Visiting the Battlefields


I don’t like battlefields. I deplore all wars, particularly those in which young men slaughter each other to further the bloody political ambitions of older ones who misuse their power.


I agree that sometimes war is necessary if innocent people are

being massacred but the wretched things are all too easy to start and very difficult to finish…


So you will understand my ten-year refusal to accompany my darling daughter to the killing fields of The Somme and the Ypres Salient.


Ailsa is an historian with a particular interest in World War 1.

She and my son-in-law, David are now experts in the subject and both are passionate about preserving the memory of the men and women who were involved in the conflict, particularly those from Lismore.


In my refusal, I was fighting a gallant rearguard action (if you’ll excuse the analogy) but I was running out of excuses.


This summer, I realised that the time had come. I’d have to “bite the bullet” (ouch) and go.


I could not have predicted the profound effect that the trip would have on me, or the variety of experiences, which awaited. (Which is why you may well read more about it later!!!)


D.J and I met up with Ailsa and David on the Somme at a town called Albert.

We carried with us a lovely card from Lismore Historical Society to be placed on the appropriate memorial for the Lismore lads.


Sadly, none of them has a grave: they are simply “missing”.


Peter Douglas was killed at Arras in 1917 and is commemorated on the memorial there.  The names of Donald Buchanan, Alexander MacGregor and John Mathieson are inscribed on the Tyne Cot Memorial at Ypres.


Since the same territory was fought over bitterly time and again in the four years of war, earlier graves were frequently destroyed and, in the nature of a war, which used high explosives, often there are no remains to find.


The conflict was over ninety years ago and the people of the Somme and Ypres simply get on with their lives among the cemeteries and memorials, but children do not play in the woods because of unexploded ordnance and French and Belgian farmers place the annual “iron harvest ” of war-time detritus in the corner of their field for the weekly visit of the army bomb disposal collection unit.


Surprise number one awaited us when A. and D emerged from their B and B next morning to begin our tour.

David was in full military kit (WW1 Gordon Highlanders)


“Just as well we don’t embarrass easily, “ I muttered to D.J.


Off we went to Newfoundland Park. In addition to the memorial to the gallant Canadians who died there is one to the 51st Highland division.

So Ailsa played “The Flowers of the Forest” on her violin and David stood to attention.


There were lots of visitors but David’s appearance merely attracted the odd admiring glance – I think most of them just thought he worked there!!


Surprise number two awaited us in the first cemetery.


No, it was not ghoulish or terrible. It was beautiful, peaceful and serene, with flowers everywhere.


Some I could identify –lupins, lavender, sedums hydrangea, and everywhere, the most gorgeous roses.


Each cream-coloured headstone has, where it is known, the name of the soldier, his rank, age and the badge of his regiment.

Often there is an inscription from his family.


Every year about thirty sets of remains are found in the surrounding countryside.


Where the soldier can be identified, every effort is made to contact next of kin and he is buried with full military honours.


If identification is not possible, the same headstone is used and the remains join the many others, which read

“A soldier of the Great War” and at the base, simply




Freda MacGregor

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