Posts Tagged ‘ww1’

This article appeared on my work Intranet but well worthy of wider circulation. The tale of a mjohn-mcaulay-vciners son who joined Glasgow City Police and won the Victoria Cross in WW1.

John McAulay joined Glasgow Police in 1911 as a probationary constable. He was posted to Northern Division in March that year and was a champion wrestler in police sporting competitions.

Within a month of the out break of war John had resigned for the police service and volunteered, being posted to the Scots Guards and seeing action across France.


By the end of 1915 John’s bravery had seen him promoted three times in one day, from corporal to acting sergeant. He was officially recognised for his bravery in September 1917 for his actions during the battle of Ypres (which took place in December 1916) being awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal.

John McAulay VC

Sgt John McAulay VC Glasgow Police

During the battle had taken command of his platoon after his officer had been killed, cleared two strongly-held dugouts and “accounted for several snipers”. McAulay had been recommended for the DCM four times already and an officer said to him: “You ought to have got it ages ago”.

On 27 November, 1917, at Fontaine, Notre Dame McAulay’s platoon was pinned down on a sunken road by German machine gunfire. When his commander, Lieutenant A Kinnaird, was wounded, McAulay lifted him on to his back and carried him to safety amid shells bursting around him.

Still carrying the officer, he rallied the men, placed Kinnaird in a shelter and seized a machine gun. He set it up in the road and, as the Germans came over the ridge, completely stopped their attack. He then carried Kinnaird another 500 yards through “a tornado of bullets, killing two Germans who tried to intercept him”.

Though escaping without a scratch, he is said to have “accounted for 50 of the enemy by himself”.

An Aberdeen journalist in the trenches recorded how McAulay learned of his award of the VC in January 1918: “A modest man… he was deafened by the cheers… fellow sergeants almost shook his arm off…the VC was mounted shoulder-high and headed by the piper, marched round and round.” McAulay returned home in February 1918 and was decorated by King George V on 16 March. He re-joined the police in January 1919 and was promoted to sergeant in June that year.

McAulay laid a wreath at the Glasgow Police War Memorial ceremony in 1921, commemorating 173 city police officers who had died. He became an inspector in 1922 and retired in 1946 after 34 years’ service.


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James Meldrum Marchbank was born on 14th June 1900 in Dalkeith Midlothian, he was one of a large family (7 children) and the son of a miner.

In 1913 he joined the local Scout troop in Buccleuch Street, Dalkeith and due to the influence of his Scoutmaster, an ex Indian Army officer, he joined the local territorial company of the Royal Scots, the 8th as a drummer and bugler. Despite his tender years and slight build he took to soldiering and enjoyed his time with the Territorial Force.

One year on having just turned 14 he left school and began a job delivering rolls and a paper round in the evening.

James’ life would soon change for ever, on the continent the storm clouds of war were gathering, at the 8th Royal Scots camp at Stobs near Hawick, rumours of war abounded, every man was ready to do their bit.

On the 4th of August, 1914 war was declared and James was served with his embodiment notice to join, it read

“Embodiment notice to join 4585 Boy J M Marchbank, 8th Royal Scots. The Army Council, in pursuance of His Majesty’s Proclamation, has directed you to attend for enlistment immediately. Bring rations and fuel light to last 24 hours. Here is the actual notice.

James Marchbank's Embodiment notice from 1914

James Marchbank’s Embodiment notice from 1914

And with that James was off to France with the rest of the battalion to fight the Germans, or so they thought. Instead they went to Haddington to undertake further training and recruit more men. None the less on the 4th November, 1914 the 8th Royal Scots set foot on French soil.They had the honour of being the first Scottish Territorial battalion to land in France to join the 7th Division of the British Expeditionary Force.

For James his first experience of the French was far from favourable. At the docks a young French boy offered him the services of his sister, James declined but gave the boy 2/6d (12 1/2p) which an old lady in Southampton had given him as a gift. The boy was to get him bread with the money, instead poor James saw the boy thumb his nose at the corner and he was gone. Welcome to France.

The first casualties were not long in coming. Sgt David Grieve, who had played for Newtongrange Star, was killed by a sniper in their first stint in the trenches at Bois Grenier on 15th November,1914. He was followed by Sgt Dick Peacock from Newtongrange on 20th November, who also fell at the hands of a German sniper.

The lads got their first taste of battle on the 18th of December when they supported an attack by the Warwickshire Regiment and lost Lt Andrew Burt and three men killed. On Christmas Day 1914, the legendary truce took place when the Germans and British met in no mans land as brothers.

In the case of the 8th Royal Scots it appears that fraternisation was minimal, a few men went out and shook hands, and fags changed hands, James’s diary merely records “Christmas very quiet”. At any rate most men confirm that by lunchtime the shooting had started again. New Year’s Day was very different however, the pipes were played and the men in billets at Rue Batelle had a “Merry evening.”

The winter of 1914 was a bitter one, the main focus went away from fighting to just keeping warm and staying alive, many men were sent home with frostbite or trench foot, painful and debilitating conditions. This picture taken by Captain James Tait from Penicuik gives an idea of the dreadful conditions the men lived in.

Trenches with brazier

Life in the trenches Winter 1914 -15 Courtesy Royal Scots Museum

For James at least, the war was still a bit of a Boys Own adventure, as the picture below, taken at Armentieres shows, he just looks like a wee boy, which is of course is exactly what he was.

James Marchbanks 1915

James Marchbanks 1915

Early in 1915 he went back under fire to recover his bugle. The bugle remains in his family to this day.

In doing so however James picked up slight wound from a shrapnel ball and was sent home for a short while to recover.

You may be wondering what on earth was the recruiting Sgt thinking allowing James to go to France, clearly even if he lied about his age, it would be pointless, looking as young as he did.

The reality is the Territorials were allowed to recruit a number of boys into their ranks at the age of 14. There was no need to lie, everyone knew their age and young Master Marchbank when with the full blessing of his parents, indeed he suggested when interviewed in the 1970’s, just before his death, that they might have been happy to have one less mouth to feed.

However James did blot his copybook on one occasion though. One very cold and frosty evening James was on sentry duty in the front line trench. The Germans were very close, less than a hundred yards away, and in the still of the night James began to whistle the first bar of the Lorelei, a popular German folk song. In the distance his German counterpart whistled the second bar and James joined in. His Sgt got wind of this and he was severely reprimanded, despite his age.

And so ended the first 6 months of World War One, I will bring you more of ‘Marchbank’s War’ soon.

You can listen to James Marchbank talk about his war on my website.

James Marchbank interview


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HMS Viknor

Commander Ernest Orford Ballantyne stayed at Ashbank in Eskbank, Midlothian. He was in the Royal Naval Reserve and at the outbreak of war was given command of the Armed Merchant Cruiser HMS Viknor.

She had been requisitioned by the Admiralty and assigned to 10th Cruiser Squadron blockading the seas between the North of Scotland and Iceland.

On January 13th 1915 Vicknor set sail from Londonderry in Ireland, and headed out into the Irish Sea to make for her patrol area. On board her were 22 Officers and 273 Ratings mostly from the Royal Navy Reserve. The weather was bad and the sea was very choppy indeed.

HMS Viknor never reached her patrol zone, a search of the area was made and scattered wreckage was found in the sea. There were no survivors. Mystery surrounds her sinking, it was thought at first that a U Boat had sunk her, however German records showed that no such craft were in the area until the end of January.

It was officially recorded that HMS Viknor has been destroyed by an enemy mine, somewhere of Tory Island and that no one had survived.  Over the next few days men from the ship were washed ashore and buried locally. In Bonamargie Friary there are  four unknown graves of seamen from H.M.S.’Viknor’ .

Seaman John Bowen Mercer, who is buried in Colonsay Military Cemetery, was one of 25 men from Newfoundland on board Viknor. The other 24 men are commemorated on the Newfoundland Memorial at Beaumont Hamel, the famous Caribou statue. It must perplex a few people when they see that they are Navy men so far inland, but this is Newfoundland’s monument to all it’s citizens who have no known grave.

Ernest Ballantyne’s body was not recovered amongst his men, his folks back in Eskbank gave up hope of finding him, and a memorial service was held at St Mary’s Chapel on 5th February.

Questions were put to Winston Churchill in the Houses of Parliament regarding the sea worthiness of Viknor and there were calls for a board of enquiry, all of which were dismissed.

On the morning of the 12th of February, 1915 Sgt Angus McDonald the local Policeman on the island came across the body of a naval officer in Castlebay. It was dragged from the water and from his insignia and other effects the body was identified as Commander Ballantyne.

He was taken home and buried in Dalkeith Cemetery with full military honours. Indeed it was one of the biggest funerals seen in decades in Dalkeith and a reporter from The Dalkeith Advertiser was there to record events, unusually a local photographer was also present and captured this image of the funeral.

Military Funeral at Dalkeith of Commander Ernest Orfod Ballantyne 1915

Here is the report of the funeral itself from the Dalkeith Advertiser.


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Today, Friday 12th April, I sent a Freedom of Information request to Midlothian Council. I have decided that this ‘absolute nonsense’ as I called it has gone on long enough, the prevarication, the excuses, the refusals.

I supplied the Community Council with details of all the enquiry over a year ago, still no action, not good enough I am afraid, the relatives of the men concerned are rightly not impressed, they are not alone.

I believe in openness and honesty so here are the questions I asked the council today, they have 20 working days so I probably won’t have an update before this time next month. Should this fail I will take the matter further until a bit of justice is achieved for the Lads of Newtongrange.

John Duncan

Newtongrange War Memorial

I would be grateful if you can clarify the following points for me regarding this memorial.

1. Does the Council actually own the memorial or is it the Royal British Legion?

2. Who is responsible for repairs to the memorial?

3. What criteria do the Council use for deciding who’s names appear on the memorial?

4. Who is responsible for the nomination  / decision process?

5. In the event of a dispute regarding a decision made regarding a nominee, what right of appeal is there?

6. What procedures are in place for potential victims of current / future conflicts.

7. Does the council accept Commonwealth War Graves Commission data as evidence of eligibility?

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Pte Tommy Douglas 8th Royal Scots

On 24th February, 1915 Pte Tommy Douglas from The Square, Newtongrange, was shot by a sniper whilst singing for his comrades, here is a letter sent to Mrs Douglas by Lieutenant J. S. Pringle.

“Your son Thomas, was shot on Tuesday evening about 5pm, and died in hospital this morning at 7.45am the followng morning . He was hit in the head by a bullet while he was at his post in the trenches. He suffered no pain, and he was unconscious from the moment he was hit until he died, the bullet having entered the brain. Poor fellow, I feel, and all the company feels, his loss very much, he was always so ready to do his duty and always so cheerful over it. At the moment he was struck he was singing a song. It was men such as he that makes us feel the price those at home have to pay for it. I feel very much for you, and you have my deepest sympathy in your loss.

From what I know of the boy as a soldier, I feel he must have been a very dear son to you. He is to be buried at Sailly by a

Protestant clergyman, and two of his chums have been granted leave to attend the funeral” .

Tommy Douglas lived in the house next door to mine, he had been adopted by the Douglas’ as a very young child and was 19 when he died, he was much loved by his adoptive parents.

He was a lovely singer, sadly it cost him his life.

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Until now these lads have been forgotten in the mists of time. They do not appear on a war memorial yet they died for their country, so how can this be?

The answer comes in different forms, in the case of Pte George Ross he was posted missing at the Battle of Loos in 1915 and never mentioned other than two short lines in the paper. By the time the names were added to the memorial his family were dead or no longer in the  area.

A generation on, much the same fate befell Sapper James Holgate, drowned at sea when his transport ship was torpedoed of the coast of Gibratar 1943. His parents were dead and his family out with the village had a struggle to prove his connection to Newtongrange. After some research we were able to prove he was from Newtongrange and that his brother in the RAF had been a POW in Germany.

Others such as Pte George Noble from the Parachute regiment were the victims of rigid interpretation of ridiculous ‘rules’ drawn up. George was conscripted in 1945 whilst he was attending the 21st Midlothian Scouts summer camp. He took to the Army well and joined the Parachute Regiment. WW2 ended but he was still in service, following a tour of Palestine, which was no picnic, he returned to the UK for training. On 5th May 1947 George stepped out of a Halifax bomber over Wiltshire, his parachute did not open and he was killed when he hit the ground. He was laid to rest with full military honours in Newbattle Cemetery.

Despite this he does not appear on the memorial, as he is ‘not a victim of war’.

Well for the record the Commonwealth War Graves Commission list him as a WW2 casualty so he bloody well is.

Two other lads, not accepted as they had died by accident, one was killed when his aircraft ditched in the sea in training, the other died whilst working on his ship. What the hell does it matter how they died? The reason they died is they were serving their country, this is what happens when ‘jobsworths’ rule the world.

However a new dawn has risen in Newtongrange, the Community Council now agree that these lads should appear on the war memorial. The only question being where, and how can we raise the money.

I was once asked, in all seriousness, by a local ‘worthy’ after having campaigned successfully to have Gunner Vasily Nikitenko RGA added to the memorial, I will spare him his blushes by not namimg him.

“When the hell are you going to stop finding these names, it’s a bit of a nuisance trying to fit them in, we can’t just let anybody in ye ken. ”

For the record I retire soon so I will have more time on my hands so –

When the last man is Remembered, or the big man upstairs decides my time is up.

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Now I cannot take any credit for this in any shape or form, other than finding it on the blog of British Genes, but thought it well worthy of dissemination, which it now does, courtesy of Chris Paton, to whom I apologise for not previously asking his permission to reproduce the article.


But here it is an article on WW1 Army Pensions appeals by Scottish soldiers, penned by a young lad called Tunji Lees , an Austrian / Scot. On the face of things it seems to be a fabulous potential source of information and well worthy of further investigation, I may have to try and persuade Tom Gordon at the Royal Scots to take a dander down the hill with me for a good look. I would certainly be up for digitising the records but a) Looks like a massive job and b) NAS are very adverse to allowing cameras into the building, perhaps they may soften the line at some point.

“I’ve recently discovered a great, little-known source for people researching the service of their First World War ancestors in Scotland. There are a set of post-WW1 pension appeal records held by the National Records of Scotland (www.nrscotland.gov.uk).

The records are catalogued under the reference PT6 and contain the pension application records of 1000s of Scottish soldiers -and next of kin of soldiers (usually widows) – who suffered from injuries sustained in the war, or died after the war due to injuries. These appear to be the Scottish equivalent of the PIN26 series for England and Wales (which, unlike the Scottish PT6 series, is indexed).

Whereas the PT26 series appears to only be a selection of the disability pensions awarded to English and Welsh soldiers after the First World War, the Scottish PT6 series appears to be complete. And as you’ll see below, the Scottish records are also quite detailed.

The applications are organised in boxes alphabetically by month, from November 1919 (reference PT6/1), to December 1932 (reference PT6/288). That’s about 29 meters (or 95 feet) of pension records! There are also records from the same series covering post-WW2 disability pension applications, however seeing as they are closed for 75 years, the first set (those from 1945) will only be available in 2021.
It doesn’t appear as if any genealogists are aware of the existence of these records, as they aren’t mentioned in the NAS publication Tracing your Scottish Ancestors, or in any guides to tracing WW1 ancestry that I’ve read, although they’re a fantastic source of information on Scottish army ancestors.
Because most WW1 service records were burnt during WW2 (surviving records from record series WO363 and WO364 are indexed on ancestry.co.uk), it can be difficult tracing your ancestor’s service during WW1. In fact, they say you only have about a 30% chance in finding a record of your ancestor’s service. Hopefully, these set of applications can raise that chance to at least 40% or 50%.
If you think your ancestor might have suffered from a disability due to the war, or died in the years afterwards, then I would strongly recommend consulting them. Many of the applications were actually rejected, so even if you know your ancestor didn’t receive a disability pension, it’s still possible there’s a record of him applying for one. It’s not clear to me whether these only cover army soldiers, or for other services also.
I’ve summarised the information that a typical pension file will include here below: (the layout on the actual applications is different)
General information
-Name of the soldier (+ name of the applicant, and relationship to soldier, if not the same)
-His address
-Pre-enlisting occupation
-Employer before the war (on later applications only)
-Employer after the war (on later applications only)
-Insurance society (on later applications only)
Military information
-Rank & unit
-Service no
-When first attested
-When discharged
-Reason for discharge
-Details on pre-war service (if applicable)
-Details on service 1914-1921 (when and where he served, and in what units)
Information on application
-Date of the hearing and in which courtroom it was held (the hearings were held at 3 Parliament Square, Edinburgh)
-Disability from which the man claimed to be suffering
-Whether the appeal was allowed or disallowed (many were in fact disallowed)
Information on application
-Date of the hearing and in which courtroom it was held (the hearings were held at 3 Parliament Square, Edinburgh)
-Disability from which the man claimed to be suffering
-Whether the appeal was allowed or disallowed (many were in fact disallowed)
-If allowed, how much the applicant received, and whether he got a lump sum or a fixed rate, and for how longEach file also has some information on the soldier’s medical history. From around 1923, the application files start to get thicker and
thicker, some having up to 10 or more pages of medical history, detailing the medical condition of the soldier throughout, and after, the war, as well as his date and cause of death if he died. Some of the files also include correspondence relating to theapplication.The application records are held off-site, and will need to be ordered 24 hours in advance.Occasionally, I’ve come across a file which had not been filed under the correct letter within the box, and once, I came across a file that had been filed in the wrong box.I believe these records have great potential for being a useful source for WW1 family history research. The problem with them however is that, without an index, it can be very time consuming looking for a pension record unless you know exactly when it was applied for.

I hope someone will see fit to digitise or at least index them. Perhaps this could be a project for a genealogy society, or a commercial website . I can’t see the NRS indexing or digitising them any time soon, as I know they’re already quite busy with digitising valuation rolls, and other records.”

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