Remembering those who were killed in wars and conflict.
By Bill Heaney
The two minutes’ silence at 11 o’clock on Remembrance Day morning will rightly take many local families down memory lane to recall loved ones lost in conflict.
In the morning
And at the going down of the sun
We will remember them …
Remember them we did this weekend, not just here in Dumbarton but across the world.
It wasn’t just Scots who gave their lives for our country, soldiers from the Commonwealth made the ultimate sacrifice for democracy.
These young people didn’t “fall” nor did they “pass away” but were shot or blown to bits in the world’s cruellest ever war.
They died so that we could live in peace and freedom.
But peace comes dropping slowly even in the 21st century – far too slowly.
The world appears to have learnt little or nothing from the fact that millions lost their lives and the millions were driven out of their homes and became refugees.
War and terror tops the schedule of every television and radio news bulletin and the state of the art ordnance and other sophisticated weaponry continue to reap a grim harvest of death and injury and limbs lost “in action”.
All those terms such as “passed away,” “the fallen,” and “in action,” are used by journalists and government spin doctors to ameliorate the impact of the bloodshed and carnage brought by war.
Isn’t it time we called a spade a spade and looked death in the eye?
Only then might people realise war is not about bravery and glory and blood stirring pipe tunes but death and devastation.
And young people being denied the chance to live, work and marry and bring up a family.
And, of course, to look after their parents and grandparents in their old age.
These were my thoughts as I walked round neatly kept avenues between the graves in God’s Acre at the foot of Garshake last Remembrance Day morning.
I had been looking through the records of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission at the number of service personnel buried in our local cemeteries.
There are hundreds of names of men and women on war graves from Dumbarton through Renton (Millburn Parish Church), Alexandria and Bonhill, Cardross, Helensburgh, Faslane, Garelochhead and Rosneath and Kilcreggan, far more than I ever imagined.
People come from all over the world to pay their respects and to search out the last resting place of their relatives who died, people they never have known but love just the same.
The poem and poppy are prominent Remembrance Day symbols throughout the Commonwealth, particularly in Canada, where In Flanders Fields is one of the nation’s best-known literary works.
Conic Hill above Balmaha on Loch Lomondside where the aircraft crashed.
Fresh poppies and tiny crosses have been laid on the graves of four young Canadians and two Englishmen who were killed on the 13th of September, 1944, when their plane, an Avro Lancaster bomber of 101 Squadron RAF, crashed on Conic Hill, near Balmaha on Loch Lomondside.
The aircraft – piloted by a young woman, Flying Officer Claire Edwards Brooks, of the Royal Canadian Air Force and her colleague Flying Officer Lloyd George Peardon, was on a training flight from Ludford Magna in Lincolnshire when the tail broke off and it dived into a bog.
The other members of the crew who were killed were two air gunners, a navigator and a wireless operator.
The youngest person to die in the crash was Sergeant James Watt, of Banff, Alberta, who was just 18 years old. James was amongst the youngest RCAF airmen in Bomber Command to be killed in action.
Few reports exist of this crash or of the subsequent funeral at Dumbarton, most probably because the Official Secrets Act was in place at that time and details of those involved are hard to come by.
So, let’s simply pay tribute here to this young woman and five men who died tragically in one of the world’s most beautiful places, the Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond.
At some future date, it is hoped that a memorial to the airmen who died can be sited in the village of Balmaha on the West Highland Way at the foot of Conic Hill.
This well-known poem is by one of their own, Canadian John McCrae:
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place: and in the sky
The larks still bravely singing fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the dead: Short days ago,
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved: and now we lie
In Flanders fields!
Take up our quarrel with the foe
To you, from failing hands, we throw
The torch: be yours to hold it high
If ye break faith with us who die,
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields
That poem is from the First World War, of course.
Local soldiers from that war are buried across Europe, mostly in France or Belgium where they fell.
However, there is a grave at Dumbarton Cemetery of one of our own who was killed in the Vietnam War on September 10, 1967.
He was Alex Chisholm from Quarry Knowe in Castlehill, Dumbarton.
Alex had trained as an engineer and draughtsman at the Dewrance factory in Glasgow Road, Dumbarton, before emigrating to New York.
I knew him well from Dewrance where he was an intelligent, handsome young man of just 24 years of age on the road to success in his chosen profession.
Alex, a member of a large and well-known local family, was a hardworking former pupil of Dumbarton Academy and a nice guy with it.
An only son, he was the apple of his mother’s eye and dearly loved by his five sisters.
He became an American citizen and was called up by the US Marine Corps where he moved swiftly through the ranks to become a sergeant.
Sergeant Chisholm 2242793 was called into action in South Vietnam where he was killed by enemy rocket fire.
Poignantly, he was due to finish his year’s service with the troops in Vietnam just a month after he was killed.
His body was flown back to the United States and from there to Scotland where he was buried with full military honours at Dumbarton Cemetery.
Sadly, Alex, had he lived would probably have been married with a family of children and grandchildren.
Many older people will have forgotten about Vietnam and wonder why it happened and some of our younger readers will never have heard of it.
That is why it is important to remember the horrors of war and all our war dead who were mostly members of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, the Highland Light Infantry, the Cameron Highlanders and Black Watch, regiments which recruited locally.
They didn’t “fall” or “pass away” as the news readers and newspapers would have it. They died. Their lives were stolen from them.
They gave their lives for us, our country and our freedom. Peace be with them.