Alexander Taylor

Alexander Taylor

1st Battalion, Gordon Highlanders

Died 29th August 1918 age 23

The Taylor Family

On 8 December 1882, at Kincardine O’Neil, Francis Taylor from St Fergus married Mary Smith, a native of the parish. The Taylors lived for a time at Beltie Terrace, Torphins, and were there at the time of the census in 1901. At some point between 1902 and 1904 their home became the Toll House in Kincardine O’Neil, and they lived there through the years of the First World War. Later they moved to Norton Cottage, also in Kincardine O’Neil. Francis was employed as a labourer and a gardener at Kincardine, then Norton House, and became caretaker of Christ Church Episcopal church at the west end of the village. 

Francis and Mary had fourteen children in all, and lived into the 1930s. They kept bees, and competed with some success in the Kincardine O’Neil Annual Bulb Show – an event which inspired intensive and detailed reporting in the local press. In 1910 the Taylor family were no doubt disappointed to take second place to Mr Nicoll of Stranduff Cottage in the Kincardine O’Neil Window Flower Box Competition. Thanks to the Aberdeen Journal we know that Mrs Taylor donated eggs and jam to the Aboyne Castle Hospital in September 1916.  

A tall granite tombstone, to the west of the west gable of the ruined old kirk in Kincardine O’Neil, also records some of the history of the family. Francis and Mary outlived six of their children: William who died in his sixth year in 1898 after two days of bronchitis, Gordon their second youngest, who only survived to the age of two in 1906 and, in consecutive years from 1916 onwards, four sons – George, Herbert, Alexander and James – who died in the course of military service. Their stories are set out below in the date order in which they died.

Corpl. G. H. Taylor

George Hunter Taylor was born on 17 July 1890 at Torphins. He looks likely to have been named after George Hunter, who was one of the witnesses of Francis and Mary’s marriage in 1882.

He was living at Coull when he enlisted at Aberdeen. He joined the 13th (Service) Battalion of the Cameronians (Scottish Rifles), who in early 1916 became absorbed into the 14th (Service) Battalion of the Highland Light Infantry in which George held the rank of Corporal.  Both were so-called “Bantam Battalions”, formed to meet a demand for enlistment by men who had been rejected as failing to meet the army’s standard height qualification of five feet three inches. 

In May 1916 the 14th HLI were stationed at Blackdown in Hampshire, destined for France in June. On 19 May, by special licence at Aberdeen, George married Jessie Williams Emslie Milne from Coull, the bride’s father being at that time a Private in the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders. The marriage was to be an extremely short one. 

On 6 September 1916 the Aberdeen Press & Journal reported that Mrs Taylor had received information that her husband had been missing since a raid on the enemy’s trenches. It seems he was killed or fatally wounded on the night of 23 August 1916, the 14th Battalion having moved up to the front line at Calonne and Boyaux a few days previously. 

The battalion war diary for the night of 22/23 August 1916 reveals that, that night, a raid took place on an enemy trench under the command of 2nd Lieuts. Carmichael and Stevenson. The raiding parties having been successful in entering the enemy trenches and surprising a small work party of German soldiers, these two officers returned briefly to their own lines, but shortly after set out again to look for six of the party who were still unaccounted for. It was noted that “after two repeat journeys they were all brought in with the exception of 1 N.C.O (missing)”. Possibly this was Corpl. Taylor.

He is buried at the Lens Eastern Communal Cemetery.

Commonwealth War Graves Commission (NB his date of death on the family gravestone is 21 September 1916 which differs from the CWGC)
Soldiers Died in the Great War
National Archives – War Diary of the 14th HLI – WO95/2612
Aberdeen Evening Express 19 May 1916
Aberdeen Journal 6 September 1916 and Aberdeen Weekly Journal 8 September 1916 – missing
Ray Westlake: “Tracing British Battalions on the Somme” (Pen & Sword Military 2009)

L/Corpl. H.C. Taylor

In the late afternoon of 13 May 1897, Mary Taylor gave birth to twins. Herbert Charles was born at 5pm, ten minutes after his sister Maggie Ann Sim, later known as Maidie. 

In the 1911 census Herbert is aged 13 and living at the Toll House with twin Maggie and three younger brothers.

Herbert enlisted at Banchory and served in the 7th (Deeside Highland) Battalion Gordon Highlanders. On 20 November 1917, the first day of the Battle of Cambrai, the 7th Gordons, as a part of the 51st Highland Division, were involved in the allied recapture of the village of Flesquières. They were to follow behind a somewhat experimental and, as it turned out, problematic advance movement of tanks which it was intended would breach German defences over an extended length of the Hindenburg Line, intercepting communications with the coast, forcing a German retreat and enabling the allies to retake Cambrai. There were heavy casualties.

Herbert Taylor was killed in action that day at the age of 20.  Flesquières was captured on the night of 20/21 November, and held in the face of a determined counter-offensive, which in due course however forced an allied retreat over some of the ground gained in the first days of the battle. 

The Aberdeen Weekly Journal of 7 December 1917 reported:

“Information has been received by Mr and Mrs Francis Taylor, The Tollhouse, Kincardine O’Neil, that their son, Lance-Corporal Herbert C. Taylor, Gordon Highlanders, has been killed. Corporal Taylor has been on active service for more than two years. His brother, Corporal George Taylor, was reported as having died of wounds in Germany, in September of last year”.

He is buried at Orival Wood Cemetery, Flesquières. 

National Archives – War Diary of the 1/7th Gordon Highlanders WO95/2882/1
Aberdeen Press & Journal 3 December 1917
Aberdeen Weekly Journal 3 December 1917 – Roll of Honour and short article under “District Casualties”
Cyril Falls: The Gordon Highlanders in the First World War 1914-1919 – The Life of a Regiment Vol.IV pp.165-170
Online sources re Battle of Cambrai

Private A. Taylor

Alexander Taylor was born on 20 March 1895 at Torphins. In the census of 1911, he may be the sixteen-year-old Alexander Taylor who was working as a cattleman on the farm of Strathweltie at Coull, as he gave his residence as Tarland on enlistment.

Alexander became a Private in the 1st Battalion Gordon Highlanders. He was killed in action, at the age of 23, on 29 August 1918 on the Western Front. At that time the 1st Battalion were participating in the final allied push against a gradually weakening German defensive line culminating in the Armistice in November.  The battalion war diary notes that on 26 August the 1st Gordons moved to trenches in front of Hamlincourt. On 27 August there was intermittent shelling. On the night of 28 August they moved forward from the trenches in front of Hamlincourt, and relieved the 2nd Grenadiers in the front line south-west of Écoust. 

On 29 August it was noted: “Battn. pushed out patrols out to keep in touch with the enemy, one platoon of the Left Coy advanced too far and was practically wiped out by MG fire from the flank”. It may be (though it is impossible to be sure without more precise information) that Alexander was a victim of that attack. He is buried or commemorated at the H.A.C. Cemetery, Écoust-St.Mein. 

Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Soldiers Died in the Great War
Census 1911 – uncertain identification
National Archives – War Diary of the 1st Bn Gordon Highlanders WO95/1435/3
Cyril Falls: The Gordon Highlanders in the First World War 1914-1919 – The Life of a Regiment Vol. IV

Private J. M. Taylor

James Melvin Taylor was born on 19 July 1888 at Beltie.  In 1911 he was in employment as a chauffeur, living in Aberdeen with his sister Jessie and her Police Constable husband James Lobban. By 1913 he was resident chauffeur at Parkhill House, Dyce. That year, at Aberdeen, he married Elizabeth (Bessie) Adams Main who, like Jessie, was a dressmaker. Daughters Agnes Cumming and Helen Isobel were born to James and Bessie in 1913 and 1914. 

Having no doubt acquired some skill with the new-fangled motor car, James Taylor was recruited to the Army Service Corps and was, at least latterly, attached to the New Zealand Motor Transport Division. It must have come as a relief to the family when he survived the Armistice in 1918. Sadly, however, while awaiting demobilisation, he died of influenza and pneumonia, at No. 44 Casualty Clearing Station in Cologne on 14 February 1919 aged 30 – probably a victim of the “Spanish” flu which in the end claimed several times as many lives as the war itself. He is buried at Cologne Southern Cemetery. Bessie remarried (a blacksmith named Robert Reid) in 1922. Private Taylor is also commemorated on the War Memorial at Dyce.

Registers of births and marriages
Census 1911
Aberdeen Journal 26 February 1919 – “Private James M. Taylor, New Zealand Motor Transport Division,
who died of pneumonia at a military hospital in France, was a son of Mr and Mrs Francis Taylor,
Tollhouse, Kincardine O’Neil, who have now lost four sons in the service of their country. Private Taylor leaves a widow and two children, and before enlisting he was chauffeur at Parkhill House, Dyce”.
Aberdeen Weekly Journal 28 February 1919 – Roll of Honour – Taylor – “At a military hospital in France (of pneumonia), Pte. James Melvin Taylor, aged 32, New Zealand Motor Transport Division, third son of Francis and Mrs Taylor, Tollhouse, Kincardine O’Neil, and husband of Mrs Taylor, Viewfield, Dyce – deeply regretted.”
Immediately below is printed what may be corrected version:
At No. 44 C.C.S. Cologne, Germany (of influenza and pneumonia) Private James M. Taylor A.S.C. (M.T.) late of The Garage, Parkhill House, aged 30 years, third son of Mr and Mrs Francis Taylor, Toll House, Kincardine O’Neil, and dearly beloved husband of Bessie Main, Viewfield, Dyce, deeply mourned.”

After the war

Mary Taylor died in January 1932, and Francis the following year on 10 November 1933 at Norton Cottage, aged 75. On 15 November 1933 the Aberdeen Journal printed a short piece about Francis, describing him as one of Kincardine O’Neil’s “oldest and most esteemed residents”. It noted that he had been an enthusiastic bowler and took a keen interest in the social club and that, each year, he made a wreath and laid it at the War Memorial.

Herbert’s twin sister Maidie became a nurse, and in 1932 she married a policeman named Alexander Gorrie. She outlived her twin by 75 years, and indeed outlived all her siblings, surviving to the age of 95 when she died, at Allachburn care home, Aboyne, in 1992.

Sources on the family
Registers of births and marriages
Census 1891, 1901 and 1911
KON old churchyard – family memorial at west side
Newspaper sources on local KON news, including:
Aberdeen Journal 4 May 1908 – spring show
Aberdeen Journal 5 October 1910 – window boxes
Aberdeen Journal 20 April 1914 – bulbs
Aberdeen Journal 20 September 1916 – donations to Aboyne Castle Hospital
Aberdeen Journal 15 November 1933 – Francis obituary
Correspondence in 2015 with Kathleen Hawthorn, whose father was the youngest child of Francis and Mary. George, Herbert, Alexander and James were her uncles..