From the Minister

Dear friends

Although by the time you are reading this article, I will have handed over the role and responsibilities of Moderator to my successor, Derek Browning, and Margaret and I will be back living at Cramond Manse, at the time of writing we have just returned from the French town of Arras and the various services to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Arras.

The battle was the first major allied offensive of 1917. It began on 9 April and, although it lasted only 39 days, it also proved to be one of the bloodiest with towards 159,000 allied soldiers being killed and many more injured.

One of those who died was David Wyllie, Margaret’s great uncle, and, because she had discovered lots of documents including the telegram sent to his parents letting them know of his death, the story of the North Berwick farmer who volunteered to serve in the Argyll and Southern Highlanders was extensively covered by many television companies and also in the press.

It was an early 5.30 am start when a taxi picked us up from our hotel and took us to Carriere Wellington for the first of the commemorative services. Carriere Wellington is where New Zealanders created a remarkable series of tunnels which linked together several limestone quarries. As well as providing shelter for soldiers making their way to the front line, the tunnels also created that vital element of surprise. The service included quite harrowing accounts from
diaries as well as newspaper reports of events 100 years before and, having led an opening prayer, I then dedicated a beautiful memorial which a New Zealand artist had created.

From Carriere Wellington we travelled to Faubourg d’Amiens, the largest of the allied military cemeteries in the town,
where I conducted a simple Remembrance service. A Scottish military band led us in two hymns, there was a reading from Matthew’s gospel, and the service included an Arras 100 prayer which I had written for the occasion. The prayer was also used at a service held at Edinburgh Castle’s Scottish National War Memorial later in the day as well as in congregations all over Scotland. The service was attended by several thousand people drawn from around the world and, as well as dignitaries and representatives of the British Royal family, some 100 Scottish secondary school children were also present.

WW100 had arranged a WW1 battlefield tour for these young people who came from all over Scotland and I was able to include several of them in the service. Following the service each youngster laid a simple wooden cross at the grave of one of the soldiers, an experience I would imagine none of them will ever forget.

From Faubourg d’Amiens we travelled to Vimy Ridge where Margaret and I attended a very moving Canadian
commemorative service before returning to the Place d’Heroes in Arras for an evening Beating of the Retreat. Led by bands from different Scottish regiments, and with the square packed with thousands of local people and visitors, it brought a quite remarkable day to a fitting conclusion.

The following day with all the official ceremonies over, Margaret and I made our way to a small military cemetery on the
edge of Duisans, some five miles from Arras, where we found the grave of her great uncle, David Wyllie. As I am sure you can imagine it was a very poignant moment to see his name on the headstone, to kneel at his grave, lay flowers and say a short prayer. The cemetery is surrounded by ploughed fields and it felt a very fitting resting place for a North
Berwick farmer and soldier.

With best wishes

Russell Barr


November 2016
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