Birgham remembered its first World War I fallen hero, Private Nicholas Allan, in a poignant ceremony at the village’s war memorial cairn on Monday evening.
Private Allan died on April 20, 1915, aged 46 whilst serving with the 2nd Battalion Kings Own Scottish Borderers (KOSB), in the battle to take ‘Hill 60’ on the Ypres Salient. Another 210 of his KOSB comrades also fell in that attack.
Nicholas, whose parents William and Hellen Allan ran the blacksmiths in Birgham and lived in West End House, is buried in Poperinghe Old Military Cemetery in Belgium. Before the war Nicholas was also a farrier.
The village was delighted to welcome a large number of Private Allan’s relatives back to the village on Monday for the unveiling of the new WWI plaque on the war memorial cairn.
His great-granddaughter Linda Gibson from Hawick and his 94 year old granddaughter Susan Summers, who travelled from Leeds, unveiled the new plaque, then his three great-great-grandchildren, Sophie, Ruby and Joseph, planted poppy seeds around the memorial as a permanent tribute to all five men from the 1914-1918 war.
Former members of the KOSB were well represented at the ceremony to honour their comrade, the RBLS Coldstream Standard carried by Tommy Wilsonand the service conducted by Rev Stephen Blakey.
Stephen served as a chaplain in the British Army for 16 years and was chaplain to 1st Battalion KOSB for a period. Since leaving the regulars he is now the Senior Army Reserve Chaplain in Scotland, Padre of 6 SCOTS, and chaplain to the Berwick Branch of the KOSB Association.
He recently took over as minister for Duns and District Parishes.
Also attending were members of Coldstream KOSB Association and the Royal British Legion Scotland Coldstream Branch paraded a standard as a mark of respect.
Piper Gordon Thomson from Coldstream Pipe Band piped on the RBLS Standard and after a short introduction by Major Harry Cockerill, Rev Blakey then conducted the ceremony.
After the plaque was unveiled Major Cockerill, who lives in Birgham, lit a ‘vigil lantern’ to burn all night and then Nicholas’ great-great-grandchildren planted their poppy seeds.
Nicholas’ great-granddaughter Linda Gibson said: “I feel very honoured to be unveiling the plaque with my Aunt Cis. The family were all quite excited about this event and feel very honoured to be taking part in Birgham’s ceremony.”
One of the event organisers, Alastair Cunningham, added: “The village is now delighted we can remember the men who did not return from World War I, and we were the ones honoured that some of Nicholas’ family, especially his granddaughter, could be involved today.”
Engraved on Nicholas’ Commonwealth War Grave Commission headstone in Belguim’s Poperinghe Old Military Cemetery is: “We will drain our dearest veins, But they shall be free,” from ‘Scots Wha Hae’ by Robert Burns.
Despite the huge number of headstones being erected after the war every family was asked if they’d like personal inscriptions and Nicholas’ requested this at the time.
Alastair said: “The village would also like to thank Scott Buchan of Love Stone Landscapes, whose family live in Birgham, for mounting the new WWI plaque on the War Memorial Cairn.
“This has now joined the existing WWII plaque and Scott placed these on a slate backing and set it into the cairn stone.
“The end result looks fantastic and the villagers are delighted with the result.”
The other Birgham First World War commemoration dates are: Private James Scott (4th Battalion Canadian Infantry) September 8, 1916; Private Robert Hendry (KOSB) April 9, 1917; Private Walter Galbraith (KOSB) April 19, 1917 and Sergeant James Briggs (Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders) April 17, 1918.
The village plan to mark each of these with a simple tribute and then another commemoration ceremony in 2018 for the final 100th anniversary on April 17.