Winning the Melrose sevens is perhaps the pinnacle of rugby success, certainly in the abbreviated game, and the achievement of winning lives on for generations. Royal High School Former Pupils Rugby Football Club (RHSFP RFC) have won at Melrose on three occasions, initially in 1921, latterly in 1961, and in 1934 when curiously the photo of the team had not been in our archives until recently.
The 1934 team, consisting of Robert Bisset, Tom Mitchell, Jack Park, Bob Logan, Thomas Brotherstone, Bill Emslie and David Murray had not previously won as a unit, and just two of them (Murray and Bisset) won any further sevens, their only success being at Hawick four years later. Logan joined Murray and Bisset as losing finalists in 1939 at Hawick.
Emslie, Murray and Brotherstone were International trialists, while Emslie and Park represented Scotland, so the team clearly had an excellent pedigree. Emslie, Murray, Logan, Bisset and Park played 179, 228, 148, 156 and 130 games respectively for the club. Jack Park’s 87 tries placed him third in the all-time RHS FP RFC try scoring table in 2003 (when the Club changed its name), while Bob Logan at 61 was tenth, and Bill Emslie at 41 was twenty-fourth. These try-scoring feats were ideal for sevens tournaments. The 1934 programme shows the event being held on Saturday 14th April, entry costing one shilling and threepence (good value at about £4.50 in today’s money), with the programme costing tuppence. There is also a comprehensive report which appeared in the Scotsman on Monday 16th April.
Click on any of the seven player images below to jump to the biographies we have constructed for each of them.
In April 2021, an extraordinary coincidence (or perhaps serendipity?) caused two relatives of the seven players to almost simultaneously (and quite independently) contact the school historian to ask if their story was of interest, and deserving of further investigation; also if their supporting archival material was of interest.
First to arrive on 9th April was a letter from Pam Honore (Robert’s Bisset’s daughter), resident in Alberta, Canada. A little later, an envelope was delivered by Pat MacLeod, a school friend of Pam’s, which contained a variety of memorabilia about Bisset including the treasured team photo. The email trail with Robert’s potted history can be read here.
Then on 12th April, an email arrived from Traci Gavens, whose grandmother’s brother was Thomas Sutherland (Tommy) Brotherstone. Traci has an interest in the RHS, in the form of a daughter currently in S4 at RHS, and was keen to establish if we wanted her archives. Thomas Brotherstone’s story is available here.
These seven players were similar to the majority of Royal High FP’s from the 1920’s and 1930’s in that most of them served in WW2. Six of them have entries in the RHS WW2 Roll of Honour. Tommy Brotherstone was the only one not to survive the War, rising to the rank of Squadron Leader, sadly dying after a flying accident on 29th December 1944 at Prestwick airport while instructing a flight sergeant. Five of the others were demobbed at the end of the war in senior ranks, Robert Bisset as a Major, Jack Park as a Wing Commander and Doctor, Bob Logan as a Lieutenant, Tom Mitchell as a Major, and Bill Emslie as a Lieutenant-Colonel.
The seventh player, David Murray, did not have a service record noted in the Roll of Honour, but achieved great fame in the 1950’s, forming Ecurie Ecosse in 1952, and managing the team to victory at the Le Mans 24-hour race events in 1956 and 1957. Witnesses remember the two winning BRG E-type Jaguars roaring up the playground in late 1957 to the delight of the assembled school (who had also been awarded a half-day holiday)..
There are extensive biographies of two players, Tommy Brotherstone and Robert Bisset, and some information about each of the others. The six entries in the WW2 Roll of Honour can be seen here.
Thomas Sutherland Brotherstone
Tommy Brotherstone was outstanding academically at School, winning prizes in every year, and a bursary in his fifth form.
He was Captain of School, Rugby and Cricket (at which game he was a prolific run scorer), also winning the ‘best U15 cricketer’ award. He co-captained the FP XV in 1934. He joined the RAF in 1939, rising to the rank of Squadron Leader in 1943, laterally becoming a trainer for Bomber Pilots. He died at in the County Hospital Ayr on December 30th 1944 after an accident at Prestwick airport the previous day while conducting a training flight, and was later cremated at Warriston Crematorium. His story formed part of the 2021 RHS Remembrance Service, when his great great niece, a fourth year pupil at the school in session 2021/22 attended the service. Click here for that article.
Click here for Tommy’s extended biography
Tommy’s son Terry has written an article about his father which can be accessed here
Robert Bisset was born on the 11th of November 1912, and started life at the Royal High in 1926 in form 1 in the Senior school. Like Tommy Brotherstone, he probably gained a scholarship from another preparatory school.
He started in the ‘B’ Class, but by form 3 had been promoted to the ‘A’ Class, where coincidentally he was exactly adjacent to Thomas Brotherstone in the school roll. He won prizes in each of his first two years (photos below), and a gymnastics prize in form 5, and following University he qualified as a C.A. in 1936 (Rector Dr King Gillies wrote to him in 1936 congratulating him – photo below). He played 156 times for the first XV, and won two sevens medals, one on this occasion and another at Hawick in 1938. He served for the duration of the War, latterly during the Normandy landings and at Luneburg. After the War, he served as a director in several brewing companies, then retired aged 59 in 1969 to manage a country pub in Cumbria. Ill health forced final retirement in 1977, and he died in Haddington in 1991.
Click here for the email exchange with Pam Honore, Robert Bisset’s daughter.
Robert Carnie (Bob) Logan
Bob was a famous figure at Jocks Lodge. He was Treasurer of the rugby club for five years between 1946 and 1952, and President in 1957 and 1958.
Richard Cameron recollects: “I remember him well – could I ever forget him. Among many, there was one occasion at Jock’s lodge when I recall him bawling from the touch-line, well done Richard, keep it going Richard, great stuff Richard – Oh, you poultice Cameron! He meant well”. Bob was also secretary of the FP Athletic club in 1955 when Tom Meldrum was President. Both were great supporters and turned out on many chilly nights in July, at Holyrood, Myreside, Goldenacre or Bangholm when we had triangular athletic contests. It was so encouraging to have people like them supporting our meagre efforts. Bob’s Melrose medal has been photographed for us by his grandson Andrew McKechanie, to whom many thanks.
At school, he was in the 1st XV, and was School Games Champion in his 5th year. His Games medal is shown alongside his Melrose ‘Sports’ medal below.
W.D. (Bill) Emslie
Bill was President of the Rugby Club between 1962 and 1964, having been Captain in 1933 and 1934, sharing the honour in 1934 with Thomas Brotherstone. He was capped by Scotland against France and Ireland in 1930 and 1932 respectively. He featured in an article in the 1932 Schola Regia magazine, in which several of his accomplishments were described. He favoured rugby over cricket, but at that sport he was described as a fine batsman and fielder. It was also noted that he had not played in a losing FP XV for 18 months. In his last year at school, he was awarded the prize for the best batting average. The article concluded with the accolade “…of a charming and cheerful disposition, he enjoys unbounded popularity wherever he goes, but his size in hats remains the same”.
According to Wikipedia, he was born in New York on 3 August 1908, and died on 7 August 1969.
Jack was capped for Scotland against Wales at Murrayfield on 3rd February 1934, in a team described as having 8 new caps, including 3 in the backs. An account of his life is available in Wikipedia. Among his remarkable background facts are his being the grandson of the first (1860) Open golf champion, Willie Park senior (and nephew of Willie Park junior). He also played in the Boys Amateur Golf Championship of 1930 (although surprisingly he never won the School Golf prize – perhaps he was too good). He had a distinguished school career, winning a Sibbald Bursary in 1926 in his third year, and was Dux in Maths in 1929 and 1930, along with Science and Physics in his final year in 1930, and went on to study Medicine. He won a Nation Gymnastics prize in 1929 and 1930, and in the Summer 1936 Schola Regia, where the entire sixth form was reviewed (presumably with impunity as those reviewed were shortly to be former pupils), he was described as “a pard-like spirit, beautiful and swift”.
He was a wartime doctor in the Royal Air Force, serving in the Middle East, Canada, and in South East Asia.
He was known as a ‘natty’ dresser, and is always shown sporting a very fine moustache in his FP photos. He married in 1943 and died in 1992 in East Lothian aged 79.
Tom featured in Club 1st XV colours in several years, including 1934, their Melrose sevens triumph. The Summer 1925 Schola Regia shows him winning his ‘badge’ (similar to colours) in the 3rd XI and U/15 sides, while he won 1st XV colours in 1926-27 and 1927-28. He also played in the 1st XI in 1928, opening the batting for the entire 1927 fixture list. His service record shows him enlisting as an NCO in the Black Watch in 1939, being commissioned into the Highland Light Infantry in 1940, rising to the rank of Major in 1943. He served in the Western Desert until 1944, before completing his war service in Italy.
David was School Captain in 1927 . He regularly won honours certificates throughout his school life, and in his final year, won the prize as ‘best all-round cricketer’.
He was Captain of the FP rugby club from 1935 to 1938, playing 228 times between 1928 and 1942, and was Rugby club President from 1946 to 1949.
He found fame in later life with Ecurie Ecosse, about which Wikipedia has a short article, and a longer illustrated one can be found at https://www.ecurieecosse.com/history In 2013, seven of the original Ecurie Ecosse cars plus original transporter were sold at Bonhams to a private buyer in the United States for a whopping £8.8m.
He was a Chartered Accountant by profession, but was better known as a publican and wine merchant. He died in the Canary Islands in 1973, of a heart-attack which occurred as a result of a car crash. He had moved there from Scotland some years prior.
Press report covering the tournament
Several newspapers, including the ‘Southern Reporter, the ‘Berwickshire’ and the ‘Hawick Express’ included modest coverage of the Sevens, but as might be expected, the Scotsman of April 16th 1934 included a comprehensive report, but sadly no photographs of the RHS FP team. Club President Ian R C Cowie did a terrific job in winkling out these reports from a variety of sources
The Scotsman report showers praise on six of the players in the final, and a report in another paper mentions Tommy Brotherstone, the one missing name, scoring against Heriots, High School’s oldest adversaries, in the first round. High School were joint holders of the Scottish Club championship and as such were not surprise winners. Click here to view a PDF of the Scotsman report.
This article has been compiled with input from Ian R C Cowie, Pam Honore, Traci Gavens, Richard Cameron, Jimmy Jarvis, Dr. Andrew McKechanie, Tom Bacciarelli and Alastair Allanach. Thanks also to Wikipedia for articles about Jack Park, Bill Emslie and David Murray.