MICHAEL ALEXAN­DER

The Courier & Advertiser (Dundee Edition) - - NEWS - malexan­der@the­courier.co.uk

Michael Alexan­der pays tribute to his great-great-un­cle James Alexan­der of St An­drews whose body was found – but lost again – af­ter he per­ished at Gal­lipoli dur­ing the First World War.

As pop­pies and wreaths are laid at thou­sands of war memo­ri­als and Com­mon­wealth War Graves this week­end to com­mem­o­rate the 100th an­niver­sary of the Ar­mistice, it will be a fit­ting tribute in mem­ory of all those who fought, died and sur­vived in the First World War.

But what of those ca­su­al­ties who rest in no known grave, or a grave over­seas?

How did their im­me­di­ate fam­i­lies ever cope with the heartache of not lay­ing their loved ones to rest?

It’s a ques­tion I’ve asked my­self over the years hav­ing of­ten gazed at a fam­ily pho­to­graph of my great­great-un­cle James Alexan­der, from St An­drews, who died at Gal­lipoli aged just 19, and whose body – while ini­tially found – was lost soon af­ter and never redis­cov­ered.

Born in St An­drews on Oc­to­ber 3 1895 with two older sis­ters and three younger broth­ers, James Gra­ham Alexan­der – the son of a joiner and a for­mer pupil of Madras Col­lege – joined the Nel­son Bat­tal­ion of the Royal Naval Di­vi­sion, Royal Naval Vol­un­teer Re­serve.

Ac­cord­ing to the Madras Col­lege year­book of 1915 which recorded his death, the Ad­mi­ralty mo­bilised the Royal Naval Vol­un­teer Re­serve in July 1914, and James was posted to the Ben­bow Bat­tal­ion of the Royal Naval Di­vi­sion.

On March 18 1915 an Al­lied force be­gan land­ing on the Gal­lipoli Penin­sula.

By May 4 the Royal Naval Di­vi­sion was ashore at Cape Helles, where it was based for the re­main­der of the cam­paign.

Af­ter sus­tain­ing heavy losses on June 4, the Royal Naval Di­vi­sion’s Bat­tal­ions were re­or­gan­ised, and James Alexan­der was trans­ferred to the Nel­son Bat­tal­ion.

On July 12 an­other at­tempt was made to cap­ture Achi Baba, the Turk­ish-held strong­point that dom­i­nated the sur­round­ing area.

The at­tack took place up the dry riverbed of the Achi Baba Nul­lah. Among the ca­su­al­ties on July 13 1915 was Able Sea­man James Alexan­der.

“There he was one of a storm­ing party which was landed to cap­ture an en­emy po­si­tion but, like many more, he failed to re­turn,” records the Madras Col­lege mag­a­zine of sum­mer 1916.

“He was posted as miss­ing and his friends hoped that at the worst he had been wounded and fallen into the hands of the Turks, but later the Ad­mi­ralty re­ported him to have been killed in ac­tion on July 13 1915.”

His body was found and buried by the French, hav­ing iden­ti­fied it by his disc. How­ever, his tem­po­rary grave could not be lo­cated af­ter the war and he is re­mem­bered on the Helles Me­mo­rial, Turkey.

James is not the only one of his sib­lings to ap­pear on the St An­drews war me­mo­rial. While his younger brother Robert – my great grand­fa­ther – sur­vived the war when, af­ter a year of be­ing in France, he was dis­charged for be­ing un­der age, an­other brother Thomas Alexan­der died at the end of the Sec­ond World War, aged 36, and is buried in the Moas­car war ceme­tery, Egypt.

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