Appeal for info on Rothesay WW1 victim

Margaret Davidson's name on the First World War memorial at St Paul's Church in Rothesay.
Margaret Davidson's name on the First World War memorial at St Paul's Church in Rothesay.

A reader of The Buteman has contacted us looking for anyone on the island who knows anything of the story of a Rothesay woman who died in the First World War.

Leslie Hills has been looking into the family background of Margaret Wood Davidson, whose name appears on a plaque on the wall of St Paul’s Church in the town, on which is written: ‘To the glory of God and in grateful remembrance of the men of St Paul’s who fell in the Great War.’

The story of Leslie’s search for information about Margaret, written in Leslie’s own words, is as follows.

“The friendly person on duty in the church on the day on which I first saw the plaque, had been a member for many years but was not aware of Margaret’s name among the fallen. St Paul’s website notes that on the plaque are listed names ‘including one Margaret Davidson’ but comments no further. An appeal for information, through the website of the Scottish Episcopal Church Diocese of Argyll and the Isles, to the present rector, Andrew Swift, received no reply.

“I searched for Margaret Davidson’s death on all the usual sites – casualty lists, Red Cross Nurses, Voluntary Aid detachment (VADs), the Commonwealth War graves Commission - to no avail. The search was complicated by the fact that there are three other Margaret Davidsons, two of them quite well known, active in the field in Serbia and France. But all of these women survived the war.

“And then I tried the Scottish National War Memorial at Edinburgh Castle. Here I found the record of Margaret Davidson, a casualty of WW1. Most of the details are missing – except that she was in the Women’s Services, her unit name given as Scottish Branch of the British Red Cross Society, Scottish VAD Casualties.

“And the final identifier: on the line which is headed Other Detail, is the word “Bute”.

“Margaret Wood Davidson was born in Cleobury Mortimer in 1896 to John Joseph Davidson, a gardener and his wife, Barbara Janet, ms Wood who had been married on 3rd January 1895 at Stitchell.

“In 1901 Margaret, aged five, was living with them at Shakenhurst Hall, a grade II listed building with 13 bedrooms and an estate with 12 houses and cottages. John Davidson was a gardener and lived in the lodge. Margaret had a brother, John James, who was three. 

“By 1911 the family was living in Ardencraig Cottage, Bute. Margaret was fifteen, John James was eleven, a further son George was nine and a daughter, Agnes Barbara, born 29th October 1909, was one.  

“On the plaque in St Paul’s church, Margaret is commemorated alongside her brother, John James Davidson. His war record, sadly, was easier to find.  

“John James, John and Barbara’s elder son, four years younger than Margaret, was a private in the 96th Battalion of the Canadian Infantry and died, in training, of spinal meningitis at Camp Hughes Training Camp, near Carberry, Manitoba. He was 18. He is buried in Camp Hughes Cemetery.

“On the Saskatchewan Virtual War Memorial there is a page in memory of Private John James Davidson who was admitted to hospital on 28th June 1916 and died of non-combat causes on 13th July 1916. The narrative comments that John James was farming when he enlisted at Saskatoon four months before his death.

“He is not listed as a casualty on the Scottish War Memorial pages but he, who died in training and did not see action, is commemorated on the Rothesay War memorial on the Esplanade. Margaret, who worked in the field, is not on the memorial.

“But the fact is that John and Barbara Davidson lost both a son and a daughter to the Great War.

“The National Records of Scotland show that Margaret Davidson died, not on active service, but in Ardencraig Cottage, on 19th August 1917. She died of a Cerebral Embolism, Valvular Heart disease and Rheumatism. She was 21 years old. One must assume, as she is listed as a casualty on the Scottish War Memorial and in St Paul’s, that the conditions which led to her death were brought about by her service in the war.

“Her father, John, notified her death. He was still at Ardencraig Cottage as a tenant and working as a gardener in 1925. He died on June 7th 1947, thirty years after his two elder children, at 8 Bellevue Road, Rothesay. The death was notified by Barbara Hansford, his younger daughter.

“Barbara Davidson was married, by Kenneth Mackenzie, Bishop of Argyll and the Isles, to George Stanley Hansford of Maidstone in Kent on 21st April 1937 in St Paul’s, Rothesay. She died at Redbridge in Essex in 2004, aged 94. Her mother, Barbara Janet, died in Essex in 1960 aged 90. Barbara Hansford does not seem to have had children.

“Of George, the youngest child, there is no trace. There is a George Davidson, seaman, listed on the Rothesay war memorial under WW2 deaths but no way of discovering is this is Margaret’s brother. Certainly none of the George Davidson’s listed as casualties at Edinburgh Castle was born in the right place and there is no sign of his death in any UK record.

“And so it is very likely that the last Davidson to live on Bute left in 1947. Nevertheless, there may be someone on the island who remembers something of the story of Margaret Davidson, BRCS, VAD. If there is, I should be most grateful if they would get in touch through The Buteman.”