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November 10, 2011

I was honoured to be asked to write a few words for my school’s Remembrance Ceremony this year. My school has a rather fine memorial at the back of the Assembly Hall, and in an effort to try and close the distance in time, I told the story of one of the names. I have to thank the A.K.Bell library and Commonwealth War Graves Commission for the information I was able to draw on.

Just before 11 o’clock on the 11th of November, the Head Boy and Head Girl will stand up to tell the rest of the school about one of her sons: Sgt BCT Halley.

100 years ago, Bruce Halley had just turned 16. He lived just down the road in Cherrybank. Every Monday to Friday, Bruce made the walk to the North Inch to attend classes at Perth Academy.

He would walk down the Glasgow Road, past Dewars’ Whisky Factory (now the ice rink), cross the railway bridge and then walk past St Ninian’s Cathedral on his way to Rose Terrace.

After a full day of Maths, English, PE and Classics, Bruce and his pals would walk out to the North Inch to kick a ball about.

Bruce Halley was, by all accounts, a normal 16 year old boy and pupil of Perth Academy.

When War was declared on the 4th August, 1914, Bruce was 19… and like so many others from Perthshire he headed for the Recruiting Station. Before he knew it, he and another 1,000 men from the area, were members of the 6th (Perthshire) Black Watch… one of the finest Battalions in the History of the British Army.

As part of Kitchener’s ‘New Army’, Bruce was trained hard for the fighting that was to follow. He was soon singled out as someone special (he was, after all, an Academy pupil!), and was quickly promoted – first to a Corporal, then in 1916, to Sergeant.

The 1st of July 1916 marked the beginning of the Battle of the Somme – Lord Kitchener’s grand plan to smash through the German Lines and to win the war by Christmas. The plan called for over 100,000 soldiers to break through the German lines and advance several miles into German held territory. It was a disaster.

By the end of the first day, the British Army had suffered almost 60,000 casualties, with around 20,000 killed. To give you an idea of what that means, the population of Perth is just over 40,000 people.

Bruce Halley’s Battalion were ‘lucky’. They did not take part in the fighting that day, however, on 22nd July, they were to attack a place called High Wood. Although they did not take the wood, they fought with such spirit and ferocity that the Germans named them “The ladies from Hell” – a nickname that has stuck for all the Scottish Regiments who have fought in the kilt.

Withdrawn from the line, the 6th Perthshire Black Watch had one more part to play in the closing stages of the Battle of the Somme.

Just before dawn, on the 13th November 1916, Bruce Halley lead his platoon into the mist and fog of no man’s land in an attempt to drive the Germans out of one of the most fortified defensive positions on the whole of the Somme. The boy who had been a pupil at Perth Academy, had played on the North Inch, and who had walked down the Glasgow Road, had one last walk to make. He never returned.

Today, Bruce Crawford Taylor Halley lies at peace in Hunter’s Cemetery close to where he died… but he is not forgotten. You will find his name on the plaque at the back of the Assembly Hall and when you see it, remember this.

It is not a list of names, it is a list of people. Every name there was someone who studied at Perth Academy. Every name there was a child who laughed and loved and hoped for better things. Every name there deserves to be remembered…

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted;
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years contemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

In Memory of

3284, 6th Bn., Black Watch (Royal Highlanders)
who died age 21
on 13 November 1916
Son of the late John C. and Annie T. Beveridge Halley. Native of Cherrybank, Perth.
Remembered with honour

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