Memorial Plaques in Christ Church, Kincardine O'Neil - in alphabetical order.
In loving memory of Brigadier Berenger Colborne Bradford, DSO, MBE, MC, The Black Watch. Born 15th October 1912; Died 4th March 1996. His grave lies at Kincardine.
Location: South wall of chancel.
In loving memory of Susan Bradford of Kincardine. Dau. of Mary Ursula Umfreville Vaughan-Lee. Born 11th August 1918; Died 17th January 2008. Her grave lies at Kincardine.
Location: South wall of chancel.
In loving memory of Admiral Stuart St. John Farquhar Born 1865 Died 1941 and Marguerite Ada Gilbey Farquhar Born 1883 Died 1950.
Location: North side of Chancel
To the glory of God and in loving memory of Admiral Sir Arthur Farquhar KCB. Born January 9th 1815. Died January 29th 1908. The bell in this church is given by his children.
Location: North side of Chancel
In memory of Admiral Sir Arthur Murray Farquhar KCB, CVO. Born 19th January 1855. Died 16th November 1937.
Location: North side of Chancel
In memory of my beloved husband Captain Hobart Brooks Farquhar, Civil Service Rifles. Killed in action at Vimy Ridge on May 22nd 1916.
Location: North side of Chancel
In memory of Commander Charles Robert Stanier Farquhar OBE Royal Navy. 9 April 1906 – 4 February 1968.
Location: North side of Chancel
Lieutenant Alastair C N Farquhar, R.N. Commanding HMS Eden who lost his life in the service of his country.
Location: Below Window North 4
Alice Jane wife of Albert Farquhar of Drumnagesk, who died at Boulder, West Australia on the 13th Nov. 1900.
Location: Below Window North 2
Francis Baird Fraser of Findrack, who died at Mombasa, East Africa, on 8th April 1890.
Location: Below Window South 3
Francis Garden Fraser of Findrack, Capt. East Yorkshire Regt. who died 6th December 1883, and of Elizabeth MacKenzie Stewart Menzies Irvine, who died 30th January 1911.
Location: Below Window South 4
Peter, youngest son of William Fraser of Findrack and Philadelphia Iambe his wife who died 14th October 1879, aged 20.
Location: Below Window North 3
James Christine Hart, Died 12th March 1876.
Location: In the East Window.
In loving memory of Arthur Inglis, Priest. Rector 1927-1930.
Location: North side of Chancel
In memory of Chris Lumsden 24th July 1900 – 1st June 1982 the wife of Lt. Col. W V Lumsden of Sluie who played the organ of this church for 25 years.
Location: South side of Nave.
Lt. Col. William Vernon Lumsden DSO, MC, Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, Born January 1st 1887, Died December 28th 1966.
Location: Below window South 2.
In memory of The Rev. Cecil William Nash who served this Church from 21st September 1885 until he died 21st May 1923. Aged 67.
Location: North side of Chancel.
Thomas Stuart Nash, RAF, died of wounds 9th August 1918 aged 29 years.
Location: South Window 1
In loving memory of Francis Alexander Umfreville Pickering 2nd Dragoons (Royal Scots Greys). Killed in action Dec 23rd 1917 on the Passchaendale Rige while commanding the 9th Batt. Rifle Brigade.
This cross came from his grave in the Whitehouse Cemetary, near Ypres. “Their name liveth for evermore.”
Location: South side of Chancel.
In loving memory of Mary Pickering of Kincardine. Born Feb. 3rd 1855. Died Apl 3rd 1930. Her grave is within the walls of the old kirk of Kincardine O’Neil.
Location: South side of Chancel.
To the Glory of God and in Memory of Marcus Reidford. Died in infancy 23 April 1977. Beloved son of Quentin and Cynthia.
Location: North side of Nave
To the memory of Adeline St. John widow of the Honble E T St. John, Rector of this Church 1876 to 1881 and daughter of Admiral Sir Arthur Farquhar KCB of Drumnagesk.
Location: South side of Nave.
The Rev. Honble. Edmund Tudor St. John, who was for years incumbent of this Church and of St. Lesmo's, Glen Tanar.
Location: West Window.
In loving memory of Mary Ursula Umfreville Vaughan-Lee of Kincardine. Daughter of Mary Pickering. Born 18th July 1878; Died 24th August 1970. Her grave lies within the walls of the Old Kirk, Kincardine O'Neil.
Location: South wall of chancel.
Biographies of those killed from the parish of Kincardine O'Neil - as listed on the War Memorial - by Jean Abbott
These will be published gradually over the next four years - a century on from the Great War.
KINCARDINE O’NEIL WAR MEMORIAL – BY JEAN ABBOTT
A few years ago when the 100th anniversary of the First World War seemed, and probably was, a distant prospect, I decided to create some meaningful record of the people commemorated on our village war memorial. I had in mind particularly (probably at least 20 years too late!) that family recollections were in danger of being lost, and that was where my investigations started out, but local enquiries and a postcard in the village shop failed to identify more than a very few present day local connections. In the nature of things, many of those who died being young men had effectively lost their posterity (children and grandchildren who would have remembered them) as well as their lives. It seemed much too soon for them to be reduced to a bare list of names, “remembered” only in a rather abstract way when we commemorate them each November.
My plan was to put together some basic details about who they were, what happened to them and in each case what the local connection was. I intended to make very short work of this by reference to online sources (starting with the excellent Commonwealth War Graves website), and service records held mostly in the National Archives at Kew. The archives yielded a fascinating collection of delicate old War Office files on many of the commissioned officers, but a disappointing absence of paperwork on the vast majority of the ordinary soldiers and non-commissioned ranks, most of whose service records were destroyed in the bombing of London in September 1940. The quality of the lost information can be judged by the rare instances of soldiers whose records survived. Of the others, most can be found with reasonable certainty in censuses and birth/marriage records. A very few resist my continuing efforts to work exactly who they are.
The short task I thought I was embarking on has somewhat taken on a life of its own. I’m grateful to this newsletter for giving me an incentive to get it under control and keep at it, and delighted to have the opportunity to share some of the very interesting stories that have emerged so far.
Private W. Bews - Australian Expeditionary Force
William Bews was born at Gallowcairn, Tornaveen on 11 April 1888. His parents, David Bews and Jessie Gordon had married at Kincardine O’Neil in 1874. David was a native of Orkney and Jessie was born in Banchory-Devenick. In 1891 the family were living at Gallowcairn and David was working as a crofter/agricultural labourer. There were then six children born in the neat order of boy girl boy girl boy girl at roughly two yearly intervals. In 1891 William was the second youngest but two more children followed. Ten years later, in 1901, the census enumerator found David, Jessie and their three youngest at “North Fittie”. It appears William had left home. He may be the William Bews who is noted age 13 in the 1901 census as a servant living in the household of farmer William Smith at Ferretfold, Kincardine O’Neil.
In 1911, William Bews, like George Gordon, sailed to Australia on the “Durham” on the same voyage from London on 27 June bound for Brisbane, he also being one of a large gang of “railway workers”.
Bews enlisted voluntarily as a Private in the 31st Battalion Australian Imperial Force at Brisbane on 13 July 1915, giving his occupation as “Labourer” and details of his widowed mother Mrs Jessie Bews of North Footie, Torphins as his next of kin. His record gives no further details until he disembarked at Suez in early December 1915, but he was destined, like George Gordon, for the Western Front. On 8 June 1916 he made a will leaving everything to his mother, before embarking once again from Alexandria, this time to join the British Expeditionary Force in France. He arrived in Marseilles in June 1916 and was wounded in action the following month, with a gunshot wound to the right thigh, probably in the course of the 31st Battalion’s involvement in fighting at Fromelles on 19 July in which it suffered very heavy losses. Bews was shipped to England from Boulogne but returned to France in October. At the end of November 1916 he took sick again, but rejoined his battalion in January 1917, when it was engaged in the allied advance towards the Hindenburg Line, only to be killed in action aged 28 on 19 January 1917. He was buried at Grass Lane Cemetery, A.I.F. Burial Ground, Flers. A small bundle of effects was duly posted to Mrs Bews in Torphins.
Gunner D. Cameron - Royal Garrison Artillery
This is Douglas Joseph McIntosh Cameron, Gunner (No.110953) in the 188th Seige Bty. Royal Garrison Artillery. He was born on 4 October 1894 at 70 Summer Street, Aberdeen, son of Donald McIntosh who was in the mounted police, and Margaret Mitchell Cameron who came from Kincardine O’Neil. In 1901 Douglas aged 6 was living in the village of Kincardine O’Neil, though as a “boarder” in the household of someone who appears not to be a relative, and was attending school. On 22 November 1913 he married Helen Ann Dow at Tarland, Helen’s address at the time being Newton of Melgum. Cameron volunteered for service in 1915. He was then just over 21years old and gave his occupation as “tailor”. Helen later resided at Boig, Tarland and at Rose Cottage, Kincardine O’Neil.
A fire-damaged version of Cameron’s service record is one of the few records of ordinary soldiers on our memorial to have survived bombing in 1940. It indicates that he was not altogether easy to handle from a disciplinary point of view (among other things “making improper reply to a N.C.O.”) and shows that he was home for quite an extended period, between 16 August 1916 and 8 January 1917, though it is not clear why. He was with the British Expeditionary Force from his return on 9 January 1917 and is recorded as being in temporary command of no. 241 siege battery in May 1917. Siege batteries were deployed behind the front line, using heavy howitzers and large calibre shells for the purpose of attacking enemy artillery and destroying lines of supply. The precise circumstances of Cameron’s death are not revealed by his record which simply states that he died of wounds in France on 16 October 1917 at the age of 24. He is buried or commemorated at Spoilbank Cemetery. He left behind him his mother (by then living at The Square, Tarland), his widow Helen, and three young children – Violet A. H. Dow aged 9, (a step-daughter perhaps), Evelyn M. M. Cameron aged 3 and Douglas E.D. Cameron aged 2.
Lieut. W. Christie Gordon Hrs.
William Menzies Christie has a story which is in a number of respects quite unusual. He was 64 when he died in 1917. His birth is recorded in the parish register for Kincardine O’Neil on 12 January 1854. He was a son of Alexander Christie, Craiglug, and his wife Elizabeth Menzies. His mother died in 1864 of tuberculosis, and in 1870 Alexander took a second wife Margaret Leslie. The family lived at Cochran, Kincardine O’Neil. In 1871 Christie, then aged 17 and working as a shoemaker, was living with his father (a forester’s labourer) and stepmother, younger sisters Christina (11) and Isabella (9) and step brothers James (3) and John (1). At least two of these younger siblings predeceased him - Christina who died in 1896 aged 36 and John who died at the age of 23 in 1891.
Christie then disappears from obvious public records until, in 1912 at the age of 58, he married Emma O’Dell at Farnham (most probably Farnham in Hampshire). The couple had a daughter Eva Menzies Christie born on 27 March 1914. When war broke out in 1914 he was 60 years of age. On 18 December 1914 his War Office file reveals that he was appointed to a regular commission as temporary Quartermaster with the honorary rank of Lieutenant in the 3rd Battalion the Gordon Highlanders, who remained at the regimental depot in Aberdeen for the duration of the war. A note on the file reads: “There is no record of the late WC having served in the ranks prior to his commission on 18/12/14, neither is there any indication of his employment prior to joining HM Forces”.
Christie’s address at the time of his death was West View, Ash Vale, Aldershot, but for whatever reason he had obviously returned to native parts to perform his war service. The file reveals that he died of pneumonia in hospital at 19 Albyn Place, Aberdeen in the early morning of 8 November 1917.
The funeral was reported in the Aberdeen Journal on 12 November 1917: “The funeral of Lieutenant and Quartermaster William Christie, who died in Albyn Place Hospital on Thursday, took place, with military honours, on Saturday, from Albyn Place Hospital to the Joint Station, en route for Kincardine O’Neil Churchyard. The bearers were all sergeants of the Gordon Highlanders from Castlehill, and the coffin, covered by the Union Jack, was carried on a gun carriage. The officiating clergyman was Rev. W. Hays”.
A letter on the file from his commanding officer Lt. Col. Bethune in January 1918 reports, that Lieut. Christie “performed his duties in a thoroughly conscientious manner…” Both his father and stepmother outlived him, Alexander dying at the age of 92 in 1924. He is buried in the churchyard at Kincardine O’Neil and commemorated, along with other members of the family, on a monument north of the west end of the ruined kirk.
Private A. Clark - Can. Ex. Force
Andrew Clark was a son of Andrew Clark, shepherd, and Elsie Jaffrey who married at Fintry in 1887. He was born at Ythanbank Cottage, Dyce on 9 March 1892. In 1901, the Clarks were living at Pond Cottage, Torphins. There were four children – Mary aged 13, and three brothers, Alfred, Andrew and Alexander aged 11, 9 and 6 respectively. As a young man he emigrated to Canada, and following the outbreak of war he enlisted in the Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Force at Belleville, Ontario as a Private in the Canadian (West Ontario) Regiment (18th Bn. No.412204) on 15 February 1915, giving his peacetime occupation as “labourer”. At the time of joining up, his mother was living at Torphins. His attestation paper states that he had previously served 3 years in the Scottish Horse, a territorial regiment which had a depot at Torphins.
The 18th were an infantry battalion forming part of the 4th Infantry Brigade of the 2nd Canadian Division who were among the Four Divisions of the Canadian Corps deployed, as part of the Arras Offensive, to capture Vimy Ridge, a strategically important escarpment which had been under German control since the invasion in 1914. They were part of the main assault beginning on 9 April 1917, and after days of fierce fighting and very heavy casualties the ridge was captured by the Canadians by the evening of 12 April. Clark died on the first day of the assault. His death was posted in the Aberdeen Evening Express 4 May 1917 – “Killed in action on 9th April, Private Andrew Clark, Canadians, second son of Mr and Mrs Clark, Chapelwell, Learney, Torphins, aged 25 years. He is buried at Nine Elms Military Cemetery, Thelus.
Capt. D.H. Davidson Seaforth Hrs.
Duncan Hemeline Davidson was born at Craigmyle House on 28 March 1877. He was the second child and first son of Duncan Davidson DL, JP, of Inchmarlo and Flora Frances Davidson, daughter of Sir Francis Burdett of Foremark, Derbyshire, who had married at Richmond, Surrey in 1874 – a marriage which produced two sons and two daughters. The family lived first at Craigmyle, later at Inchmarlo. On 6 January1884, when Duncan had not quite reached his seventh birthday, his mother Flora (said to have “endeared herself to all by her kind and charitable disposition”) died of diphtheria at the age of 32. His father remarried in 1887.
Duncan Davidson’s coming of age in 1890 was a big event in the county attracting detailed coverage in the local press. The culmination of jollifications at Inchmarlo which included a large family dinner, picnics and a bicycling party, was a grand dinner at which the Farquhar and Pickering families, among others, were well-represented along with 170 tenants who enjoyed a “sumptuous repast”. There were numerous toasts and replies. It was announced, to the delight of the assembled company, that the young man had adopted farming as his profession. After dinner all adjourned to the drawing room where there was “a choice programme of music” followed by bonfires at the house and on Sluiehill, and a firework display in front of the house.
Unfortunately, the War Office file on this officer appears to have been destroyed, but other sources suggest his plans to settle to a life of farming took a different turn. In 1900 he joined the Seaforth Highlanders from the Militia, was promoted to Captain in 1911, an
Sergt. J. Durward - Gordon Hrs.
John Durward was a Lance Serjeant in the 1st/7th Bn. Gordon Highlanders (No.290611). He was the son of Samuel Durward, farmer at Milton of Ennets, and his wife Ann, born on 28 March 1892. Samuel was a native of Kincardine O’Neil and Ann came from Kineff. Their children were all born in the parish – first Samuel in about 1882, who in due course carried on the farm, then Mary two years after.
Durward enlisted at Banchory, joining the 7th (Deeside) Battalion of the Gordon Highlanders. In the absence of his service record, nothing is known about the circumstances of his death, other than that he died of wounds aged 25 on 28 April 1917. He is very likely also to have been a casualty of the diversionary Arras offensive. The 7th Gordons, as part (at that time) of the 153rd Brigade and 51st (Highland) Division were in the forefront of an attack on the German line which commenced on 23 April 2017 and developed (according to Major F. W. Bewsher, historian of the 51st Division) into “perhaps the most savage infantry battle that the Division took part in”, as the advance was met with heavy machine-gun fire and a ferocious artillery barrage. He is buried at Étaples Military Cemetery.
Private W. Esson - Gordon Hrs.
William Paterson Esson’s family had strong links with Crathie, but his father was born in Lumphanan and his parents later lived at Morven Villa, Torphins, hence the connection with the parish. He was born on 22 August 1892 at “Street of Monaltrie”, Crathie, son of Robert Esson, General Labourer and Margaret Paterson who had married at Crathie in 1889. In 1891 Robert, Margaret and their three month old daughter Marjory were living at Crathie with Margaret’s mother, also Marjory, who gives her occupation in the census as “Merchant”.
Esson joined 7th Battalion Gordon Highlanders (No. 512) at Banchory and was 23 when he was killed in action serving as part of “A” (Banchory) Coy. on 4 August 1916 in the Battle of the Somme. It is not clear exactly what happened to him that day. Between 1 and 6 August the 7th were in bivouacs north-east of Méaulte, having been relieved of front line duty and there is no note of any casualties on that date. In the last week of July, however, they had been engaged in very fierce and costly fighting around Mametz, Bezantin and High Wood. Possibly the date is not quite accurate or he died of wounds.
Private Esson is buried at Dartmoor Cemetery, Bécordel-Bécourt.
Sergt. A.M. Farquhar Gordon Hrs.
Alexander Milne Farquhar was born on 26 January 1893, son of Alexander and Mary Farquhar. In 1901 the family was living at Woodside in Aberdeen, but both parents came from Lumphanan originally and both Alexander and his sister May, who was two years younger, were born in Banchory. Later, Alexander (senior) and Mary lived at Sawmill Cottage, Torphins. In 1911, aged 18, young Alexander was employed as a horseman at Little Maldron, then being farmed by Charles Birse. He enlisted, joined the 9th Bn. Gordon Highlanders (No. 705) and died of wounds on 28 June 1917 at the age of 24. He is buried/commemorated at Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery in Belgium near Ypres.
Lieut. A.C.N. Farquhar Royal Navy
Several members of the Farquhar family of Drumnagesk are commemorated at Christ Church in plaques on the north wall and in the burial ground. A brass plaque in the chancel commemorates Admiral Sir Arthur Farquhar KCB (b.1815 d.1908), recording that the church bell was given by his children. The Admiral had thirteen children. One of those was Albert Farquhar. Albert married Alice Jane Nicol, daughter of the Lord Provost of Aberdeen, at St Andrews Episcopal Cathedral in Aberdeen in 1887, and went out to Iowa to be a ranchman, which is where their son, Alastair Charles Nicol Farquhar, was born on 4 March 1888. In the summer of 1900, Albert travelled to Kalgoorlie along with Alice to take up an appointment as assistant general manager of the Lake View and Ivanhoe Mines. A new residence was built specially, but in November of the same year Alice died, and later that month Albert sailed for London. The following year, the Census found young Alastair at school at Segensworth in Hampshire.
It is an understatement to say that there was a strong naval tradition in the family, and it seems highly likely that the future Lieutenant’s choice of service was influenced by the glittering careers of his great-grandfather, Sir Arthur Farquhar (Knight Commander of the Hanoverian Guelphic Order and Knight Commander of the Sword of Sweden b.1772 d. Carlogie 1843) who joined the Navy in 1787 and ended his career as Rear Admiral of the White, and his illustrious grandfather, Admiral Sir Arthur Farquhar of Drumnagesk, not to mention uncles who were also officers in the Royal Navy. He joined the navy in 1904 as a cadet at the age of 16, shortly after became a Midshipman, and rose to the rank of Sub-Lieutenant in 1907 and Lieutenant in 1910.
At 00.45hrs on the morning of 17 June 1916, at the age of 28, Farquhar was the Commander of the destroyer HMS Eden as it escorted a troopship, SS France from Southampton to Le Havre. The France had been launched in 1910 as an opulent trans-Atlantic liner (but with a notorious rolling tendency) pre-war. The vessels collided, about 15 miles from Le Havre, in poor visibility (neither showing any lights) and in heavy seas. Eden found herself across France’s bows and France cut her in two, so that she sank with her three senior officers and 39 of her crew, though 31 crew members were saved. France was holed on the port side forward and her steering gear disabled.
An inquiry taking the form of a court martial of the surviving officers and crew took place at Portsmouth the following month, presided over by the Deputy Judge-Advocate of the Fleet, and its papers now lie in two neatly bound bundles in the National Archives at Kew. The terrible events of the night were vividly recorded in a statement by the only surviving officer, Artificer Engineer Herbert G. Ram, of which the following is a slightly edited version:
HMS Eden left Portsmouth Harbour about 7pm on the 16th June 16 and proceeded off Bembridge to await Transport due about 7.45pm. About 8.00pm HMS Eden took up position about 1 mile ahead of Transport France & proceeded to sea, the average speed being about 19 knots. I left the deck about 9.30pm. About 12.45am the following morning speed was reduced & I proceeded to the Engine Room hatch in readiness for any further evolutions. I also observed the Transport approaching us amidships starboard side about 50 yards distant & no lights showing. The Engine Room Telegraphs at the same moment being put “Full Speed Astern” port and starboard…. Within 30 seconds of the order by telegraph for “Full speed Astern” the collision occurred. Both port and starboard main steam pipes were severed, all steam pressure had gone and all electric lights put out, leaving the secondary lamps alight in the engine room only. I went on deck to ascertain further the extent of the damage & if possible to localise & use any steam pressure for emergency purposes, finding the breach some 12 feet forward and aft and extending inboard beyond the centre line of ship, also the forward and aft parts of the ship working and straining in opposite ways & sinking in the vicinity of the breach ….When I went on deck to ascertain the damage I saw the Transport backing out of the breach & gradually let us drift away. Being on the aft part of the ship I assisted to get the Carley Floats overboard. The Gunner Mr O’Brien was attending to lowering the Whaler & Dinghy which was manned; also everybody I could see had “life-belts”. After the Whaler & Dinghy & Floats had left the ship Mr O’Brien & myself with 15 Petty Officers and men were left on the aft part being some 10 to 15 Minutes after the collision. We stood by to await any assistance which may be sent us. About 20 Minutes from the time of the collision the fore part of the ship heeled to port and broke away then up-ended & stood bows uppermost quite 40 feet high out of the sea for about ¾ of an hour. By this time the Transport was quite 1 ½ miles away. We waved an electric torch and hoped by this means to attract attention to our position but no assistance came from the Transport. Between 2 & 2.30am three ships passed about 1 mile away. We hailed & used our torch but no assistance was given us. About 3.15am HMS Teviot came in sight & we asked if she could tow us stern first into harbour. After difficult effort a line was secured but just as that had been done the after part settled down. The Teviot had lowered her Whaler & taken 5 men I believe when the remainder of us had to jump. Owing to the very heavy sea running we were scattered which made rescue very difficult. The Teviot by means of buoys & lines did the very best they could under difficulties……
The court found in light of all the available information that, twelve minutes before the collision, SS France signalled she was easing down with her steering gear out of order, in response to which Eden reduced her speed but France did not. About 8 minutes before the collision, both vessels altered course to starboard to avoid colliding with a steamer, but the troopship altered course to a lesser extent than her escort and resumed her course sooner. It concluded that the primary cause of the collision was that SS France was doing 16 and a half knots when HMS Eden was doing only 10. There was no doubt that the troopship transmitted a signal that she was reducing her speed, but the Master of the France denied giving any order for the signal to be made, and the court found there was no evidence that such an order had been given. No blame was found attributable to any of the surviving officers or crew.
The Master of the SS France said he tried to rescue people from the bow as he could see the aft section remained afloat. He lowered one of his lifeboats, but only one as France was rolling heavily and he was afraid of losing all the troops that were on deck, as with the boat lowered there was nothing to stop them sliding overboard. He was carrying 838 troops and 17 officers and there was insufficient room for the men on decks to be accommodated below. Also, given the weather, there was a risk of the boats being smashed against the ship’s side. They had lights out in accordance with sailing orders. He told the destroyer Teviot escorting the Bellerophon to go to the aft part and render assistance.
Lieut. Farquhar was never found and the official papers record him as “Drowned 16th June 1916”. This loss must have been all the more distressing to Albert following news the previous month that his brother Capt. Hobart Brooks Farquhar was missing in action (see Newsletter December 2014). The disaster in the Channel made international news, but as usual the Aberdeen Journal helpfully supplied the local angle in a report on 19 June 1916 – “Lieut. Alistair (sic) C. N. Farquhar, the Commander of the Eden who is missing, is 28 years of age, a son of Mr Albert Farquhar and a grandson of the late Admiral Sir Arthur Farquhar K.C.B. of Drumnagesk, Aboyne. His mother who died in 1900 was the second daughter of the Late Lord Provost Alexander Nicol, Aberdeen. The family of Farquhar is very well known in the Navy, having given no fewer than three Admirals to the British Fleet. Admiral Sir Arthur Murray Farquhar, who received his knighthood in November of last year, and whose residence is at Granville Lodge, Aboyne, retired only the other day with two others in order to make room for the promotion of younger men. He is a son of the late Admiral Sir Arthur Farquhar K.C.B. who was a son of Admiral Sir Arthur Farquhar K.C.B. of Garlogie (sic). The family has also provided another officer of high naval rank in Rear-Admiral R.B.Farquhar, brother of the present Admiral Sir Arthur Farquhar”.
Alastair Farquhar is commemorated both by a brass plaque on the north wall of the church and in the Christ Church burial ground, and he is also listed on the war memorials at Banchory and Aboyne. Following the death of the old Admiral at the age of about 93 in 1908, Drumnagesk was sold and came into the ownership of Herbert Lawford, Wimbledon Champion of 1887, who retired there.
In 1917 some excitement among lawyers ensued when the Admiralty, having been rebuffed in a claim for compensation directed against the owners of the SS France, raised proceedings, but as the owners were the French State Railways (effectively the French government), from whom the Admiralty had chartered the vessel, appointing their own English Master, it was thought best as a matter of policy not to proceed with this. The wreck of the Eden now lies off Fe’Camp on the eastern end of the Seine Bay at a depth of 34 metres. It was one of a class of torpedo boat destroyer of which 34 in total were built in the early years of the 20th century and was launched in 1903. SS France continued her war service as a hospital ship in the Dardanelles and after the war returned to her former trans-Atlantic activities which continued into the 1930s.
Capt. H.B. Farquhar C.S. Rifles
Hobart Brooks Farquhar is commemorated at Christ Church by a fine brass plaque on the north wall of the chancel placed by his wife “In memory of my beloved husband…Killed in action at Vimy Ridge on May 22nd 1916”. He was the youngest son of Admiral Sir Arthur Farquhar KCB of Drumnagesk and his wife Ellen, born at Carlogie, Dess on 16 April 1874. The 1881 census finds him there aged 6, living with his parents, sisters Jane and Alice and brother Charles. He was educated at Harrow and Trinity College, Cambridge.
Farquhar’s military career seems to have begun in the 1890s. Aged about 21, he went to South Africa in 1895, serving as a private in the Rhodesian Volunteers in the Matabele rebellion of 1896. He then joined the Civil Service but interrupted his career to serve again in the Boer War until November 1901. In 1904 he married Ida Violet Wolfe Barry at St Margaret’s, Westminster. She was four years younger than him, the daughter of a civil engineer. From 1904 – 1912 he was a local authority District Auditor first in Lancashire then in Staffordshire, during which time in 1909 he was called to the bar of the Inner Temple. In 1913 he became Inspector of Audits in the office of the National Health Insurance Commissioners.
By the time he joined up in September 1914, Farquhar was no longer a particularly young man. He had passed his 40th birthday, and had an established career and family responsibilities. He was living in Woking and had three children: Nesta aged 9, Phoebe 8, and Anthony aged a year and four months. A further daughter Felicity, was to be born in August 1915. He appears bespectacled and studious in his military uniform in the pages of his old school’s “Memorials of the Great War”. Perhaps, as his earlier life suggests, he had a taste for soldiering, or an overpowering sense of patriotic duty, or a combination of the two. Maybe he missed the action-packed life of his twenties. Certainly the Western Front was a far cry from Woking and the National Health Insurance Commissioners. He probably saw his family for the last time in February/ March 1916 when, after two weeks of bronchitis, he was allowed home for a short period of leave. By the time of his death he had become a Captain in the London Regiment (Prince of Wales Own Civil Service Rifles) 15th Battalion.
Capt. Farquhar was posted “Wounded and missing on 21-23 May 1916”. A number of men were interviewed, but the War Office file discloses that the precise circumstances and even the fact of his death proved hard to establish. There was at first some evidence from a stretcher bearer that he had been wounded and brought in by the Field Ambulance, but this rumour which Mrs Farquhar checked out in person at the Fulham Military Hospital on the morning of 7 June, appears to have been incorrect. L/Cpl Watson who was also wounded in an attack on German trenches on the night of Sunday 21 May reported being told “that Capt. Farquhar had been hit. Shortly after he saw a figure in a hollow in the open which he is sure was an officer and feels certain was Capt. Farquhar. The night was dark – he did not go close enough to clearly identify the Officer – he spoke to him but got no reply though he saw the Officer wave his cane”.
There was also a daring attempt to recover his body, which the file suggests earned the author of the following piece the Military Cross:
“On the morning of the 22nd May 1916 at about 1 A.M. “B” Company with Captain F. i/c was sent up to counter-attack.
At 1.45 a.m. (about) Colonel W. sent me up with two platoons to re-inforce “B” Company. On reaching the “front line” (a series of little pieces of blown in trench) I found the remnants of “B” Company mostly wounded crawling in from No Mans land. I asked one or two of these men where Captain F was and they told me they had seen him fall wounded near the German wire. I got up on top and crawled out to find him. Some more wounded men lying in shell holes showed me the direction he was supposed to be but though I hunted about a good while (it was then beginning to get a bit light) I could find no trace of him… As you very well know it is a most difficult thing to find anyone during an engagement of that kind, particularly as the men of F’s Company did not seem absolutely sure where he had gone.”
Another member of the Captain’s Battalion claimed to have information that his body was found on the German wire in front of Vimy in about July of 1916, and he believed that the body had been brought in and buried.
In these uncertain circumstances, clinging desperately to the hope that her husband might have been taken prisoner, Mrs Farquhar strongly petitioned the War Office to make no official declaration of his death until the war was over; but in April 1919 she officially accepted the inevitable conclusion that he had died at some time on 21-23 May 1916. Mrs Farquhar lived on until 1959 when she died in Surrey. It seems she did not remarry.
1916 must have been a miserable year for the Drumnagesk Farquhars. Capt. Farquhar had gone missing in May, and in June his nephew Alastair (the first name on the war memorial of whom more anon) went down with his ship in the Channel.
Private R. J. Findlay - King’s Royal Rifles
This is James Reid Findlay (J.R. not R.J.). He was born on 31 July 1889 at Blairhead Farm, Campfield, near Torphins, son of a farmer, George and his wife Isobella Reid who had married at Coull in 1882. In 1891, he was the youngest child of a large family and in 1901 he was the middle child of five still living at home, having three sisters and a brother. He enlisted at London (though his address at the time was Stonehaven), and became a Rifleman of the King’s Royal Rifle Corps 2nd Bn. (No. R/17568). He was killed in action on the Western Front on 30 June 1916 possibly in a frustrated attack on enemy lines that evening.
The battalion War Diary records preparations for an attack on enemy trenches in the days preceding 30 June 1916, including practice in model trenches, and gives a vivid account of the day. On 30 June there was a “quiet morning and afternoon” and at 7.30pm the battalion less parties selected for the attack moved into billets. The remainder moved into the starting places allotted to them and by 8.30pm were all ready. At 9pm bridges were put up and the enemy either saw this or the men assembling in the trenches, and opened heavy fire with trench mortars and artillery causing many casualties. At 9.15pm three mines were sprung and at 9.16pm the column went over the parapet. The diary noted that the two parties on the right failed to penetrate defensive heavy wire and consequently “what remained of them” turned south to join up with and assist the Royal Sussex Regiment, but their joint efforts were unsuccessful on account of wire and machine gun fire. The centre column reached and entered the enemy trench, but found its right on the receiving end of a bombing attack, and did not succeed in joining up with the left column. The senior officer on the spot Major W.D. Barber ordered a withdrawal. The left column rushed the trench appointed to them and remained in action till 3am when they were also ordered to withdraw. The battalion’s casualties of this unsuccessful raid were 35 officers and men killed or died of wounds, 173 wounded and 24 missing.
Private Findlay is commemorated on the Arras memorial.
Private J. Gavin - Aus. Ex. Force
John William Gavin was born at 13 St Peter Street, Peterhead on 9 November 1890, son of Grain Merchant John Gavin from Udny and Mary George Cruikshank from Elgin who had married at Fraserburgh in 1888. In 1891 the Gavins were at Peter Street, Peterhead, including four month old John William and his two year old brother, Thomas R. Ten years on they were at Mill of Leslie, Insch, where father John was working as both miller and farmer and the family had expanded to five boys and three girls. John Gavin later had the mill at Mill of Ennets, and the children attended school at Tornaveen.
Gavin emigrated to Australia, probably in about 1910 to work (like George Gordon and William Bews) on the railways. His enlistment papers show that he was employed at that time as an engine cleaner and was allocated to the 9th Light Horse Regiment of the Australian Infantry Force (no.1385), and dispatched to the Dardanelles as part of the 3rd Light Horse Brigade. He sailed to Heliopolis in December 1915 at about the time of the Allies’ withdrawal following unsuccessful effort to capture the Gallipoli peninsula. The regiment proceeded to Serapeum at the end of February 1916 where the 3rd Light Horse as part of the ANZAC Mounted Division participated in the defence of the Suez Canal from the Turks, the wider strategy of the Allies being to push the Ottoman army out of the Sinai Peninsula. On 9 August 1916 the 9th Light Horse were engaged in a confrontation with Turkish artillery in the course of which John Gavin was first thought to be missing having been taken prisoner, but it was after confirmed that he had been killed in action.
On 23 September 1916 the Aberdeen Journal reported: “Official information has been received by Mr John Gavin, 52 Whitehall Place, and late of Mill of Ennets, Torphins, that his son, Trooper J. W. Gavin, Australian Imperial Force, has been killed in action. Trooper Gavin, who was 25 years of age, was for six years engaged on the South Australian Railways. Prior to emigrating to Australia he was employed with the Caledonian Railway Company at Glasgow”.
Mrs Gavin received a memorial scroll and plaque and her son’s effects: an identity disc, wallet, 2 letters, photograph, postcard, writing paper case, Musketry book, Letter, Pipe, badges and handkerchief.
Gavin is buried at Kantara War Memorial Cemetery in Egypt and is also commemorated on the Aberdeen City Roll of Honour.
2nd Lieut. W.O. Gilmour Scott. Horse
Williejohn Oberlin Gilmour was born at Armadale in Sutherland on 30 May 1884, son of William Gilmour B.A. and Barbara Learmonth Gilmour. There was a strong teaching tendency in the Gilmour family: William was a teacher; Barbara was a teacher’s assistant; Williejohn became a teacher and in due course married a teacher.
Williejohn Gilmour was the eldest of at least six children. He had four younger sisters and a younger brother Marcus Aurelius. His mother was a native of Orkney, born in Stronsay, and the family appear in Westray, Orkney in 1891 where Marcus Aurelius and his sister Barbara were both born, two years apart. By 1901 the family were living in the School House, Huntly. Williejohn was educated first at his father’s various schools, then at Robert Gordon’s College in Aberdeen.
He served in the Scottish Horse Imperial Yeomanry from 1904-8 and appears to have remained a member of the University troop while at Aberdeen University from which he graduated with an M.A. degree in 1911. He taught for a time at Paisley Grammar School as an assistant and, on the outbreak of war, was a master at Leith Academy. On the very day war was declared (4 August 1914), he re-enlisted in his old regiment, despite the offer of a commission in the Gordon Highlanders.
On 25 May1915 Gilmour married Madge Gordon Sim, schoolteacher, at Kincardine O’Neil. They were to enjoy married life together for no more than about ten weeks. Gilmour was sent to Gallipoli as Quartermaster-Sergeant in the 1st Brigade, embarking from Devonport on 15 August 1915 and arriving at Suvla Bay 1 September. He spent a couple of weeks in hospital in Alexandria with jaundice in January 1916. He was promoted to 2nd Lieutenant on 10 March 1916, twelve days before his wife gave birth on 22 March to a son, James Gordon Gilmour, at Auchintoul, Torphins.
He was killed while on patrol, near Kakaraska on the Struma front in Macedonia on 15 May 1917 at the age of 32. At the time of his death, both parents, his younger brother and four sisters aged between 17 and 30 lived at Crathes Schoolhouse. His parents later resided in Culter at a house named “Struma”. In 1921, Madge, still living at Auchintoul, married Robert Davidson, a Torphins railway signalman.
According to the records of his old university,
“Lieutenant Gilmour’s death was a great blow to his numerous friends and comrades-in-arms, as his cheerful and obliging disposition made him a general favourite both in school and on service”.
He is commemorated on the Doiran Memorial – also on the War Memorial at Banchory.
Private G. Gordon - Australian Expeditionary Force
George Gordon was born on 17 February 1888 at Pitmedden, Torphins, son of John Gordon, Farmer and Georgina Ingram, who had married at Oldmachar Aberdeen in 1878. The family appears in the 1891 census living at Pitmedden Farm, Craigmyle. John Gordon is said to have been born in the parish, and his wife came from Banffshire. In 1891 there were six children, of whom George was the second youngest, and John’s mother Mary and two servants lived with them. By 1901 George had two more brothers William and Robert then aged 8 and 6.
Gordon sailed for Australia from London on board the “Durham” on 27 June 1911, as one of a large gang of “railway workers” which included William Bews (see below) who was also to become a casualty of the war. They were born only weeks apart and it seems likely that at the very least they knew one another. Work was about to begin on the construction of the trans-continental Australian railway from Port Augusta to Kalgoorlie, and it may be that labour was being imported for that purpose.
Gordon gave the name of his mother, still residing at Pitmedden, as his next of kin on enlistment, as a volunteer, at Mount Gambier South Australia on 6 March 1916. The enlistment papers give his occupation as “Farm labourer” and he was then 27 years old. He was appointed to B Company 2nd Depot Battalion, then 50th Battalion of the A.I.F. and shipped to Tel-el-kebir, possibly for training. From there he was transferred to Alexandria, then embarked in early June 1916 on the “Arcadian” bound for Marseilles where his unit were to join the British Expeditionary Force. After about six weeks in France, Gordon spent a short time in hospital suffering from gastro-enteritis, but rejoined his unit at the beginning of September 1916. On 30 March the following year he took sick again with a case of “S.T.A. Foot” (Trench Foot perhaps?) which kept him out of action until 20 April. Then on 10 June 1917 he suffered a gunshot wound to the hip and was out of action for about a month. He rejoined the battalion on about 26 July.
On 24 April 1918 German forces captured the village of Villers-Bretonneux in Picardy. It was recaptured in the course of that evening and the following day by Australians of the 4th and 5th Divisions of the First Australian Imperial Force, including the 50th Battalion at the cost of massive Australian casualties. Gordon was one of them. He died on 25 April 1918, less than four months after his brother Robert Reid Gordon who served in the Marines and is also commemorated on the Kincardine O’Neil memorial. A note in Gordon’s service record states “Owing to the severity of action the body was not recovered by this Battalion”, but a separate note reads “Buried 500 yds S. of Villers-Bretonneux”.
Private R. R. Gordon - Royal Marines
On the outbreak of the First World War a brigade of Marines was formed for service ashore. Robert Gordon was one of these. At the time of his death he was serving as an Able Seaman of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, Hawke Bn. R.N. Division (Service no. ClydeZ/1754).
Gordon was born at Torphins on 25 November 1894, son of John Gordon, Farmer and Georgina Ingram who appear in the 1891 census at Pitmedden Farm, Craigmyle. In 1901 he was the youngest of 8 children. He was a younger brother of Private George Gordon who also features on the memorial (see Newsletter April 2015), who emigrated and joined the Australian Imperial Force. In 1911, aged 16, Robert Gordon was working on his father’s farm.
Gordon enlisted on 25 October 1914, the month before his twentieth birthday. At that point in time he was a farm servant, living still at Pitmedden. He was assigned to Benbow Battn, Blandford. In June 1915 he was transferred from Benbow to Anson Battn and despatched to Gallipoli. On 16 September 1915 he was taken ill with enteritis and transported by the hospital ship “Somali” to hospital on Malta. On 8 October 1915 he was sent back to England on the “Massilia” and admitted to Haslar Hospital with dysentery. By early November 1915 Gordon was fit enough to return to duty. In July 1916, having been transferred to Hawke Battn. B.E.F. , he disembarked at Boulogne from England where his unit joined the 63rd Royal Naval Division, and on 13 September 1916 he joined the 8th Entrenching Bttn. He had a period of leave from 29 August 1917 to 8 September 1917, which was probably his last.
He was 23 when he died of wounds to his left shoulder and back in the care of the 149th Royal Naval Field Ambulance, France on 2 January 1918, predeceasing by a few months his older brother George who died on 25 April. He is buried at Villers-Plouich Communal Cemetery.
No details of the precise circumstances of Gordon’s death have been found. However, the 63rd RN Division took part in the second battle of Passchendaele in October and November 1917, suffering massive losses, and were involved in the action of Welsh Ridge on 30 December 1917; his place of commemoration at Villers-Plouich Communal Cemetery suggests he was probably a casualty of those engagements.
Private W. Hepburn – Can. Ex. Force and Private A. Hepburn – H.L.I.
These two men were brothers. William was born in 1892; Alexander in 1894. Their elder brother Charles also served with the Canadians. William, Alexander and Charles were sons of James Hepburn, Farm Overseer, and Helen Walker who was a native of Lumphanan where the couple married. They lived for a time at Hillhead, Peterculter, then Danestone and, during the war at Milton, Campfield, Glassel. In October 1914 Mr Hepburn contributed to Lady Sempill’s Aberdeenshire fund for motor ambulances for the front in a conflict that was to claim two of his sons in 1917.
William Hepburn emigrated to Canada and became a Motorman (driver) on the Toronto Street Railway. He was unmarried when he enlisted (no. 192525) at Toronto on 13 August 1915 in the 42nd Bn of the Canadian Infantry (Quebec) Regiment (Royal Highlanders of Canada) who, as befits their Scottish origins, supported their own pipe band.
The 42nd reached France in the autumn of 1915 and remained in France and Flanders throughout the war, as part of the 7th Infantry Brigade of the 3rd Canadian Division. In the final week of March 1917 they were involved in the allied advance to the Hindenburg Line.
An extract from the battalion War Diary for Wednesday 28 March 1917, the date of William’s death, notes: “From No.3 Longfellow Post Snipers were able to enfilade Blurt Trench and several hundred yards of the Artillerie Weg, where they had numerous targets and claimed several hits”.
He is buried at Ecoivres Military Cemetery, Mont-St.Eloi.
Alexander Hepburn joined up at Aberdeen and became Private no. 31109 in the 14th (Service) Bn of the Highland Light Infantry – one of the “Bantam Battalions” (George Taylor of the Toll House was in the same battalion). The 14th HLI were sent to France for service on the Western Front in June 1916 becoming part of the 120th Brigade in the 40th Division.
It was reported in November 1917, when Mr and Mrs Hepburn were no doubt still trying to come to terms with the loss of William in March, that their eldest son, Charles, was suffering from gas poisoning and had been admitted to hospital in England. Not long after, they must have received the even worse news of Alexander’s death on 24 November.
It is impossible to know exactly what happened to him, but the War Diary again offers some insights into the events of that day. On the evening of 23 November of 2017 the battalion was ordered up to the Hindenburg Support Line (two or three hundred yards beyond the Germans’ defensive Hindenburg Line) to support the 121st Brigade but were stood down as not required. The Battalion diary records unsurprisingly “Men very tired”. The following morning, under orders to capture the village of Bourlon, they moved to Bourlon Wood through a barrage at Grainourt, and on to Anneux Chapel. In the afternoon the battalion entered and occupied the village. Needless to say there had been casualties along the way, one platoon having been, as the Diary puts it “knocked out” in the barrage.
He is commemorated at the Cambrai Memorial, Louverval.
Private J. P. Kemp - R.A.S.C.
Joseph Petrie Kemp was born at Aboyne on 17 February 1889. He was the son of Albert Kemp, woollen manufacturer who was born at Leochel Cushnie, and Annie Winks Kemp (nee Petrie), born Kincardine O’Neil. In 1891 the family were living at Waulkmill, Dess. In 1901 he was the eldest child living in the household at Gordon Mills, Aboyne on census night, having four younger brothers and two sisters. By 1911 the family had moved, were living at 61 Cross Street, Fraserburgh and had begun a relationship with the new-fangled motor car, as Albert was working as a doctor’s chauffeur and Joseph as a domestic chauffeur. On 4 April 1913, at Glasgow, Joseph Kemp married Janet MasonYoung, known as Jenny and described on the marriage certificate as a “Vocalist”.
By 1916 Kemp was working for the Royal Hotel, Fraserburgh, as appears from a report in the Aberdeen Journal on 19 April 1916 to the effect that, at a meeting of the conscription appeal tribunal before Provost Finlayson, “…Joseph Kemp (29), motorman at the Royal Hotel, was appealed for by his employer, Mr Alex. Davidson, who said Kemp was a married man, and had three brothers serving…..”. Conditional (and presumably temporary) exemption was granted, and in due course Kemp was recruited to the Royal Army Service Corps (M338240) and the 42nd Motor Ambulance Convoy. On 18 November 1918 the Aberdeen Journal carried the news of his death two weeks previously on 4 November 1918: “Private Joseph Kemp, motor transport, A.S.C…… was formerly chauffeur at the Royal Hotel, Fraserburgh. His wife and children reside in Glasgow”. The children were Agnes aged 5 and Joseph aged 3. The Aberdeen Weekly Journal of 27 December 1918 has a photo of Kemp wearing goggles over his cap at a rakish angle – one of several occupying much of a full page spread under the heading “DIED FOR KING AND COUNTRY”.
He was buried at Étaples Military Cemetery.
In July the following year Kemp was commemorated along with 46 other members of local masonic lodges, as a member of Solomon Lodge, at a memorial service in Fraserburgh Parish Church conducted by five ministers of the town with the Fraserburgh Pipe Band.
Private D. Merchant - Gordon Hrs
This is David Smith Merchant of the 9th (Pioneer) Bn (no. S/11218). He was a son of Alexander Merchant and Martha Ross or Merchant. Alexander had the farm at Burnside of Ennets and was a native of Lumphanan. Martha began life at Leochel Cushnie. Their son David was born at Burnside of Ennets on 21 April 1891. The 1901 Census reveals that Alexander and Martha had at least four children besides David, all born in the parish of Kincardine O’ Neil, namely Jane and Mary who were elder sisters of David (then 16 and 13), and George and Maggie (8 and 3) who were younger.
In the 1911 Census Merchant is registered living away from home, and in the household of George Milne, Farm Grieve, as a farm foreman at Little Kinnord. In due course he enlisted and was taken into the 9th (Pioneer) Battalion of the Gordons with whom, (as part of the army’s15th Division) he was killed in action aged 25 on 25 July 1917.
In the weeks before 25 July 1917 the 9th Gordons had been engaged in repairing roads and bridges, clearing and repairing shelled trenches, renewing sandbagging, creating a new cable trench and laying cables, erecting wire and camouflage, making and clearing drains, and in the construction of a light railway. The battalion war diary reported that work was regularly stopped by bombardments and gas shelling, sometimes continuing from dusk till dawn. Orders on 23 July 2017 revealed that an offensive involving the 15th Division was imminent, in which the role of the battalion, working with the Royal Engineers, would be to construct tracks for supporting artillery and horse transport. On 29 July the GOC 15th Division commended the 9th Gordons on the manner in which they had carried out their work over the past 4 weeks “under conditions of considerable difficulties”. It is unclear exactly what happened to Merchant but the difficulties in his case clearly proved fatal. He is buried or commemorated at Ypres Town Cemetery Extension.
After the war Merchant’s bereaved parents were living at Gallowfields, Findrack.
Capt. J.M. McLaggan M.C. R.A.M.C.
James Murray McLaggan was born on 19 July 1891 at the Town & County Bank, Torphins. He was the son of a banker, James McLaggan of Tollapark, Kinross, and his wife Sarah Ann Murray, who had married at Newburgh in 1882. In 1901 the family was living at Bank House, Torphins and at that time James was one of six children - four girls and two boys - ranging in age from 16 to 4. He attended school at Torphins and later at Robert Gordons College and (from 1908) the University of Aberdeen where he graduated Bachelor of Medicine in 1913.
McLaggan was working as a house physician at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary when war broke out, and immediately enlisted, receiving a temporary commission in the Royal Army Medical Corps on 22 August 1914. He was sent to Nettley Hospital and was then attached to the 3rd Bn. Royal Fusiliers, with whom he served throughout the war, first of all in France from January of 1915. He was awarded the Military Cross at the battle of Loos “For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty during the operations of 27th to 30th September 1915, when he attended to the wounded in the firing line under heavy shell and rifle fire. His coolness and skill undoubtedly saved many lives. For three days and four nights he worked incessantly with unflagging energy”. Following the Battle of Loos, the 3rd Bn were ordered to Salonika via Egypt in order to support Serbian forces against the Bulgarians. In July 1918 they moved back to France where McLaggan was offered, and refused, an administrative job.
On 4 October 1918, when McLaggan was killed in action, the battalion was engaged, as part of the 149th Brigade, 50th Division, in the Allied advance on the Hindenburg defences between Le Catelet and Vendhuile towards a redoubt at Richmond Copse, in the course of which they had to descend a slope to the Scheldt Canal and then climb up the opposite side, under heavy fire. In so doing they took prisoner a large number of enemy machine-gunners, but had to retreat more or less to their starting point, finding themselves practically isolated at the point of their objective. Casualties were extremely heavy, though the capture of enemy gunners facilitated a subsequent more lasting advance over the same ground. In the course of this action, only five weeks before the Armistice, McLaggan was shot and killed by a sniper while tending a wounded man. The Division’s Assistant Director Medical Services wrote of him: “Captain McLaggan had a very high sense of duty, and his constant thought was for the well-being of the men. The manner of his death was exactly like his life – with complete disregard to his personal safety he went to attend to his fallen C.O. when he himself fell a victim”. He is buried at Prospect Hill Cemetery, Gouy.
Private J. Michie Gordon Hrs
Joseph Michie was a Private in the 1/7th Bn Gordon Highlanders (No. 290425). He was born 29th January 1892 at Maryculter, the son of Arthur Michie (a native of Kincardine O’Neil) and Mrs Mary Michie (born in Fyvie). The couple married at Kincardine O’Neil in 1884, at which time Arthur was a farm servant at Mains of Findrack. In 1901 the Michies were in Laurencekirk when there were at least seven children of the family of whom Joseph was the middle child. Later, Arthur was employed as a cattleman at West Maldron, Torphins, and Mary (at least from about 1917) came to reside at Powdagie, Craigmyle. By 1911, Joseph Michie was working as a farm horseman at Lumphanan.
The 1/7th (Deeside Highland) Bn of the Gordon Highlanders were a unit of the Territorial Force having their headquarters at Banchory. After a time at Bedford following the outbreak of war they were sent to Boulogne in May 1915 and served on the Western Front as part of the 153rd Brigade of the 51st Highland Division (a Division of the British Army famously known to the Germans as “the ladies from hell”). The 51st Division was involved in the Battle of Arras in April and May 1917 which resulted, at huge cost in human lives, in a significant advance ending in prolonged stalemate. The involvement of the 51st Division in this action officially came to an end in about the middle of May and it is not clear in what circumstances precisely Private Michie lost his life on 1 June 1917. His death at the age of 25 must have come as a particularly heavy blow to Mrs Michie, as her husband Arthur had died of peritonitis on 9 February that year, after being kicked by a horse in the course of his employment. It also made an inevitable impact on the local community, as this report in the Aberdeen Evening Express of 23 June 1917, in an account of recent doings at Lumphanan parish church, records:
“At the close of the service in the Parish Church on Sunday last the Dead March in “Saul” was played in memory of Private Joseph Michie who, though not a native, left this district when the Territorials were mobilised, and has recently fallen in the great struggle. Private Michie was a member of the Church, a farm servant at Cairnbeathie, and was a respected young man”.
He is buried or commemorated at Mindel Trench British Cemetery, St.Laurent-Blagny.
Lieut.-Col. J.A. Milne D.S.O. Aus. Ex. Force
John Alexander Milne (known as Alexander) had a truly remarkable career and has earned a place in the Australian Dictionary of Biography. Thanks to this and the wonderful online Australian National Archives we probably know more about his experiences of the war than about anyone else on the war memorial. He was born at Woodside in Cromar on 23 March 1872, a son of labourer Alexander Milne and Jane McCombie, a dressmaker. His paternal grandfather lived in Torphins and in 1881 the family were living at North Footie, Kincardine O’Neil. He had at least four younger brothers all born in the parish – George, Robert, David and James. By 1891 the family were living at Waulkmill. He went to school in Torphins and later attended Aberdeen Grammar School.
In 1890, aged 18, the young Alexander emigrated to Australia on the “Dorunda” departing from London bound for Cairns. He found work as a farm labourer, miner, engine driver, farmer and commercial traveller in agricultural hardware. In 1898 he married Mary Elise May Bull at Kilkavian Junction, Queensland. They had three sons. He also had an interest in military matters and by 1908 was an officer in the 1st Battalion of the Wide Bay Regiment.
Milne (then aged 42) enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force (9th Battalion) very shortly after the war broke out, on 20 August 1914, and was accorded the rank of Captain and dispatched to Gallipoli. The 9th Battalion were the first ashore at Gallipoli in the early morning of 25 April 1915. Milne led his company ashore that day in the storming of Anzac Heights and, in two separate incidents the same afternoon, sustained serious wounds of the left hand and arm, resulting among other things in the amputation of the terminal phalanx of a finger in hospital in Cairo a few days later, and an infection of the wound to his hand.
Mrs Milne was advised in a telegram that her husband had been severely wounded. He was declared unfit for service for four months. A more favourable report was sent to her on 11 June, but a week later the patient was clearly far from well as he was shipped to England and admitted to the Royal Free Hospital in London. It was not until October 1915 that he returned to Egypt for duty. Within a few weeks of his return he was promoted to the rank of Major but on 12 November he took ill with paratyphoid fever and was transferred again to hospital. He wrote home from the 1st Australian General Hospital in Heliopolis in terms which clearly alarmed Mrs Milne, talking of further Mediterranean fever “caught too just as I was going to get a Temp. Lieut. Col. My luck is out. I am still very sick so you must just let me say a Merry Xmas + H N Year to you and the boys and all at St M…I am sick and lonely”. We have this letter because Mrs Milne sent it to the Base Records office on 30 December 2015, with a stamped addressed envelope for its return, complaining that she had not been informed of her husband’s illness and that her letters (“I send at least one by every mail”) were clearly not reaching him, and enquiring as to his present condition and whereabouts. No doubt she was much cheered by a telegram on 11 January1916 informing her that he was on his way back to Australia on the “Ulysses” (following certification by a medical board) for “three months change”.
On his return home, Milne was enthusiastically received, made recruiting speeches, unveiled the honour board at St Andrews Presbyterian Church, Bundaberg, and went on a fishing holiday at Urangan. In May 1916 he embarked again from Sydney, this time for France via England. A mysterious note in his record dated 5 September 1916 reads “Rejoined Unit from Cookery School Weymouth” (where there was an AIF command depot). He then proceeded to Le Havre from Southampton on 25 November. In February 1917 Milne was attached to the 36th Battalion, and in the following month granted the temporary rank of Lt. Col., the temporary promotion being made permanent in April.
In May, Milne was sent for a short time on leave to England. On 25 August he was awarded the DSO for gallantry at St Yves 7-12 July 1917. The citation reads:
“ For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He showed great capacity and initiative in commanding his battalion when on carrying party duty. He kept the front line well supplied with stores, ammunition and water, and arranged for the relief of the parties in a most efficient manner although constantly depleted by casualties and exhaustion”.
In November 1917 he was granted a week’s leave in Paris, during which he again received recognition for his gallant conduct, being mentioned in dispatches “for Distinguished and gallant Services & devotion to duty in the field during the period 26 February 1917 to midnight 20/21 September 1917”.
In January 1918 Milne was sent for a few days’ flying course in Belgium followed by a month’s leave in the UK, during which time he was in Scotland and bought a shotgun, which Mrs Milne understood was to be given to his eldest son (also on active service) if anything happened to him. It was to be his last period of leave. In March Mrs Milne, anxious for news as she had not heard from her husband since a cable of Christmas greetings on 16 December, wrote again to Base Records “I know he was not too well, result of being blown up by a gas shell but he was still in action Nov.28th”. A reply came back on 14 March 1918 reassuring her that no report of casualty had been received.
On 12 April 1918 Milne’s brave and illustrious career came to an end at the age of 46. A report from Lieut. Dunn, Assistant Adjutant records: “Colonel Milne was badly mutilated by a shell that exploded right into Headquarters whilst he was dictating orders to the Adjutant. He was buried…about 20 yards from the spot at which he was killed. A suitable wooden cross was prepared and erected”.
When the news reached Bundaberg, flags were flown at half mast as a mark of respect. The authorities forwarded to Mrs Milne the insignia of her husband’s DSO in January of 1919. Correspondence followed regarding his various belongings. In April Mrs Milne wrote enquiring, pointing out that a year had passed since her husband’s death, and was informed (the news lagging some considerable time after the event once again) that three packages sent from England on the S.S “Barunga” the previous June had gone down with the ship when it was lost in transit as a result of enemy action. Inventories of Milne’s belongings were preserved. They betray a more than passing interest in both fishing and the various accoutrements of smoking, but also included books and letters, mathematical instruments, a portable camera, photographs and map of Paris. His kit bag, retrieved from the field, contained “Scotch heather” – a souvenir perhaps of the trip to Scotland shortly before his death.
According to the ADB, drawing among other things on personal information, Milne was an excellent rifle-shot, “Strong, broad-shouldered, seemingly fearless, with a powerful voice and marked Scotch accent, the sandy-haired Milne was well-liked and respected by his troops. A rugged individualist, with little respect for formality though a rigid disciplinarian, he was an eminently practical and competent soldier with a strong sense of duty”.
As an interesting post-script, in 1919 the Adelaide Observer reported on a court application by Mrs Milne to set up the terms of a will which her husband had made, commenting that he was killed on active service by a shell “which blew him to pieces and destroyed the will which he had in his pocket”. On 24 March1921 the Maryborough Chronicle, Wide Bay and Burnett Advertiser reported on the completion of a Milne memorial Challenge Shield for the Wide Bay and District Rifle Association, featuring a photograph surrounded by a laurel wreath flanked by the Union Jack and Australian flags.
Lt.Col. Milne was reburied in 1920 at Heath Cemetery, Harbonnieres. There is an excellent photo of him at the following address (highlight and right click to open):
Private W. Morgan - Gordon Hrs.
William Morgan was born at Newton of Drumgesk, Aboyne on 30 October 1880. His father John Morgan, a farmer of 70 acres, and mother Margaret Coutts had married at Newton of Drumgesk in 1879. The family were at Newton of Drumgesk on census night 1881; William was 5 months old and had a brother James aged 1 last birthday. Ten years later they were at Tillyduke, Coull, by which time William had five younger siblings. In 1911, John Morgan was established as the farmer of Lower Dagie at Tornaveen, and William now aged 30 was part of the household along with his mother and five brothers and sisters. He enlisted at Banchory and became a Private in the 1st/5th Bn Gordon Highlanders (No.242204).
The 1st/5th Gordon Highlanders as part of the 152nd Brigade of the famous 51st (Highland) Division were preparing to engage in the Battle of Arras which began on Easter Monday 9 April 1917 and continued to 16 May - a diversionary tactic designed to draw German troops away from major points of attack on their front line at the beginning of the spring offensive of 1917 which it was hoped would bring the war to a swift conclusion. The formal commencement of the engagement was preceded by four days of intensive bombardment.
Morgan was 36 when he died of wounds on 5 April 1917, though it is not clear exactly when or in what circumstances he was wounded. He is buried at Aubigny Communal Cemetery Extension.
Corpl. W. Mowatt - Gordon Hrs.
This soldier is probably in fact Corpl. James Mathieson Mowat (“J. Mowat” on the Torphins memorial), no 290877 of the 7th Bn. Gordon Highlanders born in Stonehaven on 5 September 1876, son of a joiner, Archibald Mowat and his wife Margaret Mathieson who married at Rickarton in 1875. He grew up in Aberdeen, appearing in the 1881 census at 3 South Bridge Old Machar age 4, and ten years later as a message boy living with parents and brother and two sisters at 84 Holburn Street. By 1901 the family had moved to 132 Holburn Street, and he was working as a monumental mason. Mowat married Elizabeth Tosh (or possibly Josh) Mackay in 1904 at the Richmond Café in Correction Wynd when he gave his occupation as journeyman stonecutter. By the time of the 1911 census he had moved with his family to Torphins, was living at Woodlands Cottage and employed as a fire and insurance agent. By that time he also had children – Margaret (5), William James (3) and Gilbert Thomson (under three months).
He died on 30/7/1917 and is commemorated at Ypres (Menin Gate memorial). His name also appears on the City Roll of Honour.
Capt. R.W. Murray - R.A.M.C
Robert William Skinner Murray was born at Woodside, Aberdeen on 23 May 1886, younger son of John Murray, grocer, draper, JP, Chairman of the local School Board, and his wife Elizabeth, who were in Kincardine O’Neil from at least 1891, living at “Murray’s Buildings”. He went to school first at Kincardine O’Neil, then Robert Gordons College from the age of thirteen. Following in the footsteps of his older brother John who was six years ahead of him, he studied medicine at the University of Aberdeen. He graduated MB Ch B in 1912 (aged 25) and obtained a Diploma in Public Health in 1913.
In May 1914 Murray was house surgeon at the Tunbridge Wells General Hospital. He joined the RAMC in October 1914, was commissioned as Lieutenant, and sent to Millbank for a special course in sanitation, then to Llandudno lecturing to troops, before being sent to France in May 1915 when he was promoted to the rank of Captain. Soon after the battle of Loos he was wounded and sent home. Possibly this enabled him to attend his father’s funeral in February 1916 along with his brother John, then in private practice in Middlesborough, before he was despatched to Egypt in May 1916. He served in Egypt and Palestine and survived the Armistice when he transferred to the Royal Air Force, attending no. 5 Fighting School, only to succumb to bronchial pneumonia in Cairo on 6 May 1919 aged 32. He is buried at the UK Cairo War Memorial Cemetery. He is also commemorated in the old churchyard of Kincardine O’Neil (stone with its back to the west outside wall of the ruined kirk).
Lieutenant T.S. Nash R.A.F.
Thomas Stuart Nash was a son of Rev. Cecil William and Meriel Nash of The Parsonage, Kincardine O’Neil. The Rev. Cecil served as Priest in Charge at Christ Church for 38 years from 1885 to 1923 and is commemorated by a sundial in the churchyard. He himself was born in England but his wife Meriel originated in Haddington. She was a daughter of the Rev. F.L.M. Anderson of North Berwick, and the couple were married at North Berwick in 1885. Their son Thomas was born on 27 March 1889 in Kincardine O’Neil and grew up in the village. In 1891 they were living in the Rectory and had two children – Meriel aged 4 and Thomas, then aged 2 - and three resident servants – cook, nurse and parlourmaid. Ten years later a third child George appears in the census, younger brother of Thomas by nine years. Thomas Nash attended Robert Gordon’s College in Aberdeen.
On 7 August 1914 (three days after the outbreak of war with Germany), Nash appears in the outgoing first class passenger list of the “Mooltan”, bound for Sydney under the captainship Capt. R.L. Haddock. His ultimate destination was Penang where he was to take up employment as a merchant in the London firm of Bousted & Co.
In April 1917, Nash returned from the far east and enlisted in the army. He was then technically discharged, being appointed to a temporary commission as “2nd Lieutenant (on probation) on the General List for duty” with the Royal Flying Corps in September that year. From April 1918 (when the RFC became the RAF) he was with the British Expeditionary Force in France and Flanders. A note on his file reads “Since joining the R.F.C. flown DH6 Aircos (trainer bi-planes), Sopwith Scouts and Sopwith Camels”.
Fighter planes of the RAF were deployed on the Western Front as part of an allied offensive launched on 8 August 1918, in which one aircraft in four was lost. Only weeks from the armistice, Nash was wounded on 8 August 1918 at the very commencement of that action, and the next day he died of his injuries at no.61 Casualty Clearing Station. He was 29 and unmarried. He appears to have been highly thought of, his commanding officer commenting:
“He was a most gallant officer, always quiet and unassuming, and most highly popular with both officers and men”.
He is buried at Vignacourt British Cemetery and has a memorial window in Christ Church – see http://christchurchkon.weebly.com/church-windows.html
Private H. Noble - Gordon Hrs.
This is Hendry Noble, born at Drumlausie, Kincardine O’Neil, on 19 March 1895. His parents were David Noble, Master Millwright and Engineer and a native of Midmar, and Elizabeth Hendry, born at Rayne. In 1901, at Drumlausie, Hendry aged 6 had four brothers, two sisters, and a half brother George Castle who was his father’s stepson. He resided in Aberdeen at the time of enlistment on 24 May 1918 in what became an amalgamated battalion of the 6th and 7th Gordon Highlanders (No. S/24067). In October 1918 the 6th and 7th Gordons became part of the 152nd brigade of the 51st Highland Division. That month they were deployed in operations on the Western Front in the advance towards Valenciennes. Noble was killed in action on 25 October 1918. The Aberdeen Evening Express on 11 November 1918 added a little detail: “Killed in action by the concussion of a shell, on 30 October 1918 [actually 25 October], Private Hendry Noble…fourth son of Mr and Mrs Noble, Drumlassie, Torphins”. He is buried at Valenciennes (St Roch) Communal Cemetery.
Lt. Colonel Frank Pickering – this mostly by Andrew Bradford, his gt. nephew.
Frank Pickering was born in August 1881 and was educated at Eton where he achieved both distinction at his sporting skills being both a cricketer and footballer (First Eleven) as well as notoriety for his misdemeanours. On the walls of Kincardine hang, not one but, two birches which were used to beat him. Apparently the sum of half a guinea (10/6d) was added to the miscreant’s school bill on each occasion ‘for extra tuition’ – but there was the compensation of being allowed to keep the birch. They are rather dried up now but one needs little imagination to think how actively wielded freshly made birches must have hurt on a naked backside. What crime deserved such punishment? Rumour has it that it involved some boys from Eton’s rival school Harrow and some buckshot which somehow peppered their backsides.
Frank was commissioned into the Royal Scots Greys in 1901 and departed shortly afterwards for South Africa where he served in the Boer War winning the Queen’s Medal with four clasps for his services.
A tremendous welcome was prepared for him when he returned, wounded, to Kincardine in September 1903. An evergreen arch was formed over the entrance gates sporting the words ‘Welcome Home Again’ in flowers. At the gates there were speeches and cheers. The scholars presented an address to Mrs. Pickering congratulating her on her son’s safe return and thanking her for her support. The horses of the carriage were then unyoked and ropes attached and a procession formed and, with tenants, feuars and villagers pulling the carriage and the others following behind, everyone proceeded up the drive to Kincardine.
From 1907 to 1909 he was an extra ADC to the Governor-General and Commander-in-Chief in the Dominion of Canada. In 1910 he married Angela Sutton at a glittering London society wedding. They later had two sons.
During the Great War Frank saw service on the Western Front in 1914 and in Gallipoli during 1915-16 and on returning from that disastrous adventure took a safe staff job for a time. Safety and staff jobs were, however, not for him and he asked to return to the front line. In 1917 he was in action once more and survived the horrors of trench warfare during the spring and summer. By December he was an acting Lt. Colonel in command of a Service battalion of the Rifle Brigade having won a DSO earlier in the year. On 23rd December he and his Adjutant were approaching the front at Passchendaele Ridge near Ypres when they were both killed by a shell.
The temporary wooden cross from his grave in Belgium stands now in the chancel of the little Scottish Episcopal Christ Church in Kincardine O’Neil above a commemorative brass plaque. The damaged nature of the cross is a poignant memorial for all those killed in combat. Quite how Frank’s mother, Mary Pickering, was able to recover the cross is unknown. Frank’s two children survived without offspring. Frank’s great, grand-nephew Charlie Bradford serves currently in the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, the successor to the Scots Greys.
Private J. Reid - R.A.M.C.
John Henry Reid was born at Stranduff, on 23 October 1871, son of Peter Reid, agricultural labourer and his wife Mary. In 1881 the family lived at North Road KON. Peter was employed as a gardener, the ten year old John was at school and had three younger brothers, George 7, Alexander 4 and Robert 1, all born in Kincardine O’Neil. After the outbreak of war, he served in the 13th Coy Royal Army Medical Corps. (Army no. 26951). He died on 30 January 1915 aged 43. These are the few verifiable hard facts about John Reid, but the local papers offer further interesting background and some insights into his personality.
The Aberdeen Journal of 2 February 1915 carried a report of the death in its obituary column: “MR J REID STATIONMASTER BANKHEAD. Intimation was received on Saturday evening at Bankhead of the death at Cromarty of Mr John Reid, stationmaster, Bankhead, who was serving there as a member of the R.A.M.C. Home Hospitals Reserve.
Mr Reid, along with several members of the Aberdeen (G.N. of S. Railway) Section of the St Andrews Ambulance Association, volunteered for service with the Home Hospitals Reserve and, soon after the commencement of the war, was dispatched to Cromarty Hospital. About a week ago Mr Reid contracted a severe chill, pneumonia supervening, and as stated passed away on Saturday evening.
Mr Reid had been about 20 years in the service of the G.N.S. Railway Company and was appointed to the agency at Bankhead about 2 ½ years ago on the retirement of Mr Fraser.
During the short time he had been stationed there he had, by his kind and obliging disposition and his unfailing courtesy, gained the esteem and confidence of the public using the station and he was a general favourite with his fellow-employees.
Mr Reid is survived by his widowed mother, a sister, and three brothers, one of whom is Sergeant William Reid, of the County Constabulary, Aberdeen, and another a guard in the company’s service at Elgin. Mr Reid’s death at a comparatively early age is deeply regretted by all, and the utmost sympathy is extended to his relatives in their bereavement”.
A few days later, on 5 February 2015, the Evening Express added some further detail, under the surprising heading “SUBURBAN GOSSIP” (reporting inter alia on a recent victory of the Mugiemoss Football Club, and the doings of the Stoneywood Whist Club: “Profound regret was caused by the announcement that Mr John Reid, station agent, Bankhead, had died in the Military Hospital, Cromarty, on Saturday. Mr Reid was for several years signalman at Cults Station where he gained many friends. A more amiable and obliging servant the railway company did not possess, and when Mr Reid was transferred from Cults to Bankhead he received many assurances of the cordial esteem of the community. With characteristic public spirit and self-abnegation Mr Reid had, since the outbreak of the war, devoted himself to the service of his country”.
The Aberdeen Journal on 5 February also reported on Private Reid’s funeral which took place in Kincardine O’Neil, where his elderly widowed mother still lived, at Cochran: “The coffin, covered with the Union Jack, was borne from the church to the churchyard by colleagues of the railway service and friends of younger days. The Rev. Gavin E. Argo conducted the service in the church and at the grave.” He is buried at Kincardine O’Neil old churchyard and commemorated on a fine granite tombstone in the south west corner, and is also listed on the memorial to railway employees at Aberdeen station.
Private E. G. Ritchie - Royal Hrs.
Eric Gordon Ritchie was born on Christmas Day 1898 at Craigour Road, Torphins, and appears in the 1901 census aged two, the baby of a family of six children – five boys and a girl ranged in age between 16 and 2. In 1901 they were living with their blacksmith father William and mother Mary at Boothnagowan, Torphins. William himself was born in Kincardine O’ Neil and Mary in Fintry, the first three children were born Birse and the final 3 in the parish of Kincardine O’Neil.
Ritchie became a Private in the 8th Bn Black Watch (Royal Highlanders) (no. S23113, formerly no. 2352 of the 38th T.R. Battn). His brother Cecil (five years older) followed in their father’s footsteps and became a blacksmith, and possibly on that account was granted temporary exemptions from service by the Deeside Military Tribunal sitting in Aboyne, until at least 28 November 1917, but enlisted after that in the Gordon Highlanders. In April 1918 Cecil was reported to be wounded in the right arm and in hospital in Chichester. Five months later Eric was killed in action aged 19 years and 9 months on 1 October 1918 in the course of his battalion’s involvement in an eastwards advance on enemy positions through the villages of Rolleghemcapelle, Winkel, St Eloi, Capelle, St Catherine’s cross roads and Harlebeke as part of the 26th Brigade of the 9th (Scottish) Division. Early progress in this attempted advance on the morning of 1 October was met with a heavy counter-attack and severe losses including, it would seem, Private Eric Ritchie. He is buried or commemorated at Dadizeele New British Cemetery.
Private J. S. Robertson - Gordon Hrs.
Private James Smith Robertson was a son of William Robertson and Barbara Maria Smith. William was born in Banchory Ternan and Barbara came originally from Echt. Their son James was born on 26 April 1895 at Pitcullen, Kincardine O’Neil, fifteen minutes before a twin brother, William. Father William worked at various times as a farm servant/labourer, ploughman at Milton of Learney and gardener. The family lived at Kirkbrae and at Cothill (Craigmyle) and (after 1911) at the Morrice School. Census records show that, aside from the twin boys, there was a sister Margaret (one year older) and a younger brother by four years, Joseph.
James Robertson enlisted at Aberdeen in the 1st Bttn Gordon Highlanders.
The battle of the Somme commenced on 1 July 1916 and continued to November when weather made it impossible for the fighting to continue. On 18 July the 3rd Division, of which the 1st Gordons formed part, had the task of recapturing those parts of Delville Wood from which the enemy had not been driven in the course of fierce combat in the preceding few days. Robertson’s battalion were ordered to make an assault on the village of Longueval, on the south-western edge of the wood. They had a degree of success at first, but the ground they gained had to be given up in the face of a fierce artillery bombardment. A transcribed extract from the battalion war diary for that day reads as follows;
“Patrols set out at 2am, orders to attack Longueval village next morning. Assembly at 2am, assault at 3.45am, successful, but strong points North of Delville Wood remained in enemies hands. Counter attacks, intensive shelling for 7 hours, very heavy losses, 4 officers killed, 7 wounded, 321 ORs killed wounded or missing. Evacuated village.”
Sergt. W. Robertson - Gordon Hrs.
William Robertson was born on 14 August 1894 at Kildour, Glen Tanar, son of Robert Robertson, Joiner, and Annie Garden. His father later lived at Sunningdale, Torphins.
He may be the William Robertson who appears in the 1911 census as an apprentice carpenter at Glenmuick.
Robertson served in the 1/7th Bn of the Gordons (no 564). On 11 June 1915 it was reported in the “Scotsman” that he had been wounded in the arm by a German sniper and was in hospital in France. The same article referred to Sergt. Robertson’s father as as “Quartermaster-Sergeant Robertson retired” . A further, less informative notice appeared in the Scotsman on 30 May 1916, indicating that Robertson was again on the wounded list.
As his records have been destroyed it is impossible to tell when Robertson returned to active service but it seems that he recovered in time to be wounded again, as the P & J on 24 November 2016 reported: “News has been received by Mr Robertson, carpenter and joiner, Torphins, that his son Sergt. William Robertson, Gordon Highlanders, has received a bullet wound in the left hip. Sergt. Robertson, who is 22 years of age, was working as a joiner with his father at mobilisation, and has two brothers in the army”. It is possible, but again impossible to be sure, that he was wounded in the course of the 1/7th Gordons’ activities in the final days of the battle of the Somme which came to an end on 18 November 1916. A few weeks later it was reported in the press that Robertson had died in hospital as a result of wounds on 11 January 1917 aged 22. It is not clear where he died but he is commemorated twice at Torphins burial ground (A275 on North boundary) by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and on the family tombstone.
Lieut. J.B. Smith Gordon Hrs.
This is very probably James Bowman Smith who was born at Drumduan, Dess, on 6 August 1896, whose regiment was the Scottish Rifles, not the Gordon Highlanders. His grandfather John Smith farmed at Drumduan. On census night in 1901, James aged four was there in his widowed grandfather’s household with his mother Robina. Robina married Duncan Fowler at Lumphanan in 1905. In 1911 James was living with his mother and stepfather and a step-sister Catherine aged 5 at Birley Farm, Kincardine O’Neil. He went to school in Torphins, then Aboyne Higher Grade School, and from 1911 to 1914 was a pupil at Robert Gordon’s College. In the year war broke out, having won a bursary in the Aberdeen University Bursary Competition, he began studies in Arts and Science at the University of Aberdeen which he was never to complete. Smiths are by their nature hard to identify definitively, but a James B. Smith certainly featured in newspaper reports of University exam results in English and Mathematics in 1914 and 1915, and was runner-up for an English Essay prize in 1915.
When James Smith volunteered in November 1915, he had an address at that time-honoured territory for Aberdeen student accommodation in King Street. He was appointed in May 1916 first to the 3rd then to the 14th (Service) Bn. Scottish Rifles and sent to join the British Expeditionary Force in France on 23 July 1916. In June of 1917, by which time he had attained the rank of Lance Corporal, he returned home to join an officer cadet unit, having applied successfully to be trained for a temporary commission in the regular army. In this process Smith’s former headmaster at Aboyne, Mr Cruickshank, provided a favourable character reference. The family was by then living at Clashnadarroch, Birse.
Smith was in due course appointed 2nd Lieutenant in the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry, following further training. He returned to France in April 1918 where, according to a report in the Aberdeen Weekly Journal, Lieut. Smith and his company captured an important position near Merville, but while he was trying to reach an isolated outpost, a German machine gun opened fire and he was instantly killed. “He was 22 years of age [in fact 21] and was highly esteemed by all who knew him on account of his modest and unselfish nature.”
A telegram was sent to Mrs Fowler at Clashnadarroch : “Deeply regret 2/Lt J.B. Smith D.C.L.I. Killed in Action June twenty-eighth Army Council Expresses Sympathy”.
His place of burial is not known but he is commemorated on the Arras Memorial. A will made in July 1916 left everything to his half-sister Cathie. There is a photograph of him in uniform in the Robert Gordons Roll of Honour, looking serious, intelligent, and much too young.
Private J. H. Smith - Gordon Hrs.
James Hay Smith was born at Heugh, Logie-Coldstone on 16 October 1889, which is precisely where his mother Elsie (officially Elspet) was also born in 1863 and married in 1886. Elsie was the daughter of James Hay, a Farm Overseer at the time of her marriage. In 1891, Elsie and her husband James Smith, daughters Elsie aged 4 and Jeannie aged 3, and their youngest, James, were recorded living at Heugh Head with Elsie’s father James Hay who by this time is described as a farmer in his own right. Ten years later, in 1901, James Smith had the farm of Dubbieford, Craiglash, Kincardine O’Neil, and the family were still at Craiglash in 1911, where James and his younger brother Walter were both employed on the farm as horsemen. The 1911 census is interesting on the family generally, as it notes that Elsie had in total 12 children of whom, happily, 12 were still living. These were Elsie born in 1887, Jane (known as Jeannie) 1888, James Hay 1889, Walter 1891, John 1893, George Cran 1894, Gordon 1897, Isabella 1898, Helen 1900, Hector Macdonald and Victor McNaughton (twins) in 1902 and finally Donald Dinnie in 1904 (they were related to Donald Dinnie, famous local strongman and athlete, through James Smith’s mother who was a Dinnie). James enlisted in the 1st/7th (Deeside) Battalion Gordon Highlanders (No.3756). His battalion, as part of the 153rd Brigade of the 51st (Highland) Division, were deployed in the Battle of the Somme in 1916, and in November of that year in fighting on the river Ancre and in actions at Beaucourt and Beaumont Hamel in which the 7th Gordons and the 6th Black Watch were successful in breaching the German front line. It is impossible to know without further information what part precisely Private James Smith played in this action. What we do know is that he died of wounds at a casualty clearing station in France at the age of 27 on 8 January 1917 and is commemorated at Contay British Cemetery. His brothers George and Gordon also served in the war, but survived it.
[I acknowledge with thanks the input of Mrs Irene Crawford, daughter of Victor, and niece of James Hay in compiling this information about her uncle.]
The Taylor Family
On 8 December 1882, at Kincardine O’Neil, Francis Taylor from St Fergus married Mary Smith, a native of the parish. The Taylors lived for a time at Beltie Terrace, Torphins, but at some point between 1902 and 1904 their home became the Toll House in Kincardine O’Neil, and they lived there through the years of the First World War, moving later to Norton Cottage. Francis was employed as a labourer and a gardener at Kincardine, then Norton House, and became caretaker of Christ Church. Francis and Mary had fourteen children in all, and lived into the 1930s. They kept bees, and competed with some success in the Kincardine O’Neil Annual Bulb Show – an event which inspired intensive and detailed reporting in the local press. In 1910 the Taylor family were no doubt disappointed to take second place to Mr Nicoll of Stranduff Cottage in the Kincardine O’Neil Window Flower Box Competition. Thanks to the Aberdeen Journal we know that Mrs Taylor donated eggs and jam to the Aboyne Castle Hospital in September 1916. A tall granite tombstone to the west of the west gable of the old kirk also records some of the history of the family. Francis and Mary outlived six of their children: William who died in his sixth year in 1898 after two days of bronchitis, Gordon their second youngest, who only survived to the age of two in 1906 and, in consecutive years from 1916 onwards, four sons - George, Herbert, Alexander and James - who died in the course of military service.
Corpl. G. H. Taylor – H.L.I.
George Hunter Taylor was born on 17 July 1890 at Torphins. He looks likely to have been named after George Hunter, who was one of the witnesses of Francis and Mary’s marriage in 1882. He was living at Coull when he enlisted at Aberdeen, and joined the 13th (Service) Battalion of the Cameronians (Scottish Rifles), who in early 1916 became absorbed into the 14th (Service) Battalion of the Highland Light Infantry in which George held the rank of Corporal. Both were so-called “Bantam Battalions”, formed to meet a demand for enlistment by men who had been rejected as failing to meet the army’s standard height qualification of five feet three inches. In May 1916 the 14th HLI were stationed at Blackdown in Hampshire, destined for France in June. On 19 May, by special licence at Aberdeen, George married Jessie Williams Emslie Milne from Coull, the bride’s father being at that time a Private in the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders. The marriage was to be an extremely short one. On 6 September 1916 the Aberdeen Journal reported that Mrs Taylor had received information that her husband had been missing since a raid on the enemy’s trenches. It seems he was killed or fatally wounded on the night of 23 August 1916, the 14th Battalion having moved up to the front line at Calonne and Boyaux a few days previously. He is buried at the Lens Eastern Communal Cemetery.
L/Corpl. H.C. Taylor - Gordon Hrs.
In the late afternoon of 13 May 1897 Mary Taylor gave birth to twins. Herbert Charles was born at 5pm, ten minutes after his sister Maggie Ann Sim, later known as Maidie. Herbert enlisted at Banchory and served in the 7th (Deeside Highland) Battalion Gordon Highlanders. On 20 November 1917, the first day of the Battle of Cambrai, the 7th Gordons, as a part of the 51st Highland Division, were involved in the allied recapture of the village of Flesquières. They were to follow behind a somewhat experimental advance movement of tanks which it was intended would breach German defences over an extended length of the Hindenburg Line intercepting communications with the coast, forcing a German retreat and enabling the allies to retake Cambrai. Herbert Taylor was killed in action that day at the age of 20. Flesquières was captured on the night of 20/21 November, and held in the face of a determined counter-offensive which in due course forced an allied retreat over some of the ground gained in the first days of the battle. The Aberdeen Weekly Journal of 7 December 1917 reported:
“Information has been received by Mr and Mrs Francis Taylor, The Tollhouse, Kincardine O’Neil, that their son, Lance-Corporal Herbert C. Taylor, Gordon Highlanders, has been killed. Corporal Taylor has been on active service for more than two years…”.
He is buried at Orival Wood Cemetery, Flesquières.
Private A. Taylor - Gordon Hrs.
This is Alexander Taylor born on 20 March 1895, also at Torphins. In 1911 he may be the sixteen year old Alexander Taylor who was working as a cattleman on the farm of Strathweltie at Coull, as he gave his residence as Tarland on enlistment, becoming a Private in the 1st Battalion Gordon Highlanders. He was killed in action at the age of 23 on 29 August 1918 on the Western Front. At that time the 1st Battalion were participating in the final allied push against a gradually weakening German defensive line culminating in the Armistice in November. The Battalion war diary for 29 August records: “Bn patrols out to keep in touch with the enemy, one platoon of the left coy advanced too far and was practically wiped out by MG fire from the flank”. It may be (though it is impossible to be sure without more precise information) that Alexander was a victim of that attack. He is buried or commemorated at the H.A.C. Cemetery, Ecoust-St.Mein.
Private J. M. Taylor - N.Z. Ex. Force
James Melvin Taylor was born on 19 July 1888. In 1911 he was employed as a chauffeur, living in Aberdeen with his sister Jessie and her Police Constable husband James Lobban. By 1913 he was resident chauffeur at Parkhill House, Dyce. That year, at Aberdeen, he married Elizabeth (Bessie) Adams Main who, like Jessie, was a dressmaker. Daughters Agnes Cumming and Helen Isobel were born to James and Bessie in 1913 and 1914. Having presumably acquired some skill with the new-fangled motor car, James was recruited to the Army Service Corps and was, at least latterly, attached to the New Zealand Motor Transport Division. It must have come as a relief to the family when he survived the Armistice in 1918. Sadly, however, while awaiting demobilisation, he died of influenza and pneumonia, at No. 44 Casualty Clearing Station in Cologne on 14 February 1919 aged 30 – probably a victim of the “Spanish” flu which in the end claimed several times as many lives as the war itself. He is buried at Cologne Southern Cemetery. Bessie remarried (a blacksmith Robert Reid) in 1922.
Mary Taylor died in January 1932, and Francis the following year on 10 November at Norton Cottage, aged 75. On 15 November 1933 the Aberdeen Journal printed a short piece about Francis, describing him as one of Kincardine O’Neil’s “oldest and most esteemed residents”. It noted that he had been an enthusiastic bowler and took a keen interest in the social club and that, each year, he made a wreath and laid it at the War Memorial.
Herbert’s twin sister Maidie became a nurse, and in 1932 married a policeman named Alexander Gorrie. She outlived her twin by 75 years, and indeed outlived all her siblings, surviving to the age of 95 when she died, at Allachburn, Aboyne, in 1992.
Gunner A. J. Thomson - R.F.A.
This is likely to be Alexander John Thomson of the Royal Horse Artillery and Royal Field Artillery 113th Bde. (no. 192592). He was born at Glassel on 6 August 1896 to John and Mary Jane Thomson, who married at Fyvie in 1895 and farmed at Strath, Campfield, Glassel. In 1901 he was the eldest of their three children, having a younger brother and sister. The 1911 census records him at age 14 working on the farm, now with three younger siblings. He gave his residence as Banchory when he joined up. He was 21 years of age when he died of wounds on 21 March 1918 and is buried/commemorated at Grevillers British cemetery.
L/Corpl. J Thomson - Aus. Ex. Force
Lance Corporal John Thomson of the Australian Army Medical Corps 15th Field Ambulance (Service no.1273) was born at West Rumblie, Corse, Coull on 22 March 1883, son of John and Mary Ann Thomson, latterly of Daisy Cottage, Torphins. His father was born in Lumphanan and his mother in Logie Coldstone. In 1901 John, Mary, John aged 18 and another five siblings were living at John’s farm at West Rumblie.
A file exists in the Australian National Archives, providing the sort of information that has mostly been lost for British soldiers when records were destroyed in 1940. These show that, when he joined up on 14 September 1914 at Blackboy Hill, West Australia, Thomson was then unmarried, aged 31 and was a carpenter by trade, having served 5 years of an apprenticeship in Aberdeen. He had previous military experience in the Foot Guards in London and perhaps on that account was promoted to Lance Corporal on 4 December 1914. He appears to have embarked from Australia shortly after. He proceeded to Gallipoli with the 2nd Australian Stationary Hospital, was transferred to the allied base at Mudros on Lemnos in August 1915, from there to Alexandria in January 1916, to Tel el Kebir in May, and back to Alexandria in August, from where he was then sent to France via the military camp at Parkhouse on Salisbury Plain. From September of 1916 he served in France with the British Expeditionary Force, spending two periods of leave in England in the summer of 1917 and February 1918. In June 1917 he declined to make a will. Three weeks or so after his return from leave in February 1918 he was killed in action aged 34 on 13 March 1918 and is commemorated on the Australian National Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux.
Private W. Thomson - Gordon Hrs.
This is probably William Simpson Thomson born 21 April 1898 at Greenburn Cottage, Torphins, son of Alexander Smith Thomson, Quarry Labourer (presumably at Craiglash), and Annie Farquharson who had married at Birse. In 1901 the family were living in Torphins and he was the fifth of six siblings. By 1911 the Thomsons had moved to Hawthorn Cottage and William was attending school.
Thomson enlisted at Aberdeen in June 1915 (no. 3963) in the 3/4th Battalion Gordon Highlanders, a territorial Battalion formed in February that year. He must have seen very little of the war before being killed in action only weeks later on the first day of the Battle of Loos on 25 September 1915. On 24 September the Battalion was entrenched in Sanctuary Wood, preparing to participate in a major offensive commencing in the early hours of the following morning. Following coffee at 1.30am, the men moved into position and a preparatory bombardment began at 4.05am. After some initial success in penetrating the German front line, it proved impossible to retain control of the ground that had been gained in the face of heavy artillery fire which intercepted the supply of ammunition and bombs, and the Battalion was forced to withdraw to the position from which it had set out. Casualties were heavy, and William Thomson, aged 17, was one of them.
According to a report in the Aberdeen Daily Journal on 2 November 1915, Private Thomson was employed before the war at “Mrs Duncan’s sawmill” at Inchmarlo, and his father had moved into the slightly gentler employment of gardener at Glassel House and Learney, and was now living at Woodbine Cottage, Glassel.
He is commemorated at the Menin Gate, Ypres.
Capt. R.H. Vaughan Thompson Royal Fus.
Richard Henry Vaughan Thompson, born 20 October 1883, was the only son of Col. and Mrs E. Vaughan Thompson. His connection with the parish was through his father-in-law Lord Shaw of Dunfermline, Liberal Member of Parliament for Hawick and eminent lawyer and judge, who purchased the estate of Craigmyle and became a life peer as 1st Baron Craigmyle in 1929. He was educated at Somerfields, Oxford, Winchester College, and Trinity College Cambridge, from which he graduated with a degree in jurisprudence in 1901. He practised as a solicitor in the family firm of Beachcroft, Thomson & Co. in Theobald’s Road, London and was elected to Holborn Borough Council.
In August 1914 Vaughan Thompson was living at Sheen Wood, East Sheen when he signed up to the Inns of Court Officers’ Training Corps at Lincoln’s Inn and applied for a temporary commission in the regular army for the duration of the war, having previously served in the 6th East Surrey Regiment of volunteers. He obtained a commission with the rank of Captain in the 11th Battalion, Royal Fusiliers. On 6 February1915 he married The Hon. Isabel, youngest daughter of Lord and Lady Shaw, at South Kensington Presbyterian Church.
The Aberdeen Weekly Journal reported regularly on Mrs Vaughan Thomson’s doings in the county. In August 1915 she was at Craigmyle for the opening week of the grouse shooting when the lessee of the Learney shootings received a telegram informing him of the death of his brother at the front, and there was also a report that Private David Milne of the 7th Battalion Gordon Highlanders, gardener at Tillydrine and bandmaster of the district brass band, had been wounded by shrapnel. In January 1916 she received a telegram to the effect that her husband had been admitted to a Red Cross hospital in Rouen with fractured nasal bones. He was discharged after about two weeks, but on 1 October 1916 much worse news was conveyed in a telegram to Mrs Vaughan Thomson, by then residing at 1, Palace Gate:
“Deeply regret to inform you that Capt. R.H. Vaughan Thomson 11 Royal Fusiliers is reported wounded believed killed Sep 26. The Army Council expresses their sympathy”.
A further telegram the following day confirmed that he had been killed in action.
On the reported day of his death the 11th Bn were involved in the attack and capture of Thiepval in the
Battle of the Somme. The battalion War Diary records that on the day in question Capt. Vaughan Thompson was in command of “D” Co. He was killed leading his men in an attack on a strong point in enemy Brawn Trench.
The telegrams were sent to Palace Gate, but in fact Mrs Vaughan Thomson was at Craigmyle, as appears from an article in the Aberdeen Journal on 7 October 1916 when it reported on the annual meeting of the County of Aberdeen Branch, British Red Cross Society, held in the ballroom of the Music Hall on Union Street. Lord Shaw sent apologies for his absence, the chairman reading out a letter from him as follows:
“The War Office reports by telegram that my dear son-in-law, Captain Vaughan Thomson, is believed to have been killed in action on the 26th September. I accompany my stricken daughter to London. In the circumstances your committee will, I am sure, forgive my absence”.
Capt. Vaughan Thompson was Mentioned in Dispatches and is commemorated at Authuille Military Cemetery.
Private E. Walker - R.A.S.C.
Edward Walker of the Royal Army Service Corps was born at Resthivet, Chapel of Garioch on 9 May 1893. He was a son of Alexander Walker and Jane Middleton who married at Chapel of Garioch in 1878 and later resided at Kincardine O’Neil. At the time of Edward’s birth, Alexander was a farmer’s son who worked on the farm. In 1901 the family still lived at Resthivet, and he had two older sisters and one younger. In the 1911 census Edward age 17 is described as a farmer’s son working on the farm at Hillhead, Kincardine O’Neil, a household which, at least on census night, included his older sister Mary aged 21 and ten year old younger sister Beatrice.
The Aberdeen Journal of 10 May 1911 announced in the agricultural pages that Mr Peter Walker, baker at Premnay and Insch had taken over the bakery business at Kincardine O’Neil. In 1912 the same newspaper reported that Edward Walker was one of the organisers of a “young men’s annual reunion” in the Public Hall, Kincardine O’Neil (“the first dance of the season and …much enjoyed by all”) at which tea was served by Mr and Mrs Walker, The Bakery, “with their usual good taste”.
By the time Walker joined up he had joined his brother in the bakery, and after enlistment served in the 72nd Field Bakery (S4/157489). He died on 1 August 1917 aged 24, towards the end of the East African Campaign which ended in November 1917, and is buried at Morogoro Cemetery now near Dar-Es-Salaam in Tanzania.
Private A. H. Watt - Gordon Hrs.
Alexander Herd Watt (No S/4856) of the 8th Bn. Gordon Highlanders, was in fact a Corporal, not a Private. He came from Huntly, and his connection to the parish of Kincardine O’Neil is that he was signalman at Torphins before the war. He was born on 3 August 1892, son of a railway labourer, William Watt, and his wife Helen who lived at Bridgend, Kinnoir, and later 58 Bogie Street, Huntly. In 1901 he was the middle child of three, having an older brother and younger sister. He is probably the Alexander Watt who appears in the 1911 census as a boarder in the household of George Milne, Crofter, at Little Haddoch, employed by the Great North of Scotland Railway as a porter – maybe at the nearby station of Cairney on the Keith-Huntly line. His fellow boarder was a signalman. Watt enlisted as a volunteer shortly after the outbreak of war, joining the 8th Gordons who were formed at Aberdeen in August 1914 as a part of Kitchener’s New Army of volunteers. After training they landed at Boulogne on 10 May 1915. They were attached to 26th Brigade in the 9th (Scottish) Division – first of the new volunteer Divisions. He was in France for only 6 weeks and (according to press reports at the time) had been at the front for a short time only before dying of wounds on 23 June 1915 aged 22. He is buried or commemorated at Lillers Communal Cemetery, and his name also appears on the War Memorial at Huntly and on the memorial plaque to railway employees at Aberdeen Joint Station.
Other tributes and Obituaries of Members of Christ Church Congregation
Patricia Mackesy by Trudie
This is a very slightly abridged version of her daughter Trudie’s tribute given at her memorial service on 14th October 2016 at Christ Church.
Christened Patricia Amy Gore, but also known at various times as Patsy & Peta, Patricia was full of fun, very pretty, very kind & occasionally she was really quite formidable. Born in 1929 and, until the 2nd WW, she lived in Northern Malaysia where her father ran rubber plantations. With the arrival of the Japanese during the war, her father stayed behind to fight, but he was taken prisoner & later died in Changi jail.
With her mother, brother & aunt, she had a perilous and very traumatic escape through Malaysia to Singapore. Then after not one but 2 rescuing troop ships were torpedoed, & her aunt was drowned, the family eventually manged to escape to Perth, Western Australia. This very harrowing experience stayed with her for the rest of her life.
After the war, Patricia returned to England to finish her education. Then called Peta, very attractive & with a magnetic personality, she embarked on a period of working & flat-sharing in London. Following a number of marriage proposals, she set off to New York with her new husband Edward Timlin, known as Tim. Whilst Tim was doing post-graduate research at Columbia University, Patricia had a job with the Professor of Clinical Psychology in the paediatric department of Cornel University. This experience influenced her later interest & involvement in many Social fields. After 2 years they returned to the UK, where Tim’s job as a metallurgist with ICI took them to South Warwickshire where my sister Belinda and I were born.
As we grew up, & commuting between London and Warwickshire, our mother was increasingly involved with what was to become a lifelong interest in Juvenile truancy & crime. Patricia was involved with the old Approved School Service & was appointed to the Warwick Magistrates’ Bench.
In 1964, she was appointed to the London Magistrates’ Bench, becoming Chairman of the North Westminster Magistrates & Chairman of an Inner London Juvenile Court. In the 70s, she was a member of the Policy Committee on Non-Accidental Injury to Children, was on the Home Office Consultative Committee on Juvenile Courts and was involved in setting up the Rape Crises Centre. She was also a member of the Case Committee for a national Adoption Society, & was on another Committee investigating truancy in London schools.
In the 80s, Patricia was appointed to the Oxford Magistrates’ Bench, becoming Deputy Chairman. She was a Committee member at Park Hospital, Oxford, investigating child sexual abuse & was a member of the Home Office panel investigating pornographic videos. These involvements & experiences gave Patricia a practical & searching, non-sentimental insight into juvenile truancy & crime.
Sadly, during the 70s, our parent’s marriage failed.
Our mother & Piers Mackesy subsequently married, & living in North Oxfordshire, this proved to be a very successful & happy marriage. In in 1988, when Piers retired from Pembroke College, Oxford, where he was an historian, they returned to Aberdeenshire, where Piers had spent so much of his early years. Piers continued to write, and Patricia’s years of service weren’t completely over. She spent 7 years commuting to London once a month, representing Scotland on The Advertising Standards Authority, which we always thought to be a most extraordinary achievement of our mother’s. She rarely watched television, almost never watched ITV, and we grew up for many years without a television!
By now, you may have gathered that our mother was a tremendous & at times, formidable campaigner. When my first car, a brand new mini, turned out to be a complete Friday afternoon car, Patricia started a campaign of almost weekly letters regarding the state of British Leyland cars, writing to the Chairman of British Leyland, the Prime Minister & many others. This was a 17 month campaign but the result was a new Mini.
Whilst still living in N.Oxfordshire, Patricia & 2 fellow villagers sat in front of an oncoming tractor in a bid to save a field of rare wild orchids, which had not been ploughed since before the war. Sadly they failed to stop the tractor, which rumbled within feet of them & drenched them with Roundup. This event was widely reported in the newspapers and the publicity contributed to debate about Conservation. We do sometimes wonder whether this experience could have eventually resulted in the brain tumour, from which she suffered for the last 15 years. But this is conjecture.
Patricia was a tremendous letter writer about the issues of the day that she thought important. We have found a folder of letters, including responses, & I name just a few of them: to Buckingham Palace, to the American Embassy re the decision to grant the Sinn Fein President, Gerry Adams, a visa, to the Archbishop of Canterbury at Lambeth Palace about the role of the Church in rural areas & to the BBC concerning violence on our screens.
Patricia always had a very clear vision of what she wanted to achieve, & often an almost leonine conviction that she was right, but everything that she did was accompanied by her warmth of personality.
Patricia was also an extraordinarily creative person. As you know, she had a life-time passion for gardens and gardening. No amount of hard physical work or hours spent, or slugs, rabbits or deer, diverted her from creating a beautiful garden, & all this with the long- suffering assistance of Piers. She was very knowledgeable about plants and had a wonderful vision for landscaping & design; wherever she lived, she made a beautiful garden. In the doing and the digging, Patricia found great, but at times almost obsessive, enjoyment. Sadly, though, with gardening, there was always more to be done.
In her earlier years, Patricia painted in oils but her clear vision was sometimes also applied to the artworks of others! If Ma thought that she could improve them, she did! Belinda and I grew up with a life-size plaster statue in the hall - of Actaeon with his dog at his feet. When we moved to a smaller house, Patricia armed herself with a saw &, without seemingly a second thought, cut him in two at the waist – separating him for evermore from his feet and his dog! Some of you may remember poor Actaeon sitting in the dining room at Leochel Cushnie, and later at Westerton.
Patricia didn’t hesitate before getting out her paintbrushes to add russet browns to a watercolour by a Royal Academician, or to paint some turquoise blue over pink blossom on a large, old Japanese folding screen! She also busily added the signature to some watercolours painted by a sinologist forbear, Sir Walter Percival Yetts – but in blue biro & with the initials in the wrong order!
Patricia loved needlework and embroidered many canvases, often completely to her own design. There was always a creative project on the go: gardening, home-making, cooking, embroidery or painting.
Above all though, our mother loved people. She had a natural talent for friends, was a truly sincere listener and, with Piers, they loved entertaining. She had a wonderful sense of fun and loved parties. Stephen recalls that one of his first memories of Patricia, was of her towards the end of an evening, sitting uncomfortably balanced on a wine bottle which was lying on it’s side, with a box of matches to one side of her & the intention of lighting a candle on her other side - all without falling over!
Patricia enjoyed cooking and loved food, feeling that food was a gift she could give to others. However, other than with Piers, she wasn’t always good at delegating - many were the evenings when Stephen & I were staying with Piers & my mother, & after the dinner guests had left, & we had been shooed off to bed, we would then hear them creeping back down the stairs to quietly do the washing up. Ma sometimes erred on being almost too generous a host – entreating people to 2nd or even 3rd helpings & constantly filling glasses. William reckons that he regularly put on half a stone when staying with them! They were partial to the liqueur Kummel, & at the end of one evening, I remember an occasion when Ma went around the table filling up people’s glasses & Stephen sipped from hers by mistake. To his great surprise – her glass only contained water! Ali remembers Patricia turning to a neighbour at dinner, at the time of a Fergie scandal, with the opening gambit " & do you suck toes?".
For Belinda & me, Patricia was quite simply our mother – kind, stimulating, always challenging, a brilliant listener & full of love for us. However, Ma was also a very special Grandmother. To our children she was known as Granny Burner because, despite being a wonderful cook, food, & particularly cakes, sometimes emerged from the Aga a little browner than they should otherwise have been! Her grandchildren adored her and she adored them. Her endless games with them – monopoly that went on for days, hunt the thimble around the kitchen, sardines all round Leochel Cushnie, their dens in the garden, ‘are you there Moriarty?’ with a rolled up newspaper, treks into the hills with wonderful picnics & her insistence that the children should stay up for dinner, always at a beautifully laid table, & that by topping up their wine glasses she was teaching them how to drink sensibly – this, when they were still very young! Curiously, in 1974 she had taken part in a Panorama programme with David Dimbleby on the problems of teenage drinking!
Our mother, perhaps like so many of her generation, was a great hoarder. A regular joy for the children was to inspect the sell-by dates on jars & cans, which I am afraid to say made Ma rather cross! But as well as enough cling film to last many lifetimes & bottles of the finest Wine Society Olive Oil, she also had a special chocolate cupboard, which never emptied. The latter was clearly a great delight to Piers, and the grandchildren thought it was magical.
Piers was a marvellous step-father to both Belinda & me, and a wonderful grandfather. Two of my 3 children read history at University, very much influenced by Piers’ stories & reminiscences, & his childhood collection of lead soldiers – many of them, you may recall, marching across glass shelves in the dining room.
Not yet mentioned, but most important, was Patricia’s unfailing love for Piers and the happiness that he brought her, and that they enjoyed together. After his death 2 years ago, Ma’s sadness has been extreme. She dealt with it stoically but I know that she missed him and thought about him continually. Ma bravely made the decision to move South to Somerset where she spent a very peaceful 18 months in a cottage on Belinda and Richard’s farm, really enjoying being able to see them almost daily, whilst I, all her grandchildren & our extended family, with William’s in particular, saw her as frequently as possible.
After Patricia died at the end of August, her carer Delice, wrote “your mother was a lovely lady, who touched everyone she met and left a lasting impression. To me she will always be the quintessential Granny, with the sweetest smile and a purely decorative nose”.
PIERS MACKESY by William Mackesy
It is with sadness that we record the death of Piers Mackesy who delighted us all with his readings of the Sunday lessons for many years. I follow with a copy of William Mackesy’s tribute to his father.
As you will know, the expression “modest to a fault” could have been invented for Piers. You will also know that Piers had a beautiful mind, of which more in due course, and a wonderful dry wit.
This self-deprecation and humour often combined delightfully, as in one of my favourites of his many jokes and stories: when asked how on earth he sifted between the throngs of candidates for places in History at Pembroke, he would say that it was easy. He had boiled it down to just two rules:
First, look closely at a Sagittarian. And second, never, in any circumstances, take someone called Piers.
Another of Piers' traits, sensitivity, would have stopped him telling this in company in case a Sagittarian or a Piers took it seriously.
Piers was born in 1924 at his grandparents’ home west of Aberdeen. He was a child of the army, his father highly decorated in the First World War and then a General in the Second. His grandfather had fought as a Cameron Highlander in, rather remarkably, both the Crimea and the Indian Mutiny. Piers was fascinated by what was, in his words, still the army of Kipling, with bands, parades and mounted cavalry. On Sundays in camp the padre wore boots and spurs under his surplice, and a Victoria Cross on his chest.
His mother was the daughter of an Aberdeen family of shipowners. She was a successful novelist and journalist, from whom he inherited a love of the craft of writing.
Piers spent very formative early years with his grandparents, as well as himself living as far apart as Quetta in what is now Pakistan, and Bordon in Hampshire. He developed a lifelong love of horses, animals and landscape, and Abeedeenshire in particular. At his first hunt he was led on a donkey with a jackal as quarry in the deserts of western India.
He was sent to Cargilfield, then quite a harsh place, then on to Wellington, where he flourished in its relatively liberal atmosphere, winning a scholarship to Christ Church in Oxford in 1942.
But World War 2 intervened, and, after training, Piers joined the Royal Scots Greys in Northern France three months after D-Day, at the age of 19. They fought their way in Sherman tanks across Belgium, Holland and Germany, ending up on the Baltic. He didn't talk about it readily, but two stories need telling, as they tell much about Piers and his sense of history as well as his humour.
He was on duty at Regimental Headquarters one night, when news came through that Hitler was dead. He scurried round to the barn next door where the officers were sleeping, opened the door and called in "Hitler's dead!". Silence continued, then a lone voice said "Oh do go to bed, Piers".
The last day of the war was vivid for him, a headlong northward rush to get to the Baltic to fix the Allied line before the Russians got there. They crossed paths with German troops retreating westward in their own desperate escape from the vengeful Soviets. They stared at each other in silence as they were at times crammed together in tank traffic jams on narrow roads. Not a shot was fired. The post-war dispensation was beginning before the war was over.
Piers always remained grateful to the Greys: his experience of a first-class regiment on active service was later invaluable to him as a historian. He much later became the Chairman of the Regimental Association’s North of Scotland branch. And we are grateful to them for their participation today.
Oxford followed in 1947. While, like so many, he found it hard to settle back to the academic world, he emerged with a First in Modern History, followed by a doctorate at Oriel and a Harkness fellowship at Harvard. He became a Fellow of Pembroke College, Oxford, in 1954, he always believed because his main rival wore corduroy trousers to his interview. He taught Modern History with a particular focus on the history of European warfare from the mid-18th Century to the end of the Napoleonic Wars. He was also a Visiting Fellow at Princeton, a Visiting Professor at Cal Tech and the Lee Knowles lecturer at Cambridge.
Piers wrote six books, all much admired and all with great clarity and lightness of touch despite their scholarly nature. His first, The War in the Mediterranean, 1803-1810, was published in 1957. His second, The War for America, established an international reputation. It was a strategic study of how the British government struggled to conduct an irregular war thousands of miles away, at a time when it took months to get a message across the Atlantic and America was but one front in a world war. Published at a time when America was struggling with the deepening quagmire in Vietnam, it was one of the catalysts for the revision of America’s David-and-Goliath creation myth. A reviewer in the Washington Post of a recent new edition referred to it as the “single best such work that I have ever encountered” and highlighted its “striking parallels” with recent American mistakes in Iraq.
His other books were Statesmen at War: the Strategy of Overthrow, 1798-1799; The Coward of Minden, the Affair of Lord George Sackville; War without Victory, the Downfall of Pitt, and my personal favourite, British Victory in Egypt: the End of Napoleon’s Conquest, an account of the campaign which culminated in Napoleon's first major setback, having to abandon a large army in Egypt. It was awarded the Templar Medal. Piers also contributed to a number of other books and wrote regularly for academic publications.
As testament to the high regard of his peers, he became a Fellow of the British Academy and a trustee of the National Army Museum.
I have been struck over the years by the depth of affection in which Piers was held by his former colleagues and pupils. He was by all accounts a civilized and thoughtful tutor, who took immense trouble over his pupils, whatever their abilities. I have heard with pride, from Hong Kong to New York, those magical words, “are you by any chance related to Piers Mackesy”, which were always followed by words of appreciation. I particularly remember a former pupil, by then an executive in a mining company, telling me, in a remote corner of Indonesia, how Piers had taught him to write proper English.
Piers was also an effective administrator and a diplomatic colleague, twice becoming acting Master of Pembroke. His low-key and sensitive tact helped solve some serious problems over the years, although it was perhaps of less use when trying to remonstrate at a college ball, as his capacity as Dean, with a rowdy 1960s popular music group called the Who on a rampage.
Piers first married Sarah Davies, daughter of a barrister and the novelist Margaret Kennedy. While they had happy times and much in common, they also had temperamental incompatibilities and eventually divorced.
His three children have lovely memories of him as a father: an eager William forcing Piers to demonstrate football dribbling and, even aged 8, sensing that this perhaps wasn’t Daddy’s forte; Piers’ patience and indeed active encouragement while Cathy repeatedly got off her pony to pick up snail shells, feathers, hairy caterpillars and so on; and the passing on to Serena of his little-known skills as a cat-whisperer.
Piers met his talented, characterful and beautiful Patricia in the early 1970s, and they married and Piers began his second career as Curator’s Assistant for a series of beautiful gardens. He also had the fortune to gain Belinda and Trudie and their families, whom he came to love dearly.
Piers and Patricia were exceptionally happy and compatible together, and in Piers’ words felt that they had always been meant for each other. In his unassuming way, Piers loved people and parties, and he and Patricia always kept a hospitable and welcoming home.
They moved to Aberdeenshire on Piers’ taking early retirement from Oxford, first to Leochel Cushnie, where he had very happy years, then to Westerton, where they also had much happiness, although both increasingly struggled with some of the tougher ailments of old age, which they have borne with great fortitude, which has been much helped by their faith.
Piers remained fully alert and gently funny until really very recently. With his characteristic thoughtfulness, he left a detailed “funeral file” which has not just helped his family arrange a funeral we hope he would have wanted, but left some spirit-lifting time-bombs of humour. He began a page and a half of closely written notes on hymns with “Good hymns seem to be either marches or waltzes!”. And against one well-known hymn he just wrote “Please not”.
Piers would particularly want me to mention how much he appreciated his friends and the very kind community here in Aberdeenshire: I know that he felt blessed by you. And by the wonderful support and care he had in his difficult last couple of years. We, his family, want to thank you all, for him, for your kindnesses over the years, and for being with us today. And especially Lisa, John Barr, Caroline Strang Steel, the wonderful choir and everyone else who has so kindly helped us arrange Piers’ funeral.
To the very end of his life, Piers dearly loved, and took succour from, Aberdeenshire and its landscape and seasons. He and Patricia and I really very recently drove up the old military road to the Gairn, and looked back across the Dee valley to Lochnagar in its still-snowy magnificence for several minutes of quiet joint appreciation. It was a happy moment.
We all want to thank you, Piers, for everything you were and meant to all of us.
Piers Mackesy – Magdalene
As Vestry Secretary it falls upon me to allocate readers for the lessons at services. One Easter, many years ago, Piers stepped up to the Lectern to read the Gospel (St. John 20, v1). “The first day of the week” he read in the lovely deliberate tone of an Oxford don, “cometh Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark . . .” Of course he couldn’t help himself – “Mary Maudlin” was what came out. I was delighted and for years afterwards selected him to read the Easter Gospel hoping for a re-run; but he was too good for me and never made the same slip again.