The Border Telegraph today carried a nice story about the research by the current Melrose rugby team, uncovering the stories of members of the club who served in World War One. I was delighted to be able to help them with some of this research.
In the run up to Armistice Day and the commemoration of a century since the end of World War One I’ve been adding more information to my list of Melrose servicemen.
Thanks to Stephen Pope I’ve received detailed information about the war service of William Sinclair Barrie, a Melrose grocer, who served in one of the first tanks to see action on 15 September 1916 near Delville Wood at the Battle of the Somme.
William was born in 1897 at Berwick-upon-Tweed, son of Matthew Barrie and Margaret Bruce Sinclair. The family lived for a while at Lundin Mill in Fife, but by 1911 were living in the High Street on Melrose, where Matthew had a grocer’s shop.
William enlisted in November 1915, and joined the Motor Machine Gun Service. In early June 1916 he was transferred to a secret training centre to train men in operating tanks. He arrived at the Somme Battlefield on 10th September 1916, moving to the north of Delville Wood on the night of 14th September, ready for the tank attack on the village of Flers. Over the coming days William would be wounded several times. Later he served with the 4th Battalion Tank Corps.
After the war William returned to Melrose, ultimately taking over his father’s grocery shop, and marrying Margaret Burnett Lawson at Galashiels in 1928, and later Christine Williamson Steedman in 1953.
William died at Melrose in 1953 aged 57.
I thought I’d look to see if I could find anything nice in the old papers in the British Newspaper Archive for Melrose from 100 years ago. And I found this letter to “The Children’s Circle” column written by “Uncle Dick”, published in the Southern Reporter on 10th January 1918:
Dear Uncle Dick,
We get the “Southern Reporter” every week, and we always read the Circle first as we like it so well. I am nine years old and my sister Chrissie is five. My father has been two and a half years in France fighting for us, but he was home last June, and we were all glad to see him. I expect the weather will be cold and snowing for sliding or snowballing or sledging. I hope so. Wishing you and all the members a Happy New Year.
Your loving niece, Jessie Gray, Burnfoot Cottage, Newstead, Melrose
I’ve added transcripts of Melrose parish names in the Roxburghshire Lieutenancy Book, recording local men whose names went into the ballot to serve in the militia between 1797 and 1802. There are hundreds of local names, for men aged 18-45. Occupations and addresses are included, giving a useful insight into the area then. For the transcripts, and a description of the original records, see here.
Today I’ve uploaded a new version of my list of Melrose WW1 servicemen. This is a major update, adding over 100 names of new soldiers to the list, taking the total to nearly 350. Significant numbers of soldiers who were born in Melrose but lived and enlisted elsewhere have been added, as well as new soldiers from and in Melrose itself. In addition new information has been found out about many of the previously known soldiers.
The online list will continue to be updated over the coming years. The next goal is to incorporate the names of the soldiers recorded in the town’s Roll of Honour in the Ormiston Institute. I hope to collect these names later in 2016, and add them later this year, or more likely in 2017. And I would also research any extra names, to find out as much as possible. This Roll of Honour includes men who survived as well as those who died. Though it will omit many who had moved away from Melrose, but were originally from the town.
I’ve previously announced a WW1 project associated with the Melrose one-place study.
The working list of servicemen traced has now been put online. This will grow over time, especially after I have a chance to study the Roll of Honour of 454 serving Melrose men that is held in the Ormiston Institute. This Roll of Honour includes men who lived as well as those who died. In this first working version of the servicemen list relatively more men who died than lived are included. This should change over time.
To see the list, and please remember that it will be updated, see here.
For my two one-place studies, Coldingham and Melrose, I’ve decided to start a project researching soldiers from World War I that I can trace. This is quite difficult to do, because the soldier records are in many cases incomplete, many lost due to World War II bombing. But it’s also hard for both parishes because of the high populations. It’s unlikely, for example, for me to be able to draw up a list of all men of the right age range, and look for all of them in the records, one by one. Rather I will use resources like Ancestry to try to find soldiers who were recorded as living in the right places.
Both parishes have war memorials, and the lives and deaths of the men recorded on them have previously been researched by others (see “Melrose War Memorials” book available from the Borders Family History Society). I do not plan to replicate this work about the soldiers who died during the conflict. Instead I’m looking for all soldiers that I can find, living or dead, in the surviving army records, particularly those I can search from home online.
I will be preparing a list of the men I find for Melrose, and putting it in the one-place study website. This will be a slow ongoing process, and more information will be added as I find it. I will be using as my model for this list Alex Coles’s list of WW1 soldiers traced for Wing in Buckinghamshire, though I will probably aim, where possible, to put more information online in my basic list. And I would aim to keep copies of relevant records that I trace, including any detailed soldier service records, so they can be passed on to any descendants or other relatives of the soldiers who get in touch.
I would also welcome information from modern descendants who have known relatives from each place who served during WW1. Feel free to contact me about this on email at firstname.lastname@example.org