Derek Bird was born in Sussex in 1955 and at the tender age of 16 left home to join the Royal Air Force as an aircraft apprentice thus, unwittingly, becoming one of ‘Trenchard’s Brats’. He continued to serve until he hit 60 in 2015 – the last 30 years of which were spent in the north-east of Scotland at RAF Lossiemouth.
Being just old enough to vaguely remember bits of the 1964 BBC series The Great War, this may have planted the seeds that led to a first visit to the battlefields in 1981 while serving in Germany.
Thereafter Derek’s interest in the war grew and many more visits, and a lot of research, followed. In about 1998 he started researching in detail the 6th (Morayshire) Battalion, Seaforth Highlanders, leading to the publishing of their history, The Spirit of the Troops is Excellent, in 2008.
Derek has wide-ranging interests in the war, although some ‘unusual’ aspects have become of particular interest. Having had a grandfather and great-uncle who served in the cavalry (the latter was killed in action at Monchy-Le-Preux on 11 April, 1917) that arm is one to attract his attention. Another is the part played by the whisky industry in the war effort – over 48 million gallons of spirit were distilled for use in the making of cordite, for example.
In 1998 Derek took on the role of Chairman of the Scotland (North) Branch of The Western Front Association, which he continues to do to this day.
In about 2004 he began to work with the mayor and villagers of Beaumont Hamel on a project to reinstate the 51st (Highland) Division flagstaff in the centre of the village as the original, erected in 1924, had become semi-derelict. This was completed in time for an unveiling ceremony on the 90th anniversary of the Highlanders’ capture of the village: 13 November 2006. Small annual ceremonies have continued since then, with another major commemoration organised on the centenary in 2016.
Consequently, when Derek was contacted by Nigel Fagg, he was delighted to become involved in his project to restore the Hawthorn Crater, and was able to introduce several other key members of the team to the cause.
Alongside all his other Great War related activities, and in order to keep the ‘grey matter’ active after retirement, he embarked on the MA in History of Britain and the First World War at the University of Wolverhampton in 2018. He hopes to graduate in 2022.