Battle of the Somme
The Oban Times remembers the fallen 100 years on
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.
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.