“High Hopes and Disappointments”

Last year, during the winter months, I was involved in the ‘WW100Scotland’ project. I was asked to write a short piece on the Battle of Arras for inclusion in a booklet to commemorate the centenary. The work is just one in a series of booklets covering Scotland’s part in the Great War. For anyone going over to the battlefields for the first time they offer a quick guide to the main events, and are a particularly useful resource for schools, etc. Getting hold of hard copies might be difficult, but they can all be found on-line at in the ‘Library’ section.

The booklet on Arras is called “High Hopes and Disappointments”, a title that contrasts the giddy optimism of Nivelle’s plan, particularly after the German withdrawal to the Hindenburg Line and, of course, the British and Canadian successes of the 9th April, with the harsh reality on the battlefield once the British and French operations were put to the test.

The work, which was overseen by historian,Trevor Royle, has contributions from Group Captain Bob Kemp and Captain Chris McGinley, R.N. There are also some personal pieces relating to some of those who took part in the fighting, some of whom fell in action, e.g. Captain Gavin Lang Pagan and Privates David Wyllie and Donald Gunn Mackay. There’s also a sprinkling of humour, such as the tale of ‘The Order of the Boiled Egg’, awarded to Lieutenant George Hutton, 9th Royal Scots, who was seriously wounded on the 9th April. Finally, there’s a short article recounting the further escapades of Major Hubert Dunsterville Harvey-Kelly, DSO, (Arras North – Page 37) entitled: ‘A Small Bar of Copper and a Large Potato’, courtesy of Bob Kemp.

All titles in the series are very well illustrated, and if you have time, it’s worth taking a look at the WW100Scotland website; and for anyone whose French is up to scratch the booklet on Arras even appears in translation under the title: “Grandes Espérances et Déceptions”.

I was not in Arras for the centenary; instead I was very kindly invited to Edinburgh to give a talk at the City Chambers on the Battle of Arras on behalf of Royal British Legion Scotland. The following day (9th April) I was also invited to attend the service of remembrance held at the Scottish National War Memorial inside the castle followed by Beating the Retreat on the castle esplanade. During the weekend’s events I was privileged to meet descendants of several men featured in my books on Arras, including relatives of Lieutenant Donald Mackintosh, VC, (Arras North – Page 28) and Company Serjeant-Major John Thomas Morrison, DCM (Arras North – Page 62). The hospitality at the Royal Scots Club where I stayed also made the trip a very enjoyable one.