Matchbox letter thrown from train honoured by artwork

Brian Carey has affixed Sergeant Major George Caven's last letter to a Glasgow bridge.

Brian's planned installation covers George Caven's rank. <strong>STV</strong>
Brian's planned installation covers George Caven's rank. STV

Hidden inside a tiny matchbox thrown from the window of a train, the last letter of a Scottish soldier was sent to his beloved wife and children.

Sergeant Major George Caven had been dispatched to the Western Front in 1918 with little warning and with his France-bound train passing through his hometown, he had one chance to say goodbye.

The message read ‘Dearest wife and bairns, off to France, love to you all, Daddy’.

Now artist Brian Carey is paying tribute to the Scots soldier by creating an installation on Glasgow’s Squinty Bridge to mark the centenary of the end of The Great War.

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“It was sheer chance I came across the story,” he explained.

“I was wanting to do a tribute and I was looking for different messages and I was reading about some of the famous poems from the Western Front.

“I was looking for a shorter message that was deeply meaningful and I came across this and it touched me.”

Surrounded by plastic letters, the artist from Auchinleck in East Ayrshire plans to affix them to the railings of the Glasgow crossing to read George’s final message, along with his rank and regiment and his wife Jean’s name.

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“He was on a train making his way to France, he was stationed up in the Highlands,” Brian explains.

“The train was heading down to England but it wouldn’t stop as it was going through his village of Carluke.

“So he scribbled a quick note on a scrap piece of paper, put it in a matchbox and as it was passing through Carluke, he shouted out the window and threw the matchbox out.

“It had his wife’s address on the back of the paper for somebody to pass it on to his wife.”

Yet Sergeant Major Caven of the 9th Glasgow Highlanders never made it home.

“He was killed two weeks later in the last major offensive in France, killed in a place called Hazebrouck,” Brian added.

The piece, which stretches across the western side of the bridge, is the latest in a series of public installations Brian has posted around the city.

Brian hopes the artwork will help people reflect on the sacrifices made. STV
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In 2017, he spelled out the names of the people who died in the Manchester bombing, including Scot Eilidh MacLeod, as well as a memorial to the people killed in the Grenfell fire.

However his works have proven controversial with Glasgow City Council, who have taken down previous installations as he does not seek permission for them to be erected.

Brian said: “I find that if you ask the council for permission they’ll reject you, so I usually just go and fingers crossed hope for the best. Hopefully it gets left for a short time for people to view.”

The artist hopes that the message of his piece will help people reflect on the sacrifices made during WWI.

“I hope people pay respect for what happened,” he said.

“In the times we live in now, we’re so lucky we never had to go through what George had to go through and never come back.”


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