20th Century

Back Home in Dear Old Blighty

And what were those at home doing when all this was going on? Well at the outbreak of hostilities a defence public meeting was held for the purpose of forming an Executive Committee.

The first meeting was held in the Public Hall with Sir George W.M. Dundas, Bart, in the chair. A proposal was submitted to establish a War Emergency Committee by Dr. Wann, and was carried. The committee appointed as its executive to act on its behalf the following people: Rev. Dr. Andrew B.Wann, Chairman; Rev. Arthur Crawford Watt, Vice Chairman; Sir George W. M. Dundas, Bart; Lady Dundas; James Comrie; James Goldie; Rev. William Hall; Henry McKinstry; Peter McPherson; Evan Balfour Melville and John P. Mitchell as honorary secretary and treasurer.

Throughout the war years they worked tirelessly to raise money to fund various activities. They organized fetes and free gift sales, organized sales of work, established a Prisoner of War fund, and held jumble sales. As you will see, multitasking is not a new concept!

Amongst the many activities including manning the shops now that their men folk were away the following was recorded.

The Comrie Public School - Under mainly the auspices of Mr. Goldie, the school head master, and much beloved by all, the children raised substantial moneys through school concerts, plays and other entertainment. They contributed 430 pairs of socks, 150 pairs of cuffs, 56 pairs of knicker hose, 30 pairs of garters, 122 pairs of mittens, 40 pairs of body belts, 127 scarves, 16 pairs of crutches which were sent to the Princess Louise’s Hospital for Limbless Soldiers and Sailors in Erskine, 251 packets of cigarettes, 6 pounds of tobacco, 98 cakes of soap, 56 packets of chocolate, 84 packets of stationery, 115 packets of sweets and one chest protector as well as other articles. I am not sure what a chest protector was, but hope that it kept out shrapnel and bullets!

The 21st Perthshire Boy Scout Troop sold flags for the Soldier and Sailor Help society, collected waste materials and large quantities of clothing as well as sending 192 blankets and gathered sphagnum moss.

The Red Cross under the charge of Commandant Miss Florence Graham Stirling ably supported her sister Miss Mary Graham Stirling and by Mrs. McDonald of Bank House as quartermaster established an Emergency Hospital. By early October, 500 garments had been made and distributed to several hospitals. Throughout the war their workers collected sphagnum moss in addition to other activities. 4000 eggs were sent to the collection point in Perth. They organized raffles and sales of work and held concert to raise money and boost morale.

The Churches – Comrie had several churches and all made enormous efforts for their congregations and others at large. The Work Party devoted itself to the war effort and sent hundreds of parcels to the troops far away. The parcels contained socks, shirts, knitted goods, and raising money for those who had a lost one and needed the money to live. About half of the male congregation of the Comrie Parish Church served in the forces. The West United Free Church had 56 of its congregation in the forces. The East United Free Church also sent gifts of socks, mufflers, gloves and garments as did St. Serf’s Episcopal Church and the tiny Roman Catholic Church. They all made their contributions in one way or another.

One committee looked after 12 Jewish refugee families from Ostend, Louvain and Alost in “poor little Belgium.” They had nowhere to stay and the Comrie Parish Church used one of their houses in Dunira Street to them ensuring they had a good roof over their head, warmth and food as well as company. They stayed there from November 1914 till mid 1916 where they went onwards to other war centres set up for refugees. They never forgot the kindness shown to them by the Comrie people.

The 2/2 Highland Field Ambulance 250 strong arrived under Major Cameron in October, 1915 and took up winter quarters in the v They stayed at the school and in the church and school halls. Under Major Rorie, and seen off by many from the village, they left for Bedford by train on the 29th March, 1916, with the pipers playing “Happy we’ve been a’ the gither.” Most never came back and their bones can be found in Flanders Fields and other places.

A War Savings association was set up as were two others. The accumulated capital amounted to £18702.

The Volunteers - there was also a unit of Volunteers who operated under the Defence Sub Committee. The volunteers were people who may have been exempted from military service due to age or infirmity. The author’s grandfather was in one of these units and was posted to guard railway lines in the North of Scotland and then upon his return was shipped to France. He was 38 years old, married with two children when he was called up in 1917. Whilst crossing the channel on a transport ship a British officer slammed a ship’s hatch on his hand crushing his fingers. As a result he was not sent up the line and may have survived the war because of this accident. Although a first class shot he could not use his rifle and he spent much of the time in Northern France on sentry duty in coal fields and at the great POW camp at Étaples. He knew all of the people mentioned in the Comrie War book and lost many friends.

Life and death continued on throughout the War years. Sons took the place of absent fathers as heads of a household. My father, who we shall read a little bit about in the Second World War, as a five year old, was made to stand in as head of the family when his grandmother died. She had been born in 1833 in Invergeldie and died in 1917. A full Scottish funeral was held at the graveyard in Dalginross and several hundred folk showed up as was customary for local well known people. It was a dark grey day, “dreich” as they say, and all dressed in formal black. As principal mourner my father walked behind the hearse and led the procession up Dalginross passing houses which had black crepe paper, or closed curtains, on windows signifying the loss of a loved one, or known one. He never forgot, even as an old man, that “great black hole” he gazed into in the graveyard which was to receive the body of his much loved grandmother!

The whole community suffered as news filtered back from the various War sectors and there was not a dry eye in the whole of Strathearn, and Scotland for that matter. Dozens of committees were formed, each looking at different types of needs, and trying to raise funds for it or organize activities.

Then it was all over. The Armistice was signed on November, 11th. 1918, and in dribs and drabs our soldiers came home to a land “fit for heroes.” Well it was not quite like that as all suffered due to the loss and the carnage created by the War. There was no band to receive them playing “Land of Hope and Glory,” or “There is a Happy Land, Far Far Away” – too many of their loved ones were already there! There were no welcome home parties or celebrations. This was no land, “fit for heroes.” They had returned to a land of silence, sorrow and sadness, and the mourning still lasts till this day.

Something had to be done and it was, however, in this writer’s view it was at best tokenism, and perhaps a precursor of things yet to come! His Grace, the 8th Duke of Atholl, John Stewart-Murray, arrived at the Comrie Public Hall on Wednesday the 11th June, 1919. His photograph displays upon his breast many medals and even as this distance and time they are rather blinding! He was there to honour our returned decorated heroes with the distribution of various types of gifts such as wristwatches and other mementoes. The platform party included Major C. H. Graham Stirling of Strowan (presiding), Brigadier-General the Duke of Atholl (who made the presentations), Sir George W. M. Dundas, Bart., of Comrie House, Major McNaughtan, J.P. of Cowden, Mr. James Gardiner, M. P., and Revs. Dr. Wann, A. C. Watt, and W. Hall, and other members of the War Emergency committee; and were accorded a Highland welcome from Piper McFarlane, a local discharged soldier.

The about-to-be addressed heroes were given a front row seat (incidentally they were the same chairs used 70 years later and my mother, when attending an evening there, always took a pillow with her as the chairs were wooden and had no give and were as hard as a rock! Throughout the hall were the relatives and friends of the honoured few, as well as luminaries such as the Hon. Mrs. Williamson and the Rev. C. D. R. Williamson, Mr. A. Wright, Rector of Morrison’s Academy and others.

The good Major wowed the crowd with the shortness of his introduction and passed the proceedings to Atholl. In addition to being a Brigadier-General, the noble Duke was the Lord Lieutenant of the County of Perthshire. This fact he shared with the assembled throng and stated that he was there only to distribute gifts to his fellow soldiers from the village of Comrie. (One wonders what his experience had been in a front line trench!) His overview describes that some 328 men and 24 women from Comrie served in the Great War, and that 75% of them had undertaken military service before December, 1915, and of the balance only twelve put in claims before a Tribunal finding that only three of the claims were fully justified. He pointed out that forty seven men had died in the conflict of which seven were officers. He then moved to those who had received medals and special honours. This list contained the names of eight officers, ten non-commissioned officers and six men (they may have been Privates). In addition two of the ladies had gained the coveted Royal Red Cross. (Applause).

Grasping the nettle he then said in his comments as reported the following: “We hear a great deal about the gaining of awards – how the wrong people get them (woops), and how the right people carry on without them (true). But I can assure you (how would he know?) of this, that a very large proportion of awards go to the right people (hmm!). A modern battlefield is not an ideal place to sit and take notes regarding the counter merits of the officers and men (oh yea!). A large number of the leaders and men are knocked out, the strain is terrific, the gathering of the pieces of the machine immediately after action by the leaders who are already over tired is a work that few men can imagine (all true), who have not seen it, and it is little wonder that in action, where all have done splendidly the names of the specially distinguished are sometimes omitted (true). But I can say this without hesitation (right!) that never in any war in the world has the great majority of the awards been as well deserved as those given in this war. (Applause). It is, of course, quite true that isolated cases may occur (I would think that all who served should have received medals just for being there!) where the recipients may have been able to work the oracle further back in the lines, but you may rest assured that, as far as the fighting troops are concerned, awards recommended by their Company Commanders, through their Commanding Officers, through their Brigadiers, through the Army to General Headquarters, and then to the War office, leave very little room for undue influence (phooee!), and the only trouble is that I found with the system was that many a good man (women?) who ought to have been rewarded was overlooked owing to the multitude of processes through which the names have to pass (golly!).

I would say this to every officer and man in this parish who have not got these awards – do not be disappointed yourself, but look upon these awards that have been given as awards to that part of the military machine that left Comrie for the front, to which you belonged, and which did so splendidly, and I know no one who will be prouder to see the present recipients wearing their well earned honours than the officers and men who went out with them and were not so fortunate as to get them themselves” (Applause) (golly!).

He then moved on to somewhat safer ground by addressing Lieutenant John Manson Craig of Innergeldie for the award of his Victoria Cross gained in Palestine. Several cheques were given to him and it is small wonder that Craig in his remarks said “he did not really know what to say but thanks.”

John Manson Craig V.C. from Innergeldie, Glen Lednock

The others were mentioned in passing and the whole was followed by speeches from Sir George W.M.Dundas who grovelled with thanks for the noble Duke for crossing the threshold. This was followed by the gallant Major. This part of the proceedings came to a closure with the singing of the National Anthem. Thereafter the throng danced the night away to the sound of McCartney’s band from Crieff. (One wonders if the platform party stuck around or went somewhere else for drinkie poohs, and I also wonder how many not attending, went to bed again… weeping!

It also so happened that almost from the return of British troops to the UK industrial unrest reared its ugly head. Men were laid off or continued to be treated as cattle in the sweatshops of the country. Labour abuses mounted and many unions called their employees out – sadly this was the land of “milk and honey” that they had all fought for and was to continue off and on until the present day.

A War Memorial Committee had been set up in 1919 as many in Comrie, especially relatives of the deceased, wanted a monument to recognize their loved ones who had been killed in the War. They were just the ordinary folk of the village. The War Memorial Committee also included a much wealthier segment of the area who saw the advantages to be gained in joining them. They could control events, but to be fair, they also saw the wisdom of it. The two groups were called the Joint Committee and is an example of the class system inherent throughout the land at work. The first group representing the fallen included Ms. Ruby H. Sidey (she lost two brothers in the conflict), Messrs Duncan Gilfillan, Convenor (he lost a son), Peter T. Kemp (he lost a son), Alexander Sidey (two sons were killed), Alexander MacGregor, (he wrote the brilliant Comrie War book and he lost a son). From the other side came Mrs. Walter Jones of Aberuchill (her husband and Miss Dewhurst of Aberuchill put up £450 for the Memorial), Sir George W.M. Dundas, Bart, A.C. Newbigging, Esq., of Dalchonzie, Mr. Henry McKinstry, Rev. Dr. Wann (Convenor) with Miss Ruby Sidey as Hon. Secretary. With the donation of £450 a beautiful Celtic cross was purchased from the Army and Navy Stores in London. It was made of Forest of Dean stone and was shipped to Comrie where it was erected by Messrs James McCowan and Sons of Dalginross, with the garden layout by Mr. Alex Laird of Comrie, and the gateway being the creation by James Crerar (he lost two sons). The memorial contained 46 names!

On the afternoon of Sunday, 27th April, 1921, on a raw and damp day with snow on Turleum and the surrounding hills, Lady Moncrieffe formally unveiled the monument. She was not meant to have to been offered this honour. It had prior been arranged that Mrs. Walter Jones of Aberuchill should have done it (after all she had put up most of the money) but, due to an industrial strike, she could not return from London. Due to this unfortunate occurrence, Lady Moncrieffe however, saved the moment by doing the needful. In addition it had been expected that Colonel Sir Robert Moncrieffe of Moncrieffe should then have made suitable remarks however, he too could not make the ceremony, also due to the strike. Fortunately Captain Rockey of Lawers filled in. One wonders if all the notables had been held up due to industrial action, what lowly Private would have been used!? There was also ill feeling because those who had done the most at home, during the war, and who had done the most to secure a monument were going to be excluded as they were but common Comrie people. It stuck in the craw …and is still there!

The service overall was presided over by Dr. A. B. Wann who opened with that great favourite, the 23rd Psalm, led by Mr. Henry McKinstry. After passages from the Scriptures by Dr. Wann, the Rev. William Hall, the Rev. A. W. H. Scott and the Rev. W. R. Brown the names of the dead were read out in silence. The monument bears the inscription “To the Glory of God, and in proud and grateful remembrance of the men of the parish who fought and fell for right and freedom in the Great War. 1914-1918.” Underneath is inscribed “Mighty by Sacrifice”

Piper Duncan MacFarlane, late of the Machine Gun Company, played “The Flowers o’ the Forest” and Bugler James Sorley, late of the Gordon Highlanders, played “The Last Post.” After the Benediction the National Anthem was played.

The War Emergency Committee which had been set up during the first year of the War proposed that a memorial Institute be established. They formed an executive committee consisting of Sir George W. M. Dundas, Bart as Chairperson (he was a landowner); John P. Mitchell, Secretary and Treasurer (he was a lawyer), Major Graham Stirling representing the Parish Council (he owned the Strowan estate); Mr. James Goldie, Library; Rev. Dr. Wann, War Emergency Committee; Mr. Peter McPherson, Reading Room (owned by Dundas); also Lady Dundas; Mrs. Walter Jones; Miss McLagan; Miss Kerr Dunlop, St. Fillans; Mr. W. Gilchrist Macbeth (he owned the Dunira estate); Rev. Harold Mayall; Rev. Arthur Crawford Watt; Rev. William Hall; Rev. Charles D. R. Williamson (his mother and he owned the Lawers estate); Mr. A. C. Newbigging and Mr. Henry McKinstry (he was the local entrepreneur who was watchmaker, and optician, but he also sold fishing tackle in his shop in Drummond Street.) He had a great sense of humour.

In the deliberations Sir George W. M. Dundas, Bart., offered the Reading Room, which also doubled as the Police Station, for this purpose and initially it was accepted. However, it was found that alterations to the building would be too expensive. Around this time the Bridgend Hotel in Dalginross was put up for sale and the committee bought it for £1600. It became known as the War Memorial Institute, sighted just across the road from the Comrie War Memorial.

His Grace, the Duke of Atholl inaugurated the building on a very wet 21stAugust, 1921. He was flanked by Sir. George W. M. Dundas., Bart; Mrs. Walter Jones of Aberuchill; the Hon. Mrs. Williamson; Rev. C. D. R. Williamson of Tomperran, Major Graham Stirling of Strowan and the Misses Graham Stirling; Mr. W. Gilchrist Macbeth of Dunira – all of these people owned 99% of Comrie, and the land area around the village. Also in attendance were Mr. A. C. Newbigging of Dalchonzie; Mr. Robert Duncan of Dalchonzie, and Mr. Thomas Brock of Crieff. His Grace and his party were inside the building whilst a large group of local people were outside…IN THE RAIN! They all sang the 46th Psalm “God is our refuge and our strength.”

A German field gun was placed in the Field of Refuge behind the Institute and Keith MacPherson’s garage but it too, like so many other things and people, has disappeared. For several years thereafter travelling lantern shows were put on in the Field of Refuge. They were well attended, as were various other events including revivalist tent meetings. Moody and Sankey were very popular for a while and great was the singing of many an assembled throng.

In time the Institute building became a social club for young people offering table tennis, billards, snooker, etc. It was eventually sold in recent years to the Crusader organization as an outdoor centre called Combruith.

Originally the Building was the Bridgend Hotel

Later that year on Saturday the 24th September, on a fine day in St. Fillans, the Earl of Ancaster flanked by his entourage consisting of his two daughters, Lady Katherine and Lady Priscilla Drummond Willoughby, and his son the Hon. John Willoughby unveiled their War Memorial. It consisted of an obelisk and water fountain placed on a small promontory looking out across Loch Earn to Neish’s Island and the West. In supporting roles were the Rev. A. W. H. Scott – Parish Minister; assisted by the Rev. William Hall, East U. F. Church, Comrie; the Rev. John Martin, St. Fillans and the Rev. J. McCracken then officiating in the St. Fillans U.F Church. Henry McKinstry of Comrie led the singing of the 23rd Psalm, “The Lord is my Shepherd.” The noble Earl made a short but moving speech. It was possibly heard by his immediate entourage, but probably not by the wider throng.

The War Memorial at St. Fillans today with the Drummond Arms Hotel in the background.