Tuesday, 30 November 2010

St Andrews Day

It’s not hard to miss that today is St Andrew’s Day. I thought it might be worth just having a quick look at one of the legends surrounding why we have him as our patron saint. It involves a battle so I’m not straying from the scope of the blog.

Legend has it that a king of the Picts saw a vision of St Andrew on the eve of a battle against invaders. If he won he vowed he would appoint St Andrew patron saint of Scotland. On the morning of the battle a white cloud formation above the battlefield took the form of the crux decussate, the cross St Andrew was crucified on.

Taking that as a sign the Picts were emboldened and defeated the larger enemy force and St Andrew became our patron saint.

That’s the story we all know however there are some holes in the story. The Pictish King may have been called Óengus II or Hungus or Onuist, or Angus; he may have been Irish Scots rather than Pict. The enemy may have been the Saxons or the Angles (or even Vikings). They may have been led by Æthelstan and the battle may have been near Athelstaneford in East Lothian.

Also the first reference to the white crossed clouds on a blue sky background was only written down in 1540, 700 years after the battle!

Here’s my opinion then. A saint already venerated in Scotland, St Andrew, did inspire the victory over invaders of a people who lived in a place we now call Scotland, and the victors chose to make him their patron saint. Over the years those people became the Scots we now know and took the legend and added to it, as happens with legends.

And what about St Andrew? How many Scots know who he was, where he came from, what he did, how he died and how his bones ended up in Fife?

That’s out of scope here but does it matter? Whatever the facts behind the history we’ve been left with a simple and inspiring flag to wave on national days and sporting defeats (and occasional victory).

(Text by Adam Brown)

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Marking family's sacrifice

The following article appeared in the East Lothian Courier (text by Bryan Copland):

The Cranston family in 1908: (back row, from left) William, Mary, James, Agnes, Adam. Middle: John, Alexander (father), Angus, Elizabeth (mother), Alexander.Center: Robert. Front: Andrew and George

Haddington’s Cranston family was decimated by the First World War: four sons were killed and two others badly injured.

As reported in the Courier in 2009, seven of Alexander and Elizabeth Cranston’s nine sons fought in the Great War yet only one of the soldiers avoided death or terrible injury during the conflict.

The Imperial War Museum in London believes no other Scottish family suffered such unimaginable loss.

Now a campaign to commemorate the sacrifice of the Cranston family – who lived in various cottages in and arround Haddington, including at St Martin’s Gate – is due to step up a gear when a family descendant visits the county from Australia next year.

Sydney’s Stuart Pearson, who is the great-grandson of Alexander and Elizabeth Cranston, wants East Lothian Council to mark his forefathers’ loss and has enlisted the help of local groups and residents to push for a tribute to the family.

He said: “No-one knows for sure if the Cranston family made the ‘greatest sacrifice’ of any Scottish family. Nevertheless, I believe that the losses by the family for God, king and country in the First World War was not exceeded by any other family in Scotland.

“The loss and suffering of soldiers during war doesn’t just affect the individual – it affects the entire family. In the case of the Cranstons the losses were so devastating the family itself was almost destroyed.”

Haddington Community Council member John Hamilton, who has been researching the Cranstons, says the group is “willing to do something along the lines of commemorating” the loss – if it can be put into context with the sacrifices made by other families around that time.

Stuart has suggested that a stone cairn, or naming a street or local park after the family, would be a suitable tribute.

In 1916, Company Sergeant Major John Cranston, 34, of The Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders, was killed by shellfire at the first Battle of the Somme; Royal Engineers Sapper James Cranston, 28, died from tuberculosis while in Army service; and Private Adam Cranston, 30, of the Royal Scots Fusiliers, died in action in France.

In 1918, Sergeant Alexander Cranston Jnr, 39, of the Royal Engineers was posted missing, presumed dead, in the second Battle of the Somme; William Cranston, a private in the 7th Seaforth Highlanders, lost an eye and three fingers in battle; while Lance Corporal George Cranston, of the 8th Royal Scots, was left incapacitated due to shellshock and severe gassing, living until 1963.

Father Alexander Cranston died aged 57 in 1911, and is buried in Haddington, while mother Elizabeth later emigrated to Australia.

The couple also had three other sons: Robert – who escaped the Great War intact but was later killed in the Korean War – Andrew and Angus, and two daughters in Agnes and Mary.

Anyone who can help in HCC’s research can contact Mr Hamilton on 01620 825946.

A further comment after the article states:

"This is Stuart Pearson. I need to correct one small error - Robert didn't die in the Korean War. It was his son, Ian. As well as contacting John Hamilton, please feel free to contact me also if you have any information to share. My email address is stuart@bigpond.com"

New Nimrod Afghan crash memorial to be unveiled

From the Forres Gazette:

A memorial to the airmen and observers killed when their Nimrod aircraft exploded over Afghanistan on September 2, 2006 will be dedicated in Forres on Saturday at 1.30pm.

The ceremony is open to everyone, although the families ask that people come in civilian dress rather than in uniform.

The 14-sided cairn, which sits on whinstone and Hopeman sandstone, each side inscribed with the name of one of those who died, has been built on landscaped ground near Forres war memorial at the west end of the town.

At the request of the families, the names have been inscribed without rank and in a random order. The cost of the memorial has been funded by money donated by the public at the time of the crash.

A memorial with ranks was unveiled by the families at RAF Kinloss on April 15.

Mrs Chris Davies, who lost her husband Ady in the crash, said: “It has been a long journey to get this memorial in place but I think all the families will be pleased when they see it. We feel it is a fitting tribute to 14 very fine men. Also we would like to thank the many people involved in making this project possible, most importantly the people of Forres, Britain and around the world who have donated in our loved ones’ memories.”

Those who died were (in alphabetical order): Flight Sergeant (FS) Gary Andrews,(48); FS Steve Beattie (42); FS Gez Bell, (48); FS Ady Davies, (49); Corporal Oliver Dicketts, Parachute Regiment (27); Flight Lieutenant (Flt Lt) Steve Johnson, (38); Sgt Ben Knight (25); Sgt John Langton (29); Flt Lt Leigh Mitchelmore (28); Flt Lt Gareth Nicholas (40); Sergeant Gary Quilliam (42); Flt Lt Al Squires (39); Flt Lt Steven Swarbrick (28); Marine Joe Windall, Royal Marines (22).

On this day in Scottish military history #11: 1960 - The farewell parade of the Seaforth Highlanders

The Seaforth Highlanders (Duke of Albany’s, Ross-shire Buffs) held their final parade fifty years ago today. General Sir James Cassels, the Colonel of the regiment, took the salute in Munster, Germany. On the same day the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders paraded at Redford Barracks in Edinburgh for the last time. Both regiments would merge in early 1961 to become the Queen’s Own Highlanders (Seaforth and Camerons). The Queen’s Own would disappear only 33 years later when they merged with the Gordons to become The Highlanders in 1994. Only 12 years later in 2006 they became 4th Battalion, Royal Regiment of Scotland. At every stage the regimental tradition has been that little bit diluted.

On a happier note on the other side of the world the Seaforth name and uniform still survives in Vancouver, Canada. In fact this Saturday sees the Seaforths of Canada celebrate the 100th anniversary of their raising as the 72nd Militia Regiment on the Canadian establishment.

The 72nd Militia was formed in November 1910 from the Scottish community in Vancouver and in 1912 took the uniform and name of the British 1st Bn Seaforth Highlanders which prior to 1881 had been the 72nd Highlanders.

The Seaforths of Canada provided a large contingent to the 16th Canadian Scottish battalion when it was raised in 1914, including the Scots-born Piper Richardson V.C.
Later the 72nd Bn CEF was composed of Canadian Seaforths and a large number of them were Scots born too.

In the Second World War the Seaforths of Canada served in Sicily, Italy and North-West Europe.

Recently they have proudly worn their stag’s head badges in Afghanistan whilst serving with Canadian Forces on ISAF duties.

In two days time the regiment will receive new colours and have invited former members and fellow Vancouverites to help celebrate their birthday with a party.

Whilst the regiment they took their name and uniform from has long gone at least they are still going strong across the Atlantic. I’ll end with an old Mackenzie motto which was used by the original Seaforths:

Cabar fèidh gu bràth – The stag’s horns for ever.

(Text by Adam Brown)

Monday, 22 November 2010

Some thoughts on Scottish memorial design

It never ceases to amaze me that decades after the end of the Second World War there are still war memorials being erected to that conflict. The latest to be unveiled was in the Port of Leith on Remembrance day and was closely followed by another memorial to the Merchant Navy just last week.

What makes these memorial unveilings special is the fact they are both very distinctive memorials. They could easily have been traditional designs but in both cases they have taken a standard format and given it a twist. The first to be unveiled was the Leith Academy WW2 memorial. Here the list of names follows a rational style but the way it is displayed is distinctive. The names are inscribed on a glass panel and behind that is a stylized map of the British Isles where the land is made to look like the zigzag camouflage applied to ships during the war.

It really is quite a stunning memorial and what makes it even more impressive is that most of the work was done by Leith Academy pupils. The driving force behind it was pupil Glynn Mullen who compiled the list of names; four art pupils designed it and technical pupils made it. It is a credit to them and their school.

The second memorial unveiled was the Merchant Navy memorial. I already posted about the unveiling last week but what I didn't mention was the memorial itself, and what a cracker it is. The artist responsible is Jill Watson. Her latest work takes a traditional memorial obelisk but adds so much detail it makes it unique in Scotland. Earlier commissions of hers such as the Eyemouth Fishing Disaster memorial used small figurines for effect and she has taken this a step further in her latest, and biggest, work.

Between them these two Leith memorials have raised the bar for Scottish war memorial design. Here's hoping future designers look to Leith for inspiration and come up with something new and thought provoking and not just the usual scaled up gravestones or stainless steel plaques which we have seen of late.

Scottish Parliament to recreate battle using two people and a conference room...

From The Scotsman comes a story so odd I almost thought it was made up...

It was a fierce and bloody conflict fought in the rain and sleet on open moorland and ended in a swift and ignominious defeat for Bonnie Prince Charlie.
The Battle of Culloden in 1746 was the final confrontation of the Jacobite Rising, currently the subject of an exhibition in the Scottish Parliament.

Parliament bosses decided to include a re-enactment of the battle as part of its St Andrew's Weekend activities.

But instead of windswept moorland, the parliament will move back the furniture in one of its committee rooms to make room for the battle action.

Instead of thousands of men lined up on either side, the focus of attention will be on two costumed performers hired for the day.

This weekend's re-enactment will see children and adults dressing up in Jacobite clothes and handling the weapons of the era.

The Battle of Culloden was the last pitched battle - where the two sides agree on a time and place for their fight - to take place on British soil.

True to that spirit, those wanting to take part in the modern version are being asked to turn up on Saturday or Sunday at 11.30am, 1pm, 3pm or 5pm. But instead of Culloden field outside Inverness, the battleground is Holyrood's committee room three.

The Battle of Culloden pitted Bonnie Prince Charlie's Jacobite forces against the Duke of Cumberland's army loyal to the British government. It was over within an hour. Up to 2000 Jacobites were killed or wounded, while the government side suffered 50 dead and 259 wounded.

It effectively put paid to the Jacobite cause and was soon followed by Bonnie Prince Charlie's flight from Scotland.

The parliament exhibition Rebels With A Cause, which runs until January 8, tells the diverse stories of the many Jacobites who sought refuge across the globe after the failure of the 1715 and 1745 risings.

Next weekend's activities also include a Jacobite quiz, traditional Jacobite music, storytelling and a St Andrew's Day debate.

Parliament sources said it had been decided to hold the re-enactment indoors rather than in the parliament grounds because of the risk of rain.

A parliament spokeswoman said: "The sessions are taking place in committee room three. The table will be moved, but there will be no cost with doing this as it is only getting moved to the back of the room. Therefore there are no transfer or storage costs incurred."

The Big Trip North - Day 3

In my last blog post about our big trip, I asked the question: "Two museums in two cities - can we make it in time to Aberdeen for the Gordon Highlanders museum AND the Black Watch Museum in Perth?"

And the answer?

Well, no...we couldn't. Circumstances meant that our schedule went out of the window, but we still had a very rewarding third day.

We started off early, and set off for Aberdeen. A journey we'd planned to take two and a half hours took nearly three, mainly due to rain which had been described by the weather forecast I'd checked online as "light". If that was light rain, I'd hate to see it heavy. We had to contend with heavy rain and flooding on the road which meant we had to drive very carefully...

We made it to Aberdeen in one piece, and spent several very rewarding hours at the Gordon Highlanders museum.

We'd all been to the Gordons museum before, but that didn't stop us appreciating it anew. It's a fantastic museum with plenty to see. In addition they have a fantastic cafe which provided us with a filling lunch, and later with tea and scones.

One of the displays in the museum.

It was also a pleasure to meet up with Anne Park again. Anne volunteers at the Gordons museum, and also does a lot of work with the War Memorials Project - I'd met her at the annual conference of the Scottish Association of Family History Societies a couple of years ago and it was nice to meet her again.

The weather, combined with the time we spent at the Gordons meant that we would have been pushing ourselves to ridiculous levels to make it to the Black Watch museum, so we resolved to leave it for another trip - our apologies to the people of Perth - we'll come again another time!

So that was our big trip north. We didn't cover everything we'd planned to, but it was a rewarding and pleasureable trip. Most of that was due to my travelling companions Sandy and Barrie. Thanks guys, you made the trip what it was.

Serious academic study took place...

Collectively we owe thanks to everyone who made us feel welcome at every location we went to. We were made to feel at home by everyone we met - you really can't fault Highland hospitality.

Some things we learned from our trip (which I won't explain any further):

  • You should never grill a scotch pie
  • If you're going to guess someone's nationality, don't assume they're Russian
  • Brazilians can be amusing in the right context
  • Driving into a river at 60mph is a very bad idea

One final serious thing I learned. The country I live in can be incredibly beautiful. We should appreciate what we have on our own doorstep, and we should take the opportunity to see it while we can.

We've already started planning our next trip. Look out Berwick on Tweed, the boys are coming....

Hugh Grant to front fundraising campaign for Scottish museum

From The Daily Express:

Hugh Grant will this week front a campaign to raise funds for a famous Scottish museum and help preserve 300 years of military history.

The Hollywood star is to make a public appeal for the Highlanders’ Museum, which holds one of the largest armed forces collections in Britain but is in desperate need of a £3million renovation.

Refurbishment of the site, at Fort George, near Inverness, was approved before the economic downturn and only the design stage of the project has been completed.

Now Mr Grant – dubbed the “son of the regiment” because of his Scottish father and grandfather’s military ties to the area – will make a plea for donors to come forward.

His public appeal will be made at the former Lieutenant Governor’s house at Fort George on Thursday.

The plans include better display cabinets, refurbished rooms, study facilities for family historians, students,
researchers and pupils, and an improved air and lighting system.

Museum chairman, Major General Seymour Monro, told the Sunday Express that staff and curators are “confident” they will be able to raise the money and complete the two-year project on time.

He said: “What we are trying to do is to improve the conservation and care, accessibility and understanding of our history.

“I know times are tight but we are confident we will be successful in our efforts. On November 25 we are launching an appeal for funds publicly and our guest of honour is Hugh Grant, the son of the regiment through his father and grandfather."

"He has agreed to come and launch the appeal and we are delighted about his support.”

In a statement ahead of his visit, Mr Grant said: “The Highlanders’ Museum is very important to me and my family and I fully support the Heritage Appeal, which will ensure that the heritage of our famous Highland Regiments is preserved and properly displayed.”

Fort George dates back to the 18th century and the aftermath of the Battle of Culloden that crushed the Jacobite Rising. Its role was to act as a base for Government troops in the Highlands and defend Inverness from invasion.
Nearly 300 years on, it has become the property of Historic Scotland but remains a training base for the Army while attracting some 70,000 visitors a year to the regimental museum.

Part of the renovation drive is to increase visitor numbers to more than 100,000 to provide a “self-sustained” attraction.

The museum, which was created in the Fifties, contains about 20,000 artifacts, 10,000 documents and photographs, and it is home to more than 5,000 gallantry awards and campaign medals, including 16 Victoria Crosses, from former soldiers and their families.

Also among the valuable memorabilia is a set of Colours carried at the Battle of Waterloo, King Edward VIII’s  regimental  uniform plus silver and personal artifacts carried by soldiers since 1778.

But the three-storey museum has become outdated and too small, paving way for the renovation project.

Last week it unveiled its own whisky, dubbed Cuidich’n Righ – Gaelic for “Help the King” – with the help of Gordon & MacPhail, and proceeds from the limited edition single malt will be donated to the redevelopment.

Maj Gen Monro added: “It is an important project because it is not only the past that we preserve but also the memory of the soldiers who have served in Scotland’s Highland Regiments.”

The Highlanders Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Scotland incorporates the Seaforth Highlanders, The Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders and the Queen’s Own Highlanders (Seaforth and Camerons), Lovaut Scouts plus The Gordon Highlanders, who have their own museum in Aberdeen.

Stolen Seaforth Highlanders' ceremonial mace recovered

Further to our previous post, the stolen ceremonial mace belonging to the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada has been recovered.

From "The Province":

The Seaforth Highlanders of Canada have their regimental mace back.

The five-foot staff made of Malacca cane and brass has been to war with Vancouver’s storied infantry regiment in two world wars and numerous missions, most recently to Afghanistan.

It was in the drum major’s pickup truck when it was stolen from a parking lot in New Westminster on Oct. 28.

The regiment put out a public appeal to have it returned in time for this week’s celebration of the Seaforths’ 100th anniversary, and Thursday night their prayers were answered.

On Friday, the New Westminster police handed the historic mace back to the Seaforths.

“It has been a great day,” Lt.-Col. Paul Ursich, the Seaforths’ commanding officer, told The Province.

“The mace is in exactly the same condition it was when it left our possession. It’s great,” he said.

“We had a ceremony [Saturday] morning to thank the lady who called the police and give her the reward,” Ursich said of Gail Blinkhorn.

“We presented her with the regimental coin as a keepsake and gave her three cheers on parade.”

No one in the regiment was happier than its drum major, whose truck was stolen with the mace inside.

He was on his way to the Seaforth Armoury to drop the mace off, but stopped at Queen’s Park Arena to play one last game of hockey before shipping out to Afghanistan.

The thief broke into the players’ dressing room and stole a number of wallets and the keys to the drum major’s truck, said Ursich.

New West police received a call from Blinkhorn and found the stolen vehicle five blocks away in a hospital parking lot.

It is the lone remaining article still in use that was given to the regiment by the Imperial Seaforth Highlanders 100 years ago, but it could be much older than that.

“It could go back to the Battle of Assaye (1803),” said Ursich.

“It had that battle honour on it, so it’s somewhere between that battle and 1910 that the mace was made, we’re not sure when.”

The 100th anniversary of the formation of the regiment falls on Wednesday, but the milestone will be celebrated on Saturday at UBC’s Thunderbird Stadium.

Staff-Sgt. Paul Hyland of the New West Police Department said forensic investigators are going through the stolen truck with a fine-tooth comb to attempt to identify the thief.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Who's Who in Scottish Military History #3 - King Charles I

On this day in 1600 the man who would later become Charles I was born in Dunfermline. At the time no-one knew he would be the last king born in Scotland but three years later his father became James I of England and Ireland and they all moved to London.

Charles acceded to the throne in 1625 and then spent the next thirteen years alienating large swathes of his subjects with his high-handed rule. Charles firmly believed in the divine right of kings and tried to impose his views on the countries he ruled. In 1629 he dissolved the English Parliament after they continued to thwart his money raising schemes. At the same time he stirred up hostility in Ireland with his policy of protestant settlement in Ulster.

In 1633 he visited Scotland for the first time in thirty years to be crowned King of Scots and then tried to impose his high church Episcopalian views on the Calvinist Presbyterians. That went down so well that he managed to unite pretty much of the whole country against him and led to the signing of the National Covenant in 1638. The National Covenant had been signed by the great and the good of Scotland and it told Charles to keep his nose out of Church of Scotland affairs.

This was too much for Charles. He decided to send in an English army to suppress the rebellious Scots in what became known as the Bishops' Wars of 1639. This in turn annoyed his English subjects even more because they had to pay for it. The ins and outs of all the politics and battles over the next few years are too complicated for a blog post but basically it was the start of twenty-two years of war and rebellions in the British Isles.

Up until recently this was time was known as the English Civil War. It is now known as the Wars of The Three Kingdoms. It used to be convenient to lump all the conflicts together as one war but actually there were several separate wars taking place over that period across England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland. There were Scots troops fighting in England and Ireland, against and then for the Royalist side. There were English and Irish troops fighting in Scotland and in the middle of all that we even managed to have our own Scottish Civil War running alongside the English Civil War.

At first Scotland was lucky to have had many experienced soldiers to call on. They had spent many years in Europe fighting as mercenaries in the Thirty Years War, and in the early years the Scots troops were amongst the most disciplined troops in the field; but in the end they were no match for the Parliamentarian New Model Army.

Thanks to his arrogance, ignorance and inflexibility the Stuart boy born on this date 410 years ago plunged his country of birth into years of bitter fighting, caused thousands of deaths and saw its independence removed under the rule of Cromwell's English Commonwealth.

On this day in Scottish Military History #10 - English Army returns to Berwick

In 1304 after six years of bitter fighting John Comyn had surrendered the Scots army at Strathord, near Perth , to King Edward I of England . That should have been the end of Scottish Independence.

The Scots had other ideas and over the next ten years a vicious guerrilla war was fought across Scotland and sometimes over the border into England .

English garrisons were attacked and the English retaliated by sending punitive expeditions into Scotland . In 1307 Edward I had decided to punish the Scots personally but died in Cumbria on the way here. It took his son three years to follow his lead.

In August 1310 King Edward II finally decided to lead an army north to beat the Scots. He advanced through the Selkirk and as far as Renfrew and then through Biggar, Lanark and Linlithgow trying to find the Scottish Army; but the Scots weren't ready to fight and led him and his army through the South of Scotland without committing to a major battle.

"Vita Edwardi Secundi", a contemporary English chronicle describes the campaign. It was written in Latin but here’s an English translation:

"The King entered Scotland with his army but not a rebel was to be found...At that time Robert Bruce, who lurked continually in hiding, did them all the injury he could. One day, when some English and Welsh, always ready for plunder, had gone out on a raid, accompanied by many horsemen from the army, Robert Bruce's men, who had been concealed in caves and woodland, made a serious attack on our men...From such ambushes our men suffered heavy losses"

Walter Scott provides more information in his "History of Scotland"

"..cutting off provisions, harassing their marches and augmenting the distress and danger of an invading army in a country at once hostile and desolate; and by this policy the patience of Edward and the supplies of his army were altogether exhausted".

After nearly three months wandering around the country, a frustrated and depleted English Army had to admit defeat and on this day 700 years ago they returned to their Border stronghold at Berwick-upon-Tweed.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

The Big Trip North - Day 2

Today saw us up reasonably early, in time to enjoy a fried breakfast...we'd need it during the day in order to fortify us from the biting wind we'd soon experience, for today we ventured to Fort George and the museum of The Highlanders.
Barrie and Sandy feeling the cold...

The initial signs were not good...as we arrived at the ticket office to be told "we've no power!". Yes, it seemed we arrived on the day they'd turned the power off to test it!

Fortunately some of the areas to visit didn't require power, so we trekked around the base, visiting the battlements, and looking for dolphins who didn't make any kind of appearance. By this time power had been restored so our visit wasn't wasted.
We visited the historic barrack room to see how soldiers lived in the Fort in the past, with different rooms representing different periods from history.

Other ranks barrack room from the late 1800s.

We then paid a visit to the Chapel, which contained a number of memorials ranging from the early 1800s to recent memorials commemmorating deaths in Afghanistan.

The front of the chapel. The drums belong to The Black Watch.

The Fort is an active army base, and The Black Watch are currently stationed there... you can't miss them as many soldiers pass you at various times of the day. We also couldn't escape the practising of bugle calls as well as gunfire from the nearby firing ranges.

Finally, we made our way to The Highlanders Museum...

The museum is on three floors, and contains numerous artifacts from several centuries of not just one, but two regiments - the Seaforth Highlanders and the Queens Own Cameron Highlanders.

There is a lot to take in, so I would recommend if you plan to visit give yourself plenty of time to see it all. Photography is not permitted in the museum so unfortunately I can't show you any of the exhibits - take my word for it thouggh, there are countless fascinating items to see, including sixteen Victoria Crosses. This is also the first museum I've visited that has two Field Marshals batons - I don't think any other military museum in Scotland can match that, can they?

The museum staff were very friendly and welcoming..even down to finding us when Barrie had bought something and they not only didn't charge him, but didn't give him his purchase! They looked throughout the fort for us, and even left word at every possible location in the fort we could visit! Top marks for service!

The rest of the day saw Barrie and myself pay a visit to Leakey's bookshop, which is located in Church Street in Inverness. I love a good bookshop, and you can't do better than a converted church filled with books! If money had been no object...I'd have needed a wheelbarrow.

So, our final day tomorrow...and possibly our busiest. Two museums in two cities - can we make it in time to Aberdeen for the Gordon Highlanders museum AND the Black Watch Museum in Perth? If we do, it'll mean driving for a total of nearly six hours...

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

The Big Trip North - Day 1

The Argylls Boer War memorial on the Castle Esplanade

Day one has ended, and it's been a busy yet rewarding day.

We started off early, aand our first port of call was Stirling Castle to the museum of the argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. After the biting cold wind at Stirling we were glad to receive a warm welcome from the museum staff.

We were very kindly shown around the museum, with a trip to the archive office and the museum store, which was fascinating. Added to that they make a fantastic cup of tea.

I can heartily recommend the museum - it's very well laid out, every item tries to tell a story, and there's a number of unique items on display.

I would like to have illustrated this post with some example but unfortunately photography is not permitted in the museum - so you'll just have to go and see for yourself!

If the rest of our visits are half as good as our visit to the Argylls then this will be an extremely worthwhile trip.

Many thanks go out to Rod Mackenzie, Archie Wilson and Bob Elliot for their kind welcome to us today.

Fort George tomorrow and the museum of The Highlanders (Seaforths and Camerons) - can they do better than the Argylls? they have a lot to live up to!

Barrie and Sandy brave the cold.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

WW2 home front in Aberdeen - virtual exhibition

Aberdeen City Council is hosting a new online exhibition about life on the home front in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire during the Second World War.

To view the exhibition visit www.aberdeencity.gov.uk/LocalHistory/archives/loc_onlineexhibitionhomefront.asp

(With thanks to Chris Paton)

The Big SMRG Trip North!

Over the next three days myself (David McNay), Barrie Duncan of South Lanarkshire Museums, and Sandy Leishman of the Royal Highland Fusiliers Museum will be taking a trip north to visit some of the military museums and sites.

We should be visiting the following:

  • Stirling Castle and the museum of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders
  • Fort George and the Highlanders Museum
  • The Gordon Highlanders Museum in Aberdeen
  • The Black Watch Museum in Perth
  • Culloden
We'll also possibly stop at a few other sites of interest, depending on our schedule.

I'll hopefully add some posts to the blog, with photos and reviews of some of the places we visit. And if you're visiting any of the places yourself, and you see us please come and say hello to us!

Website - The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders

The website of The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders has undergone something of a makeover in recent months. It looks like a lot of new contect about the history of the regiment has been added, as well as information on the museum and the regimental family. It's well worth a look.

The website of The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders

Unveiling of the Merchant Navy Memorial, Leith

Today a debt was partly paid. The merchant seamen of Scotland were commemorated in bronze and stone in the port of Leith.

Some might argue that this memorial deserves to be on the Clyde rather than the Forth but I’m just glad to see it erected anywhere in Scotland.

In this age of global travel and communications; of inter-continental cargo planes; of offshore flags of convenience; and a complete lack of any sort of manufacturing in this country to export, we forget we are an island and we need ships to survive.

Twice in the last century our country was nearly brought to its knees by U-boats sinking our ships. The fact we survive as a free country isn’t just down to the ‘Few’ of the Battle of Britain. It’s down to the men of the Royal Navy and the Merchant Navy who kept the lifeline firm.

In 1920 King George V decreed that the Mercantile Marine became the Merchant Navy. That wasn’t a simple change of name; it reflected the fact that during the Great War the hundreds of shipping companies of Britain formed themselves into convoys and into a navy to save the country.

In 1917 the Admiralty even admitted that they had lost the U-boat war and suggested negotiating with the Germans for an armistice on German terms. Luckily for us the British Government under Lloyd George was made of as stern stuff as the one under Churchill in 1940 and ultimately prevailed to win the war in 1918.

In the Second World War the perils were just as great, if not greater, because the threat posed by the Nazis were much worse than those of the Kaiser.

From the sinking of the SS Athenia on 3rd September 1939 to the loss of two merchantmen in the Firth of Forth on 7th May 1945 the U-boats of Admiral Donitz kept threatening our lifeline. They were the biggest threat to our survival and they fought from the first day of the war in Europe to the very last.

Not only did the Merchant Navy face the torpedoes of the Kreigsmarine and the bombs of the Luftwaffe, they also had to face the sea, a crueller a battlefield than any onshore. From the air attacks whilst replenishing Malta, to helping the Soviets by sailing through the freezing Arctic, and the constant round of long gruelling trips across the North Atlantic they made sure the allied armies, navies and air forces could continue the fight against the fascists.

Throughout all this when their ship was sunk their pay was stopped. The minute they ended up in an oil soaked lifeboat they were unpaid civilians. Once home they were treated with contempt by ignorant civilians for supposedly shirking their duties and not enlisting.

Even if they died there was still added insult. On many war memorials the men of the Merchant Navy are found at the end of the list of names as if they were any less worthy of inclusion of those who served in the armed forces.

In 2010 the British Merchant Navy is a shadow of its former self. The shipyards of the Clyde are almost all gone and so are most of the docks the ships berthed at. Even the ships we do see in British ports are likely to have been built in Asia and registered in the Caribbean.

Today’s ceremony reminds us of the debt we all owe to the brave men of the British Merchant Navy past, present and future who do a vital job few of us would relish, even in peacetime.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

A slice of the VC pie

There's something about a Victoria Cross. Everyone knows it is something special and the people who have been awarded them are a cut above the rest of us. In recent years this seems to have led to a determination in some local communities to recognise their local V.C.s.

Recently a second V.C. memorial was unveiled in Glasgow. In 2007 a memorial was erected near the Cathedral to all of Glasgow's Victoria Cross recipients but the most recent one is specifically to three men from Bridgeton who were awarded it. One of the men, Piper James Richardson, is also commemorated on the Lanarkshire V.C. Memorial because he was born in Bellshill. Richardson is again commemorated with a statue in Chilliwack, British Columbia because his family had left Glasgow for Canada in 1911.

Bridgeton, Glasgow, Lanarkshire, Chilliwack; they all want a piece of the aura that surrounds the memory of James Richardson V.C. and who can blame them. Even amongst Victoria Cross lore there is something special about James Richardson's story. Not just his life and selfless death, but also the fact his pipes lay unrecognised for years in a Scottish school.

An American filmmaker wants a piece of the Richardson V.C. pie now too. He has started production on a television documentary on Richardson V.C. Modern historical documentaries insist on reconstructions using actors. I wonder if the television Richardson will be a strapping Canadian frontiersman or a wee Glasgow Keelie?

Friday, 12 November 2010

Wartime records found in Alexandria school after 90 years

A fascinating article from the Lennox Herald, which just goes to show there's information still out there, waiting to be discovered.

I know myself that there are still hidden treasures out there. I remember the feeling when I was looking through a bundle of documents at the Lloyds Banking Group Archives (or the HBOS Archives as it was at the time) and found the complete list of all the men from the British Linen Bank who had served in the First World War. A complete record with details of every man, and the staff at the Archives had never known it was there...

Unique pieces of wartime history were discovered in old boxes at Vale of Leven Academy after almost a century.

The treasure trove contained records of former pupils who died in World War I, which were handwritten by Duncan McIntyre, who was headmaster at the time.

The treasured logs, which are still in great condition, list the names of 56 young men and four staff members who died fighting for their country.

Head teacher Catriona Robertson stumbled across them last year as she unpacked boxes shortly after moving into the new school building.

As the area prepares to commemorate our war heroes this Sunday, Vale of Leven Academy staff feel it would be a fitting tribute to display these historical artefacts for all to see.

Deputy head teacher, Nick Quail, said: “It’s an important piece of local history and, rather than these records sitting in a box for another 100 years, it would be nice if they could be displayed somewhere locally.”

The wartime headmaster had clearly researched thoroughly when compiling the names of those who had died and their names now feature on a special wartime plaque which sits at the school entrance.

As well as alphabetically listing the names of all former pupils and staff, Mr McIntyre also noted which regiment soldiers served in and, in some cases, how, where and when they died. They would have been written shortly after the war, which came to an end in November 1918, however there are no exact dates on the old documents.

The first entry in the fascinating book reads: “James Angus, 14th A & S.H - died 2nd May, 1917 (France).”

Others listed include private Francis McKinlay, of the 5th/6th Royal Scots, who was killed in Belgium on July 15, 1917, as well as captain John F Steven who died of shellshock in June 1918.

Mr Quail told the Lennox Herald: “We’ve got pupils with many of the same surnames at the school so there are probably some relations.

“The school leaving age back then was 15, so many of these people who died would only have been the same age as some of our fifth and sixth year pupils now.”

Other documents kept in the boxes included a list of people in the community who contributed towards the cost of the school’s war memorial, which was an expensive £150 at the time.

Some of those listed include William J Kippen, William Anderson, of Tullichewan; Major Adair Campbell, and Belle Westland.

A newspaper clipping from the Lennox Herald in June 1919 reporting on the unveiling of the war memorial by Sir Iain and Lady Colquhoun of Luss was also included.

It reads: “Sir Iain Colquhoun said they were met that day to commemorate the deaths of these brave lads who had answered their country’s call.

“They had gone gladly to fight their country’s battles, never to return. It was a terrible thing to think so many young men cut down in the prime of their lives and their relatives had his deepest sympathy.”

Vale of Leven Academy’s 2010/11 school captains, Ross McCorrisken and Rebekah Watson, along with vice captains Kaitlyn Ward and Scott Stewart, are volunteering to help with Remembrance Day events in the area. Several other pupils are also lending their support as part of their citizenship awards.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

On this day in Scottish military history #9 - The Burial of the Unknown Warrior at Westminster Abbey

What has the Unknown Warrior and Westminster Abbey got to do with Scottish military history? The reason I’m posting this that it is worth pointing out that there is a chance the man buried in the most revered grave in London ninety years ago today was a Scot.

No-one knows for sure who he is because so much trouble was gone to, to make sure his identity would never be known. He could have been any rank, from any regiment, from any of the British Empire troops who fought on the Western Front.

He could have been a Scot in a Scottish regiment or in a corps like the Royal Field Artillery; he could have been a Scot serving in an English or Irish or Welsh regiment. He could have been a Scot in a Canadian, Australian, New Zealand or South African unit because thousands of Scots served in those armies. He could have been a Scots officer in an Indian regiment even because death was a great leveller and he could have been a corporal or colonel.

And that is the point of the unknown warrior. He could have been any one of over 200,000 men from the British Empire who died on the Western Front and have no known grave. He was an everyman.

Today any serviceman or woman who is tragically killed in Afghanistan is returned home and is given a military funeral with pall-bearers and firing party. Before that they are reverentially driven through Wootton Basset after their body is flown into RAF Brize Norton.

95 years ago the men who died in France and Flanders and have no known grave were buried where they fell. No ceremony in the UK, and no grave for relatives to mourn at.

With no body to bury they could visit their local war memorial and see a name. They could also go to London and visit Westminster Abbey. There they could lay a poppy on the grave on the unknown warrior and imagine that was their son, or husband, or brother, or father in a proper grave, honoured by the King and his ministers, generals and admirals and the great and good of the land.

During the two minutes silence today as we remember the fallen and the perils they faced at the front, also stop and think of those families left at home who had lost a loved one and never gave up hope that one day their missing soldier would somehow turn up at their door.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Alloway military history talk

Alloway and Southern Ayrshire Family History Society (www.asafhs.co.uk) are holding a meeting in The Church Halls at Alloway on Tuesday 16th November 2010 at 7.45pm.

The speaker is a genealogist called David Webster, who will be discussing "Scottish Military Records". Visitors are welcome to the event, and the entry charge is £1.50, which will include a light refreshment.

(Thanks to Chris Paton for the heads up)

Ceremonial Mace stolen ahead of Remembrance Day

Spotted a report on Canadian news about a regimental mace belonging to the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada being stolen:

A Vancouver military regiment is pleading for the return of a stolen century-old ceremonial mace in time for the annual Remembrance Day parade.

The ceremonial club, a gift to the Seaford Highlanders from their Scottish counterparts in 1910, would have played a major role in Remembrance Day proceedings this week, as well as in the unit's 100th anniversary celebration at the end of the month.

"It's an irreplaceable regimental artifact, and the timing of it makes it even worse," Capt. Bill Annand told CTV News.

The regiment's drum major carries the mace during parades, and uses it to direct the pipes and drums band. Annand says that it has a storied history, both inside Canada and overseas.

"It's been carried by the regiment in deployments overseas in the First and Second World Wars," he said.

The mace was inside the drum major's SUV when the vehicle was stolen from the parking lot at Queen's Park Arena in New Westminster on Oct. 29.

Former Vancouver MP John Fraser, an honorary colonel with the Highlanders, says that the unit is hoping to appeal to the "fundamental decency" of whoever stole the mace.

"This is a piece of Canadian history," he said. "It's of no real value, in terms of money, to whoever who took it, because if the person who took it tried to get rid of it, the game would be up."

Who's Who in Scottish Military History #2 - 1st Earl Haig

He's a pretty controversial figure but in my opinion the First Earl Haig is worth mentioning as part of my Who's Who series. You may think you know him - he's often portrayed as the callous butcher of a generation of young Britons; but whatever you think about him he is one of Scotland's greatest generals.

He very much considered himself a Scot; he was born in Edinburgh, came from a family of whisky distillers, was a Church of Scotland Elder and made his family home at Bemersyde in the Borders.

He had many faults and many critics but the facts are quite simple; when the British Empire's biggest expeditionary force in its history was at its peak he was its leader. He commanded four million men in the field. No other Briton, never mind Scot, before or since, has commanded as big an army.

There's no denying he made mistakes but there was nothing his experience which had prepared him, or any other British general, for the monumental task the army faced. They had to take millions of civilians and turn them into an army which could take on and beat the biggest and best army in Europe. Haig had actually started that process in 1907 when he worked at the War Office in London. Another Edinburgh born man, Richard Haldane, was the then Secretary of State for War and he worked closely with Haig on the Army reforms of 1908 which created the Territorial Force and the seven division strong British Expeditionary Force which a few years later formed the backbone of the BEF.

In France Haig slowly built up a British and Commonwealth force which by 1918 could absorb the German Army's punishing Spring Offensive and then just four months later deliver the most crushing defeat on the Germans. The military historian Gary Sheffield called the last hundred days of the First World War "'by far the greatest military victory in British history"; the American Commander in France, General John Pershing later said that Haig was "the man who won the war".

So there you go - it wasn't the Americans who finally won war in 1918, it was the British Army, led by a Scotsman.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Search on for relatives of city war trio killed in barn

The following article by Gemma Fraser appeared in The Scotsman yesterday:

A French historian is hoping to trace the families of three Edinburgh soldiers killed in a bomb blast in his barn more than 90 years ago.
William Marr Constable, Charles F Fox and Andrew Scott Greig all died on June 6, 1918, on a farm in the village of Flêtre in northern France.

Farm owner Didier Godderis has been trying to discover the story behind his home for ten years and has called on the help of local historian Yvonne McEwan, honorary fellow at Edinburgh university's Centre for the Study of the Two World Wars. Along with her husband Alistair, she has managed to find out details of the soldiers' families from the 1901 census and from birth records.

The hope is that surviving relatives of the three soldiers can be traced as Mr Godderis plans to hold a memorial service for them.

Dr McEwan has recently launched an online archive called Edinburgh's War, which tells the stories of those left at home and the contributions they made to the war effort.

She said: "It seems like such a beautiful story. The families here may never even know that the remains of their loved ones are buried in France.

"The local people want to put on a ceremony to commemorate the soldiers and it would be only right that their families are there. If anyone recognises the story, then they can come forward."

Mr Godderis was told the history of the barn when he bought the farm 13 years ago.

He said: "I have been looking for the story of my farm for ten years. When I bought it in 1997, the former owners said to me that the barn had been bombed in 1918 (the house too), and I found bullets and a bayonet.

"A few months later, a friend of mine, a neighbour, gave me an extract from the battalion war diary of the 7th Seaforth Highlanders.

"During the battle of Meteren and Bailleul in June 1918, I understood from this document that seven soldiers of 'B company' were killed by the bombing (on] June 6, 1918, dying on my farm.

"I realised that it was my farm as it was the only one bombed in 1918, and because of the relics found, but we didn't get their names, and so didn't know where they were buried."

However, in April this year, Mr Godderis' friend found the graves of 30 Seaforth Highlanders in Caëstre military cemetery, near Flêtre. Seven of the soldiers were discovered to have died on June 6, 1918, three of whom were from Edinburgh.

Mr Godderis wants to honour the soldiers by organising a ceremony to take place on June 10, 2012. If anyone has information, contact Dr McEwan through www.edinburghs-war.ed.ac.uk or on 0131-651 1254.

Lives lost

• Constable William Marr
Lance Corporal
Service Number S/23861
30 years old

William Marr Constable, husband of Margaret Constable, was the first son of George McRitchie Constable, a joiner, and Isabella Marr Constable, of Willowbrae Road, Edinburgh. His younger brother, George, was born in 1894, worked as a lift attendant and joined the Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders on 5 January 1912. Sisters were Isabella, born 1892, and Jane, born 1897.

• Charles F Fox
Service Number 203147
41 years old

Charles F Fox was the younger son of John Henry Fox, a butcher's assistant, and Hannah Fox, of Guthrie Street, Edinburgh. Siblings were Louis Henry, born 1875, Mina D, born 1876, Emily Louisa, born 1877, Mary C, born 1881, Edith Eliza, born 1886, Rose P, born 1889, Kosima, born 1891, Anna, born 1892, Sarah, born 1894, Agnes, born 1896 and Alice, born 1899. Both parents, Louis Henry, Mina, Emily Louisa and Charles were born in Germany.

• Andrew Scott Greig
Service Number S/3205
30 years old

Andrew Scott Greig was the younger son of James Greig, a joiner, and Helen Greig, of Dalmeny Street. Siblings were George, born 1879, Jane B, born 1881 and Jemima, born 1886.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Who's Who in Scottish Military history #1- Admiral Sir Charles Napier KCB GOTE RN

I’ve decided to start a new series of posts entitled “Who's Who in Scottish Military History”. This will highlight some of our country’s greatest (and sometimes not so great) men and women who are little remembered now.

Around 150 years ago Scotland lost two well-known Admirals. This first was "The Sea Wolf", Thomas Cochrane, the 10th Earl of Dundonald who passed away on 31st October 1860. I hope to cover him fairly soon.

The other passed away on 6th November 1860, just a few days after Cochrane.

He’s not well known today but at his death Charles Napier was one of Scotland’s most famous sons. He was born in 1786 and joined the Royal Navy in 1799 during the wars with France. That was the start of a sixty year career in the Navy which included leading an army in Syria and taking a fleet to the Baltic during the Crimean War.

He also managed a spell at Edinburgh University and took a seat in Westminster as an MP. He even led the Portuguese Navy for a while during a civil war in the 1830s and when he died their navy went into eight days of mourning.

He was known as a fearless warrior but in Victorian times he was most remembered for his campaigning to improve the conditions for his sailors and to introduce more modern ships into the Royal Navy. The Admiralty usually ignored his ideas which were often years ahead of their time but that didn’t stop him bombarding them with letters.

Still adventurous to the last, only days before his death Napier had written to Garibaldi offering to command a fleet for him in the liberation of Italy.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Free access to Ancestry's UK military records

From Ancestry.co.uk's Karen Reynolds via the company's blog (and subsequently via Chris Paton's blog):

We’re excited to announce that from 7th -14th November 2010, you can search and view the original historical documents from our three most-used military collections completely free.

We’re making the following collections free -

British Army WWI Service Records, 1914–1920
British Army WWI Pension Records, 1914-1920
British Army WWI Medal Rolls Index Cards, 1914-1920

The free period will end on Sunday 14th November at midnight so make sure you get all your searches done before then!

Look out for more information this Sunday.

On this day in Scottish military history #8 – The loss of the Jervis Bay

The loss of the Auxiliary Cruiser HMS Jervis Bay is one of the most stirring stories of the Royal Navy in the Second World War. The David and Goliath struggle between the passenger liner converted for war taking on one of the Kriegsmarine’s finest pocket battleship is real ‘boys own’ stuff, and the Irishman Captain Fegen in command of the ‘Jervis Bay’ was posthumously awarded a Victoria Cross for his actions. However it was understood at the time that his award also reflected the bravery of the rest of his crew and not just his own selflessness.

Some of that crew, like eighteen men from Wick in Caithness had signed up as war time Royal Navy Reserve sailors after pre-war service in the Merchant Navy.

Captain Fegen’s V.C. citation describes the action succinctly

"For valour in challenging hopeless odds and giving his life to save the many ships it was his duty to protect. On the 5th of November, 1940, in heavy seas, Captain Fegen, in His Majesty's Armed Merchant Cruiser Jervis Bay, was escorting thirty-eight Merchantmen. Sighting a powerful German warship he at once drew clear of the Convoy, made straight for the enemy and brought his ship between the raider and her prey, so that they might scatter and escape. Crippled, in flames, unable to reply, for nearly an hour the Jervis Bay held the German's fire. So she went down; but of the Merchantmen all but four or five were saved."

What it doesn’t describe is the terrible damage the Admiral Scheer’s guns had done to the Jervis Bay and its crew. It had turned the pre-war cruise ship into an inferno with its 280mm guns as the Jervis Bay, hopelessly outclassed by the German ship, had relentlessly sailed towards the Scheer to draw its fire and save the merchant ships of convoy HX84.

Like their Captain the men of Caithness acted in the finest traditions of the Royal Navy and nine made the ultimate sacrifice. The people of Wick never forgot the Jervis Bay, or the part their men played in the battle with the Scheer and in November 2006 a plaque was unveiled in the town in their memory. The HMS Jervis Bay Memorial, Wick lists the nine local men who died to save their Merchant Navy comrades on this day seventy years ago.

James Anderson, Old Schoolhouse, Thrumster, married.
James Bain, 18 Wellington Street, wick, married, aged 27.
John M. Bain, 24 Kinnaird Street, Wick, aged 27.
David R. Bremner, 31 Smith Terrace, Wick, married, aged 29.
William Bremner, 5 Macarthur Street, Wick, aged 32.
John Innes, Burnside, Oldwick, Wick, married, age 33.
William B. Miller, 31 Smith Terrace, Wick, aged 27.
John C. Munro, New House, Keiss, aged 28.
Alexander Webster, 41 Argyle Square, Wick, married, age 32.

You can read more about the Jervis Bay here and here.

EDIT: Since posting this, I was dismayed to read a report in the John O'Groat Journal that vandals have defaced the Jervis Bay memorial plaque.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Highland homecoming for drum hidden during Dunkirk retreat

The following story appeared in The Scotsman newspaper today:

A military drum belonging to one of Scotland's most famous regiments, hidden in the heat of battle during the retreat to Dunkirk in the Second World War, is to be returned to Scotland 70 years after being abandoned.

The homecoming of the lost drum of the Gordon Highlanders will mark the culmination of a remarkable story involving the family of a French policeman, a forgotten birthday present and a twin-town agreement between villages in France and England.
The story began when the regimental side drum, emblazoned with the battle honours of the Gordon Highlanders, was buried in a farmer's field by a soldier serving in the regiment's 4th Battalion as the Gordons were being forced to retreat to the Dunkirk beachhead along with the rest of the British Expeditionary Force.

But it has only now been revealed that, within hours of the Gordons leaving the village of Hem in northern France, the drum was found by a policeman who stumbled across its hiding place in the dark while taking a shortcut home.
He had planned to give the drum as a birthday present to his grandson, but was forced to hide it at his daughter's home where it lay forgotten for more than 50 years. And the drum is only now being returned to Scotland after members of the twinning committee of Mossley, near Manchester, stumbled across the amazing tale while visiting their twin town in France.

On 12 November, at a ceremony in Hem, descendents of the policeman will hand over the drum to representatives of the Gordon Highlanders Museum in Aberdeen, who plan to make it a star item at an exhibition on the musical history of the regiment.
Museum curator Jesper Ericsson said: "This is an extraordinary story and the donation ceremony in France will be all the more poignant as armistice commemorations take place around the world. "We were absolutely staggered when we heard that someone in Hem had the drum and wanted to donate it to the museum." He explained that the drum had belonged to a soldier serving with the 4th (City of Aberdeen) Battalion of the Gordon Highlanders, a territorial unit which had been to ordered to cover the general retreat to Dunkirk following the Nazi invasion of France. Mr Ericsson said: "The drum was buried in farmer's field in May, 1940. But shortly after it was concealed a French policeman, Seraphin Boulet, stumbled over the spot. "He scraped away some of the earth and found a tarpaulin covering this beautifully- decorated drum. The story goes that with his grandson's birthday coming up he thought it would make a fabulous present." Mr Boulet took it to the nearby home of his daughter, Raymonde Detrain Boulet.

Fearing discovery by German patrols, the family decided to hide the drum beneath a pile of old clothes in a second-floor bedroom. Remarkably, the drum lay hidden and forgotten in the room until 1995, when Ms Boulet died and her family were clearing out the house. Mr Ericsson said: "Jean Pierre, the grandson who should have got the drum in 1940 as a birthday present, found the drum when he was clearing out his mother's home. And it has remained with the family until now. "

Unfortunately Jean Pierre died in 2007. But his daughter's husband, Pierre Osson, has been the driving force in getting the drum donated to the museum." He added: "There has been a special exhibition at the museum this autumn about the impact that music has had during the 200 years of the regiment's history. And it will be a tremendous end to the exhibition when we can put the drum on display here in Aberdeen."

On this day in Scottish military history #7 - 1920, Unveiling of the war memorial in Nenthorn, Roxburghshire

On this day in Scottish military history #7 - 1920, Unveiling of the war memorial in Nenthorn, Roxburghshire.

November 1920 was a busy time for war memorial unveilings. Many church memorials were completed and smaller civic war memorials were also being unveiled in time for the second Remembrance Day. On this day ninety years ago the Earl of Haddington unveiled the Nenthorn War Memorial.

Nenthorn’s memorial cross listed twelve names. Four of them had been pipers in the 1/4th Bn King’s own Scottish Borderers and all had four had died in Gallipoli. Two of them were killed on the same day, 12th July 1915, when the 1/4th KOSB practically ceased to exist.

I don’t think I’ve seen another memorial which lists four pipers amongst the dead and for pipers to make up one third of the total is unprecedented anywhere else in Scotland.

After the Second World War a further four names were added.

Transcription of the names on the Nenthorn War Memorial:


ELLIOT, Frank , Trooper , Scottish Horse
GIBB, William , Private , King's Own Scottish Borderers
GRANT, Robert , Private , King's Own Scottish Borderers
HARDIE, James , Private , 13th Bn Canadian Expeditionary Force
HARDIE, Thomas , Sergeant , Seaforth Highlanders
HENDRY, Andrew , Piper , 4th Bn King's Own Scottish Borderers
INGLIS, Andrew , Lance Corporal , Machine Gun Corps
KERR, James , Piper , 4th Bn King's Own Scottish Borderers
LUNHAM, Thomas , Piper , 4th Bn King's Own Scottish Borderers
MOFFAT, Thomas , Private , King's Own Scottish Borderers
ROBERTSON, Robert , Private , Royal Scots
WOOD, Frank , Piper , 4th Bn King's Own Scottish Borderers


FERGUSON, Alexander , Private , Army Catering Corps
FRIZZEL, James , Private , Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders
PURVES, George , Corporal , Royal Marines
THOMSON, Ronald R , Wing Commander DFC , Royal Air Force

Monday, 1 November 2010

On this day in Scottish military history #6 - The Jacobites leave Edinburgh

In 1745 the Jacobites under Prince Charles Edward Stuart had stormed through Scotland and occupied Edinburgh. That suited the highlanders in his army who had a rare old time in the taverns of the town. So good a time that the old story goes they were too drunk to storm the Castle which held out against the Jacobites.

Holyrood House didn’t suit Bonnie Prince Charlie though and consolidating his position in Scotland wasn’t good enough for him. He had his eyes on the British crown for his father. On this day 265 years ago caution was thrown to the wind and the Jacobite Army left Edinburgh for London and ultimate destruction at Culloden six months later.