Pte Alex Pirie, 6 Batt Gordon Highlanders

Pte Alexander Pirie, 6th Batt Gordon Highlanders

Alex Pirie was born in the Parish of Glass in 1889 the eldest son of Alexander Pirie and Margaret Barron. His father was a farm servant at Invermarkie and moved to Kennethmont c 1917-18 when he took the tenancy of the farm of Braefolds. His father died there in the late 1920's, his mother subsequently moved into Huntly.

Both are interred at Wallakirk Kirkyard, Glass. There is no headstone, although Mr and Mrs Alexander Pirie are named on a tablet beside a later family headstone.

On joining the Territorials a soldier agreed to be available for home service only and could not be posted overseas unless he volunteered to do so, and even then could only serve in his own unit. When the threat of war came in 1914 most of the Territorial Soldiers of The Gordon Highlanders agreed to serve overseas and thus became available for 'Imperial Service'. These men, including Alex Pirie, were then entitled to wear The Imperial Service Badge.

The Imperial Service Badge
The Imperial Service Badge

As a member of 'H' Company, 6th Battalion ( Donside and Banffshire), Gordon Highlanders (Territorial Force) Alex reported to The Drill Hall in Huntly when the Battalion were mobilised in the evening of 4th August 1914. His company marched by road to Keith where all the companies of the 6th Gordons assembled during 6th-7th August, the men being billeted in the school and in private houses. Organisation completed they left Keith by train on 11th August for Perth. On the 16th they moved on to join The Highland Territorial Brigade in The Highland Division at Bedford and were billeted in private houses in the Bromham Road area of the town with their Headquarters in the Girls High School. For three months they trained and prepared for their eventual move to the Western Front and on 22nd October were reviewed by the King. On 9th Nov 1914 the Battalion journeyed to Southampton by train. That evening at the docks they joined the troopship "Cornishman". They disembarked at Le Havre, France next morning and marched to No1 Reserve Camp on top of the hill behind the town.

On the 13th began the journey up the line ending at St Omer where the General Headquarters of the British Army in France was located. For three weeks they received further training for the trenches while billeted in nearby Blendecques.
On 6th December the 6th Gordons, in 7th Division - 20th Brigade became the first 51st HD battalion to arrive on The Western Front joining up with regulars of the 2nd Gordons, Scots and Grenadier Guards in the trenches in front of Sailly, near Armentieres. Alex's company were the first into the trenches. Four days in the line and four resting in billets to the rear was the usual routine. The battalion were billeted south of the town and much time was spent cleaning up after a tour in the mud swamped trenches.

Cleaning up after trench duty

Members of 6 GH cleaning up after a tour in the trenches, the man shaving still wears the drab apron over his kilt. This was worn to camouflage the kilt and to help keep it clean and dry in the muddy trenches.


On Christmas Day 1914 they witnessed a remarkable event amid the death and destruction - the unofficial Christmas Truce. The truce eventually extended to 3rd January 1915, when normal hostilities resumed.
(Click to view the 6th Battalion account of the truce)

The 6th remained in the Sailly area until 7th March 1915 when they moved to Estaires in readiness for their first action at The Battle of Neuve Chapelle (10th -15th March). The 6th went forward to make an advance at 09.30 on the 13th. Although they gained some ground in the attack they were unable to advance further. The 2nd Gordons came up to assist them but after being pinned down by shell and machine gun fire in No Man's Land for most of the day both units had to fall back under cover of darkness. The 6th suffered very heavy casualties in the initial stages of the action.

This special Order was published by Major-General Capper -
"The Divisional General has now received the reports on the action at Neuve Chapelle during March 10th to 14th. He desires to express his admiration of the gallant conduct of the 6th Battalion Gordon Highlanders on the 13th March. The Battalion made repeated efforts to advance under very heavy fire, and gained a considerable amount of ground. Its conduct was characterised by splendid dash, and was the admiration of the neighbouring battalions. This is the first occasion in which this battalion has taken part in an attack, and it behaved with great spirit and steadiness."

Having survived more than four years on the Western Front Alex was killed in action during the German Spring Offensive over the former Somme and Arras battlefields of 21st - 26th March 1918.
At the opening of this action 6GH in 51st Highland Division were in positions astride the Bapaume-Cambrai road south east of Arras. The battalion diary records they went into trenches on 19th March and are working on trenches near the Boursies - Doignes road next day. On 21st March their trenches were attacked and they were eventually driven back to new defensive positions south of Doignies.

On 25th March, the day he was killed, 6GH were again under fierce attack and fought a rearguard action in the direction of Miraumont. They were finally withdrawn to Sailly-au-Bois.
On March 26th the 51st HD reorganised at Sailly and moved back towards Souastre. The German advance was halted.
An appendix to the diary detailing operations of 21st - 28th March are with the original at PRO, Kew.

Battalion casualties: killed 43, wounded 170, missing 27.

Alexander Pirie has no known grave. His is one of the 35,000 names recorded on The Arras Memorial to the Missing.


Two more men from Kennethmont fell in the same area and also have no known grave.

James Leith, Piperwell fell during the initial assault on 21 March. His name is recorded alongside his Machine Gun Corps comrades on The Memorial to the Missing at Pozieres.
Also recorded at Arras is Alexander's neighbour, John Stewart from Haremyre. He fell on 22nd March, while serving with the 7th Gordons.

1914-1918 Medal Trio The 1914 or Mons Star The British War Medal The Victory Medal
Move mouse over medals to view reverse

Alex Pirie was awarded these medals for serving his King and Country in The Great War.

Having served in the France / Flanders theatre between 5th August and 22nd November 1914 Alexander qualified for the less common 1914 Star (left). It is often referred to as The Mons Star as the majority if it's recipients were members of The British Expeditionary Force and involved in the retreat from Mons to the line of entrenched positions which became The Western Front.
The German Kaiser referred to the BEF as a "contemptible little army ".
It's members later became known as The Old Contemptibles

The British War Medal (centre) and Victory Medal (right) were awarded to all personnel.
The trio were commonly called "Pip, Squeak and Wilfred" after newspaper cartoon characters of the day.


The Next of Kin Memorial Plaque and Scroll

Bronze Memorial Plaque

The Memorial Plaque

This circular bronze plaque, 4.75 inches (120mm) in diameter, was first issued in 1919 to the next of kin of those British and Commonwealth servicemen and women who lost their lives on active service during the Great War. Each one was different in that the commemorated individuals name was embossed in raised letters within a tablet.

The design shows Britannia bestowing a laurel wreath on the rectangular tablet. A lion stands in the foreground, with dolphins above and an oak branch in the lower right. A lion cub clutching a fallen eagle in its jaws decorates the exergue. The wording around the circumference states: HE (or SHE) DIED FOR FREEDOM AND HONOUR.

The final total manufactured is estimated to be in the vicinity of 1,150,000 units, and represented the most universally distributed numismatic work ever cast or struck, excluding money.

Due to some similarity with the old one pence coin it was commonly known as a Dead Man's or Death Penny. The plaques were despatched in stiff card wrapping enclosed within a white envelope bearing the Royal Arms.


The Memorial Scroll and King's letter.

Next of Kin Memorial Scroll

Memorial Scroll - Alex Pirie

The Scroll measures 180 mm by 280 mm and was printed from hand-cut wood blocks, the design and production supervised by the London County Council School of Arts. Printing of the scrolls started in January 1919. The scroll was sent out in a cardboard tube, accompanied by a letter from King George V.

King George V letter

The King's letter to next of kin

The printed covering letter bearing a facsimile of the King's signature.

The memorial plaque and scroll, sometimes embellished by the deceased soldier's war medals, were proudly displayed in hundreds of thousands of homes after the First World War. This represented a link with the Fallen, many of whom had no known grave in the country where they fell.


Memorial Card given to Robert McIntosh, Mains of Craighall




It was the practice of the time to commemorate a death on a Memorial or Death Card. The card on the left is tri-fold and double sided ( both sides shown). It bears a picture of Alex and details of his death and a verse.
They would have been given to family members and friends.

This card was given to Robert McIntosh in the neighbouring farm of Mains of Craighall.

Click on the card it to view a full size image.



Click to view details of contents

Princess Mary's Christmas Gift Box, Christmas 1914.

These were given to all service personel to mark the first Christmas of the Great War. They contained a number of gifts - chocolate, tobacco, cigarettes, matches, etc.

Click on lid to view full details of box lid and it's contents.


Alex Pirie's 1914 Chrismas Box

The 1914 Chrismas Gift Box was made of brass and was 5" long by 3¼" wide by 1¼" deep with a double-skinned, hinged, lid.

These photographs appear on this site by kind permission of his neices and nephew.