The stories behind the names


In this, the centenary year of the Armistice, a resident of the village of Old Kilpatrick traced the stories behind the names on her local war memorial. 

Standing in the centre of Old Kilpatrick, in the shadow of the Erskine Bridge, is a simple, stylised cairn, topped by a Celtic cross which records the names of the casualties of both world wars.  Surname and initials are listed in alphabetical order with no distinction for rank.  I like to think that was deliberate, a public acknowledgement that each life was as precious and important as the other.

On Remembrance Sunday locals gather and promise to ‘remember them‘.  But time has passed, families have moved on and the truth is there are only a few people left who can tell much of the story of any of these lost lives.  I know that Patrick McLaughlin remembered there is my grandmother’s cousin, a 25 year old joiner, who died on 6th July 1916 on the Somme.  I recognise some other long established village names but beyond that, nothing.

This year, on the centenary of the Armistice, I set out to find out more about the stories behind the names.  What I’ve discovered is a story of young men, all with some connection to the village, who served in six different armies and who died in all theatres of the war, on land and sea.  The Great War summed up in forty-nine names.

They served in the armies of Australia, Britain, Canada, Italy, New Zealand and South Africa and died in places as far away as Dar-es-Salaam, where William McHaffie serving in the South African Transport Corps, died of cerebral malaria; and as near as Berkshire, where James Hogg died of his wounds in an army hospital.  Some received a formal burial, most were buried where they fell.

Daniel Hendry, a new husband and father is buried alongside eleven of his comrades in the town cemetery in Annezin, northern France.  After he left for war, his wife Kate and infant son, also called Daniel, stayed close to family in Old Kilpatrick.  Kate’s brother John Mulgrew had been killed in action a few weeks earlier.  On 5th October 1915, three months after he arrived in France, Daniel died of his wounds.  Early in the following year infant Daniel died at home of tuberculosis.  In less than a year Kate had lost a brother, a husband and a son.  She was only twenty two.

There were Australian, Canadian, South African and New Zealanders as well.  In the few years preceding the war, industrial unrest and political activism on Clydeside increased significantly.  In 1911 Jane Rae led a dozen other women out on strike in Singer’s sewing machine factory in Clydebank.  In the same year seamen went on strike for a national wage.  Between 1909 and 1914 union membership doubled and strike action increased.  Life on Clydeside was characterised by poverty and political unrest and many left to find something better.

Young men like William McColgan, James Fitzsimons, John Kempton, Dan Sinclair, William Stewart and William McHaffie left.  William McColgan made the longest journey.  Working as a farm labourer In the Marlborough region of New Zealand, William enlisted in the New Zealand Expeditionary Force and left for Europe.  On 9th June 1917, he died of his wounds in France.  The Military Medal he was awarded was sent to his widowed mother in Old Kilpatrick.  One in four New Zealand men between the ages of 20 and 45 was either killed or wounded in WW1.

The Stewart family left to settle in Western Australia.  Father Andrew and oldest son Andy went ahead in 1911 to establish a home and earn passage for the rest of the family, who followed in 1913.  Twenty-five year old William Stewart signed up and left Freemantle in June 1915.  He was killed in action on 6th August 1915 at that most iconic of places for Australians, Gallipoli.  His brother Henry, a farmer, was conscripted in 1916 and left for France where he was killed in action at Passchendaele on 12th October 1917.  For reasons still unknown, Henry’s name is missing from the memorial.  A third Stewart brother returned home safely.

John Kempton left his family and emigrated to Canada where he worked as a bank manager in Quebec.  Following enlistment he was sent to France, where his younger brother Thomas, who had stayed at home, was also serving.  John was killed on 10th April 1917 and a fortnight later so, too, was Thomas.  Their publican father, Thomas, broken by the loss of his sons, drowned in the Forth and Clyde Canal just before Christmas in the same year.

A couple of the forty nine were experienced soldiers.  John Dunn, a father in his forties, survived the Boer War and left the army in 1903.  He re-enlisted in 1914 and fought through the war until its final summer when he was badly injured at Ypres and transported to a field hospital in Dieppe where he died on 22nd July 1918.

William Grier, another Boer War veteran, worked as a grocer.  He re-enlisted at the outbreak of war and died of wounds on 30th October 1914.  In recognition of his bravery in saving an officer’s life, he was attached to the prestigious 1st Life Guards.  On his death his widow received a note of sympathy from the King and Queen.

Immigrant Torello Lazzerini returned to Italy and enlisted in the Italian Army and was killed in action in 1917.  His widow and young son remained in the village and for years they ran the café just across the road from the memorial.

Some of the links to Old Kilpatrick were tenuous.  Names on the memorial include a son left behind in Edinburgh, a lodger from Rothesay and young workmates from the local shipyards.  The new minister’s son Harry Gordon Smith remained in Edinburgh to continue his studies.  Young Harry enlisted as soon as he was 18 and was killed in action on 13th March 1918, nine days short of his 20th birthday.

The forty nine names on the Old Kilpatrick memorial demonstrate the big heartedness of a small community and its willingness to claim as its own anyone with a connection to those among them who were left grieving.  This year when we remember them we know something more about who they were.

Florence Boyle is a community activist and member of the Open House executive committee.


Feb/Mar 2020

In June 2019 Open House held a conference exploring possible new directions for the Catholic Church in Scotland. See conference papers.

Open House also held a conference on the role of lay people in the governance of the Catholic Church in November 2013. See conference papers.