Memories of the fallen
As James Scott Irving started to sing The Old Rustic Bridge, the crowds that packed the platform at Dumfries railway station all stopped to listen.
There were few dry eyes as mums, daughters, sisters, wives and sweethearts, clung on to the men they were seeing off to war.
Many of them didn’t really understand what was going on when they pledged to do their bit for their country.
They thought they’d be home by Christmas and normal life would resume.
But millions of them didn’t make it back. They paid the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom.
Wee Ina Irving was one of hundreds of thousands of children who lost their dad.
In a letter dated August 5, 1917, Ina wrote to her father on the front line: “My dear Daddy. Just a few lines to let you know that I am quite well and happy. I am having my summer holidays just now and enjoying them very much. I have been to the Quay nearly every Sunday with my Granny McQueen. I hope that you will be able to come home safe again to your wee girlie. Your loving girlie, Ina”.
But Ina’s daddy didn’t come home. James died at Ypres in Belgium just two months later, on October 12, aged only 34.
He had been a handsome man, James, and was said to have been quite a lad with the lassies. He also had a kind heart. Walking up the Vennel with a friend one day, the pair came across an old violinist who was trying, unsuccessfully, to make a copper or two.
James, whose nickname was Kelly, told the fellow: “You play, I’ll sing and my friend will collect the money”.
At the end of the day, the old man was ready to split the takings three ways, but James told him to keep it all and have a good meal.
James’ story is just one of many that will be relayed at a World War I centenary event taking place in Dumfries next Saturday.
Organised by Hightae woman Margo McClumpha, the free service and exhibition at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Edinburgh Road will include photographs, military records, letters and stories as well as honour rolls and death notices from the Dumfries and Galloway Standard from 1914-18.
During the event between 10am and 12pm, anyone with an interest in family history will also be given tips on how to research their military ancestors.
Margo, 73, said: “This started out as a personal tribute to my own grandfather, William Paterson Wells, a Private in the Kings Own Scottish Borderers who served between 1914 and 1920.
“I then decided to get the community involved and many people have contributed their own family stories, including James Scott Irving’s granddaughter, Mrs Janet Creighton.
“We’ll also be telling the story of nurses Elsie Knocker and Marie Chisholm, the most decorated women in World War I.
“They worked just behind the Belgian front line and came to be known as the ‘Madonna’s of Pervyse’. They were gassed in 1918 but survived.
“The war was a living hell from which men never really recovered, and didn’t want to talk about.
“However, it’s part of our bloodline, and although it was 100 years ago that the guns stopped firing, it’s good to acknowledge the sacrifice that was made.
“That’s what we’ll be doing next Saturday.”
Nurses Elsie Knocker and Mhairi Chisholm
Song James Scott Irving