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Hamish Henderson


1919 - 2002

Folk-song writer and poet. Born in Blairgowrie (Perth and Kinross) and thought to have been an illegitimate descendant of the Dukes of Atholl, Henderson was educated at Dulwich College and the University of Cambridge, where he studied modern languages. As the Second World War approached, he helped smuggle dissidents out of Nazi Germany. Forced to leave when war was declared, Henderson joined military intelligence. He served in North Africa, where his friendly disposition, linguistic capabilities and liking for German literature made him a successful interrogator of captured German officers. The Battle of El Alamein became an important landmark in his life and a feature of his later book of poetry 'Elegies for the Dead in Cyrenaica'. He went on to support the Partisans in Italy.

After the war, Henderson's anti-fascist politics and hatred of war made him a campaigner for peace. He was expelled from Italy for his left-wing views while studying the works of the socialist and political philosopher Antonio Gramsci, of whom Henderson later wrote the definitive biography.

Henderson became increasingly interested in folk-culture and folk-lore and spent time at Queen's University Belfast, before returning to Edinburgh. Here, Henderson became a central figure in the creation of the noted School of Scottish Studies at the University of Edinburgh. He contributed to the recording of folk-songs around Scotland and helped start the important collection of recorded material now held by the School. He continued to write both songs and poems in the Scots language and became well-known on the folk music 'scene'. A proud Scot, but never nationalistic, he was embarrassed when his song 'The Freedom Come All Ye' was suggested as a National Anthem. His 'Ballad of the Men of Knoydart' supported land rights and reform, this case undoubtedly made worse for Henderson by the fact the errant land-owner, Lord Brocket, had been a noted Nazi sympathiser.

He died in Edinburgh.


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