2nd Lieut Charles Arthur O'Neill Leith Hay of Rannes, RA

2nd Lieut Charles Arthur O'Neill Leith-Hay of Rannes, RA

The Leith Hay family c 1923

Mr and Mrs Leith-Hay with Charlie c 1923

Charles Arthur O'Neill Leith-Hay of Rannes and Leith Hall was born in Edinburgh on 8th May 1918, the only son, of Charles Edward Norman Leith-Hay of Rannes and Leith Hall and Hon Louisa Henrietta Valdivia O'Neill. Their daughters Louisa (b 1908) and Bridget Anne (b 1911) both died in infancy.

The first direct Leith son and heir for over 130 year was named after his father. It is likely he was given the name Arthur after his mother's brother, Captain Arthur Edward Bruce O'Neill who was killed in action near Ypres, Belgium in November 1914 while serving with the 2nd Life Guards. He was the Member of Parliament for Mid Ulster and was the first MP to be killed in the Great War.



Charlie Leith Hay aged 14

Charlie aged 14

Charles was educated at St David's Reigate Prep School, Eton College and in January 1936 he went to the newly established Gordonstoun School, near Elgin. Continuing the family military tradition Charles spent eighteen months at The Royal Military Academy at Greenwich and from Artillery School at Larkhill, Wiltshire was commissioned into the Royal Artillery early in 1939.

When war was declared on 3rd September Charlie was with 91st Battery, 12 Field Regiment, RA at Dunbar. They moved immediately to Redesdale in Northumberland. Much of the area around Redesdale and nearby Otterburn Camps were, and still are, used as artillery ranges and military training areas.


On Saturday September 16th 1939 he met with a motorcycle accident while returning from the nearby town of Bellingham. Captain Gilbert Chaldecott, Adjutant, Royal Artillery, advised the Newcastle Coroner that Charles left the camp around 11.30am and was returning there when the accident happened. It was said locally in Kennethmont that he was returning from visiting a Bank and this may have indeed been the reason for his short visit to the town. It remains unclear whether he was on personal or military business at the time.

A witness, William Beattie, Postman was returning to Bellingham on his bicycle when he met a motorcycle near the Sandysyke junction which he states was travelling North on the Bellingham - Otterburn road at moderate speed on the correct side of the road. Hearing a noise after he passed which sounded as if part of the machine was touching the road Beattie turned round and saw, about 15 yards from him, the rear of the machine appear to lift and the officer being thrown against a stone roadside wall. He went back and found Charlie lying on the grass verge against the wall. He was unconscious and bleeding slightly from the left ear. He rendered such first aid as he could before telephoning for a doctor. Dr Rochester of Bellingham attended the scene.

Police Sgt James Stoker of Bellingham arrived around mid day and found Charlie lying on the grass being attended by Dr Rochester. He examined the Norton motorcycle, number PMD 978, and found the headlamp broken and the front foot rest and number plate bent. He states the engine was in good running order and the brakes were good.
He further states that Charles was wearing a heavy Mackintosh and that it's left hand bottom front corner was very badly torn. He came to the conclusion that the coat had caught in the rear wheel, locked it, caused the machine to overturn, skid diagonally across the road and crash into the stone wall.

Plan of accident scene near Otterburn

Sgt Stoker's drawing of the accident scene.
Click to view larger version, slow download (60k)

Charles, accompanied by Captain Chaldecott, was taken to The Royal Victoria Hospital, Newcastle in an Army wagon and admitted at 3.35pm. The doctors report to the Coroner states that he had no gross external injuries but some bleeding from the left ear and that this and his general condition indicated a skull fracture and brain laceration. He writes that a motor accident would have caused the injuries he was suffering from.

The Laird of Leith Hall died of his injuries without regaining consciousness at 4.05pm.

The funeral took place on Wednesday 27th September. A very large gathering attended the service at Leith Hall. His coffin, covered by a Leith tartan cloth and a Union flag, was carried to the churchyard on a horse drawn cart, the wreaths and tributes completely covering a second cart. Mrs Leith-Hay led the sad procession of mourners following the coffin the two miles to the churchyard. Large numbers of local people lined the road through Kirkhill. This was to be her second such journey in the space of four months, she and Charlie, having led the mourners at the funeral of her husband in May.

He did not have a Military Funeral, the graveside service was carried out by the parish minister Rev RGB Miller. He was laid to rest in the family burial vault within the walls of the old kirk of Kinnethmont
Charles was the 23rd Chief of the House of Leith and last Laird of Leith Hall for only a few months. On his untimely death the main family line of Leith Hall was ended forever.

Following the tragedy Mrs Leith Hay decided to keep Leith Hall and it's Leith-Hay connection alive by passing the House to The National Trust for Scotland. This she did in 1948. She continued to live at Leith Hall until her death in 1965.

Kinnethmont Kirk

The Leith-Hay family burial ground is contained within the walls of the old Kirk of Kinnethmont. The Kirk ceased to be used as a place of worship when the new church was built opposite the school in 1812.
The centre memorial (below left) incorporating a cross made of three individual crosses, taken from the Leith coat of arms, bears the details of Charles and his parents. The one to the right, in the form of a Celtic cross, (below right) is a memorial to his sisters Louisa and Bridget Anne who died in infancy.


The Leith Hay family headstone

Edward Norman
of Rannes
D.L. J.P.
1858 - 1939

Arthur O'Neill
of Rannes
2nd Lieut R.A.
1918 - 1939


Henrietta Leith-Hay of Rannes
1879 - 1965


Louisa & Bridget Ann Leith-Hay

daughter of
Charles & Henrietta Leith-Hay
died 22nd March 1908 aged 12 days
'Suffer little children to come unto me
for of such is the Kingdom of Heaven'

Bridget Anne
second daughter of Charles & Henrietta Leith-Hay
died 1st July 1911 aged 12 days

In Loving Memory

Leith Hay Memorial Tablet

This memorial tablet in memory of Charles Leith Hay and his parents was located on the wall behind the Leith-Hay family pews in Kennethmont Parish Church.

The Leith Hay coat of arms

The Leith Family motto

Photographed April 2001