Apr 092017

Jane Wisely, Papaver rhoeas, Failand, Somerset, 25th July 1936, from a collection in the RBGE Archives

John Hatley wasn’t at RBGE very long, joining us on 23rd July 1914 as a labourer at the age of 35. Genealogical researcher Garry Ketchen has been able to give us more information about Hatley’s life prior to this. He was born in Edinburgh in June 1879 to glass cutter Francis Hatley and his wife Catherine. John worked as a baker before enlisting in the army in 1896, serving as a gunner in the 2nd Edinburgh Royal Artillery Militia, being discharged a year later when he enlisted as a regular soldier in the 2nd Royal Scots Fusiliers. This led to him seeing action in the South African Boer War in 1899, returning home in 1903. He became a reservist in 1904, finally being discharged in 1909. Possibly amongst other jobs, he became a labourer in a firewood factory before joining RBGE in July 1914.

RBGE records state that Hatley enlisted on the 15th November 1914 as a Private, served for 3 years before being killed in action on the 18th April 1918. Another record says he was a Trooper in the Scottish Horse, was discharged and then re-employed. This is at odds somewhat with official Army records available on Ancestry.com, and, as no Hatley killed in April 1918 can be found in the Army records, and the address that we have in the RBGE records, 7 Church Place, is the same address given for the Hatley we were able to find using Army records, we’ll use these for Hatley’s remembrance, and disregard much of our information at RBGE, though why they are different I cannot say.  Accurately recording this sort of material must have been near impossible at the time.

Page taken from records held at RBGE, showing some of the information held about our WW1 soldiers

I love the details we can sometimes find in the Army Service records where they still exist (many were lost in the WW2 Blitz); in Hatley’s we can see that he was 5ft 9¼ inches tall and had tattoos including a snake on his right arm and flies on the base of his thumbs.  His eyes were grey and he had brown hair. He had three older brothers and a sister.  We can see that John Hatley enlisted with the 1st Scottish Horse on the 26th August 1914 (this regiment ties in with RBGE records) but was discharged in September due to him being medically unfit to serve.  He enlists again on the 8th December 1914, this time to the 16th Royal Scots. The brother closest to him in age (albeit around nine years older) seems to have enlisted with him on the same day as there is a Francis Hatley listed next to him in the Royal Scots medal roles, their service numbers one digit apart.  We know Francis survived the war, but is in hospital in 1921, so it may be that he didn’t manage it unscathed.

After enlisting with the 16th Royal Scots, Hatley spent just over a year travelling to various barracks across the U.K. to complete his training. He seems to have had other things on his mind as he is reprimanded and punished (usually by being confined to barracks, a minor punishment) over and over again for leaving the barracks without permission, usually between 9:30 and around 10:30 at night. It was the name of one of the men doling out one of the punishments that alerted me to the significance of the unit that Hatley had joined – Col. Sir George McCrae. Hatley had joined ‘McCrae’s Battalion’, one of the new battalions created by Lord Kitchener in the first months of the war. McCrae’s Battalion was the first ‘footballers’ battalion’, as it was largely composed of footballers and sportsmen, encouraged to enlist by a burgeoning sentiment that the playing of sport could wait until the more important duty of winning the war was undertaken. Perhaps Hatley, already discharged for being medically unfit, and his older brother in his mid-forties, were whipped up into trying again by the fever surrounding the charismatic George McCrae who encouraged hundreds to enlist with an inspired publicity drive which included rallies, speeches, marches and a recruiting station placed strategically close to Heart of Midlothian’s football ground.  On Monday 8th December 1914, the day Hatley enlisted, McCrae had recruited 1,120 volunteers who officially became known as the 16th (Service) Royal Scots Battalion, but the men preferred to be known as ‘McCrae’s’. On 12th December, McCrae declared recruiting closed and ordered the Battalion to mobilise three days later (‘McCrae’s Battalion’, J. Alexander, p.86).

Hatley’s name on the RBGE War Memorial at 20a Inverleith Row

After spending just over a year in Britain training, Hatley enters the theatre of War in Europe on the 8th January 1916. He is wounded in the field on the 14th July 1916, the day the 16th Royal Scots assaulted Bazentin Ridge during the Battle of the Somme. On the 20th December he is admitted to the Field Hospital with a sprained ankle received whilst carrying a load along a paved road. He spends some time at a rest station before rejoining his unit on the 10th January 1917.

The Battalion are beginning to prepare for the next major offensive at this point. Their training and drilling was continual as they marched towards the town of Arras. When they reached it in March, it felt to them as if the hard work was just beginning with some arguing that although a rest was what they needed, what they got instead was more drilling and plenty of digging. Trenches and tunnels were being dug from which to launch the attack which eventually happened on the 9th April, a day after Easter Sunday.

The British Army was responsible for a 14 mile stretch of the front line and McCrae’s Battalion were just to the north of Arras, aiming for a high grassy ridge upon which sat the ruins of Point du Jour farm. The plan was to heavily bombard the German trenches for weeks before the attack with the bombardment increasing to a firestorm for the final four days. The men were then to cross No Man’s Land taking the trenches one by one following a timed schedule meaning that each one could be bombed before the men arrived to capture it. At 4:30am on the 9th April the men began to line up in the trenches dug to launch the attack. It was pitch dark, freezing cold and raining and they found their positions with difficulty. Soon the bombardment began and it defied description – it could be heard and felt in the south of England. The men went over the top at 5:30 precisely and made swift progress, apparently crossing the first three enemy trenches in ten minutes. They soon advanced ahead of schedule meaning many were caught in the timed barrages.

McCrae’s Battalion along with other units in the 34th Division took the trench referred to as ‘Blue Trench’ at 7:15am at which point they were to pause to consolidate and allow the 15th Royal Scots to leapfrog through and continue to attack onwards towards the ridge. It sounds as if all of this was plain sailing, but all around the men shells from both sides were crashing down, and there was plenty of resistance left in the German trenches – they were continually exposed to machine gun fire both from ahead and behind. Field Marshall Haig considered the day a success however, writing in a letter to King George V:

“Your Majesty will be pleased to hear that I found the troops everywhere in the most splendid spirits and looking the picture of health. The marching and the joy of operating in the open at last and above all, the fact that the Army was advancing made everyone happy!… The change to open warfare has especially benefitted the Australians: indeed they seem 50 per cent more efficient now than when they were in the trenches…
I am writing this… while the Battle for Vimy Ridge etc. is going on. Everyone is so busy today that I have managed to get a leisure hour for writing a letter! I came here last night so as to be near the HQs of Generals Horne and Allenby [Allenby was in charge of the section Hatley was fighting in]…
The attack was launched at 5:30am, and has progressed most satisfactorily. Indeed, at the time of writing (3pm) the several lines have been captured according to the timetable and a large number of prisoners have been taken; probably 10,000 when all are counted! Our success is already the largest obtained on this front in one day.” (Douglas Haig: War Diaries and Letters 1914-1918, p.278)

The first day of the offensive at Arras could be considered a success. The Army did make significant advances that day, planes in the sky were now being used to spy on the opposing troops and the bombardments were becoming more efficient at cutting through barbed wire rather than just blowing it up into the air. The commanding officers were learning from mistakes made during previous battles, but there was still a long way to go. Tanks were now in use but they were slow, attracted enemy fire and being in them was like sitting in furnace that could explode at any minute. Beyond the land taken was the Hindenburg Line, the new system of fortified trenches that the Germans had been working on for the last seven months – all this lay ahead for the battle weary Allies.

The Arras Memorial at Faubourg-d’Amiens Cemetery, Pas-de-Calais, France. Photo by the War Graves Photographic Project, www.twgpp.org

Arras was a reasonably quick battle. After the quick progress of the first day lay another 38 days of slogging it out that we can compare to the 141 days of the Battle of the Somme that had preceded it. Total casualty numbers were therefore lower: 159,000 at Arras, 415,000 at the Somme. If you look at the daily death rate though, 4,076 at Arras, 2,943 at the Somme, it can be appreciated that of all the offensive battles launched by the Allies during World War One, Arras was by far the most lethal (‘Cheerful Sacrifice‘, Nicholls, pp.210-1). It also saw the highest concentration of Scottish troops involved in any WW1 campaign with 18,000 Scottish deaths recorded (BBC News). Amongst those was Private John Hatley. He was noted as being missing when the roll call was made on the return to Arras by the McCrae’s. Eventually he was “accepted for official purposes as having died on or since” the 9th of April, the first day of the battle. His body was never recovered, but he is remembered on the Arras Memorial at Pas-de-Calais, France, and on the memorial in the reception at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh.

My thanks again go to Garry Ketchen for allowing me to use his genealogical research in this series of blogs, and to Steve Rogers at the War Graves Photographic Project, for allowing me to use their image of the Arras Memorial.

Jack Alexander, “McCrae’s Battalion: The Story of the 16th Royal Scots”, 2004, Mainstream Publishing, Edinburgh
Jonathan Nicholls, “Cheerful Sacrifice: The Battle of Arras, 1917”, 2010, Pen and Sword Books, Barnsley
Gary Sheffield and John Bourne (eds.), “Douglas Haig: War Diaries and Letters 1914-1918”, 2005, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London
Army Service records available at Ancestry.com

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 Ancestry.com 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, Passchendaele 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.

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 Ancestry.com 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

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 Cruickshanks 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 mauldslie.org 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.

Jun 282015

William G. Dickson joined the staff of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh as a Labourer on the 3rd August 1914, the day before Great Britain declared War on Germany. Prior to this he had been educated at Daniel Stewart’s College and had worked at the Albert Hall and Operetta Picture House on Shandwick Place – it was one of Edinburgh’s cinemas before the War.

Papaver rhoeas from Curtis's Flora Londinensis. III: T. 32. 2nd edition. London (1817-1828)

Papaver rhoeas from Curtis’s Flora Londinensis. III: T. 32. 2nd edition. London (1817-1828)

On the 4th September 1914 after a month at RBGE, Dickson enlisted as a Private in the 5th Battalion of the Royal Scots. After a period of training, Dickson was sent with the Royal Scots to Gallipoli, landing there on the 25th April 1915 as part of the 88th Brigade of the 29th Division. He was there for just over two months and would have taken part in a number of offensives against the Ottomans, namely the three Battles of Krithia. By the end of June the 5th Royal Scots had made limited progress along the Gallipoli Peninsula and both the Allied and Ottoman forces had established a system of trenches. The commanders decided upon a different strategy now. Rather than attempt to make great advances along the Peninsula – something that hadn’t worked so far – try instead to take the nearest trenches and make slow but sure progress. The French achieved reasonable success with this objective on the 21st June, and a week later it was the turn of the British and Indian troops to try the same along the Gully Ravine to the northwest of Krithia. The job of the 5th Royal Scots in this endeavour was to move backwards, allow another Brigade through to lead the attack and then move up to the front line and hold it. If the attacking Brigade was unable to achieve its objectives in any way, the 5th Royal Scots and their Brigade were to take over.

The Battle of Gully Ravine was reasonably successful in achieving its aims, securing a number of Turkish trenches, but there were some that proved impossible to take. The 5th Royal Scots went over the top on Fir Tree Ridge late in the afternoon of the 28th June to bolster the attempt to take two of these, but it wasn’t possible. Private William G. Dickson was to lose his life that day, it being reported in The Scotsman that he was wounded and missing. Dickson is one of many that has no grave and is remembered on the Helles Memorial in Turkey and on the Great War Memorial at RBGE.

With thanks to Garry Ketchen for allowing me to use his invaluable genealogical research, and to Stephen Chambers for his book ‘Gully Ravine: Gallipoli’, 2003, without which it would have been remarkably difficult to research this battle.

Jun 112015
Smith's record in the RBGE Probationer Gardener Register

Smith’s record in the RBGE Probationer Gardener Register

Duncan Smith began work at RBGE as a probationer or trainee gardener on the 4th January 1909 at the age of 24, receiving training and work experience in RBGE’s Arboretum, Herbaceous and Glass Departments. His work was “performed carefully, skilfully and intelligently” and his exam marks were such that when his probation ended on the 30th December 1911, he was appointed gardener in RBGE’s Herbaceous Dept on the 1st January 1912, Regius Keeper Isaac Bayley Balfour noting in May 1913 that he was giving “every satisfaction” in that role. (Probationer Gardener Register)

Smith enlisted after the outbreak of war on the 4th September 1914, joining the 5th Royal Scots as Private 2099. After training, Smith’s regiment joined the 88th Brigade of the 29th Division in March 1915, given the task of landing on and capturing the Gallipoli Peninsula; but first, a long sea voyage. The 5th Royal Scots sailed from Avonmouth on the S.S. Caledonia, appropriately, on the 20th March, arriving at Alexandria in Egypt on the 2nd April. On the 11th April they continued their journey with a two day voyage to Lemnos. From there a 50 mile journey across the Aegean to the Gallipoli Peninsula, leaving on the 24th April and reaching it on the 25th, the day of the first landings.

Papaver rhoeas from Nees von Esenback's 'Plantae medicinales. II' T. 166, Düsserldorf: Anstalt Arnz & Co. (1828)

Papaver rhoeas from Nees von Esenback’s ‘Plantae medicinales. II’ T. 166, Düsserldorf: Anstalt Arnz & Co. (1828)

We don’t know what Smith’s Gallipoli story is. As a Royal Scot he would have been part of the Allied Force’s attempts to take the small village of Krithia and its nearby hill of Achi Baba, the first obstacle on the long road towards capturing Constantinople – a futile dream as it happened. He would have also defended his trench against Turkish counter attacks (see Private W.H. Morland’s story for more details of what the 5th Royal Scots went through during the Gallipoli campaign). We don’t even know exactly what date he died – some RBGE records have a date of the 11th June 2015, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission has a date of the 10th June, but Army records and some RBGE records have the date as the 13th June, so it may be that this date is most probable, but we will likely never know the truth. All we know is that Private Duncan Smith died from wounds received at Gallipoli. When or how he was injured is not known. It may well have been during the 3rd Battle of Krithia which began on the 4th June 1915. This was the Allied Army’s 3rd attempt to push east along the Gallipoli Peninsula towards the village of Krithia which ultimately didn’t succeed. Smith may have been defending his trench or attacking someone else’s. But trench warfare at Gallipoli was quite different to that faced by Smith’s counterparts in France. Like these soldiers, the men at Gallipoli were given time off from the trenches, but it was often more dangerous to be on relief in Gallipoli than it was to be on the frontline. There was nowhere to go, no allied villages to visit, nowhere to find a safe distance from the shelling or the snipers, nowhere to even have a wash or change clothes. You could be shot or bombed going to fetch water or visiting the latrines – any movement was dangerous. On some beaches you could even be a target for Turkish forces on land on the other side of the Dardanelles Straits.

Smith’s name is the first I’ve seen on the Army Register of Soldiers’ Effects though – a poignant entry, again recoding that Smith died of wounds, and that the money he possessed, £5 6s and 8d, along with a War Gratuity of £3, was split between his father, Dugald, a Tarbert fisherman, and Duncan’s siblings, Peter, Archie and Jean.

Smith, like so many at Gallipoli has no known grave, receiving a mention on the Helles Memorial on the same panel as his fellow RBGE colleague and Royal Scot W.H. Morland, and on the RBGE War Memorial. We will remember them.

With thanks to Garry Ketchen for sharing some of the genealogical research.

For information on the Royal Scots in Gallipoli click here.

To read all of the RBGE WW1 Botanics Stories posted so far, and to access the RBGE Roll of Honour, please see our poppy field page.

May 162015

In researching this series of centenary blogs in which I research each of our former staff members who enlisted during the First World War and are named on our War Memorial I have often found myself in unfamiliar territory – researching the politics, tactics and battles of the opening stages of the conflict. I’m not complaining – my unfamiliar territory is considerably safer than the unfamiliar territory our newly recruited soldiers found themselves in, but even so, I had become so entrenched (as it were) in unravelling Gallipoli, it had slipped my mind that one of our fallen had died on the Western Front in May 1915 – I was a little out of touch with what was happening there at that time and needed to find out quickly – thank goodness for the internet and the local library…

Thomas Adam joined the staff of RBGE as a labourer on the 31st July 1907. The fact that he was ‘mobilised’ according to our Roll of Honour on the 6th August 1914, as opposed to enlisting, indicates that he had some prior experience of serving in the army – this is backed up by the fact that he joined (or rejoined?) the 2nd Battalion of the Scots Guards (1st and 2nd battalions are usually the ‘established army’ – the battalions formed using Kitchener’s new recruits at the start of the War would have had higher numbers, so it was apparently seen as a badge of honour to be in a 1st or 2nd battalion). I have been able to find a record to support this – Adam’s War Service card held in the RBGE archives shows that as well as being awarded a ‘Mons Star’ medal (another name for the 1914 Star – he also won the Victory and the British War Medal), he also possessed a South African Medal. This was established in 1900 to award to those participating in the 2nd Boer War between 1899 and 1902. Adam was born in 1878 so would certainly have been old enough to have served at the end of the 19th century, beginning of the 20th, although the 1901 census has him as a ‘Labourer in a Railway Yard’.

Papaver rhoeas frpom Oeder, G.C. / Hornemann, J.W. (ed). Flora Danica. V. 9. Haefte 27. T. 1580. (1818)

Papaver rhoeas from Oeder, G.C. / Hornemann, J.W. (ed). Flora Danica. V. 9. Haefte 27. T. 1580. (1818)

The British Army’s Medal Roll Index Cards show that Adam was part of the B.E.F. – the British Expeditionary Force, and that his ‘Disembarkation Date’ was the 7th October 1914 – the date he’d have landed at Zeebrugge in Belgium after mustering at the Tower of London. But what then? The 2nd Scots Guards became part of the 20th Brigade of the 7th Division, ordered initially to defend Antwerp, but as the city was already falling as they arrived, they assisted instead in the westward evacuation of the Belgian Army before entrenching themselves in front of Ypres. They then took part in the First Battle of Ypres in October and November 1914, defending that city from the advancing German Army.

In 1915, the Scots Guards found themselves supporting the French ambition to force the now entrenched German lines back, albeit with limited success. At this point, the War was becoming one of attrition, of digging in, building and defending trenches meaning vast numbers of men and artillery needed to be dispatched just to reach enemy trenches, let alone to break through them. The French wanted to push eastward to force the Germans out of France and Belgium. They felt the British weren’t pulling their weight, so, partly to counter these accusations, the war of attrition was entered with the British Army’s first planned offensive battle at Neuve Chappelle in March 1915. Some ground was gained here, but the objective of taking the high ground of Aubers Ridge behind Neuve Chappelle failed, mainly due to communication difficulties leading to delays resulting in crucial lost opportunities.

Returning to Private Thomas Adam, he and his 2nd Scots Guards were positioned to the north of Neuve Chappelle during this offensive, gaining some ground on the 3rd day and taking some four hundred German prisoners before their progress was stalled at the foot of Aubers Ridge.

In April 1915, the Germans attacked the Western front line which began the 2nd Battle of Ypres. The 2nd Scots Guards were not involved in this but it’s worth including here as the Germans began their attack by releasing large clouds of chlorine gas – the first time this had been done during WW1, introducing a new element of horror to the men in the trenches and one which I believe scared them more than facing the enemy’s guns.

Another attempt was made to take Aubers Ridge at the Battle of that name on the 9th May 1915 – it failed, mainly because the Generals were still using broadly the same tactics employed at Neuve Chappelle, and the attack was halted after a day. The French were having more success further south down the front at Vimy Ridge, and were keen for the British to launch another offensive quickly, to keep the pressure on the German army and prevent them from moving reinforcements south to attack the French at Vimy. A day after the Battle of Aubers Ridge, Adam’s tired and depleted 2nd Scots Guards as part of the 7th Division found themselves being moved 5km south to the north of Festubert, the idea being to change the area of attack and hopefully find easier terrain and a less well entrenched enemy. It was not to be. The Germans had built their defences well here too and it was considerably easier to defend a trench than it was to attack it.  The Allied troops were running low on stamina and weaponry – much ammunition had already been used and a large quantity had also been sent to the troops attempting a similar breach through enemy lines at Gallipoli.

Syringa adamiana, named in honour of Pvt Thomas Adam, photographed by Robert Moyes Adam in June 1915.

Syringa adamiana, named in Adam’s honour, photographed at RBGE by Robert Moyes Adam in June 1915.

A two day artillery bombardment of the German trenches east of Festubert began on the 13th May, the infantry being sent in at 11:30pm two days later on the 15th. They were to aim to advance only around 900m – some battalions had successes, others made less progress and another bombardment was ordered before the attack was renewed at 3:15am, but even these few hours overnight gave the Germans time to move reinforcements in. This second attack stalled, and the troops were ordered to hold their positions whilst another bombardment took place followed by more reinforcements entering No Man’s Land at 3:15am on the morning of the 16th May. Again they were met by machine gun fire from the Germans and again the attack was stalled for a further bombardment.

Finally, it was now Private Thomas Adam’s turn to go ‘over the top’.  At 7am on the 16th May, the 2nd Scots Guards and the 2nd Border Regiment, both of the 7th Division led a charge towards the German trenches. A good start was made and they did reach the trenches, despite the 2nd Border Regiment getting into difficulty when they were hit by their own bombardment. They could advance no further than the enemy front line, however. These trenches were flooded and impossible to move through, they were being hit by machine guns firing along the lines, and fighting became hand to hand. The 7th Division were ordered to keep going, and to attempt to join up with the 2nd Division further south, but they’d been set an impossible task, the attack eventually abandoned mid-afternoon with no significant ground gained.

The Battle of Festubert continued in much the same way until the 25th May, when ammunition was seen as too low and casualties too high to continue. The German line had been pushed back around a kilometre, but they seemed stronger than ever, losing around 500 men compared to 16,648 Allied soldiers killed, wounded or missing. The French failed to take Vimy Ridge, but they would have fared much worse had the British and other Allied Regiments not been keeping the Germans busy to the north. It had been a catastrophic few months though, with the higher ground to the east of Neuve Chapelle, Aubers Ridge and Festubert still beyond reach. Lessons had been learned, the trials and errors of the 1915 offensives eventually evolving into the successful offensives of 1918.  After Festubert though, a period of relative calm fell over the Western front whilst the Allies retired to regroup and formulate a fresh offensive which was to become the Battle of Loos in September of 1915.  All of this was neither here nor there to Thomas Adam though. After just over 9 months of service in the field in Flanders, he was killed during the Festubert offensive at some point on the 16th May 1915. He has no known grave and is remembered on the Le Touret Memorial in Pas-de-Calais in France, and on the War Memorial at RBGE.

Syringa adamiana, now Syringa tomentella, as it appears in RBGE's Herbarium collection.

Syringa adamiana, now Syringa tomentella, as it appears in RBGE’s Herbarium collection.

Isaac Bayley Balfour, Regius Keeper at RBGE at the time, also chose to remember him by naming a plant in his honour– Syringa adamiana, now known as S. tomentella, a plant found near Tatsienlu in Sichuan province, S.W. China by C.M. Watson. He sent seed to Edinburgh where it was successfully cultivated, flowering freely in June 1915 – “a graceful species and of value for its late flowering…By the specific name it is desired to hold in memory Private Thomas Adam, 2nd Scots Guards, a gardner [labourer] of the staff of the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh, who fell in action in Flanders on 16th May 1915.” (Notes from the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, v9, 1916, p131)

This post could not have been written without the excellent description of what was happening on the Western Front in 1915 in “The Death of Glory: The Western Front 1915” by Robin Neillands, John Murray (Publishers), 2006, and without the use of genealogical research by Garry Ketchen – thank you.