Read the diary from the 'front line' of our 2017 Battlefields Trip!
19th October 2017
All going well with the 6th Battalion Glenalmond Pals in France and Flanders. Today we were at Spangbroekmoelen (a mine crater from the Battle of Messines in 1917, now a pool of peace); the Crypt of Messines Cathedral where Adolf Hitler lay wounded in 1915; Hooge Crater Museum; Black Watch Corner (the site of heroics by Perthshire’s finest in 1914); the preserved trenches and tunnels at Sanctuary Wood; and lastly the Australian tunnellers memorial and German pill boxes at Hill 60.
We also visited the site of the 1914 Christmas football match in which Captain Robert Hamilton OG (1892 - 1896) is known to have played and is believed to have negotiated the truce.
Today the 6th Battalion Glenalmond Pals headed south to the Somme. It was an early start but the troops sang us all the way out of Belgium.
We visited the preserved trenches at Newfoundland Park, Beaumont Hamel before Ed H and Ramsay P piped at the 51st Highland Division memorial overlooking Y Ravine, scene of bitter fighting in 1916.
Then on to the Thiepval Memorial, to the 72,000 ‘missing’ of the Somme who have no known grave. This includes 10 OGs, notably, Alfred Anthony Douglas Raeburn (1908-1912) after whom Raeburn’s pitch is named and Arthur Blackwood Gowan (1909-1914) whose name is continued by the Gowan scholarship, which is currently held by a pupil on the trip. Alfred and Arthur died two days apart in 1916.
Next stop was Dartmoor Cemetery where we visited the graves of a 67 year old Harry Webber (the oldest British soldier to die on the Western Front), a young Australian shot at dawn after a nervous breakdown and a father and son who served together, died together and are now buried side by side. Next was Lochnagar Crater, the largest extant mine crater on the Western Front and our final stop on the Somme.
We wound our way northwards to Arras and Vimy Ridge where we visited the Canadian National Memorial and the graves of relatives of pupils Rosie McG and Archie G who both paid the ultimate sacrifice.
Then it was time to head back to the hotel for a big meal and follow up work in the classroom. A busy day and another one planned for tomorrow!
The final day of campaigning on the Western Front. This morning we held a graveside commemoration for Lt Sholto Herries Skrine MC OG (1901-1905) who died September 1917. The pipers were in good form and Alexandra L and Matthew B both read well.
From there on to Essex Farm, where we visited the grave of 15 year old VJ Strudwick, one of the youngest British soldiers to die on the Western Front. This is also where John McCrae wrote 'In Flanders'. Sasha M read the poem beautifully.
Poelkapelle was next where 84% of the graves are unknown. Each pupil was asked to lay a poppy and give remembrance to the unknown soldier. It is also where E Colquhon OG (1901-1903) is buried and Lev B-B planted a memorial cross in his honour. We also heard some moving stories of other soldiers from our tour guide.
The pipers then led the advance up the Passchendaele ridge to Tyne Cot, the largest Commonwealth cemetery in the world with 12,000 graves. The Mathesonians amongst us held a short ceremony for a relative of Mr Pounder.
We also visited Langemark, which is the site of one of only 4 German cemeteries in Belgium with a colossal 44,000 burials including a mass grave of 25,000 - ‘Kameradgraven’. The pupils were then given free time in Ypres before rounding the day off with the Menin Gate last post ceremony (where 5 OGs are commemorated) and a candlelight vigil at the grave of Francis Faithfull OG (1910-1914) who died in Flanders 9 months after leaving Coll.
Last day in Belgium yesterday, a little bit of classroom work and then visits to the graves of relatives Kath W and Amy C. On to Bruges today for some rest and relaxation. The staff were very pleased to find somewhere for a nice coffee! Overnight ferry tonight and the Battalion returns to Glenalmond tomorrow.
See all the pictures from the trip on our Flickr page