THE current situation in Ukraine reminded me that Forres has a major memorial to an earlier conflict in that region.
The 50 foot high, polished Peterhead granite obelisk on Castlehill, above the War Memorial, is dedicated to a Cromarty man, Dr James Thomson, who died in 1854 following the Battle of the River Alma.
That battle was the first major encounter of the Crimean War, which was fought by Britain and France against Russia to prevent the latter from gaining territory from Turkey during the decline of The Ottoman Empire.
The key objective of the British and French was the Russian port and fortress of Sebastopol, which fell after a year-long siege in 1855.
Dr Thomson was Assistant-Surgeon to the 44th Regiment (which subsequently became the Essex Regiment in 1881). He had served with them in 1850 in Malta, during a major outbreak of cholera.
Thomson’s work four years later at the River Alma was witnessed by Mr William Russell, the pioneering war correspondent of The Times, who raised Florence Nightingale to fame.
After the 44th Regiment had left the battlefield, Thomson volunteered to remain with “700 desperately wounded Russians”.
He helped about 400 to embark for Odessa before he died on 5 October 1854 fifteen days after the battle. He was buried by his servant, Private M’Carty, by the shore of the Black Sea.
Thomson was a friend of Sir James MacGrigor, the late Director-General of the Army Medical Department. MacGrigor was instrumental in raising funds for the memorial which he wanted to erect on Gallowhill in Cromarty but the local landowner did not want it built on that site.
The alternative site offered did not suit MacGrigor, who wanted to be able to see the monument to his friend from Castlehill, Forres, of which he was the proprietor.
Thwarted, he decided, fortunately, to erect Thomson’s monument in Forres.
Now is the best time of year to view the monument because the surrounding trees have grown up and camouflage the obelisk for most of the year.
It is worth the short walk from the High Street to view it close up and look West to Cromarty, although the nearby trees and also those now growing in Culbin Forest make identification of Gallowhill nearly impossible.
Timothy P Finnegan
EDITORS NOTE - McGrigor was born in Cromdale and studied at Aberdeen, and was the Director-General from 1815 to 1851, when he was 81. He retired, died in 1858 and was buried in London.