Over the last seven years, Ian McCracken, archivist at Govan High School in Glasgow, has dedicated his time to researching the lives of the 64 men named on the school’s war memorial. Here, he pays tribute to the seven who fell at Arras, who will also be remembered at commemorations taking place in Scotland and France on Sunday 9 April.
With the centenary of World War One approaching, I felt it was imperative that researching the school’s war memorial become my priority. Over the years, I almost feel that some of these young men are like family to me – it may sound absurd, but I know their names, their birthdays, often their parents’ names, sometimes their occupations, often their hobbies or interests. I have dedicated my time to discovering all I can about them, and making their stories and their sacrifices known to the school and to the wider community; it is the least I can do for them.
Seven of the fallen listed on the memorial were killed at Arras, the most casualties from the school lost in any one battle. The youngest was only nineteen years of age and the eldest – the only teacher from Govan High to lose his life in the war – was only 29. Only two of the seven have known graves, the others’ names are inscribed on the Arras Memorial. All seven are listed below, in the same order they appear on the school memorial.
Corporal William Berrie, 56th Battalion Cameronians (Scottish Rifles)
Cpl Berrie was 21 when he was killed. Unlike the others, his tragic fate is uncertain- the local newspaper “The Govan Press” states that he was reported missing presumed killed, whereas Forces’ War Records states he was killed in action. William was the eldest son of Mr & Mrs George Berrie, and before he enlisted had been an apprentice tinsmith for a ship’s chandlers company who were based not far from his Govan home.
Lance Corporal John Campbell, 9th Battalion Highland Light Infantry
Joining the battalion famously known as “the Glasgow Highlanders”, John’s nature was described as “genial and sunny”; attributes that must have stood him and his comrades in arms in good stead during the ten months he spent at the front before his untimely death. According to his obituary, he excelled at sports and represented his school at various sports meetings before enlisting. His parents, Mr & Mrs Charles Campbell, must have looked back often in sorrow at such happier times.
Private Frederick Govan, 56th Battalion Cameronians (Scottish Rifles)
I have often wondered whether he and William Berrie met in training or at the Front and recalled their schooldays – Frederick being the same age as William makes it certain that they would have been in the same year at school; never imagining that their destinies would put them together in such an indescribable carnage. The “Govan Press” only mentions his mother, although research on “ScotlandsPeople” shows his father was still alive; in any case his mother’s name from that source was “Jane” and his father “Edward”, and Frederick had three brothers and one sister.
2nd Lieutenant John Kennedy, obtained his commission in the Cameronians but was attached the Border Regiment at the time of his death
As previously mentioned, John was the only teacher from Govan High who lost his life in the war, and was described as a “skilful and enthusiastic teacher who never tired of his efforts along the lines of their varied personalities”. This seems a refreshingly modern view and, assuming he exhibited the same traits when he was a Lieutenant, it must have impressed his men, probably more used to a more traditional type of officer.
At the time of his death on 23rd April 1917, John was attached to the Border Regiment from the Cameronians. He was the only one of the seven to be married. Nearly one hundred years from his death, this coming 24th April, Glasgow University, where John studied, will be holding a short service in its Memorial Chapel to commemorate him.
Private Joseph McKinney, 15th Battalion Royal Scots
Private McKinney is the first of the Arras fallen to have a known grave; his is in Roclincourt Valley Cemetery near the town of Arras. Rather graphically, the “Govan Press” records that he was killed by a machine-gun bullet through the head. The same obituary notes that his prior occupation had been a spirit salesman, and I am sure he must have heard many a jest from his comrades on that score. More poignantly, he was one of many who made a soldier’s will, and his own strong handwriting can still be seen leaving the “whole of my property and effects to my mother, Elizabeth”
Private John Clark Shirra, 10th Battalion Cameronians (Scottish Rifles)
Private Shirra was killed in action and sadly there is no intimation regarding his death in the local papers nor in any other source I can find. All I have been able to discover is that his father’s name was Thomas and his mother Jessie.
Private Alexander Niddrie Waugh, 2nd Battalion Royal Scots
The last of our Arras Fallen, Private Waugh died of his wounds and is buried in the Faubourg D’Amiens Cemetery, Arras. Before the war, Alexander had worked for a timber merchant. An old photograph that I found when setting up the school archive showed an “Arthur P G Waugh” whom I was able to confirm was Alexander’s brother.
Arthur himself survived not only the First, but also the Second World War, and his longevity makes me wonder how often he must have wished for the company of his long-deceased brother.
No matter their ages and no matter the fact they lost their lives all that time ago, all these young men are still remembered and commemorated in their local school, with pupils and staff seeing their names enshrined every day, and their sacrifice ever being recalled.
Read more about how Scotland will be remembering the sacrifices of these men, and 18,000 other Scots, in the coming weeks, here.