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Last Updated: Tuesday, 28 August 2007, 14:36 GMT 15:36 UK
Belgian tribute to Scots war dead
By Cameron Buttle
BBC Scotland

Zonnebeke is a neat, nondescript town in south west Belgium.

Bodies of soldiers killed in action
The Paschendale campaign resulted in 500,000 casualties

The only bar in the town spills out onto the pavement where a chalkboard sign offers Paschendale Pie and Tommy's Ale.

A couple of miles outside on the main road south is Frezenberg Ridge.

It was from this gentle slope that three Scottish Divisions marched off into the battle of Paschendale, what soldiers called the hell of hells.

For two weeks the British guns had pounded the fields of Flanders before the allied offensive of 1917. But that summer was to be one of the wettest on record - no-man's land turned into a glutinous sea of mud where men and animals, drowned cowering from machine-gun and sniper fire.

Paschendale was of no particular strategic military importance, it was supposed to have fallen within days in the wake of the allied advance. That advance was supposed to have cut deep into enemy lines and up to the coast to destroy German submarine bases.

Paschendale took three months and cost 500,000 casualties. A few months later the Germans counter-attacked and re-took it in just three days. The allies retreated to the lines they held in September 1917.

Murdo Fraser (Pic by the Scottish Parliament)
I like to think if it was the other way round, we would have done the same for them
Murdo Fraser, MSP
Scottish Conservatives

At the unveiling of the new monument to the Scottish dead, the very ground they fought over rumbled to the sound of the bass drums of the mass pipe bands marching past.

Throughout the ceremony the kilted figure of a Belgian man called Erwin Ureel darted here and there attending to every detail of the grand ceremony he had arranged.

Several hundred of his townsfolk joined him on the Frezenberg Ridge to think of the soldiers of the 9th, 15th and 51st Scottish Divisions. Many of them wore the new Paschendale tartan of brown with a deep red - set to represent the mud and blood of the battlefield.

"I have always found it strange that there was never anything to commemorate the Scottish soldiers," said Mr Ureel.

"There is a large British cemetery at Tyn Cott where all the British are buried but I felt the Scottish had to be recognised separately."

Starting again

Mr Ureel is a battlefield tour guide and is passionate about Scotland. It was his passion that encouraged the people of Zonnebeke to raise funds for the monument.

"We are a small town and it would have taken a long time to do this on our own," he said.

"When we asked for help everyone was so quick to offer us money. Then we knew we were doing the right thing."

Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser, who represents the Mid Scotland and Fife region, was in the crowd for the unveiling.

When he heard of plans for the monument, he took the plea for funds to the Scottish Parliament.

Tyne Cot war cemetery
Tyne Cot is the Commonwealth's largest war cemetery

He said: "It is staggering when you see how many Scottish soldiers died in such a small area. It's marvellous what the people here have done.

"I like to think if it was the other way round, we would have done the same for them."

At the close of the ceremony, six uniformed Belgian firemen marched quietly up behind the monument.

They were the famous Menin Gate Buglers. Every night since the end of World War I, buglers have sounded the last post at the Menin Gates a few miles away in Ypres.

On the Frezenberg Ridge they played again for the Scottish dead.

The reason Zonnebeke is so neat and nondescript and uniform and square is because after the battle of Paschendale there was nothing left standing.

The people of the town rebuilt it from scratch and now, 90 years later, they say they have built a monument to the dead from every corner of Scotland who gave their lives to set them free.

Looking up at the statue, Mr Ureel reflects on what he has achieved.

He said: "We will always do everything we can to make sure every generation of Belgian remembers what happened here. We must never, ever forget."


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