Glenfarg War Memorial Project

William Down

Private 1442 1st Battalion Black Watch (Royal Highlanders)

Born 1891, Edinburgh.
Died 23 May 1915, Perth.

 

The old Arngask Parish Churchyard lies atop a small hill east of the village of Glenfarg in Perthshire. The churchyard, adjoining the ruins of the old church, is  secluded and peaceful: in warm weather it is a very pleasant place to lie in the grass, idling away the good part of a day. Close up against the drystone back boundary wall is the grave of William Down, shaded by an overhanging tree.

His headstone is  the war grave pattern such as those used in Commonwealth War Graves Commission war cemeteries, but instead of their customary cream-coloured Portland stone his is grey granite. The legend on the stone tells us that this is the grave of William Downs [sic], Private 1442 of the Black Watch regiment and that he died on 23 May 1915. The grave is on the register of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, under the name W. Downs, in Arngask Parish Churchyard.

He first enlisted on 14 May 1908 at Kinghorn in Fife for six years service in the Special Reserve (3rd Btn) of the Black Watch, service no. 817. His attestation papers show his name as William Downs, born in the town and Parish of Glenfarg in Kinross-shire. [Until 1891, the county boundaries had their confluence at Glenfarg: part was in Perthshire, part in Fife and part in Kinross-shire. It is now in Perthshire.]

He was 17 years and 6 months old and his next-of-kin was his elder sister, Janet Down, of 13 Manor Place, Edinburgh.
He had been working as an apprentice gardener for 13 months for Col. Trotter at Colinton House, Edinburgh, which apprenticeship was due to expire in March 1910.

Originally built for the Edinburgh banker Sir William Forbes of Pitsligo, Colinton House was then the residence of 'The Abercrombys of Colinton': the Barons of Dunfermline. [Colinton House is now Merchiston School, approximately 6 km south of Edinburgh.]
On the death of the second Baron Dunfermline in 1868, the house passed to his daughter Mary Catherine Elizabeth Abercromby (d. 1908), wife of Lt. Col John Moubray Trotter, and it was he to whom William Down was apprenticed.

However, on 16 October 1908 William enlisted in the regular army: the 1st Battalion  Black Watch, Service no. 1442, giving his age as 18 years and 5 months, and already serving with the 3rd (Service) Battalion Black Watch. His service record shows him in Ireland until 4 January 1911, when the regiment went to India. It was recalled for service in France and entered that theatre of war in September 1914.

However, on 12 January 1915, William was back in UK and was admitted to the Royal Herbert Hospital in Woolwich, London on 26 February 1915. He was diagnosed with tuberculosis, discharged from hospital on 12 March and, on 26 March 1915 he was discharged from the army as no longer being physically fit for service. He was awarded a (disability) pension, conditional for 12 months, of 12/6d a week.

He returned to Perthshire where, on 23 May 1915, aged 24, he died of tuberculosis at Hillside Home, Kinnoull, Perth. His death was registered by his sister, Janet (Williamina) Robertson Down, who gave her address as The Manse, Crieff, Perthshire.

William Down was aged about 24 when he died in 1915, but I have been unable to trace a birth certificate for him. He said on his military attestation form that he was born in Glenfarg – that may well have been all he knew or remembered – but the 1891 census records him as having been born in the Canongate area of Edinburgh.

The earliest trace of William and his sister Janet is the 1891 census for Scotland: they are living in their maternal grandfather's house at Duncrievie, a hamlet about three quarters of a mile south of Glenfarg, Perthshire, with their mother Euphemia Down and her father, Alexander Robertson.

Their mother is described as a widow, aged 36 with a daughter Janet R. aged 3, and a son Jervie Down, 3 months old. Jervie Down is recorded as having been born in Canongate, Edinburgh. Possibly Jervie, or Jarvie, was the surname of his natural father? The birth may not have been registered, and it seems that Jervie may have later used the name William ­­– which was the name of his mother's late husband.

Euphemia (née Robertson), aged 29, married William Down, aged 36, a master baker, on 3 January 1887 at Duncrievie (presumably at her father's house). They gave 12 Balfour Street, Leith Walk, Edinburgh as their usual residence.
However, her husband William died of enteritis six months later, on 23 July 1887.
Euphemia's daughter Janet Williamina Robertson Down was a child of that union, (born at Duncrievie 28 September 1887) ­– but Jervie Down was not, being born in 1891.

Jervie/William's grandfather, Alexander Robertson, died of heart disease, aged 74, on 14 October 1893 at Smiddyhill (Farm), Glenfarg. His daughter Euphemia Down was present at his death.

William's mother Euphemia died of consumption (tuberculosis) in Glenfarg on 13 December 1897 aged 42. Her death certificate says she was a dairy-woman, and her neighbour Isabella Nicol of Fernhall, Glenfarg registered her death.
William was aged 6 and his sister Janet aged 10. What then happened to them is not known.

Eleven years later, in May1908 William was an apprentice gardener in Edinburgh, and his sister was living at 13 Manor Place, Edinburgh. In 1911 his sister Janet Williamina Robertson Down was working as a general servant to a Jane Anderson (age 70) at 50 Bemerston Place, Edinburgh. The rest of William's story we know. His sister Janet Down died in Perth on 1 January 1976, aged 80.