Highland Cadets honour fallen

July 7, 2016

Twenty-five members of 1st Battalion the Highlanders ACF recently returned from a tour of Belgium as part of the Battalion’s first ever battlefield tour. 

A total of 19 Cadets and six Adult Instructors from across the battalion, as well as Cadets from Orkney Independent Cadet Battery ACF, visited battlefields, cemeteries and took part in various ceremonies’ to pay their respect to the soldiers who lost their lives in the First World War.

The group completed a tour of Mons, Ypres, The Menin Gate Memorial and Passchendaele. For many the tour was very personal as they were given the opportunity to pay respects at the gravestones of family members and handed small wooden crosses to place on the graves of servicemen of their choosing.


The headstones of two Gordon Highlanders.

They then visited Nimy Bridge where the 4th Battalion The Royal Fusiliers stood fast during 1914 and learnt of the defence of the Mons-Condé Canal where Victoria Crosses were won by Lieutenant Maurice Dease and Private Sidney Godley. Later in the day they were given the opportunity to visit the Graveyard where Lt Dease was buried in the St Symphorien Military Cemetery. The Cadets conducted a memorial service and laid a wreath, with the Battalion’s Colours lowered as a mark of respect.

Cadets at the grave of Lt Maurice Dease VC.

During the visit to Ypres, they visited Langemark Cemetery where 44,061 men were buried – 25,000 of them in one mass grave. At times it was incomprehensible that so many soldiers were buried in one cemetery. The evening finished with a visit to the Menin Gate to take part in the Last Post Ceremony, which has been held every day since 1928 – apart from when Belgium was occupied in the Second World War by the Germans. The battalion was given special permission to wear their uniform and to proudly display their battalion’s colours at the ceremony. They were even given the privilege to lay a wreath during it, which was laid by Cadet Corporal Kirsty Longstaff (17) and Cadet Sergeant Scott Dawson (17) from Moray Company and Battery Sergeant Major Dominic Buttifant (17) of Orkney ACF to a lament of ‘Flowers of the Forrest’ played by LCpl John Peteranna (15) of the Pipes & Drums Detachment.


Cpl Kirsty Longstaff laying a wreath at the Menin Gate Ceremony alongside Sgt Scott Dawson and BSM Dominic Buttifant.


Standard Bearers Cpl Cooper (left), Sgt McKellar (right) and Piper LCpl Peteranna at St Symphorien.

They were filmed and photographed by visitors who flock in their hundreds to witness the emotional service. After the ceremony Cpl Longstaff said: “It was an honour to lay a wreath at the Menin Gate at such an important time in history to represent the 100 years of the battle of Somme and World War One.”

She added: “It was also emotional to see all the names of people from all over the world. It gave me a chill to think most of them were only a couple of years older than me and were fighting for our country.”

The highlight of the final day was a visit to the Passchendaele Museum, where the Cadets viewed WW1 artefacts, toured the underground bunker system and walked through trenches.

Some Cadets even had the chance to try on some replica equipment. Inverness Company Cadet Lance Corporal Erinne Bird (15) got to wear a full WW1-era uniform. She said: “I felt very weighted down and didn’t realise how much our uniform has evolved since the First World War.”

LCpl Erinne Bird in full uniform that would have been worn at Passchendaele

LCpl Erinne Bird in the uniform that would have been worn at Passchendaele.

The final Cemetery visited was at Tyne Cot, the largest WW1 Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery in the world. It was a moment of disbelief when the Cadets witnessed the 11,953 gravestones as they entered the Cemetery walls.

Sgt Dawson said that this visit was his most memorable moment of the trip. He said: “To my left and to my right there were thousands upon thousands of names of men who had given their lives and to my front there were thousands more in graves. It really brought it home to me that so many men had given their lives so that we could be free today.” A final wreath laying ceremony was performed prior to their return to Scotland.

Although this was the Battalion’s first battlefield tour, this was not the first one that some of the Cadets have taken part in.

It was Cpl Michael Neilson’s (17) third. He said: “I learned so much more than I thought would and it really helped to build bonds with my friends from the other companies from across the Battalion.”

Inverness Company LCpl Ben Johnston (15) said: “The battlefield tour gave me a chance to remember those who fought and died in the great war in a way that many others don’t get and I would recommend this trip to any Cadet that gets this opportunity.”

 Cpl Michael Neilson (left) with Cdt George Humphreys (right) with a map of the Langemarck battle site

Cpl Michael Neilson (left) and Cdt George Humphreys (right) with a map of the Langemark battle site.

Photos courtesy of CSMI MacLeod, SI MacAskill, SI Ennis and PI Stewart.