To launch the WW100 Scotland commemorations taking place in France and Scotland, Alasdair Hutton OBE, narrator for the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, whose grandfather was gravely injured but survived the Battle of Arras, was joined by singer Amy Hawthorn, young members of Cockenzie and Port Seton Pipes and Drums Euan Williamson, 13, and Carys Grieve, 13, and cadets Connor Mullen, 14, Melissa Rodger 14, and Kimberely Dougal, 16, from the Glasgow and Lanarkshire Battalion Army Cadet Force.
The Battle of Arras had the highest concentration of Scottish troops fighting in a single battle during World War One.
Scotland will play a key role in the international commemorations on Sunday April 9 with a service at the Faubourg d’Amiens Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery in Arras at 9.30am, conducted by the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. The Band of the Royal Regiment of Scotland will conduct a Beating Retreat in the Place des Heros at 7.45pm. On the same evening in Edinburgh, a service will be held in the Scottish National War Memorial at 6.30pm, followed by a Beating Retreat by the Band of HM Royal Marines Scotland on Edinburgh Castle Esplanade at 7.30pm.
Organised by WW100 Scotland in partnership with Legion Scotland and in conjunction with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, The Royal Regiment of Scotland and the Royal Marines Bands, the commemorations will put young people at their centre. ‘Legion Scotland Sweetheart’ Amy Hawthorn will lead the singing of anthems of the nations being represented at the Arras service, which will be attended by 72 schoolchildren representing every local authority in Scotland. They will be joined by a matching number of schoolchildren from France and Canada, as well as 12 Army cadets from across Scotland. A range of Legion Scotland pipe bands with young members, including Cockenzie and Port Seton Pipes and Drums, will play at the Edinburgh commemorations, where Police Scotland Youth Volunteers will also play a key role in the smooth running of the event.
The Battle of Arras, which took place between 9 April and 15 May, 1917, was part of a planned offensive by British and French forces. Forty four of the 120 battalions that made up the ten British assault divisions were Scottish. The average daily casualty rate was 4,076, which was higher than that at The Somme or the Third Battle of Ypres. Of the approximate total 159,000 casualties, around a third were Scottish and of those Scots injured an estimated 18,000 lost their lives – the equivalent population of a Scottish town such as Dumbarton, Peterhead or St Andrews or the approximate capacity of the Hibs or Hearts grounds at Easter Road and Tynecastle.
Writer John Buchan, working at the time as the Government’s UK Director of Information, noted that 38 Scottish battalions had crossed the parapet on the opening day of battle, which was more than the entire British force at Waterloo and seven times the number that Robert the Bruce commanded at Bannockburn.
Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs, Fiona Hyslop, said:
“The Battle of Arras is of huge significance to Scotland’s commemorative calendar. Forty four Scottish Battalions and seven Scottish-named Canadian Battalions took part in the engagement – the highest concentration of Scottish troops fighting in a single battle during World War One.
“The casualties had a devastating impact on those back home at the time, and resonate to this day in our collective memory. I am heartened that our young people will attend this commemoration – helping to ensure future generations will not forget the horrors and grief associated with war.”
Kevin Gray MM, CEO Royal British Legion Scotland (Legion Scotland) said:
“The Battle of Arras was significant not only for the successful outcome of the First World War but also for the many Scottish Battalions and Scottish named Battalions from other nations that took part in the battle. The largest concentration of Scottish troops in history resulted in almost no part of the Scottish community being left untouched.
“One hundred years later it’s important that we are able to bring people and nations together to embrace the same community spirit at home and abroad so that our remembrance events commemorate those who have served, and continue to serve the nation. The events will also provide the opportunity to educate our young people, and in doing so, create a lasting legacy for future generations”.
Alasdair Hutton, who will narrate during the Beating Retreat in Arras, said:
“My grandfather, George Hutton, left a successful family business in Glasgow’s Gallowgate when he went to Arras with the 9th Battalion of The Royal Scots as a 37-year-old. He was very severely wounded on Vimy Ridge by shrapnel in his back on the first day of battle but over time made a good recovery.
“He never spoke about the horrors of that day or of the war itself to the family and I can only begin to imagine how it must have felt leaving a young family behind and travelling to the unknown of Arras. He was one of the lucky ones.”
Those in Scotland wishing to join in the Arras commemorations are encouraged to go to Edinburgh Castle esplanade at 6.30pm where the service in the Scottish National War Memorial will be broadcast on a screen ahead of the 7.30pm Beating Retreat.
Those in Arras are welcome to join the 9.30am service at Faubourg d’Amiens Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery and are encouraged to line the streets in the Place des Heros for the Beating Retreat at 7.45pm.