The first cemetery I visited during War Graves Week, last year, was Edinburgh’s Rosebank Cemetery, in Pilrig. It is the home of the memorial to the Leith Battalion (1/7 Royal Scots), but on this visit, my eye was caught by the numbers of graves which mentioned a casualty of The Great War. It seemed to me that what the poet William Soutar described as ‘the permanence of the young men’ was an absence that was made present—and more permanent within their communities—by their names being recording on a parent’s headstone.
The Permanence of the Young Men
No man outlives the grief of war Though he outlive its wreck: Upon the memory a scar Through all his years will ache.
Hopes will revive when horrors cease; And dreaming dread be stilled; But there shall dwell within his peace A sadness unannulled.
Upon his world shall hang a sign Which summer cannot hide: The permanence of the young men Who are not by his side.
Many of these men had no known graves, there was either no place to mark, or a grave too far away to visit. The sadness unannulled was a heavy burden, also, for the families. In my war memorial research, I often discover that one or both parents dies within a few years of the loss of a child on active service, this, it seems, more so in The Great War than in the World War of 1939–1945.
I first became aware of that sadness unannulled when I was about 10, and shopping with, and being spoilt by, my grandfather, on a visit to Cape Town. We were walking down Adderley Street when the Noonday Gun on Signal Hill fired, and Grandad stopped, took off his hat—yes, it was that long ago—and stood absolutely still, holding my hand. In adulthood I was able to describe that memory as his reflecting on something extraordinarily sad. There was no explanation from him, but because this ‘event’ was so unexpected, I remembered it. It would take me sixty years to understand that moment in Adderley Street.
When I later learnt that the Commonwealth’s Two Minutes’ Silence on Remembrance Day, had been introduced after Percy Fitzpatrick told the King (George V) about Cape Town’s daily silence of three minutes’, reduced within three weeks to two minutes. This commenced almost immediately after news reached the city of the loss of life during the South Africans’ valiant stand at Delville Wood in July 1916. This pause in daily life would continue, on the sounding of the Noonday Gun, until the last soldiers returned home in 1920. Soutar’s sadness unannulled exactly captured my grandfather’s expression.
But back to Scotland, and Rosebank Cemetery where the CWGC headstone had caught my eye. After noting the details, I glanced at the two adjacent headstones, only to find that both recorded family members who had lost their lives on active service during WW1. This post looks at the stories and the family tragedies behind the headstones on either side of the CWGC headstone. The story of Bertie Wastle, his brothers and a nephew, is told in a separate post.
Albert Edward Ross
A/8976 Private Albert Edward Ross, 2/Highland Light Infantry, Killed in action during the Battle of Loos, 25 September 1915.
The headstone of the grave to the left of the CWGC grave, commemorates first, John Ross, a native of Fearn in Easter Ross, who died 25 November 1916, and also his widow, Emily May, who died on 15 January 1920. It also commemorates their eldest child, Albert, missing in action on 25 September 1915, the first day of the Battle of Loos, then aged 38, as well as his widow, Flora Barlow, who died of cancer in Edinburgh’s General Hospital on 31 July 1920.
Albert Edward Ross was born in Darwen in Lancashire, the eldest child of John Ross, a policeman. John Ross’s service as a policeman took him to England where he met, and married, Emily May, a native of Dogmersfield in Hampshire. Their son, Albert, married Flora Barlow, on 8 July 1875, in Flora’s parish, in the Immanuel Church in Oswaldtwistle. By 1911, Albert and his family had moved to Leith and were living at 17 Graham Street, where Albert was employed as an iron driller in a boiler works. In two of the households at 15 Graham Street were other members of the Ross family including Albert’s sister, Margaret, wife of William Crowther, and his brother, George William Ross. Albert would have gone off to war reassured that his parents and younger siblings were close at hand to keep an eye on Flora and their young children.
On the first day of the Battle of Loos, half of the 72 battalions involved were Scottish battalions. In the fierce fighting that day, 8 500 soldiers lost their lives. Albert Ross was one of them. That only two thousand of those have known graves, confirms the ferocity of that assault. Perhaps the dates of birth of Albert’s children will help a reader of this blog to recognise, in one of them, his or her grandparent:
Emily, born 8 January 1902, in Oldham, Lancashire; Maggie, born 19 July 1905, at 17 Graham Street, Leith; David, born 1 January 1913 in Portobello, d. 1978.
David was only two when his father died, and only seven when his mother died, less than five years later. Within that relatively short period, the Ross children lost their father, then both paternal grandparents and finally, their mother.
What happened next? Emily, who was 18 and Maggie, barely 15, became responsible for the care of young David. Flora’s death notice gave her usual address as 4 Graham Street, where, we hope, their father’s siblings, Margaret and George, were still at hand, further up Graham Street, to lend support to their orphaned nieces and nephew.
Albert’s younger brother, David (b.1886), had emigrated to Australia before the war and enlisted there, in August 1915, a month before the death of his brother. David served as a Corporal in the 20th and in the 25th Battalion of the Australian Imperial Force. His enlistment record reveals that, prior to leaving Scotland, he had previously served, for three years, in the 9th Volunteer Battalion of the Royal Scots Highlanders. As David was awarded the full suite of war medals, including the Star, it appear as if he was serving in a theatre of war by 1915 though he did not, however, leave Sydney for Suez, until April 1916. The next entry in his record gives his arrival in England on 18 November of that year, two days after the death of his father, in Leith. David spent the remaining two years of the war in France and in Belgium, and was wounded in action in May 1918, receiving injuries which kept him away from the fighting for three months. Six weeks after rejoining his unit, he was again wounded in action and transferred relatively swiftly to England, where he was effectively a patient until January 1919.
Two letters in David’s records suggest that their brother, John Robert Ross, had also emigrated to Australia. Writing from an address in Newcastle (New South Wales) he said that David was to have come to him in Newcastle on his return, “as a matter of great importance”. An answering letter from the Officer in Charge of Base Records, indicated that David had arrived in Melbourne en route for Brisbane in mid-May, but that he did not have an address for him. He did, however, supply a forwarding address to which a communication could be directed “that should reach him”. What the matter of great importance was, remains a mystery.
S/11441 Private George Gibb, 8/Seaforth Highlanders, Killed in action during the Battle of the Somme, 11 July 1916.
The grave to the right of the CWGC grave is that of Alexander Gibb (1856–1916), who died on 29 July 1916, just 13 days after the death of his son, George, (S/11441 Private George Gibb 8/Seaforths) on 11 July 1916. Unlike so many, George has a grave, and is buried at Vermelles.
His father, Alexander, died in Edinburgh’s Royal Asylum, in Morningside, after suffering from liver cancer, heart disease and arteriosclerosis—the latter possibly being the reason he was being treated in the asylum. It is unlikely, given his condition, that his wife, Marion Campbell (1856–1930), would have broken the news of George’s death to him, even if that news had reached the family by then.
Poignantly, the headstone also records the death of George’s sister, Janet, on 5 November 1918, just days before the Armistice. Janet died at the General Hospital with the cause of death given as Miliary Tuberculosis. She was only 14. The youngest of George’s sisters, she had been named after her parents’ eldest child, Janet Campbell Gibb (1880–1883).
Throughout the First World War, the family home of the Gibbs was at 12 Ashley Place, Leith. Their mother, Marion Campbell, died in 1930, aged 74.
One of the CWGC graves that I came across in Edinburgh’s Rosebank Cemetery was that of Elizabeth Elder. At the time, I was particularly looking out for war graves that might be overlooked or unvisited, those of servicewomen, for example, as well as graves and memorials of those serving with the Allied Forces, buried far from home. More usually than not, I plan ahead of a visit, but this time, I was ‘tempted’ into the cemetery, so I used my eyes to scan for war graves. The distinctive headstone of a CWGC grave is easy to spot in a cemetery, provided there are not too many large and overbearing headstones nearby.
The headstone below identifies the burial place of “E G Elder”, and records her as a naval telephonist; the G inserted on her headstone, between her first name and her married surname, represents her maiden name of Grant and not a given middle name.
G/2605 Telephonist Elizabeth Grant or Elder,
Women’s Royal Naval Service.
Died 6 July 1918,
Buried in Rosebank Cemetery, South Leith.
Elizabeth—known as Lizzie—was born in Edinburgh at 10 Tynecastle Place, Gorgie, on 5 August 1891, the seventh, and youngest surviving child, of the eight children of Lewis Grant and his second wife, Flora McKinnon. We’ll start off with her parents.
Lewis Grant of Feshiebridge, Alvie
Elizabeth’s father, Lewis Grant (1848–1919), was born at the Saw Mill at Feshiebridge in Inverness-shire, and baptised on 3 August 1848 at Alvie. His father, John Grant (1814–1906) was the miller at Feshie, but he, as well as his father, Lewis’s grandfather, also named John, would both, at some point, farm about 50 acres of land there.
Lewis was the second son, and seems to have started his working life in Feshie as a ‘labourer’—probably as a mason’s labourer, since he was recorded as a journeyman mason, by the time of his marriage, at the relatively early age of 20.
Lewis married Jessie Stewart, in Kingussie, her native parish, on 28 July 1870 and they began their married life in her family home, with her widowed father, Charles Stewart, a native of Crathie. Jessie’s mother, Elspet (‘Betsy’) Cattanach, had died in 1866 and Charles was perhaps reluctant to lose Jessie’s company, as well as her help in the house after her other siblings had moved on. Eventually Lewis and Jessie were able to move to Edinburgh, possibly before her father’s death in 1877, settling in Leith, where Lewis worked as a journeyman mason. Throughout the last year of Jessie’s life she was suffering from tuberculosis, succumbing to it eventually, on 31 July 1877 at their home, 18 Albert Street (just off Leith Walk). Her husband was by her side.
Flora McKinnon of Torrisdale, Islay
After Jessie’s death, Lewis continued to work as a mason, still in Leith until his marriage to Flora McKinnon, just over two years later, on 8 September 1879, at 8 Caledonian Crescent, Dalry. As had been the case with his first marriage, this ceremony was according to the rites of the Free Church.
While he continued to work in Leith, after his marriage, the couple’s family home was in West Edinburgh. Lewis’s bride, Flora, was a native of Islay, born at Torrisdale, in the parish of Kilmochan and the daughter of Donald McKinnon, a farmer, and his wife Ann McLean. Known in the family as Flory, she was named after her maternal grandmother, Flora Darroch (b. c.1790).
Elizabeth was the youngest of their surviving children, and was possibly named after her great grandmother, Elspet ‘Lizzie’ Murray, the paternal grandmother of her father, Lewis. Known in the family as Lizzie, Elizabeth had two brothers and five sisters.
In order of their birth, the Grant siblings were: Annie McLean (1879–1933) named after their maternal grandmother; Peter McLean (1881–1964); Esther (1882–1947); Jessie (1884–1952); Christina (1886–1896); Donald (1889–1942), then Elizabeth and finally Flora (1893–1894).
As the youngest, Elizabeth saw the family shrink as her brothers emigrated to the USA and her surviving sisters married. Peter was the first to leave the family home. Having completed his apprenticeship as a mason, he emigrated in his mid-twenties, in 1905, where he married a Swedish immigrant, a native of Stockholm, Corinne Sophia Bergstrand (1883–1966). They had at least six children, the youngest of whom, Hilda Eleanor Grant, wife of Oliver Meserve Drown, died as recently as 2017.
Annie was next to leave the family home. A domestic servant, she married William Harkness, a van driver, on 5 June 1903 in the Caledonian Hall according to the forms of the Church of Scotland. There were indeed no further Grant marriages in the Free Church. Annie and William had two daughters, Florence McKinnon and Ella (Mary Helen?) Harkness.
The following year, on 3 June 1904, Esther, by then a dressmaker, married James Clark, a joiner in Morningside, again according to the forms of the Church of Scotland. Prior to their marriage, having completed his apprenticeship, James served in the Imperial Yeomanry, from 1902 until 7 February 1903, when, suffering from enteric fever, he was returned to the UK on the SS Sardinia.
For the next five years, the family group at their home in Dalry Road, consisted of Lewis, Flora, Jessie, Donald and Elizabeth, until, on 5 January 1912, and the marriage of Jessie to William Crosbie Bollard, a distiller’s warehouse man. They had one son, William, born later that year.
Donald’s career has been less straightforward to follow. He was a domestic footman at the time of the 1911 Census, and a waiter at the time he enlisted in 15/Royal Scots in 1915. Like at least one of his brothers-in-law, he enlisted voluntarily, before conscription was introduced at the beginning of 1916. We find Donald again, on 1 November 1915, when the Sheriff’s Court at Edinburgh recorded a marriage by declaration for Donald Grant and Isabella Wedderburn Wade, the widow of yet another mason, Donald Fraser. The witnesses to the marriage were John Smith Lamb, a fish restaurant worker and his wife, Mary. John Lamb had previously been a waiter, like Donald, so the couple may not have been chosen at random to perform this service.
We pick Donald up again in 1927 and 1928 on disembarkation passenger lists for New York. The 1927 passenger list shows that he and his wife were living in Glasgow, at 29 Kent Street East, and that he was a motor man by profession. He gave details of his brother, Peter, as his contact in the US, which, together with the name of his wife, confirmed that this Donald Grant was Elizabeth’s brother. He sailed on the Cameronia from Glasgow on 24 March 1928 arriving in New York on 3 April. He named a friend, Robert Miller as his contact in the US. Just over six months later, his wife, Isabella, and three of her daughters, Jane, Annie and Isabella, sailed from Southampton on the Leviathan, bound for New York and a new life there. Social Security Records confirm that Donald died on 4 January 1942 and that his wife died in Hudson, New Jersey in 1957.
Lizzie’s last years
We know that Elizabeth was a clerkess (female clerk) by 1911, an unusual occupation for a woman at that time. She was still doing clerical work and living with her parents at 83 Dalry Road when she married George Henry Elder (1886–1966), a chauffeur, on 5 November 1913 at 90 Craighouse Road. Their home, during the time they had together, was at 38 Roseburn Street.
Her husband was five years older than Elizabeth. Born on 4 March 1886 at Knockglass, Halkirk (near Thurso, Caithness), he was the second son of John Elder (another mason) and Christina Jane Nicol. His family moved to Edinburgh when George was three or four years old, and there the family settled not too far from the home of the Grants, in West Edinburgh.
Lizzie’s last years
We know that Elizabeth was a clerkess (female clerk) by 1911, an unusual occupation for a woman at that time. She was still doing clerical work and living with her parents at 83 Dalry Road when she married George Henry Elder (1886–1966), a chauffeur, on 5 November 1913 at 90 Craighouse Road. Their home, during the relatively brief time they had together, was at 38 Roseburn Street.
Nine months after George and Lizzie’s marriage, Britain declared war. As an accomplished driver, George had a skill of use to most branches of the various Army Service Corps. His enlistment, before conscription was compulsory, may have been triggered by the first anniversary of the declaration of war since he applied four days later, and took the oath at Grove Park soon after, on 14 August 1915, enlisting in the A.S.C.M.T. (Army Service Corps, Military Transport). His military records survive, so we know a great deal more about him, down to a mole and a scar, than we do about the appearance of his wife.
No occupation was recorded against Elizabeth’s name on their marriage record. Perhaps it was assumed that she would not work after her marriage. With her husband’s departure to France, it is possibly she resumed work as a female clerk, or acquired a telephonist’s skills in the years before her enlistment. Her service record reveals nothing of her work prior to joining the navy but does reveal that her work in the WRNS was based at ‘Gunner’. Officially designated HMS Gunner, this is a reference, not to a warship, but to the Granton Naval Base. Elizabeth could not have known that her time in the WRNS would, cruelly, be cut short.
Her service as a naval telephonist dates from 16 May 1918 to her death, 7 weeks later, at 4 a.m. on Saturday, 6 July, in Edinburgh’s Royal Infirmary. The main causes of her death were acute appendicitis and peritonitis. Even today, appendicitis can be difficult to diagnose in the early stages, and peritonitis suggests that by the time she was admitted to the Royal Infirmary, her appendix may already have perforated and effective antibiotics had not yet been discovered. Soon her condition worsened, due to a secondary intestinal obstruction.
On Elizabeth’s service record, her next of kin was listed as ‘her mother’ but here Flora’s name was mistakenly given as Elizabeth, although the address given for ‘her mother’ matches that of the family home at 83 Dalry Road. The informant registering her death, two days later, was her sister, Jessie, who is not described as having been ‘present’ at the time of death. Given the time of her death, we cannot be certain whether or not her husband or other relatives were with her at the time. In those days, relatives may have restricted to very limited visiting hours. George’s military records provide a little information on the circumstances around Elizabeth’s death.
George Elder’s war service
Posted to Rouen in September 1915, George served in the Field Ambulance Workshop Unit for eight months, before joining the 90th Field Ambulance unit. Apart from a week’s leave to Scotland in 1916, he would not see his wife again until she was seriously ill, with her life in grave danger.
Over the three years prior to his wife’s illness, George’s service record consisted of three lines relating to his mobilisation and his leave in 1916; the next nine lines cover the period of his wife’s death, and the final records his demobilisation. The major part of his military record, therefore, covers the period around his wife’s illness.
It was just over 27 months after his leave of 1916, that George was given 14 days’ leave (R.A.) from 19 June to 3 July 1918. That leave was extended twice, first to 14 July, and then, a second time, to 18 July. Unfortunately, he overstayed his leave—by less than a day. Perhaps some of the overstay was compassionately overlooked because the record notes the offence of “Overstaying Leave” not from 18 July but from 6.30pm on 20 July to 6.30pm on 21 July. This resulted in his forfeiting two days’ pay, but there was more. Overstaying leave resulted in other serious consequences and so he was also sentenced to 14 days of “FP No.2” (Field Punishment No. 2). This was a milder punishment than FP No.1. In effect, it meant that George would be shackled, in public, for 2 hours, on 3 days in every 4 during that period. (You’d think they’d make the calculation easier by imposing sentences in multiples of 4.) The following month the 90/Field Ambulance unit noted the change in George’s next of kin to his widowed mother. Nowhere is the loss of his wife mentioned.
Following a spell in Germany after the war, with the Lancashire Division’s Motor Transport Company, George’s military service ended with his demobilisation in Bonn, in July 1919. He was formally discharged on 25 July at Kinross and put on the Reserve List for 9/Ambulance Reserve (Edinburgh). He returned, not to his former marital home in Roseburn, but to 11 Cathcart Place, Dalry, the home of his mother.
Moving to Helensburgh, George resumed work as a chauffeur, living at 3 West King Street and, just over a year after his demobilisation, he married Jessie McLey McIntyre on 24 September 1920 at The Manse in Helensburgh. As her usual residence was given as 1 West King Street, it looks as if he married his next-door neighbour. George and Jessie had three children: Ian (1928–2010), Donald (1931–2017) followed, seven years later, by a daughter, Lilian.
Apart from her father’s time in the Leith area, and her brief role at Granton’s Naval Base, it’s not clear why Lizzie was buried in Rosebank Cemetery, rather than in a cemetery nearer her family home. I usually research a war death in the context of the whole family including parents and siblings. Once again, I found the deaths of the parents following soon after the loss of a child. In Lizzie’s case, both parents died in 1919, the year following her death: Flora, on 26 August at the family home, 83 Dalry Road, Edinburgh and Lewis, her husband, a month later, on 25 September at Feshie Side, in his natal parish of Alvie. Perhaps Lewis had sought peace in his old haunts.
The informant on Flora’s death was her daughter, Jessie Bollard, and on Lewis’s death, his son, Donald. The cause of Flora’s death was given as Pernicious Anaemia, and that of Lewis as Arterio Sclerosis and a Cerebral Haemorrhage.
Putting the record straight
Donald Grant, Lizzie’s brother has been incorrectly identified by some family historians as a soldier in the Seaforth Highlanders, who died of wounds, in France, on 24 November 1917. That soldier was nor Lewis and Flora’s Donald. He was, instead, the son of Mrs Margaret Grant of Sunny Bank Cottage, Abbeyhill, Edinburgh.
I have ‘asked around’ for clarification on what the R.A. describing George’s 14 days’ leave in 1918 signifies. I’ll update my post when, or if, that abbreviation. I am hoping that it relates to compassionate leave.
With F.P. 1, the offender was attached to a fixed object like a post or the wheel of a gun carriage, with ropes binding him near the neck, at the wrists and feet and the period of public humiliation, for serious offences, could, at one stage in the period that this punishment was available, last for anything up to 90 days. The illustration below demonstrates the shackling for Field Punishment No 1. It has been widely reproduced and comes from a diagram produced by the War Office in January 1917. George was sentenced to Field Punishment No 2, which was less taxing than its partner punishment, so he would not have been shackled to an object in this way.
It was spotting the distinctive CWGC headstone on Bertie’s grave, situated between the Ross and Gibb family graves, that impelled my earlier post, The Permanence of the Young Men. If you have read that piece, you may have wondered why I hadn’t started with Bertie’s story, rather than focusing on the more ‘accidental’ discovery of other casualties of the First World War within the Ross and Gibb families. Indeed, I might have, but in researching Bertie’s parents, I found a family who had lost three sons in the First World War, while their surviving son would lose his youngest son during the Second World War. And I also discovered what I had part suspected—the sad background to Bertie’s death. What I had not suspected was to find that he was one of three brothers who died in the First World War.
Bertie Wastle was born on 18 June 1890 at 31 Queen Street, Leith, the youngest but one of the children of John Wastle (1848–1920) and Elizabeth Mackie (c.1855–1916). John, a rigger, was for many years a seaman in the merchant service, and his usually being recorded at sea when the censuses were taken, indicates how much the raising of their young family depended on Elizabeth, and also, perhaps, on the support of the children’s paternal grandmother, Ann Charleson Jobson. Bertie’s birth registration had his father as a seaman and his mother, Elizabeth, as a machinist, indicating that she was working to support the family.
While Bertie’s parents did not marry until 1915, all their children bore the Wastle surname from birth, a clear indication that they were acknowledged as such by their father. By then John and Elizabeth had been a couple for at least 37 years. Their lives had already been tinged with sadness, with the loss of three of their children in infancy or childhood: their first-born child, Margaret Milne (1879–1881), Jane Ann Webster (1884–1884) and John (1885–1890).
Having endured the pain of the losses of young children in the 1880s, John and Elizabeth could not have expected that three of their four surviving sons would lose their lives on active service nor that their surviving son, James, would lose his only son in WW2. In 1914, these surviving children were William (b.1881), James Mackie (b.1888, and already married to Rose Ann Owens), Bertie (b. 1890) and George (b.1892).
John and Elizabeth married by declaration, at 8 Bank Street, on 23 August 1915, barely a month before the death of their youngest son, George. The marriage record notes that John was a widower, and Elizabeth a spinster. This suggests that John was already married by the time he met Elizabeth, and that his earlier marriage had ended by1915, either by divorce or following the death of his first wife, Mary Jemima Kent Thomson.
The witnesses to John and Elizabeth’s declaration were Thomas Finlay, a wire weaver and his wife, Margaret Finlay and the Sheriff’s Warrant was dated the same day. I note the Finlays here because Elizabeth’s paternal grandmother was Elizabeth Findlay, and they may have been her relatives.
I’ll take you through the family’s losses during the war years, in the order in which the postman would have delivered the news.
George Wastle (1892–1915)
Private 14958 George Wastle
13/The Royal Scots (Lothian Regiment).
Killed in action, 27 September 1915,
Commemorated on the Loos Memorial.
The first of their boys to die on active service was their youngest son, George.
Like his father and his brother, Bertie, George had been a riveter prior to enlisting and had been employed as such by the Leith based firm John Cran & Co, marine engineers, shipbuilders and repairers. George’s battalion, the 13/Royal Scots, was raised at Edinburgh in September 1914, as part of Lord Kitchener’s New Army. It was formed as a service battalion and its men first arrived in France, following training, ten months later, on 9 July 1915. These men would be among the thousands of Scots killed in the opening days of the Battle of Loos.
George was 22 when he was killed on 27 September, on the third day of the battle. (You can find some background to the awful, costly, opening days of this battle from links in my earlier post The Permanence of the Young Men where I write about Albert Ross, who was commemorated on the headstone to the left of Bertie’s.)
Unlike the CWGC database, which has George in the 12th battalion of the Royal Scots. the Medal Index Roll, the Register of Soldiers’ Effects and a notice of his death in the EdinburghEvening News, all have him in the regiment’s 13th battalion, which, like the 12th, also participated in the Battle of Loos.
Just over a year later, on 8 November 1916, their mother, Elizabeth, died suddenly at the family home, following a cerebral apoplexy (a stroke). Her death was registered on the same day, by her eldest son, William, suggesting that he had not yet been posted to a ‘theatre of war’.
Elizabeth’s estate was valued at approximately £50. (This would have had the purchasing power of about £3000 today.)
The daughter of James Mackie, a farmer with 50 acres at the Mains of Byth in King Edward, Aberdeenshire, Elizabeth had lost her father in 1869, when she was about 14. It looks as though she then went into service, at Overbrae, a neighbouring farm, where she was employed as a general servant in the household of James Duffus, the farmer. Within ten years, Elizabeth had met John Wastle, who was then a seaman on coastal routes.
Bertie Wastle (1890–1917)
202662 Private Bertie Wastle, 4/King’s Own Scottish Borderers.
Died of injuries incurred 2 June 1917, at Galashiels Railway Station,
Buried in Edinburgh’s Rosebank Cemetery.
After completing his schooling, Bertie became an apprentice riveter, joining the Leith #2 Branch of the Union of Boilermakers and Iron Shipbuilders in 1913. As the member of an education union, I was pleased to find his name in the Registration Book and immediately felt an affinity with Bertie.
Bertie died ‘testate’ with a will rather more lengthy and substantial than the usual soldier’s will of the time, and which he signed on Thursday 31 May 1917. It was witnessed by John Mackenzie, labourer, of 27 Coatfield Lane, Leith and his next door neighbour, Jane d’Arcy, of 8 Glover Street. In it, he left his entire estate to be equally divided between his father, and his two surviving brothers, William and James.
On the day of his death, Saturday 2 June 1917, Bertie travelled from Leith to Galashiels, probably along the Waverley route, part of which was re-opened in 2015. His intention was to enlist in the King’s Own Scottish Borderers. We know that he did enlist with that regiment, despite his death later that day, because his grave has a CWGC headstone and he is listed in the CWGC database.
When I obtained Bertie’s death certificate, my heart sank when I saw the precognition in the usually blank column to the left of the certificate, the absence of any cause of death on the form, and the place of death (Galashiels Railway Station).
The RCE (Register of Corrected Entries) included a description of the time and place of Bertie’s death: About 6.11 o’clock p.m. on 2 June 1917, on the permanent way of the North British Railway, 32 yards or thereby east from the Central Signal Cabin at Galashiels Railway Station. The cause of death noted the nature of his injuries, and also that it was caused by the passage of a railway waggon (sic) over the body. The precognition was dated 19 June 1917, just over two weeks after his death.
A fairly detailed report in the Selkirk Southern Reporter under the heading SAD DEATH appeared on 7 June, only five days after Bertie’s death and before the precognition was recorded. It states that it was believed that Bertie had thrown himself in front of an engine carrying two railway wagons at the east end of the Galashiels platform adding it was “not easy to say whether he was despondent or not”. There are descriptions of his injuries and the report concludes with the statement that Great sympathy is felt for his aged father and relatives, who reside in Leith.
We can only speculate on what occurred that Saturday, that led to Bertie’s death. We do learn something of him from the inventory of his estate, which reveals that he had invested his earnings carefully.
On 18 June 1917, Thomas J Connelly, solicitor, of 20 Leith Walk, presented an inventory of Bertie’s personal estate. The total value of the estate (£154 17s 6d) in today’s money would represent over £9000. His personal effects were of minimal value. His major investment was in Exchequer Bonds, and also in a series of War Savings Certificates, perhaps his way of doing what he could to support the war effort. His estate also received a substantial payment from the Prudential Assurance Company and an amount from the Boilermakers’ Society. Because his father and his brother, William, died within three years of Bertie, it may be that his brother, James Mackie Wastle, ultimately received a somewhat larger share of the bequests.
Intermission: quotations from War Diaries
The story of William Wastle, the eldest of the brothers, follows. I include, within it, extracts from the 2/Cameronians’ War Diary covering the last days of William’s life, and they have been italicised as a way of flagging up the adjutant’s words. Variants to modern spelling or usage have not been ‘corrected’.
William Wastle (1881–1918)
41902 Private William Wastle,
2/Cameronians (The Scottish Rifles).
Died 25 March 1918, Commemorated on The Pozières Memorial.
William was the second child of John and Elizabeth, born shortly before the death of his elder sister, Margaret, aged 2, who had been named after their maternal grandmother. He was, in effect, the ‘big brother’ of the younger boys, since there was a gap of about seven years between William and the next surviving sibling, James. By the turn of the century, William was employed as a blacksmith’s labourer, all his younger siblings being still at school. By then his father, John, was home from the sea and working as an engineer’s labourer. The forge cannot have been entirely to William’s taste, it seems, because in the years before the outbreak of war, he was listed as a newsagent, based at the last of the Wastle family homes, 6 Glover Street, Leith. Glover Street is no longer there, but from the map below, those familiar with Leith, will realise that it would have been just south of the large Tesco near the Foot of the Walk running from Duke Street to Manderston Street. It was from that address that all their sonsset off to enlist. We learnt, from Bertie’s will, that William was a brakesman, and whether he was working on the railways or underground, he could have been exempt from conscription. He was in any case, by then in his mid-thirties. He was also unmarried—the William Edward Wastle who married Gladys Annie Reading in Leith South in 1916 was William’s first cousin.
William was awarded the Victory and the British medals, which indicates that he enlisted after 1915, perhaps as a response to the death of his younger brother, or even as late as 1917, after the death of Bertie. To have been in France by March of the following year, William could not have enlisted any later than 1917.
William lost his life on 25 March 1918, within the first five days of Ludendorff’s Spring Offensive, a period that Walter Reid has described as five days too grim to be remembered.
The following account is based on, and includes extracts from, the 2/Cameronians’ War Diary, over those five grim days. The brigade mentioned in the diary was the 59th brigade, of which the 2/Cameronians was part.
Just a month earlier, on 21 February, William’s battalion had had a period of respite in Beaulieu, described in the war diary as fairly comfortable, every man having a bed made by Germans. (I interpret that as their having been made by carpenters among the German prisoners of war.)
On 2 March the battalion transferred to Chaulnes where they carried out a mix of training with some working parties on the roads in that area until 20 March, when they returned to Beaulieu.
The first intimation William would have had of the German attack was at 5 a.m. on 21 March. The entry in the Cameronians’ war diary noted that a tremendous bombardment was heard in the direction of St Quentin.At dawn the order was received to be ready to move at a moment’s notice. At 2.30 p.m. the battalion was ordered to march to Ligny, a distance of about 16 miles, arriving at 9 p.m. and being billeted there in temporary huts. They had only a brief opportunity to sleep, because at 1a.m. on 22 March the battalion received the following order: XVIII Corps man battle stations. For the Cameronians, this involved marching to the Corps’ Line, four miles away. The Line was strongly wired but trenches not dug. Work on trenches was at once begun but interrupted at 1p.m. when the entire brigade was ordered to concentrate at Foreste for a counter-attack. This involved a march of five miles, all the while, of course, burdened by their kit. As no counter-attack was made, just before dusk, the 59th Brigade marched to Douilly. At this time the Germans were said to be in Beauvois. The wording makes me suspect the record in the diary was not contemporaneous.
At 2 a.m. on 23 March the brigade began to retire to the line of the Somme Canal, a distance of about 7 miles, where 2/Scottish Rifles (i.e. 2/Cameronians) were to hold the bridge at Voyennes. Trenches [were] deepened and improved. There was some shelling from the Germans during the day, but no attack followed.
On 24 March B Company under Captain Stewart was holding the bridge with A Company holding the canal to the North. C Company was in support with D Company in 2 redoubts on the high ground to the West. About 50 Germans tried to rush the remains of the bridge, nearly all of them being knocked out. Later the enemy heavily shelled our trenches about the bridge. At about 12.15p.m. the  KRRC on our right fell back, allowing the Germans to cross the canal on their front. The enemy got into Voyennes and opened M[achine] G[un] fire on B Company from the rear.
The situation was now impossible and Captain Stewart skillfully withdrew the remnants of his company (24 men only) after a most gallant defence. The enemy had meanwhile crossed the Canal at Bethencourt, about 2 miles on our left and the brigade fell back, fighting a rearguard action to a line in front of Nesle.
On 25 March, a French machine gun company with 10 guns, reported to the Cameronians and came into action at Quiquery, from where their battery fired over the heads of the Cameronians as they made their way to Nesle, thereby giving the beleageured battalion invaluable assistance. A Company after a gallant fight was driven back into the sunken road, and the enemy, now right on our flank, kept up an intense M[achine] G[un] fire on every part of our position.
The adjutant noted, No assistance was given by our artillery although the Nesle road was swarming with Germans. 2 p.m. Situation now desperate, enemy firing straight down sunken road. The men began to get away by small parties up the stream towards Nesle. This was the only way of escape now open. By 2.15 the last man was out of the sunken road but many were caught by machine gun or shell fire as they went up the valley. Most of the survivors appear to have gone into Nesle and were probably captured by the Germans who had by this time got right round. Only 7 officers and 55 men got back to the brigade.
The gallant fight made by the battalion undoubtedly barred the road to Nesle to the enemy for several hours after the troops on our left had fallen back. It may even have saved the Brigade on our right whose flank would have been completely buried had the Germans succeeded in working up the stream towards Nesle.
When numbers were summed up on the morning of the 30 March the strength of the battalion consisted of 4 officers (including the C.O. and the Adjutant) and 55 men. In 1914, a battalion at full strength would normally consist of about 1000 men. Most of those killed in the opening days of the German offensive have no known grave.
I find it difficult to read the war diaries of Allied forces who held the line during those five days in March 1918. It is especially hard to see the words remnants of a battalion/regiment/brigade, indicating that only a relative handful of men survived. That the British forces were only ‘five days from defeat’ in March 1918, is a detail that has been held back by the victors. It was units like 2/Cameronians and the Jocks and Springboks (the 9th Scottish Division) who held their ground despite heavy losses over those five grim days, thus buying time for those units which had ‘retired’ from the battle zone, to regroup and engage once more with the enemy.
William Wastle, BEM, (1920–1942)
Carpenter William Wastle B.E.M,
Merchant Navy, SS Cape Corso.
Died 2 May 1942 in the North Sea,
Commemorated on the Tower Hill Memorial.
This William Wastle was the husband of Elizabeth Armstrong Begbie and the nephew of George, Bertie and William. He was also the youngest of the six children of their brother, James Mackie Wastle and his wife, Rose Ann Owens.
William was a shipwright, serving in the Merchant Navy as a carpenter, when he lost his life in the sinking of the SS Cape Corso, on 2 May 1942, aged 21. The ship was part of a convoy to Russia.
The previous year, along with Hugh Edward Hodgson, William had been awarded the British Empire Medal, for his bravery following the torpedoing of his ship, the Cape Rodney, by the U-boat U-75, on 5 August 1941. The citation in the Government Gazette reveals that a fierce fire broke out, one which could not be fought because a broken pipe line deprived them of the water need to extinguish it. The ship was duly abandoned and the crew picked up. When they observed that the burnt out ship was not sinking, a party, which included Wastle and Hughson, was returned to the ship to raise steam and unjam the rudder.
The citation notes: They did good work in dangerous conditions with full knowledge that the ship could sink at any time. The party had to be taken off at noon the next day as the weather got worse and eventually the ship sank.
This took place only a fortnight before William’s marriage on 21 August 1941, in the Roman Catholic Church of Saints Ninian and Triduana in Edinburgh.
Nine months later, he was on the steamship Cape Corso, sailing in a convoy, bound for Russia, when she was attacked and sunk by German torpedo bombers. A postscript to a letter written by G Waddingham, one of the six survivors of the sinking of the SS Corso, to Mrs Groat, widow of the ship’s Chief Officer, John Groat, describes his last sight of William Wastle. It is likely that this was a response to a question from Mrs Groat enquiring as to ‘the carpenter’s’ fate, and mentioning, perhaps, his widow’s pregnancy:
P.S. The last time I saw the carpenter, was when I saw the torpedo approaching, he and the bosun were standing in the afterwell deck. It was very sad to hear of his wife’s forthcoming birth. The third engineer’s wife was also expecting. He lived at the other side of the Forth, Methil, I believe.
The letter runs to five pages, and would be of interest to relatives of those on board the Cape Corso. Kenneth Dickson, grandson of John George Groat, the Chief Officer of the SS Cape Corso, has uploaded a letter to his grandmother from one of the survivors.
I was glad to see a remembrance cross had been placed at Bertie’s grave, as this suggested he is still remembered by others, perhaps by the children or grandchildren of Bertie’s brother, James Mackie Wastle (1888–1945).
Modern Records Centre, MSS.192/BM/2/2/13, United Society of Boilermakers & Iron Shipbuilders Registration Book 1912–1913, Registration of Bertie Wastle, Leith 2 branch, 1913.
National Library of Scotland, John Bartholomew & Co, Post Office Plan of Edinburgh, Leith and Portobello 1918–1920. https://maps.nls.uk/towns/rec/4984, accessed 19/1/2022. This map is reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland under the Creative Commons Attribution (CC–BY) licence.
409206 Flight Sergeant James Seatter Dickson, RAAF Killed 4 January 1943 in an air accident near Hunmanby, Yorkshire. Buried in the Eastern Cemetery, Leith, Midlothian, Scotland.
In my #WarGravesWeek meandering this year, my focus, after finding the grave of E G Elder in Rosebank Cemetery, became finding the servicewomen, as well as the strays particularly dear to me—Allied servicemen, buried far from home. The RAAF on this headstone, in Edinburgh’s Eastern Cemetery caught my eye, as did the lines chosen by his family for his headstone.
WITH THE ASHES OF HIS FATHERS MID THE TEMPLES OF THEIR GODS.
I thought, “Right, Scottish lad, brought up by a parent who recited Horatius!” At least it wasn’t the How can man die better line, earlier in the same verse, which always sticks in my throat, given what I have learnt about the manner in which lives were lost during both world wars.
James was born in Glasgow on 28 October 1922, the second child and only son of Alexander Morrison Dickson (1885–1956) and his wife, Frances Seatter. Their son was named after his maternal grandfather, James Seatter, a native of Westray in the Orkneys, so it is perhaps appropriate to learn something about the man whose namesake our pilot was..
Many islanders earned their living on the boats, as fishermen or seamen, and thus it was that our pilot’s grandfather, James Seatter (1853–1896), became a seaman in the service of the North of Scotland, Orkney and Shetland, Steam Navigation Company. As the third son of a Westray farmer, Thomas Seatter (c.1820–1881) and his first wife, Frances (1821–1868), James was perhaps superfluous as a worker on the family farm. (His mother was also a Seatter by birth.)
In 1880 James married Johan McBeath (1848–1928), who was born in Strathy in Sutherland, probably in Farr. The ceremony took place in Harbour Street, Kirkwall, where they were living at the time.
According to the census records, the eldest children in the family unit, William and Barbara Maggie, were born in 1876 and 1881 in Thurso and Kirkwall respectively. Their daughter Frances’s birth, three years later, in South Leith gives us a rough idea of when this family moved its base to Edinburgh.
Frances was only 12 when her father drowned after a heavy sea washed him overboard from the SS Nicholas, which was between Shetland and Orkney at the time, on its return voyage to the port of Aberdeen. This report, from the Banffshire Advertiser, gives some details of the melancholy accident that occurred on 29 September 1896:
DROWNING ACCIDENT AT SEA—On Wednesday evening last week, one of the seamen on the Orkney and Shetland Company’s S.S. St Nicholas was washed overboard and drowned. The vessel was on its way south from Shetland, and was between that island and Orkney when the melancholy accident occurred. The man, James Seatter, about 40 years of age, was standing on deck near the side of the ship when a heavy sea dashed over the side and swept him overboard. Deceased belonged to Leith, where his widow and five of a family reside.
On Valentine’s Day, 14 February 1912, Frances Seatter (then of 16 Grosvenor Crescent, Edinburgh) and Alexander Morrison Dickson (then of 3 Falcon Gardens, Morningside) were married in Slamannan, Stirlingshire by Allan Reid, the Church of Scotland Minister there. It’s not yet clear why the couple chose to marry there. The groom, described in the marriage record as a mechanic, was the son of John Dickson, a fishing rod maker who went on to become a golf club maker, and his wife Grace Morrison. It was hardly surprising to discover, later in this research, that Alexander and his son, James, were both keen golfers.
A daughter, Frances Grace Dickson (1913–1999), named after her two grandmothers, was born on 11 October 1913, in Cramond, Edinburgh.
It would be a nine years’ wait before the birth of their second child, James Seatter Dickson, in Glasgow, on 28 October 1922. He would be known to family, friends and colleagues, as Jim.
Records show that Alexander Dickson enlisted in the Royal Navy on 18 June 1917, signing up for the duration of hostilities, with his occupation recorded as cycle mechanic. He was 31. Just over 9 months later, he was discharged from the Royal Navy on 31 March, being transferred the following day, 1 April 1918 to the newly formed Royal Air Force, an amalgamation of the army’s Royal Flying Corps, and the Royal Navy Air Service. As his naval records had the usual list of ships on which he’s served, it was not until this point in my research, that it dawned on me that Alexander must have been working as a mechanic for the RNAS throughout his time in the navy. When I accessed his records in the RAF, their records confirmed that he had been an acting mechanic throughout his time in the Royal Navy.
Having recently heard David Hassard’s talk on the life of the Australian aviation pioneer, Harry Hawker, I can now appreciate that a cycle mechanic would be very useful in the very early years of the industry.
In 1926, when James was three, the Dickson family, who had been living at 29 Aberfoyle Street, in Glasgow, emigrated to Australia, sailing from London on 18 September on board the Otranto. This time Alexander gave his occupation as cycle mechanic. After his arrival in Australia, Alexander worked as a fitter, and rather later, as a pilot, during the late 1930s for Guinea Airways. Thereafter, records describe him as an aeronautical engineer.
Sharon Brown told me that her Scottish grandmother, Jean Reid Lindsay, was a native of Blantyre, who had emigrated to Australia at the age of 17. Jean and her husband, Richard Cole, at 5 Bay View Road, were delighted to find they had Scottish immigrants, the Dickson family, as their next door neighbours at 3 Bay View Road. Jean would have understood and shared the grief of the Dickson family as she herself had been widowed when her first husband, Alfred Henry Clive Upton, known as Clive, was killed at Gallipoli in 1915, aged 21, when their daughter, Isabel was a baby. Sharon remembers the Seatters as “a well educated and erudite family and great adventurers”. Sharon’s grandfather was one of two “responsible persons” who would later vouch for Jim’s “moral courage and suitability” as part of his the RAAF application.
Jim’s sister, Frances, trained as a pharmacist and married Harry Kitchener Baker (known, for some reason, as Jack) in 1938. Unfortunately that marriage did not last and he remarried soon after the war.
Their wedding photo, below, includes James, then about 16, on the far right. His father, Alexander, is to the right of the bride. Grace Cole, daughter of Richard and Jean Cole is one of the younger two bridesmaids—the girl seated in front of James.
His service records show that James applied to the join the RAAF’s Air Crew, in May 1941. The application form for air crew provides the information that James attended Williamstown High School, from 1934, took the Intermediate Public Examination in November 1937, passing in Arithmetic, Geometry, Algebra, Latin and Geography, with a first class pass in Physics, English and Drawing. He failed History. We also learn of his preferred sports—cricket, football, tennis and swimming.
In that application, James also stated he had worked for six months with the Australian National Airways, after which he had had two years’ Aero-engineering experience with Guinea Airways as a Junior Engineer, based at Lae in New Guinea. He was more specific in his response to a subsequent question asking about experience in any field of engineering. He was clearly referring to his two years with Guinea Airways in his response to that (Aero Engineering 2 years) and to another question about experience with internal combustion engines, to which his response was Aircraft Engine Service, 2 years.
His response to the question on flying experience was that he had had 50 hours of Dual Flying as mechanic and no hours of Sole Flying. As his neighbours spoke of his “flying with his father”, it may well be that his role was that of his father’s onboard mechanic.
Aged 18, James enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force at Melbourne on 20 July 1941. He was granted six days of leave between courses in October 1941 with ten days of pre-embarkation leave at the beginning of May 1942, although he did not actually embark at Sydney until 2 July. The records make it clear that he was going on attachment to the RAF where he would be based in the United Kingdom.
The Airman’s Record Sheet for Active Service Overseas lists James’s movements for each stage of his familiarisation with RAF procedures and training. This started in mid-August with about a week at 3 PRC (Personnel Reception Centre) at Bournemouth. He was then given 7 days’ Privilege Leave in which he may have headed for Scotland to see family.By then, unfortunately, all his grandparents had died but there may have been uncles, aunts and cousins to visit.
This was followed by about 6 weeks at 6 PAFU (Pilot’s Advanced Training Unit) at Rissington. He went on to spend about 5 weeks at 60 OTU (Operational Training Unit) which had been formed to train night fighter crews at RAF Leconfield. 60 OTU was then moved, relatively temporarily, to East Fortune where its purpose was converting to Beaufighter training. This may have been the only period during his training that James was close to his Scottish roots.
Having completed his introductory training on the Beaufighter at East Fortune, James was posted to 2 (C) OTU, based at RAF Catfoss, in Hornsea, Yorkshire from 23 November 1942. He appears to have had no further leave. During his training in the UK, his ‘character’ was rated as V[ery] G[ood].
At the time of his death, James was still undergoing training, recorded as being ‘on strength for training only’.
On the afternoon of Monday 4 January 1943, James took off from RAF Catfoss on a training exercise in a Bristol Beaufighter VI EL402. He was accompanied by Sergeant Joseph Miles RAFVR, as his observer/navigator,
Here is the narrative, from the enquiry, as supplied online by the Aviation Safety Network:
During the afternoon the crew of this 2 (C) OTU aircraft were undertaking a training flight when the aircraft spun into the ground near Hunmanby, after making a tight turn at low height. Just before the impact, it was seen to roll over and dive into the ground on land close to Hunmanby Hall. The crew of two were killed.
Hunmanby is a village, in the Scarborough area, and about three miles inland from the coastal village of Filey, in Yorkshire.
James lost his life two months after his 20th birthday. His body was returned to the land of his forefathers, where he rests at peace in his mother’s parish of South Leith. His observer, 992871 Sgt Joseph Miles, was also returned to the parish of his birth, and his grave is in the Leigh Cemetery, in Manchester.
Joseph Miles was 22 at the time of his death, and the son of William Miles and his wife, Frances Unsworth, of Leigh. Joseph was also returned to the home parish of his family. Both men were the sons of a Frances and both had an elder sister called Frances. I wonder whether they ever discovered that ‘connection’. Joseph’s grave has as his epitaph, AT THE GOING DOWN OF THE SUN AND IN THE MORNING WE WILL REMEMBER THEM.
Three days later, on 7 January 1943, a telegram with Christmas greetings from ‘Jim’ to the Cole family, was received at 09:30 and presumably delivered to the Coles soon afterwards. The “time of lodgement” stamped on the telegram was 12 December, four weeks earlier. Less than six hours after James’s telegram was delivered, Jean, whose family had moved to live next door to her in-laws, would receive a second telegram, this time from the Dicksons, telling her of Jim’s death.
Two years’ later, in an In Memoriam message in the Melbourne newspaper, The Age, his brother-in-law, recalled Jim’s “loving smile and heart of gold”. I do think we can read those qualities in the expression of the 16 year old at his sister’s wedding.
To Mark C @MarkAKAGripper for so quickly supplying enough information—details of the aircraft and the incident in which James was killed—for me to press on with my research.
To Sharon Brown for permission to use images from photos she has of James and his family. Finding what she knew of the Dicksons’ lives, and using it to create a tree in memory of a family which left no descendants to remember them. Keeping them alive was a pure labour of love for the Seatter family, and has been an unexpected boon to me. Because of the close friendship that ensued between the families, especially between Sharon’s beloved grandmother, Jean and Frances, James’s mother, Sharon took it upon herself to create a Dickson-Seatter tree. I now know, also, that the marriage of our pilot’s sister, Frances, did not last, and with no descendants of either Frances or James to pass on their story, Sharon’s involvement has helped me to rescue James’s story from oblivion.
BNA, Orkney Herald, ‘Deaths of Orkney Seamen’, p.4, col.4, 2/12/1896.
BNA, Banffshire Advertiser, ‘Drowning Accident at Sea’, p.3. col.4, 8/10/1896.
Catalogue of the State Library of Australia, https://www.catalog.slsa.sa.gov.au/Guinea Airways Limited, accessed 2/11/2021. The State Library of South Australia Library has many of the records of the Guinea Airways.
National Archives of Australia, Series A9301/409206 ‘Service Record of James Seatter Dickson’, last accessed 1/11/2021.
Victoria State Coroner’s Office, Inquisition Deposition Files, VPRS 24/PO unit 814, item 1956/115, ‘Inquisition into the death of Alexander Morrison Dickson, 17/2/1956.
A few loose ends
William: One of the loose ends is the William ‘Seatter’ born in 1876 and identified as William Sutherland in the 1881 census. He is not the William Murdoch McBeath born in Dunnet (a few miles from Thurso). In the absence of a matching birth for a William McBeath or Seatter, I obtained the relevant birth record for the ‘wrong’ William, betting on his being a grandson of Murdoch McBeath. I am resisting the temptation to download others and waiting instead until I can view records in person—there were numerous William Sutherlands, born in Caithness, in the years of interest. If he’s not one of them, then William wasn’t born where they said he was.
East Fortune: Coming across mention of East Fortune’s airfield resonates for me because of my research into the airmen buried in Dirleton Cemetery. When I went there, as a contribution to the CWGC’s 2014 #LestWeForget project, I was deeply affected—such young lads, barely out of boyhood. And then, hearing the noise of a light plane, I looked up, to see it circling overhead, exactly while I was reading this epitaph, chosen by the parents of Pilot Officer David Bourne, killed on the same day as Arthur Searle:
SO YOU CAN STAY IN THE CLOUDS, BOY YOU CAN LET YOUR SOUL GO ONWARDS.
If you’re wondering what relevance the above image has to war memorial research, the answer is that it was once the site of one of many POW (prisoner of war) camps in Britain. Now a Yorkshire pig farm, it was once POW Camp 108 Thirkleby, and was the last ‘fixed address’ of a young German prisoner, Werner Deutschmann.
My research into Werner started in response to a post I wrote on someone who shared his surname, one Herbert Deutschmann, who served in the South African Scottish Regiment during WW1.
I came across Herbert by accident, tempted as I often am to go down interesting alleyways. After publishing a piece about James Douglas Cockburn, who’d served in the London Scottish, I was told that his name was “in a book in Edinburgh Castle”. Since James had served in a regiment known as the London Scottish , that made sense. I decided I’d look at the regiment’s memorial book the next time I went to the Scottish National War Memorial, which is within Edinburgh Castle.
The memorial book for the London Scottish happens to share an alcove with the WW1 and WW2 memorial books for the South African Scottish, so out of curiosity, after noting James’s entry, I went on to page idly through the South African books, without a particular person in mind, pausing over familiar and unfamiliar surnames. One entry caught my eye, probably because it was a little longer than its neighbours:
DEUTSCHMANN, Herbert William, 10271 P[riva]te Missing; died France, 24/3/1918. Served as MACONOCHIE, HW.
Herbert William Deutschmann
Literally translated, the surname Deutschmann signifies ‘a German’. I was intrigued to see a soldier of apparent German descent serving under a Scottish alias and, curious about his Scottish surname—thinking, as it turned out, incorrectly—that perhaps he had used his mother’s maiden name to play down his German background. I made a note to look him up in the CWGC database, as well as in the relevant South African military records.
Although Herbert had been born near the Eastern frontier of the Cape Colony, his German-born father confirmed, in Herbert’s South African Probate Record, that his son was a “German citizen”. Herbert’s ancestors turned out to be among the group known as the ‘German farming settlers’ who emigrated to the Cape Colony’s Eastern Frontier in the late 1850s. If you’re curious about these settlers and Herbert, you can discover their stories, from the link, under Herbert’s name, in my Sources List.
My initial CWGC database search, for the surname Deutschmann generated not only Herbert, but also Werner Deutschmann, a German prisoner of WW2, who had died, still in captivity, in the Richmond (Yorkshire) Registration District, in 1946.
And then up cropped Edward…
Edward William Deutschmann
For a while I assumed that Herbert and Werner were the only two Deutschmann servicemen on the CWGC database but while I was researching Herbert and his family, I found a third Deutschmann, in the South African Probate Records for 1918. Edward’s surname has been incorrectly spelt in the UK military records and, as I had neglected to look for alternative spellings of the surname, I had not come across him in the CWGC database. Up for the challenge, I eventually located his record in the CWGC database. (A link to a blog post in which I shared some tips on searching for alternative spellings appears in the Source List under Search Engine Tip.)
Edward’s ancestors were among a slightly earlier group of settlers, the ‘German military settlers’, soldiers of the (British) King’s German Legion, who had been ‘re-directed’ to the Cape Colony, after arriving in the Crimea when that war was almost over. As I was by then hooked on ‘my’ Deutschmanns, Edward’s story was also added to my blog, South Africa Remembers, and is accessible, under Edward’s name, via the link in my Source List.
Finding a little more about Werner
About the time that I came across Werner’s record, I rashly announced to others, including relatives of Herbert and Edward, with whom I’d made contact, that I would ‘one day’ try to find out something about his story. Finally, 96 years after his birth, I’ve started to follow the trail of Werner Deutschmann.
The starting point for this research was the brief entry provided in the CWGC database for Werner Deutschmann. It reads:
Werner Deutschmann, German Navy, died 13 July 1946, aged 21, buried at Darlington West Cemetery, Grave W.7N.365.
Using the website of the Volksbund—Germany’s equivalent of the CWGC—I was able to discover Werner’s rank as Obergefreiter, and his birthplace as Hockenau, in the historic Prussian region of Silesia (Schlesien).
This discovery immediately threw up complications. After WW1, a large part of Silesia was assigned, by the Treaty of Versailles, to the newly recreated state of Poland. At the time of Werner’s birth, Hockenau was in that part of Silesia that remained in Germany until the end of WW2, when it too, was absorbed into Poland as compensation to the Poles for the loss of East Poland to Russia. It is now known as Czaple and, in my research, I was to find it was, and is, a centre for quarrying sandstone.
In that fraught period after WW2, Germans like Werner’s relatives, were almost certainly forced out of their homes, if not by the advancing Russians, then as refugees, turned out of their homes by angry Poles. Many headed as far west as they could, but it is unlikely they could have crossed the ‘frontier’ between the Soviet Zone (later East Germany) and the three West Zones (later West Germany). Any surviving relatives would probably have had no alternative but to live on in East Germany, in the GDR.
To my disappointment, I have not yet found a document which matches Werner to a set of parents. I had hoped they would be named in one of the records for his death, but neither the 1952 entry for him in the database of German Citizens who died Abroad, nor its update in 1956, provided the names of any of Werner’s relatives. I could also not match him to any of the Werner Deutschmanns in Ancestry’s collection of Eastern Prussian Selected Civil Vitals (1874–1945).
As you will have realised, I have discovered very little of Werner’s story. However, I am starting his story in the way I usually introduce the subjects of my blog posts relating to my war memorial research. What follows after that, should be regarded as a stub, which I hope to develop further later.
Matrosenobergefreiter Werner Deutschmann (1925–1946), Born 20 February 1925 in Hockenau, Silesia, Prussia. Died 13 July 1946, at a Prisoner of War Hostel, Middleton Tyas, Buried in Darlington West Cemetery.
We know from the marginal note, added to Werner’s record in 1956 (in a collection for German Citizens who Died Abroad), two more facts about Werner’s life. He had been an agricultural worker (landwirtschaftlicher Arbeiter) in civilian life and also that he had never been married (war nicht verheiratet). The delay of four years, following the issue of Werner’s death certificate, suggests that, ten years after his death, the authorities had still not been able to find anything about his parents, to include in that 1956 update. They may not have been to find any surviving relatives or others in a position to come forward to provide that information.
Werner’s death was registered in the Richmond Yorkshire Registration District, which lies about 15 miles south west of Darlington, where Werner was buried. The location of this registration district means that Werner did not die at the Thirkleby PoW Camp, as it falls within the Thirsk Registration District, some 30 miles south east of Richmond. I thought he might have been a patient in one of the historic TB Sanitoriums in North Yorkshire. I thought, having been unable to access much about him, I ought at least to obtain his death certificate. This revealed that he had died while ‘stationed’ in a Prisoner of War Hostel in Middleton Tyas. Helpfully the death certificate gives the address of this hostel as Kirkbank.
Many other questions remain unanswered. We don’t yet know when Werner enlisted, but his rank of Matrosenobergefreiter would have been roughly equivalent to the Royal Navy’s Leading Seaman/Seaman 1st Class. To attain that particular rank in the German military navy, the Kriegsmarine required a minimum of 2 years’ naval service and good conduct, so we can assume that, prior to his capture, he had at least served for that period of time and also that he was regarded as worthy of promotion.
We also don’t know whether Werner served on a ship or a submarine, where he was captured, or where he contracted the tuberculosis that is identified, without sources, as the cause of his death in his Find A Grave entry. As I cannot see Find A Grave operatives purchasing Werner’s death certificate, I suspect they had access to the cemetery’s burial records, which may have recorded the cause, and place, of his death.
If Werner was well enough to work on the land during his captivity, his experience as an agricultural worker would have been appreciated by Yorkshire farmers. Under my list of Sources, you will find a link to a charming account on the BBC’s Wartime Memories Project, by a German POW, Herbert Heinemann, who reflects on his experiences as a prisoner in the Thirkleby area and on the lasting friendships he made with the local farmers and their families while working on the land there. He found the farmers to be friendlier than those where he had worked previously, the prisoners were better fed than in the camps they’d been in previously, and in their spare time, a measure of freedom seems to have been tolerated, within a few miles of the camp.
Imagine Werner’s uncertainty, together with his extreme ill health, during the months after the war in Europe was officially over. There was much to cause him anxiety. It is a mistake to assume that the fighting in Europe ended on 8 May 1945. In the East, there were pockets of fighting well beyond that date—for example, between the Poles and the Ukrainians. By the time of his death in the summer of 1946, Werner would have known that the community he had left when he joined the navy, was now in Poland, a foreign country. This would surely have been a great shock to him, and to the other PoWs from East Prussia. The ongoing chaos and confusion across Europe in the months after the war, means that it is even possible that Werner might not have learnt of the fate of his family, his friends or his fellow agricultural workers there, unless some members of his immediate family had been able to get that news to him before his death.
Until I received a copy of his death certificate, I had been troubled, thinking of Werner’s loneliness as he neared the end of his life in a sanitarium/hospital environment, away from his fellow prisoners, and other German speakers. I was relieved to discover instead that he had been sent to a hostel, where he would have been with other German prisoners of war, in convivial company and in peaceful rural surroundings, as shown below.
And the doctor’s name was Moser…that’s a surname of German origin, isn’t it?
Remembrance Sunday 2021(14 November)
I hope, before long, to discover more about Werner, and to update this blog post with that information. Of the 214 casualties of war buried in the Darlington West Cemetery, Werner is the only German. It’s possible that no relative or friend has ever visited his grave. This year, Remembrance Sunday coincides with the German Volkstrauertag, so perhaps someone in Darlington, intending to visit the cemetery on that day, will be kind enough to leave a sprig of rosemary on Werner’s grave.
After all is said and done, most of us like to think that Alle Menschen werden Brűder.
Werner’s grave is in Section W of the Darlington West Cemetery and in that section, his grave is in Row 7, where it is the 34th headstone. I’m not sure why this database provides a different headstone number to the grave reference on the CWGC database, but I assume it is more up to date.
Finding more about the location of former PoW Camps Martin Richards has given me permission to use photographs of the Thirkleby site. His research into the Prisoner of War Camps in Britain formed an integral part of his Master of Arts in Photography. The accompanying website, Repatriated Landscape is a rich resource.
If you would like to find out more about former PoW Camps near where you live, or work, in Britain, I recommend you visit Martin Richard’s Research page on Repatriated Landscape (link also in Sources), and click on the heading PoW Camp Details by M J Richards. This roundabout way in, should ensure you go to his most recent version. Despite having completed his degree, Martin continues to research the camps and this results in the URL (web address) for this page changing with every update.
Werner’s birthplace This snip, extracted from the Kreis Goldberg — Haynau map, shows the location of Hockenau and is intended to show you where to start looking for it on the large map. You will notice Löwenberg, on the left, intruding into the left margin. On the upper right corner of my snip, you will find Hockenau. (You can view the whole KreisGoldberg — Haynau district from the link in the Source list for this blog post.)
Hockenau’s sandstone After seeing the prominence given to sandstone on the above map, I did a little detour along the sandstone trail. Researching the sandstone, I found it goes under a range of names, amongst others, as Czaple/Czapla Sandstone, Hockenauer Sandstein and even Deutmannsdörfer Sandstein. The latter struck me, because it suggested there was a village nearby called Deutmannsdorf, (Deutmann’s village). This is, of course, also now in Poland (having been renamed Zbylutów) and on the Landkreis map, you’ll see it’s about 5km due west of Hockenau. It occurs to me that Deutschmann may be a locative surname. While I couldn’t find ‘our’ Werner in Ancestry’sEastern Prussian Provinces, Germany [Poland] records, there were many other Silesians listed with that surname and quite a few of them were called Werner.
SOURCE LIST, PLUS UNSOLICITED COMMENT
Ancestry, Eastern Prussian Provinces, Germany [Poland], Selected Civil Vitals (1874–1945), https://www.ancestry.com/search/collections/60749/, accessed 27/10/2021. These are Selected Records, so unlikely to be complete. This selection generates no records for Hockenau.
Ordnance Survey Maps, Series 1: 25 000, 45/20 A, 1947. This extract of the map, shows the relationship of Kirkbank to Middleton Tyas. It is reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland, under the CC-BY licence.
Repatriated Landscape, https://repatriatedlandscape.org/, accessed 14/10/2021. This remarkable, rich resource, created by Martin Richards, is the result of a major project to locate former Prisoner of War Camps within the British Landscape.
Sterberegister Standesamt 1 in Berlin-West, Deaths of German Citizens Abroad, (1939–1955) 11001–11500, Werner Deutschmann, 1952, Nr 11496, image 502 of 512, accessed 18/10/2021. The certificate was updated with a marginal note in 1956, clarifying his former occupation (agricultural labourer) and his marital status (never married).
TNA (The National Archives), FO 1120/183, PoW Camp List, 20/2/1947. This set includes Camp 108. This FO series number is for the records of Wilton Park, one of the centres where Prisoners of War were re-educated before returning to Germany. I have not yet been able to visit TNA to view this record but it is highly unlikely to include Werner, who died before he could be ‘processed’ ahead of repatriation.
Volksbund Gräbersuche, https://www.volksbund.de/erinnern-gedenken/graebersuche-online, accessed 14/10/2021. This is the Volksbund’s page for locating German War Graves.Only after I had completed my Volksbund search in German, did I realise I could have viewed and used the website in English (or, for that matter, in French, Italian, Polish and Russian). Click on the tiny, tiny German flag (to the left of the Green, Blue and Red buttons at the top of the home page) and take your pick of languages from the drop-down list. I’m not sure whether the CWGC offers a similar option that allows people to access records in the languages of our European allies, and in those of the soldiers of the Empire.
Volksbund (English version), https://www.volksbund.de/en/together-for-peace, accessed 18/10/2021. Notice the emphasis in the URL on peace. At Futa Pass Cemetery (Deutsche Soldatenfriedhof Futa Pass), I learnt that Germans regard their war cemeteries as an object lesson in peace and encourage visits, especially by young people.
Passersby Remember is a catchall blog, intended to provide a home for some of the stories that I come across, which don’t quite fit into the themes of my other blogs on family and local history research and on war memorials. As with the others, I hope that this blog is effective in rescuing from oblivion the stories of the people and places I research.