The se­rial: Largie Cas­tle, A Ri­fled Nest Day 108

My re­gret is that I have found so lit­tle about him. No juicy let­ters or search­ing mem­oirs

The Courier & Advertiser (Dundee Edition) - - SERIAL - By Mary Glad­stone

When we as chil­dren fought and com­plained that we had been treated un­fairly, beg­ging Mum to in­ter­vene, she would say “life isn’t fair!” Only now, af­ter fin­ish­ing my re­search on An­gus do I ap­pre­ci­ate what she was think­ing when she pro­nounced those words. Only now do I un­der­stand how hard it was for her when in the early 60s we stayed with Dad’s sis­ter, Jean and her hus­band Roddy, then between Bri­tish am­bas­sado­rial post­ings.

I loved to leaf through Aunt Jean’s pho­to­graph al­bum in which, be­side fam­ily snap­shots she had il­lus­trated in pen and ink scenes from her fam­ily life.

At the be­gin­ning of the war, Roddy, as a diplo­mat in the For­eign Of­fice, was posted to Wash­ing­ton in the USA. To cross the At­lantic he, Jean and their three in­fant daugh­ters boarded a liner that sailed un­ac­com­pa­nied and not as part of a con­voy. In mi­do­cean, a Ger­man U-boat sur­faced but fired no tor­pe­does at their ship.

Af­ter the war, Jean il­lus­trated this fright­en­ing event in the wartime sec­tion of her al­bum. Life isn’t fair, is it? Like the tim­bre of his voice, the cut of his jacket or his food pref­er­ences, I can only guess what An­gus thought of his fu­ture.

When he wrote months be­fore the Ja­panese in­va­sion of Malaya, “af­ter we’ve dealt with this wretched fel­low Hitler,” did he con­ceive that the end of Em­pire was so im­mi­nent? Be­fore he drowned, my un­cle was aware that along with gain­ing an an­cient Scot­tish name, prop­erty and cas­tle, much had to be dis­man­tled so the past could be dis­tilled into some­thing more es­sen­tial and rel­e­vant. Nei­ther the se­verely wounded Jock nor An­gus could as­sume prop­erly the role of laird or main­tain their cas­tles.

Jock pulled his down and Si­mon, who be­came owner of the Lock­hart in­her­i­tance, sold his. Like cru­sader, Sir Sy­mon Loc­card, who held the key to the cas­ket that con­tained Bruce’s heart, An­gus failed. Wag­ing bat­tle 700 years af­ter his an­ces­tor, he also fought on for­eign soil, con­fronting an en­emy, not from north Africa but from Ja­pan.

These two war­riors may have lost but Loc­card re­cov­ered from the bat­tle­field Bruce’s heart and re­turned with it to Scot­land, while An­gus’s in­tended in­her­i­tance re­mained in­tact, go­ing to Si­mon, who took over the Lock­hart name, line and prop­erty.

This le­gal­ity, rooted in feu­dal­ism, en­abled a chain of hered­i­tary in­cum­bents to hold on to a prop­erty, as the sur­vival of a name and fam­ily took prece­dence over the in­ter­ests of any in­di­vid­ual. As a re­sult of An­gus’s death Si­mon, his sons and daugh­ter main­tained the Lock­hart line in ma­jor part.

It may be sense­less to write about a lost man but I was struck by the fact that An­gus was Mum’s favourite brother. Jock was much older and re­mote from her, while Si­mon, four years her se­nior, bul­lied her. An­gus, seven years older, would in­ter­vene on her be­half. By all ac­counts he was kind, if not a bit dila­tory in his cor­re­spon­dence while serv­ing over­seas. He took the trou­ble to write to Mum when she gained en­try into Somerville Col­lege, Ox­ford and in his let­ter from Malaya two years later he is im­pressed that she is learn­ing how to be a car me­chanic.

With his me­dieval knightly an­ces­try was An­gus an anachro­nism? His ed­u­ca­tion, with its ar­cane lan­guage and prac­tices, was hardly rel­e­vant to a man sent to an over­crowded is­land in south­east Asia to be­come chief-of-staff to some 3,000 men. What­ever else, his man­ner of speak­ing, choice of words and con­duct were syn­ony­mous with loy­alty to King and coun­try. Both broth­ers took part in cam­paigns that lost spec­tac­u­larly, Jock at the Fall of France and An­gus in the Fall of Sin­ga­pore. Both found them­selves in the wrong place at the wrong time.

One lost his leg, the other his life and each lost his cas­tle. This kind of destruc­tion was not ex­clu­sive to my mother’s fam­ily. Up and down the coun­try, old landed fam­i­lies were fall­ing apart. Although the Largie Mac­don­alds and Lock­harts for­feited their cas­tles, they them­selves failed to dis­in­te­grate or fade away. Dented though they were by the war they sur­vived.

Foot sol­dier

Un­like Jock with his ca­sual bril­liance, An­gus was a good foot sol­dier for the Es­tab­lish­ment. My re­gret is that I have found so lit­tle about him. No juicy let­ters, con­fes­sional di­aries or search­ing mem­oirs. Just a few let­ters.

We will never know what he thought of his reg­i­ment and the part Bri­tain played in the war. Be­cause An­gus took his se­crets to a wa­tery grave, we can only sur­mise. Did he have a girl? Was he a vir­gin when he died? How did he feel about his fu­ture af­ter the war? Did he look for­ward to own­ing his cas­tle?

The dis­plays of courage by An­gus and his “brother” of­fi­cers in bat­tle and their non­cha­lance to­wards dan­ger, are to be ap­plauded. No other fight­ing unit in the Malayan cam­paign earned greater re­spect than the Ar­gylls but their brav­ery and dis­re­gard for per­sonal safety had, in the end, its lim­its. Psy­chi­a­trists af­firm that men and women, when put un­der duress, in­vari­ably break. It’s just a mat­ter of time.

It’s not my place here to name the of­fi­cers and men who cracked up, of­ten many years af­ter the end of the war. But there were many. Some suf­fered from years

of de­pres­sion. One or two even com­mit­ted sui­cide.

Of­ten the bravest were the most af­flicted. Those who fought in the Malayan Cam­paign were in­deli­bly dam­aged, par­tic­u­larly as so many were im­pris­oned by the Ja­panese, forced to build the Thai-Burma rail­way. Ken­neth McLeod sur­vived but for the rest of his life suf­fered from a num­ber of ail­ments stem­ming from this pe­riod.

Per­haps the most poignant of let­ters I re­ceived dur­ing my search for An­gus was from Cather­ine Butcher, daugh­ter of Reg­i­men­tal Sergeant-Ma­jor (RSM) Sandy Mun­noch, pho­tographed tramp­ing through the man­grove swamps of Sin­ga­pore is­land with An­gus as ad­ju­tant and Ian Ste­wart, then the Bat­tal­ion’s sec­ond in com­mand.

Cre­ma­tions

Sergeant Mun­noch sur­vived im­pris­on­ment but at a rel­a­tively young age, while work­ing as an in­struc­tor at Brad­field Col­lege, frac­tured his skull in a traf­fic ac­ci­dent. He died in 1956. Af­ter the Bri­tish sur­ren­der, he was im­pris­oned at Kan­chanab­uli on the River Kwai in Thai­land. In this prison camp he was or­dered to cre­mate the bod­ies of men who had died of cholera. The cre­ma­tions took place at night and af­ter­wards Sergeant Mun­noch would stand alone in the jun­gle to salute the dead men. When he re­turned to the camp the sergeant took the pre­cau­tion of wash­ing him­self with Lysol dis­in­fec­tant.

Although I was aware of the 60th an­niver­sary in 2002 of the Fall of Sin­ga­pore I had not then be­gun my re­search on An­gus. But in 2003 I vis­ited Hopie Mait­land, Mum’s child­hood friend who used to stay at Largie for lessons in English, arith­metic and French with gov­erness Miss Harding.

Hopie knew all the Mac­don­alds and had ex­plored their home from top to bot­tom, from boot-hole to Broonie’s room at the top of the cas­tle. Be­fore I left, I asked Hopie what had hap­pened to An­gus (at that time I knew next to noth­ing about him).

“Oh! It was so sad,” she said el­lip­ti­cally. “With all that dis­as­ter in the fam­ily,” I ven­tured, “why didn‘t the Broonie take bet­ter care of them?”

“Yes,” she said solemnly. “That’s what he was meant to do. But he didn’t, did he?”

The end

© 2017 Mary C Glad­stone, all rights re­served, cour­tesy of the au­thor and Fire­fall­me­dia; avail­able in hard­cover and pa­per­back on­line and from all book­sellers.

On Mon­day we will be­gin to se­ri­alise The Green Year (Jute, Jam & Jiv­ing through Dundee), the new novel by Dundee au­thor San­dra Sav­age fol­low­ing the for­tunes of the Pep­per fam­ily.

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