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Project honours Scotland’s First World War dead

Pipers and drummers from the 7th Battalion. Picture: Gordon Highlanders Museum

Pipers and drummers from the 7th Battalion. Picture: Gordon Highlanders Museum

  • by MIKE MERRITT
 

Prince Charles has chosen a 20-year-old former royal servant from Deeside who never returned from the Western Front to be a focal point for a major project honouring Scotland’s First World War dead.

The prince selected Private Robert Duguid, who had been a labourer at Birkhall on the Royals’ Balmoral Estate, as someone who was “typical” of those who made the ultimate sacrifice in the conflict.

Pte Duguid’s name is read each Remembrance Sunday along with those of 27 other First World War dead on the Crathie War Memorial between Balmoral Castle and Crathie Kirk, where the Royal Family worship.

He enlisted in the 7th (Dee-side) Battalion The Gordon Highlanders at Banchory in March 1915. The Highlanders saw some of the fiercest fighting of the conflict including at the Somme, Ypres and Ancre.

Still a teenager, Pte Duguid arrived in France eight months after enlisting and was killed in action at Arras on 29 May, 1917. How he died is unclear.

The prince was sent nine names from the Crathie War Memorial as part of a project by the charity Glen Art to honour Scottish First World War veterans during this year’s centenary commemorations.

Charles was particularly moved by the story of Pte Duguid, who was born at Glenmuick on 20 January 1897, the son of George and Mary Duguid of Ballater. The local community helped research Pte Duguid’s background and history for the project Voices of the First World War, which will tour Scotland later this year featuring a local soldier in each area. He will be the focus when the project comes to the Balmoral area.

A spokeswoman for the prince said: “HRH has selected Private Robert Duguid from the Crathie War Memorial, who was a woods labourer at Birkhall.

“One of the aims of the performances during the Glen Art’s Scottish tour is for the audience to learn about the immense bravery of their local servicemen and women who served their country.

“Private Duguid is typical of so many young men from rural Scotland who made the ultimate sacrifice – and whose final resting place has sadly never been found.”

Pte Duguid is noted in the “War Service Roll of the Members of the Royal Households and Estate of the King and the Queen” and is also commemorated on the Arras Memorial in France.

But finding his final resting place is an almost impossible task. The scale of casualties in the war was unprecedented, with thousands of soldiers buried on the battlefields in individual or communal graves by their comrades. They were often buried where they fell in action and in many cases it was impossible to find a complete body for burial.

The Crathie War Memorial, decorated with a Celtic cross and sword, was unveiled by King George V in September 1922 and is dedicated to men from Balmoral killed in the conflict.

“Most of these men would have known King George V personally and later the Queen Mother,” said the Rev Kenneth MacKenzie, domestic chaplain to the Queen and minister for Crathie Kirk. “The gamekeepers and stalkers were particularly highly regarded by the military because of their skills.

“I am sure the prince would have chosen Private Duguid because of the Birkhall connection. The prince knows many of the families that work on the estate.”

Opera singer Fiona MacDonald, who runs Glen Art, named the charity after her great aunt Mary McKinnon who served as a nurse and was killed on the Glenart Castle, a hospital ship that was torpedoed in 1918.

 

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