At O7.28, today, 1 July 2016, whistles were blown at the Theipval Cemetery and other national commemorations to mark the horrific first day of the Battle of Somme; however, at the Memorial Chapel in the University of Glasgow, whistles blew to mark a small, poignant and very personal commemoration of those nineteen alumni from the Universities of Glasgow and Strathclyde, who fell on that dreadful day.
Many of the alumni and students joined the Highland Light Infantry (HLI), in particular, the 17th Battalion: one of the three so-called “pals” battalions, although they were never really called that in Scotland. 17 HLI were “The Commercials” consisting of business men and members of the Glasgow Chamber of Commerce – they were also known as “The Featherbeds! A nickname gained while training in a tented-camp in Troon with the other two battalions: and 15 HLI (The Tramways battalion or the “Boozy First”) and 16 HLI (The Boys Brigade battalion or the “Holy Second” . Scottish weather ran true to form and a gale blew away the tents of 17 HLI, so they were moved into a hotel and slept soundly in their feather beds!
A special installation of knitted and crocheted panels produced by the SOCK (Somme Observance Community Knitting) project can be seen in the Memorial Chapel, around the campus and University Avenue. The panels are a creative data visualisation made by knitters from around the world – each individual square represents a member of the three Glasgow Pals Battalions whose first major engagement in the First World War was the Somme. Following their debut at the University, these beautiful panels will go on display at the People’s Palace.
Following the commemoration in the Chapel, a piper led the congregation, which included representatives from The Royal Regiment of Scotland and the Royal Highland Fusiliers veterans, to the First World War Memorial Garden (by the Memorial Gates at University Avenue. A cross was planted for each of the nineteen who died and this simple ceremony is repeated at 09.00 on the centenary of deaths of other alumni and students who perished in the Great War.
The whistle is not often heard in these days of technological advances, which possibly added to eeriness of the sound echoing first in the Chapel and then competing with the noise of the traffic in University Avenue; but it was not difficult to imagine how those thousands of soldiers felt as they heard that sound echoing through the trenches in the early morning one hundred years ago!