A three generation party based on the King’s Own Scottish Borderers (KOSB) Association have just returned from a pilgrimage to commemorate the centenary of one of the most tragic battles of World War One.
A group of KOSB veterans and current soldiers from its successor battalion in the Royal Regiment of Scotland – 1 SCOTS – were joined by school pupils and staff from Queen Victoria School (QVS) in Dunblane on a trip to the Somme battlefields in France.The children are all sons and daughters of Servicemen and women.
The 39 strong group spent five days at the battlefields, reflecting at the spot where soldiers of the KOSB laid down their lives a century ago and visiting their graves and memorials.
Included in the party was Liz Howard -Thornton, the great granddaughter of Corporal Richard Howard, who was killed at the attack on Faffemont Farm, near Combles on 3 September. His Battalion, 2 KOSB, had suffered 187 casualties in one hour.
Liz Howard said: “We walked the ground of that attack, up the bare slopes to the old farm site, precisely 100 years to the minute after they did, and where Richard fell. That was incredibly emotional- we were all in a terrible state, especially when the pipes started us off with the Regimental march. What those young men did for us, and the freedom we have today because of it, must never be forgotten.”
Liz brought a metre high, engraved wooden cross, which was planted on the edge of the woodline.
Lieutenant Colonel Andy Middlemiss, a former career officer in the KOSB with 34 years’ service all over the world, helped to organise the trip, and said he believes it has served a valuable purpose:
“Everyone associates The Somme with 1 July and “Going Over the Top,” but actually the battle lasted 141 days,” he said. “The courage and sacrifice of the British, French and Colonial troops must never be forgotten. On the first day, our 1st Battalion took 548 casualties in an hour and a half, and effectively ceased to be a viable Battalion .We wanted to see the actual soil where our forebears fell in such terrible numbers, and we wanted to commemorate their memory on this trip. ”
Piper Gordon Ross, who served with the Gordon Highlanders and is now Pipe Major at Queen Victoria School, said:
“The children, who came with us are not much younger than many of the Jocks who fell, and it was really moving for all of us to see where these very young men fell. We mustn’t forget that it would have been horrendous for those on the homefront too. The worst bit was probably the not knowing, and the length of time it took to get any hard information and news. We at QVS were thrilled and honoured to go. Our four pupils were a real credit to themselves, their families and the school. Stephanie Stinson – the School Dancing Instructor – and I were so proud of the way they interacted with the others, and how they conducted themselves. We are delighted the Head picked us to go.”
Lieutenant Calum Duncan, leading the party from 1 SCOTS said: “We have been waiting for this trip for some time now, with real excitement. The Somme is one of our main battle honours, and for today’s Jocks to walk precisely in the footsteps, on the ground, of the 1916 Jocks was incredibly special. We must learn from what happened, we wanted to honour our forebears, and most importantly, we must talk about it in the future. It was a real privilege for the six of us to have been chosen by the Colonel to represent the Jocks of 100 years ago.”
After 4 and a half months hard fighting, with appalling casualties, both from sickness and combat, the battle ceased , mainly due to the appalling winter in France that year. Hundreds of thousands had already paid the ultimate price with their lives. The KOSB lost over 3500 killed, and thousands more badly wounded or sick.
For Brigadier Allan Alstead, a former Commanding Officer of the KOSB, this pilgrimage was a powerful tribute to those who fell.
He said: “It is important to remember that these men of the KOSB, and thousands of others on both sides, showed incredibly bravery in terrible conditions. The conclusion of our trip was an act of commemoration at the Thiepval Memorial, with four pipers, three wreaths laid, prayers from Padre Blakey and readings.”
John Ross, one of the co-organisers said: “It was really powerful to be there, to remember, and to see what was lost in human sacrifice. For all of us, the young school children, the serving soldiers from 1 SCOTS, and us “Old and Bold” -this was a trip of a lifetime. We are really grateful to Legion Scotland for helping us fund this trip, with a generous grant from their WW1 Commemorations Fund. NEMO ME IMPUNE LACESSIT.”
Andy Middlemiss and John Handling with the German Mauser rifle found at the farm.