Eric Milroy, soldier, chartered accountant and Scotland rugby captain. And my ancestor. And my hero. Writing from France, to his mother, July 2016.
Every family has its stories. This is mine. And ours. And, in a sense, everyone’s.
I’m a descendant of Eric Milroy. He is my great, great uncle. I’m a football man. But I’m also a history man, a legacy guy. Or at least I’d like to think so.
A few years ago I was contacted by a guy – Patrick Daniel Caub – who runs a charity in France called Rugby Memoirs. The idea was that there would be a newly minted trophy – called the Auld Alliance Trophy – that would commemorate the cultural and trading relationship between Scotland and France. And it was decided that the people who would bring the new trophy onto the pitch should be the youngest descendants of the captains of the France v Scotland game of 1913 (which, honestly, sounds epically mental) – Romaine and – my youngest – Lachlan. There’s loads of negativity about social media, but these guys keep in touch, through modern means and foster an alliance that spans a century and a half. And a cultural alliance that goes back a millennia. They seem to appreciate something that their parents and grandparents have forgotten. We are all Jock Thamson’s bairns.
The past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past.
When I was a wee boy, I grew up with the family legend of Eric Milroy. “Gallus” might not have been the vernacular of the quiet private Edinburgh school he attended. But that seems to neatly describe his scrum half playing style. I think of Milroy as Jimmy Johnston, Baxter, Zidane. Allez bleu. Bring it on.
Indeed, I also grew up with the story of Eric’s mother going down to Waverley station – every night of the rest of her life – just in case the stories of the death at Delville Wood of her son – my blood – were false. For the rest of her life, she always kept the front door light on. Just in case. And I’ll be honest. I never met Eric Milroy. Yet in 2019 I gave a speech at Delville Wood, where he met his end. In French. To this day I’ve no idea how I got through it. As if that was the slightest concern to the thousands of people lying below my feet and those who remember them. And this is one man. One soldier. One life. Multiply that by a million. I’ll wait. There’s not a day goes by I don’t think about it, or reflect on the utter privilege that my life has been.
I’ve got copies of Eric’s letter’s from the front. He talks of mundane stuff that actually must have been really welcome at the time – dry socks, decent cigarettes – but what really strikes me is the way he plays it all down. “Slight trouble ahead tomorrow” he writes. That’ll be the Somme then. Aye.
I find myself wondering what my ancestor would have made of all this week’s events.
I’d like to think that my great great uncle would have thought that a march for peace would be a great idea, regardless of when and where it was held. And I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to think that Eric, war hero that he was, would have happily forsworn an army career for a successful life as a CA. And have married Helen, his fiancé. And it gars me greet that folk with a certain agenda would besmirch his memory, and that of thousands more, for their own ideological groupthink.
I recently took on the job as chairman of the local Burns club. Burns wrote probably the earliest and best anti-war song.
“Lay your schemes alone, adore the rising sun / and leave a man alone to his fate”
Goodness me. Let’s leave a man alone to his fate.
Because it’s later than you think.