Remembrance 2023: Lord Mulholland remembers those in Scotland's legal profession and judiciary who fought in World War One
The fighting retreat by the British Army from Mons to the Marne is now etched in our country’s military history for the feat of arms that it was. The Commonwealth war graves cemetery near Mons at St. Symphorien contains the graves of the first and last British soldiers to be killed in the Great War. The graves there are beautifully tended and the peace and tranquillity, and sadness of the cemetery is palpable.
Remembrance Sunday provides the opportunity for the nation to remember all who made the greatest sacrifice for the freedoms that we enjoy.
Many in the legal profession and judicial office holders fought in the Great War. From Mons to the Marne, Loos, the Somme, Passchendaele, Cambrai and the three battles at Ypres, Gallipoli, the Middle East, the seas and oceans, the air, culminating in the 100 day offensive from Spring 1918 to the breaching of the Hindenburg Line and ultimate victory in November 1918.
The Scots Law Times reported the opening of the legal year in 1914 as follows: “The Court of Session commenced its sittings for the Winter Session on Thursday. All the judges were present, but many familiar faces were missing from the ranks of the Bar, many counsel being absent on active service with His Majesty’s forces.”
The Faculty of Advocates and the WS Society both published lists in 1914 of those among their members who were “employed in the naval or military service of the crown”. These lists were updated through the years. Comparing the 1914 lists side by side with those in 1919 of those returning from service, the difference in length is staggering and shows quite clearly how many young legal minds were lost. The pages of Scots Law Times in this period are full of obituaries for solicitors, law agents, advocates, and young relatives of notable legal professionals.
The early issues include profiles of some of the young professionals who went off to war with messages of support from their friends and colleagues. For example, in the November 1914 profile of Major J.S. Taylor Cameron, an advocate, it ends with: “His many friends are confident he will win laurels in the field in the present campaign, but they are already beginning to look forward to his return to the Parliament House, which, we believe, is not really very far off.”
Thankfully, in this case, the Major did return and passed away in a nursing home in the 1950s, but sadly many of the others featured will not have been so fortunate.
A profile from January 23, 1915 states the late Captain Thomas Todrick, W.S., is believed to be the first Scottish Territorial officer to fall in the war. The first member of Faculty to be killed in action was Mr W.S.S. Lyon.
With regard to judicial office holders, the Scots Law Times reported in 1914 that: “When the Sheriff Courts Act of 1907 was passed, it was not anticipated that Sheriffs-Substitute would be found serving their country on the battlefield, and no provision was made in the measure to enable the Secretary for Scotland to grant them leave of absence or to fill their offices temporarily, except in cases of ill-health. Several Sheriffs-Substitute have, however, taken up military duties, and a Bill has been introduced into Parliament to give the Secretary for Scotland full authority to deal with the situation.”
Captain J. Ogilvie Kemp was a judicial office holder of some note. He is believed to be the first in Scotland to appear in court in uniform.
“In England the judges of the High Court have announced that members of the Bar who are engaged in military service may appear in court in uniform without wig and gown. The precedent has been followed in Scotland, for on Tuesday Mr Ogilvie Kemp appeared before Lord Dewar in uniform.”
There is a report of Mr A. H. Briggs Constable being sworn in as a Sheriff in uniform. It read: “The new Sheriff, who succeeds the late Sheriff M’Lennan, K.C., is at present engaged in military service in connection with recruiting, and he established a precedent by going through the formalities in khaki and without his wig and gown.”
Sheriff Briggs Constable went on to become Lord Constable. His obituary is included in the Scots Law Times for 1928.
Captain J Ogilvie Kemp, referred to above, was profiled in the Scots Law Times issue of the 19th of June 1915, which recorded that: “Among the many members of the Bar who have left the Parliament House to defend their country one of the foremost in point of years and experience is Mr James Ogilvie Kemp.”
Captain Ogilvie Kemp acted as Interim Sheriff-Substitute at Banff for three months before returning to Edinburgh.
Two-and-a-half years after that profile was published, an obituary to the late Captain reads: “We regret to record the death of Captain James Ogilvie Kemp, Royal Scots, which took place on 12th December as the result of an illness contracted while on active service.” The obituary expands on the earlier profile to explain that: “On the outbreak of war, though many years over military age, he at once offered his services, and he received a commission in the Royal Scots in October 1914.”
Another judicial office holder who served was Sheriff Boyd. The Scots Law Times in 1914 reported: “Mr Marcus Dods, advocate, has been appointed an interim Sheriff-Substitute of Lanarkshire, to take the place of Sheriff Boyd, who is at present acting as an Army musketry instructor.”
The next mention of Sheriff Boyd is in March 1918, when he returned to judicial duties in Glasgow, and the Scots Law Times article contains a brief biography of his military career.
Another judicial office holder who served was James Ferguson, K.C. Sheriff of Forfarshire. Sheriff Ferguson died of pleurisy on the 25th of April 1917. The profile does not state that this was as a result of military service, but the portrait chosen is of him in military uniform. The profile states: “When the war broke out his age might well have been deemed to exempt him from further service, but he came forward at once, and for over two years he acted as Colonel in command of the Reserve Battalion of the 9th Royal Scots.”
Second-Lieutenant James Smith Clark had been appointed at an early stage in his career as an Honorary Sheriff-Substitute for Ayrshire and subsequently for Lanarkshire. He frequently presided in the Sheriff Courts of Ayr and Glasgow. As a judge he was characterised by thoroughness and conscientiousness. Sheriff Smith Clark was killed in action on May 3, 1917.
Another judicial office holder killed in action was Captain Alexander Taylor. In 1911, Mr Taylor was appointed Sheriff-Substitute at Forfar. In his obituary it was said: “He proved to be a most efficient Sheriff and gave great satisfaction both to litigants and to the agents who appeared before him. His judgments were always cogent and well reasoned, and it was only on rare occasions that they were submitted to the test of appeal.” Sheriff Taylor was killed in action in April 1917.
It is also worthy of note the war service of three Senators of the College of Justice who served in the Great War, before they were appointed to the bench.
James Gordon McIntyre, who became Lord Sorn on his appointment to the bench in 1944, served with the Ayrshire Yeomanry in Gallipoli, Palestine and France and for his gallantry in action was awarded the Military Cross and Bar and the Croix De Guerre. Shortly before the armistice in 1918 he was seriously wounded losing a leg from a shrapnel injury. He had been shot in the shoulder at Gallipoli.
During the Second World War he organised the running of the Home Guard in the Lothians. One of his most notable cases as an Advocate was to take a case to the House of Lords, which established the right of a member of the Home Guard, below the rank of Sergeant, to be classed as a common soldier so that if he lost his life in service, his estate would be relieved of estate duty.
G.R. Thomson, who became Lord Advocate in 1945, following the election of a Labour government at the end of the Second World War, and Lord Justice Clerk in 1947, had a distinguished war service in the Great War. He joined the army in 1914 and served with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders serving in Egypt, Palestine, and France. He was wounded in action, promoted captain, and mentioned in dispatches.
John Cameron, who became Lord Cameron upon his appointment as a Senator of the College of Justice in 1955, served as a midshipman RNVR in the Great War. He saw service in the Baltic with the Navy and was present when the German High Seas Fleet surrendered in the Forth at the end of the war. When the Second World War began, he found himself at once in service again in the Royal Navy and in a notable career as an officer in the RNVR he was mentioned in despatches in the evacuation of the Army at Dunkirk and in 1944 he won the DSC for his part in the Allied Landings in Normandy. As a judge he presided over many famous criminal trials, including the trial of Peter Manuel.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of those judicial office holders who served in the Great War. But it is a reminder of their service and sacrifice of the many in the legal profession who served their country.
Lest we forget.
- This article was prepared by Lord Mulholland and Supreme Courts Library research librarian Sarah Ragg
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