War memorial history is ‘Lit’ up

Rothesay War Memorial.
Rothesay War Memorial.

After a weekend of acts of remembrance and services it was fitting that the topic for the members of the Lit should touch on the local sacrifices made in WWI.

Jean McMillan, the volunteer archivist at Bute Museum, shared a few of the stories she has uncovered during her research into the war memorials on Bute. Starting with the 300 men listed in a memorial book published by the Buteman in 1919, Jean has spent four years meticulously searching various archives and sources to piece together some very moving stories. She read out a letter from a distraught mother pleading with the authorities for information about her son, ‘missing in action’, who had lied about his age to join up.

Jean told the stories of each of the three island memorials – all paid for by public subscription, with the names of the men submitted by families. There are also a number of church plaques. Those from now demolished churches are mostly displayed in the United Church of Bute. Jean pointed out that the only female name, Margaret Davidson, a VAD, is in St Paul’s Church.

As well as lists of servicemen there are plaques and stained glass windows for individuals, and, of course, many family gravestones – about 60 in Rothesay, including one with the names of five grandsons from the Weir family. Twelve men died at the 100 bed naval hospital in Mount Stuart House and Jean showed some very evocative photographs of horse-drawn corteges leaving the grounds.

Not all of those who died in WWI were in the armed services. John Hogarth was a cook on the troopship TSS Tuscania when she sank after being torpedoed off Islay in February 1918. He was one of the 210 lost that day but four other men from Bute survived.

Of the 378 men with a Bute connection who did not survive WWI, 211 were killed in action, 65 died later of wounds, 57 from associated illnesses and 45 were drowned. It was a sombre audience who gratefully acknowledged Jean McMillan’s work which leaves a precious record of not only the men but the widows and hundreds of fatherless children. We will remember them.