Brechiners in the Great War

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Armistice Day is almost upon us once more and the centenary of the beginning of the First World War looms ever closer.

Although the last survivors of the conflict have passed away, the memory of the sacrifices made by those who fought and died have not been forgotten.

Brechin was no different from any other community at that time and many locals from the town and its surrounding area were quick to enlist as evidenced by muster rolls published in the Brechin Advertiser. There were a number already serving in the regular army at the outbreak of war and they formed part of the original British Expeditionary Force. Few original enlistment papers survived the bombing of London during the Second World War and many of those that did were badly damaged by fire and water.

They record information on the individual’s age, trade, next of kin and home address at the time. Some have handwriting or the signature of the man attesting.

Men from Edzell, the glens and numerous farms and settlements around the city joined up for what was perceived at the time to be a great adventure. They served in the Royal Navy, Royal Flying Corps as well as all branches of the Army from the Artillery to the Service Corps.

Like today there were Brechiners in almost every outpost including Salonika, Gallipoli and Egypt. Most served in France in all the Scottish Regiments albeit some were to be found in English and Irish Battalions. Troops from the dominions such as Canada, Australia and New Zealand contained a number of expatriated Brechin residents who immediately joined up to serve what they still considered to be their spiritual home.

During the course of the war Brechiners had perished during all the major battles including Ypres, Loos, The Somme, Arras, Passchendaele and many others.

By the Armistice numerous local families would have received notice of a loved one killed in action or reported missing.

In addition the long list of those decorated for gallantry is a testament to the courage, selflessness and tenacity of the men of the Brechin area.

Those who survived endured the memory of their experiences, often in silence, for years to come. Many had horrific injuries both physical and mental which took years of rehabilitation.

Of course one cannot forget the roles women fulfilled both on the home front and abroad. They backfilled the roles in industry and agriculture to maintain the supplies for the armed forces and keep the nation functioning.

One cannot forget those who volunteered to serve as nurses in the combat zones and in this respect Brechin provided its fair share. Hospital staff were kept busy with their fair share of convalescent casualties from the various fronts and entertainment was provided from the local community.

Since last year, research has been ongoing to determine the identities of all those who served in the war and an attempt is being made to build profiles of as many as possible.

A few have been identified in photographs and it would be fantastic to manage as many as possible. Over 1,000 men and women’s names are on a database, several whose families are still known to live in and around Brechin.

A staggering number when one considers the size of the community and catchment area.

It is anticipated the database will be made accessible to the public via the Town House Museum. The Friends of Brechin Town House Museum have kindly agreed to act as a conduit for those who have an interest or material they may like to contribute.

Apologies to those who may have come forward last year and please do not feel your interest was dismissed or in vain. Unfortunately due to prevailing circumstances these could not be followed up. Every piece of information which can do justice to the memory of those who served and gave their lives is essential.