Biographical Notes on Sir Harry Lauder
by Gregory Lauder-Frost (great-nephew)
Born Henry Lauder at 4 Bridge Street, Portobello, Edinburgh, (then the residence of his mother�s father) on the 4th August 1870. He was the eldest son of John Currie Lauder (1851-1882) (who had been born in nearby Musselburgh) a Master Potter and a descendant of Lauder & Bass, and Isabella Urquhart MacLeod McLennan (1854 -1905) born in Arbroath but whose family originated in the Black Isle in Rossshire.
Harry�s family had been relatively comfortable. His great grandfather, George Lauder (1776-1824), had been the tenant farmer at Inverleith Mains and a local landholder in nearby Stockbridge, Edinburgh. Amongst his properties was the famous St. Bernard�s Well. This remained in the family until later that century. Harry�s grandfather, John Lauder (1818-1888), too had owned a large house at 4 Rose Street, Edinburgh, the site of which is now occupied by the rear of Jenners famous department store. The family were therefore in a position to afford the boys of the family apprenticeships in a variety of trades. One of Harry�s grandfather�s brothers had been a baker, another a plumber.
Harry�s father did his apprenticeship in the Portobello pottery, which itself was of some note, and was held in some considerable repute. He was later offered an excellent position at Pearson�s Pottery at Newbold near Chesterfield, Derbyshire, which he accepted. However, after being there only a short time he contracted pneumonia and died aged only 32. He was buried in the Newbold Churchyard in 1882 and his widow removed back to Arbroath with her family. Most children were then leaving the infant State sector schools to work in factories but Harry's mother was determined that his schooling should continue. So in order to attend the school at the nearby flax mill, Harry took a part-time job there, which also assisted the large family�s income (there were eight children, one of whom was born posthumously).
Harry�s mother�s brother, Alexander (Sandy) was working in Hamilton, Lanarkshire, where there was enormous industrial activity at that time and towards the end of the decade Isabella, encouraged by her brother, moved to Hamilton where the three eldest lads, Harry, Matthew and John obtained work in the local coal mines. This they did for about nine to ten years. Matt studied in his spare time and obtained an under-manager�s certificate while John emigrated first to New Zealand and then Kurri Kurri in New South Wales. Harry determined to leave the mines and his career as an entertainer from this point is well known.
Matt became a mining consultant until the end of the First World War, travelling throughout the world from the beginning of the century. His purchase then of a landscaping business in California meant that he would henceforth spend most of his time there until his death.
On 19th June 1891 Harry, as he became known, married Ann (Nance), eldest daughter of James Limerick Vallance (1855-1936) a Colliery Manager at Hamilton, Lanarkshire, and Mary Kerr (1856-1937). Matt, Harry�s brother, was Best Man. The following year Matt married Ann�s sister Catherine Swanstone Limerick Vallance, and Harry was his Best Man! (James Vallance�s father had changed his name from Limerick to Vallance before dying in the Crimean War).
There can be no doubt whatever of Harry Lauder�s tremendous popularity. He toured the world for forty years including 22 times to the U.S.A., and several times to Australia where he often stayed with his brother John. Harry and his wife and son were in Melbourne, Victoria, when the British Empire mobilised for World War One. Sir Winston Churchill referred to Harry as "Scotland�s greatest ever ambassador". Harry was the first British entertainer to sell a million records and was a favourite of King Edward VII and an intimate friend of the famous tea magnate Sir Thomas Lipton, amongst others.
A robust patriot, Harry raised huge sums of money for war charities during the Great War (1914-1918) and entertained troops in the trenches in France, where he came under enemy fire. He was knighted in January 1919 by King George V. He again entertained troops, and broadcasted over the wireless with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra during World War II, despite his advanced years. Even towards the end of that conflict and just afterwards Sir Harry appeared at the docks when American food ships came into Glasgow to publicly thank the crews for coming to Britain�s assistance in her hour of need.
Sir Harry wrote most of his own songs, favourites of which were Roamin in the Gloamin�, I Love a Lassie, A Wee Deoch-an-Doris, and Keep Right on to the End of the Road, and starred in three British films: Huntingtower (1928), Auld Lang Syne (1929) and The End of the Road (1936).
He also wrote a number of books which ran into several editions, including Harry Lauder at Home and on Tour (1912), A Minstrel in France (1918), Roamin� in the Gloamin� (1927 autobiography), My Best Scotch Stories (1929), Wee Drappies (1931) and Ticklin� Talks (c.1932). Sir Harry mentions his descent from the Lauders of Lauder and Bass in his autobiography.
Sir Harry�s only child, John (b.19th November 1891) had attended the City of London School and Cambridge University and was destined for a career in law. However, he was called up and Captain John Lauder of the 8th Argyll and Sutherland Highland Regiment, was eventually killed at Poiziers in France on 26th December 1916 and was buried the following month in the Albert Road Cemetery at Orvilliers, France. He was unmarried.
A monument was erected by his father in the tiny family graveyard at Glenbranter in Argyll. Young John�s mother and her parents are buried next to his memorial.
Sir Harry�s wife Anne also sadly died on 31st July 1927, a terrible blow to the great man. His youngest brother, Alexander, had a daughter, Margaret [Greta] (1900-1966), who was fond of Sir Harry and she moved in to keep an eye on him at his beautiful mansion of Laudervale outside Dunoon. She was to become his almost inseparable companion.
In 1932 Sir Harry purchased the property at Strathaven, Lanarkshire, where his next mansion, Lauder Ha� was constructed for, as he would say, a home for all the family; and a memorial to his fame. Cleverly, he put the land in his niece�s name to avoid death duties when he passed away. She would stay there until her untimely death aged 66.
Sir Harry Lauder died at Lauder Ha� on the 26th February 1950. At his funeral service the Lesson was read by the Duke of Hamilton, and all shops and businesses in Hamilton closed for the day. Sir Harry was unexpectedly interred not with his wife at Glenbranter, but with his mother, and brother George, in Bent Cemetery, Hamilton, after that town�s most memorable funeral ever. It was covered by Pathe News and wreaths were received from all over the world, including one from Queen Elizabeth (today�s Queen Mother) and another from Mr & Mrs Winston Churchill.
For further reading see the various books by Sir Harry Lauder plus Great Scot! by Gordon Irving (1968,U.K.), and Harry Lauder in the Limelight by William Wallace (1988, U.K.)
Gregory Lauder-Frost welcomes genealogical correspondence on his family.
Contact him by Email: email@example.com
A Celebration of Sir Harry Lauder
"Laird of the Music Hall"
A few months ago, while sitting at my pc in the piney woods of southeast Texas known as the "Big Thicket." My daughter in law Nancy forwarded a URL to me with a note it said, "I think you'll like the music." Little did I realize when I clicked my mouse that my life was about to change. The image of a kilted Scotsman came onto the screen with the melodic strains of "Scotland The Brave"
The homepage belongs to Gordon Irving a resident of Glasgow, Scotland, a writer, journalist, published author and 'retired' Theater Critic. He is also now one of my dearest friends. It is because of him that I have established this the "Official Website for Sir Harry Lauder" Gordon encouraged me to find and read "Great Scot, The Absorbing Life Story of Sir Harry Lauder Legendary Laird of the Music Hall" a book that he had written and now unfortunately out of print. There was not a copy to be found until he happened across a copy at a Scottish flea market and sent it to me. I don't think anyone could read this book and not be touched on some level by Sir Harry Lauder which is why I'm on a quest to find a publisher with an international market to put "Great Scot" back into circulation so everyone, friends, loyal fans and hopefully a new generation of fans alike can read his biography that could only be written with the insight of a personal friend.
Henry MacLennan Lauder called Harry was the first of eight children born to John and Isabella McLennan Lauder a couple of little financial means. At the tender age of twelve Harry lost his father to pneumonia at a time when there was no government assistance for widows with small children. Young Harry took a part time job in a flax mill consisting of three days a week, working until his fingers bled for a few pennies a week to help his mother support his younger siblings. Attending school three days a week he delighted in entertaining his class mates with imitations of their teacher until he was caught in the middle of his routine by you know who. Punishment was swift.
Two years later Harry found work in a coal mine working for dollars instead of a few cents. It was dangerous work and he sang to himself to bolster his courage. Soon, his co-workers were calling out, "Let's have a wee sang, Harry ma lad!" They encouraged him to enter local talent contests that earned meager but cherished prize money. He finally entered a contest singing the two songs he knew best, "Bonnie Annie Laurie" and "I'm a Gentleman Still".
Though poverty daily looks in at my door,
Though I'm hungry and footsore and ill,
Thank God, I can look the whole world in the face
And say, I'm a Gentleman still!
He won second prize and given the chance to sing in small music halls. Harry Lauder singer, song writer, comedian (wearing a kilt and carrying a crooked, knobby stick) was on his way up the ladder to international fame. One of the things that strikes me about him is that he never demanded x number of dollars which is the norm today for less talented people but gratefully accepted what was offered and became the highest paid entertainer of his time.
Harry met Annie Valance destined to be the only woman he would ever love, it was love at first sight and he could think of nothing or no one else. Though still teenagers, they gained family permission to marry. He wrote "I love a Lassie," "She is my Rosie," "Queen Amang the Heather," "She's the Lass for Me" and "Bonnie Wee Annie" all for his "Nance" a nickname that he gave her.
When Harry Lauder visited his son Capt. John Lauder at the military installation prior to being shipped overseas he asked every soldier that he met 'What can I get for you? what do you need?" The answer was nearly always the same "More men" At his own expense Harry Lauder hired one hundred pipers to march the length and breadth of Scotland to recruit men. A captured enemy soldier (name unknown) called the Scottish forces, "The Ladies From Hell", "Wearing their skirts, brandishing their bayonets and shouting gaelic war cries".
Note: "The story of the "Ladies From Hell" came from the Second Battle of Ypres, April 24, 1915.
Canadian and Scottish regiments were still wearing their kilts, (not skirts) because there was a shortage
of the regulation army pants" G. Young, Lakefield Heritage Research.
Toward the end of the war he kept seeing wounded and disabled soldiers in the hospitals. He knew that they would receive a government allowance but he also knew it wasn't enough for them to support themselves. He did not want them to become objects of charity or reduced to selling pencils on a street corner. He used his performances to create a fund to insure that these men would have what they needed to live the dignified life they had earned for King and Country. Years later when World War I raged in Europe January 1, 1917 to be exact while Harry was
on tour he received a telegram while having breakfast with friends at the Bonnington Hotel in London. It read, "Captain John Lauder killed in action December 28, 1916"
Harry Lauder and his beloved wife Nance lost their only child a son on a battlefield in France. The Theater manager closed the show until further notice knowing it would be impossible for any star to go on stage to tell jokes and sing.
Harry rushed home to be with his wife and spend a private time of grief and prayer. His wife reminded him of millions of other parents that had received similar telegrams and encouraged him to go back to London and reopen the show to keep from putting hundreds of people out of badly needed work.
Returning to the theater he was given a letter that had arrived by special messenger. It was from a fellow officer that had been with his son John when he was killed. It read, "The Captain" he wrote had died with great gallantry calling out the words "Carry On." Harry Lauder the father in a devastating state of loss answered his dying son in the only way he knew and the call of entertainers "The Show Must Go On" was born. Harry, did carry on that night singing his songs and telling jokes giving all he had to give. When the final curtain fell he fainted.
Weeks later he tried to enlist for combat into the military and was rejected for combat because of his age. I'll quote from "Great Scot" and let Harry Lauder tell you in his own words what happened. "Right then" replied Lauder "let me sing to the boys. I'm an entertainer......I can make their load a wee bit lighter wi' a sang or two and a joke or two. It's the least I can do for memory of John" No one had ever made such a request before. Many performers had entertained in military hospitals but none had actually gone to the battlefield where the enemy objected to his performance by sending rounds of live ammunition. After weeks of debate in the War Office Harry Lauder became the first person to entertain troops (both British and American) in the battlefield. With a small custom built piano tied to the grill of a military vehicle he sang and joked his way across France in base hospitals, old chateaus, pillaged barns and dug outs. It was a practice he repeated in World War II. Now in his seventies, after receiving a request from Sir Winston Churchill. He answered, again quoting from "Great Scot" "If I can hirple on to the platform and sing a wee song it shall be my duty to do so." He was a special favorite of American troops who came over to Scotland and were billeted at Glasgow. Many had heard from their own fathers of how good an ambassador this man Lauder had been in the previous great war in Europe.
His Majesty, King George V bestowed knighthood on Harry Lauder for service to his country in Buckingham Palace with his dear Annie now Lady Lauder in attendance.
(It is my own personal opinion that our US Congress should bestow their own highest honor on Sir Harry Lauder on behalf of all American troops who have benefited from the practice begun by him) Note: I wrote to my Congressman and received a political non-answer.
Sadly Lady Lauder died just before he received the "Freedom of Edinburgh Award" in 1927. An empty chair was placed on the platform next to her husband in her honor.
Sir Harry turned to his faithful niece Greta Lauder daughter of his brother Alick to run his household which she did with quiet and gracious dignity. Sir Harry, said of her, "only her presence makes Laudervale a place of delightful ghosts and fragrant memories still habitable for her lonely old uncle."
So it was that a lad born of poor and loving parents in Portobello, Scotland grew up to entertain and be entertained by his King, the Royal Family, five American Presidents, Heads of State and battle weary troops.
If you have ever laughed at at jokes about a mean penny pinching Scot (a myth started by Harry Lauder when in truth his heart was as tender as a newborn babe) laughed while watching Danny Kaye imitate a Scot wearing a kilt and carrying a crooked walking stick, if you or a member of your family was ever entertained by any performer on a battlefield, then your life has been touched by Sir Harry Lauder.
A few months ago I had never heard of him and now I am one of his biggest fans. I lovingly admire this man who never let fame and fortune rob him of his humanity or his humility. He wasn't without faults who of us is? He was a human being that used the talent given to him by God, and gave the world the precious gift of laughter when it's soul was crying.
Gordon, thank you for introducing me to your friend and allowing me to quote so heavily from " Great Scot" and to my daughter in law "Yes Nancy, you were right, I love the music."
Sir Harry, Lady Lauder love of your husband's life, John the joy of your parents and Greta devoted niece and guardian angel, this website is for you.
Thank You Scotland for Sharing
Your Native Son With The World.
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