Category Archives: 1914

Private John Flynn

Photo of a Poppy

Private John Flynn

1st Battalion, Royal Scots Fusiliers

Died 11 November 1914

John Flynn was born on 25 February 1891 at 49 St Michael Street, Dumfries, the illegitimate son of Jane Flynn, a weaver. By 1901 John and his sister were boarding with the Gilmour family at 14 Bank Street, Wigtown. In December 1909, while working as a farm servant, he enlisted with the 1st Battalion, Royal Scots Fusiliers using the name John Thomson. The battalion was stationed at Gosport in Hampshire when war was declared. He was soon sent to France, arriving at Le Havre on 14 August. This initial tranche of the British Expeditionary Force was to gain the nickname, The Old Contemptibles. German Emperor Kaiser Wilhelm, dismissive of the BEF, reportedly issued an order on 19 August 1914 to “exterminate…the treacherous English and walk over General French’s contemptible little army”. In later years, the survivors of the regular army dubbed themselves “The Old Contemptibles”.

On 11 November 1914, three months after arriving in France Private Flynn was dead, falling in the Battle of Nonne Bosschen, becoming the third man associated with Wigtown to be killed in the war. His body was not found and he is commemorated on the Menin Gate Memorial at Ypres which bears the names of more than 54,000 officers and men whose graves are not known.

On 15 April 1915 his outstanding pay of £3 1s was passed to his widow, Jessie Marshall Thomson. After the war she was paid a War Gratuity of £5.

Private John Briggs

Photo of a PoppyPrivate John Briggs

2nd Battalion, Highland Light Infantry

Died 31 October 1914

The second soldier from Wigtown to die in the Great War was Private 12078 John Briggs, a member of the 2nd Battalion, Highland Light Infantry. The battalion formed part of the British Expeditionary Force, which landed at Boulogne on 14th August 1914, shortly after the declaration of war. He was the son of James Briggs, a labourer, who lived at 12 High Vennel, Wigtown.

John died in the First Battle of Ypres on 31 October 1914 from the effects of wounds received in battle. It took some time for the news of his death to be confirmed. On 5 December 1914 the Galloway Gazette reported that he had been wounded but it wasn’t until 6 March 1915 that it reported:

Mr James Briggs, labourer, Wigtown, has received information from the War Office that his son, Private John Briggs, HLI, died from the effects of wounds at Ypres on 31st October last. He was 21 years of age.

On 13th October troops of the French and British Armies arrived in Ypres, passing through the town to the east and taking up defensive positions to hold up the advance of the German Army. From that time the town was to become embroiled in war for the next four years. Almost every building would be razed to the ground by November 1918. On 20th October the German 4th Army encountered the experienced, well-trained soldiers of the British Expeditionary Force who were holding a series of positions making up the forward British Line north-east and east of Ypres. So began the First Battle of Ypres. The Commander-in-Chief of the British forces, Sir John French, saw 31 October (the day John Briggs died) as the critical day when the British line was broken but restored in a brave counter-attack by the Worcestershire Regiment.

All soldiers carry two identity discs, each giving their name, regiment and religion. If they are killed and their bodies found and identified, they are given a brief burial service according to their religion, if there is time. One identity disc stays with the body and the other, along with any personal possessions, is sent home. Many are killed without trace; thus their names appear in thousands on memorials, as does John Briggs whose sacrifice is commemorated on the Menin Gate Memorial at Ypres which bears the names of more than 54,000 officers and men whose graves are not known.

The Gazette also reported that John Briggs had an elder brother, who survived the war. He was in the Navy and was a crewman on HMS Aboukir, which was sunk on 22 September 1914 by torpedoes fired by a German U-boat with the loss 1,459 men. John Briggs’ brother was one of the 837 men rescued.

Corporal Charles Boyd

Photo of a PoppyCorporal Charles Boyd

 1st Battalion Cameron Highlanders

 Died 14 September 1914

With the war barely two months old, Wigtown heard of the first of many deaths from amongst the young men associated with the town. Charles Boyd was the son of Charles Boyd, a baker in Wigtown, and his wife Janet. Charles jr showed himself to be a promising pupil at school here and enlisted with the Cameron Highlanders at Edinburgh Castle around about 1911. It appears he had quite a talent as an instructor and soon became assistant teacher before moving to the Cameron’s barracks at Blackness Castle where he led a squad and achieved the rank of Lance Corporal.

Within a week of war being declared the 1st Battalion, including Corporal Boyd, landed at Le Havre as part of the British Expeditionary Force. By the beginning of September the German Imperial Army had swept through much of Belgium and north eastern France and was fast approaching Paris. By 3 September, the British and French forces had been retreating south west for over two weeks and German victory was a definite possibility. As night fell on 5 September, the men of the British Expeditionary Force began to halt approximately 40 kilometres south east of Paris and their gruelling retreat was at an end. For the next two days the British advanced north eastward, encountering only minor resistance from the German forces in the area. On 8 September, British infantry brigades advancing toward the River Marne came under heavy machine-gun and artillery fire from German units in La Ferté sous Jouarre. After heavy fighting they crossed the Marne on 10 September.

The Battle of the Marne, referred to in the French press as the ‘Miracle of the Marne’, halted the month-long advance of the German forces toward Paris and decisively ended the possibility of an early German victory. The battle also marked the beginning of trench warfare and by November battle lines had been drawn that would remain virtually unchanged for almost four years. The British Expeditionary Force suffered almost 13,000 casualties during the Battle of the Marne, of whom some 7,000 had been killed. Although the Battle ended on 12 September 1914 sniping and occasional shelling will have continued and it is possible that in this way, on 14th September, and only a month after arriving in France, that Charles Boyd was killed in action, the first of Wigtown’s soldiers to die. His body was never found and his death is commemorated on La Ferte-Sous-Jouarre Memorial. This Memorial commemorates 3,740 officers and men of the British Expeditionary Force who fell at the battles of Mons, Le Cateau, the Marne and the Aisne between the end of August and early October 1914 and who have no known graves.