Tag Archives: Black Watch

Douglas Charles Hamilton-Johnston

Badge of the Black Watch

Douglas was the eldest son of Augustus and Bessie Hamilton-Johnston, who lived in Chelsea. He was born on 20th May 1889 and attended Charterhouse before arriving up Grant’s in 1904. After he left the school in 1906, Douglas matriculated at London University, and later spent some time in Frankfurt.

On his return to Britain, Douglas enrolled at RMC Sandhurst, perhaps inspired by his mother’s father who was a Major-General. After completing his training in February 1909, he joined The Black Watch (Royal Highlanders) as 2nd Lieutenant in the 2nd Battalion and became Lieutenant three years later. The Bareilly Brigade was formed in 1914 as part of the Meerut division of the British Indian Army, and Douglas’s battalion became part of this new brigade.

In October 1914, Douglas arrived at the western front with his battalion and served as Transport Officer of No. 1 Company. He was wounded slightly in December by a shell at Centre Section, Festubert, but recovered and was promoted to Captain in February 1915. He was wounded a second time on the 3rd March while preparing for the Battle of Neuve Chapelle, and this time was invalided home.

Whilst back in Britain, Douglas helped to train volunteers at the training camp at Bordon, Hampshire. One of the volunteers, David Elder Robertson, wrote to his parents on 26th September 1915, following a three-week brigade exercise: “ÔǪ Well I was glad when it was over for I was a tired one without sleep. If I had not had a stripe I would have got a sleep all right but I had to look after a section. Well I told them I was handing in my stripe and I was paraded in front of the Captain [D.C. Hamilton-Johnston], and I was fairly put through the mill and asked my reason for it I made the excuse I had no notion of it and he told me I was foolish. He said I was picked out as qualified for the job and that if I changed my mind I would not be long in getting another but I stuck to my decision so he said he would see about it. I am still wearing the stripe till I am told to hand it in but I have heard no more about itÔǪ”

Douglas returned to the western front in November 1915, and went with his battalion to Mesopotamia, where he was mentioned in despatches. In January 1916, he became a temporary Major, taking over from Colonel Wauchope, who had been severely wounded at the Battle of Sheikh Sa’ad. On the 21st January 1916, Douglas lead the 2nd Black Watch in an attack on Hanna, but by the end of the day he was reported as “wounded and missing (presumed killed)”. His former commanding officer, Wauchope, wrote:

“And right well did he respond to the call of duty. Both as Adjutant, under Colonel Wauchope, and as Commanding Officer, he had complete faith in the Battalion as had the Battalion in him. He was first wounded and then killed in this assault, but he died with the knowledge that he had kept its fighting spirit unbroken to the end.”

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Duncan Stuart Ross Macpherson

Duncan Stuart Ross Macpherson was the only son of Surgeon General William Grant Macpherson and his American wife, Elizabeth Anne Clunas. He attended Westminster for just a year before leaving for Fettes College in Edinburgh where his father had been educated. Father and son were clearly close. After training at Sandhurst, Duncan became a member of the Indian Army. His father, William, requested and received an appointment as Assistant Director of Medical Services to the 4th Quetta Division whilst Duncan was based at the Quetta Imperial Garrison.

Major General Sir William Grant Macpherson

On the outbreak of war Duncan was attached to the Black Watch and served with them until November 1914. At that point he was transferred to the2/8th Gurkha Rifles. By this time his father was also serving in France, as Brigadier-General in the Army Medical Service Staff.

Duncan was killed in action on 23rd November at the defence of Festubert, near La Bassee, France. He had spoken to his father only a few hours prior to his death. William refused to discuss the death of his son. He continued to serve during the war until his forced retirement in June 1918.

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Gordon Stewart Ness


Gordon Stewart Ness was at Westminster for only two years. In The ElizabethanGrant’s House recorded that they were ‘very sorry to have lost him when he left unexpectedly in the middle of the Election Term 1902′. We don’t know whether he then enrolled at another school, but in 1904 he matriculated at Clare College, Cambridge. He also joined the 4th Battalion of the Black Watch as a volunteer. In 1909 he began working at Lloyd’s as an underwriter.

Ness married Gladys Harrison in Kensington in the spring of 1914. Soon after (in fact, considerably less than 9 months after) a son was born, Anthony Patrick Ness on 5th June. After the declaration of war Ness joined the 1st Battalion of the Royal Scots Fusiliers and went out to the Western Front on 11th September. He was killed in action at Ypres on 10th November 1914. Gladys Ness gave birth to his second child in June 1915, a daughter named Marguerite. Gladys never recovered from the loss of her husband and their children were raised by Ness’ sister, Catherine Ann Horsley.

Ness’ son went on to marry Lady Brigid Guinness, who had formerly been married to Prince Frederick of Prussia, grandson of Kaiser Wilhelm II. His daughter, Marguerite, married Heinz Friedrich Eberhard, Baron von Westenholz. The School has been in touch with their son, Ness’ grandson, who kindly provided us with a photograph of his grandfather. Ness is commemorated on the school’s war memorial, the Menin Gate at Ypres, the Lloyd’s of London Arch on Leadenhall Street and at his home town of Braco Castle, Dunblane.

Memorial to Gordon Stewart Ness in Braco
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Donald Stuart Stirling Smurthwaite

Photograph of Smurthwaite from Lawrence Tanner’s Journal

The second of the two Old Westminsters to die on 26th October 1914 was also a Grantite at school with Lawrence Tanner. Tanner records Smurthwaite’s first day at Westminster inhis journal:

‘The first arrival was about 5.30pm in the shape of a new boy called Smurthwaite. I found him in the process of re-adjusting his ideas about a Public School. At present he is delighted with everything: the School, the House, the arrangement are all that they should be in his opinion. I took him down and showed him Hall and Chiswicks and told him he would be my fag and he seemed relieved at the mildness of my aspect and appeared surprised as he had pictured himself arising at 5.30am to make me cocoa (I can see myself at that hour drinking cocoa!). I only hope that he will not have to re-adjust his ideas again and that he may find everything in the future as pleasing as he does at present.’

He turned out to be an excellent choice as a fag. Tanner recorded that he

‘spoke to the amazingSmurthwaitetoday and told him my books didn’t seem to have been dusted this term, he said ‘oh that’sSorley, it’s really his business but I spoke to him today about it, however I’ll get my duster and do it!!’ He manages to do for his own pleasure three quarters of thefaggingof the House, always the first to answer ‘Halls‘ etc. Consequently this evening my table was dusted and arranged with mathematical precision, everything arranged in severe straight lines.’

Smurthwaite clearly did enjoy his time at Westminster and was popular with other members of the house – although it was reported that he gave ‘lectures to his Dormitory being an Imperialist on the state of the navy and they can’t shut him up’.

A company of the Blackwatch in the trenches in 1914, wearing kilts

Smurthwaite was an active member of the Corps whilst at school, reaching the rank of Lance-Corporal. Unsurprisingly, upon leaving school hewas admittedwith a Prize Cadetship to the Royal MilitaryCollege,Sandhurst. In 1914has passed out (graduated) fromSandhurst at the head of the list, being the onlycandidate to obtain honours. He joined the 1st Battalion of the Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment) as a 2nd Lieutenant. A number of authors state that the regiment was given the nickname “Ladies from Hell” (“Die Damen aus der H├Âlle”) by German troops, allegedly on account of their kilts and fighting qualities. The regiment went out to the Western Front in September 1914. Smurthwaite was killed in action at Ypres on 26th October 1914.

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