The Brave Scotsman
The sun was shining and not a cloud in the cool autumn sky as Hamish MacGinnis took his yearly walk to the old cemetery at the edge of the village. His steps were slow and no longer full of confidence. Every year rain or shine for the past 70 years he paid homage to the Memorial that sat in the middle of old worn headstones and tall weeds in the long forgotten cemetery.
He remembered the day he marched off in 1915 to fight in a war that was to end all wars. The flag of Scotland held high and songs of victory filled the air as the train pulled away.
As he neared the old battered train station, a train sounded in the distance. Old man MacGinnis was transported back to that day in 1915 when he boarded a train to an unknown future.
Flags were waving and crowds were cheering as the regiment boarded the train. Hamish held his Annie tight as her tears fell among the platform.
With shoulders bent and thoughts of Annie’s last embrace, Hamish went back inside where men were playing cards, laughing and joking about anything but what lay ahead of them.
Little Bobby MacTavish was the first of many to fall.
He remembered that day when he was marching with Bobby talking about home both laughing at the memories of boyhood shenanigans. Out of nowhere a bullet came and Bobby fell.
Gun fire erupted from both sides and then all was silent. The eerie stillness sunk deep into the souls of the men. Silence. A word they all yearned for yet feared. Hamish laid Bobby to rest on a muddy field, with a faded old ribbon attached to the picture of young woman who will be left to mourn the memory of a lost love.
Men came and went, killed in unknown valleys and farmlands, a long line of young men he was afraid to know yet would always remember the men who will forever lay in unmarked graves and on muddy fields.
Three years later he came home to the bands playing, men from other wars shaking his hand, young boys asking to see his medals and pretty young girls ready to offer up forbidden kisses.
A hero had returned home as a young woman waited, holding her breath until she held him in her arms and tears once again fell on the platform.
A hero, no longer a boy but a changed man who survived hell to come home to an unknown world, nothing seemed familiar yet everything was the same.
A hero, to be remembered for that fateful afternoon in a faraway village…
As the last of his childhood friends died on a cold winter night in 1917 – Hamish felt as if a bullet found the depths of his soul where darkness and hardness had now taken root. He fought and killed as if he were possessed by evil himself.
In the fall of 1918 they came upon what was left of a Belgium village. Only one building was left standing. As Hamish drew near he noticed a movement in a curtain, he signaled for his men to stop. Moving ever so slowly towards the building – a church, he steadied his rifle when a little head stared back at him. A child. Then another child stood up and looked out the window, then another in a doorway. The child in the doorway saw him and came forward – displaying the beauty of innocence, as he was reminded of another time in another life when innocence shone in the beauty of his love.
In that moment he saw the flash, heard the mortar as it found its target beyond the church. Hamish felt a stirring in his heart and called out to his men to save the children. Grabbing the child he ran towards the building. Risking their lives they found a child’s refuge in a battle-scarred church. The men held their ground while fighting erupted all around them. Mortars fell short and bullets missed their mark as men from the Kings Army protected dozens of children in an abandoned church.
As the battle came to a close and the Germans retreated, Hamish and his men left the church and was surprised at the destruction all around them but the church was left unharmed. A little girl reached out and put her hand in his, and as she smiled up at him it was there that Hamish found the shattered pieces of his soul he thought long destroyed.
Dozens of lives were saved that afternoon. They were lives that grew up to become men and women who would also reach out to a new generation of innocence, protecting Jewish children from the storms of another war in a safe refuge of an old battle-scarred church.
He entered the cemetery with the memory of that day filling his heart and remembering that little girl whom many say he was a hero for saving. But it was that little girl who saved him when she reached for his hand.
Laying his poppies down at the memorial, he heard the voices once again from the past, all calling out to him. Then he saw his Annie, also reaching out to him telling him it is time to come home.
A warm Voice called out, “welcome home my brave Scotsman” and as Hamish looked up he saw a brilliance he could not explain and the Voice called out “well done faithful servant”. Soon he was surrounded by the thousands of souls that were saved because of one man’s heroism to save the beauty of innocence in a world gone mad.
In the midst of all those souls, one hand reached out….
Patty B. August 2014