Sunday, 8 May 2016

Remembrance and Celebration

On the Thursday night before last, I was warm, dry and lying in bed listening to the rain falling steadily outside, wondering what the weather had been like one hundred years ago, on Friday 28th April 1916. I was also thinking how lucky I was.  Why lucky?  Because on that day in 1916, or rather that night, my Great Grandfather, Thomas McIvor, was in a trench near Loos in Northern France and some distance from his home in Arbroath, Scotland.  

If the weather had been as it was last Thursday, it is likely that he would have been an uncomfortable night, and his sodden kilt would have been so much heavier than normal, making him even more uncomfortable than the limited shelter available in a front-line trench during the First World War would have made him.  It was also to be his last night on earth.

According to the War Diary of the 9th Battalion Black Watch, my Great Grandfather's unit, at 0350hrs red and green rockets were seen from the German trenches and the Battalion was then subjected to an 'intense bombardment' during which 'every form of shell was used'.

At 0412hrs, the Battalion was subjected to a gas attack and bombardment with lachrymatory shells, but by 0510hrs all was reported as normal on the Battalion front.  However, casualties were heavy 'owing either to not being able to get their helmets on in time, or more probably (from information since gathered by the CO) because the men were told to take their helmets off too soon'.

Sadly, my Great Grandfather was one of the 33 all ranks of the 9th Black Watch killed that day before the Battalion was relieved by the 8th Battalion Seaforth Highlanders at 1245hrs.  He left a pregnant wife and three children, one of whom was my Grandmother.

So last Friday week, one hundred years to the day since his death, myself, Emma and Alec left home early and made our way to the Eurotunnel terminal in Folkestone to make the thirty-five minute journey to France before driving to Dud Corner Cemetery which is also where the Loos Memorial is found, on which my Great Grandfather is just one of the 20,615 soldiers commemorated who have no known grave.

The weather was wet and overcast, but the rain held off whilst we were there and I put a commemorative cross below the panel on which his name appears.

I have been here numerous times, but it is still breath-taking to see this beautifully tended cemetery with the rows of nearly 2000 white headstones and the nearly one hundred panels commemorating those who died.  And despite the fact that it is located on the busy main road from Lens to Bethune, it is surprisingly peaceful.

Once we had finished here we went into Loos itself for lunch before deciding to make the hour's drive to Ieper in Belgium, another city that I have been to numerous times and home to the Menin Gate memorial.

We visited our favourite chocolate shop, Leonidas, and after a quick beer headed to the village of Passendale, before visiting Tyne Cot.

Tyne Cot is the largest Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery in the world, containing 11,962 graves, only 1/3 of whom are named, as well as the Tyne Cot Memorial, which commemorates 34,948 Commonwealth soldiers killed in the vicinity but with no known grave.

After an hour or so here, we headed back to the Eurotunnel terminal for the journey back, arriving much earlier than our train, but managing to get on an earlier one and getting home much earlier than expected.

This was probably just as well as we were up earlier again the following day to make our way to Twickenham for the annual Army v Navy Rugby match.

This is the eleventh time that I have been to this match since 2004 and it gone from a match that barely filled the lower tier of Twickenham Stadium, to one that sell out the ground every year and during which I have only seen the Navy win once.

This year I had ordered 60 tickets for friends, family, friends or friends and friends of family, and apart from I think four people who pulled out at the last minute, everyone else attended.

The day started fairly early, meeting the first group at Tonbridge station at 1000, prior to getting the train, with beers on board, to Twickenham and making our way to our favourite “meet-up” watering hole, the Barmy Arms, next to the Thames.

After a few beers here we made our way to the stadium, this year arriving in our seats just after kick-off (in the past, its taken us until nearly half-time!)  The game was good, the result wasn’t, the final score being 29-29.  This meant that the Navy won the tri-service championship.

Following the game, a few of us, the Dukies in the group, made our way to The Dukies Association bar, before heading into Twickenham and, after a burger, meeting up with the others at the the Barmy Arms, which had closed.  It appears that in an effort to reduce the crowd that is milling around in Twickenham, the pubs now have to close at 1900.

What we normally do every year is have a drink in the Barmy Arms and then make our way along the river to Richmond, stopping at the White Swan on the way, before ending up in the Old Ship.  However, the White Swan had also closed at 1900, so it was a thirsty group that arrived at the Old Ship.

As Drew was working the following day, he left early with Kinga, so Emma and I decided to leave at the same time.  At least getting home that early meant that I didn’t wake up on Sunday feeling as rough as I normally do!

Still its only 356 days until 29th April 2017 and we do it all again, with hopefully another win for the Army.