Private Alexander Douglas, 1st Batt, Gordon Highlanders

Alexander Douglas , the eldest son of John and Elizabeth Douglas was born at Kirkhill, Kennethmont on 26th May 1890. His father, a farm servant at Netherton, Clatt and then Seggieden, died six years later. Having been called up or by volunteering Alexander enlisted in the 1st Battalion of the Gordon Highlanders at Inverurie. The letter S in his army service number S/11238 indicates his was a wartime enlistment. At that time his widowed mother and her four sons were living at Craigton Cottage. All of them were to join up with the Gordon Highlanders.

Douglas brothers, Kennethmont

Item from The People's Journal, January 1917.

George in 6th Batt, Gordon Highlanders was wounded in action near Bethune, died a Prisoner of War on 11th April 1918 ,and is buried in Tournai Communal Cemetery Allied Extension
Brothers James and John both served with the 6th Batt, Gordon Highlanders and survived the Great War of Nations.

Pte Alexander Douglas
Pte Alexander Douglas

The 1st Battalion Gordon Highlanders, a regular army battalion in the 8th Brigade, 3rd Division, were sent to help defend France and Flanders following the German invasion of Belgium on 4th August 1914. They landed at Boulogne on 14th August 1914 and by forced marches," this contemptible little army " as the German Kaiser scoffingly called the British force, arrived near Mons in Begium on 22nd August. There they lined the Condee - Mons Canal near Nimy Bridge. This salient was to become the main point of the German army thrust at 9am the following morning. Bitter fighting followed in which the Gordons suffered very heavy casualties. At 3pm the 3rd Division was ordered to retire. Then began the long march back to Le Cateau where they were to stand their ground against the invader on the night of 25th August in defensive positions in front of Audencourt and Caudry.
When a general retirement was ordered on the afternoon of 26th August the order failed to reach the Gordons who fought on and were eventually cut off and forced to surrender during the night of the 27th. Although they became prisoners for the duration their action gained time for large numbers of men of the 2nd Army to get away.

It is ironic that same fate was to befall the 1st Gordons again in a similar retreat from Mons at the start of the Second World War in June 1940. There, in the British Expeditionary Force, they fought a rearguard action from Mons back to the French coast which allowed thousands to be evacuated at Dunkirk and other Channel beaches before the entire 51st Highland Division were forced to lay down their arms at St Valery.

Following the disaster at Le Cateau the 1st Gordons were reorganised and was eventually to be joined by Alexander Douglas.

The beginning of 1916 finds the 1st Gordons repeating the routine of trenches and billets south of Ypres in Belgium. From billets in Reninghelst, La Clytte and Locre they moved in and out of trenches at Kemmel and St Eloi. They were relieved at Kemmel at the end of May and rested in billets at Bailleul. On 11th June they begin the combination of exercises and training marches arriving at the final training area at Moulle, Somme on 18th June. The rest of June was spent there training for the attack and musketry practice on the ranges.


Delville Wood 1916

A German shell explodes on Delville Wood 1916

1GH were not involved in the disastrous Somme assaults of July 1st 1916. They were a few miles behind the lines at Franvilliers at this time and from 7th July at Bronfay Farm, Bray-sur-Somme practising assaults night and day. They moved up the line to trenches at Caterpillar Valley near Longueval, so called due to the long narrow caterpillar shaped wood which ran alongside it, on the 13th. They took part in the general attack on the German positions at 3.25 the following day in the sector of front which was to see the fiercest conflict of all.

By the 14th the greater part of Longueval village had been captured.
On 15th July The South African Brigade, attached to the 9th (Scottish) Division, were ordered to clear Delville Wood. Three times the Africans swept through the wood but were driven out by concentrated artillery and machine gun fire. Only 143 of the original 3,150 men came out of the trenches when they were relieved on the 20th.

Delville Wood, Sept 1916

View of part of Delville Wood in September 1916

The 1st Gordons were called upon to attempt the task and at 3.45 on 18th July they stormed Longueval village, the orchard to the north and Delville Wood. They penetrated through the wood to the crest line beyond, falling on the slopes before a raking machine gun fire. They withstood a concentrated bombardment and repulsed repeated counter attacks for 8 hours. Then, having suffered very heavy losses, including Pte Alexander Douglas who was posted " missing in action" , they were forced to withdraw to trenches at the south end of the village.

The Battalion War Diary entry for that day records

18 July - Caterpillar Valley
Day wet in forenoon but clearer later. Moved forward to position of assembly at 2am. Assault took place at 3.45am. Village was successfully carried, but several strong points N of DELVILLE WOOOD remained in enemy's hands. About 4.30 pm the troops were forced to evacuate all but the southern end of the village and wood owing to continuous and intense bombardment lasting some seven hours followed by strong and determined counter- attack. Casualties - 4 officers killed, 7 wounded. 321 other ranks killed, wounded or missing.


They were relieved on 26th July.

The strength of this infamous German position can be gauged by the fact that it was not wholly in British hands until August 25th 1916. Due to the horrors which occurred there as it changed hands many times Delville Wood was known to the soldiers as Devil's Wood.

Alexander Douglas has no known grave and is commemorated with 74,000 other men on the nearby Thiepval Memorial who are also "Missing on the battlefields of the Somme"

Alexander Douglas was awarded these medals for serving his King and Country in The Great War.

British War and Victory Medals
Move mouse over medals to view reverse

The British War Medal (left and Victory Medal (right) were awarded to all personnel.


The British War Medal 1914-1918
The medal takes the form of a solid silver medal with an image of a mounted figure of St George trampling the shield of the central powers with the dates 1914 and 1918 thereon. At the base is a skull and crossbones, symbolic of death, whilst above is the rising sun of victory. The reverse has the coinage head of George V.

Victory Medal 1914 - 1919
It was decided amongst the Allies that a common theme would be adopted and that each country would produce a medal to commemorate the Victory. This medal took various forms according to the country but a common item was the rainbow coloured ribbon. The British medal shows the winged victory on the front holding a palm branch in her right hand with the left outstretched. The reverse has the words "The Great War for Civilisation" surrounded by a laurel wreath.

The pair were affectionately known as "Mutt and Jeff".

The Victory Medal The British War Medal Douglas headstone, Kennethmont Kirkyard

The Douglas family headstone in Kennethont (Old) Kirkyard

~~~~ Alexander died France July 1917 ~~~~

A press report in Jan 1917 states that Alexander had been missing in action since July 18th 1916.
It is assumed these details were added in 1921 when his mother died and the year is a monumental mason's mistake.

Douglas headstone, Kennethmont Kirkyard

The Douglas family grave with the Kennethmont WW1 memorial in the background

Photographed August 2003