At precisely 04:20 the officers of the Royal Scots and Gordon Highlander’s lines at Sanctuary Wood on the Ypres Salient blew their whistles and the men went over the top. That was Saturday 25 September 1915 – exactly one hundred years ago today, to the second (this article will be published at 04:20). Somewhere in that that mass of men was my great-grand uncle Jim Reid. Pvt James Reid 8836, Royal Scots, was 29 years old, and that rainy morning was to be the very last day of his life. Along with 953 men of his regiment he fell in Flanders in a war that seems as pointless now as it did then.
Now is not the time to get emotional over his passing. I knew nothing of him until I visited his grave at Tyne Cot last month. All that I wish to do here is remember him in some small way before he is forever lost in the trenches of history. He deserves that much at least. Fighting at the front in 1915 means that he was not a professional soldier; the “Old Contemptables” of General French’s British Expeditionary Force had been wiped out by Christmas 1914. Jim was a volunteer. Like thousands the length of Britain he answered Kitchener’s call to fight for King and Country.
He and his brothers were coal miners. His father and uncles were all coal miners. These were hard men who lived hard lives, and who would have welcomed the change and the adventure of a trip overseas and the experience of war. How much he loved King George will have to remain a mystery, but I doubt very much they were ever on talking terms. The fact is that he went off to war, and somewhere in the chaos of a suicide mission he was lost to us; lost to his family back home and to his family now. Strangely, had he never gone to war, or had he survived, I wouldn’t be writing about him now.
Whatever about all this, I will be thinking about him today. I’ll be thinking about how little I know about him. I’ll be wondering if someone somewhere has a photograph of him or his service medal. In the afternoon I have determined to drop down to the Island Bridge Great War memorial and leave the thistle I brought home from his trench line to his memory. Thinking of him and his comrades now, I really hope he never suffered. I hope that he wasn’t left crying in no-man’s-land. For his own sake, I hope that he died well and clean. There really were giants. To a soldier of the Great War, God rest you Jim.