Monthly Archives: December 2020

South African Campaign to World War 1 – Sgt A James

South African Campaign to World War 1 – Sgt A James.

The committee who decided what information should be on the Dallas, Morayshire, war memorial were considerate of the modern-day researcher. These thoughtful people included name, rank and regiment – such foresight to consider future researchers?

The man who caught my attention is Alexander James born on 10th February 1884. Alexander served as

Menin Gate
CWGC image

Sergeant 28590, in the battalion Canadian Infantry. He Alexander died on the 13th of June, 1916, aged 32 and remembered on the Menin Gate Memorial, Ypres. The CWGC website includes Alexander’s regiment and place of remembrance. Also included are his parent’s names and where they lived. There is one other piece of information, making Alexander’s story more interesting.

What could this information be?

It is that Alexander served in the South African Campaign. The Imperial Yeomanry Records 1899-1902 are available from the National Archives. They are also available on Ancestry – Alexander’s Short Service Attestation is there. 

Alexander was 20 years and one month old when he signed to serve. Alexander was born in the parish of Speymouth near Fochabers, Morayshire, at the time of his enlistment he was working as a farm servant. Alexander had left home three years earlier – probably now living on or near the farm where he worked. He signed the papers in Inverness o the 4th of December 1901, before Colonel Shaw. 

If you walked down a street in Inverness or strode down Fochabers High Street, would you have recognised Alexander? Perhaps you would have done if I tell you that he was 5′ 8″ tall. He was quite well built, with an expanded chest of 39½”. Alexander had a fresh complexion, with dark brown hair and blue eyes. On his right forearm, he had the tattoed figure of a female plus a visible scar. 

Alexander was now part of the 1st Battalion Scottish Horse, Imperial Yeomanry, serving as Private (Trooper) 37478. Discharged the following September after serving in South Africa. After initially serving 37 days ‘At Home’. From the 11th of January 1902, 230 days in South Africa followed by a final seven days ‘At Home’ before discharge. His service ended with him awarded the Queens’ Medal and Claps and South African Medal plus claps. His next of kin was his father James James, who lived at Blackhills, Rafford by Forres. I wonder when I research a soldier from Morayshire if their paths cross of my Riach and Hay families, especially when there is a connection to a place – did they know each other? 

Alexander’s conduct while with the Colours had been ‘very good’. He signed his name – he was no longer in the army. His time in the Yeomanry came to an end. After this time in his life, he intended to live at Graus (sic), Burnside, Dipple, Fochabers.

How did Alexander end up serving with a Canadian Regiment?  

Sometime between his discharge from the army in 1902 and when he re-enlisted in 1914, he ventured abroad. I haven’t done in-depth research for his travel details, hence the broad spectrum. But he did end up there!

Alexander’s service records are available to research, unlike many British documents destroyed or damaged in WW2. The first page of his records confirms his two years service with the Scottish Horse. Also of three years with the Cameron Highlanders and eight years with the Royal Horse. It makes you wonder when he had time to work and then venture to Canada.

Alexander’s WW1 records duplicate the more general information or expand those details. One such example is that of Alexander’s tattoo. In his 1901 documents, the description is of a generic lady. Yet, in his WW1 documentation, the information is more detailed – an American or Mexican woman. Alexander had the tattoo in 1901 when he signed up for the South African Campaign. Why would a 17-year-old who, by then had not left his native Scotland, want to have this on his arm? One other descriptive snippet was that he had a mole on his right clavicle.  

On the 10th of August 1914, he attended the recruiting office in Victoria. On the 23rd of September, 1914, he was fit. Alexander was once again with the Colours. On enlistment, he was with the 19th Canadians, service number 28590, later with the 43rd Battalion, C.E.F. (Canadian Expeditionary Force).  

Alexander’s Will, extracted from his Pay Book, left all his property and effects to his mother, Jessie of Blackhills, Rafford.

In March 1916, Alexander received a G.S.W. (gunshot wound) to his left leg while on active service. After his time in hospital in the ‘at home’. He underwent a medical examination at Sandygate. After four weeks of physical training, he was to be fit.

There are so many pages to Alexander’s records, so many details and snippets of information I could continue to write for a long time. So I will highlight a few of the memorable times in his service.  

  • 8 February 1915 Promoted to Corporal while at sea.
  • 15 March 1915 Promoted to Sergent while in France.
  • 3 May 1915. Admitted to Military Hospital Colchester.
  • 15 July 1915. Discharged to furlough, Shorncliffe.
  • 28 July 1915. Reported from sick furlough, Shorncliffe.
  • 6 December 1915. Taken back on Strength, Shorncliffe.
  • 1 March 1916. Convalescent Hospital at Woodcote Park, Epsom. 
  • 24 March 1916. Taken back on Strength,
  • 24 May 1916. Reports to Folkstone from Epsom.
  • 6 Jun 1916. Transferred to 16th Battalion – Overseas.
  • 31 May 1916. Promoted to Sergent – in the Field.
  • 27 June 1916. Killed in Action.
  • 4 July 1916. The correct date of death amended to 13 June 1916
  • Alexander spent a total of 61 days in the hospital.

Alexander’s three medals and Memorial Cross went to his mother, Jessie. While James, his father, received the Plaque and Scroll.

Alexander’s papers, like nearly all other service records, are not in chronological order. Close to the end of the records is a ‘Statement of Case’ – a description of the events on the day Alexander received his G.S.W.

Completed by the Medical Officer.  

Alick James, formerly an Engineer. Disability – Shrapnel to Left Leg.

Date – 22 April 1915. Place – Ypres.

Statement – States he was charging with the 16th Batt. on night of 22nd Apl. When he was wounded in the left leg by shrapnel. Was in hospital until 14 July. The wounds having bee infected. Two pieces were said to have been removed, seven pieces to have been left in leg. State that leg swells badly whenever he does any walking, that he suffers considerable pain.  

Reasons for disability – Shrapnel fragments in leg.

What is his present condition? There are eight wounds on left leg (punctured(?)). The increased movements of knee normal, those of ankle slightly limited. The largest scar is adherent to underlying muscle and construction of soleus muscle causes pain.  

Change to England – Light Duty & operation.

Alexander, according to the Canadian War Graves Register, was attacking or being attacked near Zillebeke, Belgium – some 7 minutes drive from Ypres. Hence, him being remembered on Menin Gate Memorial.

The Morayshire Roll of Honour – JAMES, Alexander. No. 28590, 

Sgt., 16th Canadian Scottish ; born at Trochill, Speymouth, Morayshire, 10th Feb., 1884 ; joined in British Colombia, Canada ; served i n France ; wounded, April 14th 1915, and killed between 12th and 14th June, 1917 (should be 1916), presumed at Ypres ; awarded South African Medal with four clasps. Son of J. and Jessie Ann James, Blackhillock, Burgie, Forres, Morayshire. Occupation, engine driver.

Two Men Named Christmas

Two Men Named Christmas

Christmas is usually a time for celebration and family gatherings. This year has been something out of the ordinary. The year 2020 will no doubt be written in the annals of history.

Today is the 25th of December 2020, Christmas Day and this started me wondering if there were any WW1 casualties with Christmas as their first names? A few years ago I wrote about unusual first name, you know, things like drinks, places, special occasions etc., Christmas. Was there any waiting to be researched?

As it happens in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission online website, there are 61 entries with Christmas in their first names. Of which 45 are from the First World War. Which of these 45 young men should be part of my ramblings?

West Yorkshire Regiment CWGC

A Yorkshire man? – George Thomas Christmas Stimpson. George served in the West Yorkshire Regiment (Prince of Wales’s Own) H Company, 1st Battalion. No, he wasn’t a Yorkshire man, he was a native of Cromer. George started his time in the army when after enlisting in Norwich. He served as Private 9204 in the 1st Battalion.

George seems to have been in France and Belgium from around November 1914 – this is confirmed by him being eligible for the 1914 Star, long with the British and Victory Medals.

Thiepval Memorial

George, aged 21, died on or since the 19th of August 1916. He has no known grave but remembered on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing. George, included in the Register of Soldiers’ Effects names his uncles Samuel and John as beneficiaries. His uncles were to divide approximately £28 paid in two instalments, the last in September 1919.

Another young man named Christmas was Christmas Newbery. Christmas was the son of George and Susan Newbery and elder brother to Ethel and Dora. You may have guessed why Christmas got his name? He was born on Boxing Day 1891 in Lambeth, London. On the 23rd of March 1892, the family left their home, 88 Dover Buildings to take Christmas to St Mary Magdalene’s Church, Southwark for his baptism.

In 1911 the family and Helen Turner, a niece, were all living at 126 Totterdown Street, Tooting, London. Christmas was an Assistant Postman working for the G.P.O. (General Post Office).

Seaforth Highlanders CWGC

The Great War began in 1914. it must have been shortly after this Christmas Enlisted as he was eligible for the 1914-1915 Star, the British and Victory Medals. He joined the Seaforth Highlanders and served as Private, 911, and on the 1st of March 1915, he was in France. After being killed in action on the 15th of June, 1915 he is remembered on Le Touet Memorial, France.

His mother, Susan Newbery of 114 Gasscot Road, Tooting, submitted a claim for her son’s pension. There are multiple index cards for this pension claim, each of which has a different address for the family. The small amount of 10/- was granted to Susan for a few years then reduced to 5/-for life.

Officer’s in Elgin

Officer’s in Elgin

Elgin War Memorial © C Sklinar 2020

While looking through a series of photographs I’d taken this summer, I came across a familiar surname on the Elgin War Memorial. The surname is not on my mother’s side, the Riach’s, but on my father’s side from Wakefield, West Yorkshire. The surname of OFFICER links into the Siddle family and the research I have done on them (with an Officer relation), seem to have them all around the Yorkshire region. I was quite surprised to find the surname in Elgin.

On the memorial’s front plaque are three C.S.M’s – James Catto; T E Dean, A R Rogers, D.C.M., and finally Wm Officer.

William, who is he?

Elgin War Memorial section © C Sklinar 2020

Born circa 1892, William was the son of Andrew Officer and his wife Agnes, nee Clark. When the 1901 census enumerator came to call on the family at 55 North Street, Elgin, who was in the house? Andrew, born in Portsoy, was aged 39 and worked as a confectioner. Agnes, born in the same year was from Johnstone, Berwickshire. William was one of seven children aged between 13 and 7 years of age – the youngest two may have been twins. There was one other child, Frederick Clark Officer who was born the year after this census.

The census time came again on the 2nd of April, 1911, when William was 18 years of age and still living in Elgin. William was working as a carpenter for Mr James George. It would not be too long before his life and, that of his family would change forever.

William was going to war.

He enlisted in Elgin and became a soldier in the 1st/6th Seaforth

Seaforth Highlanders CWGC

Highlanders. He served with the Regimental Number 526 and rose through the ranks to become a C.S.M. His Medal Card shows he was eligible for the 1915 Star, the Victory and British Medals. The award of the 1915 Star gives an insight when William went to the recruiting office in Elgin.

The 1st/6th Seaforth Highlanders stationed at Elgin along with the 1st/5th (stationed at Golspie) were both parts of the Seaforth and Cameron Brigade of the Highland Division who moved to Bedford. By the 1st of May 1915, they were in French and Belgian theatre of war. During 1915 they saw action at The Battle of Fesubert.

William ended up in the Somme region of France. At the end of July, wounded was more than likely taken to the 36th Casualty Clearing Station Heilly. On the 1st of August, his few days of suffering came to an end. He rests in the Heilly Station Cemetery, Mericourt-L’Abbe with over 2000 Commonwealth casualties and over 80 German casualties. The cemetery started in spring 1916 begun under pressure, as a result of this, some burials are closer together than in other CWGC cemeteries.

The Army Registers of Soldiers’ Effects include William and show that his father Andrew and mother Agnes were joint legatees in his estate. There was a sum of over £40 that would eventually reach William’s parents in two parts.

There is a set of records that the Western Front Association shared with the pay per view website, Fold3, these thousands of record cards can tell you, the researcher, so much information compared to the Medal Card, The Effects Register and Service Record – if it has survived. This set, The Pension Record Cards, included the standard soldier information – name, rank, service number, they also include a great deal of information about the recipient(s) of the pension. Where the recipient lived? What was their relationship to the soldier? How much was the payment and how long were they to last? Other information may include, the date of death of the recipient and who took over. You could find alternate names for wives or mothers if they remarried. The soldier could have fought under an alias. But there may be information about an illness or detailed cause of death.

What information is on William’s card? Andrew Officer of 15 Union Street, Elgin, died in 1926. The official document then includes his mother, Agnes. William’s brother, Robert of 15 Lossie Wynd, Elgin also has an inclusion. The first entry is on the 26th of September 1919, with the final date being on the 25th of June 1926. Did Andrew get any money? I don’t know as no figures for money are written on the cards.

The Aberdeen Weekly Journal of Friday 11th of August 1916 includes ‘C.S.M. Officer, Elgin. Mr A Officer, confection, Lossie Wynd, Elgin, has received intimation that his son, Company Sergt.-Major William Officer, Seaforth Highlanders, has died of wounds received on 29th July. Although only 23 years of age, C.S.M. Officer had for several years been a member of the Territorials and was most popular in the battalion. Before mobilisation, he was a carpenter with Mr James George’.

As well as being included on the Elgin War Memorial, William’s name is with many others in The Morayshire Roll of Honour. It was while looking for William that I came across five other Officer young men who went to war, including his brothers Robert and Andrew.

Who were these Officer young men? The young men that lived and came home to their family and friends.

Robert Officer (William’s brother), was born in July 1889, at 4 Bridge Street. Before enlisting, Robert had been a marine engineer. He joined the Navy at Glasgow in 1915 and served as a Lieutenant on H.M.S. Caledonia in Home Waters.

Andrew Officer (William’s brother) served as a Seargent in the 20th American Engineers. He was born in October 1887 at 4, Bridge Street, Bishopmill, Elgin. He joined at El Paso, Texas, America, December 1917. He also served in France.

Royal Engineers CWGC

Thomas Frier Officer (William’s brother), served as Sapper 221596, in the Royal Engineers. He was born at 55, North Street, Bishopmill, Elgin, on the 29th of June 1898. He enlisted at Elgin in January 1917. He, like his brothers, served in France.

Andrew Officer served as number 39292 as a Seargent in the Army Pay Office and 10th Scottish Rifles. He was born at Buckie, on the 13th of June, 1893. He enlisted at Elgin in August 1914 and served in France. Andrew was the son of William and Isabella Officer of 67 Moss Street, Elgin. Before joining the military, Andrew worked as a chemist.

William Officer (brother of Andrew) served as Private 266195, in the 3/6th Seaforth Highlanders and Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. William was born at Elgin on the 7th of December 1898. He enlisted at Elgin, in June 1915. He also served in France. William, during his service he was gassed and wounded. The son of William and Isabella Officer, 67, Moss Street, Elgin. Before the war, he worked as a clerk.

James Bochel – Nairn to Canada

James Bochel – Nairn to Canada


It was on the 2nd of March, 1916 that James went to his recruiting depot and signed to “hereby engage and agree to serve in the Canadian Over-Seas Expeditionary Force, and to be attached to any arm of the service therein, for the term of one year, or during the war now existing between Great Britain and Germany should the war last longer than one year, and for six months after the termination of that war provided His Majesty should so long require my services, or until legally discharged.” Signed by James and witnessed by A F Ancy (sic).

I’ll come back to the paperwork relating to James’ service.

But who was James before he enlisted?

James, born in April 1886, was one of the four children of Isaac and Margaret of 28 Society Street, Nairn.  Isaac was one of the many local fishermen, who earned their living from the sea.

James left the country of his birth before 1916.  There is an entry in the Canadian Passenger Lists 1865-1935 for the 1st of April 1911, for a Jas. Bochel aged 24, sailing from Glasgow on the SS Saturnia along with over 1250 passengers (1107 adults and 145 children under 14 years of age), bound for St John, New Brunswick. The Master of the Saturnia was David Taylor.  The Saturna had 252 passengers in Second Class and 1000 in Steerage.  The heath of all the passengers was good and none were in quarantine.  On the ships manifest James’ occupation is that of a blacksmith but that obviously changed when he arrived in Vancouver.  Could this have been due to meeting a plumber on the voyage or on the long journey to Vancouver?

Fron Nairn to Vancouver via Google Maps

James met and married a young lady named Margaret on the 8th of March 1916, a few days after he had visited the recruitment office.

Back to the paperwork I mentioned earlier, his Attestation Papers.

The first page of James’ Attestation Papers on the Canadian Archives website, is information that we more than likely know – his name; current address; date and place of birth and occupation. If the soldier is married or next of kin are included. Other information needing only a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ are – have you been vaccinated? Have you ever served in the Militia or any Military Force? And quite importantly ‘Do you understand the nature and terms of your engagement’?

The two pages give limited knowledge about his initial entry into the Canadian Army. However, the Ancestry website holds his full-service record – a great boon for anyone with James in their tree.
Sometime after James enlisted Margaret, his wife moved, back to Scotland, where she made 53 Forteath Street, Burghead her home. The next page is a description of James, this page, however, does tell that he weighed 140lb (10 stone) and that his vaccinations given when a child.

When I see a description of a soldier, it is as though I could walk down a street in recognise him. But when there is a typewritten will included in the records, it brings back the harsh reality that some men will never return to their loved ones. James had one such letter included in his paperwork. ‘No. 505100 James Bochel, Canadian Engineers. Military Will. In the event of my death, I give the whole of my property and effects to my wife Margaret Bochel, 53 Forteath Street, Burghead, Morayshire, Scotland. J. Bochel. Sapper Can. Engineers. October 28, 1916,’

James embarked Canada as part of the Canadian Expeditionary Force on the 20th of June 1916, onboard S.S. Missanabie, arriving in England nine days later. (The Missanabie, was torpedoed in September 1918 and sank just off the Irish coast.) James’ record show that he was at Shireclife, and Crowborough before entering France from the reinforcement pool.

Margaret was granted £180 War Gratuity less an amount of £80 Special Pension Bonus which had already been paid (£20 in May, June, July and August). This was sent on cheque number G1897944 on the 30th of July 1920. Prior to this money, Margaret had been getting £20 per month as a Separation Allowance.

James, during operations at Neuville Vitesse (south of Arras), was sitting in a dugout, with three of his comrades, when an enemy 5.9 shell made a direct hit on the dugout. Killing the four soldiers instantly. (source Circumstances of Death Registers First World War, Canadian Archives).

So James was Killed in Action in The Field on April 1st 1917 and rests in Ecoivres Military Cemetery, Mont-St- Eloi which lies between Bethune and Arras and is the final resting place of over 1720 other casualties, many of whom died on or around the 1st of April.

‘UNTIL THE DAY DAWN AND THE SHADOWS FLEE AWAY’ are the words at the base of James’ CWGC headstone in France.

James Main Bochel is remembered locally on the Burghead War Memorial.

James Bochel, Burghead War Memorial ©

Canadian Roll of Honour

If you are related to James it would be nice to hear from you.