Grim news of Kirrie casualties

Kirriemarians flocks to band concerts in The Den held to raise local morale.
Kirriemarians flocks to band concerts in The Den held to raise local morale.

A new year is always a time for reflection and here we take a look at life in Kirriemuir during the Great War and in particular in 1915.

Last year retired Webster’s High School history teach Alison Summers kindly gave a fascinating insight into the Little Red Town in 1914 and now we feature the first of a two part reflection on ‘Kirriemuir in 1915’.

She writes: “During 1915 the shadow of the Great War was affecting Forfarshire ever more deeply.

“In Kirriemuir the local newspaper the Free Press provides a vivid picture of life in the town in this eventful year.

“The New Year period was quiet with banks and shops shut, yet a large crowd including khaki‐clad soldiers had gathered in the High Street on Hogmanay to celebrate the turn of the year with fireworks.

“Shopkeepers urged their customers, while indulging in whisky and fruitcake, to remember seasonal shortbread for those at the front.

“As Black Watch reservists and new recruits left for France the town resumed its winter routine. Curling matches took place on frozen local ponds and the schools reopened for the new session.

“The January sales were in full swing and housewives were encouraged to add fresh preserves to their store cupboards by stocking up on marmalade oranges.

“Despite this air of normality, grimmer news during January and February was that the casualty list was mounting in the town. Young men who had grown up and worked in Kirriemuir or nearby, as factory workers or farm servants, were among the dead wounded or missing. After six months of war, three soldiers had died fighting the enemy and would never return to the Little Red Town.

“Understandably, farmers in the district who mourned their youthful employees were also worried about the serious shortage of men and horses for the spring tasks on the farm.

“Social events in the town took a patriotic turn including a concert by pupils of Webster’s Seminary in aid of The Soldiers’ and Sailors Fund and a dance at Lintrathen to raise money for troop comforts on the front line. It was noted that Harry Lauder the famous singer was appearing in the King’s Theatre, Dundee and that his pipe band was recruiting to keep up the flow of men to France and beyond.

“In Kirriemuir itself convalescent soldiers had arrived in the burgh and were being cared for by local volunteers. Soon they were fit enough to go on a motorcar run to the glens.

“The spring brought the start of the sporting calendar. In April the opening of the lawn tennis club was announced with teas served to players after the first exertions of the year. A month later the bowling green was back in action.

“Sporting enthusiasts were determined to carry on despite the war though many footballers in the area had joined the colours.

“The golf club too in its report maintained that despite the “national crisis”, the club was flourishing.

“There would be no Kirrie Show in 1915 but the mart in Northmuir had started its normal round of sheep and cattle sales with brisk bidding taking place.

“Yet war could not be forgotten. Fresh recruiting drives got underway in Kirriemuir with the plea to “enlist now or be too late for Berlin! Apparently even men under 5 feet 3 were welcomed, as the infantry regiments were desperate for local men!

“The gallantry of local Territorials at the Battle of Neuve Chappelle on the Western Front had already been reported and no doubt the hope was that those enlisting would prove to be equally brave.

“May however brought a sombre tone to the weekly news when the heavy toll of killed and wounded in Kirriemuir at the Battle of Ypres was reported with its profound sadness for local families. In particular Kirrie’s Own Poet, Lance Corporal John Beaton who lived in Southmuir and had worked as a chauffeur at Platten, had been hit by a German shell and killed. His cheery verses would be missed by all.

“Other Black Watch casualties followed with The Free Press provided a running total for its readers of 11 killed and about 30 wounded missing, a high cost for such a small town. By June the paper went further and provided a full roll of honour recording over 300 who were serving or had served in Kirriemuir and district thus far.

“Women and children in Kirrie continued to do their bit for the war too. The first lady letter carrier in the town had just taken on a 20‐mile route replacing a male colleague at the front covering her round which took in Fletcherfield and Ballinshoe by bicycle.

“As the schools closed for the summer break, more boxes of comforts were sent off to the front by pupils of Webster’s Seminary.

“In the midst of tragedy, the summer programme of activities continued in the Wee Red Town. Kirriemarians flocked to band concerts in The Den with the Instrumental Band providing a stirring programme to raise local morale. The crowds attending were the largest ever seen in Kirrie and no doubt reflected a determination that life must carry on no matter the news from the front.”

Look out for our second part in next week’s edition.