On Sunday 9 April, hundreds of people turned out to the WW100 Scotland Service at Faubourg d’Amiens Cemetery in Arras, France to commemorate the centenary of the Battle of Arras.
The Service, conducted by the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, was attended by dignitaries, descendants and hundreds of young people.
Wreaths were laid by Lord Llewellyn, British Ambassador to France; M Marc Del Grande, Secretary General of the Pas de Calais Prefecture; Vice Admiral Sir Tim Laurence, Vice Chair of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission: M Frederique Leturque, Mayor of Arras; and Professor Norman Drummond, Chair of the Scottish Commemorations Panel. In a symbolic gesture, a school pupil from Scotland and one from France laid a wreath together on behalf of the UK, French, Canadian, New Zealand, Australian and South African nations who fought in the Battle. Singer Amy Hawthorn from West Lothian led the singing of the national anthems.
For Cadet Melissa Rodger, one of 12 cadets that had travelled from Scotland to take part in the commemorations, handing a wreath to one of the wreath layers was all the more poignant as her Great Uncle was killed in the battle on May 3, 1917.
Seventy two S3 history pupils representing each local authority in Scotland attended the service, after which they placed poppy crosses on the graves of Battle of Arras casualties as pipers played Flowers of the Forest.
The Battle of Arras had the highest concentration of Scottish troops fighting in a single battle during World War One. 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.
This service was be followed by a Beating Retreat by the Pipes & Drums and Military Band of the Royal Regiment of Scotland in Place des Héros in Arras. In Edinburgh, a service being held within the Scottish National War Memorial was be shown on a large screen on the Castle Esplanade, followed by a Beating Retreat by the Band of HM Royal Marines Scotland.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who was in France for the Vimy Ridge and Beating Retreat commemorations, said:
“Forty four Scottish battalions and seven Scottish-named Canadian battalions took part in the Battle of Arras – the highest concentration of Scottish troops fighting in a single battle during World War One.
“Pupils representing every local authority in Scotland are in Arras this weekend to learn more about its impact. These young people are not much younger than many of those who fought in the battle – many of whom never returned to Scotland.
“Education is an important part of our commemorative programme – ensuring pupils understand the impact and significance of the battle, and share what they have learned with their peers and wider community.”
The WW100 Scotland commemorations were organised by the Scottish Commemorations Panel in conjunction with Legion Scotland, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and the Armed Forces in Scotland.