1299 Pte. Alexander Wishart (1887 – 1915)
Alexander Wishart was born on 23 June 1887 in a small stone cottage on North Street in Leslie, Fife. He was the illegitimate son of John Willocks Wishart, a Dyer from Montrose, and Catherine Wilson, a local Papermill worker. By 1891, when Alexander was three, the family had moved to Peter’s Court in the Cowgate area of Dundee and at the time of the 1901 census were living in a tenement block at 35 Benvie Road, Alexander had left school and was employed in one of Dundee’s many mills. Over the next seven years, he reputedly saw service with the Black Watch Volunteers (his surviving service papers do not refer to this) and left Dundee during 1907/8 when he gained work as a pithead worker in one of the many local mines around Kelty, Fife.
Also working in the mine was Maria Easton, the daughter of a coal miner from Stirlingshire who had come to the county in search of work roughly ten years earlier. Alexander and Maria began a relationship, and by the autumn of 1908, she fell pregnant with their first child. As was often the case, the couple were compelled to marry shortly afterwards and were wed on New Years Eve 1908 at the Trinity United Free Church Manse in Kelty. Less than six months later on 15 June 1909, while the couple were living at Hawthorn Cottage on Station Road, a daughter named Mary Hogg Wishart was born.
Perhaps it was his previous experiences with the Black Watch that prompted Alexander to visit the local recruiting office in Blairadam, yet whatever his motivations, on 18 June 1910 he enlisted for four years in the Army Reserve with the 1/7th (Territorial) Battalion Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.
On 18 May 1911, Alexander and Maria became parents to a son named John, who like his older sister Mary, was born at Hawthorn Cottage. Barely a month had passed when joy turned to tragedy as John fell ill with acute gastritis and died after eight days on 23 June 1911. Eighteen months later on 21 December 1912, Hawthorn Cottage would once again echo the sound of a newborn baby when another daughter, Catherine Wilson Wishart, was born.
The remaining years of pre-war life for Alexander and Maria passed without further incident. On 18 June 1914, Alexander was re-engaged for a further year in the reserve, however, as the drums of war beat louder in Europe, life for the Wisharts had already taken a dramatic turn for the worse. It’s not known how long Maria’s physical health had been degenerating. The Medical Attendant who certified her death certificate noted that she had been afflicted for ‘some months’ and by early September 1914 she had been admitted to the Fife and Kinross Asylum suffering from Locomotor Ataxia, a degenerative neural condition which causes an inability to precisely control one’s bodily movements. The declaration of war and Alexander’s subsequent mobilisation couldn’t have come at a worse time, and when Maria died on 8 September, her husband was training with his battalion in Bedford.
Three months later on 11 December the Argyll’s left camp for Southampton and boarded the SS Tintoretto bound for France. On arrival at Le Havre, the battalion entrained for Helfaut (via St. Omer) where they billeted over Christmas and New Year.
The first three months of 1915 was spent alternating between training and the trenches in Nieppe near Armentières. On 9th March Alexander’s service papers record that he was taken by the 11th Field Ambulance to a hospital in Calais before being transferred to No. 14 General Hospital in Wimereux suffering from diarrhoea. Several days later he was discharged to the battalion camp in Rouen where he was put on base duties until 6 April when he rejoined his unit at La Grande Manque Farm.
On Thursday, 22nd April, while based in the rear, the 1/7th Argylls won the Divisional Football Cup but were ordered to leave their rest camp at Bailleul the next day to relieve a Canadian battalion in the field. On the 24th the battalion marched through Ypres, which had been subjected to a ‘tremendous bombardment’ and during the evening divested themselves of their packs, spending several hours resting in an open field about one mile to the northwest – drenched by rain, before heading off again shortly after midnight.
The attack on St. Julien commenced at dawn. Over a thousand yards of no man’s land lay between the Argylls and their objective, and as the attack formation advanced, the ground was reported as being ‘swept by a sheet of lead’ from German rifles and machine guns with subsequent enfiladed firepower causing the battalion to suffer considerable losses. Almost 450 officers and ranks were killed, wounded or missing. Of those who did not return was Alexander Wishart.
Alexander’s story was reported several times in the Dundee press. A great deal of sympathy was directed towards his orphaned children, who had been living with their grandmother in Dundee, and were subsequently awarded ten shillings a week pension. Sadly the tragedies of this particular Wishart family did not end with the loss of their Father. Three years after the war, Catherine Wilson Wishart died aged eight from shock caused by scalding to her neck, arms and shoulders in the early hours of 3 February 1921.
Alexander is commemorated on the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial.
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