Still Burning

From today’s back page.

They say history doesn’t repeat, but it echoes.

The guy being interviewed here, Gavin Smith, father of Scotland internationalist Ollie, is a Stranraer boy like me, and also a not-so-distant cousin – and a not distant at all friend.

What connects Ollie’s family and mine is the great Eric Milroy, the Scotland captain and war hero who led Scotland against England in the last game before the Great War, a conflict that took the lives of eleven of the thirty men who played that day. New Zealand, who Scotland play on Sunday, lost twenty players over the two wars. These truly were global conflicts on an unimaginable scale.

So Ollie is the great great great grandson of Milroy’s grandfather, who farmed in Stoneykirk – which is pretty much where I live now. The same Eric Milroy was my great great uncle, and in his letters from France – which I have treasured copies of – he talks about holidays in Portpatrick – where I grew up. And the article talks about the descendants of Milroy and his French opposite number Marcel Burgan taking the Auld Alliance trophy onto the pitch in Paris. These were my youngest son Lachlan and a wee guy called Romaine from the Burgan line. I love thinking that these guys stay in touch and strengthen a connection that spans a century and more. And how brilliant, moving and fitting is it that, this time, on this of all weekends, a descendant of the great Milroy will take the field wearing the colours that his ancestor wore with such pride and distinction?

When I was growing up, I often heard the old folk telling the story of Milroy’s mother, for as long as she was alive, leaving a candlelight on in case Eric finally made it back from France. I often thought about her, standing as she did at Waverley station waiting for her son to step of the train. And while I still get deeply emotional every time I think of that story, I’m strangely content that, in a very real sense, for this weekend and many more to come, the very real kith and kin of Eric Milroy is out there on the park, keeping the flame very much alive.

The Eric Milroy Trophy, presented by Milroy’s mother to George Watson’s College in 1920, continues to be awarded for kicking every year in school. Winners have included the Scotland internationals Douglas Kinloch Anderson, Gavin Hastings, Scott Hastings. Photo credit: Mémoire Rugby Events (]
Memorial Arch Murrayfield Stadium Scottish Rugby Union Remembrance Eric Milroy and Marcel Burgun Auld Alliance Trophy photo credit: Patrick Caublot (]

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