Descendants of soldiers killed in the Battle of Arras – including 18,000 Scots – gathered at events in Scotland and France yesterday to mark its centenary.
They were joined by politicians including First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, schoolchildren, veterans and members of the public paying their respects at ceremonies at Faubourg d’Amiens Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery in Arras, northern France.
A ceremony also took place at the Scottish National War Memorial in Edinburgh Castle, followed by a Beating Retreat by the Royal Marines Scotland band on the castle esplanade.
The battle – from 9 April to 16 May 1917 – had the highest concentration of Scottish troops fighting in any engagement during World War I. Of the 129 battalions that took part, 44 were Scottish.
The Right Reverend Dr Russell Barr, Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, who conducted the service at Arras, read out the Arras WW100 Scotland Prayer, which he wrote for the occasion.
It included the lines: “Weaving together past sorrow and future hope, help us to be mindful of the debt we owe others and of the opportunities which lie ahead.
“As we recall the terrible cost of war, in particular the price paid at Arras by those who served there, let us also recall Your command to love our enemy and care for our neighbour.”
The Moderator’s wife, Margaret Barr, laid flowers on the grave of her great uncle David Wyllie, who was killed aged 29.
The Royal Regiment of Scotland band conducted a Beating Retreat in the town’s Place des Héros.
Ms Sturgeon said: “Forty-four Scottish battalions and seven Scottish-named Canadian battalions took part in the Battle of Arras – the highest concentration of Scottish troops fighting in a single battle during World War I.
“Pupils representing every local authority in Scotland are in Arras this weekend to learn more about its impact. These young people are not much younger than many of those who fought in the battle – many of whom never returned to Scotland.
“Education is an important part of our commemorative programme, ensuring pupils understand the impact and significance of the battle and share what they have learned with their peers and wider community.”
Wreaths were laid by Lord Llewellyn, British ambassador to France, Professor Norman Drummond, chairman of the Scottish commemorations panel, and Vice Admiral Sir Tim Laurence.
In a poignant tribute, a school pupil from Scotland and one from France laid a wreath together on behalf of the UK, French, Canadian, New Zealand, Australian and South African nations who took part in the battle.
A total of 72 schoolchildren, representing all 32 local authorities in Scotland, were in Arras where they were joined by an equal number of pupils from France and Canada, as well as 12 Army cadets from Scotland.
Among those gathered was cadet Melissa Rodger, 14, from Motherwell, whose great-great uncle Private Samuel Rodger of the Cameron Highlanders died in the fighting on 3 May 1917.