Friday, 31 December 2010

2010 Review of the Year

As we approach the end of 2010, we decided to look back on some of the projects the Research Group has worked on, and to look forward to what 2011 may bring.

Our primary project, the Scottish War Memorials Project has continued to add new memorials and additional information throughout the year. As time goes by, the number of “new” memorials to be added has diminished, but there is always information to be added, and new memorials do continue to be found. The number of civic memorials added to the project is something we can feel justifiably proud of, and our focus in the future will be to add memorials from other sources such as churches, places of work and school/colleges.

Memorials continue to make news headlines, and a recent story in the Courier newspaper was cause for cautious celebration, as the memorial to the men of Mains, located in Caird Park in Dundee will hopefully undergo restoration and relocation in 2011. The members of the Research Group can feel some small amount of pride in this, as it was our initial discovery of the condition of the memorial, and our highlighting it to both the media and local interested parties were the opening stages of what has proven to be a long and complicated process. Hopefully the end of the tunnel is in sight for this much neglected memorial.

Our War Graves Project also continued this year, with new grave photographs added on a regular basis. I will admit that I personally have let my involvement in this project slip as I have worked on other things, but 201 will see me attempting to take a more active interest in this project.

Several members of the Research Group spent a lot of time and effort this year working with the University of Edinburgh on a website concentrating on the efforts of people from Edinburgh and the Lothians during the First World War. The Edinburgh’s War website went live in October this year and has been a great success. 2011 should see more work on the website – watch this space!

Looking at our own projects, the Roll of Honour for the city of Glasgow has lain dormant for a little while, but only last week we were able to launch the first batch of surnames from the transcription. 2011 will see us continue to work on this, with a hopefully second batch being released in the spring.

Another new project, the indexing of the Daily Record for the Great War, has been progressing well. I have been working on the issues from 1915 and John Houston has been indexing those from 1917. Between the two of us we now have almost 12 months of indexing completed, and next year will see that work continue. To see a glimpse of how the complete index will look, we recently showcased the index for January 1915. We're always looking for people to assist with the indexing - if you think you can help, please get in touch!

This year also saw this blog making more of an impact – when I started it in late 2008 I saw it as a method of getting news, research items of interest, and articles “out there” where they might be of interest. I’d like to think that now we’ve finally got the correct balance of news items and our own articles –long may this continue into next year and beyond. We’re also hoping that next year will see more “guest authors” writing for the blog – got something to say? Let us know and we’ll post it here!

The final new development was the launch of our Facebook page – I’ve been using Facebook for a while now, and it seemed a sensible move to create a page for the SMRG – early days yet, but fingers crossed it can grow into a useful hub for information.

So…that was 2010. I’ve made mention of a few things in store for next year, but who knows what’s round the corner? I hope you’ll stay with us to see what crops up!

Thursday, 30 December 2010

Who's Who in Scottish Military History - Colin Campbell, Baron Clyde of Clydesdale

Some of you may recognise this name as one of the worthies commemorated in George Square in Glasgow. Although most people passing his statue today will never have heard of Lord Clyde or the campaigns he fought in, to the Victorians he was one of their greatest heroes.

He’s more commonly known as General Sir Colin Campbell and most famously known as the man who formed the ‘Thin Red Line’ at Balaklava.

Like many other Victorian generals he actually started his military career in Wellington ’s army in Spain. Because Ensigns were taken on in their early teens the men who expanded the Empire in the 1840s and 1850s learnt their trade fighting the French.

Campbell (who was actually born Colin McIver in Glasgow, but took the surname of his uncle who paid for him to join the army) joined the 9th Foot and rose through the officer ranks. In those days many Scots served in English regiments and Campbell was no exception. Throughout the early decades of the nineteenth century he served in various regiments, staff roles and small campaigns until 1854 when cometh the hour cometh the man.

He was appointed to command the Highland Brigade in the Crimea and under that he had the 93rd Highlanders. He had no previous connection to this most highland of the highland regiments but from Balaklava until his death a few years later the two were inexorably linked.

The Battle of Balaklava is well known. The Charge of the Light Brigade, The Charge of the Heavy Brigade and the Thin Red Line have all gone down in British military history so I'm not going to go into detail here. What is worth mentioning is that Campbell knew he could rely on the 93rd and the 93rd knew they could rely on Campbell.

That should have been the satisfying twilight to Campbell 's career but just before he retired he had one more campaign and that was one of the hardest he'd faced. In 1857 he was appointed Commander-in-Chief of India to suppress the Mutiny.

Many Scottish regiments served in the Indian Mutiny between 1857-1858 (The 21st, 26th, 42nd, 71st, 72nd, 75th, 78th, 79th, 91st, 92nd and 93rd regiments all served there) and to Campbell 's satisfaction the 93rd were assigned to his command. The 93rd's delight at having their old boss back in charge may have been short-lived though because he came to see them as his storm troops who could always be relied on to save the day. For example they surmounted almost impossible odds to capture the Secunder Baugh at Lucknow in November 1857 but suffered heavy casualties.

By 1858 Campbell was a tired old man. He returned to the UK he was honoured with a peerage, the thanks of Parliament and a colonelcy. The title he took was Baron Clyde, of Clydesdale and his colonelcy was for his beloved 93rd Sutherland Highlanders.

He retired to Chatham but not before being made a Field Marshal. It was short-lived. His campaigning caught up with him and he passed away in August 1863. For many years he had lived the life of an English officer when England was synonymous with Britain but in his later years, and no doubt with the involvement of the 93rd playing a large part, he embraced his Scottishness and Scotland embraced him. For example, after the battle of Alma he replaced his General’s cocked hat with a Highlander’s feather bonnet. The story of the carpenter’s son from Glasgow who rose through the ranks to become a Field Marshal and save the Empire twice, first at Balaklava and then in India, seemed to strike a chord with the people back home and he was feted throughout the land.

On this day in Scottish military history - 1915, The loss of the HMS Natal, Cromarty

In the First World War the Royal Navy had the misfortune to lose four of its ships in home waters from internal explosions. HMSs ‘Glatton’, ‘Vanguard’, ‘Princess Irene’ and ‘Natal’.

The ‘Natal’ was a Duke of Edinburgh class armoured cruiser with a normal complement of 704 officers and men.

She had been attached to the Grand Fleet in 1914 and in December 1915 she was lying along with her squadron in the Cromarty Firth between Cromarty and Invergordon.

The Natal had arrived in the Cromarty Firth the week before Christmas and was enjoying some respite from duty in the North Sea. Apart from her crew there were civilians on board working on repairs. As a treat for some locals a film show was organised and earlier that day a party of guests, including QARNNS nurses, and some children had also arrived on board.

At twenty past three in the afternoon there was a series of huge explosion inside the ship and within five minutes the Natal had capsized and settled in eight fathoms.

There was a terrific loss of life. No one is sure of the exact numbers because of the civilians on board but there could have been as many as 421 lives lost. Many were killed in the explosion but many more were drowned as the ship sunk, or died of exposure in the freezing winter waters of the Cromarty Firth. One of those who died was the former Scotland Rugby International John Dods.

To this day the exact cause has not been established. There was talk of a German U-boat mine or sabotage by spies but the truth is probably more mundane. A fire near one of the ship’s ammunition magazines is likely to have been the cause.

There was some attempt at salvage after the war but it was abandoned and up until the 1970s the upturned hull was still visible at low tide.

When the oil rigs came to Nigg in the seventies the ‘Natal’ needed to go and she was blown up. There are still reminders of her in the area though. In Alness next to the lifeboat pier there is a small plaque in her memory, and a buoy still marks the spot where she sank. Many of those who died on the ‘Natal’ ninety five years ago today are buried in nearby cemeteries.

Monday, 27 December 2010

Sites of Interest: "The Fallen Oak"

HMS Royal Oak was sunk at Scapa Flow in 1939, and is now recognised as a war grave.

In 2006 ADUS Ltd were commissioned by the Ministry of Defence to carry out a sonar survey of the wreck.

Images of that sonar survey can be viewed on the ADUS website here, as well as images of other wrecks.

You can also view a movie "flypast" of the wreck, which is fascinating to watch.

Sunday, 26 December 2010

Soldiers unveil rare war memento seized from Taliban in daring raid

From the Daily Record today:

Black Watch squaddies yesterday unveiled a rare battle flag captured from the Taliban during one of the biggest airborne assaults since World War II.

A soldier dodged a storm of machine gun and rocket fire to seize the war standard during a daring raid on an insurgent stronghold at the start of Operation Panther's Claw.

Military experts said the white flag was an "astonishing find" and a powerful symbol which Taliban fanatics would have fought to the death to defend.

The flag, which has religious script scribbled on it by hardened Taliban fighters, is now the centrepiece of the Black Watch's regimental museum in Perth.

Captain Ben Collis, of 3 Scots, the Black Watch, said the flag was taken when 430 troops swooped into the Luy Mandah bazaar in Babaji, central Helmand, on June 20 last year.

He said: "It was the opening move of Operation Panchai Palang - which translates as Panther's Claw - and marked the beginning of the Afghan and British armies' retaking of central Helmand from the Taliban.

"The operation was focused on providing security in the most populous area of Helmand, between the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah and the town of Gereskh, before reconstruction and job creation schemes could begin.

"The battalion was to take part in three subsequent phases of the operation, which lasted for over a month in total. This Taliban flag was found flying in the bazaar.

"It was captured by Lieutenant Alex Phillips, commander of 5 Platoon, on the second day of that operation. Lieutenant Phillips was awarded the Military Cross for his actions in an earlier operation."

Other mementoes gifted to the museum from the battalion's recent tour of Afghanistan include blank mortar rounds fired at the repatriation ceremony of two fallen Black Watch soldiers, a pressure pad detonator from a deadly improvised explosive device and a personal mine extraction kit.

Afghanistan expert Dr Alex Marshall, of the Scottish Centre for War Studies at Glasgow University, said: "This flag is fascinating and a very unusual acquisition for the museum.

"The Taliban have a codex or book of strict rules on how to treat civilians and how to live. These are sometimes found but I have never heard of a flag being seized before.

"It would not be carried into battle but used as a marker to signify a Taliban stronghold or headquarters. Symbolically, it is very important and shows how the Taliban are trying to establish a shadow state.

"The flag would also be important religiously and to have it flying over an area would be a real two-fingered gesture towards the Kabul government.

"The Taliban would only have let this flag fall into British hands as a matter of last resort and if they were taken by surprise by overwhelming forces."

The Black Watch museum at Balhousie Castle features items from their formation in 1725 - when General Wade, leader of the King's Army in Scotland, set up six companies of the Highland "Watch" dressed in the unit's tartan - to modern-day wars.

Museum manager Emma Halford-Forbes said: "It was fantastic to get the Taliban flag, which is very rare, and other items from the battalion's recent deployment in Afghanistan.

"We are always very grateful for all items received from serving soldiers. They are mementoes from momentous times in people's lives and help bring to life the history of the battalion.

"They help to allow people to relate to what is happening in modern conflicts and the sacrifices of modern soldiers.

"A lot of young children will be fascinated by the displays from Afghanistan. These items may seem commonplace to people using them on a day-to-day basis but they have a huge sentimental value and provenance.

"They also help the museum to preserve the history of the Black Watch for future generations.

"In recent years we have been very lucky to receive many interesting items from conflicts to add to our collection.

"These include an Iraqi AK47 and a box of rations from Iraq in 2003."

Other items in the museum's collection include a German Luger pistol from World War I, a book of pressed flowers from Jerusalem belonging to a Black Watch soldier wounded at Ypres in 1917 and German and Japanese flags from World War Two.

White Flag When Taliban warlords seized power in Kabul in 1996 and established the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, the white flag became the national flag of the country. It symbolises the alleged purity of their Islamic faith and government.

After 1997, the Taliban added the Shahadah - the declaration that there is no god but Allah and the prophet Muhammad is his messenger - to the flag.

Pressure Pad This boobytrap was donated to the museum to show the deadly array of weapons they faced in Afghanistan. Taliban fighters made the pressure pad as part of an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) designed to evade detection and kill British soldiers. The device has two metal sections that make an electric circuit when pressure is applied, triggering a nearby bomb.

Bunker Buster This rocket launcher was also gifted to the museum. The bazooka-style weapon was used by troops to destroy compounds and fortified positions.

The High Explosive Anti-Tank (HEAT) Warhead Launcher was fired from the shoulder. It was very effective against Taliban using thick compound walls to snipe at British soldiers.

Troops to cross paths

Scots troops will cross paths as they leave and arrive in Afghanistan in Spring.

Soldiers of 2 Scots, The Royal Highland Fusiliers, and 5 Scots, The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, are due home in April.

Meanwhile, hundreds of Royal Marines from 45 Commando in Arbroath will go over to the Nad-e-Ali district at the same time.

They will join 4 Scots, the Highlanders, 100 soldiers of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards and TA troops from the 6th and 7th battalions to train Afghan forces.

Around 120 personnel from RAF Lossiemouth's 617 Squadron will also carry out patrols from a base at Kandahar Air Field.

Some 200 from RAF Leuchars will provide security for a main Nato air base.

Following a training period in Kenya this year, soldiers of 3 Scots, the Black Watch, are due to go to Afghanistan in around a year's time.

Troops from 1 Scots, the Royal Scots Borderers, arrived back from Afghanistan in October. They were deployed to shovel snow on the streets of Edinburgh in early December and were officially stood down for Christmas on December 17.

In October 400 troops from 1 Scots marched down Edinburgh's Royal Mile as part of their homecoming parade. Army chiefs are planning similar parades for soldiers coming back in 2011.

Who's Who in Scottish Military History - David Niven

It seemed to come as a surprise to some lately that the quintessential English gentleman, Hugh Grant, should have a connection to a Highland regiment but his name should have been a clue. Hugh Grant is not an uncommon name around the Moray Firth. Grant has take on a role within Holywood which was once occupied by another Englishman with Scottish roots, David Niven.

I’ll not go into detail about Niven's Holywood life here; you can find plenty about that in books and articles elsewhere but I’ll mention his time in a Scottish regiment in the 1930s. Niven wasn’t born in Kirriemuir as he liked to claim but his father’s family did hail from Perthshire and after a troubled childhood he had decided he wanted to serve as an officer in a Highland regiment.

At Sandhurst he put down as his first choice of regiment the Argylls, second was Black Watch and for his third choice he was too smart for his own good and wrote “Anything but the Highland Light Infantry”. The army took a dim view of this and packed him off to the 2nd Battalion HLI in Malta. The HLI were aware of his comment and he found the HLI Officers Mess unwelcoming. He did make friends with a couple of other officers - Roy Urquhart, who later commanded 1st Airborne Division at Arnhem; and Michael Trubshawe who became a character actor in British films in the 1950’s and ‘60’s.

Inter Platoon Cup, 1930. David Niven sitting front row, third from the left. Michael Trubshawe is sitting front row third from the right.

He didn’t enjoy his time with the HLI and after two years he ran away to Holywood and the rest as they say is history. In 1939 he returned to the UK to sign up. He didn’t even try the HLI. At first he tried the RAF but they wouldn’t have him but a friend got him a commission in the Rifle Brigade. He later served in the Commandos and Phantom Force.

When he was in Malta I’m sure Niven rued writing “Anything but the Highland Light Infantry” but would he have found the fame he did if he had been posted to the Argylls? Perhaps if fate had placed him in a welcoming regiment he would have settled into the life of a regular army officer and never gone near acting. What if, eh?

Friday, 24 December 2010

The SMRG Advent Calendar - Day 24

For today's advent calendar entry, think of this as a Christmas carol.

This scene is from the film Joyeux Noel, which is set around the time of the "Christmas Truce" of 1914. The film features a company of the Royal Scots Fusiliers, here singing and playing the pipes in the trenches.

This scene does not feature the subtitles of the foreign soldiers, so here (courtesy of the original uploader to YouTube) is a translation of those lines of dialogue:

German Soldier: They seem to be having quite a party. Don't you want to? This is Anna Sörensen.
Anna: Good Evening.
Soldiers: Good Evening.
German Lieutenant: What is this? Are you crazy, bringing this lady with you?
German Soldier: Lieutenant, I've convinced the Crown Prince that a little music on Christmas Eve won't do any harm.
German Lieutenant: Very well. Start singing, then.

French Soldier: Lieutenant, come quickly! Something weird is happening there!
French Soldier: I don't like the look of this, Lieutenant. Might be a diversion?

German Lieutenant: Sprink! Come down from there!

German Soldier: Good evening, Englishmen!
Scottish Soldier: Good evening, Germans, but we're not English, we're Scottish!
German Lieutenant: Alright, that was nice and all, but we're going back now. This is not the Berlin opera house.
German Soldier: You're right. This is better than Berlin.

French Soldier: Well, look at that. That beats everything. A summit meeting in No-Man's-Land, and we're not invited!
French Lieutenant: Shut it, Ponchel. What kind of mess is this?

French Soldier: What are they doing there?
French Soldier: Maybe the Germans have had enough. Maybe they're surrendering?
French Soldier: That would surprise me.
French Lieutenant: Ponchel, give me a bottle of champagne, and my cup.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Fancy a brew?

I'm always partial to a nice cup of tea. The first thing I do when I get to work is to fill my mug and have a nice cuppa. It sets me up for the day.

We've written about tea on the blog before, when it was announced that NAAFI Tea was available to the public.

Now, for those of you prefer your tea loose and not shoved into a bag, you can purchase Royal Air Force tea. It not only tastes delicious, but whenever you purchase it you are helping the Royal Air Force charities.

Made by the Rare Tea Company, you can either purchase it directly from them, or you can buy it at Sainsbury's. You'll find it online by searching item code 7337723 on the Sainsbury's website.

Need persuading further? Why not let Alexander Armstrong explain how good this tea is:

The SMRG Advent Calendar - Day 23

Today's advent calendar is actually a late replacement for something else which had been planned but unfortunately fell through at the last minute.

However, that gives me an opportunity to launch what might be the most exciting item of all, and perhaps our biggest launch of the year.

Among the many projects we have running is one which has been sitting on the "back burner" for a little while. This is the project to fully transcribe the Roll of Honour for the city of Glasgow.

The project page on our website goes into more detail about the Roll. It contains nearly 18,500 names and the task to transcribe has not been an easy one.

The project is still not complete, as there is much checking to be done, but today, as our Christmas present to you all, we proudly present the first section of the transcribed roll - this comprises the letters A through to D, and features just over 4,500 entries.

Much of the work in transcribing this roll was undertaken by Kevin O'Neill. Kevin did a lot of work for the Research Group, transcribing not only this roll but also many of the names on civic war memorials. Kevin sadly passed away in November this year, and he was very keen to see the Roll for Glasgow completed. Sadly he did not live to see that, but we would like to take this opportunity to dedicate the transcribed roll to his memory.

The first section of the Roll can be viewed by clicking the link below:

Glasgow City Roll of Honour A-D

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

The SMRG Advent Calendar - Day 22

Today's advent calendar item is an excerpt from the Battalion war diary of the 2nd Battalion of the Gordon Highlanders, which gives a little insight as to how Christmas was spent in the trenches.

December 25th: Not a shot fired on either side. By agreement with the Germans the dead of both sides between the trenches were collected and buried side by side. Greetings exchanged between all units of the Brigade.

December 27th: Some of the trenches fell in and the day was busily spent in repairing them. All the men who can get boots and putties are now wearing them, as shoes have proved to be useless in the thick mud. The hose-tops are turned over the puttees.

December 28th to 31st: Normal nothing special. The truce started on Xmas Day continued until New Year’s Day. Four Scots Guards scouts who entered the enemy’s during the truce did not return, so 40 Germans who paid a visit to the trenches of the BORDER REGIMENT were kept as prisoners.

Hot baths have now been arranged for us in a dye factory behind the lines and each man gets a bath once a fortnight.

January 1st to 3rd: (Rue de Quesnes) Battalion orders headed Rue de Quesnes.

January 4th to 7th: (Point de la Justice) Battalion orders headed Point de la Justice. 1 officer and 50 men joined. A sort of informal truce with the enemy during Xmas and the New Year having taken place strictest orders were issued that it must cease. All Germans above ground to be shot at.

January 8th to 15th: Trenches flooded. To retain the line it was found necessary to hold isolated posts of 1 NCO and 10 men at intervals of about 50 yards. The posts so held damned up at both ends and the water pumped out between the dams. Battalion re-organised as two Companies to be known as Numbers 1 and 2 Companies commanded by Captain J M HAMILTON and Captain W REID respectively. 2nd Lieutenants A J K HONEYMAN and P J BOYD joined.

January 16th to 20th: Brigade reorganised for purpose of relieving trenches. GRENADIERS and SCOTS GUARDS relieve each other in No.1 sub-section. THE BORDER REGIMENT & 2nd and 6th GORDON HIGHLANDERS (these two now forming one unit for holding trenches) relieving each other in No.2 sub-section.

January 21st to 31st: Normal German shell fire increasing daily. 2nd Lieutenant G G C DAVEY and W GORDON joined the Battalion. Lieutenant Colonel H P UNIACKE having rejoined from sick leave resumed command of the Battalion on January 29th.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Who's Who in Scottish Military History - James Paris Lee

I am pretty confident that although you’ll have never heard of the Scot I’m posting about today you’ll certainly know his surname. That’s because this is the man who put the Lee into Lee Enfield.

James Paris Lee was born in Hawick in 1831 but it was in Canada and later the USA that he became famous for his rifles.

His family moved to Galt in Ontario when he was 5 and when he was 12 he built his first rifle.

In 1858 he had moved to Wisconsin just in time to design a rifle for the US Army during the American Civil War. This was a breech loading version of the Army’s standard Springfield rifle but unfortunately for Lee it was rejected for use during the war.

Undaunted he went on to perfect the spring-loaded magazine which is now the standard magazine design for all modern military small arms.

In 1879 he designed a rifle using the bolt and magazine layout which would become the standard which all rifle designs throughout the world would follow for the next seventy years.

In 1889 the British adopted Lee’s design for their .303 rifles and the Lee Metford and later the Lee Enfield were used in several variations up until 1957 as a front line rifle, and up until the 1990’s as the L42 sniper rifle. It was the rifle used by the British Empire and Commonwealth troops in both world wars and Korea.

When James Lee died in January 1904 the Short Magazine Lee Enfield (SMLE) was just entering British Army service. I’m sure he would never have imagined that his rifle would still be going strong 106 years later. You sometimes see it on news items being used by Indian Police, Nepalese Army or Afghan Militia. It's also still used by the Canadian Rangers. In fact the SMLE design is the longest serving military bolt-action rifle still in official service anywhere in the world and the total production of all Lee Enfields is estimated at over 16 million rifles.

Here's a clip from a US Documentary which shows Lee's most famous creation.

The SMRG Advent Calendar - Day 21

Today's item is another YouTube clip, this time a series of films entitled "A Soldier's Story - Argylls in Afghan" - soldiers from the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders (5th Battalion Royal Regiment of Scotland) videoed their experiences while on a 6 month tour of Helmand province.

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four

Part Five

Part Six

Part Seven

Monday, 20 December 2010

The SMRG Advent Calendar - Day 20

Today's advent calendar item is a film of the dedication of a new Standard for the Highland Light Infantry Association at the University of Glasgow Memorial Chapel. 13th August 2010.

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Sunday, 19 December 2010

The SMRG Advent Calendar - Day 19

Today's advent calendar item is another download.

What we have for you today is the June 1915 edition of the regimental magazine of the 17th Battalion Highland Light Infantry, "The Outpost".

We've scanned the original and uploaded it to the Internet Archive for you to download free of charge. You can obtain it by clicking on this link.

We hope you enjoy reading it.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

The SMRG Advent Calendar - Day 18

Today we have another item of research data for you.

This is the roll of admissions to Nairnshire Auxiliary Hospital, which was transcribed by Ken Nisbet. Our sincere thanks to Ken for allowing us to make this available to you.

The roll begins in 1914 and runs to the end of 1916.

Friday, 17 December 2010

The SMRG Advent Calendar - Day 17

Today's advent calendar is a sequence of clips from "The Longest Day" which features Piper-Major Leslie de Laspee playing Piper Bill Millin.

Millin's page on Wikipedia is worth a read. I'm always amused by the story of the Germans not shooting Millin as they didn't want to waste ammunition on a man who had clearly lost his mind!

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Happy Birthday to the Scottish War Memorials Project!

It's only four years ago since I first set up what was then the Scottish War Memorial Discussion Forum but I couldn't have believed at the time how successful it was going to be.

For a year or so before it was set up three of us on the Great War Forum had been swapping e-mails and ideas trying to share our knowledge and pictures of Scottish war memorials. Jim McGinlay, Adam Brown and I had looked into websites as a solution but that was too expensive and time consuming.

We seemed to be going round in circles until two things came along. Free forum hosting and free photograph hosting. By combining the two we were able to easily share our photographs and any other information we had. At first it was a slow process uploading photographs to Photobucket, but luckily good broadband and bulk uploader tools on Photobucket have come along and now multiple photographs can be uploaded very quickly.

Within months of setting up the forum I realised we had some very keen members and we could set ourselves an achievable goal - to record every war memorial in Scotland. We rebranded as the Scottish War Memorials Project and at the time the goal seemed a long way away but over the years we have been slowly but steadily adding more and more memorials to the project.

We pretty much have every civic memorial recorded now and what we are now getting are the church, school, work and individual memorials. It is surprising just how many are out there and luckily just how many have survived.

At the start of it all we came up with an estimated figure of 5,000 - 6,000 memorials to record. That was based on roughly one tenth of the UK National Inventory of War Memorials's estimated total number of war memorials across the UK. By the end of November this year we had recorded over three thousand seven hundred memorials. That means we probably have recorded between 60 - 75% of all Scottish war memorials. That's not bad going for a group who have no official status or any sort of funding. Just shows you what can be done in this digital age if a group of like minded folk get together.

The SMRG Advent Calendar - Day 16

Today's "treat" is a poem by the worst poet of all time, William Topaz McGonagall.

The Battle of Omdurman

Ye Sons of Great Britain! come join with me
And King in praise of the gallant British Armie,
That behaved right manfully in the Soudan,
At the great battle of Omdurman.

'Twas in the year of 1898, and on the 2nd of September,
Which the Khalifa and his surviving followers will long remember,
Because Sir Herbert Kitchener has annihilated them outright,
By the British troops and Soudanese in the Omdurman fight.

The Sirdar and his Army left the camp in grand array,
And marched on to Omdurman without delay,
Just as the brigades had reached the crest adjoining the Nile,
And became engaged with the enemy in military style.

The Dervishes had re-formed under cover of a rocky eminence,
Which to them, no doubt, was a strong defence,
And they were massed together in battle array
Around the black standard of the Khalifa, which made a grand display.

But General Maxwell's Soudanese brigade seized the eminence in a short time,
And General Macdonald's brigade then joined the firing line;
And in ten minutes, long before the attack could be driven home,
The flower of the Khalifa's army was almost overthrown.

Still manfully the dusky warriors strove to make headway,
But the Soudanese troops and British swept them back without dismay,
And their main body were mown down by their deadly fire-
But still the heroic Dervishes refused to retire.

And defiantly they planted their standards and died by them,
To their honour be it said, just like brave men;
But at last they retired, with their hearts full of woe,
Leaving the field white with corpses, like a meadow dotted with snow.

The chief heroes in the fight were the 21st Lancers;
They made a brilliant charge on the enemy with ringing cheers,
And through the dusky warriors bodies their lances they did thrust,
Whereby many of them were made to lick the dust.

Then at a quarter past eleven the Sirdar sounded the advance,
And the remnant of the Dervishes fled, which was their only chance,
While the cavalry cut off their retreat while they ran;
Then the Sirdar, with the black standard of the Khalifa, headed for Omdurman.

And when the Khalifa saw his noble army cut down,
With rage and grief he did fret and frown;
Then he spurred his noble steed, and swiftly it ran,
While inwardly to himself he cried, "Catch me if you can!"

And Mahdism now has received a crushing blow,
For the Khalifa and his followers have met with a complete overthrow;
And General Gordon has been avenged, the good Christian,
By the defeat of the Khalifa at the battle of Omdurman.

Now since the Khalifa has been defeated and his rule at an end,
Let us thank God that fortunately did send
The brave Sir Herbert Kitchener to conquer that bad man,
The inhuman Khalifa, and his followers at the battle of Omdurman.

Success to Sir Herbert Kitchener! he is a great commander,
And as skilful in military tactics as the great Alexander,
Because he devised a very wise plan,
And by it has captured the town of Omdurman.

I wish success to the British and Soudanese Army,
May God protect them by land and by sea,
May he enable them always to conquer the foe,
And to establish what's right wherever they go.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

The SMRG Advent Calendar - Day 15

Today we have a couple of clips.

The first from the 1994 Edinburgh Tattoo.

This was the final appearance at the Tattoo for the Gordon Highlanders as they were amalgamated with the Queen's Own Highlanders (Seaforths and Camerons) in 1994.

The second is another performance by the Gordon Highlanders during their farewell concert.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Who's Who in Scottish Military History - Thomas Cochrane, "The Sea Wolf"

Anyone who has seen the films or read the books of C.S. Forrester’s character Hornblower or Patrick O’Brien’s character Jack Aubrey may not have realised that their exploits were actually based on the life of a real life Scottish sailor. In fact the fictional adventures didn’t even come close to the fantastic life of Thomas Cochrane, 10th Earl of Dundonald, or as his enemies called him – The Sea Wolf.

Born on this day 235 years ago in Annsfield, near Hamilton he grew up in Culross in Fife and joined the Royal Navy in 1793. For the next twenty years he rose through the ranks and served in many parts of the world capturing French and Spanish ships and raiding enemy coasts.

I can’t go into much detail here since his exploits would fill a book but on one occasion he took on and captured the Spanish ship ‘El Gamo’ which had at least six times as many crewmen as his little sloop. On another he captured a fort on the Spanish coast and held it for a month against the French army.

Unfortunately for his career he was a radical and fought against corruption in all walks of life. That put quite a few noses out of joint in the Admiralty and Westminster, before and after he became an MP (in 1807), so when he was caught up in a financial scandal in 1814 he found himself jailed, stripped of his titles and expelled from Parliament and the Navy.

He knew he was innocent and once re-elected as an MP he fought to clear his name. He was unsuccessful. When in 1818 he was invited by Bernardo O’Higgins to go to Chile to lead their navy in their war of independence from Spain he left England for South America. He rebuilt the navy and did what he did best - captured Spanish ships and raided coasts. In 1820 he helped Peru’s independence by capturing the port of Valdivia in an act of courageous daring that is real boys own stuff.

Cochrane wouldn’t have been Cochrane if that had been the end of it. With victory over the Spanish secure he then fell out with his superiors and in 1823 moved on the Brazilian Navy. This time it was the Portuguese who felt his wrath and with them beaten he promptly fell out with Brazil’s new leaders.

South America was now too hot for him so he sailed east to Greece in 1827 to help in their war against the Ottoman Empire. For once Cochrane wasn’t able to recreate his exploits. Some have put it down to idle Greek sailors but it could have been down to Cochrane getting old. By this time he was over fifty and had been sailing and fighting for the best part of thirty years.

He returned to Britain in 1828 and resumed the fight to clear his name. He was finally pardoned in May 1832 and restored to the Navy List with a promotion to rear admiral; although he refused to accept a command until his knighthood was reinstated. He had to wait another fifteen years for that. However when it happened in 1847 he did take up another command as commander in chief of the North American and West Indies station until 1851. That was his last active command but he was still railing against the Admiralty and pushing for more modern fighting ships until he died during an operation on kidney stones on 31st October 1860 at the age of 85.

By then the Royal Navy and the world had changed beyond recognition from the time Cochrane was at his peak, and Scotland had lost one of its greatest adventurers.

The SMRG Advent Calendar - Day 14

Today's advent calendar item shows a little-known Scottish Regiment on the march and performing duties in their barracks...

Monday, 13 December 2010

Carnoustie's First World War heroes honoured

Seems today is a busy day for news!

From The Courier:

Angus councillors have hailed a roll of honour to commemorate Carnoustie's war heroes, displayed in the burgh's library.

After a lot of painstaking research, Maureen Fleming — a member of the library staff — has compiled detailed information on all 142 of those who gave their lives.

These albums and the story of Carnoustie's war memorial are the centrepiece of an exhibition at the library.

Councillor Jim Millar, who is convener of cultural services, said, "As an army veteran myself, I welcome the display of the roll of honour commemorating those from Carnoustie who lost their lives in the First World War.

"I am sure that the Great War exhibition will be of interest to everyone who either had a relative who served in the Great War or who is interested in local history, and I encourage people to visit Carnoustie Library while this display is on show."

Carnoustie has never had its own roll of honour of those who fell in the First World War.

As well as contemporary photographs of the town, the full story of Carnoustie's two Victoria Cross recipients — George Samson and Charles Jarvis — is also told.

Carnoustie councillor Peter Murphy said, "I think it gives an identity to the area in regard to what the people in those days experienced — both in the war and on the home front.

"It balances the two, which I think is excellent. There is even — I noticed from the newspaper cuttings — letters from conscientious objectors, so not everybody was exactly for the war.

"There's a special book recording people who lost their lives, which is comprehensive — and particularly of interest, of course, are the two Carnoustie VCs.

Town's Role

"I think the exhibition is of strong community interest and acknowledgement of the role the people of Carnoustie played. We can never overstate the loss and sacrifice those people made.

"The permanent thing in Carnoustie is the wonderful war memorial, which is one of the most attractive in terms of its design in Scotland. I think that is always a reminder to people of Carnoustie's role in the war."

Lance Corporal Jarvis of the Royal Engineers, was a resident of Carnoustie from 1889 until he joined the army in 1899. He was one of five men awarded the medal three weeks after the outbreak of the First World War, for his role in destroying a bridge under heavy fire during the Battle of Mons in 1914.

Petty Officer George Samson of the Royal Naval Reserve was born in Carnoustie in 1889 and was awarded the medal for multiple acts of gallantry during the landings at Gallipoli in 1915, during which he rescued a number of his colleagues and treated their injuries under fire before himself being hit by machine gun fire, sustaining 19 bullet wounds. His medals were sold for £247,000 to Lord Ashcroft at auction in 2007.

There are also exhibits from Angus museums on show and The Black Watch Regimental Museum in Perth has also loaned items for display. DC Thomson has also contributed art prints for a war comics' display.

The free exhibition runs until 22nd January.

Tributes to One O'Clock Gunner Eddie

From the Edinburgh Evening News. Article by David McCann:

Tributes have been paid to the first man to fire Edinburgh's famous One o'Clock Gun by hand, after he died aged 65.

Edward McCarthy manned the weapon from 1968-72 and was the first district gunner to fire the renowned timepiece manually rather than igniting it the traditional way, using weights and an electrical signal from the Royal Observatory on Blackford Hill.

He died peacefully at home last Monday. Mr McCarthy was a corporal in the T.A. 529 Company of Royal Army Service Corp but was entitled to wear the badge of the Royal Regiment of Artillery during his stint on the Castle ramparts.

Raised in Musselburgh, the former gunner lived in Bonnyrigg with his wife Margaret.

Affectionately known as Eddie, he served as a past chairman of the One o'Clock Gun and Timeball Association and met a host of figureheads as bombardier, including the Duke of Edinburgh.

But it was the thousands of tourists who flocked to the attraction every year that Mr McCarthy most enjoyed meeting. His greatest thrill was being photographed by ordinary people from all over the world.

As an important part of Edinburgh tradition, Mr McCarthy cherished his role as district gunner and never shirked his reponsibilities to be keeping time six days a week, except Sundays, Good Friday and Christmas.

George Robinson, secretary of the One o'Clock Gun Association, said: "Eddie always did his best to promote the tradition of the One o' Clock Gun.

"During his spell as chairman he did his best to keep the peace and guide the organisation forward. Well balanced and down to earth, he was extremely proud of the part he played in the time-gun's long history.

"It's a great pity he will not be present at the 150th anniversary of the One o' Clock Gun in June.

"He will be sadly missed by his friends and his family."

Scotland's famous battlefields protected

From the BBC News website:

Historic Scotland has issued a list of the most important battle sites located around the country.

The first phase of the Inventory of Historic Battlefields contains a total of 17 different locations.

It includes sites in the Borders, Aberdeenshire, the Highlands, North Lanarkshire, Stirling and East Lothian.

The inventory aims to highlight the historic significance of the areas to planning authorities making decisions which could affect their landscape.

Historic Scotland said the list included the nation's "most significant and iconic battlefields".

* Alford (Aberdeenshire) 1645
* Harlaw (Aberdeenshire) 1411
* Dunbar II (East Lothian) 1650
* Pinkie (East Lothian) 1547
* Prestonpans (East Lothian) 1745
* Falkirk II (Falkirk) 1746
* Auldearn (Highland) 1645
* Culloden (Highland) 1746
* Glenshiel (Highland) 1719
* Kilsyth (North Lanarkshire) 1645
* Dupplin Moor (Perth and Kinross) 1332
* Killiecrankie (Perth and Kinross) 1689
* Ancrum Moor (Scottish Borders) 1545
* Philiphaugh (Scottish Borders) 1645
* Bannockburn (Stirling) 1314
* Sherriffmuir (Stirling) 1715
* Bothwell Bridge (South Lanarkshire) 1679

It also provides information to aid their protection, management, interpretation and promotion.

The public has until 11 February next year to comment on the inventory.

Culture Minister Fiona Hyslop said: "Many legendary battles took place in Scotland and the famous figures who fought in them, such as Robert the Bruce at Bannockburn and Bonnie Prince Charlie at Culloden, are known around the world.

"The Inventory of Historic Battlefields will help increase general awareness of historic battlefields throughout Scotland and the contribution they make to understanding our history and landscape."

She said the sites made a "distinctive contribution" to the "sense of place and history, both locally and nationally".

"They are a wonderful resource for education, helping us understand why significant events in our history unfolded as they did and provide a tangible link to some of the key figures of Scottish history," she added.

"Not only do battlefields form an important part of our sense of identity, they also have enormous potential for attracting tourists, as well as for general recreation, allowing visitors to experience the site of a dramatic historical event for themselves.

"We want to make sure that these important battlefields are looked after now and for future generations. "

Dr Tony Pollard, director of the centre for battlefield archaeology at Glasgow University, said compiling the inventory had been a "challenging but incredibly rewarding project".

"We have an incredible wealth of battlefields in Scotland and it is vital that we consider them alongside other elements of our cultural heritage," he said.

"It is important that people engage in this process and demonstrate their own feelings about what can be very fragile landscapes.

"We may not be able to preserve these sites in aspic but, more so than ever, in a restless world which places increasing demands on natural resources and space, they have much to teach us.

"What is needed is the desire to learn."

The SMRG Advent Calendar - Day 13

Today's item is a clip from a 2005 news item reporting the death of Alfred Anderson, Scotlands last surviving veteran of the First World War.

Alfred was also the last surviving witness of the Christmas Truce of 1914.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

The SMRG Advent Calendar - Day 12

The first day of our advent calendar featured a pair of boots from the National Theatre of Scotland's production of Black Watch.

Today's items is a short video featuring clips from the production and an interview with the director John Tiffany.

I believe that the entire play might be available on YouTube, but don't quote me on that...

Saturday, 11 December 2010

The SMRG Advent Calendar - Day 11

Another YouTube treat for you today.

This is the disbandment ceremony for the Cameronians, which took place in Douglas, Lanarkshire on 14th May 1968.

Part One:

Part Two:

Part Three:

Part Four:

Part Five:

Part Six:

Friday, 10 December 2010

We're on Facebook!

The Scottish Military Research Group now has a page on Facebook.

We'll keep the page updated with posts from here, as well as whatever else we can fit on to it.

It's early days, but if you're a member of Facebook, visit the page and click "like"!

The SMRG Advent Calendar - Day 10

A music video for Day 10 of our Advent Calendar. I'll let the YoutTube description speak for itself:

"One of Scotland's top Pipers Major RTD Gavin Stoddart MBE BEM and Hawick singer song writer Alan Brydon of Scocha perform their song for Passchendaele during the Tattoo on Flanders in August 2007. The song was specially commissioned by the organisers of the new memorial to fallen Scots at Passchendaele, Flanders."

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Warning for teenager who defaced war memorial

In a recent blog post about the memorial to the HMS Jervis Bay, I mentioned that it had recently been vandalised.

The John O'Groats Journal has recently reported that a 14 year old girl has been given a warning after admitting defacing the memorial.

A 14-YEAR-old girl has admitted defacing the HMS Jervis Bay memorial plaque in Wick last month.

The teenager, who cannot be named for legal reasons, has been given a warning, according to Wick-based Detective Constable Graham Worton.

The stone plaque at Kirkhill was defaced with blue ink on November 5, just two days before the 70th anniversary of the sinking of the Jervis Bay.

Nine sailors from Caithness lost their lives when the out-gunned convoy escort was sunk in the Atlantic in 1940.

Local woman Hayley Grant, who first spotted the graffiti, said: "I am delighted that someone has been caught for this. It was a terrible thing that they did." Mrs Grant, whose grandfather James Anderson was one of the crew lost in the action, added: "I did not think they would find anybody for it."

Her family were behind the creation of the tribute to the seamen after realising that although some names were mentioned on other war memorials, there was not one that covered all of them and detailed the heroic manner in which they acted.

DC Worton, who heads a new team of officers in Wick and Thurso specifically tasked with dealing with vandalism, said: "Our remit included addressing this particular incident and a 14-year-old female has admitted responsibility."

He said the matter was addressed by a restorative justice warning.

This is a system designed to deal quickly with minor first or second offences and involves a meeting with a police officer to discuss the offence and how similar behaviour in future can be prevented.

DC Worton said: "Children can do things without thinking about the consequences.

"This can be far more effective than submitting a formal report.

"We can make the person aware of how their actions have impacted on individuals, the community and people at large."

He described this specific inquiry as "sensitive" and said vandalism in general caused unrest, upset and frustration.

Caithness Stone Industries, which supplied the original plaque, unveiled in Wick in May 2007, took the damaged stone away to see if it could be repaired. John Sutherland's company replaced it with a new stone which was put in place in time for the local commemoration.

Originally a British liner, the Jervis Bay was escorting a convoy from Nova Scotia to Britain in 1940 when it came across a German pocket battleship which proceeded to attack the merchant ships.

Captain Edward Fegen ordered the Jervis Bay to attack the German boat despite being out-gunned.

A total of 190 crew members died. Of the 18 sailors from Caithness, only nine survived.

Our "other" National flag

On St Andrew's Day I told a wee tale of how we supposedly ended up with the Saltire as our national flag. As a follow up, on this day 845 years ago our other national flag came into use. You'll often see the red lion rampant flown alongside the saltire but I'm sure it has the Lord Lyon choking on his claret. That is because it is actually a royal standard. The red lion on yellow background (OK, Or, a lion rampant Gules, for heraldic purists) is now only one quarter of the Queen's royal standard but it was the one used by Scottish kings up until 1603 when James VI became James I of Scotland, England, Ireland and France.

On this day in 1165 King Malcolm died. He was succeeded by his younger brother William I also known as William the Lion. William I reigned until 1214 when his son Alexander II inherited the throne. He's not remembered for much and his only invasion of England led to capture and humiliation but he did leave behind a rather splendid flag for his son and all future kings of Scots to inherit.

The SMRG Advent Calendar - Day 9

Today's advent calendar is a story entitled "The Faithless Highlander" which was published around 1903. It was published along with a roll of men from Banffshire who had served in the recent South African War.

It's not our usual fare, but since I went to the trouble some years ago of transcribing it from the original copy, I was darned if I was going to waste it!

The Faithless Highlander


Jeanie Lamont sat up very straight amongst the heather at the foot of Ben Aigan, staring with flaming cheeks and angry eyes at an open letter in her hand. It was from the man she was going to marry, Corporal Sandy McKellar, of the Banffshire Highlanders, his first letter since he had left the Glen to follow his battalion to South Africa after a spell of sick furlough from India. During his leave they had become engaged. The big soldier and the little lass had found the mountain, glen, and river say such beautiful things to a man and a maid who wander amongst them, that they could not help trying to say them to each other. So they were to marry as soon as this cruel and sudden war would be over, and their good-byes had been an agony of mingled hope and apprehension.

The period of enforced silence whilst Sandy was on the seas was almost intolerable to Jeanie. She tried to picture the great steamer that held him, the broad ocean he was crossing, the vague and distant land he was bound for; but bigger than all these big things, blotting them quite out, the tall form of her man, with his kilt and bonnet, stood ever before her dark eyes until they blinked and grew misty, and almost wished they had never seen him. She guessed at his daily occupation on board, and indeed partly knew it. Thinking of her chiefly it was going to be, he had said, and in spare moments studying to improve his reading and writing to qualify him for promotion. If he could come back a sergeant, nothing in the world would be wanting to complete their happiness. She had written to him twice, and waited feverishly for his first letter; the day of its coming had been foreseen as exactly that of her own birthday. And at the precise hour the old postman had ridden up to the cottage door on his rough pony, with a smile in his eye and a foreign letter in his hand, both for Jeanie. A wonderful thing is the post, but it would not be half so swift and reliable did not all the lovers in the world insist upon its punctuality! Her letter had come at last and Jeanie fled with it to where they had said goodbye, under the shadow of Ben Aigan. And lo! It was not for her! The hills and the heather seemed to reel and disappear as she read the first lines. It was not for her, though the envelope bore her name in fair round copy-book hand under the Ladysmith postmark. Choking and amazed, with shame and anger and bitter disappointment, she read as follows:

My own darling Alice,

Thoughts of you have cheered the weary miles, yet rendered them longer and more melancholy. When shall I retrace them, and bless them bringing me ever nearer to you, instead of, as I do now, curse them for having removed me so far from my love? I have no time now for a long letter. Only this line to assure you, sweet Alice, that you alone of all the world are in my thoughts.

Your affianced,

“Alice!” “Your affianced Sandy!” What horrible letter was this which had fallen into her hands? It was in his writing, but beyond the postmark bore no address. But it was all plain enough. A letter, a letter from Sandy, but meant for another, sealed by mistake into the wrong envelope! No doubt a similar one, intended for her, had gone to this detestable Alice. And what long and difficult words, what beautiful writing, what sweet sentiments! She did not know that her Sandy could even think, much less write like this. Her Sandy! He was hers no longer, and burying her head in the scented heather, poor Jeanie burst into a flood of tears. She did not return to the cottage until evening, miserable, silent, refusing to answer any questions; and the old shepherd, her father, who had been a soldier himself, cursed McKellar under his breath as he watched her. Next week another letter came; Jeanie took it calmly from the postman, so calmly that the smile in the old man’s eyes died very quickly this time. And when he had gone with the puzzled frown which took its place, she walked to the peat fire, and, after hesitating a moment, flung the missive into the flames. Next week another letter, and the week after another, and so on until six had been thrown into the fire. And then they stopped.

He had soon ended his pretence, thought Jeanie scornfully, and she flushed hotly and stamped her foot when she thought of the three letters full of love she had sent him. But as she cried herself to sleep that night, and there was as much love as anger in the bitterness of her tears. And she wept again the next morning, for the casualty list of Elandslaagte was in the paper, and in it she read the following:

“Missing. No. 3250 Corporal S McKellar. Believed to be dead, as nothing known of him by the Boer Authorities.”

Well, dead or not, he was dead to her; and how she had loved him! And she could not hate him now, even though she hated to think that she loved him! At any rate, she could forget him. But they would not let her even do that.

A month later a package arrived from South Africa for her, with a polite communication from McKellar’s Captain to the effect that, as no news had been heard of the vanished Corporal, he must with great regret be presumed to be dead. Furthermore, that as amongst his effects no address or trace of relationship could be discovered except the name and residence of Miss Jeanie Lamont, the Corporal’s property was therefore forwarded to that lady. The Captain added that McKellar’s conduct at Elandslaagte had been most gallant, and that he must have been shot whilst endeavouring to seize one of the enemy’s guns some distance ahead of his comrades, an act, added the Captain, which would have received the award it merited had the doer ever appeared to receive it. So he wasn’t a coward at any rate, thought Jeanie, with swimming eyes as she untied the package. Amongst the paltry contents a few books – a grammar, a geography manual, and the “Aid to Self Education” – caught her eye. These had been Sandy’s stepping stones to the promotion he was never to see, and the eyes of the girl overflowed at the memory of what it was once to mean to them. But he had been faithless, and her eyes dried and her mouth hardened as she thought of that letter which had betrayed him in his true light. Let Alice mourn him, if she liked! Yet Jeanie, being a woman, mourned him too throughout two long years, and his image was ever in her heart.

One June day, two years after, she stood at the cottage door, looking at the hill top opposite. She sighed, how often had she and Sandy come over it together with the rays of the evening sun in their eyes, sometime with his cap held playfully before her face “to prevent,” he had said, “your een pittin’ the great licht yonder oot afore his time.”

Sandy could say such sweet things; oh! That horrible letter, if it had only been for her, how she would have loved the long words and their pretty talk of weary miles. Her eye dropped to the steep path they used to ascend together toward the cottage, walking very close together, for Sandy was big and the path was very narrow – and then her blood froze and her heart stood still. Up the path a tall in figure in Highland uniform moved slowly and painfully with bent head. It was Sandy’s wraith, and Jeanie’s eyes became wide and set with terror. But she could not move, and stood staring wildly at the advancing figure. It came nearer, moving with halting gait, and when about twenty feet from the trembling girl, stooped and raised its head. The face was pale and drawn, the eyes large and inexpressibly sad. The kilt was ragged and worn, and instead of the gay sporran a strip of dust coloured material hung in front and hid the well-known tartan. A Sergeant’s chevron striped the arm, and a bright medal gleamed on the faded coat.

“Sandy,” shrieked Jeanie, “Sandy! Hae ye come back frae the dead?” and she sank half fainting to the ground.

“Dinna be skeert, Jeanie,” replied the well-known deep voice of Sandy himself. “I’m no dead, tho’ I’d as life be since ye’ll no more o’ me. Why did ye no’ write? Ah, lassie, I thocht to get myse’ killed at Elandslaagte, but it wasna’ to be. They only wounded me and took me awa’ to their dirty toon.” Jeanie rose to her feet; fear had given place to wild anger and scorn of the man whose baseness she had discovered.

“And it is you, Sandy McKellar, wha dares to come lopin’ back here. Begone! Get ye to your Alice oot o’ ma sight!”

Sandy’s eyes opened wide in amazement.

“Alice?” he stammered; “Alice? I ken no lassie ca’ad Alice.”

“Liar that ye be!” shouted Jeanie back at him. “Cruel coward of a liar; ye writ to her afore my kisses were dry on your false lips. Were I a man, I’d choke ye with the letter. Bide ye there a wee!” Rushing into the cottage she opened the box wherein the letter had lain for two years, snatched it up, and hurrying out again, flung it at the feet of the Highlander.

“There, tak’ your letter and bear it to Alice; she’s waited land eneuch for it!” Sandy stooped painfully and picked it up, the girl watching him with flaming cheeks and heaving bosom. She laughed bitterly as a dark flush crept beneath the livid tan of the man’s face.

“Aye,” she sneered, “look well at your work, Sandy McKellar! And now begone!”

Sandy looked up and did not move, and Jeanie wondered, yet grew more angry, to see a half smile playing around the sad tired eyes.

“Aye, Jeanie,” he said, gravely, “’Tis ma letter, but ‘tis to no lass on earth, I sweer!”

“Liar,” she flung at him again, “I’ll bear no more o’t. But wait, tak’ your rubbish and yersel’ awa’ together!” and hurrying into the cottage once more she took the package which had rested on a shelf tied up as it had come from McKellar’s Captain two years before, and threw it, like the letter, at Sandy’s feet. As she did so the string broke, and the books and other things fell loose upon the ground. Sandy stooped again, and picked up a book, and stood stupidly turning over the leaves, whilst Jeanie, with one more glance of anger, retired into the cottage, and shut the door in his face. Her cup was full. Enough that her dream had been shattered without this added misery and insult.

She wept and raged alternately in the dark room. She loved him still, the first sight of him, the first sound of his voice had told her that; but never, never again would she see or speak to him. She heard his feet move on the stones outside; he came to the open window, with the book still in his hand.

“Goodbye, Jeanie,” he said, “ye’ll find the answer here,” and he pointed to the book, which he laid face down and open on the sill. Then he turned, and his heavy tread sounded down the path. Jeanie dashed to the window and seized the volume. It was the “Aid to Self Education,” and a heading at the top described the purport of the open page. “Practice in letter writing.” She scanned the page eagerly. “Letter on receiving a present.” “Letter of congratulation on a marriage,” with prim, pedantic sentences under these titles. Then at the bottom, “Letter to a betrothed lady when distant from her,” and lo! Following it the very epistle she had received from Sandy that terrible day. “My own darling Alice,” and all the rest! Jeanie leapt to the door and flung it open.

“Sandy! Sandy!” she called wildly.

The man, who was far down the path, turned at the call, and Jeanie rushed towards him.

“Sandy!” she sobbed, as she flung herself into his open arms, “Oh Sandy! What a miserable fool I ha’ been! Forgive me, laddie; I love ye, my Sandy; can ye love me still?”

It is needless to tell the reader the reply, or how Sandy with many deep blushes told his story. The letter which had wrought so much mischief was of course merely an exercise. Anxious that his first epistle to Jeanie should be worthy of her, the poor lad had studied the “Self Educator,” and selecting the letter therein which seemed best to bear upon their circumstances, had copied it carefully many times by way of practice, and a copy lay upon the ammunition box which formed his desk as he wrote his first letter to his lassie. As he wrote the last words, the alarm bugle sounded, and all the troops in Ladysmith got hurriedly under arms. In the sudden confusion in McKellar’s tent, the unlucky man placed the copied letter instead of the real hastily in the envelope already addressed to Jeanie, and flung it into the post box as he ran on his way to the parade ground of his company. Tents were then ordered to be struck, and the letter which would have given Jeanie so much pleasure was lost in the confusion, whilst the impostor duly wended its disastrous way to the distant Highland glen.

Sandy duly received the three letters written by Jeanie whilst he was at sea, and put down the failure in the fourth week to some accident of the post, but the fifth, sixth, and the seventh mail days proved letter-less, and all the light went out of his life. She could not be ill, or he would have been told; she could only have forgotten him, or have found another man; there were too many young scamps about the Glen. “Curse them one an’ all,” he growled, as he thought how tall Campbell, the under-keeper, or Dan McCrae, the giant stalker, might at that very moment be looking into Jeanie’s bright eyes.

“Dinna fash yersel, mon!” urged his comrade, Dugald, who had perceived his friend’s unhappiness and found out the cause; “There’s as good haddies in the sea, ye ken, as ever cam’ oot, and better forbye; an’ a lass as wukk no’ wait six weeks for her lad, is no gude feesh at a’ to my thinkin’, and I wouldna gie a docken leaf for a bundle o’ such!” But when has such comfort ever availed a man in love? Sandy’s heart was well nigh broken.

Then came Elandslaagte, and the bereaved Corporal rushed to the front through the storm of fire seeking death. But death is as capricious as love, and as hard to capture when wanted. He got far ahead of his Company, which, checked by a wire fence, roared applause to him as he sped on. He gained the summit of the position, flung himself upon the Boer gun which squatted thereon, killed and scattered the gunners, and fell wounded himself across the barrel. And when the Boers fled a few moments later before the onset of his regiment, they bore him with them as a prisoner. Long he lay delirious in the neat hospital of Pretoria, and to his attendants asking for his name, he only muttered “Jeanie Lamont,” a hundred times a day, which they took to be “John Lamont,” and denied all knowledge of any McKellar in their hands when a flag of truce came in to enquire for the fate of the missing.

Release came in time, and Sandy, too weak and ill for further service, was amongst the first sent home, with a Sergeant’s stripes on his arm, the medal for distinguished conduct on his breast, and a hopeless heart inside it. He went straight to Jeanie, more in expectation of having his fate confirmed than altered, with what result has been related. When last I saw him and Jeanie they were standing hand in hand in front of their own, the head keeper’s lodge, laughing up at a very small pink Sandy, who skirled like a little bagpipe as he was held high in tall Campbell’s strong hands.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

The SMRG Advent Calendar - Day 8

Today's advent calendar item is a reading of a poem by Charles Hamilton Sorley.

Sorley was once described as "one of the three poets of importance killed during the war". This poem was found in his kit after he was killed at the Battle of Loos, aged just 20.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

National Museum sets sail with the real Scots Master and Commander

An article from The Scotsman today. I have a bit of an interest in Cochrane, and we're planning a blog post about him shortly...

He was the Scottish seafarer whose exploits inspired the creation of the fictional English naval heroes Horatio Hornblower and Jack Aubrey.

Thomas Cochrane, the son of a nobleman and inventor, was forced to join the Royal Navy as a teenager when his family's estate had to be sold off.

Now one of Britain's most successful and controversial naval figures of all time is to be honoured with a major exhibition in his native land, dedicated to his extraordinary life and military career.

Curators at the National Museum of Scotland are putting together the tribute to the man from Lanarkshire, whose heroics matched those of any of his fictional alter-egos.

Jack Aubrey was portrayed on the screen by Russell Crowe in 2003 in the Oscar-winning film Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World.

A spokeswoman for the National Museum, which is staging the exhibition from October 2011-February 2012, said it would bring together for the first time an "extraordinary collection of awards, personal possessions, private papers and dramatic paintings".

Cochrane, born in 1775, joined the navy when he was 17 and went on to become a hugely successful captain during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, earning him the nickname the Wolf of the Seas by the French.

But he also made enemies in the navy and corridors of government with his daring tactics and outspoken criticism.

Famous exploits included capturing one Spanish frigate with twice the firepower of his vessel, and causing havoc in the Mediterranean after taking command of two others.

He pursued a political career, winning election to the Commons after standing on a ticket of parliamentary reform. But he was dismissed by the Royal Navy and expelled from parliament in 1814 following a conviction for Stock Exchange fraud, although Cochrane claimed his trial was politically motivated.

However, he went on to fight in the navies of Chile, Brazil and Greece in their wars for independence and was eventually reinstated to the Royal Navy, at the rank of admiral, in 1832, and later pardoned for the crime over which he always maintained his innocence. He was eventually given the honorary title of Rear-Admiral and was buried in Westminster Abbey after his death at the age of 85.

Many of the items - some borrowed from private collections - will be going on display for the first time. Stuart Allan, exhibition curator, says: 'He is one of the towering figures of naval history, a Scotsman who made a truly global impact.

His extraordinary story will take visitors on a voyage across the world, through the age of sail and the age of steam, and deep into the turmoil of the Age of Revolution where men fought in far-flung places for the cause of liberty, and for their own gain.

"The authentic Cochrane is as incredible as anything in fiction."

The SMRG Advent Calendar - Day 7

Today's advent calendar treat is a link to a short excerpt of film courtesy of the British Pathe website.

The film is dated 1931 and shows ex-servicemen gathered for a service of remembrance.

We hope you enjoy it. Be sure to check the British Pathe website for many more clips of interest.


Monday, 6 December 2010

The SMRG Advent Calendar - Day 6

Today's Advent Calendar treat is a selection of recruitment and fundraising posters from the First World War, courtesy of the museum of the Royal Highland Fusiliers (click the images for larger versions).