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Lest We Forget: ‘Farmer had to choose which son to send to war’

With a passion for history, Gillian Chapman creates exhibitions on World War One for the Royal Highland Show. Here she tells her grandfather’s story.


Emily   Ashworth

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Emily   Ashworth
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The heartbreaking story of how one farmer had to choose which son he sent to war

“In 1902 my great-grandfather, William Chapman, took on a farm tenancy in Lanarkshire, Scotland.

 

His two boys, James and my grandad John, worked on the farm as a cattleman and ploughman and were both knowledgeable about Clydesdale horses.

 

In 1916, the Chapman brothers were among the first group of men in the area to be called up via conscription but, like many employees, their father William contested this on the grounds his sons were required for essential work on the land at home.

 

The case was heard on Monday, March 20, 1916, where William went before the tribunal panel and, according to the account published in the Southern Reporter on March 23, 1916, he pleaded his sons could not be spared.

 

The tribunal refuted this argument, suggesting there were plenty of older men or women willing to work but William objected, stating ‘you cannot expect women to plough’.

 

The conclusion was only one son would be exempted and could therefore remain at home, but ordered that William would have to make this heart-breaking decision.

 

John, my grandfather, was chosen, enlisted and assigned to the Royal Field Artillery due to his experience with horses, and sent to the front just a few weeks later, aged 19.

 

Although his medals confirm he actively served on the front line, we know little detail of his time as Gunner 144250.

 

He also fell victim to one of the many gas attacks and always maintained it was the exposure to gas, as well as suffering shell shock, which turned his hair white at such a young age.

 

My grandfather survived and returned home to his life and work, moving with his family to Leadburn Farm in the early 1930s where his father became a tenant farmer.

 

He never spoke of his experiences or about that period in his life and the family still reside at the farm my grandfather moved to down the road, known today as Spylaw.

 

Following his return from the Great War, his health was compromised and he was plagued with bronchial problems for the rest of his life.

 

He passed away in November 1967, aged 71, and is buried in Newlands Cemetery along with his wife, Isabella.”


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