A group from Angus with a close affinity to The Black Watch, led by Councillors Ronnie Proctor and Bob Myles, with wives Sonia and Agnes respectively, recently took part in a tour to the ‘Great War Western Front.
The group included Mr Proctor’s 17-year-old grandson, Ruaraidh, who was the piper with the party.
Part of the purpose of the trip was to seek out cemeteries in which ancestors of those present were buried. Mr Myles explained that not all of the graves were in the massive, formal War Cemeteries; some were in village graveyards which involved the party going well off the beaten track.
Mrs Sonia Proctor visited the grave of her great-uncle, Private George Reid, Kirriemuir, one of eight brothers who fought in the Great War. Three were in The Black Watch and George was seriously injured at Givenchy on Hogmanay night, 1914. Two of his brothers, also from the Kirriemuir Company of the 5th (Territorial) Battalion Black Watch, went to look for him, but by the time they found him George had died. It was his grave in a civilian cemetery that was visited.
Mr Proctor told us: “I was asked to read the exhortation at the Menin Gate before I laid a wreath in front of a crowd over a thousand who attended the Last Post ceremony which has gone on since the late 1920s with the exception of the period of the Second World War. Ruaraidh was asked to play the lament Flowers of The Forest after the buglers had sounded the Last Post.
“One of the buglers on parade was 90 years old and had taken part in the ceremony for the past 50 years. We also visited and held an act of commemoration at the Black Watch Memorial which the Black Watch Association installed in May 2014 at Polygon Wood. Polygon Wood has been known as Black Watch Corner after the Regiment’s historic stance there in November 1914 during the first Battle of Ypres. It was interesting to note that a young Belgian boy visits the memorial four days per week to practice his pipes as he feels that it gives him the right atmosphere. He and Ruaraidh put on an impromptu piping performance after our act of commemoration.
“Brian Smith, Braemar, who is our standard bearer and his son also took part and located the grave of his great uncle.
“Mrs Anne McCluskey located her grandfather Cpl William Moreland’s name on the memorial wall at Dud’s Corner cemetery, William was killed whilst serving with the HLI.
“Mr Ivan Laird, a local farmer and guest on the trip, located his uncle’s name on the memorial wall at Tyne Cot which is the largest Commonwealth War Cemetery in France and Flanders.”
Beaumont Hamel, Arras and numerous other battle fields and cemeteries were visited as was Poperinghe the town in which TOCH was founded, Further along the street the group visited the place where a number of British Soldiers were executed for desertion.
Mr Proctor concluded: All in all the trip was a great success and hopefully the veterans who attended managed to give an insight of what life is like on operations and the futility of war which must always be the very last resort.”
On the way home, Mr Myles wrote the following poem inspired not least by the estimate that more than a quarter of all Scots who fought in the First World War were killed.
When nations divide and diplomacy fails,
Idealism, religion, lust for power prevails,
Calls for the men of the towns, hills and dales
To fight the good fight and ignore all the wails
And wisdom of voices for Peace.
Headstone after stone with a story to tell,
How they lived, loved and laughed, and then struggled through Hell
With bullets and shrapnel from many a shell,
Gas, lice and rats their companions as well,
As they died for some reason, and Peace.
We must learn from the suffering, hear of the pain,
How they fought through the mud and mostly in vain.
So many lives lost for so little gain!
We can go home and must think again:
War is no way to win Peace.