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1st/5th Battalion Gordon Highlanders

George Tinn Wilson and fellow NCOs

5th Battalion NCOs

An undated photograph, put probably pre war showing five NCOs from the 5th Battalion Gordon Highlanders.

The inscription on the reverse, written by the son of George Wilson, one of the men shown, reads: "Cruickshank, Dad (i.e.George Wilson), Chisholm, Chalmers, E.Will and, to correspond with the correct person, should be read from right to left - i.e "Dad" is second from the right.

Wilson was born in 1874. He was employed in the Prison Service and in 1905 he was transferred to the convict prison at Peterhead. The photograph was therfore taken between that date and 1914. He would have been 40 years old at the time war was declared.

Withe the exception of Chisholm, the men shown on the photograph appear in “C” Company of the Battalion Roll. All are shown as living at the Prison Quarters. The following is a tentative identification:

Chalmers is probably James Chalmers No 115, Colour Sergeant Major. (He was Disembodied – i.e. stood down from war service - on 23/2/1919) He was appointed a Warrant Officer Class 1 during the course of his service. A notice appearing in the Buchan Observer newspaper on 6th August 1918 reports:"Mrs Chalmers, The Cottages, H.M. Prison Peterhead, has been informed that her eldest son L/Cpl James Chalmers, Gordon Highlanders (292570), has been killed in action. L/Cpl Chalmers was in the employment of Charles Bruce, Chapel St., Peterhead, and has been in France for over a year. His father, Q.M.S James Chalmers is also serving in France."

Cruickshank is probably Sergeant William Cruickshank, No 125. (Discharged 4/4/1918). In the 1901census there is a William Cruickshank, age 38, Prison Warder Class 1 and his 17 year old son, William, both residing at the Prison Quarters. With the service number 125, the man would have been in the Territorials at its inception in 1908. The older man would have been about 51 in 1914 and 55 at the time of discharge. It is possible that he was discharged because of his age (55).

The regulations relating to the maximum age for Territorials outlined in the 1909 Territorial Force Manual, Para. 41(b) :

Attainment of the Age-Limit. Sergeants not on the permanent staff are discharged on reaching the age of fifty years, whether their period of engagement is completed or not.  The Brigade Commander may sanction their retention up to the age of fifty-five in very special cases, but in no case beyond.  For the rank and file ...the age for discharge is forty years. The Brigade Commander may sanction retention to the age of forty-five.

Chisholm has been identified by relatives as Colour Sergeant Alexander Chisholm - No. 114. He was a Prison Warder at Peterhead. The 1911 census shows him, age 47, residing at J4 of the Warders'Quarters with his wife Mary, son William, who was also to join the 5th Gordons, and two daughters Mary and Christina.

Alexander Chisholm's son, 1635 Lance Corporal William Chisholm, was in "C" Company and also on the Depot staff, Peterhead. As a member of the Depot staff he did not go to France with the Battalion in May 1915. It was December 1915 before he rejoined his comrades. This man was a Sergeant, (acting) in 1916 and was wounded at Beaumont Hamel. His medal card shows that he was promoted to Warrant Officer Class 2.  William Chisholm (WO Class 2) served in the King’s African Rifles late in the war. The following is the biography from a fellow NCO in the 5th Battalion – Benjamin Smith (2152) of Idoch, who also served in the same African force : “One of 2000 Warrant Officers and NCOs sent to East Africa with Nairobi as headquarters, to train seven regiments (about 30 battalions) of Blacks. Had to learn the native tongue – ke-swahili- for purposes of instruction. Headquarters close to the Nguru Hills, associated with scenes in some of Rider Haggard romances.” (War Book of Turriff)

William Chisholm was awarded a D.C.M during his service in Africa. Th citation reads:

"241207 A/C/S/M W. Chisholm, 5th Bn., Gord. Highrs. and 2/2nd K. Afr. Rif (Peterhead)
(E. Africa) For conspicuous gallantry in action and high devotion to duty.  He has at all times displayed great determination and ability in action as a platoon leader, and has performed some bold patrol work, rendering most useful service." (Gazette 7/2/1919)

E. Will is probably Sergeant Ernest Will, number 121 ("Disembodied" 7/5/1919) As with the Cruickshanks, there were two Ernest Wills living at the Prison Quarters in 1901 – the father aged 40 (about 53 in 1914) and the son aged 14 (27 in 1914). In the 1911 census only the father (aged 50) is in the Prison Quarters. It is difficult to know which of the two is shown in the photo. However the father does seem old to be on active service (he would have been about 58 when discharged) and would have exceeded the age requirements mentioned above.

George Wilson did not stay with the 5th Battalion.  He did not receive the 1915 Star as did his colleagues.  As the only service number on his medal card is the 1917 six-digit number, it would seem he didn't arrive in France until at least that year. He received the Territorial Force War medal, showing that he served overseas at some stage but was not entitled to either Star. He was appointed Warrant Officer Class 2 from 31st July 1915. His Battalion on the Warrant is shown as the 2/5th Gordon Highlanders. It is possible that he remained with the second line battalion to act in a training capacity. At the time of his discharge in January 1919 he was serving with the 9th (Service) Battalion (Pioneers). He returned to the Prison Service on 2nd March 1919 and retired in 1929. George Wilson died in Peterhead in 1958.

The photograph shown above is provided courtesy of Anita Lorenz, George Wilson's granddaughter. My thanks also to Bruce Chisholm for helping with the correct identification of Alexander Chisholm, his Great-Grandfather.

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Carolyn Morrisey