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This Sgian-Dubh belonged to my grandfather, who had the good luck to be wounded on the first day of the Battle of the Somme (more of which below). I shared the same roof with him for the first year of my life, after which he passed away. I seem to have that effect on some people, my own father joining him scant years later. Hence anything I know about him comes from remaining family recollections and what records can be found in the London Scottish Army records.

By all accounts Gordon Stewart Greig was quite the character, dressing in his kilt and playing bagpipes every Hogmanay – which wouldn’t be unusual except we lived in a semi-detached house in the London suburbs a stone’s throw from the sober environs of Tony Hancock’s East Cheam, where even the smallest idiosyncracy would cause curtains to twitch and neighbours to gossip. Like many ex-pat Scots, my grandfather held onto his Scottish roots with ferocity, refusing to conform to the greyness expected of our neighbours (a young ex PM John Major lived around the corner). Here’s the thing, my own father – Gordon James Greig, was born in Epsom, Surrey. His father, Gordon Stewart Greig, was born in Millwall, London and it’s not until I reach back to his father, James Greig born 1814 in St Vigeans, Forfarshire that we actually hit tartan bedrock.

Ethnicity is a funny old thing. For half my life I considered myself hybridised English with a potpourri of Scottish, Welsh, Irish and French running through my veins. In other words, no more English than anything else. Now I’ve been living in Scotland for over thirty years I consider myself mostly Scottish. I like to think that my Scottish forebears would be content that at least one of their sons has made the trip back. Maybe something in the blood called me, like a swallow returning to a half-remembered place. All I know is that I’m home. My older brother sent me the sgian-dubh from his home in Ireland, having no use for it and his own children now firmly clasped to that land and its traditions. So this small, pitted blade has, much like myself, found its way back home.

To know yourself you have to know where you come from. I never have the time for genealogy, but I did contact my grandfather’s regiment for more information. I received this from the London Scottish Army Museum archivist and curator:

Greig, Gordon Stewart, 
Regimental No 2343 (enlisted August  1914) army number 510225 (after Sept 1916 the army decided to have a universal army wide numbering system whereas previously each regiment had a four digit number just for that one regiment . 

From the regimental roll we know that he enlisted in August 1914, deployed to France 7 March 1915 and was a sergeant (promoted 8 April 1916) in the 1st Battalion when he was wounded at Gommecourt on the first day of the battle of the Somme. Presumably he returned to The UK to recuperate and was commissioned into the London Scottish Regiment (1st/14th London’s) in 1917 – we have no further details but his Officer’s record will be available to view (not digitally down loaded yet) at the National Archives at Kew in London. 

Attachments 4 and 5 are images of the London Scottish Regimental Gazetre I. Which your Grandfather figures, first as a casualty after Gommecourt and then an announcement of him commissioning. 

My grandfather was wounded on the first day. The Imperial War Museum have this to say about that day:

As an attritional offensive, the Battle of the Somme involved heavy casualties on both sides. By the end of the first day on 1 July 1916, British forces had suffered 57,470 casualties, of whom 19,240 were killed. This represented the largest losses suffered by the British Army in a single day. 

I cannot begin to imagine what it must have been like to be ordered over the top by those with no experience of leadership, no unique qualities marking them out for seniority other than accident of birth. What I do know is that my grandfather would have been one of those led by pipers into the hail of machine gun fire. The fact that he was wounded instead of being killed is the reason I’m here today.

So I have this to remember him by. Carefully and lovingly restored by Rab and Tanya Gordon of to whom I offer my heartfelt thanks for a job well done. As a sgian-dubh it’s a bit old and battered, almost as if its been in the wars – but as a family heirloom it’s priceless.

This will next be worn by my eldest son when he is married in just over a week. Possibly the first time in almost 100 years since it’s been worn with a kilt, back in the land of his ancestors. If that doesn’t bring a tear to this glass eye then I don’t know what will.

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