Brora war memorial committee unveil info panels to mark centenary ahead of new year commemoration
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The centenary of Clyne Parish War Memorial was celebrated on Christmas Day with the informal unveiling of two informal interpretation panels next to the site.
The unveiling was carried out by former Friends of Clyne War Memorial Association (FoCWMA) vice-chair Mrs Morag Sutherland and current chair, Dr Nick Lindsay.
A spokesperson for the committee said: "The panels tell the story of how the concept of the memorial was initiated by the community after the war, its fundraising, its design and construction and also of its unveiling.
"It is hoped that this story will help both our community and visitors more fully understand the memorial’s importance and its role today as the focal point of the village."
The FoCWMA committee plan to hold their usual New Year’s Day community wreath-laying ceremony, which will also double-up as the centenary commemoration for the memorial.
It is convention that the committee invites someone with a family connection to the memorial to lay the wreath on behalf of the community.
This year, the committee welcomes Elaine Smith and her two children, Katie and Kyle, to perform the ceremony.
The connection is particularly fitting as it was Elaine’s great-grandmother, Mrs Elsie Matheson, who unveiled the memorial plaque at the original dedication ceremony, 100 years previously.
At 11.30am on Christmas Day 1922, over 2000 people assembled at the newly-built memorial to witness Mrs Matheson unveil the plaque, displayed on its front.
The plaque held the names of the 61 service personnel who had died during or soon after what was then called the 1914-18 Great War.
Mrs Matheson had been afforded the honour of unveiling the plaque because she and her husband Thomas, Chairman of the Parish Council, had lost a daughter, two sons and a son-in-law during the conflict – the biggest loss suffered by a single family in the parish.
The official dedication ceremony took place on a fine winter’s day. Official dignitaries lined up on the platform in front of the memorial and, flanking either side stood representatives from the services: Corporal George Melville Sutherland of East Clyne represented the Army and Able Seaman Donald Urquhart of Elder Street, Lower Brora, the Royal Navy. Between them, a Union Jack flag hung, draped over the panel later to be unveiled by Mrs Matheson.
Immediately after the chimes of the bells at noon, there was a short service, before War Memorial Committee Chairman, John Ross, addressed the gathering.
He thanked those who had contributed in any way to the beautiful edifice, including the many Brora exiles, who had chosen to seek new lives abroad in the years leading up to the war, who also added to the funds.
Poignantly and as a message for future generations, he went on to say “Memorials such as this, are not necessary to keep alive in the hearts of the present generation, the memory of their gallant deeds and heroic sacrifice - these are ever before us. Such memorials are for our children's children, to remind each succeeding generation, that at a great price they obtained their freedom.”
Local tailor, Hector Sutherland, representing the Comrades of the Great War, then read out the roll-call of the 61 persons who had made the ultimate sacrifice.
Mrs Matheson was then invited to step forward to unveil the flag covering the red granite tablet, on which the casualties’ names were listed. Officially handing over the memorial to Clyne Parish Council, John Ross said that he “trusted that, whatever may be neglected, this memorial to the gallant dead, never will, but be guarded from all danger and kept as a sacred trust.”
The custody of the memorial was accepted by Clyne Parish Council Chairman, Thomas Matheson, who said that they “would do all in their power to preserve it for all time.”
The Northern Times reported on the solemn day’s events, and stated that the memorial was “reckoned to be the handsomest in the North.”
Little did the gathering that day realise that just 17 years later in 1939, World War Two would commence and last for six years. A tablet bearing the names of 18 further servicemen from the parish who died in this conflict was unveiled on November 6th 1949.
The 1991 Gulf War saw a further name added to the memorial. The community trusts this is the last casualty to give their all because of conflict.
The memorial is now under the safe guardianship of the Friends of Clyne War Memorial Association, which was set up in 2012 to prepare for the centenary commemorations of the outbreak of the First World War in 2014. Grant funding was secured from the Centenary War Memorial Fund, Highland Council, Brora Community Council, Gordonbush Wind Farm Community Benefit Fund and Kilbraur Wind Farm Community Benefit Fund to undertake repairs and install floodlighting.
In 2017, the Association entered the memorial into the British Legion’s Best Kept War Memorial Campaign and was delighted to win both the regional and national competitions for the ‘new entrant’ category. The memorial is now in excellent condition and in the good hands of the community; its future as our iconic village emblem assured.