Campbeltown’s desert rat turned model maker
A COURIER front page about a model ship donated to Campbeltown Museum brought the work of one Campbeltown woman’s father to her mind.
On leaving school, Betty Cockburn’s father, George Prior, became a motor mechanic in Duncan Ramsay’s garage in Argyll Street.
When the Second World War broke out, he knew it was likely that he’d have to serve, so he signed up before he was called up, joining the army’s Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, aged 23.
Mr Prior served first in the UK and then across the globe, in Cape Town, Mombassa, Freetown, Aden, Suez, Cyprus, Palestine and Aleppo before proceeding to the Western Desert, where he served with the 7th Armoured Division.
The 7th saw distinguished service in the war, and its exploits in the Western Desert, made it famous as the Desert Rats.
He received seven medals for his service, and made several lifelong friends during his time in the Western Desert, some of whom continued to visit him in Campbeltown for the rest of his life.
After his war exploits Mr Prior returned to Campbeltown and Mr Ramsay’s garage where he worked until it fell into liquidation.
He next worked at the shipyard as a storeman until he took early retirement to spend time with his wife, Elizabeth, who unfortunately died soon after.
In his new-found spare time, Mr Prior began making model boats, initially fishing boats, which he made for their skippers, before moving on to puffers.
Betty said: ‘Some people in Campbeltown still have the models he made for them. He gave one to someone in Whitehouse and you could always see it in the window of the house when you passed on the bus.’
Mr Prior made almost every part of the models himself and never used a kit, only occasionally receiving help from his daughter Betty with some of the trickier parts.
When making the models became too much for him, Mr Prior moved on to making stools.
‘He never stopped,’ Betty said, ‘When he began struggling with the stools, Kenneth Craig in the hardware store would chop the wood so that my father could still assemble it himself.’ The first model Mr Prior ever made, which was not based on an actual boat. He named it after his niece, Rona. One of the model puffers that Mr Prior made.
George Prior in later life.