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. In a guest blog in April, he paid tribute to the seven who fell at Arras, and now, as the centenary of the Battle of Passchendaele approaches, he remembers a further three former pupils.
As those who read my previous blog about former pupils may recall, seven former pupils of Govan High School met their deaths there. When I looked through all the details I have to see how many were killed at the notorious Battle of Passchendaele, my first thought was that I was relieved that it was only three. Then I started thinking about “only”, and how easy it is to trivialise or minimise the effect each and every death had on the families left behind. I like to think of all those on our school’s war memorial as being part of the Govan High “family”
The first of the three from the Govan High family that I will focus on is Andrew N Davidson. Andrew was one of the most difficult to trace, as his name is not recorded in the official City of Glasgow Roll of Honour and there was no obituary in any local newspaper. However, using school registers and the 1911 census, I discovered that his middle initial stood for “Neville”, and this enabled me to determine that he was a Second Class Signaller serving with the Royal Scots Fusiliers. Andrew, whose occupation is given as “clerk”, enlisted when he was eighteen years old, and according to his Service Record, was 20 at the time of his death.
The official designation “missing presumed dead” must have caused great heartache to his mother Elizabeth and his older brothers William and David, as I am sure they must have hoped against hope that he had been wounded, or taken prisoner, or had lost his memory. Sadly it was all too true that Andrew was dead, and his name appears on the Menin Gate Memorial in Ypres along with so many others.
No photograph of Andrew survives, but the Govan Press did feature photos of the others killed in the same battle. Private John Anderson of the Cameronians (Scottish Rifles) can be seen in this pose, which to me looks very pensive.
Prior to enlisting John had worked at the famous Fairfield’s Shipyard. He was only nineteen when he was killed. According to the paper, this was “instantaneously by a shell”. The newspaper also reported that an older brother had been killed two years previously; that another was “at present lying wounded”; and a fourth was serving in Salonika. His poor parents, Robert and Jeanie, losing first one son, then another, then being told of yet another’s wound, were doubtless fearing that the one son as yet untouched would meet a similar fate.
Henry R Johnston, who according to his obituary in the Govan Press was known as “Harry”, is buried in Bedford House Cemetery near Ypres. He was a private in the Northumberland Fusiliers. The Govan Press notes that he had joined that regiment after having been discharged from the Royal Marines due to an eye defect. The paper continues: “determined ‘to be in on it’ in his own words he enlisted in the territorial Forces within a week.” One can only speculate what his recently widowed mother thought of such determination –the news piece notes that another brother was serving with the Royal Marines, and I see from the 1911 census that there were five brothers in total.
At twenty-one, Harry was the oldest of the three former pupils to be killed at Passchendaele. One can only surmise how the lives of all three would have developed had the tragedy of war not intervened, but their names and memories are not forgotten.
A commemoration to mark the centenary of the Battle of Passchendaele will take place on Sunday 30th July 2017 in Crieff, organised by Legion Scotland and Crieff Remembers. Get more information here.