Brave Dunblane goes back

22nd March 1996 at 00:00
The full extent of the heroism of teachers at Dunblane primary emerged this week as some of those most closely connected with the school spoke publicly for the first time.

Colleagues of Gwen Mayor, who died with 16 of her pupils from primary 1, paid testimony to her love of her job and revealed how she shared a close friendship with two colleagues. They called themselves the Three Musketeers.

It has also emerged that Mary Blake, a PE teacher, and Eileen Harrild, a supervisory assistant, were shot after running to the school gymnasium to help as Thomas Hamilton opened fire. Both women are making a good recovery in hospital. Their courage was said to be "indescribable".

Mike Robbins, chairman of Dunblane's school board, said: "How many people would have done the same thing? Their physical injuries are on the mend, but you wonder about the mental scars that are left behind and how they are going to cope."

As most of the 700 pupils prepared to return to school today (Friday), following funerals for the dead children and their teacher, Stuart McCombie, Dunblane's assistant head, said: "We are so strong together and the strength we have got from the community and from around the world is marvellous. We will be as good a school as we have ever been and a stronger one as a result of this."

Mr McCombie was among teachers who tended the dying children and those who were wounded. Of 28 children, only 12 survived. Five are still in hospital with gunshot injuries. Two of the class were absent from school.

His wife Judy, a primary 4 teacher, was among those who kept children occupied in their classrooms until they were reunited with parents. Most children in the school, although aware that there had been an incident, were unaware of the horrific events in the gym.

Mrs McCombie, who is expecting her first child in August, was a close friend of Mrs Mayor and Claire McLeod, another primary 1 teacher. The three would meet every Friday to "to share our moans and our news. We called ourselves the Three Musketeers," she said.

"Gwen was a very caring person, a lovely person to work with. She was so talented at her job. Her classroom was always full of the art and craft work she had worked on with the children.

"She would sit down at the piano and could just hold the whole class. She would have even make up new words to songs the children knew well, like the Wheels on the Bus. She was a lovely person."

Mr Robbins praised the extraordinary devotion to duty that he had witnessed. "Some people would instinctively have run for cover, but our staff did not. It shows their dedication to the task and their dedication to duty. The teachers care deeply about their children as if they were their own.

"When the chips are down you realise how good your people are, and the chips could not have been more down than they are at the moment."

Hannah Scott, aged five, one of the victims, lived next door to Mr Robbins. The school is planning a separate "living memorial" for Mrs Mayor, a mother of two, and has announced that a memorial garden will be dedicated to the children.

Meanwhile, questions were being asked about the ease with which Hamilton was able to set up boys' clubs over many years in different areas of central Scotland. Central Police extended their investigation to Strathclyde after it emerged this week that he had been running a boys' football club in rented facilities at Thomas Muir High School, Bishopbriggs.

The last meeting of the club was on Monday last week, two days before Hamilton carried out his dreadful massacre.

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