Andrew Douglas

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Andrew Douglas was born on 18th July, 1893 at Seacliff, Whitekirk, East Lothian, was killed in a shooting accident.  He was the son of Robert Douglas from Salton near Haddington who was a gardener. His mother was Marion (nee) Deans Douglas who had herself been born at Whitekirk.

By the 1901 census, the family had moved to Linlithgow. Robert was working as a gardener at Nether Parkley where the family lived in the gate house. (The Henderson family which owned the estate were wealthy enough to not only employ a gardener but also two servants.) Robert was aged 40 while his wife was four years younger. Andrew, aged seven, was the middle of three children and was attending school. His older sister Eliza was 14 and was attending Linlithgow Academy. She gained her merit certificate there in October 1901. The youngest in the family, Isabella was four and had not started her education yet.

In 1911, the census reveals the family were at the same address and Andrew, now 17, was working as a domestic gardener, possibly helping his father on the estate. The oldest sister, now recorded as Elizabeth, was working as a dressmaker while Isabella was attending school. She was no longer the youngest, Robert aged four was now the baby of the family.

In December 1914, Andrew joined the local Territorial unit, 2/10th Battalion of The Royal Scots which was formed in Linlithgow in September 1914. This was a cycling battalion. These units were seen as a way of increasing the mobility of soldiers relatively cheaply. The 1/10th and 2/10th (Cyclist) Companies had their headquarters in Linlithgow. The companies of the battalion also had drill stations in different locations spread throughout West Lothian. Another former pupil of Linlithgow Academy, Henry Cowan enlisted with the same unit on the same date. Henry’s service number was 2461 and Andrew’s was 2462 so they probably stood together in the queue at the recruitment station.

Andrew’s army medical inspection made on 8th December 1914 revealed that he was in good health, was five foot nine inches tall and had a 42 inch chest.

Volunteers in Territorial units could not be forced to serve abroad unless they agreed to do so. On 14th January 1915, at Bathgate, Andrew signed a form where in the event of a national emergency he agreed to serve outside the United Kingdom.

Andrew was first sent to Bathgate for training before his unit was posted to coastal defence duties near East Linton and Berwick- on-Tweed It was just north of Berwick where he was the victim of a tragic accident on Tuesday 30th March 1915. Andrew, together with Private John Bryce and Lance Corporal David Oswald were stationed on coast watch near a shelter on the banks overlooking the North Sea at St John’s Haven just on the English side of the border. David Oswald would have known Andrew well as he had been born in Linlithgow and was only a couple of years older. Before he signed up to join 2/10th The Royal Scots, he had been an employee of Linlithgow County Council. John Bryce, who was to be a key witness to what happened next came from West Calder.

During the afternoon, Lance Corporal Oswald was demonstrating the different stages of rifle drill to the two soldiers he was in command of. When he brought his gun to the examine arms position, he accidentally fired it. Andrew was shot in the left chest by a bullet which exited at his right armpit. The horrified Oswald had the presence of mind to send Private Bryce to get help while he did what he could for the mortally wounded Andrew. Bryce returned with two other soldiers and together they carried Andrew into the shelter. Lance Corporal Oswald then cycled to Berwick to get medical assistance. He found a local doctor named Anderson from Berwick who set off to help. Oswald then reported the incident to his officer. By the time the doctor arrived, Andrew had been dead for about an hour.

The clearly devastated Lance Corporal Oswald had to face a Coroner’s inquest into Andrew’s death the day after the shooting. He was questioned by Captain Alexander Forbes, Officer Commanding No. 1 Company, 2/10th (Cyclist) Battalion The Royal Scots and the Coroner, Captain Mackay. When asked if he knew the rifle was loaded, he replied” Yes, sir, I loaded the rifle when I went to the post in the morning. I forgot the ammunition was in the magazine. I was easing the springs when the rifle went off. It went off when I shut the bolt.” When asked if he was quite friendly with the deceased, he replied “Yes, sir, we were quite happy together all day.” To the question “You never had any dispute with him?” he responded “No, sir.” Fortunately for Oswald, Private Bryce had been a witness to the shooting and gave evidence to prove that both men had been on friendly terms and that no angry words had been exchanged before the incident. As a result, after a brief consultation, the jury gave their unanimous verdict “that death was due to an accident.”

The following day on 1st April, Lance Corporal Oswald had to face a Police Court charged with the manslaughter of Private Andrew Douglas. As the incident had already been examined at the Coroner’s inquest, the result was a formality. The Mayor of Berwick-on-Tweed, A.L. Miller delivered the verdict. “The Bench have considered the case and discharge you, David Oswald. They feel great sympathy with you. They hope that you will not take this too much to heart, but will go on doing your duties as formerly and so forget this painful episode. You are discharged without any reflection on you whatsoever.”

Lance Corporal Oswald returned to duty and perhaps to put the tragic accident behind him, joined 12th Battalion of The Royal Scots. He was killed in action on 19th August 1918. The witness to the tragic accident, Private Bryce, also died in the war, still serving with 2/10th The Royal Scots, he died of wounds on 24th September 1916.

Andrew’s body was returned to Linlithgow by train and taken to the family home, the Lodge at Nether Parkley. A detachment of Andrew’s unit was sent from Berwick to represent 2/10th The Royal Scots at the funeral. In addition, soldiers of The Highland Light Infantry who were billeted in Linlithgow at the time were formed to lead the funeral along the High Street to Linlithgow Cemetery. This escort carried their rifles reversed, a traditional mark of respect and mourning at military funerals. The H.L.I. pipe band played the traditional lament ‘The Flowers of the Forest’ as the horse drawn hearse carrying Andrew’s Union Jack, draped coffin was taken to the cemetery where the escort fired volleys of shots in the air over Andrew’s grave as a final salute to him. Linlithgow Academy also paid respect to a former pupil by flying the school’s flag at half-mast.

Andrew is buried in Linlithgow Cemetery, grave reference: H. 393. Only three of the 27 former Linlithgow Academy pupils who fell during the First World War were buried at home. Andrew is the only one buried in Linlithgow. The other two local burials are David Victor Foot who is buried in Bo’ness Cemetery and George Turner Watt who is buried at Muiravonside Cemetery.

Linlithgowshire Gazette 9th April 1915: Military Funeral at Linlithgow

“The funeral of Private Andrew Douglas of 2-10th Royal Scots, who lost his life in a gun accident at Berwick-on-Tweed on Thursday of last week, took place last Friday afternoon from Nether Parkley Lodge, Linlithgow, the residence of his parents to Linlithgow Cemetery. A detachment from deceased’s Company under Lieutenant P.C. Thom, came from Berwick-on-Tweed to attend the obsequeries as a mark of respect for their late comrade. There was also a turnout of men and officers from the detachment of the Highland Light Infantry billeted in the town, and from which was furnished the firing party, which walked at the head of the cortage with rifles reversed. Then came the Pipe Band of the H.L.I. playing “the Flowers of the Forest,” immediately in front of the hearse (the coffin being wrapped in the Union Jack), behind which walked the chief mourners and the general public. The detachment from the 2-10th bringing up the rear. As the cortage passed along the High Street there were many manifestations of deep sorrow among the inhabitants. Prior to the body being removed from Nether Parkley Lodge a short service was conducted by the Rev. Robert Couper, B.D., minister of the parish, to whose church deceased belonged. Mr Couper also officiated at the grave, and at the conclusion of this service the usual number of volleys were fired over the grave by the firing party. The deceased was a former pupil of Linlithgow Academy, and on the morning after the accident happened, Mr Beveridge, the Rector of the Academy, made these remarks at the usual morning muster of the school :- ” I regret to have sad news to-day. One of your former pupils, Pte. Andrew Douglas, of the 2-10th Battalion R.S., has been accidentally shot at Berwick, where his battalion was stationed. Not from eagerness to make money, not from an ambition to gain glory, but from a simple sense of duty he had decided to enlist in the service of King and country. He made the great sacrifice of self for the good of others. Though he was fated to die by accident here in his native land and not on a foreign field of battle, none the less truly did he die for his country.” All day on Friday the flag at the Academy flew at half-mast.”


Sources for this article include:

• Linlithgow Academy

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Last modified: Monday, 25 March 2024