been given to use the following case study.