A Melrose man serving in one of the first tanks in World War One

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.

First working list of Melrose WW1 servicemen online

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.

Starting a WW1 project for Melrose

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 viv.dunstan@one-name.org