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Thiepval: what does that mean to you?

15 August 16

A reflection on the memorial service for the centenary of the Battle of the Somme, in which Scots lawyers were among those who fell

by Gillian Mawdsley

Probably nothing, if that question had been asked before 1 July 2016. On that date, Thiepval War Memorial, France, hosted the centenary WW1 commemoration remembering the Battle of the Somme.

Day one (1 July 1916) of that battle alone left staggering figures of 57,470 British casualties, of whom 19,240 died. The battle continued for a number of months with many more dead. The Times took until Christmas 1916 to publish the names of the dead from the first day.

Many of those killed have no known grave, given the bitter fighting. At Thiepval, the Memorial to the Missing of the Somme, over 72,000 names are inscribed, ensuring that their names live on in perpetuity.

Lawyers too fell that day, of whom four were graduates from Edinburgh University: John Russell Bruce, John Kerr Coutts, Rowland Fraser and William Scott Weir. As there were four Scottish law faculties, one may estimate how many Scottish lawyers from a small profession may have been killed that day.

Captain Rowland Fraser achieved much in his 26 years: degrees from Cambridge and Edinburgh, a Scottish rugby internationalist, a solicitor with Guild & Guild WS. He was married in Perthshire on leave, 12 days before his death. “He was shot in the side by a machine-gun bullet within a few yards of the German trenches. His orderly got him into a shell-hole, dressed his wound, but he was again hit in the side by shrapnel. He only lived six hours, his orderly staying with him till the end.”

His death is commemorated on memorials. No body was found.

A poppy was laid on behalf of the Law Society of Scotland at the Thiepval Service on 1 July 2016 to remember the Scottish lawyers who fell in the battle.  

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