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1st/5th Battalion Gordon Highlanders
Soldiers' Tales

Short biographies and photographs of six soldiers - Charles Brechin, Fred McKenzie, John Dean Riddel, James Ferguson Barrack, George Smith McNab and Robert Mennie - who all served in the 5th Battalion.




2183 Pte Charles Brechin 5th Gordon Highlanders

No. 2183 / 240467

Pte Charles Brechin

Charles Brechin was born on 17th July 1895 at Boddam, near Peterhead, the son of Charles Gordon Brechin and Mary Gauld Simpson.

With the outbreak of war, Charles, a joiner, enlisted in the 5th Battalion.  His older brother Alexander (No. 1528) was already serving, having enlisted in the Battalion in the summer of 1912. In 1914 the brothers’ address was listed as Longhaven, Cruden.They both went to France with the 5th Battalion in May 1915. 

Alexander was killed during the fighting at Beaumont Hamel on 13th November 1916.  His family placed the following notice in the Buchan Observer:

BRECHIN - Killed in action on 13th November, Pte Alexander James Brechin, Gordon Highlanders, aged 24 years, eldest son of Mr and Mrs Charles Brechin, Longhaven, Cruden. Deeply mourned.
'His warfare o'er, his battle fought,
His victory won, tho' dearly bought
His fresh young life we could not save
He slumbers now in a soldier's grave.'

Two other brothers also served in the war, Robert, for whom no military details are known, and James who served in the Gordon Highlanders and who was wounded in November 1917 and again in July 1918.

Charles survived the war and was demobilized in March 1919.  He left Peterhead to live in Glasgow, returning the following year to marry Edith Carmichael Cruickshank of Stirling Village, Boddam.

The first of the couple’s six children, Charles James Brechin, was born in Glasgow in 1921.  My thanks to him and to his daughter Caroline for allowing me to use the photograph and for supplying the biographical information.

Charles Gordon Brechin died in Glasgow in 1957 on his 62nd birthday. 


2677 Sgt Fred McKenzie 5th Gordon Highlanders

No. 2677 / 240723

Sgt Frederick George Robson McKenzie



Fred McKenzie was born Frederick George Robson Third in Peterhead on 21st December 1895, the illegitimate son of Mary McKinlay Third and William Robson.  In 1897 Mary married John McKenzie, who adopted Fred (known as Freddie in his family) and his older brother William.

Fred, a crane and transport driver employed in the construction of the Peterhead Harbour of Refuge, enlisted in the Territorials a few weeks before his 19th birthday in late November 1914.
William McKenzie enlisted as a Driver in the Army Service Corps in April 1915 and was sent to Egypt in September of that year  and later served in France.  He was wounded and eventually discharged from the Army as medically unfit in February 1919. His address at the time was given as 75 Marischal St Peterhead.

After his period of training at Ripon, Fred joined the 5th Battalion in France in December 1915.
On 23rd July 1916 he was wounded.  The Buchan Observer of 8th August 1916 contained the following report:
“Information comes from Driver William H. McKenzie who is with the ASC in France that his brother has been wounded in the head with shrapnel and is in a French hospital.  L.Cpl Mckenzie was at one time superintended the skating rink in Hanover Street, but latterly was a crane driver at the Peterhead Habour of Refuge.”  

Upon recovery McKenzie was one of several NCOs who was attached to the King's African Rifles.

Fred McKenzie was finally demobilized on 17th June 1919 having earlier that year married Ruth Baird. He died in Peterhead on 23rd February 1967.

My thanks to Mandy West for allowing me to use this photography.  


2/Lt John Dean Riddel 5th Gordon Highlanders

Pte, later Second Lieutenant John Dean Riddel

The eldest son of George Riddel, farmer, and Mary Riddel, of Myngfield, Kininmonth, Aberdeenshire, John was born at Westmains of Nethermuir, New Deer on 8th September 1893.

He enlisted in the 5th Gordon Highlanders in 1915, where he served as a musketry instructor. On 23rd November 1916 he was gazetted to the 4th Reserve Battalion  and posted to the 5th Battalion Gordon Highlanders. He embarked for France on 18th January 1917,  joining the 5th Battalion on 22nd January.

He was wounded on the 7th April 1917 at Moroevil near Arras while the Battalion was out of the line.  The War Diary recorded the incident: "About 9.30 pm Maroevil was again shelled by a high velocity gun.  A direct hit was made on one of the officers' huts." Riddel was one of eight casualties - four officers killed and four wounded.  He was transported to the base hospital at Etaples where he died from his wounds ten days later on 17th April. He was buried at Etaples Military Cemetery.  He was 23 years of age.


241120 James Ferguson BArrack 5th Gordon Highlanders

No. 241120

Pte James Ferguson Barrack

James Ferguson Barrack was born on 23rd August 1891, the third son of William Barrack, farm overseer of Brunthill, Cairnbanno New Deer and Helen Ferguson.  Before the war James was employed as a farm servant and enlisted in the 5th Gordons on 27th October 1915 at Peterhead.

He served in France from May 1916 and was wounded on three occasions.  He was killed on 1st August 1918 during the battle of the Marne and is buried in Raperie British Cemetery, Villemontoire.

Two other brothers, Alexander , 240885, a private in the 5th Gordon Highlanders and formerly a farm servant,  and John, a gunner in the Royal Field Artillery, formerly a blacksmith, were both gassed during the same battle.

Although unmarried, James was the father of a young daughter, Margaret, born in 1914 and living at Shepherds Croft, Cluny, Lillyflourie, Aberdeen.



  3226 Pte George Smith McNab 5th Gordon Highlanders

No 3226 / 266843

Pte George Smith McNab 

George McNab was born in Peterhead on 2nd November 1890, the youngest son of James McNab, ships' carpenter of 7 Back St, Peterhead, and his wife Mary Ann Finnie.

He enlisted in the 5th Battalion in mid 1915 and went to France on 2nd October 1915. He was back in Peterhead in March 1916 when he married  Elizabeth Thomson, a cook, at the North Eastern Hotel.  His marriage certificate shows him as a private in the 3/5th Battalion.

The couple had a son born on 1st July 1916.

After his return to France in 1917 George was transferred to the 6th Battalion.  He was killed on the opening day of the battle of Passchendaele, 31st July 1917.

The following notice appeared in the Buchan Observer. "Mrs McNab, North Eastern Hotel, Peterhead, has received official information that her husband, Private George Smith McNab, Gordon Highlanders, has been killed in action.  He was 26 years of age and the youngest son of Mr and Mrs McNab of Back Street.
He was married about a year ago and much sympathy is extended to his young widow and parents. Before enlisting he was employed as a painter with Mr George Cran, Queen Street."

My thanks to Brian Coutts for permission to use this photograph.

1255 L/Cpl Robert Mennie 5th Gordon Highlanders


  No 1255

L/Cpl Robert Mennie

Robert Mennie was born in Peterhead on 15/10/1894, the youngest son of Robert Mennie, butcher and Isabella Cameron.

He enlisted in the Territorials in early 1911 when he was 17 years old. At the outbreak of war he volunteered for foreign service. His address in 1914 was 6 Maiden St Peterhead.  He proceeded to Bedford with the battalion, and in May 1915 went to France.  He was discharged in 7/2/1916 at the expiration of his period of service.

Later in the war he went to Nelson Village, Cramlington, in the north east of England to help build the giant airship shed.  The airship base was constructed to counter Zeppelin raids and  to serve as a base from which patrols could be launched over the North Sea to counter the U-boat threat.  Nelson was like a large town, with its own barrack accommodation, waterworks and chemical plant to make hydrogen gas.

Whilst stationed in the area Robert met Rachel Hedley and they were married in May 1919. Their family was born in Cramlington, and later they moved to Walker, near Newcastle on Tyne where he worked as a grave digger. Robert died in 1970.

My thanks to Pat Barnes for allowing me to use these photos.

Below: The Active Service Testament presented to Robert


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Carolyn Morrisey