Revealed: Scot who went to war on Boxing Day 1914

Pte. John Clapperton, a butcher from Leith, signed up on Boxing Day 1914. Picture: Contributed
Pte. John Clapperton, a butcher from Leith, signed up on Boxing Day 1914. Picture: Contributed
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MANY believed the First World War would be over by Christmas 1914 – but for one Scottish butcher who signed up a century ago today, the struggles were just beginning.

Private John Clapperton, from Leith, would go on to lose an arm in the conflict, an injury that probably saved his life as the fighting intensified.

His story has been unearthed by archivists after the discovery of his certificate of registration with the British Army, which was issued on Boxing Day 1914.

The 20-year-old left behind his parents, George and Mary Clapperton, and their home in Dalmeny Street, to join up.

It was a path followed by 650,000 fellow Scots who fought in the war. Unlike more than 100,000 of them who never returned from the front, Pte Clapperton was lucky to survive.

He was badly wounded fighting in France in 1918 and had to have his right arm amputated in a field hospital, before returning to Scotland the following year.


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Culture secretary Fiona Hyslop said: “John’s is a story that will be familiar to many whose fathers, grandfathers, uncles and brothers went off to battle a century ago.

“No home, workplace or community was left untouched by the brutal effects of that war, leaving John’s family, and families across Scotland, with no option but to come to terms with the devastating consequences.

“The document is one of millions proudly preserved in our national archive by National Records of Scotland. Its discovery demonstrates the rich heritage of Scotland’s people and shows how powerfully archives connect us directly to people and events in our past.”

The discovery of the certificate, “of a man who is willing to serve his King and Country as a Soldier for the War”, prompted record keepers at National Records of Scotland to find out more about Pte Clapperton’s First World War story.

By 13 January, 1915, the 20-year-old butcher had formally enlisted in the army and he went on to serve in the 9th Battalion, Royal Scots Regiment, then the 12th Machine Gun Corps. He was sent on active service to France after three years stationed in Kilmarnock and Grantham.

The loss of his arm prevented Pte Clapperton from completing his duties overseas and forced his return across the Channel. He was treated at hospitals in Reading and Edinburgh.

Pte Clapperton was formally discharged from the army in February 1919.

Archivists were able to establish that he returned to Leith, married Catherine Martin in 1941 and died in 1966, aged 71.

A programme of events is being held in Scotland all the way until 2019 to commemorate the centenary of the First World War – although fighting ended with the Armistice in November 1918, the war did not officially end until the Treaty of Versailles was signed in 1919.

Thousands of people came together in August to commemorate the outbreak of the First World War with a drumhead service at Edinburgh Castle.

But a row broke out earlier in the year over official plans to commemorate the outbreak of the conflict, with claims the Scottish Government’s proposals were a “whitewash”.

Alternative plans were drawn up by a think tank amid concerns that the official programmes were dominated by “establishment and military” figures. The Jimmy Reid Foundation claimed not enough consideration was given to the justification for the conflict and to the stance taken by conscientious objectors.

The Scottish Government insisted last week that official plans, which are due to begin with an event at Edinburgh Castle in August next year, would be a “commemoration not a celebration”.


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