Special Feature

Classics at Kippen

Words and Music from the Somme

In 1918 my grandfather, James McCowan of Brig-O-Frew Farm, Kippen, returned from the First World War without his brother Duncan, who was tragically killed in action after his 21st birthday.

9 years ago, my husband Grant and I visited his war grave in northern France with my parents. Mum never knew her Uncle Duncan. My dad also lost 2 uncles in the war and their fiancées never married. Mum said that Grandpa rarely spoke about the horrors of the trenches and he never went back to see his brother Duncan’s grave. It was incredibly moving for us to pay our respects at those war graves 2 generations later and, as we drove past the family farm near Kippen on our way back from France, we realised we had made the journey home which Uncle Duncan never did. There are few families, like ours, which were left untouched by the horrors of WW1 and I’m sure you will have similar stories to tell like mine.

The words and music which flowed from the poets, writers and musicians who fought at the Somme, expressed things which as Victor Hugo said “cannot remain silent”. The wonderful song cycle “A Shropshire Lad” (words by Housman and music by George Butterworth) is such a piece. When I sat, in a performance class at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland where I work, listening to a student sing these wonderful songs, I felt compelled to put on a performance to commemorate those who so tragically lost their lives or were so deeply affected by the events of the Battle of the Somme 100 years ago. That day at college “Words and Music from the Somme” was born, the 6th in our “Classics at Kippen” concert series, which was established 4 years ago, to provide a wonderful community event, to give students from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland a performing platform and to raise money for local charities. What better charity could we raise money for than Erskine, founded 100 years ago, to help the war wounded from this terrible time in our history?

On 12 November, armistice weekend, nearly 350 people crowded into Kippen Parish Church for a presentation of “Words and Music from the Somme”. This highly artistic programme given by colleagues and students from The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, was a poignant, deeply moving and, I hope, fitting memorial to those from our small community and beyond, who fought for our freedom 100 years ago. I am a great believer in the words of the children’s hymn “Jesus bids us shine, you in your small corner and I in mine”. The work of Erskine still carries on a century later doing an incredible work in their small corner and I’m delighted to say that, in our small corner of Kippen, we raised over £10,000 for this extremely worthy charity! Thank you so very very much to all those who donated and to the many people who helped behind the scenes to make this event possible.

We all come to an event like this or watch the newsreels on our TV with many different thoughts, feelings and opinions on war and the politics of war and, as we look around us at the many wars still being fought in our world today, it is hard to make sense of it and wonder if we have learned from the mistakes of the past or, indeed, made any progress. We ended our programme on Nov 12th with a poem by the war poet Siegfried Sassoon called “Aftermath”. May I finish with some of his words?

“Have you forgotten yet? The past is just the same and war’s a bloody game. Have you forgotten yet? Look down and swear by the slain of the war that you will never forget. Do you ever stop to ask: “Is it all going to happen again?” Have you forgotten yet? Look up, and swear by the green of the Spring that you will never forget”

“Lord, as we remember with sadness the horrors of war, help us to work for a better understanding between races and nations. Open our eyes to see our own part in discord and aggression between peoples, forgive us our pride and divisions, and renew in us the search for peace so that trust may replace suspicion, friendship replace fear, and your spirit of reconciliation be known among us. Amen”

(Taken from “War Cries”, a book of military prayers compiled by Rev. Mark Davidson)

Kathleen McKellar Ferguson (Coubrough)