BEM winner dies aged 83

Ernest Sangster
Ernest Sangster

Ernest Sangster, recipient of the British Empire Medal (BEM) has died, peacefully at his home aged 83.

Mr Sangster who died on Friday, August 30, was well known for his affiliation to the Banchory branch of the Royal British Legion of Scotland and for his work as a guide at Crathes Castle since retiring from the Legion in 1995.

In 2011, traffic on London’s Tower Bridge was brought to a halt on Armistice Day, by raising the road as a mark of respect, after Ernest wrote to MP Sir Robert Smith.

Mr Sangster, who served as a Royal Air Force Mechanic from 1947-1950, was then asked to take the controls to raise and lower the bridge bascules to honour those who fell while serving their country.

The BEM - sometimes called the “working class” gong - was scrapped in 1993 but revived by David Cameron last year to recognise “the dedication and hard work so many provide to their communities”.

Unlike other honours, the BEM is not awarded by the Queen or Prince of Wales but by Lord-Lieutenants, who are the representatives of the Crown for each county in the UK.

Known to friends as Ernie, Mr Sangster was a ‘kenspeckle figure’ locally, working as a paperboy, a butcher on the High Street, Vice President at the Legion and as a tour guide at Crathes Castle as well as being heavily involved in numerous community projects over his lifetime in Banchory.

Royal British Legion of Scotland’s Banchory Chairman, Alistair Black paid tribute to Ernie.

He said: “It was with great sadness when we learned of the death of Ernest Sangster BEM our Vice President who died on Friday night, peacefully, sitting in his armchair. Ernie was a remarkable character who was a mine of information about the RAF, the Legion and Banchory, just to name some. Many like me who were born and bred in Banchory will have memories of Ernie, I certainly can recall many fond memories and it was a great pleasure knowing him and working with him throughout the years. He will be remembered for many reasons but as a Legionnaire he was passionate about the Banchory Legion branch and club and did a remarkable job running the club in it’s heyday as Chief Steward. I know he was highly regarded as a guide at Crathes Castle and anyone who took the time to ask Ernie questions went away with a complete dossier of information about the Castle and Banchory. However to me, Ernie’s piece de resistance was Tower Bridge on Remembrance day. He was instrumental in getting it raised every year on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. Ernie will be a sad loss to many, especially to the Legion but as with any service or ex-service personnel he will be sadly missed, but never forgotten.”

Mr Sangster, is survived by his wife Maureen, his three children and two grandchildren. His grandson Thomas has starred in a number of successful films, including Love Actually and Nanny McPhee, while granddaughter Ava is a successful florist in London.