1200, June 6th, 1915, Cromarty Scotland
The dirt and dust that coated the streets of Cromarty skirled in the
air. The high, screeching sound of the bagpipe filled the noon air. Soon,
it was joined by the distinctive sound of boots on cobblestones. Many,
many boots. A dust cloud rose above the streets of Cromarty. From that
dust cloud emerged a frightful figure: A Highlander in full regalia, pipe,
sword, and all. He wore the khaki jacket of a British Infantryman and
kilt and baldric in Cameron tartan. He bellowed on his pipe for all he
Behind him marched a full company of infantrymen. Many men were in regular
civilian clothes. A few wore khaki jackets. Others wore kilts like the
piper. A handful carried wooden rifles. Only a very select few had all
"Cmpnee! Halt!" A voice straight from a drill field pierced the air and
rose above the strains of Cogadh no Sith.
"Right Face!" As the piper continued, every man turned. Some turned to
the right. Others, unaccustomed to military maneuvers, turned left. They
spun around till they corrected their mistake. The sergeants policing
the ranks noted the names of every man who turned left and chewed them
The display of military prowess by the Scots naturally drew the youth
of the town, much like a light draws moths. They watched as the Major
left the ranks and stood on a platform in the town square. He drew a box
to the top of the stairs and placed a book on it.
A small crowd had gathered in the square below him. As he spoke, surprise
spread across their faces. Although the major wore the kilt and baldric
of a Highland regiment, his voice was English.
"His Majesty, King George, has asked me to raise a battalion of the Cameron
Highlanders from Cromarty and the surrounding lands. The empire needs
you! In Europe, the Hun seeks to rape France at the point of a bayonet.
Already, they have consumed your brothers across the channel! Poor little
Belgium was a peace-loving country, and the Hun trampled through them
like a knife through butter!"
As he spoke, the crowd began to murmur. Cromarty was a Navy town. Every
man, woman and child knew someone who was serving. Everyone knew someone
who had died.
"On land, they stand poised to conquer France. At sea, they strut like
proud peacocks with so many feathers in their hats, like they ruled the
world! This is just the start! The Huns plan to kill your children and
rape your wives! Look at Dinat! Children lined up and slaughtered like
cattle! Women violated in horrible ways! They burned the libraries at
Louvain to keep the Belgian children ignorant slaves! They will do the
same to you and your families."
The murmurs changed to shouts. These hearty Scots could take many things.
For them, like poor all across Europe, life was a daily battle. Yet, women
and children were sacred. They could understand soldiers and sailors dying.
War had been a man's trade since time began, and death was the price.
Yet Men fought war; women and children did not. To make war on them was
incomprehensible, an echo back to darker times.
"The Kaiser plans all that and more. He seeks to outlaw the clans, to
make you all his slaves. Should he win, he will strip away your pipes
and tartans. He will force you all to dress in his uniforms. He will turn
the beautiful highlands into a morass of mine tailings. He will set the
clans against each other! He will destroy the Scotland you love!"
The people of Cromarty had long memories. Many remembered tales of the
dark nights after Culloden. They remembered how the tartan had been banned
and the clans dissolved. They remembered the Enclosure Acts and the families
it forced off the land and into the squalor filled cities. The savagery
of the Sassenachs had left its mark on the land.
"It will be worse than anything you ever experienced. The Hun makes the
Sassenach look like the Holy Saints. Scotland needs you to defend her!
She needs your protection! This is her time of need. Join with your brothers
in the Cameron and destroy the Hun forever! Join with your pals and clense
the German from this beautiful world!"
The crowd surged toward the platform, men pushing and shoving to be the
first to sign up. Every man nursed a grudge with the Germans. Some were
for lost sons. Some were for lost brothers. Some were for lost fathers.
Others sought to avenge their friends. Germany had no friends among the
Scots of Cromarty that day.
1225, MacLaren Bakery, Cromarty, Scotland
"Ach, young laird Grant! What brings ye to me wee shop?"
"How did you know it was me?" The boy, barely fifteen, looked much younger
"M'laird, ye red hair's a beacon from a mile away."
"Oh. Nothing gets past you, Mr. MacLaren!" The boy wore a sheepish grin.
"Nae, what brings ye down from ye castle?"
"My mother sent me down for several loaves of your best bread."
"Aye, yer mother's a lovely lassie! But, yer housekeeper, Molly jaist
got yer bread Monday. Why d'ya need more sae soon, and why did yer mother
let a young lairdling like ye to come down here by yerself?" The baker's
face looked grim, his flour covered eyebrows and beard crimped in a gesture
The boy dismissed his concern with another toothy grin. "Don't worry about
me, Mr. MacLaren! I can take care of myself!" He was, after all, fifteen.
"Everyone else is just busy. My father came home yesterday!"
"Ach, laddie, congratulations! Is that his battleship aet in the firth?"
"Aye aye sir, Mr. MacLaren, sir!"
"Ye dinnae have tae call me Mr. MacLaren, and ye dinnae have to sae Sir
ta the likes ah me, m'laird." His green eyes, lined with the wrinkles
of time, laughed merrily. "M'name's still Ewan!"
"Aye, if you keep saying M'lord to me, I'll keep saying sir to you! Just
because my grandfather is an earl and my grandmother is a countess doesn't
mean that I am one!" They both chuckled at that misstatement of the truth.
Nobility was still nobility. "Besides, you never called me that when I
snuck away with one of your pies, Ewan!"
"Nae, Grant! Still, ye were better than ye brother, Davin, and his friend.
They always made a mess ah me kitchen!" The old baker chuckled at the
memory. "Here, young master Grant, are the loaves for ye mother, and here
is a pie fer ye, yer brother, and ye sister. And dinnae spoil ye supper!"
"I won't, Ewan! After all, your bread is the best, and I have to save
some room for it, don't I?" The boy placed several gold coins on the counter
and picked up the bag.
"Gae hame, ye young scamp, and give my thanks to ye parents!" Ewan MacLaren
had much to thank them for. He and his wife had worked as cooks for them
for many years, and they were fiercely loyal to their employers. He had
watched the two boys, Davin and Grant, grow into young adults. He had
watched their sister, Theresa, become a pretty young lass. His children
had ran through the heather and thistle with them. They had got into every
single kind of mischief five children could discover. And, when the MacLarens
no longer had the energy to stand in front of a hot stove all day, the
boys had prevailed upon their father to help. The Lord had set him and
his wife up with this nice little bakery. Here, he and his wife worked
in comfort and earned a tidy profit for themselves.
"Goodbye, Mr. MacLaren!"
"Goodbye, young laird!"
It was this moment that another boy knocked at the door of the shop. Unlike
Grant, this boy wore a uniform. It was the uniform of the telegraph company.
"Mr. Ewan MacLaren?"
"Aye, laddie." Concern again. The merriment was gone from his green eyes.
Worry replaced it.
"I have to give you this" The telegraph boy slid an envelope onto the
counter. The frown he wore looked so odd on his young face. He was only
a few years older than Grant. This boy had been happy, once. Yet he could
not be happy now. He remembered the days, before the war, when he delivered
happy news. News of children born and visits planned. Now, those happy
days were long gone. Now, he was the angel of death. He delivered the
telegrams from the Army and Navy. He brought only tears, never joy.
MacLaren knew it the moment the telegram boy entered the shop. Yet he
hoped against hope that the telegram was something else. His son, Angus,
had just been married. He and his wife were expecting their first child.
MacLaren prayed the telegram was the news of his first grandchild.
He opened the telegram. It was not to be. "I'm sorry, Mr. MacLaren."
Ewan MacLaren was a big, strong man. He had been as solid as a rock to
young boys and girls growing up. Yet the rock broke, and water gushed
forth. He lost his balance, and fell to the floor, the telegram fluttering
to the counter.
"Mr MacLaren!" Grant's young tenor voice broke the silence with alarm.
The boy dropped his groceries and rushed to the baker's side.
"Ewan!?!" Mrs. MacLaren screamed as she ran from the kitchen. She saw
her husband sitting on the floor, stunned. "Ewan?" she called again, her
voice thick with worry.
MacLaren just managed to stand up. He took his wife in his arms and whispered
in her ear. She looked up at him. Her eyes pleaded with him. Her face
filled with disbelief. "Ewan, is it true?" Please tell me it isn't
"Aye." His voice sounded tired, like all the world had settled its weight
on his shoulders.
Mrs. MacLaren collapsed in her husband's arms. She sobbed inconsolably,
tears flowing down her cheeks like rain.
"Ewan, Anna?" Grant piped up again, his tenor voice quaking.
"Gae hame, laddie." This is no place for a boy, however old he is.
These are emotions he should never have to deal with. MacLaren tenderly
lead his wife back into the kitchen.
Grant stopped at the counter and picked up the telegram. His eyes quickly
scanned the terse lines.
His Majesty, King George, regrets to inform you that your son, Petty
Officer Angus MacLaren, was killed in action on the 31st of May, 1915
on board HMS Monarch in the North Sea.
The mirth in the boy's eyes was long gone. The concern for his friend
was replaced by sudden grief. He remembered Angus: remembered playing
blind-man's-bluff and football. He remembered the days spent out in the
highlands, the days spent in the small games boys invent. Now, this piece
of buff paper had wiped that all away. Not the paper, the Germans!
The Hun bastards!
Grant picked up the bag, his excitement over the pie and the bread forgotten
in his anger. Yet he did not turn right, towards home. Instead, the boy
turned left, towards the town square.
The Kaiser had just made another enemy: Lord Grant Herrick.
1836, Campbell Inn, Cromarty,
The Major of the Seaforths had moved his recruiting station to the comfortable
chairs of Laird Campbell's Inn. Supposedly, Sir Colin Campbell of the
Highland Brigade had stayed the night here back in the nineteenth century,
and that made it a fitting place to raise part of a Highland Regiment.
The major just wants beer, a bit of crumpet for his feather bed, and
his sergeants to do his bloody work! Regimental Sergeant Major Andrew
MacLeod was not one to tolerate fools. And Major Landry, despite how
he looks on the parade ground, would need instructions to pour piss out
of a boot! How he got to be a major is beyond me. Probably married somebody's
sister! Still, he is smart enough to leave everything to his noncoms.
Have to give him some credit.
While Major Landry tried to discover how much whiskey he could
drink, recruiting went on at a brisk pace, following the highest traditions
of the British Army. MacLeod and a corporal occupied a table with the
regiment's books, handling the paperwork of enlisting young men in the
British Army. Other sergeants roamed the public rooms of the Inn, chatting
up other prospective soldiers. While MacLeod never had to use the time-honored
method of getting a man drunk, pressing the king's shilling in his hand,
and signing him up, other sergeants had. I might have to do that here.
Damn Navy's sucking every boy out of this seaside town. Why couldn't I
have been sent to Glasgow with the rest of the HLI? Now there's a town
that knows a good regiment when it sees one!
The boisterous supper crowd had begun to sort itself out when
a young boy entered the room. His neat red hair, deep green eyes and muscular
limbs drew looks from men and women around the room. Women sizing up a
potential customer; men, a competitor. Yet the boy ignored the looks of
barmaid and grizzled veteran alike.
"Hey, isn't that the captain's boy?" Acting Lieutenant Commander
Thompson whispered to his neighbor, a Keith Mackenzie from HMS Constant.
"Wha?" His neighbor had never seen Benbow's captain, let
alone his son. That didn't matter. In his inebriated condition, he couldn't
tell Thompson from the barmaid serving drinks.
"Aye, it is." The youngest of the group, Sub-Lieutenant MacDonald
piped up. A Scot, he was the one who recommended the group chose Laird
Campbell's Inn, and he had a leg-up on the ladies.
"God keep him away from Fishke. That drunken bashtard, he thinkhs
he shank half the German Navy himshelf!"
"Ain't that the pot calling the kettle black, Keith!" Thompson
clouted his friend on the back. "Pass the whiskey! I'm parched."
"Whad I shay? Jush caushe hish hunk a junk sank a U-boat, he actsh
likes hesh got dat bashtard Lettersh!" Mackenzie drained his shot.
"Ish more than we've done!" MacDonald said into his glass.
"Keith, you're really a drunken bastard! You're maken the navy
look bad to the Lobsters!"
"Osh. Shorry. Ish had too mush ta trink!" MacKenzie managed to
croak before collapsoing on the floor.
The boy paid little attention to the antics of the sailors by
the door. Instead, he was fixated on the table manned by RSM MacLeod and
"Sergeant, I'm here to sign up." His young voice quivered with
nervousness, but his eyes burned with hatred and determination.
"Aye, laddie." Jesus! He can't be much more than twelve, or
I'm a corporal! "Lets start with tha basics. Name?"
"Grant Alan Herrick"
"Aye." Where have I heard that name before? Herris, Hendrick,
Herrick? I know I've heard it before . . . . "How old are you boy?"
And I'm the bloody Kaiser! "Can I see your birth certificate?"
Grant handed over a crumpled yellow piece of paper. MacLeod read
"Why are you joining the Seaforths, laddie?"
"To kill the bloody Hun bastards! All of them!"
"Very well, son. Sign this form" MacLeod handed the boy the form
he had been filling in. Grant signed his name.
"Report back here at 0800 tomorrow morning. Dismissed!"
Grant turned and walked toward the door, birth certificate in
hand. How do I explain this to Mother? Maybe Father will know. He'll
understand. After all, he kill the Huns for a living!
MacLeod looked at the enlistment form. The lad used his brother's
birth certificate to get in. Why's he so hot to kill the bloody Jerries?
His eyes rolled over the name: Grant Alan Herrick. Then it clicked. I
knew I had seen that name before!
"Corporal, destroy this form!"
"Corporal, destroy this goddamned form!"
"I can't. It's legal, and we need every man we can get. It's desperate
in Europe, Sarge!
"Shut up and shred, you little shit! I know that boy's father,
you bastard. I was with him the day he learned he had another son, that
boy there, back when you were hiding behind your mother's skirts! I'll
be damned before I tell him I let his boy get killed! NOW SHRED THAT
The corporal ripped the form into little pieces.
by Rob Herrick
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