Thursday, November, 17, 2005
Red poppys for Remembrance Day
The Scottish Borders are awash with the colour red this week, following the annual Remembrance Sunday ceremonies.
All over the Scottish Borders , as well as the rest of the country, thousands of people turned out at war memorials to pay homage to the dead of two world wars and other conflicts in which British forces have been involved.
Remembrance Sunday is always held in Britain on the Sunday closest to November 11.
As well as this, there are many people who observe a minute’s silence on November 11 each year as this is Armstice Day and it was at 11 a.m. on the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, the guns on the Western Front fell silent to signal the end of the First World War.
As for Remembrance Sunday, it sees the national ceremony of homage to The Fallen taking place at the Cenotaph memorial in London’s Whitehall, where the Queen lays a wreath of red poppies on behalf of the nation.
And in the weeks leading up to Remembrance Sunday, the majority of the population sport a red poppy on their lapels as a tribute to all those who have given their lives for their country.
There are 141 war memorials scattered across the Scottish Borders in towns and villages and on Sunday ceremonies were conducted at all of them and wreaths of poppies laid.
The most impressive war memorial in the region is the one in Galashiels, the main town in the Borders, and has often been chosen as the most impressive in the whole of Scotland.
The Burgh Chambers were built in the late 19th century as the seat of local government.
The massive clock tower and statue of a mounted Border reiver - also known as a ‘mosstrooper’ - were erected in the 1920s and incoporates the war memorials for the First and Second World wars.
The large black bronze plaques at the base of the clock tower immediately to the rear of the horseman, bear the names of the 635 men from the town killed between 1914 and 1918 and the much smaller number, thankfully, of those killed in the 1939-45 conflict.
On Sunday, a large crowd gathered to hear a short service and see wreaths laid on behalf of local organisations. A bugler played the Last Post and Reveille and, most haunting of all, a piper plays the lament, “Flo’ers o’ the Forest” - i.e. Flowers of the Forest.
There is now only a handful of British veterans who fought in the First World War still alive and none of them in the Borders.
The last soldier with a Borders connection, Bill Elder, died in a nursing home in England aged 107, just a few months ago.
Mr. Elder had worked as a gardener for the Duke of Buccleuch at his stately home near Selkirk in the Scottish Borders.
After joining an artillery regiment, he took part in three of the bloodiest campaigns on the Western Front including the horrors of trench warfare at Ypres and the Somme.
Mr. Elder’s death left only one survivor from the thousands of Scots who marched off to the Great War in 1914 to fight the Germans.
That is 109-year-old Alfred Anderson of Perthshire, now the oldest man in Scotland, who served with the famous Scots regiment, The Black Watch.
There will be few families here in the Borders who do not have a father or grandfather or uncle or great uncle who saw service in one or other of the two world wars.
My own paternal grandfather was an air gunner with the Royal Flying Corps in the First World War, while my mother’s father served with the King’s Own Scottish Borderers from the beaches of Normandy all the way to the outskirts of Berlin in 1945.
Several great uncles also served in the First World War and the name of one, killed with the Black Watch in 1914, is inscribed on the war memorial in Galashiels.
For Borderers and Scots like myself, the debt we owe such men can never be paid and must never be forgotten.
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