Alex was granted a furlough (a brief home leave) in December 1915. In the week from the 15th to the 22nd he became both a husband and father. He married his sweetheart Elizabeth and saw the birth of his baby daughter Georgina. The Birnies enjoyed a very short, precious time together before Alex had to return to France at the years end. As Alex’s train left Ellon station, little did they know how final those last good-byes would be! Alex rejoined his unit at the Somme, and there they remained until the infamous battle commenced on the 1st of July 1916. “High Wood,” dominating the Bazentin plain, was the highest land point in the region and had been vigorously and successfully defended by the Germans since the outbreak of the war. This small hill-top would be the fiercely contested focal point of the Battle of the Somme. On the 30th of July 1916 Alex and his Ellon mates were entrenched, on the British line, at the foot of High Wood. The British artillery bombarded the German positions, in front of Alex’s unit, all day. At about 6pm Gordons piper Harry Lunnan was told to blast a rendition of “The cock o’ the North” to steel the Highlanders for battle. Soon after, Alex and his Gordon comrades went “over the top.” Tragically, Alex was “killed in action” that night, at the Battle of High Wood. Many of his Ellon mates were also killed or wounded. It is unclear which side of midnight Alex died but his body was recovered, identified and buried behind British lines. The Allies finally took High Wood, in September 1916. After the War ended Alex was re-interred at Caterpillar Valley Cemetery, Longueval, France. The whole area is preserved “in perpetuity” to honour and remember all the fallen of the Somme. The green, lawned cemetery is sited on the battlefield where Alex fell and the white quartz headstones reflect the sun onto a lushly, re-forested High Wood - a scene so reminiscent of the rolling Buchan countryside of home.
Created by: George56892