Bygone Bute: How The Buteman reported the outbreak of war

Crowds gather at Rothesay pier as the men of the Bute Mountain Battery depart forwar service in August 1914.
Crowds gather at Rothesay pier as the men of the Bute Mountain Battery depart forwar service in August 1914.

For this week’s look back into the archives we’ve chosen to commemorate the one hundredth anniversary of the start of what we now know as the First World War.

The Buteman’s edition of August 7, 1914 gave over many column inches both to the national news, the latest from the continent and the impact of the war, even in its earliest days, on life on Bute.

The picture above was taken overlooking Rothesay pier on the day in August 1914 when Bute’s Territorial soldiers went off to fight, with hundreds of men waiting to board steamers to the mainland and many more family members watching anxiously as their husbands, brothers and sons departed, many of them never to return.

In our August 1, 2014 issue, we’ve published a full ‘roll of honour’ for Bute, giving the names and details of every man from the island who perished during the conflict. Here we summarise The Buteman’s coverage from a century ago of the outbreak of the war.


The news of the outbreak of war between France and Germany was brought to Rothesay on Sunday per newsboys coming by the Sunday steamer and selling a special edition of the Glasgow Evening Times, which had been issued that morning.

Though the boys demanded a penny for what was really a halfpenny newspaper, all the copies were eagerly bought up, and towards evening, when copies had become scarce, threepence and even sixpence was willingly offered.

In the afternoon a proclamation calling out the Naval Reserve appeared in the window of the Post Office, which was taken as an indication that immediate action was contemplated by Britain.

On Monday evening a warning was received for the local Territorials to hold themselves in readiness to mobilise within 24 hours. On Wednesday morning definite instructions were received, and the same evening at six o’clock the men of the Bute Section of the 4th Highland Mountain Brigade, RGA, to the roll strength of about 150, mustered in uniform at the Drill Hall in High Street.

They were served with their equipment and medically examined. Thereafter they were dismissed for the night, with instructions to report at the Drill Hall early next morning. A picket afterwards patrolled the streets.

Yesterday morning the pipe band played the reveille through the town as early as half past five. Later on, drill was engaged in at the Meadows.

Although of course not generally known, it is expected that the Bute Battery will be sent off in the beginning of next week to some place on the east or north-east coast. They will guard the forts and lines of communication in place of the regulars, who, it is presumed, will be sent off as an expeditionary force to Belgium or some other part of the Continent.

The Battery will be brigaded with the Argyll Mountain Battery and the Ross and Cromarty Mountain Battery, the three units together forming the 4th Highland Mountain Brigade, R.G.A., under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Colin McLeod Robertson. The men are entitled to a grant of £5 each for mobilisation, and are thereafter paid at the soldiers’ rate of 1s 2d per day in addition to their keep, a further allowance being granted to those having wives and families.

Yesterday the Infant Department at the Public School was requisitioned as quarters for the Kingarth, Largs and Millport sections. The Rothesay men continue to go to their own homes at nights, up till the night before departure, when they also go into quarters. The Largs and Millport men arrive this afternoon.

The Marchioness of Bute, who only returned to Mount Stuart on Monday from the continent, has, as president of the Buteshire branch of the Red Cross Society, issued an appeal to all who are able to serve their country by succouring our soldiers and sailors in need, to send their names and addresses to her immediately.

The capacities are (for men) pharmacists, mechanics, carpenters and stretcher-bearers, and (for women) nurses, cooks and hospital attendants. Boy Scouts and Girl Guides are also asked to send in their names.

A meeting of the Buteshire branch of the Scottish Red Cross Society will be held in Rothesay Castle at 4pm on Monday, August 10. All men and women who are anxious to help are invited to attend, and it will be the greatest help to the committee if the public will state at the meeting what help they are prepared to give, whether personal, material or both.

Today the Provost and Magistrates met and discussed the situation arising from the war. They decided that in the event of official assistance being required in the matter of security or price of foodstuffs, or in any other way in which the authorities could be of service, the Magistrates will be prepared to take prompt action.

It is stated that about 80 horses in all have been requisitioned in Bute by the military authorities. Captain Hicks, accompanied by Mr Wm. Moodie, V.S., has been going round the farms selecting suitable mounts and purchasing them. In addition a number of horses that were already under agreement have been called up.

The panic preceding, and the excitement following upon, the declaration of war has already had a very serious effect on letting at Rothesay. In some of the larger boarding establishments as many as a dozen people in a day have given up their rooms, stating that business anxieties compelled them to return home. Others have given notice that they will only stay a week instead of a fortnight as first intended.

As a result of the war the price of food locally has increased considerably, though not so badly as in some places. The bakers have raised the price of the loaf by a halfpenny, and have laid in large stocks of flour in order to be prepared for all contingencies.

On account of the number of Reservists in the postal service, who have had to go out to serve their country - about a dozen - it has been decided to abandon the 1.30pm delivery in the meantime. At the Post Office, which is open day and night for war necessity, records have been created this week in the extent of telegraphic work accomplished.

Although the general steam boat traffic has not been interfered with so far, and is not likely to be, Messrs MacBrayne intimate that their passenger and cargo services are subject to discontinuance without further notice.

Large numbers of proclamations have been posted up at the County Buildings during the week, in connection with the calling out of the Reserves and Territorials, contraband of war, prohibition of the export of certain specified articles, etc. Some 40 loads of ammunition and equipment for the Terrritorials arrived yesterday and were taken to the Drill Hall.

Rothesay has been kind enough to show appreciation for The Buteman’s bulletins, issued gratis throughout the town each forenoon, giving the chief items of war news pending the arrival of the evening newspapers.

Patriotic people - and every one of us is a patriot these days - can help their country and their fellow countrymen by refraining from doing many things that are harmful in the present circumstances. Among these the following may be mentioned:

Food and fuel should not be extravagantly used, provisions ought not to be hoarded up, there should be no fussiness or panic over money matters, and the military authorities should be assisted in every way possible by civilians.

Prayers for peace were offered in all the local churches on Sunday last, and in not a few instances references to the critical situation were introduced into the sermons.

At the time of going to press, confirmation was awaited of sensational reports on the outcome of a great naval battle in the North Sea.

From Brussels there is the official statement that the attack on Liege has been abandoned after three days, and the Germans have retired and encamped on the left bank of the Meuse. Liege is being shelled from an airship, and many houses and public buildings are in flames.

Two London hotels have been raided by police and a large quantity of arms and ammunition seized. Twenty men were taken, handcuffed, from the Ritz Hotel this morning. They are charged under the Official Secrets Act.