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The Story of Leith
XXXIII. Leith's Honourable Record in the Great War

StewartfieldThe inhabitants of Leith have always been distinguished for devoted loyalty in the cause of king and country, and in times of national danger, as our story shows, have ever been foremost in rallying to their defence. The Leith men of our own times have shown themselves no less patriotic than those of older days. A sculptured portrait panel on Queen Victoria’s statue facing Leith Walk reminds us of the part the Leith Territorials played in the South African War of 1899— 1902. We have already seen in the story of the gallant fight of the Coblenz with an enemy submarine that the heroic spirit which animated Leith mariners in the brave days of old inspired the sailormen of the Port all through the Great War. It was in the same spirit and with the same dauntless courage that Leith’s own battalion, the 7th Royal Scots, went forth in defence of home and fatherland. Leith, too, had a special interest in General Haig, the Commander-in-Chief of our armies, for his mother, Rachel Veitch, and her only sister Dorothea were townswomen of our own. Their father, Hugh Veitch, was town clerk of Leith and lived at Stewartfield, a house that formerly stood near Bonnington Toll, and was owned originally by a family of Stewart who lived here in the eighteenth century. Its garden wall still bounds Newhaven Road from the Toll to Bonnington Mill.

No other testimony is needed to show the noble spirit of patriotism that animated Leith all through the years of the Great War than the fact that out of a population of 84,000 no fewer than 14,000, or exactly one-sixth of the total inhabitants, enrolled for service. That record can hardly be excelled by any other town. Of the number who rallied to the flag in their country’s hour of need, 2,205 made the supreme sacrifice. There were 320 honours gained. Two Leith men—Lieutenant Allan E. Ker, and Sapper Adam Archibald—won the V.C., while five others gained the D.S.O.

The Gretna Disaster. The Funeral procession pasing Pilrig.

The war was brought into the very midst of the town on Sunday night, April 2, 1916, when it was bombed by enemy zeppelins. But no incident throughout the whole war stirred the heart of Leith so deeply as the cruel fate that overtook its own battalion, the 7th Royal Scots, at Gretna on Saturday, May 22, 1915, while on its way to join the fighting line. In that terrible disaster 214 officers and men were killed, and only some sixty out of nearly 500 were able to answer the roll-call. The whole town was stricken with grief, and sore did she mourn her fallen sons. Their remembrance can never die. As often as the anniversary of the disaster comes round so often will Leith gather before the memorial erected to their memory to pay her tribute to the heroic dead.

"Towards crimson fields and trenches deep 
They journeyed on,
Till Fate decreed that they should sleep
Much nearer home.
But though their couch be far removed
From scenes of strife,
Still to the land they dearly loved
Each gave his life.
For in the will, not in the deed,
True courage lies;
And all had owned their country’s need— 
Great sacrifice I"


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