Alexander Wishart was born in the early hours of 25 March 1888 at 22 Hanover Square in Stranraer. He was the illegitimate son of William Wishart, a ropemaker from Kirkcaldy, and Elizabeth Campbell. On his birth certificate, he was recorded as ‘Alexander Wishart Campbell’, and it is likely that his mother, whose usual domicile was in Edinburgh, was visiting William, who at the time was resident at the Stranraer Reformatory – possibly teaching the boys rope-making on the old Dalrymple Terrace rope-walk.
It’s unknown how long Alexander lived in Stranraer. His father William was still resident there by the end of 1888 when he was summoned to the Court of Session in Edinburgh to face divorce proceedings brought forth by his first wife, Margaret Wishart (née Mitchell), however, by 1891 the family were living back in Edinburgh at 48 Potterrow. No paper evidence exists that Alexander’s parents were ‘regularly’ married, and it seems probable that they considered themselves married by cohabitation and repute.
Alexander’s mother died when he was nine years old, and less than a year later his father remarried to Helen McIntyre, a bookfolder residing in the same vicinity as the Wisharts. By 1901 the family were living not far from Potterrow at 7 West Nicholson Street. Alexander although still at school, had also gained employment as a butler’s boy.
According to Alexander’s nephew, William’s wife left the family while William was recovering in hospital from an unknown illness – taking anything of worth the family possessed with her. Proof this story is at least partly true can be seen in the 1911 census when William and his sons are to be found working on their own accounts as rope-spinners at 16 Baltic Street in Leith. William records that he is still a married man, yet Helen, who is living elsewhere in Edinburgh, maintains that she is a widow. The exact circumstances and nature of her departure will probably never be known, yet it is obvious from a diary written shortly after his death, that William’s sons had a close reverential bond with their father. In 1914, when Alexander was 26, his father died of a stroke and was buried in an unmarked grave in Rosebank cemetery, Leith.
Alexander continued to live with his older brother William in Baltic Street until 1916 when, along with his brother and new wife Jessie, he moved to 5 Ferrier Street in Leith.
Alexander was conscripted on 16 August 1916 and ordered to report to the Cockburn Street recruiting office in Edinburgh where he was assigned to the 2/4th Battalion Cameron Highlanders. He had been working as a dock labourer at the time and was almost immediately mobilised for active service and sent to Cromarty for training.
Almost four months later Alexander was transferred to the 12th Transport Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment, which had been formed that month in Croydon as a training and administration unit supplying men for work at ports and docks. It seems likely that based on Alexander’s pre-war occupation, he was employed by the regiment in such places.
During 1917 Alexander was stationed in Weymouth and then Newhaven, regularly finding himself being punished for a catalogue of misdemeanours that often involved being absent from duty without leave, (although in July 1917 he forfeited seven days pay for ‘wilfully damaging a fruit tree’.) Between 13th and 16th November he overstayed his leave by two days and was apprehended by military police at London Bridge Station and lost two-weeks pay as a result. Following this particular incident, it appears that Alexander had secured for himself an unfavourable reputation with his superiors and was regularly punished for an almost weekly string of what were often quite petty offences.
In early 1918 Alexander was transferred to the 3rd Battalion Bedfordshire Regiment, and on 5 June he embarked at Dover for France, arriving in Calais later that day. He was sent to the ‘L’ Infantry Base Depot at Rouen where he was transferred to ‘D’ Coy of the 7th Battalion Norfolk Regiment.
At the time the 7th Norfolks were stationed at Arqueves and engaged in training exercises. On 12 June – a week after arriving in France, Alexander was sent to No. 38 Casualty Clearing Station at Fienvillers reputedly suffering from influenza. Curiously in a letter to the record and pay office dated 24 July 1924, Alexander states that while with the 7th Norfolks during this period, he was gassed and suffered a broken eardrum in his right ear. As the battalion was not engaged in any offensive operations, or based on the front line at the time, it might be possible that Alexander was gassed accidentally and that influenza was given as the reason to cover up the incident. On the day that Alexander was admitted to the dressing station, the battalion war diaries state that ‘all respirators were tested in gas in a bell tent at Arqueves’. It could be the case that perhaps Alexander was being somewhat liberal with the truth, and more than a little embarrassed to be leaving the war so soon after arriving, although in a document issued by the Ministry of Pensions in April 1919, he is recorded as suffering from aggravated deafness.
Alexander was transported back to England aboard the HS Panama and sent to recover at the Heavy Woolen District War Hospital in Dewsbury, Yorkshire, where he arrived on 2nd July. Postings to the Ampthill Command Depot and onwards to the 3rd Battalion Norfolk Regiment (a training unit) at Felixstowe followed. On 22 October 1918, Alexander was then transferred to the 18th Battalion, Essex Regiment, a home service unit that he served with until demobilisation in March 1919.
On Christmas Eve 1920 Alexander married Elizabeth Forsyth Maxwell in Leith and began his married life living at 42 Jane Street. During the summer of 1923, Alexander left the UK for Canada aboard the S.S. Coronia to work the Canadian harvest and perhaps settle overseas. Whatever his long-term plans, he returned a year later and lived out the rest of his days at Jane Street where he died on 14 January 1942 of a heart attack.