On Wednesday, the last day of school, a group of P7s from Haddington helped lay a wreath at the memorial in Lady Kitty’s Garden which remembers the victims of the Siege of Haddington.

East Lothian Courier: Siege of Haddington Memorial Garden, Laddy Kitty's Garden, Haddington. Image: Tim Porteus

I was asked to tell a story. I wondered how to do this and, since most of the victims are unknown, I decided to tell the tale of an imaginary young lad caught up in the events. In my story, he is a ghost searching for something.

“My name is William, I’m a ghost now, but I lived in the 16th century. You won’t read about me or my family in history books, but I can tell you about the Siege of Haddington. Maybe you’ve heard about it?

I was 12 in 1548 when the siege began, although that wasn’t my first experience with the English soldiers. When I was eight, an army came and burnt the town. They burnt churches and the nunnery. I remember this because I had to hide with my family, and I saw people running away really scared. My father was killed.

I didn’t understand why the soldiers were doing this, I suppose I was too young then to understand war. Now I’m 12, I’m wiser.

You see this is a war about a marriage, people later called it the Rough Wooing. The English wanted our young queen Mary to be promised in marriage to Edward VI of England. She was just a young child, not yet six years old, when the siege began in July 1548. But I realised it was about more than a marriage, of course. It was about who ruled Scotland.

In the year before the siege began, there had been a big battle, at a place called Pinkie Cleugh.

The English had won a great victory there. Well, actually it was a slaughter. But despite this, the English still hadn’t persuaded the Scots to agree to the marriage.

So, they decided to occupy parts of Scotland so they could raid it. Instead of burning Haddington this time, they came to stay in early 1548.

Soon after their arrival, they started digging. I wasn’t sure at first what they were doing. They dug long ditches then piled earth up next to them and made walls with soil and earth, all compacted together in a timber frame. Then they put cannon on the top, and gun positions.

I realised it was a fortress, but it didn’t look anything like the castles I was used to. I later discovered this was called a trace italienne fortress.

When they’d finished, I understood how it worked. There were bastions on the corners so there was nowhere an attacker could approach without being in the firing line.

The walls weren’t as high as a castle, but they didn’t need to be, because of the ditch in front. They seemed indestructible because cannonballs just got embedded in the wall’s earth. Any damage was quickly repaired by filling in the hole with more soil.

It was in the summer of 1548 when the siege began in earnest, July if I remember correctly. A big army arrived and they began to dig as well. They dug ditches and I realised they were surrounding the town. It was kind of exciting and fun at first, seeing all the activity and soldiers, all the equipment and different weapons and uniforms.

It wasn’t just English occupying the town, but also Italians, and later Spanish. Scottish people joined as well.

The besiegers were not just Scottish either, but also French, lots of them. There were Germans as well, they seemed very skilled with the cannons. It was a very cosmopolitan fight.

I soon realised it wasn’t fun. Cannons were being fired every day and even at night. We would huddle up together terrified, and my mother would pray.

One of the bastions was close to our house. On one occasion, a cannonball came right through the roof. There was a cannon in the steeple of St Mary’s Church. It could fire right into the town.

There was one night in October I will never forget. It was strangely quiet at first, then we heard this roaring noise and screams. Guns were being fired. I rushed out to see what was going on.

Hundreds of French soldiers were charging from St Mary’s towards the bastion by the Nungate Bridge. There was a terrible fight: the Italians guarding this section got brutally killed. I hid behind a barrel and saw hand-to-hand fighting. It was horrible.

But as the French charged further, a cannon fired at them, ripping through them. I couldn’t bear to watch or listen to the screams. Then there was more gunfire and a group of English soldiers came charging along the banks of the river.

There was more hand-to-hand fighting, with swords, pikes and daggers.

In the morning, bodies were floating on the banks of the river and the area between the Nungate Bridge and St Mary’s was covered with the dead. Later my brother said he saw cartloads of corpses being taken away.

So that attack failed. It wasn’t the only one. But despite all the fighting, none of the attacks succeeded because the fort was so strong.

It did quieten down a bit when winter arrived. But we started to starve. We had no food. We were desperate. We were also freezing. I’d go scavenging, we’d eat anything.

Then people started getting sick. My mother was one of them. She developed a fever and a terrible headache, then boils appeared on her body. That’s when we realised it was the plague. She died.

Then my sister died. It was just me and my brother left, he looked after me. Soldiers on both sides were dying of the plague.

Things didn’t get better after the winter and I heard soldiers saying it was all pointless because Mary was in France now. It dragged on and my brother and I just learned to survive.

Finally, the English left in September 1549.

The siege had lasted 18 months. Thousands died, including most of my family and friends. It all seemed so cruel and pointless. It’s hard to imagine now. The fort is gone but you can see bullet holes on St Mary’s and the bridge from the fighting.

So, I want to say thank you for remembering the people who died in the siege, the soldiers but also my family and friends. Including my brother. I don’t know what happened to him, one day I just couldn’t find him.

That’s why I’m still here. I can’t move on, until I find out what happened and where he is. The answer will be somewhere below the ground. I hope one day an archaeologist will find out so I can finally rest in peace.”