Lance Corporal (LCpl) John Morrison, 1st Battalion The Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment), has been finally laid to rest after he was killed in action in France during the Great War. He was given a full ceremonial burial on 27 July 2016 at Woburn Abbey Cemetery, Cuinchy, France.
The service, led by Reverend Stewart A Mackay CF, Chaplain of The Black Watch, was attended by Mrs Eilidh Rennie, Mrs Fiona Macpherson and Mr Malcolm Morrison, great-nieces and great-nephew of LCpl Morrison. Current members of The Black Watch, 3rd Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland paid tribute to their former colleague by providing a bearer party for the coffin, a gun salute and playing of the pipes.
The remains of LCpl Morrison were discovered at Cuinchy, near Arras, on 9 December 2014 by a local farmer working in his field. Insignia discovered with the remains included a spoon engraved with his service number 5181. This, and the presence of other artefacts, led the MOD’s Joint Casualty and Compassionate Centre (JCCC), part of Defence Business Services, to trace 90 year old nephew Dr Ian Morrison and his cousin Sheila Thomson. Being able to locate LCpl Morrison’s nearest living relatives also helped confirm his identity via DNA.
John Morrison was born on 14 November 1885 at Tomintoul, Banffshire in the Highlands of Scotland. He was 29 years old when killed in action with the 1st Battalion of the Black Watch on 25 January 1915. John was the fourth of a family of 7 children born to his parents, John and Margaret, between the years 1882 to1893. His father worked as a gamekeeper who by the early 1890s was employed on the Brodie Castle Estate, Forres, Morayshire, where he eventually became the Head Gamekeeper.
John followed in his father’s footsteps and also became a gamekeeper on the Ardtornish Estate at Morvern, Argyllshire. At the outbreak of war, he decided to volunteer and travelled to Perth to enlist with The Black Watch on 7 September 1914.
After completing 3 months of training, John was sent to France and Flanders (Flemish region of Belgium), disembarking on 2 December 1914. He joined the 1st Battalion in the field the following day as one of a draft of 150 men to help rebuild the Battalion as a fighting unit after the huge losses suffered during the First Battle of Ypres, that had subsided only 10 days or so before.
Just days before Christmas 1914, the Battalion along with others of the Division, received orders to redeploy from Ypres to the then southernmost part of the line held by the British Army at Cuinchy to counter an anticipated advance by the enemy. On the morning of 25 January 1915, 4 enemy mines were detonated in the notorious Brickstacks sector of the front and the line held by the Coldstream and Scots Guards was overwhelmed by a concerted attack.
Three companies of John’s Battalion along with other reinforcements were thrown into the line in a desperate attempt to stabilise the position. It was during the hours of bitter fighting that ensued that John became 1 of the 59 fatalities suffered by his Battalion that day.
Following his death, his parents received a letter from one of John’s comrades describing his last moments:
The attack was fierce and John got a bullet in the leg. Nevertheless, he crawled to the assistance of his officer, also wounded, and was in the act of helping him to remove his pack when he was fatally shot. He was promoted Lance Corporal only a few days before.
The officer concerned, 2nd Lieutenant Lewis Willett, elaborated further on the circumstances of John’s death in a separate letter to his brother:
Some gallant fellow crawled up to me shortly after I was hit, and attempted to assist me off with my pack, but owing to the nature of my wound, I was unable to turn my neck sufficiently around to see who it was. I heard he was hit, and asked him if it was so. He replied: “Yes Sir”; and when I inquired later, I received no reply, but could just touch his hand by reaching back, and found he was dead. From the sound of his voice I thought it was your brother, who was in my Platoon, and I hoped it wasn’t so, and that I had made a mistake, for he was one of my most valued men.
His end was a gallant one, and his was a peaceful conclusion to a career, which, had he been spared to prolong it, he could have looked back on with the justifiable pride of one who has done his work well.
Before John’s remains were recovered, he was commemorated on the Le Touret Memorial along with the names of 53 of his other comrades who were also killed in action on the same day but have no known graves.
John’s death was not the only tragedy to touch the family. His brother, George, the youngest of the family, died of wounds on 11 April 1918 whilst serving as a Captain with the 1/6th Battalion Seaforth Highlanders. George’s own son, John, born a little more than seven weeks before his father’s death was also killed in action as a Navigator Flight Lieutenant over Normandy just a month after D Day.
Eilidh Rennie, great-niece of LCpl Morrison said:
The Morrison family have been very impressed by the investigative work carried out by the MOD’s JCCC, firstly to identify our (great) uncle following the discovery of his remains and then to determine the circumstances in which he died. They have also very kindly researched the deaths of his brother who was killed in 1918 and who was awarded the Military Cross (MC) and of his nephew, killed in 1944 while serving in the RAF. This has provided us with some hitherto unknown family history.
We are very grateful for this and for the organisation and arrangements made by the JCCC and The Black Watch for a full ceremonial burial in the military cemetery in Cuinchy, France near to where the remains were unearthed at which a number of us were present.
Reverend Stewart A Mackay CF, Chaplain of The Black Watch said:
Today’s service reminds us of the great sacrifice that soldiers are called upon to make when they come to serve their country in times of war, when our peace, our freedom and our future generations are threatened.
LCpl John Morrison lived in the beautiful Highlands of Scotland, served in the Royal Highland Regiment, and laid down so that many of us can continue to enjoy what he enjoyed in his lifetime. We need to remember that and continue to strive for peace as much as we possibly can today.
Beverley Simon, from the JCCC said:
JCCC takes huge pride in being able to ensure that the remains of the deceased are buried with the appropriate dignity, ceremony and respect.
It has been an enormous privilege to have met Dr Morrison and his family and to ensure that they have been personally involved in the planning and conduct of LCpl Morrison’s burial arrangements.
A new headstone bearing LCpl Morrison’s name has been provided by The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC), who will now care for his final resting place in perpetuity.