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Statue to mark terrible losses of Black Watch 100 years on

THE guns of the Western Front may have been silent for almost one hundred years but today a poignant ceremony in Belgium will recall the sacrifice made by so many soldiers.

A larger-than-life bronze statue of a kilted Black Watch Sergeant in First World War battledress will be unveiled and dedicated.

The first-ever memorial on the Front to be dedicated to the Black Watch, it stands at the scene of the Battle of Nonne Bosschen, one of the pivotal campaigns in the costliest chapter in the celebrated Scottish regiment's history.

Around 300 Black Watch soldiers and veterans have made the pilgrimage to the Nonne Bosschen Polygon Wood site - known locally since 1914 as Black Watch Corner.

For one man in particular the occasion had a strong personal significance.

Veteran Sandy MacDuff, 56, from Perth, is the grandson of Sergeant Alexander "Sandy" MacDuff, who survived the carnage of the Great War despite two spells there.

Sgt MacDuff's moving war journal provides the only Black Watch diary account of the conflict during September and October 1914, leading up to the ferocious fighting at Nonne Bosschen.

Having served with The Black Watch as a young man, he was called up as a 29-year-old reservist and fought as part of the embattled 1st Battalion at Polygon Wood as the Kaiser's Prussian Guard tried in vain to break through to the coast in November 1914.

A force of 31 officers and 1031 other ranks left for France in August that year and fought at the Marne, Aisne and Ypres. By roll-call the morning after the battle of Nonne Boschen on November 11 there were just 109 men and one officer.

Sgt MacDuff's grandson, named after his grandfather, said yesterday: "It's a very emotional trip. To stand where my grandfather fought shoulder to shoulder with his comrades in a battle which was to prove pivotal in safeguarding our future is extremely humbling.

"My grandfather was discharged in 1916 as a reservist but chose to e-enlist and go back to the front and be with his comrades.

"To endure the unspeakable horrors of the war for two years and then choose to go back to the front tells me he was a very brave man. They were all heroes - a generation the likes of which we will never see again."

An extract from his grandfather's war journal tells of his thoughts on his birthday on September 9, 1914. It reads: "This is my thirtieth birthday and I hope I never spend another like it. Fancy thousands of men creeping over this beautiful country seeking to wipe out thousands of another army.

"It is certainly black days for European countries involved and is not the kind of anniversary I thought it would be. If all my plans had worked out it would have been spent with my dear little wife."

Sgt MacDuff survived the war uninjured and went on to work on the railways, based at St Fillans in Perthshire.

But he never forgot his near-9000 Black Watch comrades who died during the Great War, or the more than 20,000 who were injured.

His grandson will lay a single poppy at the foot of the statue in a poignant moment of remembrance. A Black Watch soldier who served in Northern Ireland during the 1970s, he knows the strength of comradeship his grandfather would have felt.

"He wanted to be with his fellow soldiers right to the end and I'm laying a poppy in remembrance of all his comrades who died here and elsewhere in the war.

"Grandad never returned to Flanders but he would be happy that I've made this trip to Black Watch Corner to remember the bravery and sacrifice of he and his fellow Jocks a century ago."

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