Private John McDowall
2nd Battalion, Canadian Infantry
Died 26 April 1916
John McDowall was born on 12 September 1880 at Elrig, the son of farm labourer John McDowall and his wife Jessie McDowall (nee McCreadie). He was part of a large family with 5 brothers and 2 sisters. His early years were spent in Mochrum but, by 1911, John and his parents had moved to Wigtown, living at 19 Harbour Rd with John working as a baker. However it was not long before he emigrated to Canada.
On 22 September 1914, shortly after the outbreak of war John McDowall enlisted with the Canadian East Ontario Regiment. His Attestation Papers show that he was working as a bar tender at the time, stood 5ft 3½in tall and had dark hair and hazel eyes. The Regiment was part of the first 32,000 Canadian soldiers to travel to Europe from Canada, arriving at Plymouth on 25 October. After a period of training they arrived in France and were in action at the Second Battle of Ypres.
John McDowall was killed in action on 26 April 1916 and is buried at Woods Cemetery, near Ypres. The cemetery contains 326 burials from the First World War and includes numerous burials of John’s comrades from the 2nd Battalion, including Thomas McCheyne, who died on the same day and who is named on Wigtown War Memorial.
Private Thomas McCheyne 2nd Battalion, Canadian Infantry
Died 26 April 1916
Private 81625 Thomas McCheyne was born on 18 August 1889 at Kirkinner, the son of Thomas Candlish McCheyne (a gamekeeper) and his wife, Elizabeth (nee McClelland). He was one of four local men to die in the war who had emigrated to Canada, and enlisted when war broke out, returning to fight for the mother country. Thomas had emigrated in about 1906 along with some of his siblings and enlisted on 12 December 1914 having had 3 years service with the 12th Manitoba Dragoons. He was a member of the 2nd Battalion, Canadian Infantry (Eastern Ontario Regiment).
The first contingent of the Canadian Expeditionary Force, (including the East Ontarios) sailed on October 3 1914, comprising the 1st to 17th battalions. (By the end of the war there would be two hundred and sixty numbered battalions in existence.) Training and reorganization commenced upon arrival in the United Kingdom and it was not until 26 January 1915 that the Division was officially organized and moved to the Ypres Salient in April. The Canadians withstood German attacks – aided, for the first time on the Western Front, by the use of poison gas – and finally retired to secondary positions on 26 April, where they held on until 4 May.
Two weeks later, the Division was in action again at Festubert. Aiding in a diversionary offensive by the British armies, the Canadians suffered 2,204 casualties for gains of only 600 yards. Another futile attack was launched at Givenchy in June 1915, after which the Division moved to Ploegsteert. The Canadians began a long period of static warfare which would last them throughout the winter. Active operations resumed again in the spring of 1916, participating in the Battle of Mount Sorrel, and then restoring the situation at Sanctuary Wood. It was at some time during this resumption of activities that Thomas McCheyne fell, dying on 26 April 1916. He is buried at Woods Cemetery at Ypres in Belgium which contains 326 First World War burials, 32 of them unidentified. John McDowall, also from Wigtown, died on the same day and lies close to Thomas in the Cemetery.
Thomas McCheyne had no fewer than five cousins who were killed in the war; four are commemorated on Kells Parish War Memorial, New Galloway and one on Kirkmabreck Parish Memorial, Creetown.
Corporal Robert Murray
2nd Battalion, The Black Watch
Died 21 January 1916
Corporal 1921 Robert Murray was born at Greenock on 5 January 1883. We know he was living at Kirkcowan in 1891 where his father, Alexander, worked as a woollen dyer. He was probably a regular soldier before the war began as he was sent to the war zone at an early date in the conflict, 12 October 1914. He was a member of the 2nd Battalion, The Black Watch, having enlisted at Newton Stewart. We know little of his military career or his life in Wigtown save that he had an aunt and uncle who lived at Torhousekie, just outside Wigtown. He is named on Wigtown War Memorial.
At the start of the war the 2nd battalion was in India but, by September, had moved to France. It was engaged in trench warfare and suffered heavy casualties in 1915 and, in December of that year, was moved to Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq), arriving on 5th January 1916 and was into action within two days. On 21 January the 2nd battalion was part of a 10,000 British force attempting to relieve fellow troops under siege at Kut-al-Amara. Facing them was a Turkish army of 30,000 at the Hanna Defile. After a weak bombardment the British troops advanced through 600 yards of water in No Man’s Land. They were mown down by Turkish machine guns and 60% of the British force was killed or injured. It was in this action that Robert Murray was reported missing and was never seen again. It was not until two years later that he was officially confirmed as dead.
Robert Murray is commemorated on the Basra Memorial which commemorates more than 40,500 members of the Commonwealth forces who died in the operations in Mesopotamia from the Autumn of 1914 to the end of August 1921 and whose graves are not known. The ninth Wigtown man to die, Corporal Murray is probably the furthest from home of any of those commemorated on Wigtown War Memorial. His Uncle Matthew was paid the outstanding amount of Roberts pay of £25 19s 3d in December 1918. A further War Gratuity of £9 was paid the following year.