Fife fam­ily’s proud link to his­toric Armistice sign­ing

As the 100th an­niver­sary of the First World War Armistice ap­proaches, Michael Alexan­der hears the re­mark­able story of a Fife naval of­fi­cer who brought for­ward the sign­ing of the doc­u­ment to 11am after phon­ing to con­sult the King and de­fy­ing the or­ders of

The Courier & Advertiser (Angus and The Mearns Edition) - - NEWS - MICHAEL ALEXAN­DER Malexan­der@the­courier.co.uk

It was the mo­ment end­ing the five years of car­nage and blood­shed that cost mil­lions of lives.

The Armistice end­ing fight­ing on land, sea and air in the First World War be­tween the Al­lies and Ger­many came into force at 11am on Novem­ber 11 1918 – some­times re­ferred to as “the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month”.

But the fight­ing could have car­ried on for hours longer, if it wasn’t for the key role of a Fife man. The se­nior Bri­tish rep­re­sen­ta­tive present when the Armistice was signed, with­out his in­ter­ven­tion the fight­ing could have con­tin­ued un­til 2.30pm. An es­ti­mated 600 more lives could have been lost.

First Sea Lord Ad­mi­ral Sir Ross­lyn We­myss – 1st Baron Wester We­myss – who grew up at We­myss Cas­tle on the south­ern shore of Fife, near West We­myss, was present when the Armistice was fa­mously signed in French mil­i­tary leader Mar­shal Fer­di­nand Foch’s rail­way car­riage in the For­est of Com­piegne.

Also present were Ger­man Ad­mi­ral Ernst Vanselow, Ger­man Count Al­fred von Obern­dorff of the For­eign Min­istry, Ger­man Gen­eral Det­lof von Win­ter­feldt, Bri­tish naval of­fi­cer Cap­tain Jack Mar­riot, head of the Ger­man del­e­ga­tion Matthias Erzberger, Bri­tish naval of­fi­cer RearAd­mi­ral Ge­orge Hope and the French rep­re­sen­ta­tive Gen­eral Maxime Wey­gand.

How­ever, ac­cord­ing to Sir Ross­lyn We­myss’ great great nephew Michael We­myss, who runs the We­myss Es­tate in Fife, the Armistice only hap­pened at 11am on Novem­ber 11 1918 be­cause Sir Ross­lyn de­fied in­struc­tions from his prime min­is­ter.

“Ac­cord­ing to his ac­count, Lloyd Ge­orge, then prime min­is­ter, told him to en­sure that the Armistice would come into force at 2.30pm to co­in­cide with the start of pro­ceed­ings in the House of Com­mons where the PM would an­nounce it,” said Mr We­myss.

“We­myss, sens­ing the pop­u­lar ap­peal of an 11am an­nounce­ment, got the French and Ger­mans to agree to it.

“He then spoke by tele­phone to King Ge­orge V, who told the gov­ern­ment he was in full agree­ment. The plan was changed and Lloyd Ge­orge was fu­ri­ous.

“As a re­sult We­myss did not re­ceive the £100,000 grant awarded to other ser­vice chiefs, and while they were given earl­doms, he got a mere barony, for which he was made to wait a year.”

Mr We­myss dis­cussed the piv­otal role played by his an­ces­tor as he gave The Courier a tour this week of Sir Ross­lyn’s fi­nal rest­ing place – the We­myss fam­ily’s pri­vate burial plot in the es­tate’s Chapel Gar­dens, over­look­ing the Firth of Forth, at West We­myss.

Here, a sim­ple stone cross marks the grave of Sir Ross­lyn, who died aged 69 in 1933, along­side the grave of his wife Vic­to­ria, who died in 1945 and daugh­ter Alice who died in 1994.

Next to Sir Ross­lyn’s grave is the top French mil­i­tary award – Les Medailles Mil­i­taires a leur Ca­ma­rade – which was awarded to him by the French gov­ern­ment in recog­ni­tion of his link with France.

Poignantly, there’s an air of peace dur­ing our visit as the waves crash on the fore­shore be­yond and au­tumn leaves flut­ter though the breeze. The fam­ily has owned the es­tate since the year 1145.

How­ever, due to its se­cluded and very pri­vate set­ting, and de­spite be­ing yards from the pop­u­lar Fife Coastal Path, not many peo­ple know the grave ex­ists – some­thing that Mr We­myss hopes to end this Sun­day when, for one day only to mark the 100th an­niver­sary of the Armistice, he will leave the gate of the chapel gar­den un­locked so that pass­ing vis­i­tors can pay their re­spects to one of Fife’s for­got­ten sons.

Born in 1864, Sir Ross­lyn joined the navy at 13. De­scended from a strong mil­i­tary tra­di­tion in the We­myss fam­ily at the time, by 21 he had risen to the

The plan was changed and Lloyd Ge­orge was fu­ri­ous

rank of lieu­tenant and, as the great grand­son of King Wil­liam IV (monarch from 1831 to 1837), he be­came renowned as a very good politi­cian and am­bas­sador.

He served as com­man­der of the 12th Cruiser Squadron and then as Gov­er­nor of Moudros be­fore lead­ing the Bri­tish land­ings at Cape Helles and at Sulva Bay dur­ing the ill-fated Gal­lipoli Cam­paign. He went on to be com­man­der of the East Indies & Egyp­tian Squadron in Jan­uary 1916 and

then First Sea Lord in De­cem­ber 1917.

Dis­il­lu­sioned with pol­i­tics after the war, how­ever, fol­low­ing the fall­out with his old friend Lloyd Ge­orge, he re­signed from the navy in 1919, set­tling in Cannes where he worked for Cable and Wire­less and Mar­coni. When he died there was a large mil­i­tary fu­neral at West­min­ster, fol­lowed by a pri­vate burial at We­myss.

Iron­i­cally, of course, the rail­way car­riage at the For­est of Com­piegne was de­lib­er­ately used by Hitler on June 22 1940 for the sign­ing of the Fran­coGer­man Armistice dur­ing World War Two – an oc­ca­sion where Hitler be­lieved he had avenged Ger­man First World War hu­mil­i­a­tion.

How­ever, de­spite the sig­nif­i­cance of both oc­ca­sions, Mr We­myss, who has yet to visit the site of the sign­ing, al­ways feels as if “Rossie” as he calls him has “slipped be­low his­tory” – un­til now.

“I’m so glad to have him as one of my rel­a­tives,” he added.

Booth Pic­ture: Rick

Michael and his wife Char­lotte at Sir Ross­lyn’s grave in the We­myss gar­den of remembrance, West We­myss.

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