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Black Watch statue honouring Great War heroes

The unveiling of the statue yesterday at Zonnebeke, near Ypres. Picture: Reuters

The unveiling of the statue yesterday at Zonnebeke, near Ypres. Picture: Reuters

  • by ALISTAIR MUNRO
 

A STATUE of a kilted Black Watch sergeant was unveiled in Belgium yesterday to mark the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War.

The bronze statue, designed by Edinburgh sculptor Alan Herriot, was erected in front of 300 regimental veterans at the scene of the Battle of Nonne Bosschen, in Flanders, near Ypres, one of the pivotal campaigns in the war.

It honours the tens of thousands of Black Watch officers and soldiers who died or were wounded in the war, some of them while battling overwhelming odds at that location in 1914.

The ceremony was the first Scottish event of the commemorations, and the location – Black Watch Corner – is expected to become a focal point for Scottish remembrance in the coming months. The bronze memorial was made in Scotland and shipped to Belgium last month.

It depicts a Black Watch sergeant in fighting uniform of kilt, jacket and bonnet. He carries a Lee Enfield rifle with an 18in bayonet.

A lone piper played for the guests attending the event, including Dundee Lord Provost Bob Duncan, Angus Provost Helen Oswald and a large group of Black Watch veterans led by Major Ronnie Proctor.

The statue will be maintained by people from the nearby town of Zonnebeke.

Colonel Alex Murdoch, chairman of the Black Watch Association, said: “The site chosen for the statue has been known as Black Watch Corner since the remnants of our 1st Battalion took part in a successful defensive action.

“This action brought to an end the First Battle of Ypres and their heroic stand was to prove decisive because it stopped the German advance to the coast.”

Black Watch Association vice-chairman Lt Col Roddy Riddell said: “This statue will be a unique and powerful symbol of the fighting spirit of the Black Watch which lives on to this day.

“As a regiment we have served with our Welsh, Irish and English brothers in arms for nearly three centuries and this battle epitomises our shared history as part of the United Kingdom.”

Sculptor Herriot said: “It has been a pleasure and an honour to work on this commission alongside the Black Watch Association.

“My passion for the project has thankfully resulted in a fitting memorial to almost 9,000 men from the Black Watch who gave their lives in the Great War.”

Among those who made the trip to Flanders was Black Watch veteran Sandy MacDuff, from Perth. His grandfather, Sergeant Alexander MacDuff, was one of the lucky ones who returned from the horrors of the Great War to tell the tale.

He fought as part of the embattled 1st Battalion at Polygon Wood as the might of the Kaiser’s Prussian Guard tried in vain to break through to the coast in November 1914.

He said: “It’s a very emotional trip. To stand where my grandfather fought shoulder to shoulder with his comrades in a battle which was to prove pivotal in safeguarding our future is extremely humbling.

“My grandfather was discharged in 1916 as a reservist but chose to re-enlist and go back to the front and be with his comrades. To endure the unspeakable horrors of the war for two years and then go back to the front tells me he was a very brave man.

“They were all heroes – a generation the likes of which we will never see again.”

 

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