The Local War Memorials
What connection with the area did a soldier need to be listed on a Memorial? For the great majority the answer was simply that they lived in the area. However other qualifications also applied such as a family connection, or the fact that the person had worked in the area. Quite rightly, the Committees cast the net widely and aimed at inclusion rather than exclusion so that if a name was put forward it was accepted. This was particularly true with people who no longer lived in the area and most of the late additions to the Memorial lists were of men who longer lived in the area but either had lived here or had strong family connections here. The few who appear on more than one Vale Memorial have strong connections in both places – e.g. born and brought up in Alexandria but married and living in Renton.
No one else on any of the 4 memorials can come anywhere near comparison with Captain Allan Ewing Gilmour when it comes to appearing on more than one Memorial. His father was William Ewing Gilmour and his mother was Jessie Gertrude Campbell of Tullichewan. Between them they had donated the Gilmour Institute and the Women’s Institute both in Gilmour St Alexandria which was named after them. Their official address was still at Woodbank House Balloch (later the Woodbank Hotel), although for the previous 20 years or so William Gilmour Ewing had being buying up estates in the north of Scotland, many from the Duke of Sutherland and many of them were infamous for having been cleared by the Duke. The Gilmour’s main residence in the north was at Rosehall which is in the south east corner of Sutherland and Allan Gilmour lived there when he got married, although his official War Department record still gives his home address as Woodbank, Balloch. He therefore qualifies without any doubt to be listed on the Alexandria War Memorial and he duly appears there.
However, his name also appears on the War Memorials of the Sutherland parishes in which his father owned property: Rosehall, Strathay, Kincardine and Croick and Durness which is about as far away from Rosehall as it is possible to get in Sutherland (see photograph of Durness memorial). He probably doesn’t hold the record for the number of parish War Memorials on which he appears, but its an impressive performance none the less.
Allan Gilmour’s name on Alexandria War Memorial (left) and Durness War Memorial (right). Place mouse pointer over Durness image to see detail.
In every case, the names are engraved on stone or slate on the four memorials with metal lettering added on some of them. Although the engravers did an excellent job some mistakes did creep in which it was well nigh impossible to correct after the event, but we have listed all names; spellings, units etc as they appear on the Memorials. In the second section of this article which will contain short biographies of the men of whose identity we are certain, we will comment on any such mistakes.
Time has taken its toll on all of the memorials and the inscriptions are hard to read on some of them, although Renton was refurbished when it was moved to its present site at the School Green where it was rededicated on 1st October 1988 and further refurbishment took place in 2006 thanks to the work of Alex Bisland and the late Jim Murphy who added a number of names missing from the Memorial in both wars. The Alexandria Memorial was given a major face-lift last year (2011) and is back to something like its original condition. Floodlighting was also added at that time and the sight of the floodlit Memorial at night is a considerable enhancement to its impact. Shortly after that refurbishment a final WW2 name was added 66 years after the War’s end. The letters on the Kilmaronock memorial are now very difficult to read. Of the four, Luss has stood the test of time best and its inscriptions are crystal clear.
Bonhill Parish War Memorial or Alexandria Cenotaph
The first of the War Memorials to be unveiled was the Bonhill Parish War Memorial or Alexandria Cenotaph, as it was called virtually from the start, which stands in the Christie Park, Alexandria. It was built by the Bonhill Parish War Memorial Committee whose records have survived in their entirety in a bound book in Dumbarton Library. Although it was formed “under the auspices of the Parish Council of Bonhill” and although it co-opted all of Councillors of Bonhill Parish Council (BPC) onto its Committee it was a voluntary organisation which raised all of the required money itself as well as making the big decisions on choice of architect, design, location etc.
The inaugural Public Meeting of the Committee was held on 30th April 1919 in the Co-operative Hall, Bank Street, Alexandria “with a view to the erection of a Memorial to the local men who had fallen in the War.” It was a well attended meeting as was to be expected and the platform party included:
Major George H Christie who had not only been wounded but who had also been decorated for conspicuous gallantry while serving with the 9th Argylls in the Ypres sector, Major RE Findlay of Boturich who was also a county councillor, most of the councillors on BPC, JT Ferguson (of the Old Vale and its Memories and the Epilogue fame), JR Brown a prominent local lawyer and 4 ministers – Revs Hamilton, McLean, MacMorran and McNab. Major George Christie took the chair and remained the chairman for the rest of the project.
The first business of the meeting was to elect a Committee and while all of the BPC councillors were co-opted onto it, the need for a more broadly based membership was also recognised – after all the councillors had comprehensively failed to produce a Roll of Honour. It was decided to elect an additional 3 people from each council ward (4 in some wards) which was a wise move, both for fund-raising and also collecting names of the fallen, which were the most onerous duties of the members of the committee. The additional members included ministers who would be familiar with their congregations, school teachers and other well-kent Vale people. George MacLeod who was also the Parish Registrar was appointed the Hon Secretary and Treasurer which was another good move as his exemplary minutes, accounts and other records amply testify.
There was a major omission from the Committee elected by that first meeting - there were no Roman Catholic clergyman on it. However that oversight was corrected a few days later when Rev Fathers McCabe and Murray were added along with Rev DM McLaren and a representative of the Federation of Discharged Soldiers and Sailors and a representative of The Comrades of the Great War.
Various suggestions were discussed about what form of the Memorial might take which showed that many people had already put serious thought into this. They included:
- A Swimming Pool
- Funds for future assistance for Widows and Orphans, a suggestion made by Robert Scott
- Cottages for widows and orphans was a favoured project of George Halkett who represented former servicemen
- A memorial cross was suggested by Major Findlay, which turned out to be a favoured solution in many other localities including Luss, but not in Alexandria.
The Chairman, Major Christie, said “leave it to the Committee” whose job it would be to consider all suggestions submitted to them. This was accepted by the meeting, although apparently not by some Parish Councillors who continued to raise the matter from time to time in Council meetings.
There was one other suggestion which deserves to be mentioned – a proposal to site the memorial up beside the reservoir overlooking the whole of the Vale and Loch Lomond. This was probably the most dramatic site and certainly the one with the best view and it’s no surprise that it was given serious consideration. However, it was felt on balance that it was too much out of the way, which was probably the right decision from a practical point of view.
There was one other matter relating to the Memorial which came to occupy the thoughts of some councillors – captured German guns. The government had announced that localities may be given 1 or 2 captured German guns to place beside the local war memorial. There was much confusion about who would get the guns and when, what conditions might apply and indeed if the plan would go ahead at all. One condition which was floated was that priority would be given to parishes in which a resident or far more likely, a late resident, had won a VC. Strangely enough Bonhill would have qualified more or less on a technicality because John Reginald Noble Graham, whose father Sir John Frederick Noble Graham rented Cameron House while Major Smollett was away serving in the war, won the VC in 1917 while serving with the Argylls and his home address was Cameron House which is in Bonhill Parish.
The Bonhill Parish Councillors had absolutely no influence over the provision of the guns and there was nothing they could do about them except talk, which was of course what they were at their happiest doing. There was opposition to accepting the guns in case they upset people who had lost relatives and also for the practical reason that they might well sink into the ground at the Christie Park and for a short time there was an active debate in the letters to the Lennox Herald about whether or not guns should be sought. It’s not clear if any guns did arrive in Alexandria, but two guns were certainly delivered to Renton and placed not at the War Memorial at the Howgate, where there wasn’t enough room, but at the School Green close to where the Renton Memorial now stands, but actually in the school grounds
Meanwhile the Ward Committees got on with the real work of collecting money and the names of the dead and the Memorial Committee chose a designer and worked with him to develop a design. The designer was Mr D Y Cameron RA of Kippen who was also responsible for the Kilmaronock War Memorial and the architects were Messrs Bell & Harvey of Stirling. Cameron’s design is clearly heavily influenced by the Cenotaph in Whitehall, which was the work of Sir Edwin Lutyens, but since that is one of the 20th century’s architectural gems that is no bad thing.
Incidentally, Lutyens’ Whitehall Cenotaph was originally a temporary structure made of plaster and wood which was hurriedly put together to act as a focal point for the peace celebrations of 19th July 1919. Literally overnight it became covered in flowers placed there by members of the public with whom it obviously struck a chord. As the flowers continued to pile up in the next few days the Prime Minister David Lloyd George, shrewd politician that he was, decided that the people had spoken. Plans for a national competition for the design and build of a national war memorial in Hyde Park, London, which was to have been organised by a committee of the usual bureaucratic suspects, were immediately scrapped. Lutyens temporary structure in Whitehall was rebuilt in Portland stone and it became the people’s National War Memorial. That was a happy piece of serendipity, not only for the nation but also, as it happened, for the Vale.
By December 1919 the ward Committees had collected 313 names and issued the list for inspection. Over the next 6 months or so as the fund raising went on many more names were added and when the tenders were issued the builders were asked to tender for 336 names with a separate price for additional names. Details of the two tender documents are in the bound book of the proceedings of the Committee:
- Messrs JA Paton, Alexandria - £1,750 with slate tablets or £2,070 for granite tablets. For names additional to 336, 8d per letter on slate. 9d per letter on granite.
- H B Jardine, 21 Arthur Street Alexandria - £1,756 with slate tablets, £2,080 with granite. 10p per additional letter in slate, 1/- per letter in granite.
The tender was awarded to J A Paton. It is constructed of Auchenheath stone from Lanarkshire with tablets of Welsh slate. It is 30 ft high and its base measures 28ft 6 inches by 19ft 5 inches. Apart from the tablets with the names, there are very few words on the memorial, simply “To the glory of God and in memory of the men of Bonhill Parish who gave their lives in the Great War 1914-19.” The Memorial was erected on what had been a children’s swing park in the Christie Park Alexandria.
On Saturday 28th May 1921 the Memorial was unveiled by Colonel Sir Iain Colquhoun of Luss the Lord Lieutenant of Dunbartonshire, whose duty it was to perform the unveiling ceremony at many of the county’s War Memorials. A large crowd had gathered in the Christie Park and most shops in Alexandria closed between 2 and 3 o’clock as a mark of respect as the unveiling approached. Before performing the ceremony, Sir Iain inspected the ex-servicemen who paraded. Several minutes silence was followed by a dedicatory prayer from Rev J Finlayson Young, followed by a lament played by Pipe Major Richard Stewart of Vale of Leven Pipe Band while the Last Post was performed by Bugler Young of Renton.
Major Christie placed a wreath from the War Memorial Committee followed by Mr George Halkett who placed one on behalf of the ex-servicemen. They were then followed by a great many members of the public laying their own tributes.
Probably because of its similarity to the Whitehall Cenotaph, right from its unveiling the Bonhill Parish War Memorial was known as the Alexandria Cenotaph, a tradition which has continued ever since.
There are 363 names on the Cenotaph which is the same number as appear on the list of names in the Committee’s records. However, 4 of these names were added in hand writing to the printed list and even to-day it is obvious that they were added to the Cenotaph after the rest of the engraving had been completed – they are slightly smaller than the names above them and very slightly out of alignment.
The names are listed by Regiment and then by rank and then in alphabetical order within Regiment and Rank. This may be a bit hierarchical and is in contrast to Renton where everyone is listed in alphabetical order with only their regimental affiliation also named. The Luss Memorial carries this a stage further, providing only names in alphabetical order, no rank or unit name. For the purpose of uniquely identifying a person the information provided on the Alexandria Cenotaph makes the job a wee bit easier, and at the other extreme the lack of information on the Luss Memorial makes it a lot more difficult, but of course the Committees didn’t have that in mind.
The Names on Alexandria Cenotaph
The names of the men listed on the Alexandria Cenotaph are as follows:
|Aitchison||Thomas A J||Lieut||HLI|
|Allan||Daniel MDF||Pte||Black Watch|
|Anderson||William G||Gunr||Royal Field Artillery|
|Brooks||Harry R G||Sapper||Royal Engineers|
|Brown||Joseph||Pte||Machine Gun Corps|
|Cameron||Allan||Cpl||New Zealand Forces|
|Cameron||William||Pte||Australian Imperial Forces|
|Campbell||A Melfort||Midsman||Royal Navy|
|Carr||James||Pte||Royal Scots Fusiliers|
|Chrystal||Ian C||Lieut||Seaforth Highlanders|
|Craig||Frederick C||F-Sgt||Royal Air Force|
|Crawford||Arthur||Pte||Canadian Expeditionary Forces|
|Crum Ewing||Alexander||2nd Lt||SH|
|Cunningham||William||Pte||Kings Own Scottish Borderers|
|Devaney||William||Cabin Boy||Trans Ser / ASH|
|Docherty||Joseph||Pte||Royal Irish Regiment|
|Dowall||William||Pte||Scottish Rifles (Cameronians)|
|Farquhar||Jack||F-Lt||Royal Air Force|
|Howard||James R||Gunr||Royal Garrison Artillery|
|Jardine||George||Pte||Royal Irish Fusiliers|
|Kennedy||William||Pte||Durham Light Infantry|
|Lennie||William G||Pte||Royal West Kent Reg|
|Leslie||David C||L/Cpl||Northumberland Fusiliers|
|Malcolmson||George||Lieut||South African Forces|
|McBarnes||Henry||Pte||Kings Liverpool Regiment|
|McCallum||William C||Pte||Royal Defence Corps|
|McDonald||John||Pte||Army Service Corps|
|McKean||James||W’less Op||Transport Services (Merchant Navy)|
|Paterson||William||Pte||West Yorkshire Regiment|
|Routledge||William||Driver||Royal Horse Artillery|
|Strutt||John||Cpl||Kings Liverpool Regiment|
- A Trooper John McColl is shown as serving in the 2nd Dragoons and another Trooper John McColl as serving in the 9th Lancers. It is in fact the same regiment and there is only one John McColl
- A Private John Miller is shown as serving in the Royal Scots while a second John Miller is listed as serving in the Highland Light Infantry. It is virtually certain that there is only one John Miller and that he transferred from the HLI to the Royal Scots thus serving in both regiments at different times and hence the confusion.