Commemoration of the Centenary of the 51st (Highland) Division Capturing Beaumont Hamel

The morning of 13 November, 2016, dawned just as its predecessor did a century before, misty, wet and cold. But by 11 a.m., the time of the start of our ceremony to commemorate the centenary of the capture of Beaumont Hamel by the 51st (Highland) Division, the rain had stopped and the day had brightened a little.
About 200 people gathered as the Samarobriva Pipe Band from Amiens led the parade into the village from the Sunken Lane (the 8th Argyll’s jumping off point for the battle) and halted by the Highland Division flagstaff. Then the 51st Highland, 7th Battalion, The Royal Regiment of Scotland’s Colour Party took their place on the opposite side of the road and the ceremony could begin.

51st Highland, 7th Battalion, The Royal Regiment of Scotland’s RSM, Colour Party and piper


There were French dignitaries alongside British ones, including Mr Magnus Linklater of the Scottish Great War Commemorations Panel and Colonel Al Veitch representing the British Ambassador, Paris, who both made short speeches during the ceremony. After a welcome and introduction by Derek Bird, Scotland (North) Branch, and Gerard Magniez, Mayor of Beaumont Hamel, and the aforementioned speeches, the exhortation was given by Regimental Sergeant-Major Fairweather, the Last Post was played by Staff-Sergeant Forsyth and the lament was played by Lance-Corporal Macey-Lillie (all 7 Scots), before a minute’s silence was observed.

Derek Bird, Scotland (North) Branch, and Gerard Magniez, Mayor of Beaumont Hamel, lay the first wreaths.

Then wreaths were laid by the dignitaries and regimental associations; with the WFA wreath being laid by Andy Tonge, European Officer. Particularly pleasing was the number of relatives of the men who fought at Beaumont Hamel who attended the ceremony and some laid wreaths including Steve Leslie, Scottish born but who he had emigrated to Canada as a youngster. He travelled from the Middle East to remember his grandfather who served with the 6th Seaforth. Another was laid by Caroline Gauld who was remembering her great-great uncle who served with the 7th Gordons; he was badly wounded at Beaumont Hamel and died in hospital at Abbeville a week later – she had travelled from Australia. He was just one of two thousand casualties, five hundred of whom were killed or died of wounds sustained at Beaumont Hamel.

The line-up of dignitaries and main wreath layers at the close of the ceremony.

After the final words by Derek Bird, The mayor invited everyone into the grounds of the old school where the villagers had prepared a large tent to house the vin d’honneur. To augment the villagers’ sparkling wine and brioche Avril Williams of Ocean Villas supplied sandwiches, and I had obtained a big supply of Scottish shortbread and a magnificent donation of specially-labelled Glenfarclas 15 year-old single malt.
In summary the pipe band were excellent, and a contingent of ‘Gordon Highlanders’ dressed in 1916 uniforms and equipment, coordinated by Tom Greenshields, helped to give a flavour of events a century ago. It was a great honour to have the 7 Scots Colour Party, piper and bugler on parade and they were a credit to their modern-day regiment and to their forbears, the Territorials of the 51st (Highland) Division; and the day was rounded off by a superb vin d’honneur.
As I said during the ceremony ‘I suspect that the men of 1916 would have been surprised if they had been told there would be a gathering in Beaumont Hamel to remember them a century later. But it is the very least they deserve.’ I hope that the commemoration, with its mixture of formality and informality, would have met with their approval.


The wreaths and flowers laid at the Highland Division flagstaff on the centenary of the battle.

 

 

We are delighted to acknowledge the generous support of The Gordon and Ena Baxter Foundation in giving a grant of £100 towards the cost of the centenary ceremony.

 

 

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