Alex Massie

London Scottish (1914)

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The war memorial in my hometown, a place of no more than 6,000 people today, lists the names of no fewer than 292 men from Selkirk killed in the Great War. As we remember them, and the hundreds of thousands and millions of others today, it's also worth noting that it is a mark of how much better the world is now that such sacrifice, such slaughter, is all but inconceivable.

There are thousands of terrible stories with which one can mark Remembrance Sunday. Stuart Bathgate wrote a fine piece for the Scotsman yesterday, reminding us of one such story and the dreadful casualties suffered by the London Scottish rugby club. The history goes that the club fielded four XVs on the final Saturday of the 1913-14 season and that only one survived the war. Mick Imlah's poem, London Scottish (1914) puts it well:

April, the last full fixture of the spring:

‘Feet, Scottish, feet’ – they rucked the fear of God

Into Blackheath. Their club was everything:

And of the four sides playing that afternoon,

The stars, but also those from the back pitches,

All sixty volunteered for the touring squad,

And swapped their Richmond turf for Belgian ditches.

October: mad for a fight, they broke too soon

On the Ypres Salient, rushing the ridge between

‘Witshit’ and Messines.         Three-quarters died.

Of that ill-balanced and fatigued fifteen

The ass selectors favoured to survive,

Just one, Brodie the prop, resumed his post.

The others sometimes drank to ‘The Forty-Five’:

Neither a humorous nor an idle toast.

No, not a humorous or idle toast at all. We remember not because we can but because we should. And so we do.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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