David was born on 4 March 1887 at 2029 Blair Street in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He was the eldest son of James Wishart, an Iron Moulder from Dunfermline, and Ann McLean. David’s father first visited America in 1879 but returned home shortly afterwards. Two years later he re-made the journey but this time with his younger brother David, however, by the start of 1883, both Wisharts were back in Scotland, and the following year James married a local girl named Ann Mclean.
Perhaps feeling that his future still lay in America, James sailed aboard the SS Anchoria for New York in October 1885 and was joined by his wife and (by then) infant daughter in Philadelphia six months later. During the five years following his son’s birth James returned to the UK on two more occasions, and by 1894 the whole family left the United States for the last time and settled in the Anderston area of Glasgow.
David’s mother died on 10 July 1894 from complications following the birth of his younger sister Sarah, but within a year his father remarried in Dunfermline to Elizabeth Jane Smeaton Lowe and eventually left Scotland for Tasmania with his family (minus David) at the end of 1910. As a schoolboy, David attended Tollcross Public School, and afterwards became a compositor at a letterpress printers. He married Catherine McNeil Adams on 2 November 1911, with a son named James born in Glasgow the following year.
Based on David’s service number, it seems likely that he enlisted in the military during September 1914 and joined the Royal Army Medical Corps. He was posted to the 1/1st Lowland Field Ambulance, which had been mobilised in Glasgow on 5th August and initially stationed at the Victoria School in Falkirk before moving to the Carmuirs School on the outskirts of Camelon.
During the autumn of 1914, following a request from the War Office for the names of volunteers willing to undertake overseas service, the majority of men in David’s unit stepped forward; however many were rejected on physical grounds. David was successful and became part of the ‘First Line’ group that was sent for intense training before leaving the UK. When embarkation details were eventually received the destination was kept secret, although the receipt of orders to requisition sun helmets was said to have ‘given the game away’.
David left by train from Grahamston Station on the afternoon of 4 June 1915 and journeyed south with his unit – arriving in Plymouth at noon the next day. The Field Ambulance boarded the SS Karoa and accompanied by two destroyers, steamed out of the docks around 8 pm. Three days later the ship passed Gibraltar and entered Valetta harbour in Malta during the morning of 12 June, where she took on a fresh load of coal before departing for Alexandria, Egypt.
The convoy eventually arrived at 6 am on the 15th, and the men were forced to spend the day sweltering on deck in their serge uniforms before being allowed to disembark that evening. From Alexandria, the Field Ambulance entrained for Abukir where they camped for a few days before heading back to port and embarking on the transport ship S.S. Seeang Bee for the advanced base at Mudros. They arrived during the morning of the 25th and transshipped into HMS Hythe and after two days set sail for Helles on the Gallipoli Peninsula.
Running alongside the famous wreck of the River Clyde, David and his comrades scrambled ashore shortly after midnight on 28 June and fell in on “V” Beach where they were instructed to ‘move off’ as rapidly as possible to avoid enemy shelling. Within hours of arrival two sections of the ambulance were detached to the 88th Field Ambulance and scheduled to provide support in an attack planned for later that morning.
Although it is unknown if David formed part of these two detachments, he would have heard the ‘deafening’ pre-attack bombardment, which commenced at 9 am and followed by the ‘continuous rattle of machine gun and rifle fire’ (latterly described in a censored letter as the ‘sickening cough’.)
During this period the procedure for evacuating wounded by the Field Ambulance was described by Colonel Eddington, who was David’s commanding officer:
Our bearers, working on a system of relays, plied between the regimental aid posts and our advanced dressing posts. Thence the wounded were carried to dressing stations. These were placed, if possible, within easy reach of a road, and from there the cases were conveyed by motors to the headquarters of the ambulance. Arriving there, they were sorted out in the hospital trench. Cases likely to be fit for duty in a few days were detained for treatment; those requiring a longer period were passed down to the CCS (Casualty Clearing Station) at Cape Helles. From the CCS. they were returned to duty, or sent down the L. of C. by hospital ship. Once on board, the cases might be taken direct to Alexandria; on the other hand, they might be landed into one of the hospitals at Mudros, to be thence returned to duty or sent on to Alexandria.
Eddington goes on to describe the conditions in which the Ambulance worked during an attack on 12 July:
I went over to Brown House after breakfast, and found my way much impeded by the long streams of wounded coming down the communication trench. Many of them were “walkers;” but there was a considerable number of stretcher cases, and, although everyone was more or less plagued by flies, these simply swarmed on the faces of the poor fellows on the stretchers, and settled down voraciously on every blood-stained patch of clothing or bandages. And, as if the sights were not in themselves bad enough, the groans of the wounded combined to make the scene pretty much of a Hell. On reaching Brown House, I found that our bearer parties had no cause to grumble for lack of work; everyone was at full pitch.
In the afternoon I went to the main dressing station and found everyone there very busy indeed. Stanford asked me for an officer and six men to help them, as his staff were beginning to get tired; so I sent for Eadie and the required number of tent-division men. This left our camp very empty, and Leitch had to attend single-handed to many cases which had come down from Pink Farm dressing station.
The action lasted the whole day, our fire becoming heavier at 4 P.M., and the advance being carried further forwards. Our bearer parties remained at their posts overnight; the tent-division men did likewise at the main dressing station. During the night the enemy made many counter-attacks, and we were forced to give ground. Early on the morning of the 13th, the 52nd Division was relieved by the Naval Division, and, in the afternoon, the trenches lost during the night were retaken. By the evening the news, subsequently confirmed, spread that we had attained practically all that we had intended.
By the autumn the Field Ambulance faced rapidly depleting numbers, albeit not from enemy fire but disease. Dysentery, diarrhoea and enteric fever were the main culprits, and it would be naïve to assume David managed his whole time in Gallipoli without falling sick at some point; however, he is not among the casualties recorded in the unit war diaries, and so appears to have escaped any serious illness.
Towards the end of 1915 rumours had spread that the Allied forces were about to leave the peninsula. The British government authorized the evacuation to begin from Sulva Bay on December 7 with “Z” day for David’s unit set a month later on 8 January 1916.
The morning of David’s departure from Gallipoli was clear and bright, with a white frost covering the ground. By midday, the warmth of the sun accompanied by a pleasant south-westerly breeze was said to have caused everything to feel ‘summery’ as the Field Ambulance wound their way down to the embarkation point from where they quietly left for Mudros around 23:30 hours. After Mudros the 1st made their way to the Divisional Camp at Sarpi and then onwards to Egypt.
Eddington wrote in 1919:
Thus finished our life on Gallipoli, that scene of dust and din, of disease and death. We had had a little over six months of it, and, of those who had landed with the Unit on 28th June, 80 percent of officers and approximately 50 percent of other ranks stuck it out to the end. It was not till we had experienced the quiet of Mudros, and had begun to feel the relaxation of the reaction, that we understood that unconsciously we had, while on the Peninsula, been living under a certain amount of strain.
David arrived in Alexandria aboard the Horarata on 19 January and entrained for Cairo where the Field Ambulance encamped near the Abbassia Barracks at Polygon Camp, which was just outside the city. In late February he would have been stationed in Ballah and on 2 March moved to Kantara, which was a major base and hospital centre. During his time at Kantara David (who was now a corporal) was attached to the 1/1st Ayrshire Yeomanry – a mounted unit who had recently seen service as dismounted infantry in Gallipoli, and subsequently assigned to Suez Canal defences after the withdrawal.
On 14 January 1917, the dismounted troops of the Lanarkshire and Ayrshire Yeomanries amalgamated to form the 12th (Ayr & Lanark) Battalion, Royal Scots Fusiliers and were part of the 229th Infantry Brigade in the 74th (Yeomanry) Division as part of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force under General Sir Edmund Allenby.
During 1917 the Fusiliers took part in the advance to Jerusalem and saw action at The Second and Third Battles of Gaza; the Capture of Beersheba; the capture of the Sheria Position; and then the capture and defence of Jerusalem. Unfortunately, David’s service papers have not survived, and so it is not known whether he was present at some, or all of these actions.
Between 8 – 12 March 1918 the Fusiliers were involved in the Battle of Tell’Asur and on 1 May they set sail from Alexandria for France, where they landed seven days later and immediately headed north to the Western Front. Assuming David was with his unit at this time he would have initially found himself based in the Bailleul area, and by late September his battalion was involved in the Advance in Flanders. The 12th were last in action at Tieghem on 31 October, and when hostilities ceased eleven days later, they had reached Renaix in Belgium. After the Armistice, the battalion headed west through Ypres to Arques-Blendecques, from where men began being sent back to the UK for demobilisation.
David was discharged from service on 16 February 1919 and subsequently awarded the 1914-15 Star, British War and Victory Medals. After the war, he returned to Glasgow and continued working as a printer. When he retired, he moved with Catherine to a small flat in Uddingston, and died in Glasgow on 31 October 1965.