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1st Fraserburgh Boys Brigade:

World War One 1914-19

Michael A. W. Strachan

As the Boys Brigade nationally commemorates the 100th anniversary of
the First World War, this booklet has been produced to show the
contribution of the Fraserburgh BB men during the conflict.
This may seem an odd exercise considering that there was no active BB
Company in the town during the war years. This booklet will, though, look
at the war experience of the officers who led Fraserburgh BB Companies
before 1914, and after 1919.
It will focus on the officers of the 1st Fraserburgh Company set up in
connection with the South Church which operated 1907-14, and on the
officers who returned from the trenches to set up the new 1st Fraserburgh
in 1921 in connection with the Old Parish Church.
The Boys Brigade nationally made a significant contribution to the war as
Old Boys and Officers, who were all BB trained, signed up to serve King
and Country.
In 1921 while addressing the first parade of the newly formed 1st
Fraserburgh, Sheriff A. J. Louttit Laing, Honorary President of the
Aberdeen Battalion, told that an estimated 400,000 Old Boys and Officers
had served, and 50,000 died during the Great War.
This statistic, he said, should make them proud to wear the uniform: Did
ever they see a Gordon or a Seaforth not proud to wear his uniform? They
belonged to a great army too. Their uniform worn by those 400,000.
One hundred years on we remember the sacrifice of those ordinary men
called upon to undertake extraordinary acts of selflessness and bravery
among them the men of the Fraserburgh Boys Brigade.

Rev William D. T. Black (1881-1917)

The Rev Black arrived in Fraserburgh in
1907 to take the charge of South U. F.
Church. He was instrumental in setting
up the 1st Fraserburgh Boys Brigade in
1907, serving as Chaplain until he left
the Parish in 1913 when he moved to
Rutherglen, setting up a new Company
there in 1914 (195th Glasgow).
On the outbreak of war in 1914 the Rev Black led by example in
Rutherglen, signing up for the army starting at the lowest rank Private.
He served as an ordinary soldier at the front until early 1917 when he was
appointed as the Chaplain the 7th Cameron Highlanders.
Being a Chaplain, or Padre, did not take the reverend out of harms way as
he would provide assistance to the wounded and dying on the battlefield.
On 22nd August 1917 his Battalion advanced their positions during the
Battle of Langemarck, part of the Third Battle of Ypres. The Battalion
suffered heavy losses due to shelling and machine gun fire. The Rev Black
attended to the dying with a fellow Chaplain, who gave the following
"A few hours later he [Black] came in again, then declared his intention of
proceeding up the line. We were going together along a track that was
from time to time heavily shelled, when a shell bust close to us. A
fragment of the shell pierced his heart killing him instantly.
Rev W. D. T Black was only 36 years old at the time of his death, leaving
behind a widow and two young sons.

He is buried at Brandhock New Military Cemetery No 3, Belgium.

An Extract from Rev Blacks final letter home:
It is not during the heat of the battle that men are most
surely influenced towards religion. War, as it is waged to-day,
is a stupefying business. It is a thing of almost incredible
strain and un-imaginable horror, which so stun men and
weigh them down with weariness that thinking is impossible.
Feeling itself is killed, and nothing is left but the stubborn
determination to carry on. It is only after the strain is
relieved that men begin to feel again, to think clearly, and to
be influenced by what they have passed through. The great
opportunity of the Church to win those men for Christ will
come, not to-day, when they are burdened and beaten down
by a weight that presses constantly on heart and brain, but
afterwards, when they have time to think quietly of all that
happened to them and in them. Probably that explains why
the expectations of Revival at the Front has been
disappointed, for it must be confessed that the men as a
whole, though they may be influenced more or less
consciously by religion, are not religious, as the word is
commonly understood. As natural men, to use Pauls
phrase, they are splendid, full of unquenchable cheerfulness
and steady courage in the face of danger, and quick in selfsacrifice. They make one proud of our often maligned human
nature. That is why one longs intensely to win those men for
Jesus Christ.

John Francis Macgregor (1880-1938)

In civilian life Mr Macgregor was a
basket-maker to trade, but was also
a keen Volunteer, better known as a
Territorial. Serving as a Lieutenant
with the Volunteers made him an
able Captain of the 1st Fraserburgh
Company of 1907. He was of the oldschool who taught his boys rifle and
bayonette exercises!
Being a Volunteer Macgregor was
served his call up papers on the
outbreak of war, and after further training found himself in the trenches
with the 5th Gordons by May 1915. He was given the rank of StaffSergeant.
After his first spell in the trenches, he wrote that even when at rest the
guns could still be heard: we are rudely awakened by the rattle of the
guns, and we know in very short time we will once again be in the thick of
the fighting.
It did not take long for the reality of war to set in as during his second
spell in the trenches his unit suffered casualties: 5 killed, and 13 wounded
in 4 days. On 7th June 1915 he wrote:
We were in the trenches for four days, and during all that time we were
under a severe fire from the enemy, whose trenches were in some places
only 70 yards from ours Its a bit disheartening, you know, to be cooped
up in trenches and see your friends falling and youre unable to do

That would be Macgregors reality for the next 3 years.

Personal tragedy struck in July 1916 when his brother Joseph, also with
the 5th Gordons, was mortally wounded alongside him during the allied
failed attack of High Wood, Somme. Despite being riddled with bullets
Joseph survived until 19th September when he succumbed to his wounds.
John F. Macgregor earned his Commission in 1918 being promoted to the
rank of Lieutenant, serving briefly as an Acting Captain with the 5th
Despite being in the thick of the fighting for 3 years, Macgregor survived
the war unscathed. In peace he returned to his trade and to the Boys
Brigade becoming the first Captain of the 3rd Fraserburgh Company, in
connection with the South Church, in 1925.

William Stephen (1881-1916)

Before the War William Stephen, a
graduate of the University of Aberdeen,
was employed as a teacher before joining
the family business.
He was described as a prominent citizen
being involved in many civic committees
and Christian organisations, including as a
Lieutenant with the 1st Fraserburgh Boys
He was also a leading Volunteer, and
despite resigning his Commission as a
Captain with the Gordons in 1908, on the outbreak of war his Commission
was reinstated in October 1914, serving as Captain of the 5th Gordons.
After his training in Bedford he was offered a role at home as a musketry
instructor. Although these duties would have kept him away from the
trenches, he turned it down and proceeded to France to join his Battalion.
Interestingly in May 1915, while on official leave, he acted as the
Inspecting Officer at the Annual Demonstration of the 13th Aberdeen BB
at the invitation of Captain James Wilson.
On 30th July 1916 his Battalion went on the offensive at the Battle of
Delville Wood. The unit were charged with advancing to take the German
trenches. Stephen was intended to be in command, but Captain Robert
Lyon arrived back just in time to take the charge.
This may have been fortunate for Captain Stephen as under heavy fire the
attack failed, Captain Lyon falling at the front of his unit tangled in barbed

wire. After heavy losses Stephen, now in Command, was forced to call off
the attack. The fact that Captain Stephen was intended to be the
commanding officer led to erroneous reports that he had been a casualty.
As the Battle of the Somme raged on, Captain Stephen remained with his
On the 13th November 1916 he led his men into no mans land again with
the aim of breaking the enemy line, and taking the village of BeaumontHamel with other heavy fortifications. This was known as the Battle of
Ancre the last big push of the Battle of the Somme.
It would, though, be
Captain Stephens last
battle. He was first
reported missing on the
13th November by special
telegram to his mother.
Then the sad news
followed that he had been
killed at the head of his
unit. He had been struck
by a hand grenade whilst
entering an enemy trench.
Captain William Stephen
died aged only 35 years,
and is buried at Y Ravine
Cemetery, BeaumontHamel.

John Tait May (1881-1918)

John came from a seafaring family
but his own career started off in the
War Office as clerk. Latterly he
resigned this position to join his
fathers business as a ship-chandler.
His family was active in the affairs of
the South UF Church, with Tait
himself serving as a church deacon
and Sunday school teacher. In
addition to this he served as a leader in both the South Church Boys
Brigade, and also as a Scout Leader.
Despite his clerical work at the War Office, John had no practical
experience with, or interest in joining, the army. With the outbreak of war
John volunteered his service with the Royal Naval Reserve (RNR), being
officially enrolled as a deckhand in April 1915.
Although removed from the obvious dangers of the trenches, service at
sea was as treacherous and vital to the war effort. With Britain being an
island nation, shipping routes had to be protected. The strategy of the
German naval forces was to cause as much disruption as possible. This
was achieved with patrolling U-Boats, and by peppering the oceans with
sea mines.
As part of the RNR John would be involved in both minesweeping, and on
patrol with the drifters.
Over the course of the war he served on no less than 7 trawlers, attaining
the rank of Leading Deckhand in October 1917.

On the 25th March 1918 he changed crew onto the Drifter HMT Border
Lads. The drifter left port on the same day tasked with protecting a naval
convoy. The convoy was about 2 miles off the mouth of the River Tyne
when it was attacked by UB78 a German U-Boat.
Border Land suffered a large explosion, broke up and quickly sunk. It is
believed the trawler had been hit by a torpedo intended for larger ships in
the convoy. John Tait May, along with three other crew, were killed in the
explosion. All other crew were rescued.
John was only 35 years old at the time of his death, leaving behind a
widow and 6 young children, the eldest of whom was 9 years of age. As
he had no known grave, the family treasured the death penny (below)
issued to commemorate his life and sacrifice.
His death meant that of the original six officers of the 1907 1st
Fraserburgh Boys Brigade, three had been killed in the conflict.

Rev. W. Neil Sutherland (1888-1946)

At the outbreak of war in 1914 the Rev
Sutherland had just completed his
studies in divinity and was serving as an
assistant at St. Giles Cathedral,
With the outbreak of war he signed up
and was commissioned into the army
officer class, and found himself in
France by March 1915. He served not as
a chaplain, but as a Major commander
of 377 Battery, Royal Field Artillery (the Scots Battery).
His qualities as a soldier were recorded some years later by William Carr,
a soldier under Major Sutherlands command: The Major was an
exceptional commanding officer, full of energy and enthusiasm, able to
get the maximum amount of respect and cooperation from subalterns
and men with the minimum amount of formality. He had a delightful
sense of humour as you will learn from my [Carrs] story.
Sutherland and his unit were in the thick of the fighting during the Battle
of Cambrai in November 1917 often referred to as the first tank battle
which saw allied forces breach the impenetrable Hindenburg line. This
should have been one of the decisive battles of the war, but most of the
allied gains were lost soon after due to a surprise German
counteroffensive. It was during this counteroffensive that Major
Sutherland was wounded.
His unit had been congratulated on holding back the German offensive,
one of the few to have success in slowing German advances. For this

achievement, and his personal

bravery, he was awarded the
Military Cross, his citation reading:
Running out his guns from the pits
he fought them [the Germans] for
about two hours at a range of 200
yards, and continued firing after our
infantry had retired behind his
battery positions. When hostile fire
made it impossible to fire the guns
he withdrew under orders, and was
wounded whilst doing so.
After a period of recovery, Sutherland returned to his war duties being
appointed as a Temporary Lieutenant Colonel.
He returned to the 377 Battery in April 1918. Sutherland would remain
with the 377 for the rest of the war. Carr was with Sutherland when he
received news that the war was over: At 11 oclock Suthey answered the
telephone. He turned to us and said: The war is over. Mount your
horses. Mount your horses? What an extraordinary command!
Upon demobilisation Major Sutherland returned to the manse, his first
appointment being to Fraserburgh Old in 1919. It was Sutherlands drive
for a church youth that led to the purchase of the Penny Schoolie in 1920,
and the formation of the 1st Fraserburgh Company in 1921.
Rev Sutherland served as Company Chaplain from 1921 to 1926 when he
was called to Dalmeny Kirk.

Lewis S. Thomson (1885-1966)

Lewis Thomson was the son of
a prominent Fraserburgh Fish
curer, Lewis Thomson Snr. In
1911 he married Jessie Wilson
who was a daughter of Captain
James Wilson of the 13th
Aberdeen Boys Brigade.
At the outbreak of war in 1914
it is believed Thomson was
working for his fathers
Company in Fraserburgh and Aberdeen. It seems that in the early stages
of the war he was exempt from army service, despite the fact he was
attested in December 1915, possible due to the nature of his
In 1917 his exemption from military service appears to have expired, with
two sources suggesting different accounts. According to his grandson
Lewis Thomson served with the Royal Garrison Artillery at the Battle of
Vimy Ridge (Arras) in April 1917. His official papers, however, show he
was not enlisted with the unit until July 1917.
The Royal Garrison Artillery was responsible for manning the big guns at
the front, their main tasks being to locate the enemy lines at strategic
points before shelling the area. In theory shelling would obliterate the
enemy line making the advance easier. In reality, it rarely went to plan.
Gunner Thomson served with the Artillery for the remainder of the war,
and would have taken part in the great advance which broke through in
April 1918.

He survived the war without wound, but was invalided due to illness only
3 days after the armistice was signed on 11th November 1918. He was
struck down by the deadly influenza pandemic which was to claim in the
region of 30 million lives in Europe. Influenza, also known as Spanish Flu,
claimed more lives than the war. He was released from hospital in January
1919, and promptly demobilised to the reserve force allowing him to
return home.
Upon his return home he returned to the family business. When his
father-in-law, James Wilson a big BB personality in Aberdeen, retired to
Fraserburgh in 1920 Thomson was persuaded to become the first Captain
of the 1st Fraserburgh Company.
He served in this post until 1924, when he took over the family business.
His wife Jessie served as Company pianist until 1934 when the family
moved their business to North Shields.

Harold J. Milne (1889-1963)

Milne was the son of a
prominent local solicitor, James
Milne. At the outbreak of war in
1914 he was studying law at
Aberdeen University with a
view to joining the family firm
until war interrupted.
Upon graduating Milne enrolled
with the Inns of Court Officer
Training Corps in February
1916. After serving with various
regiments, he was awarded his
Commission as a 2nd Lieutenant
with the 6th Gordons in
December 1916.
His first major offensive took place in April 1917 at the Battle of Arras. The
aim of this British offensive was to break the German line, and take the
city of Arras. Although some gains were made during the offensive, no
real breakthrough was made at a cost of 160,000 allied casualties.
Among those casualties was 2nd Lt Milne who was extremely lucky to
escape with his life. While making the advance with his company at
Roclincourt, north of Arras, Milne suffered a gunshot wound to the face,
just beside his left eye. At first this was described as extremely painful,
but not serious. Later the injury was reported as a severe wound with
the real possibility of losing the eye.

After a long period of recovery Milne was back with the 6th Gordons in
France, advanced to the rank of Lieutenant in June 1918. The allies
fortunes in the war were though, about to change.
Lt Milne was present at the Second Battle of Marne when the Germans
launched their last great offensive. A successful allied counter-offensive,
with the use of hundreds of tanks, defeated the Germans at Marne and
led to the great advance of the allies. The armistice was signed 100 days
Milne was active in the advance during the desperate last weeks of the
war, and was awarded the Military Cross in October 1918 for gallant
conduct his citation stating:
Acting Captain H. J. Milne, Gordons, conducted the advance of his
company to a position in front with great gallantry and skill. Again moving
forward, he showed complete indifference to danger while taking up
positions in a heavily shelled wood. By his personal example he inspired all
ranks under him.
On return to civilian life, Milne was an active organiser of the ExServiceman Association, and a life-long member of the Royal British
Legion, including a lengthy spell on the National Executive.
He was a keen supporter of the Boys Brigade serving as Captain of the 1st
Fraserburgh Company from 1924-40. He left this post to once again
answer the call of King and Country, serving again with the Gordons
during WW2 until it was realised he was over 50 years of age.
He served the Town Council of Fraserburgh for many years, being elected
Provost 1950-56. He was held in such high regard by the people of
Fraserburgh that he became the first person to be awarded the Freedom
of the Burgh in 1956.

Robert Bruce (1894-1953)

When war was declared in 1914 Bruce was a 20 year old clerk with the
Fraserburgh Burgh Treasurers Office. With the records available, it is
extremely likely that he was also a member of the 1907 1st Fraserburgh
It is presumed that Bruce must have been at least a reservist before the
war as he was enlisted to serve with the crack 29th Division. He served
with the unit as part of the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) contingent.
The unit set off for Alexandria, Egypt, and on 24th April 1915. On arrival
Bruce, with 2000 other men, was posted on board the River Clyde
bound for the Gallipoli Peninsula.
It was perhaps his bad luck he ended up on that particular ship, as its sole
purpose was to divert the enemys attention away from the landing of
18,000 allied soldiers at other points on the peninsula. Bruce described
the ship as the modern Horse of Troy.
The River Clyde was to be run aground, and specially constructed doors
would be opened to allow the men to stage a landing. Bruce gave his own
account of the landing in the Peoples Journal:
When the enemy saw us coming they commenced a fusillade with
machine guns and rifles from the forts and crevices in the rock face.
Bruce recalled the landing took place on Sunday morning, prompting the
men inside the ship to sing the hymns Onward Christian Soldiers and
Nearer thy God to Thee.
At length we heard the River Clydes bottom crunching on the beach,
and presently she was fast among the rocks. Then the constructed doors

opened, and the shooting intensified: full of snipers picking off our
gallant lads as fast as they emerged from the shelter of the shipthe
place was a perfect death trap, barbed wire being concealed at the
waters edge, and few men got a hold of the beach and kept it.
Although most of the men of the 29th were seasoned soldiers, for the
reservist like Bruce this would be their first taste of warfare. He recorded
his reaction at the time:
None of us had ever seen a shot fired in anger, and it was not surprising
that the kick off found us in such a dazed condition that we stood as if
glued to the spot staring into each others faces unable to utter as
Bullets pattered on deck overhead like hailstones, and a shell from the
Asiatic side penetrated the hull of the River Clyde, scattering wreckage
and mangled remains all round us. It was a terrible experience.
Of the 2000 men on the vessel, 700 were killed or wounded.
Although a terrible experience the allied landing on the Gallipoli Peninsula
was a success. The success of the campaign did not, though, go much
further as Bruce recorded, After this it was trench fighting, and pretty
much a deadlock.
Bruce served in Gallipoli until September 1915 when he fell ill with
typhoid fever and was returned home on sick leave. He did return to
service, but no record of his further service can be found at the time of
In peace time Bruce returned to the Treasurers office. He served as
Secretary and Treasurer of the 1st Fraserburgh BB from 1921-24 before
moving on to Aberdeen for promotion.

Malcolm M. Burns (1890-1960)

In 1914 Malcolm Burns was a clerk
and cashier for the firm W. A.
Bennet of Fraserburgh.
He was a keen sportsman and was
a reservist with the 5th Gordon
Highlander Territorial Force. When
war was declared he was called up,
and attested on 22nd September
After further training he was posted with the 1st Highland Field
Ambulance Corps, RAMC, part of the 29th Division. Again, like, Robert
Bruce, Burns found himself on board the River Clyde during the landings
at Cape Helles, Gallipoli.
Following the landing, months of trench fighting ensued against the
Turks with many casualties for little, if any, gains. Burns served until
September 1915 when he was slightly wounded and then fell with
enteric (typhoid) fever due to the unsanitary conditions in the trenches.
It was at the same time that news was received that his brother, Sergeant
William Burns, had been killed in action in France.
After spending two months in hospital in Alexandria, Burns was
transported home to continue his treatment at Fraserburghs Thomas
Walker Hospital. He was released from hospital in January 1916.
Burns did not return to the unit as the 29th Division was retreating to
Egypt, marking the end of the failed Gallipoli campaign.

His service record shows that he was discharged under the Kings
Regulation as being permanently unfit for service in July 1916. Oddly,
however, he was promptly transferred to the Gordon Highlanders and
then again to the Machine Gun Corps by September 1916 seeing action at
the later battles of Somme.
In June 1917 he earned his Commission as a 2nd Lieutenant with the 4th
Gordon Highlanders.
In September 1918 Burns was removed from the conflict in France, and
posted to the East to serve as part of the North West Frontier Force.
Tensions were high in Afghanistan as the Turks and Germans had sought
to persuade tribal leaders to break away from the British Empire.
During his posting Burns was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant, and was
demobilised in March 1919, before the Third Anglo-Afghan War broke out
in early May.
Upon returning to Fraserburgh Malcolm Burns set up business as a
shipbroker. He also became one of the more active officers of the 1st
Fraserburgh Boys Brigade from 1921. Both his business and his
involvement with the BB continued until he emigrated to Australia in
1927. He latterly lived in Stornoway.

Thomas S. Ingram (1888-1975)

It is clear from Tom Ingrams army number,
and from his regiment, that he was a
reservist from about May 1909, which
means it is likely that he was a former
member of the Volunteer Brigades.
Ingram, like a number of the men in this
booklet, was originally attached to 1st/5th
Gordon Highlanders. He was called up, and serving in France by December
He fought with his unit at the attack of High Wood in July 1916, part of
the Battle of the Somme, being wounded in the process. The nature of his
wound is unknown.
His service continued for the duration of the war with the 51st Highland
Division being transferred to the Royal Highlanders (Black Watch) as a
Corporal, and after being wounded a second time, being transferred to
the Royal Garrison Artillery as a Driver.
Although unaware of the nature of his wounds, it is known that on one of
those two occasions Corporal Ingram was hit in a gas attack, which would
likely have removed him from the front for 6-8 weeks or longer.
Ingram was demobilised from the services in January 1919, but remained
with the Territorial Forces until 1923. He returned home to resume his
employment as a machinist with the CPT.
He joined the 1st Fraserburgh BB as a Lieutenant in 1924, serving as an
effective drill instructor. He served as Company Captain during the Second
World War.

James Barclay (1895-1975)

Like Tom Ingram, not much is
known about Jim Barclays war
due to the absence of official
records, likely destroyed in WW2.
He would have arrived in France
from Bedford along with John F.
Macgregor as part of the 1st/5th
Gordons in May 1915. The unit were fast in the thick of the fighting during
the Battle of Festubert.
Before the war he was a compositor with the Fraserburgh Herald, and on
the 15th June 1915 he wrote to the Herald: We were in [the trenches]
four days and had 17 casualties in our company alone. Six were killed
outright and 11 wounded; something like 35 altogether to the battalion so
you see we certainly had the worst of it.
In the next year he was promoted to the rank of Corporal, but would be
severely wounded on 31st July 1916 during the attack on High Wood.
During the murderous assault Corporal Barclay was shot in the left arm,
whist exploding shells caused shrapnel wounds to both his legs.
He spent the next 6 months in hospital, before returning home in
February 1917 to get bucked up by his native air. What he did for the
rest of the war is unknown to the author. He was officially demobilised in
April 1919.
He was enrolled with the 1st Fraserburgh Boys Brigade as a Lieutenant in
1924, serving up until the outbreak of WW2. During the second war he
enlisted with the Home Guard.

Alexander Barclay (1895-1958)

In August 1914 Alex Barclay was
working as a hairdresser under James
Bain, Fraserburgh.
He was attested and with the local
volunteers was bound for France in May
1915, serving in the same early
skirmishes as J. F. Macgregor and James
He was active in the British offensive at the Somme in July 1916, again on
the attack at High Wood. He too was wounded in the attack, although the
seriousness of his injuries are unknown.
It may well have been noted that Pte Alex Barclay is the third soldier in
this booklet to have been wounded at High Wood. It is estimated that in
July 1916 British forces at High Wood sustained in the region of 6,500
casualties this being just one front in the larger Battle of the Somme.
The attacks at High Wood would continue until September 1916.
In 1917 his unit was active at most of the big battles including the Arras
Offensive in April, the Third Battle of Ypres, and was briefly involved at
the Cambrai to stem the surprise German counter offensive.
While Pte Barclay survived 1917 without wound, the 5th Gordons along
with the 51st Division had been decimated. In January 1918 the unit was
reorganised as a support to the 183rd Brigade.
In March 1918 the German Spring Offensive came the Germans last
desperate push of the war. With his unit Barclay served at the 1st Battle of
Bapaume, where for the second time he was wounded. He received a

wound to his right arm. The injuries

must have been minor in nature as
he appears to have remained with
the unit.
In July 1918 he was awarded the
Military Medal for gallantry in battle.
This was the lower ranks (NCOs)
equivalent to the Military Cross
(NCOs were ineligible to be awarded
the MC until 1993). In August his
father received intimation that
Barclay was again in hospital with a
wound to his jaw and right arm.
Barclay was disembodied in February 1919, returning to his previous
trade as a hairdresser. He later opened up his own business as a master
Alex Barclay was a Lieutenant of the 1st Fraserburgh Boys Brigade in its
very early years up to about 1926. His main civilian interest was in the Exservicemans Association and later the Royal British Legion, being branch
Chairman at the time of his death.
During WW2 he served as a Lieutenant with the Home Guard and
suffered severe spinal injuries after being involved in a car accident whilst
on duty.

Jack Wilson (1887-1975)

Of all the men written of in this
booklet, Jack Wilson is the first who
was known to be a BB Old Boy. He
served with the 13th Aberdeen
which was captained by his father,
James Wilson.
When war broke out in 1914,
Wilson was living in South Africa
having emigrated there some years previously as an engineer. Even being
based on the Southern part of the African continent did not make him
exempt from war services!
South Africa had a border with German South-West Africa, and there was
unease at removing able men to Europe leaving South Africa vulnerable.
The war in Africa would come with a Boer Revolt. Jack Wilson signed up
with Imperial Light Infantry in 1914 in the defence of the colony.
He played a part in quelling the Boer Revolt of 1914 which had allegedly
been plotted by the German colonists. It had only been 13 years since the
last failed Boer rebellion. The Revolt was fairly short lived.
When it was clear the Boers had failed, the British Government then
turned its attention to German South-West Africa. Prime Minister Botha
of South Africa was asked to invade the neighbouring colony, which
initially failed. Trooper Jack Wilson was involved in the campaign, and was
present at many battles.
It was reported on one occasion that Wilsons horse had been shot from
beneath him during a charge. He did, though, survive the campaign
unscathed. The South African forces repelled the German counter-

offensive and successfully invaded German South-West Africa by July

With hostilities over in South Africa, Jack Wilson then volunteered for
service in France. He was attested and joined the 4th South African
Infantry (Scots Regiment) in November 1915. After training, and a brief
stop home, Pte Wilson was in France in July 1916 just in time for the
The unit suffered heavy losses trying to capture Trones Wood, and also at
the failed attempt to take Delville Wood in July where Captain Stephen
was active. In October the unit was in High Wood, the site where no less
than three men listed in this book were wounded in April 1916.
In April 1917 the unit played their part in the Battle of Arras, a British
offensive which made significant gains (only to be lost soon after). This
battle would end Wilsons war: he received a gunshot wound causing a
compound fracture to his left humorous.
The wound left him with no control over his left arm, causing him to be
discharged being permanently medically unfit for further military
service. He would remain in hospital for nearly a year, only being
discharged on 12th April 1918.
After the war, Wilson entered business with his fathers fish curing firm.
When that relocated to Fraserburgh in May 1920, he helped instruct the
new 1st Fraserburgh Boys Brigade remaining with the Company until his
marriage in 1929.

Duncan M. Wilson (1898-1972)

Duncan Wilson was the younger brother of Jack. Like his elder brother he
too was an Old Boy of his fathers BB Company, the 13th Aberdeen.
Being the youngest of the men in this booklet, he was not eligible for
service in the army until his 18th birthday in January 1916. After officer
training he earned his Commission as a 2nd Lieutenant with the Gordons in
March 1917.
He arrived in his first theatre of war in November 1917 being posted to
Mesopotamia, a region covering todays Iraq and Syria, to fight the forces
of the Germans and the Ottoman Empire (Turks). He would serve with the
Dorset Regiment, part of the 15th Indian Division.
When he arrived in Iraq in November 1917 he joined his unit at the city of
Ramadi, recently captured from the Ottoman forces. He remained
stationed there for a number of months, facing skirmished along the
Euphrates River. The main trauma for British forces would be coping with
the great heat in dessert conditions.
Lieut Wilsons unit advance in March 1918 to occupy Hit, north-west of
Ramadi. This was a bloodless battle, the post being taken without a shot
being fired. Towards the end of March his unit took part in the Action of
Khan Baghdadi. The fighting lasted only one day, the Ottoman forces
quickly crumbling with surrender.
Wilson remained in Mesopotamia until the Armistice with the Turks was
signed in October 1918.
When he returned to Fraserburgh, he joined the family business. He was
the PT instructor of the 1st Fraserburgh between 1921-24.

As can be seen from this short booklet the BB men of Fraserburgh played
their role, and made sacrifices, during the First World War. Their services
were varied, and their postings spanning three continents and the seas
justify its status as a World War.
It must be admitted that this booklet is not definitive as many of the
most useful war records were destroyed in a German bombing raid in
WW2. This written narrative was composed only from the snippets of
information available, so much of the real story is lost.
This booklet can only give a limited insight into the real contribution of
the Fraserburgh BB.
There were many Fraserburgh BB Old Boys fighting in the war. Let us
never forget that we have no records of perhaps over 200 boys who were
members of two Fraserburgh Companies founded in 1902 and 1907.
These boys-come-men would all have been of age for conscription, and
given the number of Brochers who fell, it is extremely likely that many
forgotten Fraserburgh Old Boys were in that number.
The service of some BB officers has also been omitted due to lack of
information or, sadly, lack of space in this intentionally short booklet. For
example, James R. Miller, who tried in vain to be exempted from War
Service to conduct his furnishings business: he was forced to join the RAF
in 1917/18 when it was pointed out that there was no need for soft
furnishings in the trenches!
Also the older generation: Alexander S. Sinclair, Captain of the 1902
Company, who served as a recruiter for the Gordons. Also James Wilson
(1861-1935) founder of the post-war Fraserburgh BB who volunteered
turning out army rations.

Of Wilson, on a visit to Fraserburgh in 1916, his BB credentials were noted

in the Fraserburgh Herald: in Aberdeen he is one of the leading spirits in
the Boys Brigade movement. Hundreds of lads who have passed through
Mr Wilsons crack company are to-day fighting under the Union Jack.
This is what Sheriff Laing meant when he addressed the new 1st
Fraserburgh in 1921, calling the war the BBs vindication. Previously
criticised for alleged militarism, BB training was the only training many
conscripts had undertaken. Ironically though, no boy of Wilsons was ever
instructed with a rifle or bayonette.
His company was based on physical fitness, discipline and Christian faith,
yet this training he provided prepared his boys including three of his
own sons for military service. This was replicated throughout the nation
including in Fraserburgh.
So I end this booklet echoing the words of Sheriff Laing in 1921: no boy or
officer should ever be ashamed to wear their uniforms, particularly on
Armistice, as that uniform bears the badge worn by the 400,000 men who
served, and 50,000 who were killed during WW1.

All gave some, some gave all

Michael A. W. Strachan
Buchan Battalion, Boys Brigade