World War One - our family story



       German military casualties 1.8 million
British military casualties 744 000
French military casualties 1.15 million  

We are remembering the 100th anniversary of the  end of World War 1 .This was a tragedy  which hit not  just the British Nation  but also that of  Germany and France . I had the privilege in the  1990s of  working  both in France and in Germany amongst  some lovely kind people and cannot  forget this unique experience .My time  in France  was in the town  Dreux  not far  from the race track at Le Mans . Dreux  was a town of  some 50 000 people  many of whom were refugees from the Civil War in Algeria  and  were  known as the "pied noir " or black feet . In Germany  I was  based in the Black Forest or Schwarz Wald at a tourist  town called Freudenstatdt . In  both cases I managed  to absorb   much of the local customs  and way of life . This  was  far  removed  from life 100 years ago ! The War saw 1.8 million  Germans killed , some 744 000 British and 1.15 million French slaughtered. All very needless and indicative  of the weakness of Government and the inability of negotiating prowess on both sides of the Channel in those  not so far off days .

Our families have had a number of  regular  soldiers  within their midst and I have endeavoured over the years  to record as  much as I could . Henry MacDonald born in 1842 in Inverness signed up  to the Cameronians ( 26th Regiment of Foot )  in 1860 and became a Corporal serving in Ireland ( where he  married a local lass ! ) and  then in India with distinction . Henry was the 3 x great grandfather of Aimee and Fin ! Grandpa Sharp ( James C  Sharp ) served in the Territorial Army prior  to WW2 and was a Major in the Royal Artillery being involved in the planning of the Dunkirk evacuation . He met and Married Eileen Harris ( niece of Silas  Whiteman  whose  story is listed below ) . She had  the rank of Captain and  was in charge of an Ack Ack battery on the Isle of Wight  . Uncle Nigel ( Nigel JC Sharp ) was regular soldier and  served as a Captain in the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders in Aden  with " Mad Mitch ". I may have omitted someone for  which I do apologise !

I have  chosen  to narrate family tales  about four individuals who are in probability  atypical of the soldiers and sailors of yesteryear !

Lewis Mayall 

Lewis back row  right brother Jack on the left

17th Lancers riding up East High Street Crieff about 1912 

Lewis Mayall at Lochearnhead age c 55 . 

 Let  me start with  my paternal grand  father  Lewis Mayall . Sadly , I never  knew or  met Lewis as he  died in Glasgow on the 12th November 1941. I was a mere  babe of  5 months old at the time .Lewis was  comparatively  young at 61 years when he  died although the surviving pics show someone of  apparently older  years.  He  had  been  born in Rastrick  West Yorkshire , the son of a mill worker , Edward Mayall  and one of eight children - four boys and  four girls . Although one associates these towns  as " dark  satanic mills " , the Mayall family  were brought up in a   pleasant  spot Delph Hill  adjacent to the local cricket  ground . Life  however  must have been  more than a little hard . He is  recorded in the 1891 Census as being a " woollen operative" aged  eleven years ! Life indeed  must  have been  tough and perhaps that is  why Lewis  decided  to get out of Rastrick and signed  up with the 17th Lancers ( the Duke of Cambridge's' Own )  famed  for their part in the Crimea ( and knick named the "Death or Glory " Boys ) in July 1899 . He was aged 19 years and 6 months .Less than  six  months  later the Regiment was posted  to South Africa to  partake in the Boer War . They were immediately sent to Bloemfontein on arrival to join Lord Roberts . What is interesting to note is that the  Commanding  Officer of the Lancers was at that  time , one Douglas Haig , later Earl Haig , who became the controversial Commander in Chief  of the British Expeditionary Force and a figure of  much criticism over the loss of lives at the Battles of the Somme .

After the Boer War had  ended  the Regiment were transferred  back to Britain , firstly  to Edinburgh and then to Maryhill Barracks in Glasgow . It was here that Lewis  met my  grand mother Maggie Craig Plowman and they married on the 6 June 1906 . Lewis  had left the Regiment and was employed as  a " commissionaire " - a type of uniformed  security man of the days ! He  was on Army Reserve call  and that duly came whilst watching one of those  new fangled films in a new  cinema in Sauchiehall Street Glasgow . A message was  flashed onto th screen telling  all soldiers and  Reservists  to report immediately to their Barracks . It was March 1914 some 3 months prior  to the outbreak of WW1 . What was  the reason  for this ? Lewis  was being sent to The Curragh a large British Army camp in Kildare to the west of Dublin .

The Curragh incident of 20 March 1914, also known as the Curragh mutiny, occurred in the Curragh, County Kildare, Ireland. The Curragh Camp was then the main base for the British Army  in Ireland, which at the time still formed part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland . Ireland was about to receive a measure of devolved government, which included Ulster.

With Irish Home Rule due to become law in 1914, the British Cabinet contemplated some kind of military action against the Ulster Volunteers who threatened to rebel against it. Many officers, especially those with Irish Protestant connections, of whom the most prominent was Hubert Gough, threatened to resign or accept dismissal rather than obey, privately encouraged from London by senior officers including Henry Wilson. Although the Cabinet issued a document claiming that the issue had been a misunderstanding, the Secretary of State for War J.E. B. Seely and the CIGS (professional head of the Army) Sir John French.  were forced to resign after amending it to promise that the British Army would not be used against the Ulster Loyalists.

The event contributed both to unionist confidence, and to the growing Irish separatist movement, convincing Irish nationalists that they could not expect support from the British army in Ireland. In turn, this increased renewed nationalist support for paramilitary forces. The Home Rule Bill was passed but postponed, and the growing fear of civil war in Ireland led on to the British government considering some form of partition of Ireland instead, which eventually took place.

The Curragh Mutiny was much hushed up . Haig was involved in th War Office in London and brokered a number of arrangements  behind the scenes to ensure the Army did  not disintegrate at the top with  war clouds  looming in Europe .I have in my possession a copy of Lewis's military pay book He was  at the Curragh on the 8th  of August This was  one week after the start of WW1. The Regiment was based in India at that time and  did not arrive  back in Europe until November 1914 . Shortly after the War broke out Lewis  was transferred  to St Omer , Haig's HQ on the Western Font .My father Eddie Mayall , Lewis's son , was always  scathing of Haig and it only transpired what the connection was  much later  when  my cousin Alan Buchanan and I exchanged information and my late Aunt Margaret ( Lewis 's  daughter ) revealed  that he  had  been  one of Haig's batmen or orderly and after the  war acted  as his golf caddy when Haig was Captain of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club ! Lewis  himself  was a founder member  of Cathcart Castle Golf Club south of Glasgow and  by all accounts a  not too bad a player winning  more than one trophy ! I am so sorry that I never had  the chance  to talk with him - would have been a fascinating discussion !

James Gemmell Plowman 

James was the brother of Lewis  Mayall's wife Maggie Craig Plowman. He was born in 1891 in Glasgow .He was a notable athlete  with Maryhill Harriers in Glasgow and signed up with the 6th Battalion The Highland Light infantry (the HLI ) when War broke out .The Regiment were  stationed at Garnethill Glasgow and thence  to Dunfermline . They became the 157th Brigade in the 52nd ( Lowland ) Division .On the 26th May 1915 they sailed from Devonport  to Gallipoli via Egypt and  arrived at Helles on the 3rd July 1915. The eight month campaign in Gallipoli was  fought  by Commonwealth and French forces in an attempt t o force Turkey out of the War and to relieve the deadlock on the Western Front in France and Belgium and open up a supply route  to Russia through the Dardanelles and Black Sea. The Allies landed on the Peninsula on the 25th/ 26th April 1915 , the 29th Division at Cape Helles  to the South and the Australian and New Zealand Corps north of Gaba  Tepe on the west coast in an area  soon known as Anzac. In early August simultaneous assaults were launched on all three fronts  . The British land invasion was supported by forces from Australia and New Zealand and established three beach holds. However a lack of knowledge about both the terrain and the strength of Turkish forces meant the allied forces were unable to advance their position. In October, they sustahi ined heavy losses as Turkish reinforcements arrived. By December, British military commanders admitted defeat and began an evacuation

James  was only 24 years old and  died through no fault of his on the 12th July 1915 at Achi Baba Nulla under a hail of Turkish machine gun fire .

His life is  remembered on the Helles Memorial by the Dardenelles .

Silas John Whiteman

Sanctuary Wood 

Angus and Iona on school trip to WW1 battlefields and laying  an appropriate tribute

Silas was born in MARCH 1891 in South Cerney Gloucestershire the  son of Silas Whiteman  and Mary Ann Rickets .In the 1911  census  Silas  was  working doing  general wok on  a farm at Sapperton Gloucestershire .He  signed up to the 5th Dragoon Guards  ( Princess Charlotte of Wales ) on the 7th October  1912 . On his  Certificate of Attestation  he is  described as a carter ( agriculture ) and living in the Parish of Ashbrook  near Cirencester . He was  aged 20 years and eight months . Silas was  died after  the  second Battle of Ypres on the 2 June 1915 . He may well  have  succumbed  to poison gas  which was  used in this clash . He is  buried in the Military Cemetery at Sanctuary Wood  near the scene of the battle .

Athol Davaar Lamont 

Much can be written about my great grand father  John Lamont’s children. He had  after all some twelve in total between two spouses . I am now  going to  look at one  whose  story and appendages are quite incredible . Athol Davaar Lamont  was the fourth child  to the marriage  with Isabell Nairn . His name  indeed  follows precedent  - Athol taken from that area of Perthshire controlled  by the powerful Murray Clan and  whose  Chieftain, the Duke of Athol, even to this  day , is the only person in these isles  to have  a private army ! Davaar is a small island off Kintyre in Argyll at the mouth of Campbeltown Loch . Born in December 1891  in 4c Washington Street Glasgow , Athol  was a  school boy in the  1901 Census and now living at 20 Campbell Street in the Maryhill District of Glasgow .

It is  understandable  that Athol would in probability  end up at sea bearing in mind his background . His paternal grandfather , Colin Lamont  was a herring fisher and his maternal grand father Duncan Cameron was a merchant seaman. By 1911 the family had moved to Govan Glasgow the home of a variety of ship yards and ancillary  industries. Athol was listed in the Census of that year as being an engineer in an engineering works . On war  breaking out  in 1914 , Athol enlisted in the Royal Navy as a sub mariner . He found himself  based at Blyth in Northumberland  which at that time  was an important submarine  base By the time  the War was in its last  stages , Athol had married  a local girl , Jean Walker . The Royal Navy  was developing a  super  sub which  in size  was well above the norm in service . Athol Lamont  was appointed  to serve on the J6 and on  October 1918 , as the War drew to a close , it sailed out of Blyth Harbour into the North Sea.

This was the last Jean Lamont saw or heard of Athol . She received  formal information that the J6 had been torpedoed and sunk . No further information was forthcoming . It was as if the powers  that be , including the Navy itself , wished  to draw  a veil over the whole incident . Jean was fraught . She was  pregnant with his child and in 1919 a male child  was born . He was named after his deceased father -  Athol Davaar Lamont . Jean remarried in the early 1920s and her new  husband ,Joseph Walton , accepted  young Athol as his own . Another child was born a half-brother to Athol . The Second World War brought trials  and tribulation  to families  world wide . Young Athol signed up for military service and by genetic demand  became  a seaman . Athol served on the HMS Daring. He was killed in action aboard HMS Daring which was sunk by a German U boat .HMS Daring  was D Class Destroyer of 1 360 tons ( standard displacement ) and had a complement of 138 sailors . It had 4 X 4.7 in guns ( 4 X 1 ) , 8 torpedo tubes and depth charge throwers . maximum  speed was 35 knots . These nine vessels were built in 1932 , and participated in normal fleet duties  and convoy protection . Of these nine ships only HMS Duncan and HMS Kootenay survived the war.


Jean Walton was bereft having  lost both a husband and a  son in conflict . The death of her husband still was something of a mystery . The Government applied the 100 years rule to protect the  release of information . They were unrelenting in this archaic of archaic legislation. Jean was always  concerned  that  she had  not  been given  details of  Athol’s death . She asked  her son to attempt  to find out more .Sadly  she  passed away in 1954  before any further  information had been ascertained. Time  moved  on  and still there seemed  little progress in adding substance to this family tragedy . In 2012 , an incredible story  appeared in the specialist magazine “ Diver “ . It related  how a team of divers  had  been  investigating a wreck on the seabed off Seahouses which was thought to be that of a cargo ship .Visibility was  quite clear on the initial dive  and to their  astonishment they found  not a cargo ship but an intact submarine . Closer  examination revealed that the telegraph  of the ship next to the conning tower had writing in English on it and that it had three propellers instead of the normal two   . This  discovery resulted in close  examination of the  records  available  . Eventually the pieces of the jig  saw  began to fit . A British sub , the J6 had  disappeared towards the end of World War l .It had been built at the Portsmouth Dockyard and was launched on the 9 September  1915 . For her day she was enormous being 274 feet long and armed with six 18” torpedo tubes and a 4” gun. She was capable of a maximum speed of 19.5 knots on the surface and 9.5 knots submerged. The J6 Class sub   was the only British naval vessel to have three propellers! Now the basic facts of the sinking   could be revealed as the story was published and relatives of those lost got in touch.

Divers discover the J6

On the 15th October 1918, HMS Cymric, a British Q- ship was patrolling near the submarine base at Blyth in Northumberland. There had been a report of a German U boat in the area and the crew were on high alert. At 4 pm they thought they had found her .They thought that there was a “U “on the conning tower and this led them to conclude that this was the U6. What they had seen was later believed to be something hanging on the tower next to the “J” to complete the “U”. The Cymric opened fire, and the very first shell hit its target. An officer tried to fire a signal grenade but he was killed. One seaman did manage to wave a table cloth and the Cymric ceased fire. The J6 headed into a fog bank and the Cymric’s Captain reckoned he had been fooled and opened fire again. J6 was now sinking and the Cymric moved to pick up the “enemy “.It was then that they realised their tragic mistake- they had sunk their own sub .  Less than a month later WW l was over and a “100 year Top Secret Classification” was placed on the file. Relatives were simply informed that there was a collision. Only 15 out of the 34 on board survived - crew who were in the engine room, artificers and the likes, just did not get out. Survivors  were  prevented to say what had  actually happened .

Jean Walker ( Walton )

Portsmouth Naval Memorial

Crew of HMS J6

Nearly one hundred years later, in May 2017, I was contacted through “Facebook “by an Athol Walton. Athol transpired was the grandson of Jean Walker (Lamont / Walton) who had married Athol Davaar Lamont in 1918. Having  taught genealogy as a subject  to Further Education students  over many years , I had in the  course of  time placed  much of  my  own family tree on various web sites as a means  of preserving our treasured  past . Athol had at the behest of his family gone looking for fellow descendants of ADL and found me in the heart of Perthshire! It transpired that he  had been instrumental in ensuring the  naval records were correct in relation to those poor guys  who perished  so tragically as the  War  was in its  last stages and that all were  aware that it  was as a result of friendly fire and not enemy action . A somewhat special occasion occurred as the divers returned to J6. It was a calm, peaceful day and a small ceremony was held as a poppy wreath was carefully placed on the water above the sunken sub and resting place of those brave men. Rest in Peace Athol Davaar Lamont and your fellow shipmates. You are not forgotten.


Your Connections : 

Lewis Mayall is grandfather of Colin Mayall , great grandfather of Nic  Elise and Jasmine , 2 x great grandfather of Angus , Iona, Callum , Aimee and Finlay .

Athol Davaar |Lamont is the grand uncle of Colin Mayall , great grand uncle of Nic Elise and Jasmine, the 2 x great grand uncle  on Angus , Iona , Callum , Aimee and Finlay .

James Gemmell Plowman is the grand uncle of Colin Mayall, great grand uncle of  Nic , Elise and Jasmine , 2 x great grand uncle of Angus, Iona, Callum , Aimee and Finlay .

Silas John Whiteman  is the grand uncle of Elizabeth Mayall , great grand uncle of Nic Elise and Jasmine and2 x great grand uncle of Angus Iona Callum Aimee and Finlay .


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