To­day I hon­our my grand­fa­ther, the aris­to­crat who fought and died with his men


ON this centenary Ar­mistice Day an­niver­sary, I will be amongst the mil­lions of other fam­i­lies across the United King­dom and the Com­mon­wealth who have lost loved ones. I will re­mem­ber three of my re­la­tions who died in the Great War. In par­tic­u­lar, how­ever, I will be think­ing about my grand­fa­ther, Cap­tain The Hon. Fer­gus Bowes Lyon, who was killed in the Bat­tle of Loos on Septem­ber 27, 1915, aged 26.

He was the fourth son of the 14th Earl of Strath­more, and his youngest sis­ter, El­iz­a­beth, later be­came the Queen Mother.

On her wed­ding day to the fu­ture King Ge­orge VI in 1923, the Queen Mother, who was 15 when Fer­gus died, laid her bou­quet on the Grave of the Un­known War­rior in West­min­ster Abbey. It is thought she did so in mem­ory of her brother, and it is a tra­di­tion that has been fol­lowed by sub­se­quent Royal brides.

My mother, Rose­mary Luisa Bowes Lyon, was just two months old when her fa­ther was killed and I have al­ways felt it was a great pity that she was never given the chance to get to know him.

I feel it is ex­traor­di­nar­ily lucky that the cur­rent gen­er­a­tion have not had to en­dure any­thing like it. To think that so many young men went off to war and never came home to their fam­i­lies is un­be­liev­ably sad.

It is only in the past few years, since I have been do­ing some re­search, that I have been able to learn more about my grand­fa­ther’s short life and un­timely death.

Fer­gus was born in 1889, ed­u­cated at Lud­grove and Eton, and later served in the 2nd Black Watch in In­dia from 1911 to 1914.

Very keen from an early age on all as­pects of wildlife, through­out this time abroad he fre­quently wrote to his par­ents and si­b­lings, par­tic­u­larly his mother, Ce­cilia, Count­ess of Strath­more, of­ten de­scrib­ing the scenery and flowers as well as com­ment­ing on cur­rent af­fairs.

In 1914, he de­cided with regret to leave the Army, telling his mother: ‘I ex­pect I should even­tu­ally make a mod­est for­tune out of dairy farm­ing close to Lon­don or some­thing akin to it... I am look­ing for­ward to City life with hor­ror...Ugh!’

Within weeks, how­ever, at the out­break of war, he re-en­listed with the 8th Black Watch. On Septem­ber 17, 1914, he mar­ried Lady Chris­tian Daw­son-Damer, daugh­ter of the 5th Earl of Por­tar­ling­ton, and on July 18, 1915, they had a daugh­ter, Rose­mary, my mother.

Fer­gus went to Glamis on leave for five days in Au­gust to see his young daugh­ter but was, trag­i­cally, killed shortly af­ter his re­turn to the front.

The 8th Black Watch War Di­ary states: ‘The en­emy were seen to be bomb­ing our men and about 8.30am Col. Cameron of Lochiel or­dered a force of 70 Black Watch and 30 Camerons un­der Capt. The Hon Fer­gus Bowes Lyon to go to the re­doubt and rally any men who were seen to re­tire.

‘Capt. Bowes Lyon was killed up there at about 10.30am by bombs but the en­emy were pre­vented from ad­vanc­ing any fur­ther.’

His name is on the Loos Me­mo­rial to the Miss­ing and un­til re­cently he did not have a head­stone. In 2011, how­ever, Jean-Luc Glo­ri­ant, a French his­to­rian who lives on the bat­tle­field site at Auchy-les-Mines, con­tacted my fam­ily with the help of an English his­to­rian, Christo­pher Bai­ley, to say he thought he had found Fer­gus’s grave (marked as an Un­known Of­fi­cer) in the Quarry Ceme­tery at Ver­melles.

HIS rea­son­ing was that no other of­fi­cer is buried in this ceme­tery, no other Black Watch sol­dier is there and other of­fi­cers killed that day were buried else­where or never found. So my wife, Jane, and I went out to meet him.

I con­tacted the Com­mon­wealth War Graves Com­mis­sion to ask what records they had and sub­mit­ted copies of let­ters from the Glamis ar­chives, as well as a let­ter from the Di­rec­tor of Graves Reg­is­tra­tion, re­ceived by Fer­gus’s mother, which con­firmed that he had been buried in the Quarry Ceme­tery.

In 2015, the centenary of his death, my sis­ter Anne and I, our fam­i­lies and Fer­gus’s nephew, Albe­marle Bowes Lyon, vis­ited the grave. Amaz­ingly, just as we ar­rived, a covey of 16 English grey par­tridges flew right be­side us.

We took with us a wreath of heather from Glamis, which we placed on what we be­lieve to be his grave, and one of roses and this­tles for the head­stone with his name.

Now, on every Re­mem­brance Day, we send two Royal Bri­tish Le­gion wreaths – which Jean-Luc Glo­ri­ant lays on each grave.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.