Trib­ute to a fallen sol­dier

The Oban Times - - NEWS - SANDY NEIL sneil@oban­

A KINS­MAN of Oban sol­dier Pri­vate Hugh MacLean has laid a wreath at his French war grave to mark the 100th an­niver­sary of his death, aged 21, dur­ing the First World War.

Andy MacLean, whose fam­ily came from Ar­daneaskan, re­searched how Hugh fell in bat­tle with the Argyll and Suther­land High­landers.

Pri­vate MacLean, the son of Dun­can and Is­abella who lived at Buchanan Ter­race, died of his wounds in Eta­ples mil­i­tary hospi­tal on April 14, 1917, and was buried at Eta­ples mil­i­tary ceme­tery in north­ern France.

Andy said: ‘I travel past this ceme­tery from time to time and al­ways stop to pay my re­spects to the fallen who gave their tomorrows so we could en­joy our to­days in peace. I have al­ways vis­ited this young man’s grave as a fel­low West Coast MacLean.’

But the grave­stone gave no de­tails of where his reg­i­ment, the Argyll and Suther­land High­landers, were fight­ing when he fell, and Andy hoped to fill in de­tails of his life and un­timely death.

He writes: ‘On the morn­ing of April 9, 1917, Pri­vate Hugh MacLean was with the 1st/8th Bat­tal­ion the Argyll and Suther­land High­landers in for­ward trenches at Ro­clin­court, east of Ar­ras in north­ern France. At 5.30am the Bat­tle of Ar­ras be­gan and 22 of­fi­cers with 622 men left their trenches to at­tack the sec­ond line of Ger­man trenches at the south­ern end of Vimy ridge. It is al­most cer­tain Hugh MacLean was se­ri­ously wounded in this ac­tion. Recorded in despatches, two of­fi­cers were killed, nine were wounded and 38 other ranks were killed, with 168 wounded plus six miss­ing. One of the of­fi­cers killed in ac­tion was 2nd Lieu­tenant Wal­ter Lightowler Wilkin­son, who is a recog­nised war poet hav­ing writ­ten The

Way­side Burial about a month be­fore this event.

‘Hugh, with a se­ri­ous head wound, was sent by train to Eta­ples mil­i­tary hospi­tal com­plex where he ar­rived un­con­scious. The doctors op­er­ated on him but he did not re­gain con­scious­ness and he died on April 14. He was buried along­side many other brave lads in the mil­i­tary ceme­tery next to the es­tu­ary of the river Canche. His great niece, Katy Flora, sent me a copy of the let­ter from the as­sis­tant ma­tron, GB Stevens, at the hospi­tal, which read, “He was ad­mit­ted April 11 in a se­ri­ous con­di­tion with a se­vere wound to the head. The doctors felt from the first that there was no hope, but in or­der to give him ev­ery pos­si­ble chance he was op­er­ated on the day af­ter he was ad­mit­ted. How­ever, there was no im­prove­ment in his con­di­tion and he passed away very qui­etly with­out ever re­gain­ing con­scious­ness. He is buried in Eta­ples mil­i­tary ceme­tery, where so many of our brave men have been laid to rest”.’

Andy writes: ‘Eta­ples mil­i­tary ceme­tery is a site of great peace, beauty and tragedy. The tran­quil spot lies be­side the mouth of the river Canche and chilly sea breezes wafted across from the English Chan­nel and through the newly leaved trees. With a back­drop of the mag­nif­i­cent mon­u­ment to the fallen of the First World War de­signed by Lu­tyens, the sheer num­ber of graves stand­ing solidly in their ser­ried ranks was in­deed awe-inspiring. Lay­ing a wreath against Hugh MacLean’s me­mo­rial stone, some­thing I had vowed to do more than 20 years ago, was an act filled with great emo­tion as I thought of the sac­ri­fice made by all those young men wrenched from the bo­soms of their fam­i­lies to face the lethal bar­rages on the Western Front 100 years ago. Some chil­dren were gaily play­ing up and down the av­enues be­tween the lines of memo­ri­als on what was a sun­lit if some­what windy April day. For a fleet­ing mo­ment I thought their bois­ter­ous laugh­ter some­what ir­rev­er­ent but then I re­mem­bered that this was ex­actly what these brave lads had laid down their lives for – our free­dom to en­joy peace and pros­per­ity. Their sac­ri­fice had not been in vain.’ The Way­side Burial By Wal­ter Lightowler Wilkin­son They’re bring­ing in their re­cent dead – their re­cent dead! I see the shoul­der badge: a ‘South­ern crush.’ How small he looks – (O damn that singing thrush!) Not give foot five from boots to bat­tered head! Give him a kindly burial, my friends, – So much is due, when some such loyal life ends! ‘For Coun­try!’ Ay, and so our brave do die: Com­rade un­known, good rest to you! – Good-bye! They’re bring­ing their re­cent dead! – No pomp, no show: A dingy khaki crowd – his friends, his own. I, too, would like – (God, how that wind does moan!) – To be laid down by friends: it’s sweet­est so! A young life, as I take it; just a lad— (How cold it blows; and that grey sky, how sad!) – And yet: ‘For Coun­try’ – so a man should die: Com­rade un­known, good rest to you! – Good-bye! They’re bury­ing their dead! – I won­der now: A wife? – or mother? Mother it must be – In some trim home that fronts the English sea. (A sea-coast coun­try: that the badges show.) And she? – I sense her grief, I feel her tears! ‘This, then, the gar­nered har­vest of my years!’ And he? ‘For Coun­try, dear, a man must die!’ Com­rade un­known, good rest to you! – Good-bye! It’s reeded: he is buried! Com­rade, sleep! A wooden cross at your brave head will stand. A cross of wood? A Cal­vary! – The Land For whose sake you laid down sweet life, will keep Watch, lad, and ward that none may bring to shame. That Name for which you died! ‘What’s in a name’? – Eng­land shall an­swer! Thou will hear Her cry: ‘Well done, my own! my son – good rest: Good-bye!’

Andy MacLean lays a wreath at the grave of Pte Hugh MacLean, be­low, on the 100th an­niver­sary of his death, and the ma­tron’s let­ter no­ti­fy­ing the fam­ily of his pass­ing.

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