Events to remember the forgotten casualties of World War One

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On July 21, 1917, Scottish troops were front and centre at the start of one of the most striking battles of the Great War.

The Scottish presence in Flanders was constant, culminating in the Passchendaele offensive in the second half of 1917.

On very few other ocassions have so many Scottish soldiers fought so close to each other, which makes the battle one of the most important in our history books.

Between July 31 and November 10, 1917, all three Scottish Divisions were on the Western Front.

The 9th and 15th Scottish Division and the 51st Highland Division were engaged in the Third Battle of Ypres – better known today as Passchendaele.

In addition, many Highland and Lowland battalions served in mixed British divisions.

Soldiers of Scottish origin could also be found in almost all of the other British and Dominion Forces engaged in the battle.

For example, the majority of the nine Canadian men who won a Victoria Cross for their bravery in the last week of October and first week of November in 1917 were either Scottish-born or children of Scottish immigrants.

The battle involved some of the most intense fighting ever seen on Flemish soil.

The plan was to advance to the cities of Roeselare and Torhout, some 15 to 20 miles away.

The determined German defence and periods of awful weather conditions tranformed the fight into a battle of attrition.

It finally ended on November 10 at Passchendaele, some four miles from the starting line.

Each side suffered huge losses with 325,000 Allied and 260,000 German casualties.

Regrettably, it seems to have all but disappeared from the collective Scottish conscious, despite the fact so many soldiers and their families were affected.

But that is soon to change – thanks to the centenary weekend on August 19 and 20 this year.

Together with a number of partners, the Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917 is organising The Long Road to Passchendaele, a commemorative weekend aimed at people of Scottish origin who were involved in the battle, as well as the 1st South African Brigade, part of the 9th Scottish Division, and all the non-Scots serving in Scottish formations.

The Scottish Memorial in Flanders was first created in August 2007 to commemorate the soldiers of the 9th and 15th (Scottish) Divisions who died at the Battle of Passchendale.

It is located on the Frezenberg Ridge on the site of the battlefield close to the village of Zonnebeke and the town of Ieper (Ypres).

For the centenary of the battle, the organisers are extending the Memorial Park by creating larger than life steel silhouettes in the form of marching Scottish soldiers from highland and lowland regiments.

The statues are inspired by the many soldiers who marched to the front and are based on photographs by famous war photographers such as Ernest Brooks and Frank Hurley. The memorial will also include a tribute to these photographers.

The existing Celtic cross and the new silhouettes will form the Frezenberg Scottish Memorial Park.

David Sworde, whose great-grandfather fought at Flanders, is attending the event this summer.

He said: “Like most people who had family members who fought in the war, I am immensly proud of my great-grandfather who selflessly risked his life to fight for his country.

“My family was one of the lucky ones – he returned home alive, although he was gravely injured in the face when he was hit by a shell and, therefore, lost the use of his left eye.

“I think it is fantastic that these men will be honoured for their bravery. It will be a poignant moment when the silhouttes are revealed.”

The theme weekend starts with a memorial ceremony at the Scottish monument on the Frezenberg Zonnebeke.

On Saturday, August 19, an international Tattoo will take place, with an impressive display of sound and light.

On Sunday afternoon there will be a variety of Scottish-themed activities in the castle grounds including Highland Games, birds of prey demonstrations and samples of Scottish food and drink.

Paul Breyne, the Belgian general commissioner for the First World War commemoration, said: “It is our duty to continue to commemorate all of the victims and to keep the story of the Battle of Passchendaele alive.

“It is a story about the struggle and commitment of a generation who gave their lives for our freedom, a struggle for a peaceful world which continues to this day.

“We are looking forward to welcoming citizens and visitors from other nations to Belgium to pay tribute to those who fought with dedication and bravery, 100 years ago, in this devastating battle.”

Still time to fund silhouette

In order to erect the silhouettes, a joint Flemish-Scottish group was set up to raise the necessary funds.

The local volunteer organisation Genootschap Passchendaele Society 1917 agreed to match each of the first five silhouettes the project group funded with a second silhouette.

The Society was set up to increase community awareness and recognition of the events at Passchendaele and the Western Front during the Great War.

In addition, the group is speaking to other organisations who are interested in raising funds for one or more steel silhouette. These include Rangers FC WWI Memorial, which has raised more than £4000 to date; The Flander Piper Memorial and The Long Road to Passchendaele – Scottish Great War Memorial.

For more information on the campaign including how to make a donation, visit www.youcaring.com/scottish-great-war-memorial-near-passchendaele-completion-610763.

For further details on the centenary events, visit www.longroadtopasschendaele.be/.