World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Hamish Henderson

Article Id: WHEBN0000465127
Reproduction Date:

Title: Hamish Henderson  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Scottish folk music, Edinburgh People's Festival, Flora MacNeil, Society of the Horseman's Word, School of Scottish Studies
Collection: 1919 Births, 2002 Deaths, 20Th-Century British Poets, 20Th-Century Scottish Poets, 20Th-Century Scottish Writers, 20Th-Century Translators, Academics of the University of Edinburgh, Alumni of Downing College, Cambridge, Bisexual Writers, British Army Personnel of World War II, Intelligence Corps Officers, Italian Campaign, Lgbt Poets, Lgbt Songwriters, Lgbt Writers from Scotland, North African Campaign, People Educated at Dulwich College, People from Blairgowrie and Rattray, Royal Pioneer Corps Soldiers, Scots Makars, Scottish Episcopalians, Scottish Folklorists, Scottish Folk-Song Collectors, Scottish Humanists, Scottish Musicologists, Scottish Poets, Scottish Renaissance, Scottish Socialists, Scottish Soldiers, Scottish Songwriters, Scottish Translators
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Hamish Henderson

Hamish Henderson's bust in South Gyle

Hamish Scott Henderson, (11 November 1919 – 9 March 2002; Scottish Gaelic: Seamas MacEanraig (Seamas Mòr)) was a Scottish poet, songwriter, communist, soldier and intellectual.

He has been referred to as the most important Scots poet since Robert Burns and was a catalyst for the folk revival in Scotland. He was also an accomplished folk song collector and discovered such notable performers as Jeannie Robertson, Flora MacNeil and Calum Johnston.


  • Early life 1
  • World War II 2
  • Folk song collector 3
  • People's Festival Ceilidhs 4
  • Later life 5
  • Death 6
  • Legacy 7
  • Further reading 8
  • References 9
  • External links 10

Early life

Born to a single mother in Blairgowrie, Perthshire, Henderson eventually moved to England with his mother. He won a scholarship to the prestigious Dulwich School in London; however, his mother died shortly before he was due to take up his place and he was forced to live in an orphanage while studying there.

He studied Modern Languages at German resistance and helping to rescue Jews.[1][2]

World War II

Although he argued strongly for peace, even well into the early years of the war, he became convinced that a satisfactory peace could not be reached and so he threw himself into the war effort. Joining as an enlisted soldier in the Pioneer Corps, he later applied for and received a commission in the Intelligence Corps. He was quite effective as an interrogator due to his command of six European languages and deep understanding of German culture.

He took part in the Desert War in Africa, during which he wrote his poem Elegies For the Dead in Cyrenaica, encompassing every aspect of a soldier's experience of the sands of North Africa. On 2 May 1945, Henderson personally oversaw the drafting of the surrender order of Italy issued by Marshal Rodolfo Graziani .[3]

Henderson collected the lyrics to "D-Day Dodgers," a satirical song to the tune of "Lili Marlene", attributed to Lance-Sergeant Harry Pynn, who served in Italy. Henderson also wrote the lyrics to "The 51st (Highland) Division's Farewell to Sicily", set to a pipe tune called "Farewell to the Creeks". The book in which these were collected, Ballads of World War II, was published "privately" to evade censorship, but earned Henderson a ten-year ban from BBC radio, preventing a series on ballad-making from being made. His 1948 poetry book about his experiences in the war, Elegies for the Dead in Cyrenaica, received the Somerset Maugham Award.[1]

Folk song collector

Henderson threw himself into the work of the folk revival after the war, discovering and bringing to public attention Jeannie Robertson, Flora MacNeil (see Flora MacNeil, Gaelic singer), Calum Johnston (see Annie and Calum Johnston of Barra) and others. In the 1950s, he acted as a guide to the American folklorist, Alan Lomax, who collected many field recordings in Scotland. (See Alan Lomax, Collector of Songs).

People's Festival Ceilidhs

Henderson was instrumental in bringing about the Edinburgh People's Festival Ceilidh in 1951, which placed traditionally performed Scottish folk music on the public stage for the first time as "A Night of Scottish Song". However, the People's Festival, of which it was part, was planned as a left-wing competitor to the Edinburgh Festival and was deeply controversial. At the event, Henderson performed a song, to the tune of Scotland the Brave, which glorified John Maclean, a communist and Scottish nationalist hero.

However, the event marked the first time that Scotland's traditional folk music was performed on a public stage. The performers included Flora MacNeil, Calum Johnston, John Burgess, Jessie Murray, John Strachan, and Jimmy MacBeath. The event was extremely popular and was regarded as the beginning of the second British folk revival.

Henderson continued to host the events every year until 1954, when the [4] Henderson's own songs, particularly "The Freedom Come All Ye", have become part of the folk tradition themselves.[1]

Later life

Dividing his time between Europe and Scotland, he eventually settled in Edinburgh in 1959 with his German wife, Kätzel (Felizitas Schmidt).

Henderson collected widely in the Borders and the north-east of Scotland, creating links between the travellers, the bothy singers of Aberdeenshire, the Border shepherds, and the young men and women who frequented the folk clubs in Edinburgh.

From 1955 to 1987 he was on the staff of the University of Edinburgh's School of Scottish Studies which he co-founded with Calum Maclean: there he contributed to the sound archives that are now available on-line. Henderson held several honorary degrees and after his retirement became an honorary fellow of the School of Scottish Studies. For many years he held court in Sandy Bell's Bar, the meeting place for local and visiting folk musicians.

Henderson was a socialist,[1] and beside his academic work for the University, he produced translations of the Prison Letters of Antonio Gramsci.[5] whom he had first heard of among Communist Italian partisans during the war. The translation was published in the New Edinburgh Review in 1974 and as a book in 1988.[1] He was involved in campaigns for Scottish home rule and in the foundation of the 1970s Scottish Labour Party. Henderson, who was openly bisexual, was vocal about gay rights and acceptance.[1][6]

In 1983, Henderson was voted Scot of the Year by Radio Scotland listeners when he, in protest of the Thatcher government's nuclear weapons policy, turned down an OBE.[1]


He died in Edinburgh on 8 March 2002 aged eighty-two, survived by his wife Kätzel and their daughters, Janet and Christine.


Henderson's complexities make his work hard to study: for example, Dick Gaughan's commentary on the song-poem The 51st Highland Division's Farewell to Sicily, while insightful, does not take into account the traditional divide between pipers and drummers in the Scots regiments, the essential key to one reading of the text.

In 2005, Rounder Records released a recording of the 1951 Edinburgh People's Festival Ceilidh as part of The Alan Lomax Collection. Henderson had collaborated heavily with the preparations for the release.

In August 2013, Edinburgh University announced that it had acquired his personal archive of "more than 10,000 letters from almost 3400 correspondents, plus 136 notebooks and diaries", dating from the 1930s to the end of his life. These will be kept in the Special Collections department of the main library.[7]

Discussions around national identity and constitutional resettlement in Scotland, especially those surrounding the Scottish Independence Referendum of 2014, have often invoked Henderson's legacy. Politicians and cultural commentators alike describe their admiration for his song 'The Freedom Come-All-Ye' and lend their voices to those touting it as an alternative national anthem. As a radical democrat whose political beliefs were closely bound up in the study of folk culture and high literature, Henderson's work expresses a tension between romantic nationalism and socialist internationalism which has been reaffirmed in public life in Scotland since his death.[8]

Further reading

  • Hamish Henderson (1947) Ballads of World War II, Caledonian Press, Glascow OCLC 6824582[9]
  • Hamish Henderson (1948) Elegies for the Dead in Cyrenaica, J. Lehmann, London OCLC 2806224
  • Alec Finlay, editor (1992) Alias MacAlias: Writings on songs, folk and literature, Polygon, Edinburgh ISBN 978-0-74866-042-1
  • Alec Finlay, editor (1996) The Armstrong Nose: Selected letters of Hamish Henderson, Polygon, Edinburgh ISBN 978-0-74866-191-6
  • Raymond Ross, editor (2000) Collected Poems and Songs, Curly Snake Pub., Edinburgh, Scotland ISBN 978-1-90214-101-5[10]
  • Timothy Neat (2012) Hamish Henderson: Poetry Becomes People (1952-2002), Birlinn Ltd, Edinburgh ISBN 978-0-85790-487-4
  • Corey Gibson (2015) The Voice of the People: Hamish Henderson and Scottish Cultural Politics, Edinburgh University Press, ISBN 978-0-74869-657-4


  1. ^ a b c d e f g "Dr Hamish Henderson".  
  2. ^ Neat, Timothy (11 March 2002). "Books: Hamish Henderson".  
  3. ^ Neat, T. (2007, rep. 2009), Hamish Henderson - The Making of the Poet, Volume I, p. 165.
  4. ^ Norman Buchan on Hamish, Tocher no 43, School of Scottish Studies, University of Edinburgh, 1991, p 19-21
  5. ^ Antonio Gramsci, Prison Letters, translated and introduced by Hamish Henderson, Pluto Press 1996.
  6. ^ Neat, Timothy: Hamish Henderson: Poetry Becomes People
  7. ^ Hamish Henderson Archive Trust Press release, August 2013, retrieved 8 August 2013
  8. ^ Corey Gibson, The Voice of the People: Hamish Henderson and Scottish Cultural Politics, Edinburgh University Press, 2015
  9. ^ Ballads of WWII (2014) The Jack Horntip Collection
  10. ^ Arnold Rattenbury (23 January 2003). "Flytings". London Review of Books 25 (2).  

External links

  • Scotsman obituary
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Project Gutenberg are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.