Family’s ultimate sacrifice for king and country
Of the seven Cranston brothers who left East Lothian to serve their country in the First World War, just three survived.
But although their fate echoes the storyline of the war film Saving Private Ryan, their heroism has never been immortalised.
Now a descendant of the Cranstons is launching a campaign to commemorate the family’s bravery and loss.
Stuart Pearson, from Sydney, great-grandson of the brothers’ mother, Elizabeth, is travelling to Scotland to present his case for a dedicated memorial in Haddington.
“As we near the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War, I hope that a memorial to the Cranston family could become a metaphor for every Scottish family’s loss during that terrible event,” he said.
Mr Pearson is also working with local author and historian Bob Mitchell to write a book about the family’s fate.
Mr Mitchell said: “The Cranstons’ story is a powerful and heart-rending one. Though large, the family was in many ways typical of its time and the sons’ willingness to sacrifice all for king and country was mirrored throughout the land.”
The family’s tragic tale started three years before the outbreak of war in 1911 when Alexander Cranston died of cancer, leaving wife Elizabeth to raise their 11 surviving children.
When war broke out the brothers enlisted and in 1916 Elizabeth lost three of her cherished sons. James, 28, a sapper in the Royal Engineers, died from tuberculosis contracted while still in England for basic training. He fell ill while living in cold, cramped army barracks.
John, 34, a Company Sgt. Major in the Queens Own Cameron Highlanders, died under a barrage of shellfire in the 1st Battle of the Somme. He posthumously received a Distinguished Conduct Medal for “conspicuous bravery under fire”.
Then Adam, 30, a private in the Royal Scots Fusiliers, was listed as missing presumed killed in action in France at the Battle of Ancre where 100,000 soldiers marched straight into the teeth of deadly accurate German machine guns.
In 1918, the oldest brother, Sergeant Alexander Cranston, 39, of the Royal Engineers, was posted “missing, presumed killed” at the 2nd Battle of the Somme.
Two of the three surviving brothers were left scarred for life.
William, a talented violinist, lost an eye and three fingers under fire in France, while Lance Corporal George Cranston of the 8th Royal Scots was so severely gassed in 1918 that his skin would periodically peel off throughout the rest of his life.
After the war, Elizabeth moved to Sydney in Australia to start a new life but the distraught Scots mother never came to terms with her devastating loss.
She lived out her days in a mental hospital and was frequently seen standing on the platform at a nearby railway station, telling travellers she was “waiting for my boys to come home”.
Meanwhile her youngest son, Angus, who was too young to serve in the First World War, suffered “survivor guilt” after serving in World War Two and became an alcoholic.
Mr Mitchell added: “Elizabeth Cranston’s heartbreak was shared by the millions of mothers on both sides of the conflict and in all conflicts since. Only the scale is different and the combined suffering of the Cranstons is difficult to fathom or quantify. Their loss is symbolic of humanity’s loss.”
Haddington Community Council said it would be happy to meet Mr Pearson to discuss a memorial. However, council chair Jan Wilson was cautious about providing a dedicated memorial for one family in case it “overshadowed” other families’ losses during the war.