Published: 09/06/2018 07:00 - Updated: 08/06/2018 12:27

Schools aiming for French connections

Written byHector MacKenzie


Dingwall twinning
New links were celebrated at a special handover at Dingwall Primary School.

A POIGNANT link between children in Ross-shire’s county town and their counterparts in a French village is being forged to recognise the ultimate sacrifice made by their ancestors just over a century ago.

Hopes are high the fledgling connections being made now between the youngsters in two schools will lead to links that last generations and ensure memories of the Great War are not allowed to be forgotten.

The hook-up may also lead to a new Ross County supporters branch being formed with the club pitching in to support the venture, which centres on connections between Dingwall and Cambrai, scene of a turning-point 1917 battle which marked the first large-scale use of tanks for a military offensive.

Bob Shanks, chairman of the Ross-shire branch of the Seaforth Highlanders Regimental Association, came up with the idea during a visit last November to attend the commemoration of Lt A E Mackintosh MC, better known as the Seaforth Poet, who was killed in action while serving in the 1/4th Seaforths in November 1917 in the village of Cantaing-sur-Escaut, close to Cambrai.

Also attending, at her own expense, was Dingwall and Seaforth councillor Margaret Paterson who has enthusiastically backed the idea of links.

She said: "I’m so happy the schools want to take this forward. It was an amazing and very moving experience laying a wreath at the graves there. When you see all these rows of graves to young men who lost their lives, it really brings it home to you. It’s a small village where this battle took place and the children there really know their stuff. It’s very humbling. Bob and I went to the headmaster and he said he would love to twin with Dingwall. It may eventually come to that."

Dingwall Primary class teacher Rachel Urquhart said: "We were delighted when asked if this would be something that would interest us.  We arranged for Robert to speak to both myself and another P7 class in the school. During the session it was incredibly interesting for the classes to learn more about the background and to see medals and other memerobilia from both the world wars.  This was particularly relevant as one class was looking at the topic and the other had looked at the topic last year. We were then contacted about the presentation of a signed Ross County top to our school. 

"Our next step is to develop our link with the school in France. We have made contact already and have agreed with the school to begin our twinning from the start of next session. Our idea is to share letters and emails between the two schools to gain an understanding of our different cultures."

Mr Shanks said: "As part of the development of a World War 1 circuit, the village had renovated a very old chapel, liaised with Dingwall Museum and constructed a replica of the Cambrai Cross and linked them with other World War 1-related buildings and monuments."

He said: "We seemed to get on so well with the mayor, the director of the village primary school, the pupils and villagers that the idea of a possible twinning began to form in my mind.

"I shared these thoughts with the locals and on my return with the headmaster and appropriate staff of Dingwall Primary School and, to date, all appear to be interested and committed to take this opportunity forward."

A framed Ross County strip, brought along personally to Dingwall Primary by co-managers Stuart Kettlewell and Steven Ferguson, will be sent as a gift to the French school.

Jean-Claude Deschamps, mayor of Cantaing sur Escaut, told the Journal the village had been "truly honoured" by the presence of Seaforth Highlanders’ representatives for the centenary celebrations of the Seaforth Poet’s death during the battle of Cambrai.

He said: "We remain convinced that such a project will be truly enriching for the children and inhabitants of both our areas."

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