Before I began researching my family’s history, war was something rather academic, just a subject to be studied. It didn’t seem to touch my family. My grandfathers were too young for World War 1 and too old for World War 2. But as I have delved deeper into the my family tree’s roots and branches, I have found too many young men, some only boys, who paid the ultimate sacrifice ‘for King and country.’
I am not only fascinated with the men in my family tree who valiantly went to war but I can’t help but feel for the families they left behind and the terrible shock they received when news came from the ‘front.’ Recently, Alan Cope, a cousin-in-law and family history co-researcher, shared a letter that was received about the death of my great great grandfather’s nephew and my first cousin, three times removed, Alexander Garrow Duncan Gordon (pictured right in a photo Alan also provided).
Alexander was born in May 1891 in Keiss, Caithness, Scotland, the eldest son of William Gordon and Annie Hadden. In 1912, Alexander married Euphemia Thomson Anderson and over the next few years, they welcomed children ‘Willie’ and Margaret. Unfortunately, and likely due to the significant destruction of British World War 1 records during the bombing of London in World War 2, I don’t know exactly when Alexander enlisted but he did join the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders. Subsequently, he was sent into action at the front.
Dated August 20, 1917, Army Form B. 104-82 was sent to Alexander’s family from the Infantry Record Office in Perth. With typical Army efficiency, the notice is a ‘fill in the blank’ form (the filled in sections are in italics):
It is my painful duty to inform you that a report has been received from the War Office notifying the death of :-
(No.) S/ 9654 (Rank) Private
(Name) Alexander Gordon
(Regiment) Argyll & Sutherland Highrs.
which occurred in France
on the 6th August 1917.
The report is to the effect that he was Killed in Action.
By His Majesty’s command I am to forward the enclosed message of sympathy from Their Gracious Majesties the King and Queen. I am at the same time to express the regret of the Army Council at the soldier’s death in his Country’s service.
I am to add that any information that may be received as to the soldier’s burial will be communicated to you in due course. A separate leaflet dealing more fully with this subject is enclosed.
Your obedient Servant,
Officer in charge of Records
It’s hard to imagine what it must have been like for a young wife and mother or elderly parents when they opened an envelope containing a form letter like the one above, knowing that their loved one was never coming home, not even for burial.