Memorial Cross

Memorial Cross

Following the loss of so many comrades in their first few weeks in France it was decided to erect a memorial to those who had died. Although the battalion had now moved away from Festubert a party was organised to return to the orchard where some of the men had been buried. The Northern Scot published a lengthy description by the Reverend J McLeod-Campbell of the memorial and its erection, as well as a drawing by Private Stewart Knock. The account said:

Among the landmarks of the British campaign in France, it is safe to predict that the 'Indian Village', on the Richebourg - Festubert front, will stand out in the memories of many with a special prominence. Indians, Canadians, Highlanders have a good and honourable cause for remembering it and the trenches in its neighbourhood. Other troops have also left their mark - the melancholy witness of a grave or the more cheerful ‘souvenir' of an inscription, such, for example, as the '22nd Londons, The Queens Own Bermondsey Boys', upon a window pane. Many must have welcomed its temporary shelter, precarious though it be, after a 'hot’'tramp across the shell-pitted path from Rue de l'Epinette. Many have passed through it never to return, for the trenches beyond, especially at the angle of the orchard, are swept by mortars, shells and enfilading fire. To many staggering down wounded or stretcher-borne along tortuous and perilous paths the Indian village has been a despairingly distant but intensely-to-be-desired goal. For there in the sole surviving building the doctor's dressing station is installed.

It has witnessed grim scenes that dressing station. Never did fair new moon look down on sadder sights than those we witnessed there on June 15th. Three doctors were at work in the one stable and our outhouse available as office, surgery, dispensary, consulting room and waiting room. The rows of plucky patients in the clean wards of hospitals or at the base reveal perhaps convincingly enough the havoc of war, but it might be well if more of the general public who 'cannot realise' the war could be confronted with the picture of a regimental dressing station on such a night as that - a picture which no one who has seen the original would care to draw. There was no check in the stream of wounded - no relaxing of the gallant efforts of the stretcher bearers - not a moment’s lull for the doctors, no room to move for stretchers, the dugouts congested with patients delayed in their 'evacuation' by the killing of an ambulance horse upon its way.

It is in this spot and to commemorate some of the heroes of that night that the cross of which we print an illustration has been erected. There is a quiet green orchard behind the ruined farm - decked it was then with wild roses - where several of them lie, but the great majority were "buried where they fell", behind the trenches where they had presented their bodies a living sacrifice, awaiting the death that they were powerless even to attempt to avert. There are few sterner tasks than theirs - sitting tight, maintaining hold of a heavily bombarded and enfiladed trench. This was the test to which they responded throughout that black night with unshaken courage, with no suspicion of demoralisation, no murmur of self pity from the wounded, no flinching among those who survived to watch and tend their comrades' pain.

The memorial cross is built of solid oak, standing ten feet from the ground, measuring five feet across the arms, a foot in width, 3½ inches in thickness. The text 'Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends' stands at the head. On the reverse of the crossbar, facing the path, is printed St John xii 24-26. 'Except a grain of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone; but if it die it bringeth forth much fruit. He that loveth his life shall lose it, and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal. If any man serve Me let him follow Me, and where I am there shall also My servant be’' The inscription, surmounted by the regimental badge and motto 'Cuidich’n Righ' (Help the King), reads - 'Erected by the 6th Seaforth Highlanders, Morayshire Battalion, in memory of comrades killed in action and buried where they fell, June 1915'. Forty-five names are inscribed on the panel.

A similar memorial in the form of a beautiful oak St Martin's cross has been erected in the same orchard by the 5th Seaforth Highlanders (Sutherlandshire Battalion). Two parties consisting of an officer, the chaplain, a NCO, and five men from each battalion, with the artist, revisited the Indian village last week, and carried the crosses shoulder-high to their destination, a mile and a half across the fields. They were unmolested on their journey. A short joint service was held when the crosses were erect, the chaplains (Presbyterian and Church of England respectively) dedicated the memorials with prayers and thanksgiving for the great and glorious tradition of the regiment, for the willing sacrifice of those who had laid down their lives, and for the example of their valour.

It is to be regretted that the 6th Battalion's cross, illustrated here, sustained injuries even before it had been planted. No sooner had it reached the intended site when a heavy shell burst in close proximity, and when the party returned from their precipitate flight into dug-outs it was found that the oak had in several places been torn and gashed by shells which exploded near by. Two names had been entirely deleted. The work, however, was completed (with only one further interruption from a burst of shrapnel) without any accident to any of the party. Perhaps it is not inappropriate that the memorial should bear these reminders of the wounds which they endured, of the stripes where-by we pray that the world may be healed, the sacrifice of these gallant Highlanders and of all their youth and strength being caught up into one with the great sacrifice of the cross for the redemption of the world.

Maybe the Seaforths cross will suffer further injury from shells and bullets: it may even be numbered among the ruins of this zone of desolation before the war is done. But meanwhile it stands as the outward symbol in concrete oak of much that clamoured for expression, and it was a sound instinct that suggested its prompt erection.

It expresses the honour due to those who fell - the tribute of friends to friends. It signifies to their nearest and dearest that the sacrifice of those they loved did not pass unregarded or unrecorded. Further than this it is an expression of faith - faith strained but triumphing. Men who had never before seen death have found themselves at work in fields strewn with the slain - burials, however reverent, seem at best casual and hurried; human life is to all appearances held cheap. It is possible to miss the heroic in what is commonplace out here, to miss the ideal in the obscuring detail and sordid ugliness of warfare. Hence the value of such an affirmation of faith as this simple cross symbolises in outward and visible form, emphasising as it does the ‘dignity’ and ‘grandeur’ of such deaths, the certain fruitfulness of sacrifice, the abiding promise of the welcome to eternal life awaiting those who have loved and served in the new home prepared for them by the Lord Himself.

If a glimpse of the cross and its message serve to enhearten a single passer-by on his trenchward way, a further vindication of its existence will have been added.

A boy who has seen his brother’' body broken before his eyes crept back into his dugout and fixed a little drawing on its wall. He drew a cross and a sunrise and wrote the simple inscription, 'God is Love'. So he reassured himself, and incidentally his friends who happened to see what he had done. That is the kind of reassurance that we need here in defiance of the daily challenge to faith, and, thank God, it is not withheld.

The accompanying drawing by Private Stewart Knock shows the 6th Seaforth Memorial Cross with the graves of Lieutenant David Stewart and Privates Walter Dunbar and Reginald Lehmann. Most of the graves of the Morayshire Seaforths buried close to the trenches in May and June 1915 did not survive later battles, but these three did survive and were moved after the war to Pont du Hem Cemetery at La Gorgue.

Rev J McLeod-Campbell
Reverend J McLeod-Campbell
Seaforth Memorial Cross
Drawing by Pte Stewart Knock showing the 6th Seaforth Memorial Cross with the graves of Lt David Stewart and Privates Walter Dunbar and Reginald Lehmann.