John Wishart was born at 16 Lindsay Street in Arbroath on 27 June 1897. He was the fifth of seven children of Alexander Wishart, a plasterer journeyman from Coupar Angus and his wife, Betsy Greig. In 1901 when John was four, he was living with his parents and siblings at 17 Lindsay Street; however, tragedy struck the family a year later in November 1902 when Betsy died suddenly of pneumonia. Alexander, perhaps taking his wife’s death badly, took to the bottle and became something of a monster, neglecting his offspring and leaving them in a terrible way. He eventually found himself in court on two occasions as a result of his actions with the judge noting that the children had been found to be living in ‘a dirty and verminous condition’ and that their father had said that they were ‘as well off as any other working man’s children’. To compound matters, within a year John’s older brother George had found himself on the wrong side of the law and in court himself, which resulted in him being sent to a Dundee Industrial School.
Possibly because of all the trouble, the family left Arbroath and moved to Dundee, where in 1911 they were living at 1 Littlejohn Street. John was still at school, but within the year, he had joined his older sister Betsy working in one of the city’s jute mills. George had managed to turn his life around, had enlisted with the Royal Field Artillery and was serving in Ireland. Perhaps his brother’s stories of life in the army inspired John to leave his job on 24 January 1914 and enlist in the military a week later. John’s boss at the factory, Mr Butchart, wrote to the recruiting officer that John was a good worker and had left ‘to better himself’. Having passed his medical, he signed up for the Black Watch Special Reserve for six years. At the time he was recorded as being a short 5ft 1” in height with grey eyes and light brown hair.
Several days later, John was posted to the 3rd (Special Reserve) Battalion, Black Watch which was a depot training unit based in Perth. John had fostered something of a reputation as being a bit of a rogue. This is evident during training as he repeatedly found himself reprimanded for continually laughing while under instruction in physical training. Following the declaration of war with Germany, the battalion mobilised at Perth on 8 August and entrained that evening with over 1200 men for its war station at Nigg, Ross-shire.
John’s unit encamped on a shoulder of Nigg Hill on the following day and immediately began putting the position into a state of defence. Every morning large working parties assembled and spent the day digging trenches and creating barbed wire entanglements as it was accepted that the enemy might attempt a landing two miles north of the Highlanders position at a small fishing village called Balintore – an assault that never transpired.
During October John possibly received the news that his brother George had died in hospital at Nantes and perhaps suspected he would shortly be leaving for France himself. Reinforcements for overseas had been called upon as early as late-August, and John made his way south with a draft of 149 other men towards the end of November. He embarked for France on the 30th where on arrival the next day the draft made their way to join the 1st Black Watch, who were billeted at Borre.
John arrived with his new unit on 3 December, and spent the next two weeks in billets before being posted to the trenches near Givenchy just before Christmas. The situation along the battalion line remained dangerous throughout the festive period, and following a short spell of intensely cold weather around Christmas Day, conditions turned wet and stormy, with collapsing trenches and flooding causing all manner of problems for the battalion.
On 14 January 1915, John complained of having severe chill blains in his feet which was diagnosed as frostbite. He was sent to No 13 General Hospital in Boulogne on the 16th before being transferred back to the UK the following day, where he spent a month recuperating in the 1st London General Hospital.
Upon discharge from hospital John rejoined the regimental depot in Perth; however, any plans he may have had to return to France were put on hold when in May his father wrote to John’s Commanding Officer:
Just a few lines to let you know that my son Pte John Wishart is not of age to go to the front, he has been their (sic) allready (sic) and I don’t want him to go back as I have one son killed. Dear sir I was up at the doctor that John was attending in Dundee and he said he would never stand the strain as he is deaf in one ear.
Mr A Wishart
No.1 Littlejohn Street
The following day the Colonel of the Black Watch Commanding Depot in Perth wrote:
In reply to your letter of yesterday’s date regarding your son No.3/2450 Pte. John Wishart, I have to inform you that as he is over 17 years of age his discharge from the Special Reserve cannot be permitted, but as he is not yet 19 years of age steps will be taken to prevent him again proceeding to join the Expeditionary Force until he attains that age. Birth certificate returned.
John spent the next two years based in the UK and was temporarily attached to the 462nd HS (Home Service) Employment Company of the Labour Corps between 13 and 30 June 1917. The following day he was transferred back to the 1st Black Watch and ordered to proceed back to France where he arrived in Boulogne (from Folkestone) on 31 July. John never actually rejoined his old battalion and spent the next few weeks based in Etaples before being transferred on 14 September to the 117th Labour Company of the Labour Corps, with who he remained until 19 November when he was moved again to the 753rd Area Employment Coy, Labour Corps. Despite not being in the infantry he continued to receive infantry rates of pay for the remainder of his military service.
In 1918 John was given a week’s leave to the UK between 10 and 24 September and a month after the Armistice he was assigned to the 742nd Area Employment Coy. In May 1919 he was transferred to Section ‘B’ Army Reserve and discharged from service on 30 January 1920, having served his six years.
Just over two years later John re-enlisted and joined his old regiment (The Black Watch) for three years. Little is known about his time back in the military, however shortly after being discharged in 1925, he found work as an elevator attendant in Dundee and married a local cop winder named Mary Rodger. The couple had two daughters, and John died in Dundee in 1974.