Private J. Ewan – Gordon Hrs.
There are two likely candidates for this entry: James Esson Ewen (not Ewan), whose parents were both from Kincardine O’Neil though there is no record of him having lived here, and Joseph Ewen (not Ewan) whose parents lived in Glassel. Both deserve to be remembered, but it is difficult on present information to know which of them is intended to be commemorated here.
James Esson Ewen
1st battalion Gordon Highlanders
Died 14 December 1914
James Esson Ewen is an all-too-rare instance of a soldier who served in the ranks whose records were not destroyed by incendiary bombing in 1940. He was born at Heatheryhaugh in the parish of Strachan near Banchory on 28 April 1894. His father was Alexander Cooper Ewen, a shepherd, and his mother was Jessie (née Anderson). They married at Logie Coldstone on 24 November 1871, but both were born in Kincardine O’Neil. This establishes a link with this parish, though the family’s connections later were with Banffshire, Rhynie and Huntly. In the 1901 census they were living at Rochomie in the parish of Rathven in Banffshire. James was then aged 6 and the youngest of a family of 6 including, in the household on census night, four sisters and a brother. By 1911 young James had left home and, up to 9 November 1911, he was employed as a farm servant by a Mr Craigie at Pennan Farm, Aberdour, East Aberdeenshire. Mr Craigie advised the army that that James had come from his father to work for him two or three years previously, he had last seen him on 9 November that year, and that James had left, as they “could not agree about wages”. Mr Craigie appears to have borne no ill feelings towards his former employee, rating him as sober and honest, and “a nice obliging young lad”. Ewen was 18 years three months old and single when he joined up in 1912 for six years’ service in the 1st battalion Gordon Highlanders (no. 3/5915).
He did not survive even to the first Christmas of the war that was supposed to be over by Christmas. He was mobilised on 8 August 1914 and spent the last few weeks of his life, from 7 October, in France. He was probably killed at Messines Ridge on the western front, on 14 December 1914 when the battalion suffered heavy casualties, but it appears that his body was not immediately (or perhaps ever) recovered, as his record bears the following bleak note dated 26 February 1916: “ The Army Council has decided that this soldier is to be regarded for official purposes as having died on or since 14 December 1914”. His personal possessions were to be sent to Agnes Ewen living in Merkland Road Aberdeen, but it was his father who in 1922 acknowledged receipt of the 1914 clasp sent to him in recognition of his son’s war service. He is commemorated on the Ypres (Menin Gate) memorial.
Alexander Ewen outlived his son by 36 years, dying at the age of 89 in 1940 at Grange in the county of Banff.
4th Gordon Highlanders
Died on 22 May 1916 age 16
possible alternative is that this was Joseph Ewen, Private 4023 in the 4th Gordons who died of wounds at the tender age of 16 on 22 May 2016 and was a son of Joseph and Harriet Ewen of Easter Beltie, Glassel, Harriet having been born in Aboyne.
Joseph’s family appear in the 1901 Census at Damhead, Alford, as Joseph C. Ewen, born at Alford, 1year old son of Joseph C. Ewen, born at Monymusk and then employed as a Horseman on a farm. Harriet and their eldest child Jane, aged 6, were both born in Aboyne, but Joseph’s older sister Martha then aged 4 was born in Alford. In the 1911 Census Joseph was a schoolboy and the family were still in Alford but at Balnellan, Greystone, where Joseph senior was now a farm grieve. They later settled at Easter Beltie, Glassel.
In May 1916 the 4th Gordons were serving as part of the 154th Brigade in the 51st (Highland) Division on the Western Front. The unit war diary is unenlightening as to what happened to Private Ewen, or when he sustained the wounds from which he died on 22 May 1916. Given his age at date of death, Ewen must have lied about his age, as the lower age limit for enlistment was 18.