On the eve of WW1 end centenary John and I went on a personal remembrance walk in Dumfries High Cemetery off Gillbrae Road to commemorate those who died during the war for my Dumfries Diaries project.
We walked along the rows of weathered old graves as dark rain clouds were rolling over the sky. The autumn foliage looked so vibrant and festive, celebrating nature’s abundance and vitality.
Near the hedge there was a battle scarred tree stump that looked like a torn out heart, with dead side branches reminding of the aortas. The small live sprig with tiny red leaves on the tree remains seemed triumphant over death .
We were looking for the tombstones that mentioned family members fallen in action during WW1. Some of bodies were interred elsewhere in Europe or perished in the sea. In one case the family was misinformed about the grave site country. However, we found these succinct lines of acknowledgement of the family loss deeply touching and worth recording. These young people were not just army personnel. They were someone’s sons, brothers and grandsons, and in this way they were symbolically embraced back into the family circle.
I photographed the tombstones and John, forever a researcher, looked up the dates and places to create the WW1 historical framework for these deaths and to become more knowledgeable about military campaigns and battles.
Here are the people we remember today, on the Armistice Day centenary:
“Capt. David Burns Dempster, M.C., 3rd K.O.S.B, who fell at Gheluvelt. 26th October 1917. Aged 22.”
David most likely fought in the Second Battle of Passchendaele in West Flanders, Belgium, following Gheluvet Plateau actions. Gheluvelt is a village in the same municipality as Rasschendaele. Some of John’s own relatives served in King’s Own Scottish Borderers so he immediately felt the connection with this young fellow.
“1st class boy William White… who went down with his ship H.M.S. Formidable, 1st January 1915, aged 17 years.”
William was among 35 officers and 512 men who were killed when H.M.S. Formidable was torpedoed by a German U-boat.
“Pte. Christopher Mundell, A.&.S.H., killed in action near St Quentin, 2nd October 1918, aged 19 years.”
Christopher was killed in the last stages of the Battle of St Quentin Canal, one of the pivotal WW1 battle that involved British, Australian and American troops. It was just over one month before the Armistice was announced.
“Pvt. James Smith, 1/5 K.O.S.B., who fell in the battle of Gaza 19th April 1917, aged 23 years.”
James was also in King’s Own Scottish Bordered and was killed in the Second Battle of Gaza fighting the Ottoman forces.
“Henry Drummond Alexander Malcolm, 2nd Lieut. R.F.A, born 15th August 1888, killed in action at Peronne, France, 17th February 1917.”
Henry served in Royal Field Artillery and fell during operations on the Ancre on the Somme front.
“John Edgar, Corl. 9th H.L.I., who was killed in action at Ypres, 17th March 1918, aged 22 years. Interred in Potijze Cemetery, France.”
Actually, Potijze Cemetery is not in France, it’s in Belgium, as is Ypres. John, of the Highland Light Infantry, died in Flanders in the Fourth Battle of Ypres, also known as the Battle of the Lys, as Germans launched their Spring Offensive.
We only had a brief dry spell before the heavy rain started. Just reading those brief lines hinted at so much history and made the WW1 end centenary celebrations more relevant to us…