Brothers who died in one day of war

IT WAS a tragedy that encapsulates the sacrifice of the Great War. Three brothers, sent to fight with different regiments, all killed on the same day in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles.

James, Matthew and Robert Mochrie, from Kilbirnie, Ayrshire, died separately, fighting on the opening day of the Battle of Loos on 25 September, 1915.

A fourth brother, Andrew, survived but died in battle a year later, and all four names appear in bronze, along with 155 others, on the village war memorial.

Long forgotten, the tragic story of the Mochrie brothers has now been revealed by a local historian.

Kevin O'Neill, an amateur historian who was living in the village and spent seven years researching the military details of the 159 fallen soldiers, said: "The memorial, unveiled in 1922, only mentions the names and regiments of those who fell. I wanted to give them some recognition for their sacrifice.

"But when I cross-referenced the names with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and researched their families, I discovered the tragedy of the Mochrie brothers.

"For three brothers to fight in different regiments but to die on the same day is an extraordinary tragedy. I cannot find evidence of a similar event happening anywhere else.

"None of the brothers has a grave. Their story was simply lost in history."

The eldest, Private Robert Mochrie, was in the 6th Battalion Royal Scots Fusiliers. Sgt James Mochrie fought in the 2nd Battalion Gordon Highlanders, and Private Matthew Mochrie was in the 9th Battalion Scottish Rifles – the Cameronians.

Their brother Andrew, another Cameronian, was killed in action on 9 June, 1917, on the battlefields around Arras.

Mr O'Neill, 41, who now lives in Stoke- on-Trent, said: "My research shows that Andrew fought at Loos but survived, only to be told of his brothers' fate.

"It was confirmed to him only after his parents received letters relaying the tragic news back to their home in Kilbirnie.

"Their mother's heart was broken," said Mr O'Neill. "Andrew was then killed at the Battle of Arras.

"A fifth brother, who was aboard a minesweeper during the war, survived, as did a sister who was a Red Cross nurse."

Mr O'Neill said he had visited the war memorial at the battlefield, but no graves of the men existed.

Paul Lee, director of the Centre of Battlefield Studies at Glasgow University, said: "This is a shocking incident. Certainly, you would get instances where older brothers were killed, only to be replaced by their younger siblings.

"There were efforts to reduce the risk of families suffering multiple casualties, but in real terms it was very difficult to do.

"At one point, the high command established pals brigades, consisting of friends and workmates from the same place, because they thought it would help morale. Unfortunately, they realised it had the opposite effect when the soldiers started seeing their friends getting killed beside them."

KILTED SOLDIERS HANGING FROM THE BARBED WIRE

THE Battle of Loos was one of the major British offensives mounted on the Western Front in 1915.

It marked the first time the British used poison gas during the war, and witnessed the first large-scale use of new army or "Kitchener's army" units. More Scots regiments fought at Loos than in any other battle in history.

Afterwards, it is said it was possible to see exactly the lines in which the regiments charged, from the columns of bodies in distinctive kilts trapped in German barbed wire.

The first day of fighting brought British success as they broke through German trenches and captured the town of Loos.

But a series of failures over the following days saw the British retreat to starting positions, suffering more than 20,000 casualties.

Among the British dead were Fergus Bowes-Lyon, brother to the Queen Mother, Rudyard Kipling's son, John, and the poet Charles Sorley.

The poet Robert Graves survived to describe the battle and succeeding days in his autobiography.

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