Heroes of Dunblane saluted

22nd March 1996 at 00:00
Jeremy Sutcliffe and Shirley English report on the courage displayed by staff during the massacre.

The full extent of the heroism of the teachers caught up in last week's shooting tragedy at Dunblane primary emerged this week as some of those closest to the Scottish school spoke out for the first time.

Colleagues of the murdered teacher Gwen Mayor paid testimony to her love of her job and revealed that she was good friends with two colleagues, who called themselves The Three Musketeers.

It has also emerged that PE teacher Mary Blake and supervisory assistant Eileen Harrild were injured after rushing to the gymnasium to help as gunman Thomas Hamilton launched his deadly assault on Mrs Mayor's Primary 1 class, killing 16 children.

Colleagues and school board members praised their "indescribable" courage as the women were making a good recovery in hospital.

And Mike Robbins, school board chairman, asked: "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 class today, following a week of funerals, Stuart McCombie, assistant headteacher, spoke of the school's determination to recover.

"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."

He was among the teachers who tended the children after Hamilton forced his way into the gym last Wednesday. Of the 28 children present, only 12 survived. Five are still in hospital. Two others in Mrs Mayor's Primary 1 class were absent on that day.

Mr McCombie's wife Judy, a Primary 4 teacher, was among those who kept children occupied in their classrooms until they were reunited with parents several hours after the massacre. Most pupils, although aware that there had been an incident, were unaware of the full story.

Mrs McCombie, who is expecting their first child in August, was a close personal friend of Mrs Mayor, along with another Primary 1 teacher, Claire McLeod. The three would meet every Friday "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 said ordinary people had been made extraordinary by events and added: "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."

Mr Robbins said the school was planning a separate "living memorial" for Mrs Mayor, a mother of two children, similar to the memorial garden planned for the pupils.

Gordon Jeyes, director of education services in the new Stirling Council, praised the "magnificent fortitude and inner strength" and support the staff gave each other.

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.

The police have extended their investigation to Strathclyde, after it emerged that Hamilton was running a boys' football club in rented facilities at Thomas Muir High School, Bishopbriggs. The last meeting of the club was on Monday night, less than two days before the shootings.

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