Matthew Wishart was born on 28 September 1865 in Penicuik, Midlothian, the eldest son of Matthew Wishart, a shoemaker from Kirkcaldy, and his wife, Janet Davidson. In 1871, when Matthew was six, his family were living on Penicuik’s West Street and ten years later at 9 Fieldsend, which was a row of tenements running between the Loan Burn and Carnethy Avenue. Perhaps with Glencorse Barracks situated nearby, a career in the military caught Matthew’s imagination at an early age, and in 1881 he joined the Edinburgh County Militia (latterly the 3rd Battalion Royal Scots) as a bugler. Matthew formally enlisted with the regiment shortly after his twentieth birthday on 15 December 1885 and was described at the time as being 5 feet 8 ½ inches in height, of fresh complexion with hazel eyes and auburn hair. The examining officer in charge also noted that he suffered from slight varicose veins, but not to a disqualifying extent. After passing his medical, Matthew was assigned the role of Battalion Drummer and based at Glencorse, which had become the Regimental Depot in 1880.
On 29 April 1887, Matthew married Isabella Halley Graham at 9 Dundonald Terrace in Edinburgh and a son named Matthew was born at Hamilton Place in Penicuik the following March; however, the infant boy tragically died after three days of an unknown condition. On 25 November, Matthew was transferred from the 3rd to the 2nd Battalion Royal Scots and appointed the rank of lance corporal five days later. He was subsequently promoted to full corporal on 19 February 1890 and left with the battalion for Malta on board the HMS Malabar on 10 December 1890. Isabella travelled with Matthew, and two months after arriving a second son named William Graham was born in Valetta.
After two years stationed in Malta, the battalion received orders to proceed to India where they were posted to Belgaum, which at the time was within the Bombay Presidency. Matthew’s family travelled with him and left the island on 7 March 1892. During his time in India Matthew eventually rose to the rank of sergeant and a daughter named Isabella Janet was born there on 11 December 1895. On 24 March 1897, Matthew was permitted to re-engage to complete 21 years service with the colours and eventually returned to the UK on 29 March 1898.
On arrival back in Scotland Matthew was transferred to the 1st Royal Scots and spent over a year based back at Glencorse. On 11 October 1899, the second Boer War broke out after Britain rejected the Transvaal ultimatum. Matthew’s unit was swiftly mobilised for overseas service and sailed for South Africa on 6 November 1899 and spent over three years away from home. For his part in the conflict, Matthew was awarded the Queen’s South Africa Medal with clasps for Cape Colony, Orange Free State and Belfast.
While he was fighting in South Africa, Matthew’s family lived at 2 Dalgety Road in Edinburgh, and after his return in late March 1903, they followed him south to Inkerman Barracks in Woking. Matthew was appointed Sergeant Drummer on 26 August 1903 and subsequently posted back to the 3rd Battalion on 6 August 1905. Three years later on 13 December 1908, Matthew was discharged from service at Glencorse having served twenty-three years in the military. The Wisharts returned to Edinburgh and made their home at Waverley Park in the Abbeyhill area of the city. Matthew found work as a messenger (army personnel) in connection with an antiquarian museum, which suggests a continuing link with his old regiment.
By the summer of 1914, the family were living at 4 York Buildings in Queen Street, and following the outbreak of war in August Matthew must have been keen to get involved and ‘do his bit’. Consequently, on 13 September he re-enlisted in Edinburgh and joined the 1/5th Battalion (Queen’s Edinburgh Rifles) Royal Scots, which had been raised at Forrest Hill during August. At almost 49, Matthew was four years beyond the age which men who had previously served in the forces would be considered for the army. However, his impressive military career and the probability that he still had a few useful connections within his old regiment meant he was immediately embodied for active service, and in addition to being given the position of bugle major, was reappointed the rank of sergeant.
The battalion was initially posted to Scottish Coastal defences but received orders in March 1915 to proceed south to Leamington with over a thousand cheering men steaming out of Edinburgh by train on the 11th. Ten days later the battalion, who now formed part of the 88th Brigade, 29th Division, left Avonmouth aboard a refitted liner and sailed for the Mediterranean. The final destination was unknown to most of its passengers, but perhaps Matthew would have been pleasantly surprised to catch a glimpse of Malta again as it came into view over the horizon.
The battalion arrived at Alexandria on 2 April before sailing to Mudros Bay where they prepared for the impending landing on the Gallipoli peninsula. During this time, perhaps unknown to him, Matthew’s son William was killed in action near Ypres.
The Royal Scots landed on ‘W’ Beach at dawn on 25 April. The beach was described as a ‘narrow patch of sand between a diminutive bay and cliffs and strong entrenchments’ that was ‘well watched’ by the enemy. General Sir Ian Hamilton later wrote of the first few days after the initial landings:
The indescribable noise we could hear, indescribable flame and confusion we could see, indescribable carnage we could infer, but we could not piece together or interpret the awful confusion of detail.
On Wednesday 28 April Matthew found himself in the Royal Scots first line during the attack on Krithia, which was the first Allied advance at Gallipoli. The village was immediately behind the Turkish line with the next objective being Achi Baba, a prominent (and heavily defended) 200-metre hill feature some 2km beyond.
A regimental history published in 1915 wrote of the attack:
At eight o’clock on the morning of Wednesday, a vigorous forward movement was made against Krithia, despite the fact that the troops had enjoyed no proper rest since the landing. The progress amounted to nearly three miles, but about 11.30 a.m. the 88th Brigade was held up by the stubbornness of the opposition, and a dearth of ammunition. The hope of winning Achi Baba had to be abandoned for the time, Krithia was not taken, and counter-attacks by the Turks robbed the Allies of some of their gains. The Fifth suffered heavily throughout the day….
Faced with stiff opposition the assault failed, and by evening, any survivors returned to their trenches. Among the many thousands who became casualties that day was Matthew, who was reported killed in action.
His body was eventually buried in Redoubt Cemetery, Helles, with his personal effects consisting of an identity disc, one pair of shoes, one shirt, one flask and sheet music, returned to Isabella, who herself was also a recently grieving mother.
Matthew was the oldest Wishart who died in the Great War, but not the oldest who served.