Image: my Father, James Reid Christie, the first a head and shoulders photograph showing a medal ribbon of what looks like the 1914 Star, undated but presumably after being commissioned in September 1915. One full length, obviously displaying his Second Lieutenant's Star. Undated but post September 1915, possibly before returning to France or soon after arrival.
I read with interest David Henderson's article in Bulletin number 95 about the work the WFA had undertaken rescuing and archiving the Great War Soldiers' Pension Records. My Father and one of his brothers were wounded so I asked for any available records. Five brothers took part in the war and five returned home, an unusual record. I was very pleased with the prompt reply to my request; my Father had been commissioned from the ranks during the war and I thought I would be lucky to find anything. However, there was some information which was a very useful addition to my records. His brother's record was more detailed because he served as a Gunner. If readers are wondering whether it is worth the effort/cost applying for pension records, I say go ahead and do it! The records may help you break through the brick wall in your research. Sadly, as is usually the case, there is often far more information in the records for a soldier who was killed compared to those who survived the Great War.
I hope it may be interesting if I gave some information about my Father (James Reid Christie) and his brother (William Christie) and how they were wounded. Dad joined the 1/6th Battalion, The Gordon Highlanders, Territorial Army, in 1910. Promoted Sergeant on 31 October 1914, he arrived in France on 9 November. On 3 June 1915 he was wounded and returned to England on Red Cross hospital ship "Oxfordshire". This may have formed part of his subsequent Pension claim but I have no means of verifying this. After recovering he was recommended for Officer Training and went to Maisley Park camp near Keith, Banffshire. He returned to France as a second lieutenant and he rejoined the 6th Battalion on 24 October 1915. Later he was promoted Lieutenant, then Lieutenant, acting Captain.
He was wounded for a second time at The Battle of the Lys in April 1918. His "A" Company and some "B" Squadron 1st King Edwards Horse held the bridgehead at Vieille Chapelle from 9 to 11 April. On 11 April, after being totally surrounded but still fighting, he tried to find a possible way to rejoin his main line. Whilst reconnoitering a route he was shot in the right knee, but he managed to return to his men where he was bandaged by his Sergeant. He made a second attempt, only this time to be shot through his right arm but, once again, he managed to crawl back to his Company. On his return the Germans had penetrated their stronghold so they accepted the inevitable. Out of 108 only about 20 men were left unwounded; six had been killed trying to silence a German machine gun.
The Germans by this time were not in a very forgiving mood; their advance having been held up for two days. They were not taking prisoners and started shooting their captives. Dad told me he was about to be shot but, at the last moment, the rifle pointing at his head, a German officer pushed it aside. Dad told me that his whole previous life passed before his eyes. I had heard that this can happen in moments of extreme stress but had never had it confirmed before. It is an odd feeling that I and my family owe our lives to an unknown German officer. After capture the German Medics said they would have to amputate his badly damaged leg. I do not know how he managed to convince them to save his leg, but save it they did. He suffered considerable pain for the rest of his life and was awarded a disability pension.
The notes from the WFA Pension Records include the comment dated October 1919 that he suffered from stiffness in his right knee. An understatement if there ever was one.
After the War, in 1920, he went to Buenos Aires, Argentina. He did not return to Scotland until 1923 or early 1924. His service record shows that his pension was 20% (£104.20 per annum) when he died in 1969, but I remember him telling me that it was a higher figure when awarded. I assume this may have been reduced over time if he had had to attend any reassessment board. After capture he was at Stendal POW camp and later at Stralsund on the Baltic coast. The journey to Stralsund and the conditions there were pretty rugged. I have seen a report by Lt W A Millar, 3rd Coldstream Guards, Victoria Barracks, Windsor who mentions Dad as a fellow POW, possibly on the journey and at Stralsund. He had been asked to give a report on their treatment as POWs. After the Armistice Dad returned to Scotland arriving in England on 20 December 1918, in time for Christmas, although not the one hoped for at the outbreak of War! Dad was awarded the DSO for the action at Vieille Chapelle and was twice Mentioned in Despatches. His other medals are the 1914 Star, The British War Medal and the Victory Medal.
Image: the second group is of Uncle William, head and shoulders in civilian clothes, undated. The small head and shoulders is of him in wounded serviceman's uniform dated February 1918. Probably when at hospital in Blackburn (possibly Queen Mary's Military Hospital, Whalley, Blackburn?)
His brother William was not so fortunate, if that is the right word. He enlisted on 6 October 1915 when he was 18 years old, as Gunner 92631 in the Royal Field Artillery, 94 Brigade. On 26 September 1917 his "C" Battery was hit by shell fire during the Third Battle of Ypres at the Battle of Polygon Wood. The War Diary shows two killed and the rest wounded, including William. The tide of War rolled on and he lay out on the battlefield for two days before being picked up by stretcher bearers. Because of his wounds, his right leg had to be amputated above the knee.
He was discharged from the army on 6 September 1918. In addition to the Victory Medal and the British War medal he was awarded the Silver War Badge per the Record Roll of 23 August 1918. The Pension Record gives his home address and other details, all of which have been a very useful addition to the family history. I am not sure I have the right figure for his pension but it would would appear to be £1.38 per week.
When he recovered he attended Aberdeen University, graduating MA in 1921. I do not know what he did between 1921 and when he started teaching at Sunnybank Intermediate School in Aberdeen on 19 August 1924. The School Log book shows him as English Assistant. Later, on 22 August 1927 he transferred to Rosemount Junior Secondary School where he taught English and Religion. William died 26 January 1966.
Some years later, in January 2001, an article appeared in the Aberdeen City magazine "The Leopard" mentioning a schoolteacher at Rosemount School who taught English and was nicknamed "Charlie Corker". I could only assume this was Uncle William, corker being a reference to his artificial leg. I found out the article had been written by his former pupils at Rosemount School, They were a group calling themselves "The Rosemount Al Loons", formed from pupils of the class of 1959. They had found the story of Uncle William's 1914/18 War Service but had not known anything previously about this. Had they done so they told me they would have been more respectful, instead of being unfeeling and taunting him about his disability. He was renowned for his strictness, reputedly teaching with the Bible in one hand and the strap in the other. One of the class told me he could still recite the books of the Bible from memory!
They decided to make amends for their behaviour. In July 2002 we met in Turriff, Aberdeenshire where the family home was and had lunch at the British Legion Club. After lunch we attended William's grave in Turriff Cemetery and laid a wreath in his memory. I was deeply touched by their kindness. The class - in their own words - were dunderheads, victims of the iniquitous 11-plus exam. However they did very well in their chosen careers producing, amongst others, a medical nuclear scientist, an accountant, two executives in the oil industry, a college lecturer, an assistant general secretary of a trade union, an engineer, and a detective inspector from the Metropolitan Police company fraud department. I like to think that Uncle William was instrumental in this!
Article and images above contributed by WFA member Jim Christie.
Cards below from the WFA's Pension Record Cards and Ledgers archive (cards and ledgers not to scale).