Fort William detachment honour our wars’ fallen
FORT William members of 1st Battalion the Highlanders recently returned from a tour of Belgium as part of the organisation’s first battlefield tour.
Cadet Lance Corporal Iona Gregor, 16, and Regimental Sergeant Major Instructor James Standen, 46, who attend Fort William detachment, took part in the tour last week, alongside 23 other representatives from the battalion, and Orkney Army Cadet Force.
While there, they visited battlefields, cemeteries and took part in various ceremonies’ to pay their respects to the fallen soldiers who lost their lives in the First World War.
During an organised historical trip to Belgium, the cadets and adults completed a tour of Mons, Ypres, the Menin Gate memorial and Passchendaele. For many of the cadets and adults, the tour was very personal as they were given the opportunity to pay respects at the gravestones of family members who fell during the war, and were given a number of small wooden crosses to place on the graves of servicemen of their choosing, which for a lot of them were family members.
They then visited Nimy Bridge where the 4th Battalion the Royal Fusiliers stood fast during 1914 and learned of the defence of the Mons- Condé Canal where Victoria Crosses were won by Lieutenant Maurice Dease and Private Sidney Godley. Later in the day they paid a visit to the St Symphorien military cemetery where Lt Dease was buried, where the cadets conducted a small memorial service and laid a wreath with the battalion’s colours lowered as a mark of respect.
During the visit to Ypres, they visited Langemark cemetery where 44,061 men were buried – 25,000 of them in one mass grave. At times it was incomprehensible that so many soldiers were buried in one cemetery.
The day finished with a visit to Menin Gate to take part in the last post ceremony, which has been held every day since 1928 – apart from when Belgium was occupied in the Second World War by the Germans. The battalion was given special permission to wear their uniform and to proudly display their battalion’s colours at the ceremony. They were even given the privilege of laying a wreath during it. They were filmed and photographed by visitors who flock in their hundreds to witness the emotional service. The cadets were left speechless during the visit when the realisation hit home that the thousands of names of the fallen troops were engraved in the stone of the walls of Menin Gate.
On the final day they visited many cemeteries but the highlight of the day was a visit to the Passchendaele Museum, where the cadets viewed the facility and all the First World War artefacts and toured the underground bunker system and walked through the trenches of Passchendaele.
Some cadets even had the chance to try on some replica equipment. Lance Corporal Gregor said that the museum ‘ was full of interesting facts about the war … there was also full-scale models of British and German trenches which were amazing to actually see what the inside of a trench looks like’.
The final cemetery visited was at Tyne Cot, the largest First World War Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery in the world. It was a moment of disbelief for the cadets when they saw the 11,953 gravestones as they entered the cemetery walls.
A final wreath-laying ceremony was performed, with colours, prior to their departure and their return to Scotland.
On her return to Scotland on Monday evening, cadet Iona Gregor said that she ‘had an amazing time in Belgium. I learned so much about the First World War and how much warfare has evolved in the past century, and would consider applying for the tour again next year’. * The 1st Battalion the Highlanders ACF is a youth organisation that provides challenging adventure, sporting and community activities aiming to inspire young people to achieve success in life while having fun at the same time.
The Fort William detachment meets every Wednesday evening at the Cadet Centre on Croft Road between 7.30pm and 9.30pm.
For more information contact Graeme Wells, 1st Battalion the Highlanders Army Cadet Force public relations officer, by emailing: email@example.com or visit armycadets.com.