Mar 032017

The Black Watch Museum in Perth

When war began in August 1914, whilst most of RBGE’s male staff were joining the Royal Scots and the Cameron Highlanders, two of our staff members enlisted in the Black Watch. Based in Perth, and with origins that can be traced back as far as 1725, the Black Watch had the reputation of producing particularly ferocious soldiers, each having the honour of wearing the red hackle on their tam o’shanters.

The two men in question are Thomas Aird, who joined the 11th Battalion of the Black Watch on the 16th November 1914 and Thomas Young who enlisted in the 1st Battalion Black Watch on the 5th August 1914 – a day after war was declared.

Unfortunately neither of these men have left many records, nor records easily attached to themselves, but we’ve been able to piece some pieces of information together, mostly thanks to help received at the excellent Black Watch Museum in Perth and researcher Garry Ketchen, who I’m again grateful to for allowing me to use his genealogical research.

Aird’s name on the RBGE Memorial

Thomas Aird’s name appears on the RBGE War Memorial, so we know he numbers amongst RBGE’s 20 members of staff at the start of the war that were killed, but his date of death for some reason was not recorded on our Service Roll. During a visit to the Black Watch museum we discovered his name, his service number (S/6773) and the information that he was killed in action on the 3rd March 1917. Garry Ketchen, who has researched the men appearing on the RBGE War Memorial, also discovered this information along with the fact that Aird was born on the 25th July 1878 to Hamilton and Agnes Aird in Kirkmichael or Kirkconnel, Ayrshire. He also discovered that Aird was employed as a colliery fireman before he began work at RBGE on the 11th May 1914 as a Labourer. Although Aird enlisted with the 11th Battalion of the Black Watch, one of the new battalions set up in October 1914 to take the huge numbers of new recruits joining in the early months of the War, it soon became a reserve battalion with members being sent to bolster others on the Western Front. It appears Aird was transferred to the 1st Battalion in January 1916 after completing his training. He therefore would have been active in the Battle of the Somme which began in July of that year. We know from RBGE records that he was wounded once.

Aird’s name on the Black Watch memorial in Perth

By looking at the Battalion diaries available on we can see where Aird was when he was killed. The Battle of the Somme was still raging at the time and the 1st Black Watch were to the south of the river. On the 3rd March they moved from Assevillers to huts and billets at Chuignolles. Prior to this they had been spending short periods on the front line and in training, staying nearby to offer support when needed. There was no mention of any action or death on the 3rd March, only a tally at the end of the month: 1 Officer wounded, 17 O.R. [Ordinary Ranks] ditto, 2 O.R. died of wounds and 3 O.R. killed. Aird’s pension records show that he was killed in action, so presumably he was one of the last three, probably in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Thomas Young, on the other hand, survived the war.  We know he joined RBGE on the 24th April 1914 as a Patrolman (presumably a cross between a policeman and a security guard) and was immediately called up to Aldershot to join the 1st Battalion of the Black Watch becoming one of the first soldiers to cross the English Channel as part of the British Expeditionary Forces, all of this hinting at a previous spell in the army.  He would have been involved in many of the major battles of the First World War including Mons, Ypres, Loos, the Somme, Passchendale and finally the storming of the Hindenburg Line at the end of the War. At the Black Watch Museum I was made aware of the Black Watch’s history, written by Major-General A.G. Wauchope. In it is a list of 30 men who were part of the 1st Battalion mustered at Aldershot at the beginning of the War and who were still in the 1st Battalion when the war ended in November 1918. The name Private Thomas Young is on that list, and it may well be that he is RBGE’s Thomas Young, in which case the Black Watch Museum know that he had originally joined in 1905 and would indeed still have been on reserve in 1914. I was shown an image of the 1st Battalion at Aldershot as they were about to depart – Thomas Young would have been one of those many men and it was sobering to think that just 30 of them were still in the same battalion for the Armistice (although reserves continually bolstered the battalion of course). At present we know nothing more about Thomas Young. He did not return to RBGE after he was demobilised on the 22nd February 1919.

Photo of the 1st Black Watch in Aldershot, August 1914, with kind permission from the Black Watch Museum.

We can look at the 1st Battalion diary for the end of the War though, and get a sense of the atmosphere at the time the men of the 1st Black Watch were being demobilised. Major Fowler was the one Officer also present on the list of 30 men surviving in the 1st Battalion from the beginning to the end of the War:

“On the 24th [February] Maj. And Q[uartermaster] W. Fowler M.C. left the Battalion to proceed for duty at Bisley. After over 35 years service in the Regiment, and continuous service, without a break with the Battalion throughout the war, his departure was a matter of great regret to everyone, and the high esteem in which he was held by all was impressed by the voluntary turn out of the Battalion to escort him to the station. Both the Pipe and Brass Bands were in attendance. On reaching the station, the Brass Band played ‘Auld Lang Syne’, after which Major Fowler addressed the Battalion and said good-bye. As the train moved out of the station, the pipers played ‘Scotland the Brave’, accompanied by much cheering.” wrote Lt. Col. J. Anderson.

We can also read the farewell given to the men by Brigadier General L.L. Wheatley when the 1st Infantry Brigade was disbanded on the 25th March 1919:

To Brigade Headquarters, 1st Battalion The Black Watch, 1st Battalion Royal North Lancashire Regiment, 1st Battalion The Cameron Highlanders, and the 1st Trench Mortar Battery. “The Brigade is about to break up. For your loyalty in the past I thank you, for the present I say Good-bye, and for the future I wish you good luck. It has been the proudest six months of my military service to have had the honour to command you.”

With thanks again to Garry Ketchen and to Richard McKenzie at the Black Watch Museum.

Feb 272017

In researching those past members of RBGE staff who enlisted and were killed during the First World War I’m aware of all those who enlisted and survived the war, having served their time in the trenches – those that never received a mention on any war memorial but tolerated many of the same experiences including the fear, pain and discomfort we so often associate with trench warfare. Ironically, it can be these survivors that can be harder to research, but an opportunity to look at one of them, John Richard Ferisy, arose recently when he became the subject of an enquiry sent to the library at RBGE. The enquirer was a medal collector who had come across a couple of medals with Ferisy’s name (or his ‘alias’ Ferguson) inscribed on them. During his research he discovered that Ferisy had worked at RBGE as a timekeeper and so he asked if we had any more information about him.

Unfortunately, information about our labourers (Ferisy’s job title) at this time is scarce and scattered, but between the two of us, using sources like the RBGE Guild journals and census and military information available via, we were able to piece together the following:

John Richard Ferisy was born on the 27th February 1869 in Edinburgh. His parents were Sophia (née Watson) and William Ferisy, who was a gardener, and he was brought up with his brothers and sisters in a small thatched farm cottage called Forest Hall just north of Craiglockhart in the parish of Colinton. Ferisy’s military records tell us that he joined the army, specifically the 2nd battalion of the King’s Own Scottish Borderers (KOSB) in 1889 at the age of 19 (which calls into dispute either the age he gave when he joined up or his birthdate, but only by one year), stating he was a mason prior to this. He was involved in the 1895 ‘Relief of Chitral’ campaign on India’s northwest frontier and was therefore awarded the 1895-98 India General Service Medal; our medal collector has obtained this medal, but not the Queens South Africa medal that he also would have been entitled to when he was recalled from the reserves four years later to serve in South Africa with the 1st Battalion KOSB during the 2nd Boer War between 1899 and 1902.

Ferisy joined RBGE in December 1913 as a labourer, but re-joined the army again on the 28th August 1914 when the First World War began, initially with the 6th Battalion KOSB and then the Cameronians (Scottish Rifles) with the latter service in India, thus sparing him the horrors of the trenches towards the end of the war. His South Africa and WW1 medals are yet to be located and our collector would love to re-unite them.

RBGE records back up what the medal collector discovered from Ferisy’s military service records, his retirement notice in our Guild Journal stating:

“John Richard Ferisy, …a South African veteran, joined the Garden on the 8th December 1913 and served in Flanders and India during the Great War. He was a familiar figure to many past members, as he fulfilled the duty of timekeeper at the Works Entrance for a number of years. The appreciation of the Staff was expressed by the presentation of a cheque upon his retirement on 27th February 1934.”

The next time Ferisy gets a mention in the RBGE Guild Journal (apart from his appearances in the Guild member lists, the RBGE Guild being a society of past and present members of staff, allowing everyone to remain in touch) is when he dies: “Obituaries… John Ferisy, Edinburgh, in April 1939”. He would have been 70. He does however receive further mentions, in the early 1980s, when past members of staff were asked to recall their memories of working at RBGE for inclusion in the Guild newsletter.

Cartoon drawn by Jock Scott in 1936 showing Patey at the gate – he was Ferisy’s successor.

Ferisy’s first mention is from Frank Knight, a probationer gardener originally from Cornwall who was at RBGE between 1919 and 1923- he said:

“I was soon the object of much curiosity, “had they seen the wee red-headed probationer from N. Cornwall with a dialect like Uncle Tom Cobley and Jan Stewer and all?” I had one champion and that was Jock Ferisy, who was in charge of the back gate. During his army career in the KOSB he had for a time been stationed in Crown Hill barracks, Plymouth, and could say with not too bad an accent, “up along and over”, a local saying that he had picked up in the Plymouth pubs.”

His second mention was from another former probationer gardener, Tom Grieve, who was at RBGE between 1928 and 1934 who said:

“in my time, at least two probationers were dismissed for getting married, and no married applicant had a hope as a prospective probationer. We started work at 6am and the Gate was closed 5 minutes after, and, if late, we lost two hours pay until breakfast which made quite a hole in our weekly wage of £2:2:2d. Jock Ferisy at the gate used to look out and hurry us up if we were in sight. How we puffed up the lane. Good old Jock. Many a pint did we buy him (2½p), old soldier he.”

His name doesn’t appear on any memorial here, but I like to think that thanks to email enquiries, researchers, information gleaned form historic records and outlets such as Botanics Stories we can remember men like him.

Jul 012016

The Battle of the Somme commenced at 7:30am on the 1st July 1916, an offensive lasting for 141 days of blood, mud and horror. The first day stands out in terms of casualties as one of the worst days for the British Army – 57,470 casualties, including 19,240 fatalities. The objectives of the offensive were to take pressure off the French army who were at that time engaged in a vicious battle with the Germans at Verdun by attacking the Germans to the north of this, and in doing so attempt to capture the plateau between the rivers Somme and Ancre.

Photograph of James Hamilton Dick and John Anthony (both 2nd Lieutenants at the time) on the Somme in 1916. Both were to win Military Crosses by 1918.

Photograph of James Hamilton Dick and John Anthony (both 2nd Lieutenants at the time) on the Somme in 1916. Both were to win Military Crosses by 1918.

Considering the length of the battle and the number of Scottish battalions involved, it must be that many men listed on RBGE’s Roll of Honour were involved in this offensive although it is hard to say who – with many battalions being merged and assigned new names and men leaving battalions to reinforce others at this time it becomes more complicated to follow our soldiers’ progress in the War. I do know that we have no fatalities at all listed during the period of the Battle of the Somme, so it must be concluded that although it’s possible there may have been men wounded, none of our staff who left RBGE at the beginning of the War to join the army were killed at the Somme in 1916.

In our Archive collections however, we do have a small album of photographs of soldiers, one of which is titled “Capt J.H. Dick M.C., Capt J. Anthony M.C., On the Somme 1916”, so it seems timely to look at this album now (although I’m reasonably sure neither men were sent to France until September 1916). There are many names in the album, so it was only fairly recently spotted that the album was put together by John Anthony, or perhaps a member of his family as he is referred to within as ‘The Hero’ which by all accounts of his modesty, doesn’t sound like a name he would have used for himself!

Our hero, John Anthony

Our hero, John Anthony

John Anthony was born in Edinburgh in December 1891. He attended Boroughmuir and George Heriot’s School, entering the University of Edinburgh in 1911 to read Arts and Science. His studies were interrupted with the outbreak of war in 1914 and he joined the University’s Officer Training Corps as a cadet in 1915. In October 1915 he joined the 5th Royal Welsh Fusiliers as a 2nd Lieutenant and was promoted to Lieutenant in in July 1917. He became an Acting Captain in August 1917 when he was attached to the 7th Royal Warwickshire Regiment to command one of their Companies. It was shortly after this time that Anthony was awarded a Military Cross (the M.C. referred to on the Somme photograph above) for conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty – he took command of his Company during a night time relief in Italy when during heavy shelling the officer in charge was wounded. Anthony quickly reorganised the section and was able to drive off two enemy attacks on advanced posts thus saving lives and maintaining the position of the line.


Anthony and his fellow cadets at camp, possibly in Peebles in 1915?

Anthony and his fellow cadets at camp, possibly in Peebles in 1915?

Altogether John Anthony spent eight years in military service, fighting on the Western Front in France, and also in Italy, Egypt and Palestine. He wasn’t able to return to his University studies until 1923 as the War Office had him engaged in educational work in the Middle East after the war ended. Anthony was eventually to spend the rest of his life working in education. He completed his M.A. in 1924 and his B.Sc. in 1926 before going to Malaya to work on a large rubber estate for five years, returning home in 1932 to become an assistant lecturer in Botany at Dundee University. He began his connection with RBGE in 1934 when our then Regius Keeper, William Wright Smith asked him to join Edinburgh University’s teaching staff as a lecturer in Forest Botany, and any other botanical subject he was called upon to teach. During this time he developed an interest in wood anatomy and intended writing a book on the subject – indeed, the typed manuscript for this work entitled “The Identification of British Trees, Shrubs and Undershrubs by means of the Microscopic Structure of their Wood” is housed in RBGE’s archives.

2nd Lieutenant John Anthony in Llangollan, August 1916.

2nd Lieutenant John Anthony in Llangollen, August 1916.

John Anthony did eventually have a book published, albeit posthumously.  After his retirement in 1958 he and his wife worked on a flora of Sutherland, spending all his spare time exploring the botany of this county and compiling a typescript, which he did not live to see published. The Botanical Society of Scotland published it in 1976, four years after his death in 1972 at the age of 80.   It is still seen as a tribute to a modest and good humoured man, fondly remembered by the staff at RBGE who knew him.

The Album

The photograph album itself is small and plain and marked with the name and crest of the Allan Glen’s School, although the link between Anthony and that school is not known.  There are photos of Anthony’s family, his friends, views around Edinburgh including Colinton Dell, blurry locomotives on the Caledonian railway, and of course, Anthony and some of his fellow cadets and soldiers, often in very relaxed, laid back poses, enjoying the calm before the storm.

John Anthony and his fellow cadets enjoy tea in the camp, likely Peebles, c.1915.

John Anthony and his fellow cadets enjoy tea in the camp, likely Peebles, c.1915.

Anthony and his friends take some time off from training, c.1915.

Anthony and his friends take some time off from training, c.1915.

2nd Lieutenant Anthony with Lieutenant Edwards, Captain Evans and a very relaxed Colonel Gavin in Oswestry, August 1916; around a month before Anthony is sent to the Western Front.

2nd Lieutenant Anthony with Lieutenant Edwards, Captain Evans and a very relaxed Colonel Gavin in Oswestry, August 1916; around a month before Anthony was sent to the Western Front.

Apr 302016

In 1916, RBGE lost two members of staff in France during the First World War. The first was George Blackmore who was killed in the trenches of the western front in March, the second was Arthur Henry Jones who died in hospital in April 1916, but he wasn’t an infantry man.

Papaver rhoeas from A. Dietrich's Flora Regni Borussici. III; T.185. Berlin, 1835

Papaver rhoeas from A. Dietrich’s Flora Regni Borussici. III; T.185. Berlin, 1835

Arthur Jones was born in Dymock in Gloucestershire in around 1882 to Thomas and Charlotte. He became a porter in a workhouse before becoming a labourer at the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh in December 1911. On the outbreak of war Jones enlisted immediately, joining the Royal Army Medical Corps in London on the 5th August 1914. He quickly entered the theatre of war, crossing to France as part of the British Expeditionary Force on the 25th August 1914. Jones ended up working as a ward orderly in the No.11 General Hospital which was situated in the Imperial Hotel on the sea front in Boulogne. The book ‘A Doctor on the Western Front’ (edited by John Hutton, 2013), comprised of the wartime diary entries of Captain Henry (Harry) Barton Owens, describes this hospital, from the point of view of a doctor. He was posted there briefly in September 1915 and referred to life there as

“a complete change in every way. I was able to refresh my memory in medicine and surgery… We lived in luxury in a very nice house let to us fully furnished with bed rooms, bathroom, billiard room, dining room, smoking room, etc. on the sea front at the north end of the town. We bathed in the sea whenever we wanted to, played a good deal of tennis and altogether had a good time and were not too busy.

I suspect things would have been somewhat different for the orderlies, but still, one wonders what caused Arthur Jones’s death if he was not fighting in the trenches? One would imagine that disease would be the most likely cause, but the answer came on the website of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission where one of the documents associated with Jones’s grave in the Etaples Military Cemetery states that he had attained the temporary rank of Acting Corporal, Army Health at the time of his death at the young age of 34 on the 30th April 1916. The cause of death was given as heart failure.

Jones's service card stored in the RBGE Archives

A.H. Jones’s Service Card, RBGE Archives

(RBGE records state that Jones died on the 19th May 1916, but it looks as if we must be mistaken)

Again I am deeply indebted to Garry Ketchen for his genealogical research into the men that appear on RBGE’s War Memorial and his kind permission to use it in these Botanics Stories.

Mar 072016
George Blackmore's Service Card, RBGE Archives

George Blackmore’s Service Card, RBGE Archives

In March 2016 we remembered the life of George Blackmore, a man who worked at RBGE as a labourer until the beginning of the First World War in 1914. Documents held at RBGE give the briefest of information about him; his employment as labourer at RBGE began on the 2nd October 1913 and he enlisted with the 7th Battalion of the Royal Scots Fusiliers on the 1st September 1914. His rank is given as Sergeant, but a note from his wife Margaret on our service record card tells us that he gave up this rank, with no reason given, making him a Private. He died of wounds received in action on the 7th March 1916.

Papaver rhoeas from M.A. Burnett's 'Plantae utiliores; or Illustrations of Useful Plants, employed in the Arts and Medicine', 1842

Papaver rhoeas from M.A. Burnett’s ‘Plantae utiliores; or Illustrations of Useful Plants, employed in the Arts and Medicine’, 1842

Genealogical research can tell us more about Blackmore’s life, and I’m very grateful to Garry Ketchen for conducting this research and allowing me to use it. Blackmore was probably born in 1870 in Edinburgh to Henry, a groom, and Susanna, a laundress. George Blackmore became a mason before enlisting with the 2nd then 1st Royal Scots Fusiliers in Ayr in October 1892.  He served in East India and eventually attained the rank of Lance Corporal before being discharged in October 1913, at which point his employment at RBGE started. At the outbreak of War, Blackmore would have been around 44 years of age, older than most of his colleagues who were enlisting, but the army would have been keen to recruit experienced soldiers and Blackmore re-enlists in Edinburgh on the 1st September 1914, becoming Private 7494 of the 7th Royal Scots Fusiliers. An extensive period of training followed in England (Aldershot, Bramshott, Basingstoke and Draycott) before Blackmore’s battalion finally entered the theatre of war in July 1915, although Ketchen’s research states that Blackmore did not reach France until the 17th November 1915. Less than four months later, on the 7th March 1916, he was dead, his remains now buried in the Lapugnoy Cemetery near Bethune.

There was no specific battle that day.  It appears that the Royal Scots Fusiliers were engaged in holding the Western Front line near Loos where so many Scottish soldiers had lost their lives since the British army began their offensive against the German opposition there in September the year before.  John Buchan describes the winter the 7th Battalion would have just experienced in his book outlining the ‘History of the Royal Scots Fusiliers (1678-1918)’ published in 1925:

“In this area [Loos] throughout the winter of 1915-16 the trials of the Fifteenth Division were very severe.  The Hohenzollern sector, in particular, could perhaps be best described as an open battlefield when taken over in October 1915 by the 45th Brigade, of which the 7th Royal Scots Fusiliers formed part…  Communications through the old British trench system, across the previous no-man’s land, to the old German trenches now held by our own men, were lengthy as well as exposed, so that reliefs and the tasks of carrying-parties were both perilous and exhausting.  The mine warfare, combined with the heavy hostile artillery and trench mortar fire, took its toll.  The strain on battalions can perhaps best be understood when it is realised that during two of these months in the trenches, the Fifteenth Division suffered 3,000 casualties.”

It’s obvious there would still have been skirmishes and sniper attacks on the front-line on a daily basis and it appears that George Blackmore may have been a victim of one of these.

In Buchan’s book I found the below poem, written by Lieut-Col A.M.H. Forbes, a fellow Royal Scots Fusilier, in which he describes with humour some of the conditions experienced by the soldiers during their first winter in France in 1914.  I think Blackmore may have had similar experiences the following winter and so I include it here.

“I came to France prepared to shed my blood,

But not to perish miserably in mud,

I’m ready to attack with might and main,

And here I’ve sat six weeks inside a drain,

While all that’s left of Bill, who took a snooze,

Is just a bayonet rising from the ooze.-

You find me out a bit of ground that’s dry

And I’ll soon show the savage Alleman why;

But now I can’t advance against the brutes

With half a ton of France upon my boots!”




Sep 252015

In memory of Lance Corporal William F. Bennett (1889-1915), Private Alan Menzies (1894-1915), Lance Corporal John Stewart (1891-1915) and Private George H. Stuart (1891-1915)

In August 1914, RBGE had a staff number of 110, 88 of which were male. Within two months of Britain declaring war on Germany on the 4th August, 56 had enlisted, rising to 73 by the end of the War. The largest number enlisting in one day was on the 29th August 1914, when 18 men from RBGE joined the army, nine of these signing up with the 5th Battalion of the Cameron Highlanders. They were joined by probationer gardener James Reid who enlisted with the 5th Cameron Highlanders on the 2nd September. He and three of the earlier enlisters, Alan Menzies, John Stewart and Robert Keir, were probationer gardeners who started at RBGE at the same time in August 1913; other probationers enlisting were William Frederick Bennett, Thomas Eneas Angus, Duncan Coutts and James Murray Grant; and they were joined by implement keepers George Hugh Stuart and David Ramsey Oliver. George Stuart initially served only 60 days as it was discovered he required a hernia operation, but he was allowed to re-join the same Battalion as his colleagues when he was declared fit in December after a recommendation for re-enlistment given by Professor Francis Mitchell Caird of the Royal Infirmary, artist for the Botanical Society of Edinburgh and contemporary of RBGE Regius Keeper Isaac Bayley Balfour.

George H. Stuart's image published in the Edinburgh Evening Dispatch, November 1915.

George H. Stuart’s image published in the Edinburgh Evening Dispatch, November 1915.

George Stuart’s records found on reveal much about his life not recorded in RBGE’s records, such as his hernia operation.  He was 5ft 9inches tall, had a scar on the small of his back and apparently defective teeth (a common occurrence in WW1 service records – the army provided Duncan Coutts with dentures). RBGE records show he had a wife, living at 90 Pitt Street in Leith, but his enlistment form states that he was a bachelor in December 1914. As one continues through the army forms it is revealed that Stuart married Sarah Oliver in January 1915, a lady with the same surname as her husband’s fellow RBGE implement keeper David Ramsey Oliver. Indeed, a look at Oliver’s records show him to be her brother, living at the same address, that of their parents. There could be no marital home for Sarah with her husband in the army, though they did have a son, also named George Hugh Stuart, born 27 January 1916, showing they were able to spend time together before Stuart and his colleagues left for France from Folkestone on the 10th May 1915. Stuart, along with three of his RBGE colleagues, was dead four months before the birth of his son.
The 5th Cameron Highlanders landed at Boulogne on the 11th May after an overnight Channel crossing and made their way towards the Western front where they were to spend their first few months overseas keeping on the move behind the trench lines, digging in, training and often needing to be ready to move up to the front if the call came. During this time, George Stuart was disciplined for “disregarding an order whilst on active service”, confined to barracks for three days.

9th (Scottish) Div. positions, 25 Sep 1915, at the Hohenzollern Redoubt, north end of Loos battlefield.

9th (Scottish) Div. positions, 25 Sep 1915, at the Hohenzollern Redoubt, north end of Loos battlefield.

The Allied forces had not made any major offensive moves towards the German trenches since May 1915, but by September, the time had come for another, to the northwest of Loos – the 5th Cameron Highlanders were to be in the front line, moving into position on the 24th September with the aim of going over the top at 6:30 the next morning to capture the heavily defended ‘Little Willie’ trench of the Hohenzollern Redoubt before heading to the Fosse 8 mining complex to clear out the miners’ cottages or ‘Corons’- an incredibly difficult task for men never having seen action before. The Allies pre-empted their attack with an aerial bombardment and smoke cannisters to provide a screen allowing the men to move beyond their barbed wire and form up unnoticed by the Germans. The smoke at the 5th Cameron’s trench proved to be a hindrance though, disorientating the troops and delaying the start by ten minutes by which time many men had fallen victim to chlorine gas released by the British army for the first time in an offensive during WW1 – a tragic last minute change in wind direction meant much of it drifted back to suffocate their own troops. As reported in the 5th Cameron Highlander’s War Diary:

“6:40am – the Battalion advanced in force lines as follows: A + B [Companys] in two lines of half Coys [Companys], third line C Coy, fourth line D Coy in Batt[alion] reserve… Strength about 820 all ranks.” [It is known that Alan Menzies, George Stuart and John Stewart were in B Coy; it is likely that William F. Bennett was too.]
“7:10am – First two lines reported to have passed first German trench, i.e. ‘Little Willie’. D Coy were to be sent forward to occupy German Main line trench – Fosse Trench.”
“7:30am – Batt[alion] HQ advanced. It was found that the whole line of advance was enfiladed by heavy machine gun and rifle fire from Mad Point and Madagascar [German trenches]. This fire had caused very heavy losses, practically having wiped out the first two lines.”
HQ pushed on with the remains of D Coy and were able to take the Corons cottages relatively unopposed and “without further loss”.

Because Scottish Divisions formed much of the frontline of what became known as the Battle of Loos, they suffered particularly heavily that day. By the evening of the first day of the Battle on the 25th September, many battalions had been virtually destroyed – the 5th Cameron Highlanders apparently could muster only 80 men.*
RBGE lost four men that day:

Private Alan Menzies as shown in Perth Academy's school magazine, with thanks to the Local and Family History Dept, A.K.Bell Library, Perth for permission to reproduce it.

Private Alan Menzies as shown in Perth Academy’s school magazine, with thanks to the Local and Family History Dept, A.K.Bell Library, Perth for permission to reproduce it.

Lance Corporal William Frederick Bennett, born around 1889 in Bridgwater in Somerset, had come to RBGE as a probationer gardener in August 1911 from Cardiff; missing, presumed killed in action.
Private Alan/Allan Menzies, born January 1894 in Perth, joined RBGE as a probationer gardener in August 1913, missing, ‘presumed dead’.
Lance Corporal John Stewart, born February 1891 in Alloway, Ayrshire, joined RBGE as a probationer gardener in August 1913, missing, presumed killed in action.
Private George Hugh Stuart, born December 1891 in Dalry in Edinburgh, joined RBGE as an implement keeper in April 1914, killed in action.  Update: 06/10/15: His family heard that he was last seen helping an officer out of a barbed wire entanglement when a German shell exploded next to them and nothing more was seen of George.

Although gains were made on the first day, the Battle of Loos officially ended on the 8th October 1915 and is now considered one of the biggest disasters of that year with over 60,000 British casualties and ultimately no territorial gain.**  Thomas Angus, Duncan Coutts, James Grant, Robert Keir, James Reid and George Stuart’s brother-in-law David Oliver survived the Battle of Loos, although Coutts was wounded on the first day of the battle: a gunshot wound to his left forearm, fracturing his radius; and all but Coutts made it through the entire War, though most suffered wounds at some point. Short summaries of all the soldiers can be found in RBGE’s Roll of Honour available here or by contacting the RBGE Archives.
One of these men was chosen by Isaac Bayley Balfour to have his name commemorated by using it to name a new plant – Primula menziesiana, a “charming little plant”*** collected by Roland Edgar Cooper in Bhutan in 1914, it was named after Private Alan Menzies to keep him in memory – which it has, despite the primula since joining its closest ally, Primula bellidifolia and taking its name.

Primula bellidifolia from Curtis's Botanical Magazine, 8801, v.145, 1919.

Primula bellidifolia from Curtis’s Botanical Magazine, 8801, v.145, 1919.

R.E. Cooper's herbarium specimen of Primula menziesiana, collected in October 1916 under "dry shady rocks" in Bhutan.

R.E. Cooper’s herbarium specimen of Primula menziesiana, collected in October 1916 under “dry shady rocks” in Bhutan.


"Primula menziesiana: pot plant in flower" taken in the RBGE studion be Robert Moyes Adam, 7 April 1921.

Primula menziesiana: pot plant in flower” taken in the RBGE studio by Robert Moyes Adam, 7 April 1921.


We do not deem ourselves A1,
We have no past: we cut no dash:
Nor hope, when launched against the Hun,
To raise a more than moderate splash.

But yesterday, we said farewell
To plough; to pit; to dock; to mill.
For glory? Drop it! Why? Oh, well-
To have a slap at Kaiser Bill.

And now to-day has come along.
With rifle, haversack, and pack,
We’re off, a hundred thousand strong.
And- some of us will not come back.

But all we ask, if that befall,
Is this. Within your hearts be writ
This single-line memorial:-
He did his duty- and his bit!

Poem by Ian Hay (John Hay Beith) (1876-1952) in his book “The First Hundred Thousand: Being the Unofficial Chronicle of a Unit of “K(1)”” (1915) – the name given to the first 100,000 men enlisted by Kitchener, of which the 5th Cameron Highlanders were part.  The book ends at the Battle of Loos: [They] “will always be First; but alas! they are no longer The Hundred Thousand“.


As ever, grateful thanks to Garry Ketchen for much of the background genealogical research, paving the way for mine.

Update, 6/10/15: I’m also grateful to George Stuart’s great grandson Rob Stevens who made contact after reading this Botanics Story and was able to give me more information about Stuart’s family: “Sarah Stuart (nee Oliver) now found herself a young war widow with a small boy (also named George Hugh). She met and married one of the returning Australian soldiers who transited through Edinburgh on their way home. He then departed for Australia, Sarah & young George following on a few months later (with an aunt to look after her). They settled in rural Ballarat just outside Melbourne. Young George (my Grandfather) returned to UK, [at] about 14 I think and studied to be a Doctor. He joined the Navy during WW2 and served as ships surgeon in the Mediterranean. He then specialised as an anaesthetist, settled in Kent, died 1994.” He went on to have 4 children.

Reference material:
*Nick Lloyd’s “Loos 1915”, Tempus, 2006
Andrew Rawson’s “Loos – Hohenzollern”, Pen and Sword Books, 2003
Peter Doyle’s “Loos 1915”, The History Press, 2012
**Robin Neillands’s “The Death of Glory – The Western Front 1915”, John Murray, 2006
*** Isaac Bayley Balfour, “New Species of Primula” in Notes of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, v.9, 1916, pp.182-3

Sep 112015

The memorial poppy and wild flower meadow on the glasshouse lawn at RBGE has inspired many visitors to contemplate the bravery and sacrifice of men and women involved in the First World War and other conflicts before and since. One visitor in particular was inspired by a quote from our former Regius Keeper, Sir Isaac Bayley Balfour, on an information panel by the poppy field, to write a poem about the “culture shock” felt by a gardener used to nurturing life in the Edinburgh Botanic Garden now finding himself in a position where all around him in the trenches is being destroyed.
Freda Child is a retired psychotherapist and English teacher based in London, but her Scots heritage brings her back to Scotland and the RBGE whenever she can. She greatly admires the war poet Wilfred Owen, and has already published poetry on the subject of her great-uncle who was declared missing, presumed dead during the Great War.
We are delighted that she sent her latest poem to us so that we could publish it on our website.

A Gardener at War

“…this horrible duel, not with nature but with savagery perverted by civilisation.”
Isaac Bayley Balfour 1915
Regius Keeper of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh between 1888 and 1922

Papaver rhoeas in J.H. Kniphof's 'Botanica in Originali seu Herbarium Vivum', V: Halae Magdeburgicae (1762)

Papaver rhoeas in J.H. Kniphof’s ‘Botanica in Originali seu Herbarium Vivum’, V: Halae Magdeburgicae (1762)

The guns cease their howling and barking at last.
He rises to gaze from the top of the trench.
A worm is struggling on the barbed wire
Unhomed by a too-close-for-comfort blast.

The blazing poppies had no time to set seeds.
Now shattered by shrapnel into a red pulp.
Mr Isaac made him uproot them
But he had never considered them weeds.

Yon stand of hazel is now blackened and burnt.
“That’s nae way tae coppice,” his father would say.
Who would be swinging his axe and adze?
So many gone with the craft that they’d learnt.

Back home now a stranger is wielding the spade
That he had from his father and his before.
Perhaps Mr Isaac might miss him.
He knew the Garden, each footpath and glade.

Who’d nurture his weans now from their far off lands?
Who’d protect them from frosts and gather them in?
To prick out in spring, water and feed them
With all the tenderness of his rough hands.

He sniffs like a setter that’s scenting the grouse
Breath scanning the morning for fresh air and dew
But the stink of scorched earth and corpses
Obliterates all. He thinks of Burns’ mouse.

“Get down, man!” a brogue he knows well from back home
As a crack like a dead twig hardly is heard.
And poppies are drowning the hillside
As he’s embraced by the dark waiting loam.

©Freda Macquisten Child 2015

Aug 282015


Close up of capsule from George Forrest herbarium specimen of Rhododendron forrestii

Close up of capsule from George Forrest herbarium specimen of Rhododendron forrestii

In the Autumn of 1914, George Forrest was travelling in China. His letters written at the time mention the difficulties he was facing in getting permission to cross the river into the Mekong-Salwin divide. He also describes the difficult weather conditions. In August he wrote:

‘The whole country is under water, the hills and mountains bathed in dank mist, every 48 hours we have a thunderstorm of several hours’ duration by way of breaking the moist monotony! Most of the neighbouring provinces are worse off than we. Canton especially has suffered severely, nearly, or over one million people having lost their lives through the floods.’

This was only a few months after Britain had declared war on Germany and his letters show the early belief that the war would be over by Christmas:

‘Poor Germany cannot stand long against so many and such powerful enemies.’

A later letter, dated 30 September 1914, shows that he did, in fact, manage to cross the river and was collecting plants in the Mekong-Salwin divide and in this letter he describes some of the new collections and encloses small quantities of seed. One of the plants he collected at this time was Rhododendron forrestii, a species which had been named after Forrest by the German botanist, Friedrich Diels in 1912 from a specimen that Forrest had collected on his first expedition in 1905. It is likely that the seeds mentioned in the letter included this plant, whilst the herbarium specimen would have been sent back later.

The plant was grown on at RBGE in Edinburgh, where the collection is still growing in the Rock Garden. The flowers are displayed in the spring and are a vividly rich, waxy red. The collection is also important as it is one of the specimens drawn by Lilian Snelling, during her time working for Sir Isaac Bayley Balfour, Keeper of the Botanic Garden, and the drawing now forms part of the extensive botanical art collections within the RBGE Archives.

The specimens shown here are both the original collection made in 1914, as well as a later specimen which was made from the plant growing in the Rock Garden in 2006.

Herbarium specimens of Rhododendron forrestii Forrest 13259

Herbarium specimens of Rhododendron forrestii

Aug 192015
Papaver rhoeas from J. Sowerby's 'English Botany', v9: T.643, London (1799)

Papaver rhoeas from J. Sowerby’s ‘English Botany’, v9: T.643, London (1799)

George Cruikshanks Fallow was born to Archibald (a grocer and fruit grower) and Margaret (by 1914 a postmistress) in Rosebank near Dalserf, Lanarkshire on the 5th November 1890.  In 1905, when Fallow would have been 15 years old, he began an apprenticeship at Mauldslie Castle, on the other side of the River Clyde from Rosebank, spending four years training in the gardens there (described by the Scottish Field in 1904 as having ‘incomparable beauty’ made charming by the combination of art and nature) followed by a year in the glasshouses there as a journeyman.  Much of this information is recorded in the Probationer Gardener Registers held in the RBGE Archives, in which Fallow is given glowing references from the Head Gardener, David Bryson, and from his employer, Lord Newlands himself – “he has given every satisfaction wherever he has been and is a young man who wishes to get on and to receive all the scientific training possible.  I may add that he is a thoroughly honest, sober, obliging and a first class workman”.

Moving on from Mauldslie, Fallow spent ten months at Alloa Park before securing a position as a probationer gardener at RBGE on the 4th September 1911.  Here he would spend the next three years working six days a week in the Garden during the day and attending lectures and sitting exams in the evening with the aim of leaving RBGE at the end with better job prospects.  Fallow seems to have excelled here, getting good marks and impressing the Regius Keeper Isaac Bayley Balfour, which was no mean feat.  An occasion where Fallow had stood out was recalled by Harry Bryce, one of his fellow probationers, in the RBGE Guild News Sheet in March 1980: “In July 1914 the Prof [Isaac Bayley Balfour] supervised the arranging of a demonstration of exhibits in the Laboratory… The whole layout was like a cross-section through the field of Botany.” All this was for a surprise oral examination for Balfour the following evening – the probationers would have to study the exhibits in order to talk about any subject Balfour asked them to. After the exam, “the Prof then asked if anyone would volunteer to talk on any of the subjects… only one stood up and that was George Fallow. The following morning George was called up to the Prof’s office.” Balfour had been asked to recommend someone for the post of Sub-Inspector of the Horticulture Branch of the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries in London. Fallow was recommended and selected for the position, leaving RBGE on the 11th July 1914 to take up his new post.  So impressive was this achievement it made the local news, being reported in the Hamilton Advertiser on the 1st August.  Bryce continues: “Now, George was a member of the Territorials [The ‘Terriers’ were quite an attraction during this time. Apart from the drills and parades there was the big attraction of the Summer Camp] and he decided to go to camp with his fellow students, then after camp he would proceed to his new appointment. Alas, the ‘best laid schemes’…” This was 1914, of course, and Fallow was still at camp on the 4th August when war was declared. The ‘Terriers’ were immediately put on active service training rather than return to their jobs, Fallow enlisting in the 5th Battalion of the Royal Scots (the Queen’s Edinburgh Rifles).

Buddleia fallowiana in flower at RBGE in 1928, from our glass plate negative collection.

Buddleia fallowiana in flower at RBGE in 1928, from our glass plate negative collection.

After an initial period of training, Fallow and the 5th Royal Scots were dispatched to Gallipoli, landing there on the 25th April 1915.  Some of what these men went through there has been outlined a few times already in previous Botanics Stories dedicated to the memory of Fallow’s colleagues William G. Dickson, Duncan Smith and Walter H. Morland, which can be found by clicking here.  We don’t know how many of the Gallipoli campaigns Fallow was involved in, nor how long he was in Gallipoli for.  We do know that at some point Fallow was wounded, the circumstances as yet unknown.  Fallow was sent on a hospital ship back to the base in Egypt, but he died as a result of his wounds on the 19th August 1915 and was buried at the Port Said War Memorial Cemetery near Cairo.

One of George Forrest's Buddleia fallowiana herbarium specimens, this one collected north of Lijiang, Yunnan, in July 1910.

One of George Forrest’s Buddleia fallowiana herbarium specimens, this one collected north of Lijiang, Yunnan, in July 1910.

Perhaps now is a good time to name other members of RBGE staff who enlisted in the Royal Scots and other regiments and who also served in Gallipoli, but who survived that experience, going on to fight in other theatres of war, such as William Dykes, Horace Ellwood, James Maxwell Hampson, Henry Johnstone, Charles Lamont, Alexander McCutcheon, John Mathieson Brown and John McMillan Lugton. These names can all be found on our Roll of Honour, accessible by clicking here.

As Fallow had left his post just prior to the outbreak of war he does not feature on the RBGE memorial nor our Roll of Honour, but he does have a memorial of another kind, one that shows how much Fallow had impressed Regius Keeper Isaac Bayley Balfour – a plant named after him – Buddleia fallowiana.  This plant had been collected by George Forrest in Yunnan in China in 1906, and again in 1910, “a branched shrub of 6-12ft, flowers rich lavender, throat… orange, fragrant, with an odour resembling vanilla”.  Balfour identified it as a new species in 1917 and named it for Fallow, the footnote to the description in volume 10 of the Notes of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh stating: “The specific name is given to keep in memory Sergeant George Fallow, 5th Batt. The Royal Scots, a former gardener on the staff of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh, who died 19th August 1915, in Egypt, of wounds received in action at Gallipoli.”

It bears repeating (there has been a previous Botanics Story on this subject) that naming this plant after Fallow has certainly kept him in memory, but it also serves as a reminder to us that there are undoubtedly many, many more men, a good example being probationer gardeners, here for periods of three years before moving on, who have been closely associated with RBGE, and have contributed greatly to the organisation, who enlisted in the Forces but are un-named in our records. I only wish it were possible to add these names to the Roll now.


With thanks again for genealogical information provided by Garry Ketchen that allowed me to expand upon what I have previously been able to say about George Fallow, and to for the information about Mauldslie Castle.


Jun 282015
Regius Keeper Isaac Bayley Balfour with his daughter Senga, and 1 year old son Isaac, known as 'Bay'. Photo in possession of a member of Balfour's family.

Regius Keeper Isaac Bayley Balfour with his daughter Senga and 1 year old son Isaac, known as ‘Bay’. Original photo in possession of a member of Balfour’s family.

During the initial few months of the First World War 56 men out of a total male staff of around 88 at RBGE enlisted, rising to 73 by the end of the War. Isaac Bayley Balfour was RBGE’s Regius Keeper throughout the War years and it must have been devastating for him and the remaining staff to hear of injury and losses amongst their colleagues fighting overseas. In June 1915 however, Balfour suffered a more personal blow – the death of his son, also named Isaac Bayley Balfour, or ‘Bay’ for short, in Gallipoli.

Four months later he wrote to the plant collector Reginald Farrer:

Dear Farrer,
Some sorrows have put me out of my stride and upset the equilibrium of life to the extent of bringing other matters than scientific so much within the sphere of immediate duty that during these past summer months I have not attended to your collections and letters as in normal times I should have had so much pleasure in doing…”
I.B.Balfour to R.Farrer, 23 Oct 1915 (RJF/1/1/1/34)


Bay Balfour in 1901. Photo in possession of a member of Balfour's family.

Bay Balfour in 1901. Original photo in possession of a member of Balfour’s family.

Bay was born to Isaac Bayley Balfour and his wife Agnes on the 19th October 1889, the year after Balfour became Regius Keeper at RBGE, meaning Bay would have spent his childhood with older sister Senga in Inverleith House within the Garden grounds, at that time the Regius Keeper’s residence. He attended Winchester College between 1903 and 1908, before enrolling at Magdalen College, Oxford where he took up art, intending to be a professional portrait painter. He must also have had a connection with Edinburgh University (perhaps the fact his father was Professor of Botany there?) as he appears in their Roll of Honour, albeit in a section after the initial list of names. Here it is stated that Bay was trained by the University’s Officer Training Corps between September and November 1914, before being gazetted to the 14th Royal Scots on the 14th January (The Scotsman), a Home Regiment, quickly becoming a Lieutenant, before becoming attached to the 1st King’s Own Scottish Borderers (KOSB) and being sent to Gallipoli in April 1915.

As part of the 87th Brigade of the 29th Division, Lieutenant Balfour would have played a prominent part in the three Battles of Krithia, fought between April and June, intended by the Allies to take control of the village of Krithia in the Gallipoli Peninsula, and the nearby hill top position at Achi Baba. By the end of June 1915 the military objectives had been changed to the theoretically more achievable ambition of taking the first opposing trenches across No Man’s Land, and of making slow but sure progress along the peninsula. This was the aim of the Battle of Gully Ravine, initiated on the 28th June 1915. It was on this day that Bay Balfour was killed, leading his troops over the top of the KOSB trenches on the Gully Spur into battle at 11am after a two hour artillery bombardment of the Turkish trenches. His grave can now be found at the nearby Twelve Tree Copse cemetery.

Bay’s former College at Winchester has an excellent website commemorating their former pupils who served in the Great War. On it I found the following information, and was also sent some extra information, such as the poem below, by the College’s archivist Suzanne Foster, who has kindly given me permission to edit and reproduce it here, along with their photograph of Bay:

The news of Balfour’s death came as a shock to his best friend…, Archibald William Robertson Don, who was himself later to die of malaria on active service in Salonika. Don confided to his diary: “July 8th 1915 Bay has been killed in action. These last few days I have been thinking of him constantly… I was looking at old letters, and re-read all his. it is hard to be losing one by one all these irreparable friends. It has been a day such as Bay delighted in, and that at first made it harder… Thank goodness he had hills and sky and flowers and things in Gallipoli. He wrote about it all quite happily when last they heard, and he had had one of my letters, which is a sort of comfort.”

The death of Bay Balfour also deeply upset Balfour’s friend Alexander Douglas Gillespie (…Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, himself killed in action, September 25th 1915). He heard of it on July 11th: “This has been a black day for me ever since I saw Bay Balfour’s name in the lists from the Dardanelles. I can remember him so well as I first saw him, on that hot July day outside school at Winchester, before he and I went in to do our papers at the same table. We went up the school together all the way, and he was always the life of every class. And at Oxford I came to know him even better, until latterly he was in many ways my greatest friend. He was the most lovable of men – so lively and full of zest and joy in living that he made all his friends feel glad to be alive. He had a strong character too, with all his charm – for all his popularity at school left him quite unspoilt. He managed his house splendidly, and whatever he decided to do, he would have done well; but he never could have painted a better picture than his own five and twenty years, for there is nothing in them that any of his friends would ever wish to forget. I have written to Mrs. Balfour, but didn’t know what to say; he was the sunshine of that house. If only we could have done our training this last winter together – somehow I was afraid that I should never see him again. This is no letter, but I can think of nothing but Bay Balfour. The world is a poorer place without Tom [Gillespie’s younger brother, killed in action in 1914] and Bay Balfour, and I do feel that, if it wasn’t for all of you at home, I should be quite content to follow them. If ‘getting used to it’ means that one slowly forgets how much there was to love in them, I would rather keep the pain for ever. Perhaps Daisy would show you some verses I wrote about Bay Balfour; afterwards I worked at them until I made them rather better, but still not nearly good enough.”

The poem appeared in The Wykehamist (544, July 1915):

Isaac Bayley 'Bay' Balfour, reproduced with kind permission of the Winchester College Archives.

Isaac Bayley ‘Bay’ Balfour, reproduced with kind permission of the Winchester College Archives.

I.B.B. – 1903-1915

Twelve years ago, that hot July,
We walked together, you and I,
From Flint Court into School,
to show How much and little t’others know.

You smile at me. I seem to live
Through each long hour in every Div.;
You whisper, and I watch you rise
With mischief dancing in your eyes.

Your coat was gray as Magdalen Tower:
I see you, at each sounding hour,
flit through the winding Oxford street
With tattered gown and eager feet.

A year ago last June, we walked
The Highland hills, and bathed, and talked
Of everything beneath the sun,
And all our races yet to run.

July is come again – but you
Have done all that a man can do.
You loved your friends, and will not want
Companions by the Hellespont.

For your brave spirit wanders free
To islands in that summer sea,
And your light feet will pass with joy
Across the windy plains of Troy:

And all the heroes Homer sung,
Hector, Patroclus ever young,
And Nireus with the flowing hair,
Will smile to give you welcome there,

And weave into another lay
Your golden deeds of yesterday,
For half the tale was left unsaid
Until you shone among the dead.

Then, swift as thinking, you will come
To Flanders, where the bullets hum:
Your spirit will come to mine and tell
My loneliness that all is well;

Yes! to the friend who knows his friend
And knows himself, Death’s not the end,
And every day until I die
We’ll walk together, you and I.

A.D. Gillespie, from the trenches, July 1915

Click here for Bay’s obituary from the Winchester College at War web page.

Click here for Bay’s entry in the Edinburgh University Roll of Honour.

With thanks to Suzanne Foster and the Winchester College Archives for permission to use their material in this blog post, and to members of the Balfour family for providing copies of their photographs and their support over the years.

The book ‘Gully Ravine: Gallipoli’ by Stephen Chambers, Pen & Sword Books Ltd, 2003 was used to research the Battle of Gully Ravine, 28th June 1915.