Our James

I spent last week in France visiting the Somme where I attended a memorial service in the tiny village of Beaumont-Hamel. During World War 1 this village was almost completely destroyed as it was at the centre of heavy fighting throughout the Battle of the Somme. The village is now surrounded by cemeteries and the whole area dotted with memorials to battles and battalions, including the preserved battlefield within the Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial Park that, due to their appalling losses there, is a National Monument of Canada. In the five months of fighting for the Battle of the Somme more than a million young men were killed or wounded. In November 1916 one of the casualties was our James.

James Gauld was born in Aberdeen in 1894, the youngest son of a family clearly not strangers to adventure or hardship. His mother and two of his sisters had died when he was still a toddler and by the time war broke out in 1914 four of his five remaining siblings had emigrated to Australia or Canada. James signed up with his local Territorial Regiment, the Gordon Highlanders, in June or July 1914, just before war was declared. He landed in France nine months later and fought on the Western Front for eighteen months, the last five months being the Battle of the Somme. His Division captured Beaumont-Hamel on 13th November 1916 in the final actions of the Battle of the Somme, suffering more than 2,000 casualties in the process. One of these was our James, who was shot in the neck. Although he was treated and evacuated to a nearby military hospital in Abbeville he sadly died of his wounds just eight days after the battle and only a few weeks before his eldest brother William Gauld, a Sergeant with the Australian Imperial Force (12th Field Artillery), arrived in France to fight nearby.

The ceremony I attended commemorated the famous victory of the 51st Highland Division (which included the 1/7th Gordons) at Beaumont-Hamel and was held at the flagpole in the village centre donated by the Division to the village. On 13th November each year the villagers fly the Royal Standard of Scotland to commemorate the battle. For the centenary this year the Royal British Legion (in the person of Derek Bird) arranged a service which included a colour party, pipe band and a few hardy souls wearing replica uniforms and kit. The village hosted a Vin d’Honneur after the service, to which John Grant of the Glenfarclas distillery family generously contributed two dozens bottles of their fabulous 15yr old single malt. Naturally I had a dram; it would have been impolite of me not to, and considering the weather it was very welcome. Despite the solemnity of the occasion I quite enjoyed the novelty of being surrounded by exotically-accented, kilt-wearing men yelling at each other over the drone of the bagpipes. I wish I could have souvenired a whole bottle of that whisky though…

Before the service I had visited  James’ grave in the beautifully maintained cemetery at Abbeville on a lovely sunny Remembrance Day. Although there were thirty or more carloads of French families visiting graves in the main part of the cemetery I was the only person visiting the CWGC cemetery. Given the distance from his home and family I may well have been the first family member to visit James in the 100 years he has lain there; many of the almost 3,000 war graves in this cemetery may never have received a family visit.

 

 

These too-distant cemeteries are the reason for the war memorials listing the names of the fallen of WWI and WWII in towns and cities across the Commonwealth. James is commemorated on the Portlethen War Memorial where he enlisted, in the Gordon Highlanders Roll of Honour at the Scottish War Memorial and on the family grave in Nellfield Cemetery in Aberdeen. And in his enlistment photograph, hanging on the wall of his great-grand niece’s home.

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Family vault

Highgate cemetery

In the older, western part of Highgate cemetery is a family vault where my great-great-great-grandparents, Joseph and Sarah Anderson lie. This part of the cemetery is now only accessible by guided tour or private appointment as it is mostly overgrown and hard to access. I made an appointment on very short notice and the lovely Justin from the Friends of the Highgate cemetery kindly took me to see the vault. He told me that it stood almost at the top of the cemetery and once had a commanding view of the city of London.

The vault itself was built into the side of the hill, with steps and a door providing access for interment of coffins as needed. This particular vault was somewhat special though, even for Highgate, as the memorial above it was once topped by the tallest obelisk in Highgate Cemetery. Sarah Anderson was buried here in 1843, when the fashion in memorials was influenced by Egyptian monuments. Her husband Joseph was a wealthy man; they were at that time living in a villa in the Inner Circle of Regent’s Park called The Holme. Joseph clearly spared no expense buying a very large plot for a vault, rather than separate burials, and commissioning this incredible obelisk as a memorial.

The obelisk has now sadly fallen from the memorial base and lies sideways and broken across several neighbouring vaults, while the lettering that once covered at least two sides of the memorial base is breaking off and becoming unreadable. The family crest still shows on what would have been the front of the obelisk but it too is wearing away and becoming overgrown with vines. Luckily we can see an artists impression of what it looked like when new through an etching from the time which has been reproduced in a booklet produced by the Friends of the Highgate Cemetery.

P.S. If you are related to me you need to google “The Holme, Regents Park” to get an idea of just how the Andersons lived. I suspect they may have been the Kardashians of their day…

Roaming around

With no apologies for the irresistible pun – here are some pictures of my few short days visiting some of the major sights on Hadrian’s Wall (once the limit of the Roman Empire). I went to Corbridge and Chesters in the fog, Birdoswald at dawn, Housesteads in the rain, Vindolanda and the Roman Army Museum in holiday crowds and beautiful Walltown Crags in almost total isolation (except for one lady with her two friendly collies). Sadly my ankle didn’t heal in time for a real hike so the 5km loop at Walltown was my only proper walk on the wall. The weather was described by the British tourists as “bracing”: good thing I have a new water and wind-proof coat! The most astonishing sight by far was the guy in a JCB merrily excavating/moving a huge pile of dirt and masonry on the Vindolanda site.

Tourist magnet

Edinburgh, or at least the Old Town area, appears to be run entirely for the benefit of tourists who must all want the same souvenirs, judging by the number of shops selling tartan scarves. I searched in vain for some good stickers for my suitcase or a tartan collar for a certain cat I know but ended up with just a few interesting pictures from the castle, a ceramic spoon rest and a set of Scottish themed magnets, including the obligatory hairy coo and scotties in tartan coats. Plus a tartan scarf.

Granite city

I’ve spent a few days in Aberdeen, Scotland, where my great-grandfather Adam Gauld grew up. Most of the city is built with the local granite, a lovely silvery-grey stone that has been used in everything from tombstones to townhouses and massive public buildings with ornate decoration. Adam’s father James was a mason (which seems to be the local equivalent of a brickie) living and working in Aberdeen between 1880 and 1940. One of the best hotels in Aberdeen (Skene House Whitehall) just happens to be on the street where James was living in when Adam was born, Esslemont Avenue. Naturally, I’m staying there!

Continue reading “Granite city”

Jetlag

SculptureStarting day six of my fabulous holiday and for the first time I’ve slept right through the night and feel much more alert. I had arranged two days in London when I landed with flexible plans just in case I had jetlag but it has persisted far longer than I expected. All I managed to do on my two days in London was to visit the V&A and then go on a short shopping trip down Oxford Street. I’ve just bought one or two small things but luckily my hotel can store my extra bags for me while I am away in Scotland and the north country.

The image is one of my favourite pieces of stained glass from the V&A, sadly I have forgotten who made this Arts & Crafts era panel, which is one of four. I’ll just have to go back for another look when I’m back in London next.

Fun with Google Maps

Mum keeps asking me for my itinerary and a few other people have been asking where I am going so I’ve been looking for ways to add my plans to this blog easily to share them. I’ve been using Tripit for all my travel plans for years just forwarding my email bookings so it automatically creates an itinerary. I have added a few people so they can see all my plans but when I tried using the calendar feed from tripit in a post (via a custom Google Calendar) I quickly realised there was way too much booking detail included.

So instead I’ve spent a bit of time making a custom Google Map with all the locations of places I am staying, visiting, travelling and shopping and then writing up the highlights on a page here. I setup a few categories (Accomodation, Attractions and Other) and used some standard colours for those so I could quickly filter and scan, plus I used some of the custom icons which were cute! The only drawback is that I had to make the map public on the web in order to embed it below, which means I had to leave out the locations of family and friends I am visiting for privacy reasons.

Photography practice

I was out early taking photos this morning, under the capable instruction of my daughter, and for once using a real camera. Amanda is lending me her Fujifilm digital camera for my trip so I won’t need to rely solely on my phone.I’ve never owned a real camera so I don’t have any idea what all the buttons and dials do so we headed down to Cape Schank for a short walk and a little photography instruction. The flower close-ups were a bit fuzzy, and I’ll need to practice framing shots to get a better layout but I’m happy with this for a first attempt.

34 days to go…

The return of the blog

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Moffat Beach Headland

I have a six week holiday booked in October and November to the United Kingdom, with brief side trips to Ireland and France. Since I expect to take a photo or two, and I will be doing some family history research while I am there, I have decided to resurrect this old blog to record anything of interest to people back home. I guess if you could rely on Facebook or Instagram to show all your posts to your family without fail there would be no need for a blog, but who can know the arcane methods of the Facebook newsfeed algorithm…

This time I am trying to improve my photography as well by adding an image to every post. This week its a nice shot of dawn for this new beginning.