Stories from the Memorial
1. Robert McDonald
2nd Battalion Gordon Highlanders
Died of Wounds 1916
Robert McDonald was the second son of David and Jane McDonald of Fraserburgh. Like many men in the area David was a cooper working in one of the many fish-curing yards in the town. Robert was born in 1888 and like his father before him, worked as a cooper. However in November 1906 at the age of 18 he enlisted as a Regular in the Gordon Highlanders.
In 1913 his commanding officer wrote of him, “A clean, hardworking and intelligent soldier but intemperate in his habits.” His service record, which survives contains numerous references to his being drunk and disorderly.
In 1908 the 2nd Battalion was scheduled to replace the 1st in India and Robert proceeded to the sub-continent for his first experience of colonial soldiering. The Battalion was based at Cawnpore and spent four years in India before being transferred to Egypt in 1912. When war broke out in August 1914, the 2nd Gordons were stationed at Cairo, returning to England on 1st October. There they joined the 20th Brigade of 7th Division forming at Lyndhurst. On 4th October they embarked for Zeebruggeon on the S.S. Lake Michigan and S.S. Minneapolis.
In 1915 the Fraserburgh Herald reported a story about the McDonald family:
A WHOLE FAMILY OF FIGHTERS.
Since the war commenced we have had the pleasure of putting on record particulars of a number of local families who have answered their country’s call in a most loyal manner. The other day, however, we had brought to our notice a case even more notable than any we have so far chronicled - a case that will take a lot of beating in Fraserburgh or outside it - a father and five sons all out to crush the Kaiser.
The details are as follows : -
(1) David McDonald, cooper (A. Bruce and Co.), 50 High Street, seaman on minesweeper “White Oak”, Poole.
(2) Alexander, (Robb’s Barrel Works), Army Service Corps.
(3) Robert, 2nd Gordon Highlanders, (9 years service), France.
(4) James “Lachie”, (Toolworks), 2/5 Gordons, Scone. (Number 1925)
(5) David, (Cabinetmaker), 1/5 Gordons, France.
(6) Lewis “Hope”, (McKay, Tailor), 2/5 Gordons, Scone. (Number 1380)
“Lachie” is one of the most popular members of the Fraserburgh Football Club, a brilliant forward and a keen sportsman. His brother “Hope” is a smart and pluck pugilist, who reated great enthusiasm in the Broch winning the Territorial Lightweight Championship at Aberdeen.
The father, Mr. David McDonald, was at home for a few days last week.
On the opening day of the battle of the Somme – 1st July 1916 – the 2nd Gordons were involved with the attack on the village of Mametz. Although the attack was a success in that the village was taken, the Gordons suffered over 400 casualties – killed, wounded or missing. One of the wounded was Robert McDonald who received severe wounds to his legs. He was evacuated to the 5th CCS and then on 4th July transferred to the 1st Canadian General Hospital at Etaples, where he died of his wounds on 16th. It was not until two days later that the Fraserburgh Herald reported that he had been wounded: “Pte. Robert McDonald, Gordon Highlanders, was wounded in action on 5 July [sic], sustaining gunshot injuries in both legs and right hand.” It was not until 28th August that his death from wounds was reported in the newspaper.
The remaining brothers became well known local heros. In May 1917 the Fraserburgh Herald reported:
Three sons of Able Seaman David McDonald, 50 High Street, Fraserburgh, were wounded on May 17th. Last week the same L-Cpl. James McDonald, (Lachie) appeared in this column, [Pte. James McDonald, Gordon Highlanders, has been wounded in the head, arms, and legs – 5th Gordons 240348 wounded 16th May 1917] and since then news has come to hand of his well-known and popular brothers David and Lewis having stopped bullets. Sergeant David McDonald has on several occasions since he went to the front two years ago by his valorous conduct in the trenches and in open fighting, provided good ‘copy’ for the “Herald”. At the Somme he rescued a comrade from the front of the enemy entanglements, and under heavy fire carried him to the dressing station. For this fine deed and for consistent good work he was awarded the Military Medal. Again at the Ancre in November last he handled a platoon with great skill and coolness and captured a “puckle” Huns in a tunnel – 170 to be precise. For his famous feat on that day he was promoted from Corporal to Sergeant and received the Distinguished Conduct Medal. Before the war he was a French Polisher with Mr. J.R. Miller.
L.Cpl. Lewis McDonald, better known by his ring title of ‘Hope’ is a coming man in the boxing world, and it is not long since an account of the fine feats of this unbeaten Brocher appeared in the “Herald”. When not yet 17 years of age ‘Hope’ won the light-weight championship of the Northern Territorial regiments, and recently at a big military training centre in England he carried off a number of trophies. ‘Hope’ leapt off the tailor’s board in Mr. John McKay’s shop at the first blast of the war bugle."
The McDonald family was mentioned in a chapter of a small booklet called “The Gallant Gordons” by James and Liz Taylor (1992). Entitled “The Fighting McDonalds” it recounts the wartime exploits of David, James (Lachie) and Lewis (Hope). The story recounts in detail David’s exploits at Beaumont Hamel for which he was awarded the DCM. It finishes with his return to Fraserburgh:
“When he returned home by train in April 1919 he had the DCM, the MM and the bar to the MM: the entire town turned out to greet him. The local volunteer pipe band with fifty volunteers gave him a splendid welcome home at the railway station. The streets all the way from the station were crowded as their hero was escorted through Broad Street to his home on High Street; they gave him a rousing cheer all the way.”
Of Robert there is no mention.
Telegram from France advising of Robert's death
2. William T Hunter
5th Battalion Gordon Highlanders
Killed in Action 1917
The Fraserburgh Herald 14th August 1917:
Pte William T Hunter, Gordons, was killed in action on 31st July. He went to France with the Territorials in May 1915, and has been previously wounded on four occasions. A year ago he was awarded the Military Meday for bravery exhibited in various fights. When home on furlough he carried the ribbon of his decoration in the pocket of his trews instead of on the breast of his tubic, his reason being that he might be suspected of "swank". Hunter was 22 years of age, and before the war was employed at the Harbour works. His mother who resides at 9 Cross Street, has received a letter of sympathy from Hunter's Lieutenant, who states that he had a great liking for him and admired him as a cheerful soldier whom nothing could disturb. Another communication from the Chaplain states that very shortly after the attack on the enemy trenches began, Hunter was shot through the head by a German sniper and died immediately. He was a very gallant lad who ever did his duty and his loss was mourned by all his comrades.
You will search the Fraserburgh Memorial in vain for the name of William T Hunter. He is listed, but his mother arranged for him to be recorded by his birth name - William H (Hunter) Third rather than by the name he obviously preferred to use William T (Third) Hunter.
William Hunter Third was born in 1894, the illegitimate son of Isabella Third, a domestic servant living at that time at 49 Frithside Street, Fraserburgh. It is possible that the name "Hunter" dervided from the boy's father and was later used by him, rather than his mother's name. The 1911 census shows the family - the mother Isabella, her daughetr, another Isabella, seventeen year old William (Willie) and James Bartlett, young Isabella's son, living at 9 Cross Street. William is a box maker at a local kippering yard.
On August 7th 1914, a few days after war was declared, William, calling himself William Hunter, enlisted in the local company of the 5th Gordon Highlanders and shortly afterwards went with the battalion to Bedford and then on to France in May 1915. Shortly after arriving in the war zone he was wounded for the first time. An eyewitness account of the incident was reported in the Fraserburgh Herald on 15th June 1915:
BUCHAN TERRITORIALS IN THE TRENCHES.
14 Killed, 31 Wounded,
Writing on Monday 7th June, Staff-Sergeant Macgregor gives the following particulars regardint the second visit of the 5th Gordons to the trenches.
Once more I sit down to pen you a few lines concerning the Broch boys out here. We have finished our second spell of the trenches and I regret to say we have lost a good few of our company. We were in the trenches for four days and all that time we were under a severe fire from the enemy, whose trenches were in places only about 70 yards from our. It so happened that the portion of our line occupied by A and B Companycame in for the worst of it. Time and again our trenches were blown in and the men buried, but time and again our men rebuilt them under galling fire.In one particular section of the trench occupied by B Company, only one man came out untouched, all the rest being killed or wounded. Nothing would have pleased our men better than to have the command to fix bayoners amd charge, for then they would have had a chance of getting their own back. It's a bit disheartening, you know, to be cooped up in a tench and seeing your chums falling and you unable to do anything. One thing which struck me very much was the excellent spirit of the men. Our losses only seemed to make them work harder, and seasoned reguar troops could not have done any better. I enclose a list of the members of B Company killed and wounded:
Lieutenant the Hon. R Forbes-Sempill
1126 Cpl. W R Innes, 5 Charlotte Street, Fraserburgh.
2392 Pte. R Burnett, 1 Water Lane, Ellon.
2476 Pte A McLean, 14 Merchant Street, Peterhead.
1693 Pte J Mackie, 20 School Street, Fraserburgh.
1156 Piper W Graham, 62 Prison Buildings, Peterhead.
Col. Sgt I Dunbar, 8 Dennyduff Road, Fraserburgh.
1439 Cpl. G R Watt, 36 North Street, Fraserburgh.
1133 Cpl. J Clark, 3 Kirk Brae, Fraserburgh.
524 Cpl. S McLagan, 47 Commerce Street, Fraserburgh.
2139 Lance-Cpl. E Mitchell,, 1 Albert Street, Fraserburgh.
2556 Pte. A Sorrie, Gowanhill, Rathen.
1937 Pte. J Ironside, 23 Kirk Brae, Fraserburgh.
1915 Pte W Hunter, 9 Cross Street, Fraserburgh.
1947 Pte. F Chalmers, 27 Hanover Street, Fraserburgh.
1404 Pte W Ritchie, 8 Grattan Place, Fraserburgh.
1930 Pte. J Sim, 72 Broadsea.
1676 Pte. J Yule, 35 Manse Street, Fraserburgh.
1278 Pte. W Noble, 35 College Bounds, Fraserburgh.
In October 1915 another report under the heading "Arrival of Wounded Terriers", Hunter is listed as being wounded for a second time:
The following wounded members of “B” Company, are at present in Fraserburgh : - Private William Hunter (leg and back), Private William Ritchie (arm and back), Private Gilbert Dunbar, (head), and Private John Smith, (head). They are almost recovered and will return to the front in a few days.
Almost a year later William is wounded again: Fraserburgh Herald of 17th October 1916: " Since he went to the front eighteen months ago Pte. Wm. T. Hunter of the local company of Gordon Highlanders has been slightly wounded on three occassions."
He was wounded for the fourth time at the battle of Beaumont Hamel on 13th November 1916, as reported in the Herald of 28th November: "Private Wm. T. Hunter, military medalist, Gordon Highlanders, was wounded in the action of 13th November and is in hospital in Norfolk."
William Hunter was one of the fifty seven men from the 5th Battalion who died on the opening day of the battle of Passchendaele. (see casualty list here )
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