Author Archive

October 22, 2017

Who owns this landscape? The Braemar poacher who would not be a rich man’s flunkey.

The year is 1843 and on the 25th of August a party of gunmen come upon a corpse; cold and stiff on the moors of Glencairney at Creagan Sgor in the wilds of Glenbuchat, a pointer dog docile at its side.

“Brave Sandy, art thou dead?” Word spread like wildfire through the Highlands.

Sandy – Alexander Davidson – a poacher, famed, renowned, notorious and, aye, a dancer of great reputation had lain down one last time never again to rise up at first light and set out over the springy heather to claim his dinner.  

Sandy was a mountaineer – a mountain man – whose home was the purple heather-clad hills of Scotland. He rejected the habiliments (clothing) of the Sassenach preferring ‘the garb of Old Gaul’ which he would close about him at night under the shelter of a rock or thicket to sleep the sleep of the just, his dog Charlie a quiet and attentive guard.

deer stalking 2

It’s easy to romanticise the poacher of the past and in truth there is a difference between those who took an animal from need and those men and women who take to the hills for the thrill of the kill, a handsome payout for a saddle of venison from a none-too-fussy restaurant owner or in other parts of the world those who indifferently help wipe out whole species for the sheer fun of it or slaughter to satisfy a yearning for horn for remedies or decoration – and I accept some of that is done by very poor people who have few alternatives to scrape a living.  

I like to photograph the graceful roe deer I encounter near here and hate to hear blasts from rifles I know are targeting these little creatures and shake my head when I come across their tiny hooves and discarded hides at a roadside. I’m fairly sure I know someone round here who does this, and it isn’t from want.

Poacher and Dancer

Alexander Davidson was born at Mill of Inver by Crathie (close to Balmoral) in 1792 and as a child was put to learn the art of gamekeeping possibly with Farquharson of Finzean*. Farquharson was a reluctant politician preferring to while away his time taking pot-shots at game on his lands. He was great friends with Lord Kennedy, a fellow ‘sportsman’ by choice who one October (of many) was ‘much amused with a wild boar hunt’ at which he shot both tusks off a fine specimen eventually felled by volleys of shots from his gentlemen companions ‘but so tenacious was he (the boar not Lord Kennedy) of life, that he did not yield it until after receiving six shots through the head and body.’

In a normal week of ‘sport’ Kennedy, Farquaharson and their gentrified mob would bravely slaughter several ‘very fine red deer’ from the safe end of a rifle and at the end of a good season would go on to celebrate at a grand ball in Braemar’s Fife Arms Inn.

Sandy Davidson also loved the thrill of a chase and kill but he had the misfortune to have been born into poverty and not upon a soft bed belonging to a family whose lands and titles came to them because of battles fought long ago or ‘arrangements’ between similarly fortunate families. Having grown up knowing these people Sandy developed a healthy loathing of toadyism and proclaimed he was not designed to doff the cap to the gentry, “sooner than be in any way a flunkey, I’d rather go and beg my bread” – admirable sentiments which upped my opinion of the man, albeit he was a poacher. And being something of a Sabbatarian, though lapsed due to his way of life on the muirs, Sandy Davidson objected to being ordered out to shoot on a Sunday by the laird so turned his back on paid employment as a gamie. Having to live somehow, Sandy – Roch Sanie – turned to smuggling of which opportunities were ample up Deeside and Donside – for venison but mainly for whisky and while his new occupation was fraught with more dangers than that of a rich man’s flunky it was very lucrative and did not involve humiliating himself in the service of another man who regarded himself superior.  

Sandy was fit, well-built and handsome with a ‘finely chiselled face’ and ‘hairy as an ox.’ In summer he dressed himself in a kilt, cotton shirt and thin tartan coat with Forfar brogues on his feet and when winter came he changed into trousers; a style of clothing he adopted out of patriotism to Scotland he explained and possibly for that same reason he generally spoke the native Gaelic although his English was very good. Gaelic was the language of the glens up Deeside until the ’45 and the Union of Parliaments determinedly set about undermining it by insisting on English being spoken in schools until most traces of it, bar place names, were near completely eliminated.   

Sandy was also renowned as a dancer; a graceful dancer with great lightness of feet and wouldn’t that be an advantage in a poacher? His Highland reels and other dances won him prizes at Highland Games and competitions around Scotland including the Caledonian Hunt Club in Edinburgh, an organisation designed to preserve Highland culture – dance and games – after decades of attempts by government to snuff it out.

At a time when Deeside’s forests provided vast amounts of timber for building and ships felled tree trunks were dragged to the banks of the River Dee strapped together in great rafts and floated down river with men on board to provide timber for Aberdeen’s shipbuilding yards. Sandy Davidson leased a section of forest from the Earl of Fife at Glen Derry and hired men to help with the treacherous river journey but this attempt to earn a legal living came to nought when the Earl of Fife was made bankrupt and failed to pay Sandy.

Having been burned once too often by the titled and wealthy estate owners Sandy picked up his bag and gun and for 20 years roamed the Highlands as a ‘free forester’ of ancient times claiming privilege of the unalienable right of a free-born Scot.

Each March found him fishing the best salmon pools on the rivers Dee and Spey and fearlessly he would walk into the water, up to his neck, irrespective of the cold and wait till he caught something or it became clear he would catch nothing.

Charlie was trained to remain quiet at the approach of strangers for the last thing Sandy Davidson wanted was to alert a gamie of his hiding place when he was in possession of a bag filled with hare or fowl. But one time Charlie did his job too well and Sandy was discovered fast asleep in the heather by a laird who demanded his name.

“My name is Alexander Davidson; what is your name?”

“My name,” replied the other, “is George MacPherson Grant of Ballindalloch, and I require you to follow me.”

Sandy was duly taken to court and fined £5. In retaliation Sandy made sure he poached the moors of Ballindalloch thoroughly after that.

He was polite and his manner encouraged the gentry to treat him with more care than they might otherwise but their laws were there to protect their property so they wouldn’t let him away with taking anything that had a price. On his ‘annual tour’ around estates he would sometimes approach a big house and ask permission to cross the land, to keep to a straight line and only kill what he required. Any laird who refused him could expect him to take his revenge in bagging as many animals and birds as he was able for cross the estate he would irrespective of an officious owner.

Said to be fearless, generous and kind-hearted Sandy Davidson became the stuff of legend.

His foot was foremost in the dance,

His laugh the loudest rang;

Nae e’e could match his mirthful glance,

Nane sung so sweet a sang.

 from Norman MacCaig ‘s A Man in Assynt

Despite tensions in his relationship with lairds several had a sneaking regard for him and invited him to entertain their guests with his dancing; his notoriety no doubt adding to his attraction.

Many a chase on a muir ended with him slipping into a bog, a moss-pot, his nose all that remained above the water till a perplexed gamie gave up the chase. But he did not always evade them and whenever he was overcome he offered no resistance but would go with the laird’s lackey for another appearance before the law. The last time this happened Sandy Davidson was apprehended near Dufftown and taken by his pursuers to Elgin via every public house along the way.  

This “perfect child of nature – as complete a Hawkeye of the old country as the times would admit of” had no home but everywhere was his home across the broad bonny face of the Highlands. One day his gun would ring out in Perthshire, another in the wilds of Lochaber, or on the muirs under the black shadow of the Cairngorms, around Inchrory where the Avon** and Don gather water or at Strathspey and the hills of Moray and Inverness.

Like Walter Scott’s Bertram he possessed:

“The steady brain, the sinewy limb,

To leap, to climb, to dive, to swim;

The iron frame, inured to bear

Each dire inclemency of air,

Nor less confirmed to undergo

Fatigue’s chill faint, and famine’s throe.”

 

In 1820 Farquharson of Finzean and Lord Kennedy had a £50 bet – £50 in 1820 was worth around £1500 in today’s value – with Davidson that he would not run without clothing from Barclay Street in Stonehaven to the gate of Inchmarlo near Banchory, a distance of around 20 miles, within a given time. Davidson had almost made it but the men had paid a posse of women under the stewardship of a Mrs Duncan to guard the Brig o’ Feugh at Banchory to prevent Davidson crossing. Duncan was paid a generous 20 shillings and the others something less to fill their aprons with stones and other missiles to chuck at the exhausted man as he attempted to run over the bridge. Mrs Duncan was also armed with a heavy knotty stick she intended to use against Sandy Davidson. As Davidson neared the brig and paused to catch his breath he noticed the trap and at the same time his enemies spotted him and began pelting him with their stones but bounding with renewed vigour the fleet-footed Davidson evaded them and crossed to the other side of the river. Later Mrs Duncan complained Sandy Davidson to be “not a man but a beast” whether from his hirsute appearance or from peak because he had foiled her efforts who knows. At any rate Sandy Davidson reached Inchmarlo within the given time and pocketed the £50.

Brig o Feugh

Behind occasional sport of this kind Davidson’s chosen lifestyle was fraught with danger. He had to go out of his way to make himself into a character to evade the tyranny of Britain’s Game Laws passed by members of parliament who as landowners created laws to benefit themselves and preserve their property rights including the wildlife that passed across the lands they claimed as theirs. Their lackeys, game keepers and river ghillies, rarely shied away from carrying out their duties irrespective of whether a rabbit or bird was being taken to prevent a family starving. For those caught a hefty fine awaited and for any who repeated the crime the prospect of transportation somewhere across the oceans. Magistrates and sheriffs fulfilled their roles to serve the wealthy, their own people, and rarely extended sympathy to the impoverished and desperate brought before them.  

Temptation must have been great for a parent living close to land teeming with food denied to them wholly on grounds they were the property of one family and were wanted for sport, a pastime, for their exclusive enjoyment. Out of necessity many risked capture and the courts to take something for the pot, and sometimes more, from under the noses of the gentry and were loudly and soundly condemned by the great and the good who regarded poaching as the nursery of robbers and murderers and poachers as desperate characters who infested the hills.

As for Sandy Davidson he lived a charmed life in many ways. He refused to kowtow to those accidentally privileged whose fortune was to be born with political rights they could use to enhance their own interests at the expense of the rest of the population.

John Stuart Blackie

John Stuart Blackie

 

Radical, humanitarian and Scottish nationalist John Stuart Blackie commented in the mid-1800s on how far removed were the privileged few from the morality of the New Testament. He was writing about the hypocrisy of the landed interests who trotted into church on a Sunday to sing psalms and pray about goodness and mercy who went back to their mansions to dine while their lackeys denied a starving child a mouthful of food. And Blackie implicated the church for its willingness to conspire with the ruling classes to maintain such inequality.

“A minister of sacred things,

He bound together, by higher ties than human law,

The men that shared his faith with awe;

He had his seat at power’s right hand,

And lords and ladies of the land

Did call him brother.”

 John Stuart Blackie’s The Cottage Manse

Sandy Davidson has long gone and so too has John Stuart Blackie but their sentiments that emerged from a different time have echoes today for here in Scotland the landed estate maintains its swagger as it endeavours to retain the privileges of power of a rotten system of elitism and inequality.

“Who owns this landscape? –

The millionaire who bought it or

the poacher staggering downhill in the early morning

with a deer on his back?”

 from Norman MacCaig’s A Man in Assynt

(Sandy Davidson 1791 – 1843)

*Finzean – pronounced Fingin

** Avon – pronounce An

See also for John Stuart Blackie – O Albin! O my country!

 

 

October 13, 2017

Around the World in a graveyard: Dunbennan Kirkyard by Huntly

Regular readers of this blog will know that I have a fascination with cemeteries or more accurately for the many stories that emerge from them which not only provide a local narrative but often a global one as well, as we’ll see.

Dunbennan Graveyard near Huntly

Dunbennan graveyard

It was sheer chance that we found ourselves at Dunbennan graveyard recently on an unfamiliar road just a short hop beyond Huntly, off the Inverness end of the cattle track that is the A96. Spotting a signpost to this graveyard too late to turn in we found a safe place to turn around and drove back to the narrow track (marginally worse than the A96)  past a farm to an open space where the cemetery lies, well-tended.

 

 

It was a bonnie and bright day and half the graveyard was in bright sunshine while the other half lay under the dappled shade of trees the cemetery’s trees.

 

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Memorial stones indicated that Huntly Legges were well travelled including to the Far East:

The second British protestant missionary who journeyed to China was Kennethmont man William Milne (Kennethmont – pron KE-NETHmont) a wee place near Huntly. Milne is quoted as saying:

Learning the Chinese language requires bodies of iron, lungs of brass, heads of oak, hands of spring steel, eyes of eagles, hearts of apostles, memories of angels, and lives of Methuselah.” 

I can’t offer you William’s descriptive turn of phrase – I can’t even offer you William Milne for he doesn’t belong in this cemetery but he sets the context for the Legges.

Milne helped found and was the first headteacher of the Anglo-Chinese College in Malacca in Malaysia in 1818 and this school was transferred to Hong Kong by Huntly man James Legge in 1843 where it was renamed the Theological Seminary of the London Missionary Society in China and stood at the junction of Staunton and Aberdeen Streets. In addition to providing western education the school printed and disseminated Bibles and religious tracts as might be expected of missionaries and the first Chinese newspaper, The Chinese Serial, was printed there in 1853.

chinese serial

The Chinese Serial

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The Legge family stone commemorates missionary and sinologist Dr James Legge’s toddler Emma Foulger Legge born in Hong Kong on the 23rd August 1850 and died on 19th November 1853.

 “So it seemed good in Thy sicht”

James Legge was a writer and translator of China’s most famous books including The Four Books and Five Classics. He was born in 1815, the youngest of four brothers, sons of Elspet Cruickshank and Ebenezer Legge, a prosperous Huntly merchant. As a boy James became an enthusiastic bird watcher and would search out bird nests (not to destroy them we are assured.) The story goes he was first taught to read by a blind woman in Huntly and from her he learnt to develop his phenomenal memory. James’ early education was at Huntly Parish School and then at the age of 13 he went away to Aberdeen Grammar School where be became very proficient in Latin. The youngster took part in a large demonstration on Aberdeen’s Broad Hill when the House of Lords rejected the Reform Bill and during the meeting a heavy shower or rain drove him and others to seek shelter under the wooden platform set up for speakers. As crowds packed in the platform collapsed and Legge was knocked momentarily unconscious and when the boy came round, dazed and confused, he ran down the hill across the beach and straight into the sea where the cold water brought him to his senses enough to make a grab onto nets laid out by salmon fishers and pulling on them he worked his way back onto the sands where he was discovered still stupefied by boys from the Grammar School who helped him back home.

five classics

The accident did not stop James Legge from coming first in a contest for bursaries to the University where he was enrolled at 15 and where he proved himself one of King’s College, Aberdeen’s highest ever achievers. He won the illustrious Huttonian Prize, Aberdeen’s highest reward worth £15; half in cash and half in books in an examination in Greek, Latin, Mathematics, Natural Philosophy and Moral Philosophy which lasted till midnight over four days. The students were fortunately fortified by regular glasses of a good old port. At 19 James left the university and eventually underwent training as a missionary.

It was as a boy in Huntly he first encountered a Chinese tract by William Milne and who knows how much this might have influenced his decision to follow in his footsteps to the Far East. Such a journey would have been a huge undertaking for himself and his wife, Mary Isabella Morison, not only the long journey across unfamiliar lands but the strange and difficult language and customs they would find there. Both made great efforts to learn the language and Mary was as enthusiastic as James, it seems, for she started up a school there for Chinese girls.

;egge's first wife Mary Isabella Morison

Legge’s first wife Mary Isabella Morison

Life did not prove easy for the couple and soon they lost two babies then Mary, too, became very ill and the Legges returned home – along with three young Chinese men working with James. They were back in Hong Kong in 1848 where Mary died in childbirth. At this point the Legge’s three surviving daughters were sent home to Scotland to be educated and here 3-year old Emma died and Legge took a second wife, Hannah Mary.

 

 

 

James and daughter Helen

James Legge with daughter Helen

Legge’s world was filled with sorrow and tests of faith. The slaughter of thousands of civilians by British troops at Guangzhou during the Opium Wars when trade was opened up to foreign merchants with the British forcing their influence on import duties appalled him. He despaired at the barbarity of British forces in Guangzhou when Lord Elgin ordered the town be captured at any cost resulting in thousands of deaths and the destruction of many Chinese boats in the port as well as the payment of reparations to Britain.

The Chinese were as hostile towards foreigners as the British and when in 1871 Legge tried to buy property to set up a missionary base in the village of Poklo, home of one of his closest Chinese associates and a Protestant convert, Che Kam Kong, local fury was unleashed and Che Kam Kong was kidnapped, tortured and killed and his body cut up and thrown into a river. So affected by his friend’s death was James Legge he wrote the first personal testimony to a Chinese Christian by a foreigner.  

He returned to Scotland several times including in 1867 when he set up home in Dollar in Clackmannanshire from where he wrote inviting the Chinese writer Wang Tao to follow him there to help in the translation of Chinese works. Wang Tao did so, travelling first around Europe before settling in Dollar for a time where he compiled the first travel book on Europe by a Chinese writer. When in Britain he gave the first speech in Chinese to Oxford University – on the subject of the importance of east/west cultural dialogue. Wang Tao and Legge, sometimes accompanied by Legge’s daughter Mary, toured around Scotland to Edinburgh, Dundee, Aberdeen, Huntly, of course, Stirling Castle, Glasgow, Alva, Tillycoutrie and other places in between. He and Legge also collaborated on The Sacred Books of China. The Text of Confucianism, The Book of Change; Shu Ching Book of History and many more.

Legge and chinese

James Legge and his three best pupils

Another  prominent Chinese who collaborated with Legge was Hong Rengan. A leader of the Taiping Rebellion who had also converted to Christianity and worked with Legge on translations of several Chinese classics. Both of them wrote and published the Chinese Serial – first Chinese language newspaper in Hong Kong.   

When Legge was in Britain Hong Rengan, against Legge’s instructions, returned to Nanjing from Hong Kong, in the guise of a pedlar – not one of the leaders of the rebellion, along with his cousin, Hong Xiuquan. Hong Rengan encouraged the adoption of Protestantism in China and was keen to open up his country, its infrastructure including railways and banking.  Sometimes referred to as the first Chinese nationalist he is mentioned in the writings of the Kuomintang and the Communist Party of China. In 1864 Hong Rengan fled Taiping during a continuing power struggle but was caught and sentenced to death.

Legge’s time in China drew criticism from both the Chinese and British. He was accused of being too compromising towards Chinese religions specially his conviction that Mencius’ doctrine of human nature was compatible with the Bible and was condemned for the translations he did of Chinese texts so attributing to them a significance they did not deserve in the eyes of many British and that his time would have been better promoting Protestantism. James’ appreciation of Chinese ideas and literature earned its own pejorative term of Leggism among the multitudes of racists of the time.

James Legge is regarded as the most important sinologist of the 19thc century and apart from British royalty he was the first person to be depicted on a Hong Kong postage stamp – in 1894.

He was not universally popular including among his fellow missionaries for the respect he had for the Chinese people, its literature and culture over his 33 years as a missionary in Malacca and China but I’m glad I stumbled across his name for he sounds like a great man.

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And to Australia…

Other Legges migrated from Strathbogie (Huntly) to Australia. In 1817 James Legge’s mother, Elspet Cruickshank was buried at just 36 years of age and a tablet stone was provided by her sons George, John, William and James to commemorate her and three of their siblings who died as young children, Elspet, Ebenezer and Isabella.

 

Dunbenn’s gravestones reveal a high level of education among the people of Strathbogie including several medical students who died while studying and medicine was a profession with its own risks, mixing with people carrying all kinds of infections.

Seventeen year old student George Sellar died in February of 1879 while surely carrying the hopes of his blacksmith father who made agricultural machinery and tools not only for sale locally but for export to Australia.

Several Sellars lie in Dunbennan including Barbara Ingram (Scots women retained their maiden names after marriage and I’ve long abhorred that English practice of addressing married women as Mrs – husband’s full name as if she was a mere chattel) who died in August 1812 (recorded on her stone as Agast – an excellent example of the phonetic Doric creeping into memorials – wish there were more like it.)

George Andrew

George Andrew MA, MD, Brigade Surgeon, Lieut. Colonel, Army Medical Staff survived his time as a medical student to enjoy an illustrious career as a doctor. He spent most of his life abroad but returned to Scotland when he became ill and died at the age of 59 years at his brother’s home at 37 Westburn Road, Aberdeen on the 19th of October 1899.

Born at Huntly in 1840 he attended the parish school and then, like James Legge, he also was sent to the Grammar School in Aberdeen supported by a bursary for four years. Again like James Legge he proved to be a very capable scholar at Aberdeen University, gaining prizes in most of his classes. After graduating in medicine he joined the army as a surgeon with the 6th Regiment which took him to Ireland, Afghanistan, Gibraltar, India and Africa – to the Gold Coast where the regiment fought in the Ashanti wars in which the Ashanti people attempted to hold back the determined and ruthless steamroller that was the British Empire, unsuccessfully.

Teuton-Sinking

SS Teunion sinking at the Cape of Good Hope

 To South Africa with a wink to Hong Kong.

When the Royal Mail ship SS Teuton foundered on rocks on the 30th August 1881 while steaming towards Port Elizabeth in South Africa from Plymouth in England many of the over 200 passengers and crew were drowned, including 21-year old William Fraser a wright from Huntly.

Elder berries

Elder berries

The ship went down off Quion Point at the Cape of Good Hope disappearing beneath the water at lightning speed with children, women and men dragged down – 16 year old Lizzie Ross was the sole survivor of the ship’s 95 women and children passengers.  

SS Teunion had been built at Denny & Bros at Dumbarton in 1869 and launched as the Glenartney for, here’s the Hong Kong connection, Jardine Matheson the British trading house set up in China in the 1830s in Guangzhou (Canton) where decades later James Legge was appalled at the brutal determination of the British to impose trade on its terms with the Chinese. Jardine Matheson was established by Scotsmen William Jardine and James Matheson and became notorious for trading in smuggled tea, cotton and opium. A branch of Jardine Matheson opened in Japan as Glover and Co., by another Scot the entrepreneur, Fraserburgh man Thomas Blake Glover. The Glenartney was sold on and renamed Teuton as a passenger ship used by Britain’s thousands of 19th century economic migrants.

Geddes

To America

We all know that countless thousands of Scots were among the British migrants flooding abroad in pursuit of a better life, some under duress and others willingly. From their adopted home in New Orleans John and Magdalene Geddes sent back money to pay for the erection of a memorial to their brother James who died at just 14 years of age in April 1838 and for their parents, Alexander a stone mason in Strathbogie and Isabella their mother.

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“They were lovely and pleasant in their lives and in their deaths”

As for Magdalene she died in New Orleans of yellow fever on 31 August 1855 aged 41 years during a time when deadly infections such as cholera, smallpox, malaria and yellow fever were rife there with as high as sixty percent mortality. The 1850s proved a dangerous time to live in New Orleans and it was said people were dying faster than graves could be dug. New Orleans’ swamp areas were home to disease-carrying insects such as mosquitoes, carriers of yellow fever and the density of housing and gutters running with sewage meant highly contagious diseases spread rapidly. So many dead were packed into every available space, side by side and on top of one another, it was not unusual to see some swollen corpses uncovered by heavy rains rotting under hot sun. Immigrants such as Magdalene were among the worst affected by epidemics having little resistance to infection. And in an echo of our times, perhaps, there were those who regarded that as benefit – stemming the tide of immigration. John Geddes survived into his 70th year, dying in 1883.

Still in America –

Alexander Gordon was a crofter at Thristliford (what a wonderful name) who passed away in 1865 at Inchtammach. His wife Isabella Tevendale survived him dying in 1888 at Suifoot, Clatt, near Alford. Their son Alexander died the same year as his mother in March, aged 66 years, at Montezuma, Poweshiek County, Iowa in the USA (on the stone it’s recorded as Mountezuma. Younger Alexander was an infantry volunteer with the 28th Iowa Vol. Inf. in the American Civil War and was captured on 3rd April 1864 at Sabine Cross Roads at the Battle of Mansfield, Louisiana – part of the Red River Campaign when Union forces attempted to occupy the state capital of Shreveport and kept a prisoner for 13 months. He is buried at Iowa.

 

Lingering in America for a moment 18th century Bishop Petrie the son of a Forgue farmer he was born in 1730 is buried at Dunbennan. From his first charge was at Wartle he moved to Meikle-Folla – where the chapel adopted his name as the Bishop Petrie’s Cathedral. This itinerant bishop turned up in Ross and Argyll and in 1784 he was one of the Scottish bishops who consecrated Dr Seabury, the first American Episcopal bishop.

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A lovely old memorial dappled by lichen beautifully inscribed by mason James Cameron from Huntly. It commemorated his eldest son Theodore who died at just five years and 2 months on 25th November 1777. James’ daughter Mary died in 1805 at 24 years and other children are recorded here but it is impossible to decipher details given the state of the stone. A son, also Theodore, fought with the West India Regiment and died at the age of 30 on 6 October 1808. James’ wife, Espet died at 42 while James lived on till 70yrs

Samuel Seabury was consecrated bishop on 14th November 1784 by Robert Kilgour, Bishop of Aberdeen and Primus of Scotland; Arthur Petrie then Bishop of Ross and Moray; John Skinner, coadjustor bishop of Aberdeen at his house in Longacre in Aberdeen. The chair used in Seabury’s consecration is preserved in Keith’s Holy Trinity Episcopal Church.

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The Scottish consecration of the American bishop caused jitters in Britain’s government in London fearing a resurrection of the Jacobite movement but Seabury wasn’t of that persuasion.

“Gentle reader, mourn for Arthur Petrie, whom this stone, erected by the piety of his brethren, covers. As Bishop of Moray he was learned, devout, and faithful. After fifty-five years of life, bearing a much-loved and highly-honoured name, and ten of sacred labour as a bishop, alas! too soon not to return – he departed. Yet spare your tears—he always cherished the joys of a better life. Now has he the rewards of peace. He died on April 19th, 1787, in the fifty-sixth year of his age and the eleventh of his episcopate of Ross and Moray.

“May he rest in peace.”

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September 24, 2017

Edinburgh’s Snowball Riot, Police Brutality and the Youth with Red Whiskers

On the morning of Monday 30th January 1860 what came to be described as a very serious snowball riot broke out between university students and police in Edinburgh.

It all began as students were arriving for morning classes and found firemen attempting to clear deep snow from the university quadrangle by hosing it down. One or two of the young students playfully sent a few snowballs in the direction of the firemen who in turn turned their hoses on the students and drenched them with water. Snow versus water fights ensued and with the arrival of more students the contest grew. The police were called and they turned up in force, both uniformed and plain-clothed, and soon they, too, were embroiled in battle. It was not yet 10 o’clock in the morning but as the hours went on so the battle turned into a veritable war which lasted until 4 o’clock in the afternoon during which time heads and windows were broken and shopkeepers shuttered up for fear of damage to their premises.

9 (2)

Edinburgh firemen

 

The first arrest came at 1 o’clock when a student called Lewis was apprehended by the police and as he was being led away a great struggle ensued with Lewis’ fellow students attempting to free him. By this stage hundreds of students were pelting anyone and everyone with snowballs but mostly the police.

Ignoring the initial order to interfere as little as possible to prevent an outbreak of a conflict between town and gown policemen ran at students hitting out with their heavy wooden batons. The increasingly vicious spectacle attracted an enormous crowd so that most of the South Bridge and Nicolson Street became blocked with spectators.

It was later claimed in a 5-day trial held in the wake of the riot that many students had been repeatedly struck by police batons even when down on the ground. Recognising they were out-armed a call went up among the students present of “Sticks. Sticks” and several ran to a toy shop and a general dealer re-emerging with walking sticks which they flourished in the faces of the police.

When a policeman, Sergeant Auld, was attacked by a student apparently with a stick one of the students was identified as the assailant and surrounded by ten constables as around one hundred students yelled and hooted, “Down with the police” and attempted to rescue their companion but were fought back by baton-wielding constables who knocked many down to the ground and continued to strike them so that several youths had blood streaming from wounds. The noise was deafening with spectators joining in on both sides – “as if the whole street was fighting” said one eyewitness. Two or three students were badly injured and helped into a druggist shop to have wounds dressed and several police were sent home with injuries.

Police reinforcements arrived to contain or beat back the students but the young men’s anger and determination was unrelenting. Each arrest was met with cries of “To the rescue” and “Down with the police” as they pelted the police all the harder with snow.
With over 50 police constables and over 100 students as well as enormous numbers of bystanders from the town sometimes participating in the affray there were fears for public safety. Eventually the police succeeded in driving back the youths into the college grounds and off the street but there in the quadrangle the firemen’s unfinished work had left considerable accumulations of snow to provide further ammunition for their cause. Fresh snowballs were soon flying thick and fast with the police unable to stop them.
Magistrates and professors from the university who tried to restore order were ignored. Students were angry. They shouted “Away with the police” and “Retire” but the battle continued until around 4pm when eventually the police withdrew, to the nearby School of Arts and so ended the riot.

Students congregated in small knots in and around the college as the police left the scene to discuss the day’s events and the arrest of fourteen of their number charged with mobbing and rioting and assaulting police officers as well as a charge of snowballing.
After an initial appearance in the Sheriff Court on 4th February the case was deferred until the 10th.

***

snob

In the days following the snowballing riot it emerged students involved in the episode wrote to the Lord Provost offering to pay for any damaged property while around Edinburgh opinion was divided over responsibility for the episode; a flurry of letters to local newspapers elicited views on both sides.

There was a references to “idle lads and boys” and police who were ignorant of their duty to move on trouble-makers more concerned were they in catching drunks and spying on publicans. It was clear this writer, who signed himself A. Citizen, had his own cause in mind and indeed he spelled out some of it in his letter in which he complained that the police didn’t pay attention when he reported a policeman to his superiors for failing in his duty and urged that the police be taken out of the hands of the Town Council.

Another correspondent who described himself as An Eyewitness condemned university professors who were sympathetic to the students and those condemning “blackguard policemen” for he had seen with his own eyes a lady with an infant in her arms hit by a mass of hardened slush. While he agreed participating in a fair ‘snowball bicker’ was a healthful pastime when it came to disturbing the peace and destroying private property not to mention endangering the lives and limbs of citizens it was a different matter and he made an offer to police constable number 61 to prosecute the individual who pelted him with ice.

Another wrote “Until the Bailies, or somebody, can succeed in passing a bill to alter young human nature, and to stop snow from falling, there will, whenever youths congregate and snow lies, be some innocent snowballing” and he went on to complain of the decision to send in the police and close the college gates so confining crowds into a small area with police marching up and down as though encouraging the students to react. He described how a student bystander was beaten by the police, knocked down and further struck about the head to his severe injury and claimed that this was not an isolated example of the brutality and ruffiansim of the police that day but he doubted any such claims would be allowed to be heard in court although “it cannot be a policeman’s duty to thump a person and break his head” he concluded.

A correspondent who identified himself as Medicus placed blame for the disturbance at the door of the police and magistrates on grounds it was the actions of the police entering the private college quadrangle that initiated trouble with their ostentatious parading and display of batons. It was this behaviour, he said, which produced a response from students; recognised by members of the public who shouted “Shame” at the police. Medicus wrote, “Men who have a right to be angry are generally those who are truly brave. The police on Monday had no cause to be angry, and hence acted like cowards. They were present, not to put down a riot, but to create one; and in this they succeeded most effectually…” and he complained of the press exaggerating the matter and siding with the police to place the entire blame on the students. The press, he noted, made out that snowballs were filled with stones but there were no stones in the quadrangle and the allegation was not true. Neither was it true that members of the public were targeted and he finished by further condemnation of the “obnoxious presence of police.”

***

9 (1)
The fourteen students put on trial at Edinburgh police court on February 16th were: Didymus Clark, John Swanson, Arthur McShedden, John Hop, William Kennedy, Nicol Carter, John McLeod, John Dunn, Alfred Lewis, George Phipps, Henry Nicolson, Alex. Tod, Archibald Hamilton and Samuel Swabey.

A crowded courtroom heard how Mr McLellan, First-Lieutenant of Police, ordered a group of uniformed and plain-clothes men to attend the college on the morning of the 30th January. It emerged that McLellan had a rare talent for observation for he was able to confirm in court that all of those students who appeared there were guilty of violence and of repeatedly attacking the police while chanting “Rascals, Rascals” while not one policeman exceeded his duties.

The Sheriff shared McLellan’s view of the battle (which lasted ten times longer than Culloden) and made no secret of his belief in the students’ guilt and in his opinion the police were largely innocent from the outset. Sheriff Hallard’s role as a police magistrate presumably did not influence his views in any way.

Police witnesses appeared one after the other all with matching stories. The violence came from students and any actions on the part of the police was justified as self-defence. One policeman claimed from the witness box that he saw a particular student buy a walking stick which he then used to strike out at the police and when confronted with the information that this student always used a stick to help walk the police witness altered his story and accused the student of swearing at him.

Another police witness, constable 161, denied threatening a student who was writing down his police number by telling him, “We’ll teach you to take our numbers again.” When pressed about a student seized by the hair this officer claimed the student annoyed and interrupted him and other constables on the way to the station.

Police constable Kavanagh confirmed he was an Irishman and knew how to handle a shillelagh. He was accused of striking a good many people but he could not say how many or on which part of their bodies he had hit them. “I daresay you went straight to the poll,” it was put to him amidst laughter.

It emerged the most badly injured students had been repeatedly hit over the head by batons. It was said that Sergeant Auld had been struck with a stick or baton. Kavanagh was asked to look his baton and say whether marks on it had been there before the snowballing affray.

Kavanagh – “They were there when I got it I think.”
Police solicitor – “I knew an Irishman who put a nick on his pistol every time he shot a man with it” to laughter in court.
To more laughter it was said that police batons were said to “poke people about.”
Kavanagh denied the police had been given any orders over how to behave that morning at which point he was asked if it was his mother Mrs Malone who gave his instructions to which he plied, “No.”

And so the trial continued as a kind of farce. When pressed as to why the student Swabey was arrested and charged with the assault of Sergeant Auld it was said he was seen with a stick and had used very bad language towards the police. Asked what kind of bad language the police witness replied, “Bobbies,” to loud laughter. It was put that was a compliment, after Sir Robert Peel, to more laughter, but the witness complained “Sir, he called us a lot of b—-s, again to laughter. He then claimed Swabey attacked another policeman and when it was put to him the police gave out as much as they took the police witness denied it saying the police got the worst of it.

“How so?” he was asked.
Witness – “Because we were retreating at the same time. (Laughter)
Police defence – “Did you retreat and not strike back?”
Witness – “We did.”
Police defence – “Very patiently?”
Witness – “Yes.”
Police defence – “And you retreated, like “the King of France, with twenty thousand men marching up the hill, and then marching back again? (Laughter) Job himself, I should say, could not exceed your patience.”
Witness – “No, he could not.” (Laughter)

And so it went on. Of the injured and bleeding students no policeman was able to recognise who among their ranks beat them but every student who attacked a police constable was identified and all police action was justified as self-defence.
The police brought out a police surgeon said to have been passing the college and witnessed the disturbance who overheard the police asking people to move on with no aggression whatsoever. However, this evidence was challenged by the other side with witnesses for the students offering very different accounts – of “much excited” police chasing them, beating and dragging students away. It was reported that even bystanders with hands in their pockets were assaulted by police batons and constables highly excited and dancing about wielding their heavy truncheons. Evidence was given of a policeman hitting a little boy who got in his way and of a woman pushed in the ribs with a baton and knocked down.

Swabey, the student accused of hitting Sergeant Auld, had been hit so hard without provocation, it was said, the blow could be heard across the street. Witnesses spoke of Swabey falling down and being struck again and again on the head till unconscious with blood streaming from his wounds. Others told how a young student was pinned down by two policemen while another two continually struck him with batons.

***

i (2)

All of the students but one were found guilty of mobbing and rioting but not proven of assaulting the police. They were each fined £1 or 3 days in prison while Swabey, found guilty of assaulting Sergeant Auld, was fined £5 or 10 days imprisonment. The case against student Dunn had been dropped despite him squaring up to a policeman and the case against him technically proven according to the Sheriff who recommended the case against him be dropped.

Following the trial a meeting of the students condemned its conduct. They were astonished that anyone could read the evidence and come to the Sheriff’s conclusion of student guilt alone. Short of charging the Sheriff with dishonesty or incompetence it was stated he began the court case apparently convinced of the students’ guilt. And so it appears he did.

Over the question of the identification of Swabey as Auld’s attacker Sheriff Hallard was in no doubt. That five or six constables identified Swabey as Auld’s attacker encouraged the Sheriff to fine him more than the rest despite strong evidence that Swabey had been standing at the College gates while Sergeant Auld was assaulted in the doorway of a Mr Imrie’s shop – even evidence from Auld, himself, that he had been attacked by a man with red whiskers when Swabey had none made no difference to the judgement. There was a student there with red whiskers who was seen wielding a stick, a John Mackenzie , but he did not come forward and it was Swabey the police insisted was responsible.

At a meeting of students they spoke of pressing the Home Secretary to launch an investigation into the conduct of the police and arranged for a subscription be opened to pay the students’ fines, complaining £5 was far too large a fine even if Swabey had knocked down five policemen. They ended their meeting with three groans for Sheriff Hallard to cries of “No, No” and three enthusiastic cheers for Swabey.

Towards the end of the year what remained from the Snowball fine fund was given to Edinburgh Royal Infirmary.

Perhaps with the snowball riot in mind the snows that fell that winter were cleared by the town authorities when over 400,000 carloads of snow were driven away from the centre of Edinburgh

September 17, 2017

50 years ago today Aberdeen Youth CND beats in bid to stop the war but only stopped a car

 

Fifty years ago today: 17 September 1967

cnd demo crathie 1967

Aberdeen Youth demonstration outside Crathie Church

BANNER RILES CROWD

Hostility as two dart in path of Queen Mother’s car
Part of the 3000 crowd at Crathie Church turned hostile yesterday towards two youths who stepped in the path of the Queen Mother’s car waving a “Peace in Vietnam” banner.

One man lifted his walking stick to tear down the banner, and a woman came out of the crowd pulling at it with her hands. They had to be restrained by the police.

Apparently the demonstrators ‘ plan was to wave the banner in front of the Prime Minister’s car, but this misfired.

The incident happened as the procession of three cars with the Royal Family and Mr And Mrs Wilson was leaving the small Deeside church after the morning service.

One car with the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh, Princess Anne and Prince Andrew had passed the corner of the roadway leading to the green bridge near the Balmoral entrance when two young men darted on to the roadway with a banner reading:

Aberdeen youth for peace in Vietnam

Up went the banner as the Queen Mother’s car approached the corner. Two police officers leapt forward and pushed the youths back to the verge.

ANGRY

People standing nearby became hostile. There were angry murmurings and the man with the walking stick hooked it under the banner in an effort to pull it down.

The crowd were told by the police to quieten down.

Mr Wilson’s car was following that of the Queen Mother but was some distance behind. The banner was down by the time he passed.

The Royal Family had driven to the church under low cloud and overcast skies. Mr Wilson and his wife were first to arrive, followed by the Queen Mother, wearing a lime coat and dress with petalled hat.

SMILES

There were smiles and waves from the Queen, dressed in a powder-blue linen coat and dress with matching hat, and Princess Anne, wearing a spring-green coat and white hat topped by a pompom.

The Duke of Edinburgh, the Prince of Wales and Prince Andrew wore the kilt.

At the service, Mr and Mrs Wilson, who are spending the weekend as the guests of the Queen at Balmoral, were seated in the Royal transept.

Text of the sermon – from the Sermon on the Mount – was “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works.”

(Aberdeen Press & Journal 18 September 1967)

 

Smothpubs blog link to other Aberdeen YCND anti-Vietnam war activity

September 15, 2017

Scotland’s Big and Burly Men have Shrunk

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It looks like the Union of equals has proved to be anything but equal in ways you cannot imagine. Scots can expect to live shorter lives than their English neighbours and be shorter in height as well. It wasn’t always so.

Scots were once the tallest of all European peoples with Highland men pushing up the average to between 6ft and 7ft.  

At the end of the 18th century a survey of 600 crofters from Glen Tilt in Perthshire discovered every adult male in the glen was at least 6 feet tall – and broad with calves at least 17 inches around. The population of Glen Tilt were also long-lived, thriving on the traditional Scottish diet of oats, barley, vegetables, milk, butter, eggs, local grown fruit and honey supplemented with small amounts of meat, venison and fish.

Nowadays Scots suffer premature deaths and are puny compared with earlier generations as they tuck into high sugar, high fat junk food, white bread, cakes and biscuits, sugary drinks and over-sweetened  breakfast cereals with scarce a glance at the perhaps boring but wholesome foods that made their ancestors taller and stronger than them. 

It’s well-known that Mary Queen of Scots was taller by some measure than the English monarch Elizabeth much to the latter’s considerable displeasure but tall stature was not confined to the Scottish nobility as the inhabitants of Glen Tilt demonstrated. England aside, European monarchs were so taken by Scotland’s mighty big laddies not only did they seek them out to supplement their armies but hired them as personal guards. The Garde Écossaise was established at the French Court in 1418, and remained a feature in the Court for nearly two centuries. Francis I described his personal guard of Scots as being ‘much comelier’ than others in his pay.

guard ecosse

Hundreds of years earlier and later than 1418 big and burly Scots were prized as troops – recruited into the armies and naval fleets of many a ruler and by the nation states of France, Flanders, Russia, Denmark, Poland, Sweden. In the 17th century Sweden’s king Gustavus Adolphus depended on no less than 84 Scottish battalion and regimental commanders. His strapping Scots had been nourished mainly on oats and milk at home in Scotland and as adult soldiers ate a diet 93% bread and oatmeal washed down with ale. By contrast a servant at Gordon Castle near Fochabers in Moray enjoyed more variety in his diet with pickings off the Duke’s table of just 62% bread and meal, 10% meat, a miniscule amount of fish and 19% ale from the castle brewery in 1739.

It was not only Scots men who were famously tall. Our women were also once very tall. Something changed here and elsewhere.

During the early years of the Union Scotland was a poor country but it valued education and with Scottish literacy levels the highest in Britain Scots were soon travelling the length and breadth of the Empire as its administrators however the centre of the Empire was not Edinburgh but London which became the main beneficiary of the wealth created from all those resources appropriated from other nations. The educated Scot drawn to London initially found himself at a height advantage over native Londoners right up into the 1830s but the downward spiral for Scots had set in by then with poverty increasing in the Scottish countryside where a need for cash was becoming a necessity as well as in towns and the steady encroachment of inferior foods along with greater burdens of exploitative labour ravaged health.

 

It wasn’t only Scotland’s Highlanders who stood head and shoulders above people from elsewhere. While  Appletons’ Annual Cyclopedia and Register of Important Events Vol. 10 of 1871 declared ‘lunatics’ and criminals tended to be shorter than ‘sane and honest men’ even Scottish criminals were found to be taller than English criminals.

Short Englishmen had no need to stand on tip-toes to catch a glimpse of big blokes for their Scottish neighbours from just over the border in Galloway were reputed to reach impressive heights while those from Berwickshire were heaviest of all our big men.

Taller and heavier than the populations from the other nations of the UK Scots towered over Londoners in particular who were reported to be diminutive in stature. Within Scotland the shortest people lived in Edinburgh and Glasgow while rural areas produced the biggest. Why the difference?

By the 19th century more people were moving into towns from the country to look for work and with urban living came deprivation of different kinds. Towns were unhealthy environments – overcrowded, polluted, crampt. Glasgow, said to have the worst slums in Britain and described as a “squalid industrial megalopolis” in Chadwick’s 1842 Report on Sanitary Conditions, produced a population of  ‘stunted wee bauchles’ a good inch shorter than the average Scot.

Towns were notoriously disease-ridden and mainly reliant on importing food from the countryside which was often none too fresh when sold. And food cost money for in towns there was often nowhere to grow your own. Diet was a major factor determining growth and health and poor nutrition was a consequence of low wages. When Scots were the tallest Europeans they existed on what’s known as the traditional Scottish diet – boring perhaps but healthy – made up predominantly of oats, vegetables and dairy – locally produced.   

Those people who remained in the country might have been as poor as urban-dwellers but their living conditions and available foods were better and so they grew taller than their town cousins.

The acerbic and obese Dr Johnson ridiculed the Scots diet of porridge, brose and oatcakes, milk, cheese, vegetables, fruit with just a little fish and very little meat but these were foods on which generations of Scots thrived. With urbanisation came the start of junk food – poor quality and too few vegetables, milk and what was once the Scots’ bread – oatcakes.

From the time potatoes made their appearance in the British Isles, in the very late 16th century, their popularity and availability increased until they eventually ousted oatmeal as a staple food in Scotland. Bread and meal were still being eaten but the percentage declined as potatoes began to make an impression, along with some more meat, fish and cheese.

The bread and meal Scots of the later 18th and earlier 19th centuries were no longer 6ft or 7ft giants but topped just 5ft 7inches though they were still a good two inches taller than a man from the English midlands and three inches taller than shorties from the south of England.   

It is little wonder, then, that post-Union governments were driven to recruit big and burly Scots into their regiments and why otherwise despised Highlanders became targets for military recruitment drives. It has been argued that with the tallest, sturdiest Scotsmen being removed from communities shorter men were left behind to breed equally short children. Following that logic it may not be too far a stretch to link the prevalence of big and burly Scots spreading their genes across the length and breadth of Europe and elsewhere so contributing to the increased heights of our neighbours as our own heights went on the slide.

stables, brew house, bake house and other lost buildings including where an L-plan tower house once stood built in the early 15thC to replace the lost wooden castle

Site of the brewery and bakehouse at Gordon Castle

At the start of the 19th century, in 1801, the people of England and Wales made up something in the region of 82% of the UK’s population and contributed 52% of the British military. Scots from a population of around 14% of the UK made up a whopping great 16% of recruits. The shortfall was made up by other nationalities: German, French and Dutch included but within the British Isles Scots’ contribution hugely outweighed that of other nations.  High levels of recruitment into the British military from Scotland during the 18th and early 19th centuries began to peter out by the mid-19th century but was still high compared with England and Wales and why the percentage of Scots per population killed in Britain’s wars was much greater than from the UK’s other nations.

Early in the 19th century Scots and men in the north of England were taller by at least a centimetre than their southern counterparts but compared with earlier times heights were diminishing – a trend that continued until now the pattern is nearly entirely reversed.

By the 20th century Scots had been overtaken in the height stakes by the English. In 1908 working-class five-year old boys in Bradford, England average heights were 40.31 inches while middle-class boys from Cambridge averaged 40.44 inches and Glaswegian working-class five-year olds were just 40.20 inches. By 1938 Glasgow boys averaged 41.70 inches while the boys of Bradford and Cambridge were 42.24 inches and 43.29 inches respectively.  

By the outbreak of World War II Scots men averaged 66.82 inches and 138.2lbs compared with English average of 67.14 inches and 135.9lbs. The Welsh were shortest and lightest of all at 66.55 inches and 133.7lbs.

Thirty years later in 1972 a survey of children from Scotland and England found, unsurprisingly, that children from manual working families were shorter than from middle class families. Children of non-manual fathers were taller than those from manual worker families but height disparity was less marked in mothers from different classes. Interestingly discrepancies in height by class were more striking in England than in Scotland where unemployment was more significant in determining height than social class.

This blog has been very male-centred, as my sources concentrated on men and boys but I came across a curious piece of evidence that suggested taller girls were more likely to achieve social mobility through marriage than their shorter sisters – that taller girls attracted taller and possibly better-off husbands.

And sticking with social class for a moment in the latter part of the 20th century English fathers from the wealthiest class 1 measured in at an average of 177.5cm – EU influence! and to appease Brexiteers out there and oldies that’s just under 5ft 10inches while unskilled men in class V were a touch under 5 ft 8 inches. English women from the same classes were 5ft 4 inches and 5ft 3 inches respectively. Scottish men from class 1 measured up at 5ft 9 inches and from class V at 5ft 7 1/2 inches with Scots women from class 1 just under 5ft 4inches and those from the unskilled class V 5ft 3 inches.

By now the tallest people in the UK lived in the south of England. Something had changed. Before the Union with England and for a few generations following it Scots were markedly taller than the English. With the advance of the industrial revolution and the concentration of wealth in south Britain Scotland’s populations were subjected to increasing hardships to the extent the physical appearance and health of the populations north and south of the border diverged in opposite ways from how they once had been.

I am not arguing every English man and women prospered in a smoke-infused hell that was once England’s green and pleasant lands. Brutal, alienating hard work and filthy living conditions shortened lives and the nightmare existences for the working classes in England was every bit a trial as it was for their brothers and sisters in Scotland and Wales. But there were other factors at work – a power grab in London and its surrounding counties that sucked away wealth from other parts of the UK, Scotland, yes, but also the north of England and Wales.

1

In the 1980s Scotland’s average man measured in at 5ft 8inches. The very short Londoner had stretched to a touch over the Scot while in the southwest of England men averaged an inch taller. In Wales men struggled to reach 5ft 7 1/2 inches.

I thought when I began looking into the shrinkage of Scots that our past tall stature might have come from our Viking ancestors but it appears that Norwegians used to be some of the smallest people in Europe although they now have become the second tallest, behind the Dutch so that scuppers that theory. It will not escape many of my fellow Scots that not only have Norwegians accumulated great wealth from the North Sea which they share with Scotland but they are now also over-shadowing us physically. There’s a lesson there for us, surely.

 

Iain Mac a’ Ghobhainn’s Spiorad a’ Charthannais (The Spirit of Kindliness),
written in 1874 – translation from the Gaelic

Is anyone presently alive
who recollects that awful day,
on which was fought the fearful fight —
Waterloo of the bloody plains?
A fine victory was won by Gaels
when they rose in battle-arms;
faced with the blade of bravest men,
our fierce foes yielded fast.

What joy came to the fathers
of those who won the fray?
The warm homes of kindliness
towered round their ears in flames.
Their sons were on the battlefield
to save a heartless land;
their mothers were in the saddest plight,
and their homes reduced to ash. . . .

O Britain, it is a disgrace,
should we recount your tale,
relating how hard you dealt
with your own and truest race.
The land that those heroes had,
who saved you in your straits,
has now become a field of sports
for those wasters without morals.

 

 

August 31, 2017

The Englishman Dr Livingstone, I presume: the unmaking of a nation through its school history

Myths and truths about Scottish History in Schools

DSC05701

There is a fairly widespread belief that Scottish history has not, until recently, been taught in our schools. This is not true. Let me qualify that. From the earliest days of informal schooling an amount of storytelling doubtless crept into lessons; the exploits of national heroes and heroines until history as a discrete subject was formalised in the 1880s.

Most Scottish children since then were made familiar with some aspects of our past even if that amounted to little more than fleeting references to a handful of monarchs and a few notable battles. Granted among the baby-boomer generation it might have been for some their only encounter with Scottish history, any history, was at primary school – taught by non-specialist teachers in the main. Before the introduction of O Grades in 1962 thousands of Scots children could have left school with their leaving certificate having been taught no history at their junior secondary school and even with O Grades, later S Grades, it was possible for children to get no history after second year.

Does it matter? There are plenty who claim history serves no purpose and time in school would be better taken up teaching maths and science. Consider then waking up one day your memory has gone from an accident or Alzheimer’s disease with you having to make your way ignorant of what you’ve done and who you are. A clean sheet. Make of it what you can. Welcome to a world devoid of history.

Whoever wishes to foresee the future must consult the past; for human events ever resemble those of preceding times. (Machiavelli)

Even though we are too stupid to learn from those who came before us Machiavelli might have added but did not.

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The actions of our forefathers and foremothers laid the foundations of the lives we lead today. It is useful to understand that process. What we learn of the nation’s past defines our perception of it then and now and our understanding of how our world has evolved – and in that those who argue Scottish children have not been taught their own history are correct to some extent.

History is not a series of facts strung together along a timeline. Although that’s how it has sometimes been presented. It is a muddle of events – a smorgasbord picked over by people who fancy themselves a bit of this and a bit of that. History can be simply entertaining – stories of adventure and discovery and it can be a powerful tool for propaganda. Propaganda of the past is all around us – shops are full of it, radio and television, too, complete with a telegenic communicators eagerly offering their carefully chosen morsels to seduce you into falling for their particular bees in their particular bonnets. My advice is treat with caution. No telling of history is ever neutral – the very facts presented have been selected at the expense of others that don’t fit the message. Scrutinise the historian and ask yourself why she/he is saying this/that/whatever and not something entirely different. Historians are not always transparent – what is it they aren’t telling us? And why have they couched their interpretation of events in that way?

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Despite (almost) every child in Scotland attending school at some point in their lives too many adult Scots are unfortunately ignorant about education – what goes on now and even when they were in the thick of it. Memories are patchy and woefully unreliable. How many Scots have I heard going on about their O Level passes when they never sat any but took O Grades, unless they attended private school? How many Scots bemoan Highers as inferior to the English A Level blissfully unaware the Higher was set to be taken a year earlier than A Levels and the reason ordinary university courses in Scotland were longer than their English equivalents?

There are also those who go on about the national curriculum unaware that there is no prescribed national curriculum in Scotland instead a huge amount of leeway is provided to specialist teachers to use their initiative within guidelines and constraints of the exam system and the reason why some people’s experience of history will be different from others. What you were taught depended a great deal on your history teacher and it might be you went to one of the very few schools, in the west of Scotland I understand, where the openness of the curriculum allowed history to be removed altogether from secondary years one and two. Moronic. Also moronic was the introduction of faculty heads to replace discrete department principal teachers giving rise to the ludicrous situation whereby the history department of a school could be run by someone who dumped history to become better acquainted with a football. Few primary teachers will have been specialists in history but all secondary teachers should be. However that is a great big rag bag in itself.

20170821_123254

Teachers and what they teach is only as good as their own learning and the resources available to them. Just where do you find quality materials to teach a range of topics to pupils whose ages range between 12 and 18? No history teachers enters the profession equipped with an expansive knowledge of every topic required in the classroom so where to find material? Books you may reasonably say. Wouldn’t that be lovely? Books are expensive and teachers have a tiny budget that always fails to cover the essentials to teach everything covered in years one to six. Books get destroyed, lost and tatty and even history books become out-dated. This is why so many teachers make up their own worksheets – and we have all experienced how iffy that can be. But even worksheets are expensive to create given the budgets available and they have a short shelf life.  

That said there was a time when reasonable supplies of  books were to be found in classrooms. Many were published in England and were almost like foreign texts. What is taught as ‘British’ history does not always sit well in the Scottish classroom. For example an awful lot, let me repeat that, an awful lot of histories written by English teachers and/or historians largely ignore Scotland. Try finding examples of everyday life in the Victorian period – it’s as if everyone in the UK lived in London or Manchester. Look at histories of the Napoleonic wars – presented as English wars fought by Englishmen on the other side of the English Channel. What, historian Sydney Wood, asks

“… went through the mind of the Scot from Lewis who was required to haul aloft Nelson’s pre-Trafalgar signal of ‘England expects every man to do his duty?”

Wood goes on

“At the beginning of the twentieth century, the Convention of Scottish Burghs (1905) complained of the existence of school books in which: Great Britain is called England, the British throne is called the English throne … David Livingstone is called an Englishman, James Watt and Adam Smith are called English.”

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To that list we might add were there no Chartists active in Scotland organising for democracy? Were Scots instead quietly sitting at home supping porridge? In British histories Scotland is excised again and again. That literary tick of substituting English for British, England for Britain produces an untrue twist on its narrative of the lives of our ancestors in these islands yet there it is on a page in black and white so it must be true. Such crass sloppiness is everywhere from Oxbridge dons to daft little-Englanders cheering on England’s Brexit from the EU.

What did you learn in school today dear little boy of mine?

I learnt that the government of Britain was English and that in England both parties, Liberals and Conservatives, favoured peaceful progress and social reform unlike most countries of Europe afflicted by conflicts and political revolution.

I learnt that Dr David Livingstone from Blantyre was English.

I learnt that the poet Lord Byron was English because he had an English father (and Scottish mother) and he was born in England.

I learnt that the philosopher economist John Stuart Mill was English because he had a Scottish father – uhm – but he was born in England so he was definitely English.

I learnt that the writer Rudyard Kipling was English because he had an English father and was born in India – but couldn’t possibly have been Indian because he was English, after all.

History our flexible friend.

For most Scots Scottish history in primary and the early stages of secondary school was very well covered – but it was a case of pupil beware.

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I don’t know who Flora Forbes MA was but her Past and Present books, published by John Cormack of Edinburgh presented a very unionist interpretation of Scotland (but then so did they all.) She wrote of an “angry” Scottish Parliament demanding equality with England over trade and shipping at the adoption of the Hanoverians and how “moderate men” saw the sense of a union of the two parliaments. She did not mention the storm of opposition to this in Scotland but noted Scots “naturally feared that England would once again deal unfairly with the smaller country.” Perish the thought.

On Mary, Queen of Scots and the English Queen Elizabeth she wrote:

“When Queen Elizabeth began to reign, England was not yet in a settled condition with regard to the religion of the people. Although the government was Protestant, half of the people were Catholics, and they believed Mary Stewart to be their rightful queen. Elizabeth’s task in ruling the country was therefore far from easy, but she proved to be a wise and clever ruler, and she was helped in the work of government by very able men.”

Some might call them liars, conspirers and charlatans but there you go.

Not all Scottish school textbooks were as partial and sickeningly obsequious as Ms Forbes’s efforts.

Scotland the age of achievement Hogarth's contrast

John Patrick’s SCOTLAND  the age of achievement was less whimsical and more authoritative (nothing to do with him being a bloke.) A lecturer at Aberdeen College of Education he used Hogarth’s drawing which contrasted poverty in Scotland – the ill-fed Scot – against the prosperity of the well-fed Londoner inside the cover. “Many English cartoons in the eighteenth century made fun of Scotland’s poverty,” he explained.

Patrick took a responsible approach to the scoundrels of Scottish history in his account of the trials of 18th century reformers Muir and Palmer and we are left in no doubt who he believed was the scoundrel in that episode. In his summing up the hanging Lord Braxfield intent on suppressing sedition addressed the court:

“…the government “is made of landed interests, which alone has a right to be represented; as for the rabble, who have nothing but personal property, what hold has the nation of them?”

Ah the witty and respected judge Braxfield set the tone for a fair trial-

“Come awa, sirs and help us hang these rascals…”

Rascals were people who dared to criticise the monarchy and corrupt governments made up of the landed gentry in government to enhance their own interests and shitting themselves that revolution in France might prove to be contagious. Dundee minister Palmer was sentenced to 7 years transportation and lawyer Muir to 14 years.

IMM Macphail, A History of Scotland Book 1, 1950s

Many of you will surely have been familiar with A.D. Cameron’s History for Young Scots Books 1 and 2 which were widely used in primary and early stages secondary during the 1970s and ’80s and created a patchwork impression of Scotland from the Neolithic settlers at Skara Brae on the Orkney Islands to more recent time when the European Coal and Steel Community was held up as a beacon of hope for peace and prosperity in a coming-together of nations in the Common Market.

“Could Britain afford to remain outside such a large and vital market in Europe? Could she become a member without endangering her unique partnership with the other nations in the Commonwealth”  he asked without a question mark. Tut tut.

Cameron ended on a note of optimism explaining that Britain did join the European Economic Community and people found they could travel more freely and got on with one another. Where did that get us?

Cameron made up dialogue to inject life and human interest into what is sometimes dismissed as a dry subject.

“Here is food; here is plenty” the comment of a contented Skara Braen tucking into a mountainous whale as a wise old man surveys the scene on the beach, “There is food for many moons,” he declares with just a touch of Tonto from the Lone Ranger. Cameron was nothing if not confident in his statements for example he assured us the women of Skara Brae spent about an hour every day grinding corn into flour.

Patrick achievement

Cameron’s approach to school history was entertaining and his books were well-illustrated: Picts, Celts, Romans, Vikings, English, Wars of Independence, burghs and so on- to the Union –

Britain” – (hang on A D you mean England and Wales?) “was at war with France during Queen Anne’s reign, and the English, fearing the Scots” (not at war with France – just saying) “might select a king of their own and revive the ‘Auld Alliance’ with France, decided to allow the Scots free trade” – (which they had done their level best to destroy up till then) – “if they would consent to the creation of a British Parliament.”

Cameron fell into the British/English trap there did you notice?

Under the Union he informed us English and colonial markets were to be opened up to Scottish merchants and Scottish currency, weights and measures were abandoned in favour of English equivalents. Religion and law remained uniquely Scottish.

And with the Union an end was put to Scottish history – in a sense – that’s me, not Cameron.

Patrick, no Union

Cameron’s school histories were enjoyable and useful tools for teachers but frustrating for those parts of Scotland ignored in their pages. Pupils in Dundee, Aberdeen and areas north, northwest, south and east found little there to reflect the lives of their foremothers. The nature of the colossus that is history means inevitably there are gaps but where those same gaps are replicated a false impression of the past becomes entrenched into our minds: Cameron illustrated the widespread Highland Clearances with a snapshot of the Sutherland clearances at Strathnavar; Industrial Scotland was largely and predictably confined to the Clyde and west of Scotland. Cameron was a Principal Teacher of History at Inverness Royal Academy and should have known better. That’s all I know about A D Cameron.

 Aside from those unfortunates not offered history in a handful of secondary schools a perception that Scottish history was not taught might be because pupils chose not to study it as an O grade or Higher and simply forgot or because their teacher lazily churned out what she/he came across in muddled myth-laden textbooks entirely Anglo-centred: agricultural and industrial revolutions; social and political changes; housing; transport etc  – as far as the eye can see.

Historical events and change in England has always been taught in Scottish schools whereas in England Scotland seldom features – and usually only as that pesky aggressive neighbour to the north. Where Scottish histories have generally reflected Scotland as part of the United Kingdom English histories have a tendency to see England standing alone bold and magnificent – succeeding. European and World history as portrayed in history texts are seen through the lens of England and the English people with Scotland rarely a footnote.

There is no doubt that for much of the 20th century Scottish history has been much under-represented in our own schools while any Scottish dimension of British and world history virtually disappears south of the border. Can we wonder then at the sheer level of ignorance in England when it comes to Scotland? Watch as bemused smiles break out on the faces of quiz show contestants when asked anything relating to Scotland.

Historian Sydney Wood considered the role history education plays in the development of our sense of national identity – pointed to how Scotland’s education system retained its independence post-1707 until the English Education Act of 1872 gave London oversight of Scottish education right up to 1939.

Decades later Thatcher’s Tories tried to mould education to suit her rightwing agenda but found strong resistance in Scotland yet English Tories were able to wield some influence here. Devolution in 1997 returned education in Scotland to the responsibility of the Scottish government, albeit still following a unionist agenda.

It is true that teaching distinctly Scottish history tottered during the 20th century. Children might learn about early settlers – Skara Brae in the neolithic period and Stonehenge – but how many were taught about the sheer richness of neolithic evidence there is in Scotland? How many English children ever learnt about any early settlers in Scotland? Precious few. Vikings were mainly English Vikings. The Industrial Revolution took place mainly in England. Urban expansion and overcrowded homes were suffered in England. Poverty was English. No-one rioted in Scotland because they were starving. We were led to believe. Orator Henry Hunt and the Spa Fields (somewhere near London) riot over parliamentary reform (lack of) was drummed into the lugs of young Scots while in Scotland all was quiet – we were led to believe. Not that there has been much sympathy for rioters in history books – mad, angry, mobs, unruly, violent. As for the politicians whose actions led to such deprivation and inequality – they avoided pejorative adjectives attached to their activities.

Life expectancy as many Scots pupils once knew was very different between a man in Liverpool and one in Bath. Bath – Bath? Where’s that Miss?

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Every child in Scotland learnt about the Speenhamland system – a barbaric means by which magistrates in Berkshire in England provided charity to starving men, women and children. What was happening in Scotland? Scotland that impoverished neighbour of England? Presumably all was hunky dory.

Chartism was scarcely a whisper in Scotland – if you believe many of the histories taught in our schools. And in Scottish histories Chartism only occurred in Glasgow.

Scottish school children learnt about changes in English farming – the Norfolk system of crop rotation but who in England learnt about farm toons and run rigs?

Britain’s Story Told in Pictures printed in Manchester c1950. Brave to title the book Britain but let’s take through its chapters.

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I guess the authors were too busy putting the book together to visit Callanish standing stones or Orkney to become acquainted with its amazing Neolithic sites – or any of the unique recumbent stone circles of Aberdeenshire and other important features all around Scotland dating back over 5000 years. Let’s try the chapter Roman Britain. In what sounds like a national entity called Britain life was evidently most interesting in the south, as that’s all presented here. Picts of Caledonia get a single mention only in relation to Hadrian’s Wall not who they were of any reference to their pictorial art.

Let’s try Anglo-Saxon Britain 410-1066 – you can imagine I’m not too hopeful for this chapter. Aha, at least we have more definition as it begins with “The English are descended from the Angles, Saxons, Jutes…English conquest” blah, blah, blah…”English race” an interesting concept – especially given the previous paragraphs explaining the number of different peoples who’ve formed this ‘race’. I’m not expecting any mention of Scotland because this chapter doesn’t apply here – although Scots kids all learnt about it. But what is this? There’s a sketch of a Viking cross at Oransay, Scotland – that’ll be Oronsay I expect – and it’s what we call a Celtic cross and it dates from around 500 years after the chapter’s cut-off date. History our flexible friend again.

Chapter 4 looks at Medieval Britain 1066-1485 with not a cheep about Scottish royalty but everything you need to know and more about the line of English kings. There is a mention of Scotland in relation to the English Edward I. That’s it. There’s a nice drawing of a battering ram – know what I’d like to do with that – lots of Norman this and that. But hark! What comes here? It is an illustration of Robert the Bruce (again because of the association to England as is the case for the sketch of Joan of Arc.) So that’s it for Medieval Britain – must have passed Scotland by.

Tudor Britain up next and as Scotland didn’t do Tudors there’s no point looking here but I can’t resist having a wee peek. Elizabeth I of England, “greatest of the Tudors” and what’s this? “Foreign policy was directed against the menaces of Scotland, France and Spain.” That’s not very nice – first we’re all part of the British family then we’re a foreign enemy – again. Glowing it is – glowing in its admiration of Elizabeth I of England – and the advances in trade – Levant and East India, ne’er a hint of exploitation and stripping India of its assets …”Many universities and Grammar Schools were founded” – not a mention Aberdeen which between 1596 and 1826 had as many universities as in the whole of England. That’s worth putting in a book on Britain only it was in the wrong part of  ‘Britain’ evidently.

Scotland, Mary Queen of Scots, is included in Tudor Britain for some reason when it should be in a chapter called Stuart Britain – which comes next – and why? because it covers the period from 1603 when the Stuarts decamped to England. This is not a history of Britain it is a history of England – a bundle of baloney.

James VI is introduced as James I – because that’s his English regnal number and England precedes mention of Scotland because English historians know Scotland’s place. Back! Get back!

The Act of Union – I’ll get my magnifying glass out – straight FACT “Act of Union (1707). “By this Act the United Kingdom of Great Britain was established under a single government, Scotland being represented in Parliament by forty-five Members in the Commons and sixteen Peers in the Lords.” Parliament being in London,  not Edinburgh, naturally.

Culloden, the last pitched battle fought on British soil is a case of move along nothing of interest here. No mention. Sure there are sketches of the Duke of Cumberland – Butcher as he’s known here – and Charles Edward Stuart, “the Young Pretender” – note that slick derogatory description we’ve come to accept – not forgetting his old man, another Pretender. There’s a pic, too, of George I who “succeeded under the Act of Succession” aye he did – positive write-up we may say for George.

There’s a fine illustration of a Highlander – post Union – not doing what most Highlanders would have been doing at home whatever that might have been and we certainly don’t find out from this book but as a soldier from one of the Highland regiments which became so popular with successive governments of the United Kingdom. Not so much back! back! as get to the front! to the front!

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The chapter on Modern Britain pauses long enough to condemn the General Strike of 1926, to praise the national spirit, to picture the murder of a British bishop in Uganda, to comment on the notable growth of democracy during Victoria’s reign – notable being an elastic term for restricted. There are lots of pictures of ‘natives’ from the Empire – Zulus being war-like, ‘Kaffirs’ being obedient, a Maori looking a bit savage. There’s a head and shoulders of Cecil Rhodes, boo; Gordon of Khartum, boo; the cantilever bridge over the St Lawrence River at Quebec – but not the magnificent Forth Railway Bridge, boo – evidently a victim of being located in North Britain. There’s a sketch of a round table conference, at a long table, at which Mahatma Ghandi and his pals “demanded independence for India” – blighters. There’s mention of the “heroic Red army” in WWII, hurrah; there’s Lord Woolton representing rationing during WWII but no mention of John Boyd Orr. Shamefully predicatable.

If you were spared this sort of nonsense in place of real history at school be grateful.

It is apparent that generations of  Scottish schoolchildren left school better informed about the Nazis in Germany or the poor laws in England than they did about lives led by past generations of their families here in Scotland. Our ancestors were living breathing people very much like ourselves – dour or cheerful, cup half-full or cup half-empty types but Scotland, even a short historical hop back in time, was a very different place and it’s near impossible for us to really imagine their dreams, sorrows and pleasures. Our connections with the past are the vital means of securing our place in present-day Scottish society; understanding the route we have come to where our lives are today with a backward glance at patterns of struggle and achievement which form lessons for us now and into the future. It is a scandal that history has been so badly served since the formalisation of education in this country – that so much in history books is nonsense, jingoism and cant  – that knowledge of the Kirk post-Reformation; the Scottish Enlightenment; Scots in the Empire (warts and all); Scots in America – even events surrounding that most important detail were marginalised even here in Scotland, the Union of Parliaments, getting scant recognition until recent times. Why? You may well ask. And demand better. But, of course, sifting through the dross there are truths there to be found that should not be forgotten.

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August 10, 2017

Scottish World War Poetry #5 From the Line

       

          From the Line

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Have you seen men come from the Line,

Tottering, doddering, as if bad wine

Had drugged their very souls;

Their garments rent with holes

And caked with mud

And streaked with blood

Of others, or their own;

Haggard, weary-limbed and chilled to the bone,

Trudging aimless, hopeless, on

With listless eyes and faces drawn

Taut with woe?

 

Have you seen them aimless go

Bowed down with muddy pack

And muddy rifle slung on back,

And soaking overcoat,

Staring on with eyes that note

Nothing but the mire

Quenched of every fire?

 

Have you seen men when they come

From shell-holes filled with scum

Of mud and blood and flesh,

Where there’s nothing fresh

Like grass, or trees, or flowers,

And the numbing year-like hours

Lag on – drag on,

And the hopeless dawn

Brings naught but death, and rain – 

The rain a fiend of pain

That scourges without end,

And Death, a smiling friend?

 

Have you seen men when they come from hell?

If not, – ah, well

Speak not with easy eloquence

That seems like sense

Of ‘War and its Necessity’!

And do not rant, I pray,

On ‘War’s Magnificent Nobility’!

 

If you’ve seen men come from the Line

You’ll know it’s Peace that is divine !

If you’ve not seen the things I’ve sung – 

Let silence bind your tongue,

But, make all wars to cease,

And work, and work for Everlasting Peace !

Roderick Watson Kerr

August 4, 2017

No Dunkirk hurrah for the 51st Highlanders

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In the land of Brexit Union Jack-adorned Britain creaks and splutters like an old jalopy incapable of engaging first gear she pitches into reverse … to a time when girls were submissive and obedient, boys wore the trousers, mam spent her evenings mending and making do and dad was digging spuds when he wasn’t trimming his prize leeks.

What a place that was. Bloody proud to be British before all this political correctness now that you can’t call a spade a spade – know what I mean? Nudge, nudge. When an Englishman’s home was his castle and you could decide who came into in it: – no blacks; no Irish – bloody Paddies – no damn likely; bloody Welsh and no bloody Scots – uppity Jocks.

                                                                 *** 

We’re back in January 1940 and the 51st Highland Division of bloody Jocks has landed in Le Havre in France as part of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) but it’s a baptism of fire for allied forces around the French coast as the situation becomes untenable with constant and escalating German attacks.

It’s April and the 51st are separated from the rest of the BEFs and deployed deep into France to the very vulnerable area of Hombourg-Bundage under the French Tenth Army on the defensive Maginot line. Casualties are high as the Germans advance at lightning speed towards the French coast.

Early June and the German panzer division makes ground as it heads for the coast protected and aided from the air.

At 3 o’clock on 4th June French and Scots men pressurising German positions find themselves under intense fire and dive-bombing Stukas. As the 51st struggle desperately to defend the front line French tanks forge ahead the infantry in their wake and one after another are blown to smithereens by mines or disabled by heavy gun fire. Many are consumed by fire. Men of the 4th Seaforths are cut down by heavy machine-gun fire.

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On 5 June a huge offensive  comprising 124 German divisions launch a major attack, Fall Rot, along 70 miles of front line including the 25 miles the 51st are struggling to hold. Beleaguered the Highland Division fight a losing battle to defend the area around le Havre.

On 7 June two German armoured divisions split the French Tenth Army.  The Highland Division along with their French comrades are separated from part of the Tenth.

On 8 June the 51st are cut off in Rouen-Dieppe.

On 9 June the 51st are 35 miles north of Rouen which has fallen into German hands. They receive orders to withdraw to le Havre. This is not possible as Germany launches an attack from the east and the 51st are cut off.

On 10 June the 51st along with the French IXth Corps drop back to St. Valery, hoping to be evacuated by sea.

On 11 June Brigadier Stanley-Clarke issues the order for a new line be held to the last man.

Radio contact is lost with the 51st as the evacuation of Stanley-Clarke’s own force from Dunkirk continues. It is decided to abandon the young men of the Highland Division too deep into France but hope lives on among the men that they might yet be evacuated from St. Valéry.

Fog prevents any chance of this happening and in any case the Germans now occupy the steep cliffs at the coast.

On 12 June the French corps surrenders and shortly after so do what remains of the 51st Highland. A few escape but are captured by General Rommel’s 7th Panzer Division.

 Land of Hope and Glory plays in the background

“Out from the hell that is Dunkirk. Out from the steel thrust of the German war machine they come – the BEF (some of them – not those abandoned) footsore and hungry. Never defeated or dispirited. Around these men there hangs an atmosphere of glory.
The men who’ve got back to Blighty are grateful – to the navy and to the merchant service.
And grateful to the French navy.
The BEF is grateful to the Royal Air Force.
The BEF is grateful, too, to its French comrades.
The BEF is grateful to the girls in uniform who’ve stayed with them to the end.

But not it appears grateful to the men of the 51st.

While these men live and breathe Britain is safe. The enemy will never pass

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cpb0aOPEQkE

For the lucky ones evacuated from Dunkirk there were jam sandwiches and hot tea waiting for them in England.

Iron-spined Major-General Harold Alexander is undaunted by Nazi bombers screaming overhead shelling sea and land; explosion after explosion. Without (much of ) a thought for his own safety he waits offshore, binoculars in hand, till satisfied there are no more living creatures left on the beach or water and with a final nod to the captain they sail off into the blue yonder to more than a jam sandwich. Mission accomplished.

englands dunkirk

Hunkered down in his Westminster bunker sustained on a diet of Scotch whisky and cigars national hero and Prime Minister Winston Churchill exalts the ‘miracle of deliverance’ of the Dunkirk retreat.

‘We shall defend our island whatever the cost may be. We shall fight them on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills. We shall never surrender,’ he insists 200 miles away from the men of the 51st.

I well remember a very old lady, a former schoolteacher in the Highlands, who could not bear to hear the fawning adulation of Winston Churchill presented through newspapers, histories and radio and television. It took me many years to realise just why she despised him so much. Britain’s greatest hero Mr Churchill regretted the fate of the Highlanders but drew solace from the Division coming back to its own when other Scots were drawn into its ranks. 

To illustrate his feelings Churchill drew on a poem by the Aberdeenshire poet Charles Murray, A Saugh o’ War – which I published recently here on the blog. The poem is too jingoistic and sentimental for my liking

Half-mast the caste banner droops,

The Laird’s lament was played yestreen,

An; mon a widowed cottar wife

Is greetin’ at her shank aleen…

A’ keen to show baith friends and foe

Auld Scotland counts for something still.

 

And a predictable report on Dunkirk from the BBC 

http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/june/4/newsid_3500000/3500865.stm

So as Britain goes Dunkirk delirious just like it did back in 1940 there are parts of these islands where the hysteria is just a little tempered for knowing the picture of blood and guts and bravery played out in cinemas across the land is not the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

The abandoning of the 51st Highlanders does not fit the narrative of British pluck and victory loved by rightwing commentators – historians, film makers, journalists or anyone who prefers myth to reality and preferably all tied up with a ribbon of red, white and blue.

Britain and its people exist on a diet of myths. Dunkirk was a major success in terms of saving many lives and an illustration of the courage of individuals but it is also an example of the British state’s coyness to admit it also creates victims as a result of its actions while readily exploiting for propaganda purposes an event that is very partial in the telling.

Britain would “never abandon her ally in her hour of need” bellowed Churchill – at the same time he didn’t think twice about ditching men of the 51st Highland Division.

The ‘Dunkirk spirit’ might be said to have a second meaning – the sacrifice of people – of Scots, bloody Jocks (and others serving with the 51st.) They were heroes but heroes largely written out of the story of Dunkirk.

The flag-waving hurrah over Dunkirk will go on for a long time but does plucky British heroism conceal a shabby and uncomfortable reality of bravery plus sacrifice?

Capt Ian Campbell, General Fortune’s intelligence officer said:

“It has always been abundantly clear to men that no division has ever been more uselessly sacrificed. It could have been got away a week before but the powers that be – owing I think to very faulty information – had come to the conclusion that there was a capacity for resistance in France which was not actually there.”

Never Surrender

We shall never surrender

H    O   M    E

Over 330,000 made it home

It was the Scots Highlanders who didn’t get home but were abandoned in France.

Back in the war everyone pulled together – that Dunkirk spirit characterizes us. Britain at its best – all in the same boat…

51st Highland Division memorial at St Valery-en-Ca from inverux

Inver granite memorial to the 51st Highland Division at St Valery

(The 51st Highland Division comprised men from the Black Watch, the Seaforths, the Queen’s Own Camerons, the Gordons and the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders under Major General Victor Fortune aka the Duke of Argyll.)

Click on Pawns in the War Game, 1940

August 3, 2017

Scottish World War I Poetry #4 A Sough o’ War

A Sough o’ War  (A Sigh of War)

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The corn was turnin’, hairst was near,
But lang afore the scythes could start
A sough o’ war gaed through the land
An’ stirred it to its benmost heart.
Nae ours the blame, but when it came
We couldna pass the challenge by,
For credit o’ our honest name
There could be but one reply.
An’ buirdly men, fae strath an’ glen
An’ shepherds fae the bucht an’ hill,
Will show them a’, whate’er befa’,
Auld Scotland counts for something still.

Half-mast the castle banner droops,
The Laird’s lament was played yestreen,
An’ mony a widowed cottar wife
Is greetin’ at her shank aleen.
In Freedom’s cause, for ane that fa’s,
We’ll glean the glens an’ send them three
To clip the reivin’ eagle’s claws,
An’ drook his feathers i’ the sea.
For gallant loons, in brochs an’ toons,
Are leavin’ shop an’ yard an’ mill,
A’ keen to show baith friend an’ foe
Auld Scotland counts for something still.

The grim, grey fathers, bent wi’ years,
Come stridin’ through the muirland mist,
Wi’ beardless lads scarce by wi’ school
But eager as the lave to list.
We’ve fleshed o’ yore the braid claymore
On mony a bloody field afar,
But ne’er did skirlin’ pipes afore
Cry on sae urgently tae war.
Gin danger’s there, we’ll thole our share,
Gie’s but the weapons, we’ve the will,
Ayont the main, to prove again
Auld Scotland counts for something still.

Charles Murray (Alford, Aberdeenshire)

August 2, 2017

Scottish World War I Poetry #3 The Soldier’s Cairn

The Soldiers’ Cairn

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Gie me a hill wi’ the heather on’t,
An’ a reid sun drappin’ doon,
Or the mists o’ the mornin’ risin’ saft
Wi’ the reek owre a wee grey toon.
Gie me a howe by the lang Glen road,
For it’s there ‘mang the whin and fern
D’ye mind on’t, Will? Are ye hearin’, Dod?
That we’re biggin’ the Soldiers’ Cairn.

Far awa’ is the Flanders land
Wi’ fremmit France atween,
But mony a howe o’ them baith the day
Has a hap o’ the Gordon green.
It’s them we kent that’s lyin’ there,
An’ it’s nae wi’ stane or airn
But wi’ brakin’ herts, an’ mem’ries sair,
That we’re biggin’ the Soldiers’ Cairn.

Doon, laich doon the Dullan sings—
An’ I ken o’ an aul’ sauch tree,
Where a wee loon’s wahnie’s hingin’ yet
That’s dead in Picardy;
An’ ilka win’ fae the Conval’s broo
Bends aye the buss o’ ern,
Where aince he futtled a name that noo
I’ll read on the Soldiers’ Cairn.

Oh! build it fine and build it fair,
Till it leaps to the moorland sky —
More, more than death is symbolled there,
Than tears or triumphs by.
There’s the Dream Divine of a starward way
Our laggard feet would learn—
It’s a new earth’s corner-stone we’d lay
As we fashion the Soldiers’ Cairn.

Lads in your plaidies lyin’ still
In lands we’ll never see,
This lanely cairn on a hameland hill
Is a’ that oor love can dee;
An’ fine an’ braw we’ll mak’ it a’,
But oh, my Bairn, my Bairn,
It’s a cradle’s croon that’II aye blaw doon
To me fae the Soldiers’ Cairn.

(Mary Symon (1863 – 1938) from Dufftown)