Today is Remembrance Day.
Just after 5am on 11th November 1918, in a clearing in a forest in Compiegne in Northern France, an armistice was signed between the Allies and Germany agreeing that the guns of would fall silence a few hours later, at 11am, bringing to an end the fighting of the First World War.
At 11am on the anniversary of the armistice, we stop in supermarkets, in the street, at home or wherever we are, to observe a two minute silence as a mark of respect to those who have fought and died in war. In Stirling, the 96th Service of Remembrance took place at the War Memorial at Corn Exchange.
Margaret Fleming is a name you’ll not find on Stirling’s war memorial, but her story is one I think about on Remembrance Day.
Margaret worked in a grocer’s shop in Stirling while her husband John was a sailor, travelling the world as a stoker on a steam ship. Together they lived in Stirling, raising their family, including sons Thomas and Martin.
In 1914 when war was declared, the Fleming men, like their neighbours and friends all over the country went to fight for King and Country. John joined the Merchant Navy, Martin the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders and Thomas the Black Watch regiment.
On the 27th October 1914, Thomas was killed in action in the First Battle of Ypres. He was thirty years old.
Ypres, in Western Belgium, lay between the Germans and the English Channel – the Germans wanted to take the ports and cut off Allied supply lines. The Allies wanted to stop them in their tracks. Thomas was one of 8050 men on both sides who died in the battle. 29170 were wounded and 10545 people are recorded as missing.
Margaret would have received a telegram at her home in Bank Street with the news that her son had been buried near to where he fell.
In 1917, Margaret would receive another telegram. Her husband John was serving on the steam ship Batoum, sailing between New Orleans and Queenstown in Ireland, bringing vital suppliers to aid the Allies war effort. John was a Donkeyman, responsible for the Donkey Engine, which helped pump water from the engine room. It was a hot, strenuous, dangerous job on the ship. On the 19th June 1917, the Batoum was less than fifteen kilometres from the end of its seven thousand kilometre trip. Some of the sailors would have seen the welcome light from the Lighthouse on Fasnet Rock. They would not have seen the torpedo from the German submarine before it struck. 41 of the 42 crew were rescued from the wreckage by the American Destroyer USS Jarvis. John Fleming was the only person who died in the attack.
Margaret’s third telegram came just three months before Armistice Day in 1918. In the last six months of the war, from March to November 1918, both sides lost over one million men as the Germans tried a series of last ditch offensives and the Allies mounted counter attacks. Three hundred thousand British soldiers lost their lives in the last 100 days of the war. On 10th August, in Flanders, Martin Fleming was one of them. He was twenty years old.
Stirling’s War Memorial
In October 1922, Stirling’s war memorial at the Corn Exchange was unveiled with a ceremony that included Earl Haig, Field Marshall of the British Expeditionary Force from 1915 until the end of the war. Immediately in front of the monument, positions had been reserved for the widows and mothers of fallen men. Behind them were the ex-service men and serving members of both the Regular and Territorial Army. Grouped along the railings of the Allan Park church were 200 Girl Guides, 160 of the Boys Brigade, 60 Boy Scouts and 54 Stirling Cadets. The public were on the slopes of the Back Walk outside the Albert Halls and on Dumbarton Road, thirty or forty deep. Every window overlooking the memorial was filled with faces. Some children had sneaked through a window on the municipal buildings and were sitting on the ledge with their feet dangling until they were spotted and ordered inside. There were people in the trees and there were people on top of the steeple on the Allan Park South church looking down. There were an estimated eight thousand people there that day.
‘Today we seek in our own way to place on record the part which the Sons of the Rock took in these great worldwide events.’
The service began with the town band playing the hymn “All People that on earth do dwell” before the Reverend Lang offered the Prayer of Dedication and then Provost John McCulloch said, “I feel that I am highly privileged to preside at this historic gathering when we are met to do honour to Stirling’s glorious dead. It may be that to rear a monument in stone will not satisfy every feeling of our hearts as we think of those dear to us who have departed. But at least we try in this way to give expression of our mingled feelings of grief and pride and when we are gone this monument will here be to tell future generations what the sons of Stirling could do and suffer when the call of duty came. They went forth to the battle and 690 of them never returned. Today we seek in our own way to place on record the part which the Sons of the Rock took in these great worldwide events.”
I cannot begin to imagine how Margaret Fleming felt that day in 1922 when she took part in the ceremony but I think of her and her family’s sacrifice today at 11am on Remembrance Day.