‘The Colonel’ – My Great Great Grandfather in the Black Watch

In previous posts I have written about my search for details of my Great Great uncle, William Brown MacDuff, who was killed in Belgium in December 1917. However as I started looking into my family tree in more detail, it soon became apparent that several other members of my family had also taken part in the war.

William MacDuff’s desire to serve with the Royal Highlanders (better known as the Black Watch) could be explained by the fact that his father, Peter MacDuff, also served with them.

As I embarked on my search to find out more about him, existing details were hazy; it transpired that he was referred to as ‘the Colonel’ in the family (slightly erroneously it turns out; an affectionate nickname rather than an accurate one perhaps), and had been a school master. Not much else was known. However on acquiring a family photo album I was amazed to find a fantastic picture of him in uniform; immaculately turned out, he looks every inch the officer. I tracked down his medal index card, which confirmed that he had been a Major then a Lieutenant Colonel in the Royal Highlanders and ‘Staff’.

Since then I have been able to piece together further information about him. Although I cannot locate his service record, a search of local newspapers and the London Gazette yielded some interesting results.

After moving to Lochgelly in Fife to take up the position of Headmaster at a local school in 1889, he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the 6th (Fifeshire) Volunteer Battalion, the Black Watch (Royal Highlanders). The battalion was also known as the ‘Lochgelly Company’. By 1903 he was a Captain, and by the time of the Territorial Act of 1907 he was in command of the company with the rank of Honorary Major.

In 1910 he was awarded the Territorial Decoration for 20 years Territorial service. I believe the photo of him in uniform dates from around this time, as a medal ribbon can be seen on his left chest and he is wearing the rank insignia of a Major. The ‘T’ Territorial insignia can also be seen on his collar.

Peter MacDuff

When war broke out Peter MacDuff was 56. Despite his age, in May 1915 he was sent to France with the 1/7th (Fife) Battalion, The Black Watch, part of 2nd Highland Brigade in the Highland Division. A few days after arriving, they became part of 153rd Brigade in the 51st (Highland) Division.

After initially being sent to the Ypres salient the battalion also spent time around Aveluy and Auchonvillers on the Somme, but on 9th November 1915 Peter was invalided home. From here I am unsure what his exact movements were. In January 1916 he was gazetted as a temporary Lieutenant Colonel. His obituary in the Dundee Courier states that he was then sent back to France in command of a pioneer battalion, before later being put in charge of the 3/7th Reserve Battalion of the Black Watch in Ripon, Yorkshire. The obituary goes on to say that when this battalion was merged with others in September 1916, he returned home. However, an article in another paper states that he was called up again in August 1917, finally returning home in February 1919. His retirement was announced in the London Gazette in March 1919.

In 1924 Lieutenant Colonel MacDuff led the ex-servicemen at the unveiling of the Lochgelly war memorial, on which his son William’s name in inscribed. His wife, William’s mother, laid the first wreath on the memorial. Some time ago I stumbled across original footage of the war memorial being unveiled. To my amazement Peter MacDuff can clearly be seen towards the right of the screen (e.g. between 2m 50s and 3m). One can only wonder what he must have been feeling as his son’s name was read out along with the other 268 casualties, many of whom would no doubt have been known to him as pupils at the local school during his time as Headmaster.

Peter MacDuff died in 1930, and his funeral was attended by many former members of the Fife Territorial battalion. He is buried in Ballingry cemetery, Fife.

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4 Responses to ‘The Colonel’ – My Great Great Grandfather in the Black Watch

  1. An interesting story Andy – well researched. The 1/7th Black Watch were the first unit to relieve French (Breton) troops at the Ilôt (Glory Hole) at La Boisselle on 31 July 1915. See http://www.laboisselleproject.com/timeline/ for details. In 1936 the Black Watch had a pilgrimage back to the battlefields. At a special ceremony to commemorate transfer of the sector from French to Scottish troops in July and August 1915, soil from the Glory Hole was mixed with earth from the recruiting areas of the Breton 19th Infantry Regiment (Brest in Brittany) and the Black Watch (Aberfeldy in Perthshire): the deep Celtic bond forged 20 years before was still strong. Two urns were specially made for the symbolic exchange. The logo of the La Boisselle Study Group is based upon the urn which still survives in the Black Watch Museum in Perth.

  2. Reblogged this on Museum of The Black Watch and commented:
    Andrew Arnold’s research into his ancestors has turned up this interesting tale about Peter MacDuff, a Black Watch Officer who served in the First World War.

  3. 8055bell says:

    Great story of an ancestor in WW1.

  4. Pingback: From Yeoman to Tunneller | ww1geek

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