The History of Leith

November 20, 2011

The Royal Scots (Vllth Batt.) Memorial-South Leith Church

(In the North Aisle.)
LEITH has always had a connection with the Volunteer and the Territorial Forces since their inception in 1859. Equally, the local Regiment or Battalion, for Leith has frequently been linked up with Musselburgh, has had a close connection with South Leith Parish Church.
The minister of South Leith was, almost invariably, a Chaplain until Leith not merely lost its municipal identity but its regimental identity as well. The Vllth Royal Scots exists no more, but has been amalgamated with the IXth Royal Scots, which is an Edinburgh Regiment. Dr. James Mitchell was Chaplain for many years. He was associated also in former years with the old Volunteer regiment.
Next to him came Dr. John White, with whom was associated Dr. James Harvey, minister of Lady Glenorchy’s United Free Church. Dr. Harvey was Moderator of the General Assembly of that Church in 1925, as. by a striking coincidence. Dr. John White was also of the Church of Scotland Assembly. The present minister of South Leith succeeded Dr. White in the Chaplaincy in 1912, and held the appointment
until the identity of the Regiment was lost in the re-arrangement which took place shortly after the conclusion of the War. The officers have usually been Leith merchants resident in Edinburgh. The great bulk of the non-commissioned officers and privates, excluding the company from Musselburgh, have been recruited from our local burgh. Up till the outbreak of War, and for a good many years previously, the commanding officer was Lieut.-Col. W. Carmichael Peebles, who served through the War and was decorated with the D.S.O. At the beginning of the Great War the whole regiment, with very few exceptions, volunteered for Active Service. Temporary Barracks were found for the Regiment in Dalmeny Street and in Wellington Place. The men worked hard, and when at last their longing to get abroad was gratified, it may be said that no more fit territorial regiment ever entrained. They set foot from “Waverley Station on 22nd “May 1915, full of health and spirits. A thrill of horror ran through the country, later in the day, when it was announced that the train had met with sudden disaster at Gretna, near the English border. Some two hundred men were either killed outright in the collision with a train going northwards, and also unfortunately containing some troops, or they were burned to death in the appalling fire which immediately broke out, reducing part of the train and the men in it to a mass of charred remains. Almost, if not more than as many men again, were wounded and hurt.
The Public Hospital of Carlisle and all the improvised War Hospitals in that neighbourhood, were filled with the sufferers. Even some of the Hotels of the County Town were requisitioned.
The trial of the railway men concerned brought out the sinister fact that preoccupation with the gambling news of some news-sheet had brought about a gross neglect of duty. Thus heroic men were done to death before they even had the opportunity of risking their lives on the field of battle for their country, A fitting Memorial occupies the corner in Rosebank Cemetery where the sufferers are interred. Lord Rosebery composed the Inscription, and the Scripture texts were chosen by the present writer. The Memorial Fund was raised under the able and sympathetic leadership of Sir Malcolm Smith, then Provost of Leitb. After rest and reinforcement, the Regiment again set out for the field. Brilliant service was rendered in Egypt, Gallipoli, Palestine, France, and Belgium. Many of the officers who survived were decorated for their services. Lietit.-Cols. Mitchell and Ewing succeeded to the command after Col. Peebles was invalided home. Without exaggeration, it
may be said that our local battalion acquitted itself with honour on the field of war. But how pathetic it was when all that remained of the Regiment arrived at Leith Central Station, some time after the close of the War. to be disbanded! It was merely a shadow of its former self. Death and wounds and transference to other regiments had done their work only too well.
The monument, which is small and simple and done in white marble, was dedicated at a great Service on 21st May 1922, in which all the surviving officers and men took part. The inscription is as follows :—
To the Glory of God and in Memory of the Officers
Warrant & Non-Conunissioned Officers
and Men of the
7th Battalion
who fell in the War

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