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Christmas: There Rang a Bell

Posted By on December 21, 2016

Some While Ago

Rutherglen Town Hall (Lanarkshire) was first built in 1862 and after falling into disrepair was reopened in 2005 following a £12.5 million refurbishment. For some it may be a familiar landmark and for the Richardson family, whose son James is commemorated on the nearby Rutherglen War Memorial, the town hall was a landmark seen and heard each day.

It is this familiarity of being seen and heard that draws me in this day as Christmas approaches. Christmas, methinks, is about people, place and family, goodwill and cheer, song, food and so too many other joys. Yet this year it is the steady and heralding sound of bells that I am drawn to this day, while I seek something slightly different.

Some while ago, David Francey, a Scottish-born Canadian singer-songwriter came to play on Vancouver Island. I saw him twice on his western tour and while listening to Saints and Sinners, a song about bells and Ayr’s Cliff, Quebec I reflected upon the lyrics and his town and how the familiar anchors us to time, place, and memory.

There is something in these words…these lyrics about bells and of a war on the left and the right.  Perhaps it is the mention of Bethlehem that intrigues me at this time of year, the bright star of the night sky that brought forward the magi…and so with the Christmas season upon us I reflect upon the bells, the familiar, their sound and record of personal events, visits to churches and cathedrals, towns and villages on my adventures in many different places, Christmases elsewhere, friends and family, events of joy and so too of sorrow.

“At one time most of my friends could hear the bell, but as years passed it fell silent for all of them. Even Sarah found one Christmas that she could no longer hear its sweet sound. Though I’ve grown old the bell still rings for me, as it does for all who truly believe.”

Chris Van Allsburg, The Polar Express, 1985

Hello Darkness…

Posted By on December 14, 2016

Men of the East Yorkshire Regiment, Frezenberg, 1917.  Ernest Brooks, photographer. (IWM Q3014)

The silhouette. Men of the East Yorkshire Regiment, Frezenberg, 1917. Ernest Brooks, photographer. (IWM Q3014)

…my old friend

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”.
(Often attributed to Edmund Burke, Irish Statesman, circa 1770).

The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our life-time.
(British Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey, British Foreign Secretary, 1914).

We are not here to curse the darkness, but to light a candle that can guide us through the darkness to a safe and sane future…For the world is changing. The old era is ending. The old ways will not do.
(John F. Kennedy, U.S.A. Presidential Nominee, 1960).

The Sound of Silence – a recent steady investigation of an old tune, now a new tune, from the unlikeliest of sources. Written by folk musician Paul Simon this 1960s song represents an era of desired change and questioning and yet with its re-recording, by Chicago-based heavy metal band Disturbed, that change and questioning now echoes and resonates in a true haunting of the historical and the present.

The power of Disturbed frontman’s voice, David Draiman, brings a new darkness to The Sound of Silence. That darkness – a constant old friend that one can find in the contemplation of military history its causes and effects, its people – its ghosts, its darkness and light. Perhaps it is my familiarity with another song by Disturbed, Down With the Sickness, that first attracted me, the contrast between the two songs, however, cannot be further apart. And yet it is my continual interest in point – counter-point, dark-light, and the “on the other hand” of history, that has made me want to re-investigate these words by Simon as a present day observer of the historical tangle of trenches and wires, the wreckage of man’s mirth with industrial and scientific slaughter.

As I read through the lyrics and cast myself in my adaption I see our veteran survivor, not necessarily alone, not necessarily haunted, but one who must live with what they have seen. The constant reminder being darkness who our soul visits on occasion, and where in the night the subconscious becomes tangled with memory and reality. Always pondering those recollections, keeping the silence…

And still, fresh with these visions and the creeping, our friend sees these things that disturb his silence – the reminders and the triggers – the neon light, perhaps a flare – the capture of movement leading to the constant “duht-duht-duht” of an all-searching machine gun’s voice.  As I continue to envision the lyrics I see 10, 000 people talking but without speaking – observers hearing without listening. I can only grasp at those lost voices now below the earth, within the darkness, in search of light, in search of one that might…hear their voice…

It is the shadowy ache of this song, the dark that we all know and the desire to find the light that I find entrancing. Dark-light, folk-metal, Simon-Draiman all fuses together as witness and sage to the silence in each one of us and beckons for peace to be with you and for all. As one who has silently contemplated the carved markings of soldiers in their habitats, one can only hope that their chiseled record, within these halls, will resonate within the silence of our observations and that perhaps as we whisper our thoughts to ourselves, we will find that the light that rises each day – our more than equal friend to the darkness.

The Sound of Silence (Lyrics as sung by David Draiman)

Hello darkness, my old friend
I’ve come to talk with you again
Because a vision softly creeping
Left its seeds while I was sleeping
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Still remains
Within the sound of silence

In restless dreams I walked alone
Narrow streets of cobblestone
‘Neath the halo of a street lamp
I turned my collar to the cold and damp
When my eyes were stabbed by the flash of a neon light
That split the night
And touched the sound of silence

And in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand people, maybe more
People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening
People writing songs that voices never share
And no one dare
Disturb the sound of silence

Fools, said I, you do not know
Silence like a cancer grows
Hear my words that I might teach you
Take my arms that I might reach you
But my words, like silent raindrops fell
Echoed in the wells of silence

And the people bowed and prayed
To the neon god they made
And the sign lashed out its warning
In the words that it was forming
And the sign said, the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls
And tenement halls
And whispered in the sound of silence
[Written by Paul Simon, 1963-64. Performed by Simon and Garfunkel]

Screenshot from the official Disturbed video "The Sound of Silence". 2016.

Screenshot from the official Disturbed video The Sound of Silence. 2016, featuring a silhouetted landscape.

Piper John MacLeod: Indian Mutiny

Posted By on December 11, 2016

The Calgary Highlanders playing Haughs of Cromdell, the tune Pipe Major John MacLeod played at Secunderbagh.

The Unearthly Visitant

Not everyone in action is considered for an award of valour or bravery. At times soldiers who we might think of as deserving are overlooked, although no end of writings, reading and re-reading of their actions offer us any explanations. Still these accounts of soldiers in action provide us with context for those who were recognized. In one such account of the Indian Mutiny, Pipe Major John MacLeod’s actions with the 93rd Regiment during the Relief of Lucknow, India were recorded. Although MacLeod received no award for valour, six Victoria Crosses were awarded to the 93rd Regiment of Foot (Sutherland Highlanders) of whom five were Scottish born. The sixth, Lance Corporal John Dunlay was born in Douglas County Cork, Ireland.

The 93rd Highlanders entering the breech at Secunderabagh, Lucknow, India, 16 November 1857.

The 93rd Highlanders entering the breach at Secunderabagh, Lucknow, India, 16 November 1857.

There was no pause, no halting hesitation of a moment. The men saw their enemy in front, and, obeying the sharp and ready words of command, dashed forward. They neither thought of the enemy’s greater numbers nor of their advantages of position. Instantly rifle and bayonet were at work, and the battle raged hand to hand. This was no conflict of a few minutes. For two whole hours it continued — the Highlanders, courageously supported by the Punjaubees [sic], performing prodigies of valour. Above the roar of battle was sounding the wild war notes of the bagpipes — sweetest music in a highland soldier’s ear — for John MacLeod, the Pipe Major of the 93rd, remembered well his duty in the turmoil. He has been among the first to force his way though the breach, and no sooner was he within the building then he began to encourage the men by vigorously playing his pipes. The more hot and deadly the battle became the more high strung became the piper’s feelings, and the more loudly did the bagpipes peal and scream — John standing the while in positions perfectly exposed to the fire of the enemy, to whom doubtless he appeared as some unearthly visitant.

Cromb, James. The Highland Brigade: Its Battles and Its Heroes, published 1886. pgs. 202-2

Scotland and the Victoria Cross: The Indian Mutiny

Posted By on November 15, 2016

Charge of the 93rd Regiment of Foot (Sutherland Highlanders), Indian Mutiny, November 1857.

Charge of the 93rd Regiment of Foot (Sutherland Highlanders),  Battle of Cawnpore, Indian Mutiny, November 1857, by W. Skeoch Cumming. Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders Museum, Stirling Castle, Scotland.

1857 – 1859

In all 182 soldiers were awarded the Victoria Cross for their actions during the Indian Mutiny. Of these recipients 31 were born in Scotland. Several other Victoria Crosses were awarded to soldiers serving with Scottish regiments though born elsewhere. The following records the Scottish-born recipients. Please note the numerous given spellings for such Indian place names as Sikandar Bagh.

Lieutenant Frederick Robertson Aikman
Amethi, India, 1 March 1858
4th Bengal Native Infantry
Born Ross, South Lanarkshire, Scotland (6 February 1828)

A painting of the Aikman Victoria Cross action and an oil on canvas portrait of Aikman by Captain I A Goldingham, 1860 are held by the National Army Museum, Chelsea, London.

A photographic portrait of Aikman wearing the Victoria Cross is known.

Lieutenant Robert Hope Moncrieff Aitken
Defence of the Residency of Lucknow, India, 30 June – 22 November, 1857
13th Bengal Native Infantry
Born Cupar, Fife, Scotland (8 February 1826)

A photographic image, and an illustration of Aitken wearing the Victoria Cross is known.

Lieutenant Robert Blair
Bolandsahr, India, 28 September 1857
2nd Dragoon Guards (Queen’s Bays) attached 9th (Queen’s Royal) Lancers
Born Linlithgow, Scotland (13 March 1834)

Died 28 March 1859, Cawnpore, India.

A photographic portrait of Blair is known.

Lieutenant Andrew Cathcart Bogle
Attack on Oonao, India 29 July 1857
78th (Highland) Regiment of Foot (Ross-shire Buffs)
Born Glasgow, Scotland (20 January 1829)

A photographic portrait of Bogle is known.

Lieutenant Thomas Cadell
Delhi, India 12 June 1857
2nd European Bengal Fusiliers
Born Cockenzie, East Lothian, Scotland (5 September 1835)

A few photographic portraits of Cadell are known. One in the collection of the National Army Museum, Chelsea, London depicts Cadell in later life wearing the Victoria Cross.

Lieutenant Aylmer Spicer Cameron
Kotah, India 30 March 1858
1st Battalion 72nd Regiment of Foot (Duke of Albany’s Own Highlanders)
Born Perth, Scotland (12 August 1833)

A photographic portrait of Cameron wearing the Victoria Cross is known.

Lieutenant Hugh Stewart Cochrane
Near Jhansi, India 1 April 1858
86th Regiment of Foot (Royal County Down)
Born Fort William, Scotland (4 August 1829)

A photographic portrait of Cochrane wearing the Victoria Cross is known.

Private James Davis (True name James Davis Kelly)
Fort Ruhya, India 15 April 1858
42nd (Highland) Regiment of Foot
Born Edinburgh, Scotland (February 1835)

A photographic portrait of Davis is known.

Lieutenant F.E.H. Farquharson's Victoria Cross action at Lucknow, 9 March 1858. By L.W. Desanges (Black Watch Museum)

Lieutenant F.E.H. Farquharson’s Victoria Cross action at Lucknow, 9 March 1858. By L.W. Desanges.

Lieutenant Francis Edward Henry Farquharson
Lucknow, India 9 March 1858
42nd (Highland) Regiment of Foot
Born Glasgow, Scotland (25 March 1837)

Painting of the Farquharson Victoria Cross action, shown above, is held by the The Black Watch & Castle Museum, Perth, Scotland.

A photographic portrait of Farquharson is known.

Colour-Sergeant William Gardner DCM
Bareilly, India 5 May 1858
42nd (Highland) Regiment of Foot
Born Nemphlar, Lanarkshire, Scotland (3 March 1821)

Awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal in 1855 for actions during the Crimea War.

A photographic portrait of Gardner is known.

Surgeon Anthony Dickson Home (Later Sir A.D. Home KCB)
Relief of Lucknow, India 26 September 1857
90th Regiment of Foot (Perthshire Volunteers Light Infantry)
Born Dunbar, East Lothian, Scotland (30 Novmeber 1826)

A photographic portrait of Home is known.

Lieutenant William Alexander Kerr
Kolapore, India 10 July 1857
24th Bombay Native Infantry
Born Melrose, Scottish Borders, Scotland (18 July 1831)

A painting of the Kerr Victoria Cross action is held by the National Army Museum, Chelsea, London.

A photographic portrait of Kerr is known to exist.

Lieutenant James Leith
Betwah, India 1 April 1858
14th Light Dragoons (King’s Regiment)
Born Glenkindie, Aberdeenshire, Scotland (26 May 1826)

A photographic portrait of Leith is known.

Interior of Secundra Bagh. Felice Beato, 1858.

Interior of Secundra Bagh. Felice Beato, 1858.

Private David MacKay
Secundrabagh, Siege of Lucknow, India 24 December 1858
93rd Regiment of Foot (Sutherland Highlanders)
Born Caithness, Scotland (23 November 1831)

Elected for the award of the Victoria Cross  by the private soldiers of the Regiment

Lieutenant Herbert MacPherson (Later Sir H. MacPherson GCB KCSI)
Siege of Lucknow 25 September 1857
78th (Highland) Regiment of Foot (Ross-shire Buffs)
Born Ardersier, Inverness-shire, Scotland (22 January 1827)

An Oleolithograph after Harry Payne, published, 1890 is held by the National Army Museum, Chelsea, London.

A photographic portrait of MacPherson wearing the Victoria Cross is known to exist.

Lieutenant William McBean
Lucknow, India 11 March 1858
93rd Regiment of Foot (Sutherland Highlanders)
Born Inverness, Scotland (1 January 1818)

A photographic portrait of McBean wearing the Victoria Cross is known to exist.

"The Relief of Lucknow". Painting  by Thomas Jones Barker, National Portrait Gallery, London.

“The Relief of Lucknow”. Painting by Thomas Jones Barker, National Portrait Gallery, London.

Gunner Hugh McInnes
Relief of Lucknow 14 – 22 November 1857
Bengal Artillery
Born Glasgow, Scotland (October 1815)

Elected by fellow officers and soldiers to receive the award of the Victoria Cross.

Colour-Sergeant Stewart McPherson
Lucknow Residency, India 26 September 1857
78th (Highland) Regiment of Foot (Ross-shire Buffs)
Born Culross, Fife, Scotland (Born 1822)

Victoria Cross presented to McPherson by Queen Victoria, Windsor Castle, 4 January 1860.

A photographic image of McPherson wearing the Victoria Cross is known.

A memorial to Stewart McPherson is located at the Abbey Church in Culross, Fife.

Private Duncan Millar
Maylah Ghaut, India 15 January 1859
42nd (Highland) Regiment of Foot
Born Kilmarnock, Ayrshire, Scotland (19 June 1824)

A photographic image of Millar is known.

Conductor James William Miller
Near Agra, India 28 October 1857
Bengal Ordnance Department
Born Glasgow, Scotland (5 May 1820)

A photographic image of Miller is known.

"The 93rd Highlanders storming the Secundra Bagh" Watercolour by Orlando Norie, 1858. National Army Museum, London.

“The 93rd Highlanders storming the Secundra Bagh” Watercolour by Orlando Norie, 1858. National Army Museum, London.

Colour-Sergeant James Munro
Secunderabagh, Lucknow, India 16 November 1857
93rd Regiment of Foot (Sutherland Highlanders)
Born Nigg, Ross and Cromarty, Scotland (11 October 1826)

Received the Victoria Cross from Queen Victoria, Windsor Castle, 1860.

A photographic image of Munro is known.

Gunner James Park
Relief of Lucknow, India 14 – 22 November 1857
Bengal Artillery
Born Glasgow, Scotland (1835)

Elected by fellow officers and soldiers to receive the award of the Victoria Cross.

Killed in Action Lucknow, 14 June 1858.

Sergeant John Paton
Round the Shah Nujiff, Siege of Lucknow, India 16 November 1857
93rd Regiment of Foot (Sutherland Highlanders)
Born Stirling, Scotland (23 December 1833)

Elected by Non-commissioned officers to receive the award of the Victoria Cross.

A photographic image of Paton is known.

Lieutenant William Rennie
Advance upon Lucknow, India 21 September 1857 and Lucknow, India 25 September 1857
90th Regiment of Foot (Perthshire Volunteers Light Infantry)
Born Elgin, Moray, Scotland (1 November 1821)

A photographic image of Rennie is known.

Ensign Patrick Roddy
Return from Kuthirga, India 27 September 1858
Bengal Army
Born Elphin, County Roscommon, Scotland (17 March 1827)

A photographic image of Roddy is known.

Private George Rodgers
Marar, Gwalior, India 16 June 1858
71st (Highland) Regiment of Foot
Born Glasgow, Scotland (January 1829)

Private Same (John) Shaw
Lucknow, India 13 June 1858
3rd Battalion, The Rifle Brigade
Born Prestonpans, East Lothian, Scotland (Date of Birth unknown)

Died 27 December 1859. Buried at Sea.

Quartermaster-Sergeant John Simpson
Attack on Fort Ruhya, India 15 April 1858
42nd (Highland) Regiment of Foot
Born Edinburgh, Scotland (29 January 1826)

A photographic image of Simpson is known.

Troop Sergeant-Major David Spence
Shumsabad, India 17 January 1858
9th (Queen’s Royal) Lancers
Born Inverkeithing, Fife, Scotland (1818)

In 1862 Spence became a Yeoman of the Guard.

A photographic portrait of Spence wearing the Victoria Cross is known.

Captain William George Drummond Stewart
Sikandarabagh, India 16 November 1857
93rd Regiment of Foot (Sutherland Highlanders)
Born Grandtully, Perthshire, Scotland (February 1831)

Elected by the Officers of his regiment to receive the award of the Victoria Cross.

Lance-Corporal Alexander Thompson
Fort Ruhya, India 15 April 1858
42nd (Highland) Regiment of Foot
Born Perth, Scotland (1824)

A photographic image of Thompson is known.

This Land of Crimson

Posted By on November 11, 2016

Flanders poppies along the roadside near Ouderdom, Belgium.

Flanders poppies along the roadside near Ouderdom, Belgium. (P. Ferguson image September 2016)

Papaver rhoeas

On the advance to Reningelst I see them. A small stand, crimson with black centers grow near to another botanical family – corn stalks.

They are the only Papaver rhoeas (Corn Poppy) I have seen on this journey of discovery – their colour stands out amidst all this new growth from nature’s palette. Gentle in the breeze, catching the sun’s rays, their motion reminds me of a single moment when hurt is caught between the living and the fallen.

I cannot help but dismount, climb the slight rise to enjoy their life, their gentle sway as the shutter clicks. All the while…here in Flanders Fields, this land of crimson…we will remember them.