A First World War telegram bearing the news of a family forebear's death was held up by the Right Reverend Dr Russell Barr, Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, during his centenary address in Arras (Photo: Centenary News)

Scotland remembers the Battle of Arras

Posted on centenarynews.com on 11 April 2017
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Arras and Vimy Ridge hosted a day of commemorations on 9 April 2017 bringing together the nations who fought in the Allies' first concerted Western Front offensive of 1917. ​

Events in and around the city of Arras paid tribute to the soldiers of all the countries involved, and in particular Canada, New Zealand and Scotland for whom the Battle of Arras has special resonance. CN Editor Peter Alhadeff reports from the Scottish commemoration service at Faubourg d'Amiens Cemetery.

Hundreds of children and students from all over Scotland played a central role in the commemorations at this Commonwealth War Graves Commission site, a reflection of the Scottish Centenary programme's educational message, 'What do we learn from all this.'

The Battle of Arras had the highest concentration of Scottish troops fighting in a single First World War battle. Of 159,000 Allied casualties, about a third were Scots. 

A Scottish pupil and a French counterpart jointly laid a wreath in memory of all the Allied nations - the UK, France, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa. 

At the close, two pipers led the Scottish pupils in procession to lay tributes at soldiers' graves (Photo: Centenary News)

Leading the service, the Rt Revd. Dr Russell Barr, Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, reflected on the loss of a forbear in his wife's family.

He held up a telegram bearing the news of the death of 28-year-old David Wyllie, a soldier in the Black Watch. He died from his wounds on 24 April 1917. It was a tangible example of a moment all families feared as their loved ones went off to fight in the Great War.

In a letter found on David Wyllie's body, he'd written to his sister that the bad weather in the trenches was miserable, and 'they were having anything but a pleasant time of it.'

Dr Barr said: "We all have this in common. We owe an enormous debt of gratitude to the young men who dared all, and gave all, in the battles fought in an around this town. Young men like David Wyllie, for whom the hope and dream of a just and peaceful world was hard fought and came at a terrible price." 

Singer Amy Hawthorn performed the National Anthems of Australia, Canada, France, New Zealand, South Africa and the UK (Photo: Centenary News)

A day of commemorations marking the Battle of Arras/Vimy Ridge Centenary ended with a traditional Beating Retreat ceremony.

As the sun set, the gables of the Place des Héros in the heart of Arras echoed to the Pipes & Drums and Military Band of the Royal Regiment of Scotland. 

Scotland's First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, attended the event, accompanied by the Canadian Defence Minister, Kent Hehr. 

She said: "Forty four Scottish battalions and seven Scottish named Canadian battalions took part in the Battle of Arras - the highest concentration of Scottish troops fighting in a single battle during World War One.

"Pupils representing every local authority in Scotland are in Arras this weekend to learn more about its impact. These young people are not much younger than many of those who fought in the battle, many of whom never returned to Scotland.

"Education is an important part of our commemorative programme – ensuring pupils understand the impact and significance of the battle, and share what they have learned with their peers and wider community."

The Pipes & Drums of the Royal Regiment of Scotland in the Place des Héros (Photo Centenary News)

Also in Centenary News:

Read a Battle of Arras summary.  

New memorial to NZ tunnellers unveiled at Carrière Wellington dawn ceremony.

Fields of Battle Through Canadian Eyes - Canadian First World War touring art exhibition in Arras.

Canadians in the Great War - exhibitions in the Béthune-Bruay region, Artois.

Visit the official Arras 14-18 website for information about  the Arras Centenary programme.

See WW100 Scotland for more on Scottish Centenary events & projects.

Posted by CN Editor Peter Alhadeff, reporting from Arras

All images: Centenary News