The History of Leith

March 30, 2012

THE 7th ROYAL SCOTS-Gretna disaster 1915

THE 7th ROYAL SCOTS.
Ever since the inception of this battalion, it has been
olosely connected with South Leith Church. After
months of preparation it was ready to face the hazards
of the field of battle. But how ‘unexpected was their
lot! At Gretna on 22nd May somewhere about- 200
were killed, and about the same number were injured in
a dreadful railway disaster. The following, whose names
are on our Church Roll of Honour, were among the
slain :—S. Allison, J. Ballantyne, L. T. Batten, Douglas
Burke, H. Cairns, W. Clark, P. Cumming, G. Dalgleish,
J. Dick, Sydney Hadden, James Mather, Andrew
Moodie, David M’Diarmid, Charles Orr, W. Niven,
James Scott, Arthur Summers, G. Shumacker, T.
Williamson, Thomas Wilson.
In addition, about 18 of our men and lads have been
injured. We have thus the unenviable distinction of
contributing about 10 per cent of the total casualties.
The Public Memorial Service for the Departed was held
in Church on Sabbath evening 30th May. The Church
never was fuller, its capacity being taxed to the uttermost.
All the Public Bodies in Leith wrere represented :
Town Council, School Board, Parish Council, Dock
Commission, High Constables, Trinity House, and
others. The Scottish Command was represented by Sir
Spencer Ewart, Commander-in-chief, and his staff. All
the local regiments, including the 7th under Major
Muirhead, were also represented. The ministers who
assisted Mr. Swan were Rev. James Harvey, M.A.,
Lady Glenorchy’s United Free Church, Rev. D. G.
Hamilton, St. Serf’s Parish Church, and Rev. R. A.
Reid, M.A., Kirkgate United Free Church. An
augmented Choir led the Praise, and Mr. U. Ker Goalen
presided at the organ. The notes for the Minister’s
address were as follows :—
” Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a
crown of life.”—Rev. ii. 10.
The sorrowful tragedy which has gathered us together
this evening touches emotions too deep for words, if not
for tears. We all long to find expression, but cannot, for
our horror, our sorrow, and our sympathy. Wre recognise
that here the truest eloquence is the briefest simplicity ;
anything more shades off into some form of insincerity.
I. In the great Old Testament took which deals with
heaped up and stunning calamity, the friends of the
afflicted Job expressed their best sympathy by silence.
It was when they took to themselves words that their
natural defects leaked out. Enslaved by the theory that
outstanding calamity was the result of outstanding, if
also secret, sin, they hindered the working of the Divine
Spirit in the heart of Job,-mstead of keeping it. They
exasperated ; they did not comfort. The result will be
similar if we slip into a like error. Our Lord exposed
the fault of all such self-complacent consolers when
He said, “Or those eighteen -upon whom the tower
in Siloam fell, and slew them, think ye that they were
sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem ? I tell
you, Nay: ‘but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise
perish.”—Luke xiii. 4, 5.
II. But there is another way of dealing with catastrophe
against which we must be equally onrour guard. There
are still those who are tempted to say, in face of the
many miseries of life, “Over a world in which such
cruel happenings occur there cannot rule a good and
just God.” So they turn to the sufferer and say to him,
if they are refined and reverent, “Cease to worship a
Power which, if it exists, allows such distresses” ; or if
they are blatant and coarse, ” Curse God and take whatever
consequences may follow.” Apparent disillusionment
and emancipation may follow such influences, but
certainly rest and comfort will not. Neither heart nor
head can feed on negations.
III. What, then, is the true attitude of the soul when
saddened by a glimpse of life’s tremendous possibilities of
woe 1 Not to be convinced that we know quite clearly
why God has permitted it to come to pass, but to believe
that if with the hand of an humble earnestness we can
hold on through it all to the rope of faith, God will
eventually bring forth sweet out of bitter, and good out
of evil. He who now wears the crown once bore the
cross. He who has entered into the joy of the Lord in
one dread moment had all the sins of the world laid on
His heart.
IV. The careless forgetfulness of one man—much to be
pitied to-day—jumbled together a series of forces whose
dire destructiveness has halved the effectiveness of our
local regiment. Both the men and their friends were
prepared for the issues of the field of battle ; they knew
that death might part them and us. But the gratuitousness
of this accident, its avoidability, shows only too
clearly how the human factor may fail despite the greatest
precautions. As I saw our splendid fellows at the fine
reception arranged for them in Edinburgh by my brother
chaplain I could not but admire their heartiness and
physique. The same feelings must have animated the
Rev. Dingwall Scott, one of the chaplains of the Lowland
Division at Falkirk, who writes, “I shall never forget
that I was privileged to address these brave men at their
last Parade Service. Knowing that the men were under
orders for the Front, one quite realised that in all probability
it would be the last Parade Service in their native
laud” for not a few, but no one dreamed that before the
week was over the final Roll Call would come to so
many in that splendid body of men.” These are the
words he uses when making by letter the request, ‘ ‘ I
shall be glad if you will kindly convey to any of the
bereaved relatives to whom you may conveniently do so
a message of sympathy from myself and the soldiers
here.”
Recollect that they were volunteers. There was not a
single conscript among them. The light of expectation
ws

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