Bat­tle of the Somme

The Oban Times re­mem­bers the fallen 100 years on

The Oban Times - - Front Page -

Last week wit­nessed the cen­te­nary of the Bat­tle of the Somme. News me­dia cov­ered events up and down the Bri­tish Isles and in France, as the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity re­mem­bered the fallen.

The de­ploy­ment of silent sol­diers in cities was an es­pe­cially poignant and pow­er­ful state­ment, and served to con­nect us all with those who were killed in this bat­tle and through­out the Great War.

The com­mem­o­ra­tive events also con­nected in­di­vid­u­als, fam­i­lies and com­mu­ni­ties with servicemen and women and civil­ians who have lost their lives in ev­ery armed con­flict since. Not so very long ago The Oban

Times ran a story about war memo­ri­als, and how many of them in re­mote lo­ca­tions had been ne­glected. Just about ev­ery set­tle­ment in the Bri­tish Isles lost fa­thers and sons, hus­bands and sweet­hearts, broth­ers, neph­ews, un­cles, cousins and friends in the First World War, and it is im­por­tant that their mem­ory is hon­oured.

The Mil­len­nium Com­mis­sion and the Her­itage Lottery Fund recog­nised the his­tor­i­cal and cul­tural sig­nif­i­cance of war memo­ri­als and funds were es­tab­lished for pro­grammes to re­pair and re­store mon­u­ments so that the names of the dead will al­ways be on public dis­play. The high­lands and is­lands paid a par­tic­u­larly heavy price: young men with noth­ing to lose but their lives vol­un­teered in their thou­sands and pre­cip­i­tated pop­u­la­tion de­cline that in some places took two gen­er­a­tions to re­cover.

My great-grand­fa­ther was killed in ac­tion some­where in France in 1917. His name ap­pears on a war me­mo­rial, and on the Roll of Hon­our at Ed­in­burgh Cas­tle. I have in­her­ited the bronze plaque his widow re­ceived with the grat­i­tude of the na­tion. His grave, if it ex­ists at all, will be in­scribed only as a Sol­dier of the Great War. A life­time of grief for my great-grand­mother was com­pounded by the ac­tions of her only son – my grand­fa­ther – when he lied about his age and en­listed in 1917. He was one of thou­sands of boys who felt com­pelled to right wrongs and up­hold the mem­ory of those clos­est to them. He was one of the lucky ones. He sur­vived the first war and re­mained in the army. He saw ac­tion in the Sec­ond World War and was de­mo­bilised in 1946. He died on the same day as Elvis.

The mo­ti­va­tion to vol­un­teer to go and fight in a for­eign land has never been scarce in Scot­tish reg­i­ments, but the scale of the atroc­i­ties and the num­ber of deaths and ca­su­al­ties is quite in­com­pre­hen­si­ble. On the very first day of the Bat­tle of the Somme, ca­su­al­ties were the worst in the his­tory of the Bri­tish army: 57,470 ca­su­al­ties, 19,240 of whom were killed. Four months later, al­lied Bri­tish and French forces had se­cured an ad­vance of about six miles, on a front 16 miles long. The cost was 419,654 Bri­tish and 202,567 French ca­su­al­ties. There were 465,181 Ger­man ca­su­al­ties. It was a vic­tory for nei­ther side: rather a demon­stra­tion of the high cost and fu­til­ity of trench war­fare, and an ex­er­cise in the ex­pend­abil­ity of troops.

The Bat­tle of the Somme was only one en­gage­ment. The to­tal num­ber of ca­su­al­ties in the ‘war to end all wars’ ex­ceeded 38 mil­lion: 11 mil­lion mil­i­tary per­son­nel and 7 mil­lion civil­ians lost their lives. Twenty mil­lion peo­ple were wounded. The stag­ger­ing re­al­ity is that no-one learned any­thing from th­ese unimag­in­able statis­tics and Europe, then the rest of the world, was plunged into an­other armed con­flict from 1939- 45. Fu­ture gen­er­a­tions can only hope that there is not a third world war.

The men and women who gave their lives in war­fare must never be for­got­ten. They were more than names when they were in ac­tion, and they are more than names on memo­ri­als now. Take a mo­ment to look at the one in your town or vil­lage. If none of your di­rect an­ces­tors are listed, you can be sure that some of the peo­ple they played with as chil­dren are.

Pho­to­graph cour­tesy Oban War and Peace Mu­seum

The 8th Ar­gyll Suther­land High­landers, 16th Pla­toon, marches from Ar­gyll Square, Oban on Au­gust 7, 1914.

Rev MacLeod served as an army chap­lain with the 51st (High­land) Divi­sion, serv­ing with the 4th Bat­tal­ion Gor­don High­landers.

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