The 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War One obviously lends a very special significance to this year’s Armistice Day commemorations. Already the people of our communities have made plans to mark their own special sacrifices and some have already taken place.
For example, last Sunday I attended a very moving service of remembrance in Shieldhill when hundreds walked in solemn procession through the streets of the village to the war memorial to mark the ultimate sacrifice of 19 young men.
Men like the two McIsaac brothers who, we were told, died in the same Flanders trench on the same day. People of all ages, from small children upwards, and representatives of the community organisations laid their tributes to the old soldiers and their poppy wreaths reaffirmed the promise that “At the going down of the sun, and in the morning – we will remember them.”
Many of the other 16 local war memorials will witness the same scenes this weekend and the names and stories of many of the 3000 men who died will be told again to a new generation born into a different world, yet one that still staggers into wars.
Some months ago I wrote about other initiatives taken by some of our churches to remember the men recorded on their own war memorials. Four members of Falkirk Trinity Church completed their research in August and their account of the men who fell was published as a book called ‘They shall grow not old’. Until November 11 the Howgate Centre is hosting an exhibition based on this book which brings together stories of soldiers from the former Parish and Erskine churches – now Trinity – on their church memorials.
There are also two sets of brothers featured in the exhibition. The Taylors, Harry and William, joined the Gordon Highlanders and died in France in 1917 and 1918 respectively. They lived in Slamannan Road and Harry (27) worked with the Callendar Coal Company and played outside left for Falkirk and his regiment. His younger brother who was just 18 worked in a local sawmill.
From the Erskine memorial came the Morrisons, Andrew and Robert, who were brought up in Alma Street and attended Falkirk High School. Corporal Andrew, who fell at the Somme on July 1, 1916, was an apprentice motor engineer with Laurie’s garage. He served with the H.L.I. and was just 20 years of age. Brother Robert was 24 and a 2nd Lieutenant who served the Royal Scots in Gallipoli before transferring to the Machine Gun Corps as a commissioned officer. He had worked in the Edinburgh Post Office and died just weeks after arriving in France. The exhibition includes many other such stories which help to bring home the reality of war.
It is almost impossible to understand the anguish of families on hearing the news from foreign lands that their children were not coming home. One story in the book which sums it all up for me concerns Private John Buchanan of Horsemarket Lane who died aged 24 at Menin Road in 1917.
His brothers and sisters posted the following little verse in the Falkirk Herald along with the notice of his death: “Sleep on dear brother, in a far off grave. In a grave we shall never see. But as long as life and memory last. We will remember thee.”