This story begins, as with all the best things, with music. I had been recommended a show called “Far, far from Ypres” by a friend. Unfortunately it was on at HMT on the last Thursday before the worlds, so there was no chance I was going.
However I did take note, and there was another performance in Ullapool less than a month later. I snapped up a ticket, as I love Ullapool and was enthralled by the show. Songs of the period interspersed with poignant poems and stories of the war. A couple of my favourite musicians were performing as well, namely Gary West and Mairearad Green, plus a few other names I recognised, so I knew the quality would be excellent, and it was. If you get a chance to see this show, you absolutely should.
I left the show that night and found the only WiFi in Ullapool to find out more. Ypres, I didn’t know much, but something was familiar about it. As I found out that evening, I had it listed on my family tree as the place where my Great Uncle, ”Peter Bruce Flett” died. This name is particularly important to me as it is also the exact name of my Granda, whom he was named after.
It took a while but I knew my Auntie had been in Belgium a few years ago. I asked about their trip, they had been to his memorial. I also recalled that my Granny’s side of the family also had a tale; there were five brothers, four had gone to war and three were lost. There was an article in the Buckie Squeek back in the day about it:
(Banffshire Advertiser, November 11th 1915) [huh, just noticed that date].
On an off chance, I searched for them. Lots of results for the family name “Allan”, but someone had already done the grunt work for me, a friend of my Auntie. Alas, they were all in France.
Funny thing about WW1 though. It’s called a World War, but a lot of it is concentrated in a very small area. I plotted the points of interest on a map, all four Great Uncles. I had already planned Ypres as a base at this point. Almost a straight line. 1 hour 36 minutes end to end according to google maps.
And so, here I am. Ypres.
Below details my journey south.
Peter Bruce Flett - Gordon Highlanders, 6th/7th Battalion - 265641
25th September 1894 - 9th April 1918 - 24 Years old
Peter is commemorated on a memorial not far south of Ypres at Ploegsteert in Belgium. It was a calm, quiet, misty morning when I arrived:
This is Peter along with his medals:
Prior to the war Peter was a fisherman. He was invalided home in 1917. The story goes that my Great Grandfather walked him to the station in Finechty, he had a hole in his hand. When he reached the end of New Street, he turned and said of his home, “farewell, I won’t be seeing you again”. He knew what he was returning to, and was right.
This was an interesting memorial. There is a J Allan here, though not the one I will find later on, as well as another visitor from Buckie:
Morris Allan - Seaforth Highlanders, 2nd Battalion - S/6361
25th September 1915 - 20 Years old
Of all the Allan brothers, Morris Allan is important to me as like my Granda, my Granny was named after Morris, albeit fortunately in her middle name. Morris is commemorated on the Loos Memorial, part of “Dud Corner” cemetery, northwest of Lens, France.
He was a carter in Portessie according to the article from the Buckie Squeek. As of the article, he was the first of three to be lost.
William Allan - Gordon Highlanders - 6th Battalion - 265088
21st March 1918 - 21/22 Years old
William is commemorated on the memorial at Arras, France. Unfortunately when I visited it was very much under reconstruction. Only the Ts onward were visible for the Gordons, however there were replacement boards posted. There was actually two “W Allan”s from the same regiment.
Aside from the Buckie Squeek image above, I have no other images of William. I like to think perhaps he knew Peter, having served in the same battalion and from close hometowns.
I have found details that he received a gunshot wound to the head in March 1915, recuperated at home before returning to the front.
James Allan - Corporal, Seaforth Highlanders, 2nd Battalion - S/7799
1st July 1916
James was unique in my travels, the only one with a knob grave. This is in Serre Road Cemetery no. 2 near Beaumont-Hamel, France.
Like his brother, I only have the newspaper article to picture him from.
This date may be notable, the first day of the Battle of the Somme. A pipe tune I have known for many years. The battle itself, I cannot fathom.
All this brings me to my Great Granda. He survived the war, though not for lack of trying. He joined up when he was not yet old enough, before being caught by one of his brothers, possibly Morris, and being sent home. Once he was old enough he rejoined and fought later in the war. He was injured while going through a wood with shrapnel in his leg. Later they found that the tin of beef in his pack had stopped another possibly more life threatening piece of shrapnel. I found this in a collectors shop in Ypres and it made me think:
The bulk of this was written on an iPad in a pub in Ypres while still fresh in my head. I will update this post with further formatting, corrections, details, specifics and sources when I can.