The headline in the “Linlithgowshire Gazette” of Friday, June 20th 1919, said it all. The Riding of the Marches was back – having been cancelled every year since the Great War began. Some called the event, held on Tuesday, June 17th, the “Riding of the Victory Marches” as, in addition to continuing once again the ancient ceremonies, it would witness the return of many of the soldiers who had lived to return. For many, the war had ended at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, 1918. However, as that Armistice was being widely celebrated throughout the nation, for the men of the 2/10 Royal Scots battle still raged as, on that day when the ceasefire began, they were locked in conflict against a Bolshevik army in the Valley of the Dvina in northwest Russia.
The 2/10 Battalion had been raised in Linlithgow in 1914 and spent most of the war on coastal defence duties around Berwick. In June 1918, however, it received orders to move to Russia and in July a contingent of 1000 men sailed for Archangel as part of a task force comprising of British, Canadians, Australians, French, Italians and Americans.
The British Government regarded the Russian ‘Red Army’ as a puppet of the Germans and so decided to support the ‘White Army’ who opposed the Bolsheviks. Consequently, with the war in mainland Europe over, the Scots troops found themselves 3000 miles from home, locked in conflict and fighting bravely- repulsing several Bolshevik attacks and, in the process, capturing a 76mm (3-inch) gun along with a staff officer who provided useful information.
The fighting continued until June 1919 when the regiment was relieved and duly returned to Scotland where some 400 members were invited to attend the Linlithgow Riding of the Marches – the first to be held since 1914. The Crying had taken place on Friday, June 13th when Town Crier Sam Weir had paraded the High Street announcing the forthcoming event - ordering all inhabitants to attend under penalty of a fine of £100 Scots.
The locals were more than ready for it - deprived as they had been of the centuries old tradition for five years. The town was en fete and the High Street and many shops along it were decorated with flags and bunting.
The “Shows” were back and the swing-boats, hobbyhorses and Biddal’s Bioscope were all set up at the West Port.
In addition to the usual preparations for the “Big Day”, the Town Council had also to arrange for the participation of the returning troops. Several “government wagons’” from Scottish Command were requested to convey the soldiers to and from Linlithgow Bridge, and down to Blackness. In addition, motor vehicles were obtained from Falkirk Tramways, Young’s of Whitburn, the Linlithgow Motor Company, Tennant’s of Armadale, and Boyd’s of Bo’ness.
All preparations in place, after the Provost’s Breakfast – held in the First Citizen’s own home (Wilmar in Strawberry Bank) - Provost William Philip and other dignitaries walked to Linlithgow Palace where the Provost briefly addressed the assembled troops, conveying the town’s admiration for all they had done remarking that, “the medium of words breaks down and completely fails when one attempts to describe what we all feel towards our own boys who had experienced the horrors of the battlefields.”
The Rev. Robert Coupar then led all in prayer, giving thanks to the Almighty and declaring that “victory has been achieved; thou hast set the people free and given us the prospect of peace although there is bound to be trouble ahead.”
The Rev. Coupar continued, praying for the repose of the souls of those who had fallen in the conflict. And of course, among the young men who had given their lives, was the minister’s own son, Captain Sydney Coupar, commemorated by the candelabra in St Michael’s Church.
Photographs were taken of the assembled company and then the squaddies, formed up in fours, marched in column down to the Cross, in time for the 11-00am departure of the Marches procession.
The participants in the parade had been marshalled by Depute Chief Constable, Henry Robinson, and he duly set them off, led by the Bo’ness and Carriden Brass Band and right behind them, in horse-drawn carriages, the Provost, Magistrates, Town Council officials and guests. Behind them, in their motorised vehicles, came the soldiers, followed by the Linlithgow Pipe Band, the Fraternities, the Kinneil Reed Band, the Lochmill employees, other trade representatives and finally, marching to the music of the Wallacestone Pipe Band, the Dyers, in their traditional place at the rear of the procession. The cavalcade, and particularly the returning troops, were cheered along the whole route.
At the Brig, a lorry had been filled with supplies for the troops: twenty-four dozen (288) bottles of beer; twenty dozen (240) bottles of Lumsden’s lemonade and four hundred and twenty pies – all allocated to the soldiers as they sat in their vehicles, on production of a tear off slip from their invitations.
Provost Philip greeted William Spence remarking that he had been appointed Deacon of the Dyers in 1918 but that this was the first time he had been able to fraternise and drink from the Waldie Loving Cup. The Provost regretted the fact that there had been no Marches day during the war years and he expressed the hope that the ceremonies would never again be interrupted.
The whole retinue then journeyed to Blackness where the Provost performed the ancient ceremony of installing the Baron Bailie on the Castle Hill. The soldiers formed a guard of honour along the route and cheered when Captain John Grant, ensconced in his leafy bower, was appointed with all due, mock formality.
The Baron Bailie reported that unlike mainland Europe, no fighting had occurred in the village during the previous four years of conflict but that the township had always been ready to repel any invasion with ample ammunition being stored in Blackness Castle and with trenches dug along the foreshore. He also, in more serious vein, asked the assembly to remember the fallen from Blackness. Afterwards, Town Herald Sam Weir declared the Ceremonial Court closed – “excepting for riots!” Thereafter, preceded by the Bo’ness and Carriden Band, the troops and the official party marched to a marquee set up in in West Terrace – the large party filling the tent to overflowing with several seats having to be requisitioned from the army lorries.
Three barrels of beer had been taken into the tent and distributed amongst the revelers with, according to one report, “the beer flowing from whatever container could be found: jugs, pots, even watering cans!”
The Gazette Editor, Robert Fleming, declared the meal to be “a frugal one” but satisfactory - the purvey being prepared by the Bainsford and Grahamston Cooperative Society. It was the first time that the Marches lunch had been served in a marquee instead of in a village hall or inn and many remarked that it was a welcome change from the usual stuffy, smoke-filled room although some missed the cosy camaraderie and the sing-song. After brief speeches, three Toasts were drunk with accompanying speeches: “The King”, “The Imperial Forces” and “The Town Council.”
During the orations, several appropriate sentiments were proclaimed including the fact that there was a giant chasm between 1919 and the 1914 Marches when the town was in high expectation of the visit of King George V and Queen Mary. Just a month later war had broken out. So much had happened since those days!
Tributes were also paid to the returning troops who had “ left Linlithgow later in 1914 and proceeded to their war stations.” It was further noted that some had not returned “and now lie in far-off lands – young men who never dreamt they would be called upon to undertake soldiering and yet found themselves in khaki, with so many giving their lives for their country.”
Bailie McKay, in his speech, further applauded the men of the Burgh and Parish who had “responded gallantly and performed their duty nobly wherever they were sent.” In particular, he singled out, as an example, Lieutenant Colonel Thom DSO and MC whom he called “a typical son of the black bitch who had won promotion and honour on the field of battle.”
Further military acknowledgment was completed with the presentation by the Provost of medals for gallantry to Sergeant Downie and Corporal Gray. The Toast to the Town Council was delivered by an Anzac, Australian soldier, R. Dawson Moore – by then a member of the New South Wales Legislature, a relative of Provost Philip. He had led an adventurous life having been arrested as a spy in Russia, fought at Pozieres on the Somme, sent home wounded and then, as a politician, he had taken part in the unfurling of a flag in Lithgow, New South Wales – a gift from its ‘twin’ town, Linlithgow.
An impromptu toast was also proposed to the ladies of Linlithgow who had “given up their comforts and undertaken men’s work, employment that in the old days would never have been dreamt of.” Particular praise was given to the munitionettes - the girls who had made armaments in the Nobel Explosives Factory.
At 3-30pm, the party piled aboard their transports, including the Dyers who had lunched in Low Valley House, and everyone returned to the town in time for the
4-00pm parade three times round the Cross, where they were cheered on by a large crowd.
Marches Day 1919 had been ridden in style. A century on, the Deacons Court decided to commemorate those events and consequently, the Royal Regiment of Scotland (SCOTS) has been invited by West Lothian Council to exercise its freedom rights by leading the Linlithgow Riding of the Marches through the town. The Regiment will be represented by the 1st, 2nd and 6th Battalions, Balaklava Company, their Pipes and Drums and the SCOTS band. The contingent will be accompanied by the Regimental Mascot, Corporal Cruachan IV, a Shetland pony.
The march past will begin at the Cross just before 11-00am and the salute will be taken by Major General Bob Bruce, (Colonel of the Royal Regiment of Scotland) accompanied by Provost John Cunningham, West Lothian Provost Tom Kerr, Lord Lieutenant of West Lothian, Moira Niven, and other dignitaries. As befits their honoured status as Freemen of the Burgh, the troops will march along the High Street with drums beating, bayonets fixed and colours (regimental flags) flying. In addition to the usual spectacle and pageantry which accompanies every Marches Day, it will provide for an unmissable occasion.
After the visit to the Bridge, the route through Linlithgow will be retraced and then the principal officers, town officials and guests will head for Blackness where, at a moving ceremony, due respects will be paid at the Blackness War Memorial, which was erected in 1922, to record eight men from the village who fell in the Great War. Thoughts will also go to the 158 men who are recorded on Linlithgow’s memorial within St Michael’s Church. The memory of those men who came back - and those who did not - will never be forgotten.