July 16, 2015

Friends of Glasgow Necropolis reveal stories of First World War dead

LIKE a tree that flourishes, unfurling fresh leaves with new branches reaching out to the sky, the research by volunteers at Glasgow's Necropolis continues to reveal fascinating stories from the past.

Last year they unveiled a Roll of Honour on the Friends of Glasgow Necropolis website, with the names of the 154 men and one woman buried in the Victorian cemetery who died in the First World War.

Since then they have been contacted by people with more stories to tell.

"A lot of families have got in touch and it turns out some are from the local area," explains Ruth Johnston, chairman of the group.

"It is really interesting to see they were quite close by to each other."

Living in Dennistoun, an area just across the eastern walls of the Necropolis, Ruth has a particular interest in the history of her local area.

"In Dennistoun addresses keep coming up, in Roselea Drive and Onslow Drive, for example. I wonder if they knew each other from school?", she asks.

One of those 17 soldiers from Dennistoun soldiers was James Hunter Lawrie who was killed in action in 1916, aged 20.

He lived in Onslaw Drive in 1915 when he was commissioned into the 3rd Battalion King's Own Scottish Borderers.
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Nine months later he landed in France and joined the 7th/8th Battalion 46th Brigade, 15th (Scottish Division). Most of his short time with the battalion was spent in trench work near Hulluch village before heading to the Somme on July 21.

The battalion took over trenches on August 7 and two days later James, and several other men, were killed by a shell.

Another soldier was Private George Cunningham who was killed in action in 1916 at the age of 18.

After trawling through records, research has revealed that he lived at two different addresses in Roselea Drive, Dennistoun, as a child.

It is likely that George landed in France in 1916 and he may have been part of large-scale drafts to boost the numbers of the 100th Brigade, 33rd Division of the Highland Light Infantry in the run up to the ill-fated Battle of the Somme.

In July that year, just two months before George died, the battalion was involved in an attempt to capture High Wood, an action at the Somme, and sustained heavy casualties.

Friends of Glasgow Necropolis was set up 10 years ago by a group of like-minded enthusiasts interested in conserving the sculpture and architecture of the cemetery, next to Glasgow Cathedral, as well as its biodiversity and natural history.

Ruth has been a part of it since the second meeting.

"Over the years we have been involved in a lot of work. The wonderful Cathedral Precinct gates were restored in gold leaf and black, for example," she says.

"That was after a donation of £14,000 by one of the relatives of the company that made them originally.

"We have restored a lot of the stonework on graves and monuments and have a good partnership with the council and also make applications to Historic Scotland and other funding bodies."

The most high-profile work carried out by the group is the guided tours of the Necropolis. It might be better known as the final resting place of the great and the good, families who had a high profile in the business world, from the Templetons, of the carpet factory, to publishers Blackie and Collins, but also postmen, fireman, poets and artists.

The group is looking for more volunteers to take out tour groups or get involved in the ongoing research project to profile the dead of the First World War who are interred on the 37-acre site.

"The more tours we can do the more donations we get," says Ruth. "At the moment most of our volunteers work, and some are retired. I'm self employed so I am flexible. We cover as much as we can.

"We also have students from Torun University in Poland working with us recording the 3500 stones. We need people to convert the material the students are collecting into spreadsheets that can go on the website."

It was the local connection that drove Ruth to get involved.

"Where else would you want to walk around? It's such an inspiring place. As opposed to medieval graveyards that were all about death and hell, the Victorians felt theirs should be uplifting, not just in the architecture but the stories that are here too."

Glasgow City Council took over ownership of the Necropolis in the 1960s after it was originally set up in the 17th century by the Merchants' House, based on the Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris.

Volunteers have now recorded profiles, available to view online, of 75 of the 155 buried at the Necropolis who served in the First World War, with more to be added.

Of those 155, 137 were from the Army, nine were in the Royal Navy and Royal Marines and two were merchant seamen.

Eliza Margaret Nisbet is the only woman, a volunteer with the Scottish Churches Huts that was later called Huts and Canteens for the Armed Forces.

She attended Hillhead Church and died at Etaples, France, on August 16, 1916.
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Now, every Remembrance Sunday the group will lay poppies on those 155 graves. A map is available for visitors to trace the heritage of the First World War in the cemetery, with graves marked.

To volunteer, contact membership@glasgownecropolis.org.
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