For one Clydesdale family that stirring pledge to our war dead in the 1914 Laurence Binyon poem For the Fallen – “we shall remember them” –was no empty promise.
A century to the very day that their ancestor Joseph MacPherson, of New Lanark, was killed in action on the front line during the First World War, members of his family gathered at his grave in France to pay their respects.
Leading the homage was his grandson, Graham McAdam, 70, of Carluke, joined by his wife Claire Ann and their daughter, Joseph’s great-grandaughter Gwen.
The party was completed by Gwen’s husband John and, coming all the way from Australia, Graham’s cousin Marion Beggs and her husband Aubrey.
At the time of the conflict the MacPhersons were a New Lanark mill-working family, Joseph being employed in that craft before joining up and being killed on August 27, 1917, while serving with the 16th Royal Scots at Hargicourt, France.
It is in the small military cemetery there that he rests to this day, alongside comrades who fell with him in that long-ago clash with German troops who had repeatedly taken Hargicourt only to be driven out by counter-attacks by British and Australian troops.
It is understood that Joseph lost his life in one of the early counter-attacks.
He was only 25 at the time of his death, leaving a widow who was to survive him by six decades and two baby daughters. His younger brother Guy was to become a lord cornet of Lanark in the 1950s.
The Gazette was told by Graham that his grandmother never remarried and would never ever talk about the tragedy that befell her and her daughters. He had to fill in many of the gaps in his knowledge of his grandfather’s fate himself by visiting the Scottish National War Memorial at Edinburgh Castle and subsequently consulting the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
He said that his grandmother’s lifelong refusal to talk about Joseph’s fate “just shows you that the casualties of World War One weren’t only on the battlefield and during the war”, adding: “The death of one soldier, like my grandfather, obviously struck at the family around them, the loss being felt for many, many years after the war.
“It seems a lot of the lads buried in Hargicourt fell in the same action as we saw other families at graves there the day we visited on the centenary of his death.”
Indeed, he noted that there were other family groups, from England, paying respects at the cemetery on the same day they visited. There were also some German visitors, perhaps explained by the fact that there are actually two enemy graves at Hargicourt, the resting place of around 300 soldiers who fell in that highly-contested Cambrai area of France in the last 18 months of the war.
Records show that Hargicourt was in use as a war cemetery even before the guns finally fell silent on November 11, 1918. It was later taken under the care of the War Graves Commission. It is thought that young Joseph MacPherson was one of the very first to occupy a grave there. A century on from that sad event, his family is proving they need no lessons in the true meaning of remembrance. It seems that this young Scottish soldier will, indeed, never be forgotten.