James Bowman Smith

James Bowman Smith

14th (Service) Battalion, Scottish Rifles

Died 28th June 1918 age 21

Lieut. J.B. Smith – Gordon Hrs.

This is very probably James Bowman Smith who was born at Drumduan,  Dess, on 6 August 1896, whose regiment was the Scottish Rifles, not the Gordon Highlanders. His grandfather John Smith farmed at Drumduan. On census night in 1901, James aged four was there in his widowed grandfather’s household with his mother Robina. Robina married Duncan Fowler at Lumphanan in 1905. In 1911 James was living with his mother and stepfather and a step-sister Catherine aged 5 at Birley Farm, Kincardine O’Neil.  He went to school in Torphins, then Aboyne Higher Grade School, and from 1911 to 1914 was a pupil at Robert Gordon’s  College. In the year war broke out, having won a bursary in the Aberdeen University Bursary Competition, he began studies in Arts and Science at the University of Aberdeen which he was never to complete. Smiths are by their nature hard to identify definitively, but a James B. Smith certainly featured in newspaper reports of University exam results in English and Mathematics in 1914 and 1915, and was runner-up for an English Essay prize in 1915.

When James Smith volunteered in November 1915, he had an address at that time-honoured territory for Aberdeen student accommodation in King Street. He was appointed in May 1916 first to the 3rd then to the 14th (Service) Bn. Scottish Rifles and sent to join the British Expeditionary Force in France on 23 July 1916. In June of 1917, by which time he had attained the rank of Lance Corporal, he returned home to join an officer cadet unit, having applied successfully to be trained for a temporary commission in the regular army. In this process Smith’s former headmaster at Aboyne, Mr Cruickshank, provided a favourable character reference. The family was by then living at Clashnadarroch, Birse.

Smith was in due course appointed 2nd Lieutenant in the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry, following further training.  He returned to France in April 1918 where, according to a report in the Aberdeen Weekly Journal, Lieut. Smith and his company captured an important position near Merville, but while he was trying to reach an isolated outpost, a German machine gun opened fire and he was instantly killed. “He was 22 years of age [in fact 21] and was highly esteemed by all who knew him on account of his modest and unselfish nature.”
A telegram was sent to Mrs Fowler at Clashnadarroch :  “Deeply regret 2/Lt J.B. Smith D.C.L.I. Killed in Action June twenty-eighth Army Council Expresses Sympathy”.

His place of burial is not known but he is commemorated on the Arras Memorial. A will made in July 1916 left everything to his half-sister Cathie. There is a photograph of him in uniform in the Robert Gordons Roll of Honour, looking serious, intelligent, and much too young.