Lustleigh War Memorial – Hugh Douglas Livingstone

Glasgow, Lustleigh and Toronto have rarely, if ever, been written in the same sentence, but they form the backdrop to the story of Hugh Douglas Livingstone who perished on the French battlefields on 27th July 1918. It is also a story which throws up some tantalising questions which, for now, remain unanswered.

Douglas, as he was commonly known, was born in Glasgow in 1885 and moved to Lustleigh with his family, probably when he was just two years old. It is believed to be the shiny ore mines of the Wrey Valley which lured his father, Alexander, south of the border: by 1892, he was Chief Agent at Plumley Mine, but he may have been involved in Kelly Mine when he first arrived. It has been suggested that the relocation was through a connection with Scottish businessman, James Dick, who had an interest in Plumley Mine, and perhaps Kelly too. It was very likely a strong connection, possibly even a close friendship, considering that when Alexander’s 6th child was baptised in Lustleigh church in 1894 he was given the name James Dick Livingstone.

Hugh Douglas Livingstone, in front of his father, and with the rest of his family at Shaptor Rock, c1895

Douglas attended Lustleigh Board School where his father was clerk and he was clearly a star pupil, reaching the unusual heights of 7th Standard before moving on to Torquay Grammar School. Perhaps this is not a total surprise considering that this was clearly a very bright family as is suggested by Alexander’s profession and the role of Douglas’ elder brother William during WW1 as an intelligence officer in Africa.

Sadly, Alexander was struck down in 1897 following a long illness, possibly pneumonia or ‘miner’s lung’, which were occupational hazards in his line of work. Suddenly, his wife, Margaret, found herself as a single parent with six children to care for. One daughter, Annie, just short of her tenth birthday, moved to Scotland to live with her eldest brother and aunt while the rest of the family moved to Bovey Tracey where accommodation was found in the Town Hall, and where Margaret became caretaker of the armoury for the town’s Territorial Force soldiers (part of the 5th Devonshires).

It is likely that Douglas remained in the family home for a while to help his mother look after his younger siblings, but when they became more self-sufficient he moved to London and became a civil servant. It is here where two of the most intriguing aspects of his life remain unanswered.

In the November of 1911, in the parish church of North Brixton, Douglas married Margaret Macaulay Gray. Sharing, as she did, the same middle name as his mother, it is highly likely that they descend from the same clan. Certainly, his family has a proud tradition of retaining family names: Douglas, himself, taking his mother’s maiden name. There was also another child, born in Lustleigh, but who died aged just 5 months who had been baptised Macaulay Livingstone. It is almost inconceivable that there wasn’t a link between the two women in his life, but it is a conjecture which remains to be proven.

The second puzzle about this stage of Douglas’ life was his decision in February 1914, less than two years after the birth of his first son, Alexander Douglas Livingstone, to set sail for Halifax with the view of settling in Canada. Although his travelling alone could be explained by going ahead to prepare for the intended later arrival of his wife and child, why did he want to exchange a stable, well-paid job to become a farm labourer? Or was this simply a clerical error in the ship’s passenger log? With the First World War interrupting his plans, we shall never know his original intentions.

On 20th January 1915, Douglas presented himself at a recruitment office in Toronto to sign up for service in the Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Force, disclosing on the attestation form that prior to leaving England, he had seven years’ experience with the London Rifles.

Initially appointed sapper in the Canadian Engineering Training Depot, he was soon on a ship back to England and found himself moving around various locations including Tidworth Barracks near Salisbury Plain, but principally Shorncliffe Army Camp in Kent.  During his first month, he was made Acting Lance Corporal and in May he was promoted to 2nd Corporal Orderly Room Clerk. In October, he was mobilised to France and by the end of the year he had been elevated to the rank of Sergeant as Engineers Clerk in the 4th Field Company, Canadian Engineers.

Douglas’ service record indicates that he was regularly being moved around to different parts of the Canadian contingent, sometimes in France and other times back in England, such as a few months in the middle of 1917, when he was stationed at the Canadian Military School in Crowborough, East Sussex. The birth of a second child, David James Livingstone in 1917, suggests that he was occasionally granted leave; it was certainly recorded that he had 14 days leave to the U.K. in March 1918 which lead to the birth of a daughter, Margaret, five months after his tragic end.

It is unclear precisely when Douglas returned to France, but in July 1918 he found himself at Anzin; by now, he was a Lieutenant in the 2nd Battalion, Canadian Infantry (Eastern Ontario Regiment) and was making preparations to advance to the front line.

On July 23rd, his battalion travelled by train to Neuville-Vitasse on the outskirts of Arras, the following day proceeding to the trenches at Wailly Wood Camp. They experienced low levels of activity over the next few days, with very little shelling and aerial activity hampered by the weather, so their efforts were mainly directed towards repairing and deepening trenches and other defences. In such mundane circumstances, it is particularly unfortunate that during one of the tours, while in charge of a wiring party, Lieut. H.D. Livingstone received a machine-gun bullet to the chest and right arm at 1.30 in the morning, with his death being reported 45 minutes later.

Today, his body rests just yards from where he fell, in the Wailly Orchard Cemetery which was started in May 1916 by the Liverpool battalions of the 55th (West Lancashire) Division, as a front-line cemetery, but considerably enlarged between March and August 1918 by the Canadian and other units defending the Third Army front. He is, of course, remembered on the Lustleigh war memorial.

Hugh Douglas Livingstone will be remembered on Friday 27th July when the Bell Ringers will sound a half-muffled peel in his honour.

Chris Wilson

As well as particular thanks to Nick Walter of Kelly Mine Preservation Society, who provided much information, other sources to be acknowledged include:

  • In the Footstep of the Victorians
  • The Clan MacLea/Livingstone Forum
  • Ancestry & FindMyPast
  • Kelly Mine and the ‘Shiny Ore’ Mines of the Wray Valley
  • Commonwealth War Graves Commission

Lustleigh War Memorial – Leonard Wright

The summer of 1913 has been written up, by various columnists and others, as the last golden summer; with the horrors yet to come furthest from most people’s minds, attitudes were carefree and good times were had by many. They were certainly had by Leonard Wright who, alongside Percy Brimblecombe (see last month’s issue) enjoyed the glorious September weather at camp on Berry Head, Torbay with Lustleigh Scouts.

A “most enjoyable week’s camp” was had by all involved: taking part and winning their rifle match against the Torquay Scouts; being shown over a newly-built Brixham Trawler; enjoying evening songs and yarns around the camp fire; being treated to a display of rocket and life-saving equipment by the Brixham Scouts on the last evening. No doubt, Leonard was pleased to be sharing the moment with his cousin, and possibly best friend, Percy Bunclark, the Scout’s Patrol Leader.

Lustleigh Parish Magazine recorded the event, saying that it will “be long remembered by all who were fortunate enough to take part in it”. Less than a year later, though, Leonard and his cousin were at a camp of a different sort – on Salisbury Plain readying for war.

Leonard had been born in Lustleigh in March 1897; originally, the family was living at Brookfield, but by the time Leonard entered Lustleigh Primary School in 1900, they had moved to Moorwood on the Moretonhampstead road. At this point, Leonard had only one other sibling, Bessie, who was two years his senior; four years later, brother Cecil arrived on the scene.

The family unit was due to swell again in 1907, but his mother died, quite possibly in childbirth as new brother Reginald is recorded as being born and dying around the same time. It would appear that Leonard’s father, William, at least initially, tried to continue to raise their three children on his own, but found himself increasingly unable to cope. First, he sent Bessie to live with her aunt who ran a lodging house in Bovey Tracey; then, the following year, Leonard was being schooled in Drewsteignton while perhaps living with his cousin, Percy.

When he left school, Leonard was temporarily re-united with his father, working together as gardeners in Pethybridge. But then the call of war came and arm-in-arm with his cousin, Percy, he went to Moretonhampstead to enlist into the 1/5th (Prince of Wales’s) Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment. In October 1914, following the training camp on Salisbury Plain, they were sent to India where they spent two years at Multan. In March 1917, they left for Egypt and in June they crossed into Palestine where General Allenby was planning to capture Jerusalem by Christmas.

By the time the battalion was ordered to France in May 1918, Leonard’s battalion had encountered many ferocious battles, losing significant numbers of men; unfortunately, the change of theatre was not to bring about a change in fortunes.

The 5th Devonshires’ route to the Western front was a long one, working their way back through Egypt to Alexandria, then setting sail for Marseilles, landing there on June 1st. Following a train journey across the length of the country, they joined the 185th Brigade, 62nd (West Riding) Division at Mondicourt in the Pas-de-Calais department. The Battalion saw some comparatively light engagements during June before receiving the welcome relief of two weeks training at the beginning of July, but it proved to be the lull before the storm.

Orders then came to take part on what was to become one of the battalion’s most important actions in its Great War history: along with the rest of the Brigade, it was to join the French Army on the front line at Marne, to deal a blow to the enemy which proved to be the last major German offensive on the Western Front. The ensuing victory marked the start of the relentless Allied advance which culminated in the Armistice with Germany about 100 days later.

It was at 8pm on July 19th that Leonard’s battalion commander received his instructions on their tasks for the following day. By 8am, they were on the move encountering heavy enemy barrage as they made their way through the woods south-west of Reims. Although they reached their objective by 11.30pm, it was at the cost of over 200 casualties including the loss of 2 officers and 34 other ranks; as the battalion commander recorded “the operation was a good deal hampered as the enemy put down a hostile barrage, mistaking our stretcher parties for attacking troops”.

Unfortunately, Leonard was one of those stretcher bearers and was killed by an explosive bullet while carrying out his duty, thereby falling in similar circumstance to another cousin, George Bunclark (Percy’s brother) in Salonika the previous year. Percy, who was also a stretcher-bearer, mercifully survived this action, although he was gassed about a week later during the same campaign, but not before attending Leonard’s burial, possibly at Ecueil Farm Military Cemetery.

Such was the significance of the action at Marne, that the commander of the 5th French Army wrote a letter thanking the British army for their part in the “victorious counter attack which had just stopped the enemy’s furious onslaught on the Marne”. Paying his own tribute the following month, the commander of the 62nd (West Riding) Division wrote to the Devonshire Territorial Association in Exeter to record the worthy part that “the men of fine physique, soldierly bearing and splendid courage” played in the Great Battle of the Marne.

When the tragic news of Leonard’s death reached Lustleigh, it must have come as a particularly hard blow to his father, who was instead expecting news of Leonard’s return home for his first leave since departing for India four years earlier. Although not immediately, but perhaps later, his father was able to take comfort in the knowledge that his son had played a role in one of the turning points in the war, the beginning of the end, as Churchill would have put it.

“He was but a boy when he left Lustleigh to fight as a volunteer for his country”, recalled the Parish Magazine of September 1918”, “but all who remember him speak highly and with feeling of him. May he rest in peace. His record on earth is all honourable.”

Leonard rests in peace in Jonchery-sur-Vesle British Cemetery, west of Reims, where his body, along with many others, was reinterred after the armistice. His part in the war, and his sacrifice, is of course also remembered on the Lustleigh War Memorial.

Leonard Wright will be remembered on Friday 20th July when the Bell Ringers will sound a half-muffled peel in his honour.

Chris Wilson

 Sources used in compiling this story have included:

  • Commonwealth War Graves Commission
  • Ancestry & FindMyPast
  • Wikipedia
  • Lustleigh Parish Magazine
  • Lustleigh and the First World War
  • The Keep Military Museum