St Andrew's day is celebrated on the 30th of November in Scotland and being Scottish I thought I would offer you something a little different today.
The English had made a mistake. So I wis told. You see I’m no a soldier. I im today like, but normally I look aifter the family cattle. Today ah'm fighting the English. And what is Rob MacDonald doing fighting the English ah hear you ask? Well, my clan are fighting for Robert the Bruce. He’s claimed the throne of Scotland, ye ken, and vowed to throw all the English back into their own country - that’s the wans we don’t kill like. Me, ah'm really fighting because of what they did to mah Aunt Anne. They raped her and then they killed her. In front of her bairns.
And noo the English army has come to lift oor siege on Stirling castle and, by the grace of God, we’re here to stoap them in this year of our lord thirteen hundred and fourteen. Noo when I say ah'm a soldier. I don’t want you to get the idea that ah'm wearing chain mail and plate armor and stuff, and carrying a huge battle axe. You would be confusing us for them English knights ye ken. Ah'm told thats what they look like. And they sit on toap of these huge war horses. Ah don’t know myself. I’ve never seen a knight before. And the only horses ah know about is the highland ponies we have in our army. Last night Fergus told me that the English had two thousand of these knights - I didnae believe him. But he said it was true. Ah said, in that case, nae worries I would kill a thousand o them myself, and everyone laughed. But ah tell you this, I didnae get much sleep last night thinking about what they could dae to us.
And here ah am. I have mah dirk by my side and ah have mah 12 foot spear, and a leather jerkin to help protect me from the arrows. Oh I didnae tell you aboot that did I. Ah'm told that the English archers can put thousands of arrows into the air all at wance Can you imagine that coming towards you? ... and it only takes wan to make you dead. We are arranged in our defensive oval formation, a schiltron they call it, with our spears pointing out to break the cavalry charge of the knights. The English are down the hill from us only a few hundred yards away across the bog. Fergus is the one to start the cry - he shouts out a thunderous declaration of his ancestry and lineage. And we all join in with our own. Ah’m Rob MacDonald son of Duncan, Ah look over to me faither who is standing in the line next to mah cousin Sean, and mah faither looks me in the eye and matches his voice with mine, son of Dermot, son of Ian, son of Robert… we trace our heritage back 20 generations, telling the world that this is oor land, and that oor family and clan will fight to the death to defend it. And as ah do so I feel the strength of all those dead ancestors flowing through me. They are all standing there right behind me giving me the belief I need to make it through my first battle.
And then the knights charge…
I feel the urine running down mah leg as ah piss all over myself. I hear mah faither’s voice inside mah heid. Courage is being afraid and standing there anyway. And that’s aw you have to do, he’s telling me, the power in the schiltron is in keeping the line unbroken. If the knights get in between us we’re all dead men. So when Fergus says move, you move forward. When Fergus says stand you stand - no matter what happens, all oor lives depend on it. So ah brace mah spear and stand there - as hundreds o knights on horseback, in all their fine colors, their lances aimed at oor hearts, are charging towards us. And I want to run. But I know ah can’t. And then they hit and the noise and the screaming starts. I am thrown back by the blow. The horse in front of me is impaled on mah spear. There are more knights coming in behind. I need to free mah spear from the horse to defend myself. I struggle to get it out as the next horse charges against mah position. I know ah'm a dead man. But then the horse goes down struck through by the spear of mah cousin Sean. I look over to yell my thanks and it’s then I see my faither go down. The lance is right through him. He is dead, or dying. I want to scream. I want to run to him. But I still hear his voice in mah heid, no matter what - you stand there. And ah do, and ah wait for Fergus’s command.
Remember ah told you that the English had made a mistake. Up until this battle schiltrons had always be used for defense - and only for defense. When the English chose their postion, they werenae expecting us to advance forward you ken. But we had practiced daying just that. And when their attack wavered Fergus tells us to advance. And we trap the whole English army with their backs to the Bannock Burn - and their cavalry have no room to maneuver. They tried to get their archers onto oor flanks but oor light cavalry got in among them. After that it was a massacre. Knights are helpless when they are oan their back on the ground. And ah’m telling you - I killed more than mah fair share.
The battle has been over for several hours now. Ah'm back where I started that morning. On the hill above me the Scottish nobles are all gathered round Bruce. They’re kneeling down and I can hear them thanking God for giving them victory that day and delivering the country from the English tyrant. Ah'm kneeling too - over the body of mah faither. I say a prayer for his soul and tears come to my eyes. Aye, I’ll never forget that Midsummer’s day in 1314. The day that Scotland won its freedom. The day mah faither died.