Tracing the biography of a forgotten World War One soldier.

In 2014, ABF The Soldiers’ Charity launched the first Frontline Walk to commemorate the First World War centenary and raise funds to support today’s soldiers. Since then, hundreds of people have taken part in The Frontline Walk. They consist of an incredible mix of individuals, each with their own reasons for joining the Walk – some with a keen interest in the First World War, some simply enthusiastic walkers, and some serving and retired soldiers.

Many of the Frontline Walk participants have stories of relatives who fought in WWI. Here, Frontline Walker Sara delves into the archives to find out more about her great grandfather’s story.

William Brough

A newspaper cutting announcing the death of William Brough, AKA ‘Jimmy Morgan’. It praises his skill at playing the mouth-organ, saying that ‘many a weary and trying hour he lightened with his music’, lamenting that after his death, ‘the music with which he cheered his comrades will be heard no more.’

William Brough was born on 20 May 1884, at Temple Lane, Dundee. He fought and died on the Western Front – but little is known of the details of his life. We took a microscope to the past to see what we could dig up on this stalwart soldier of the Black Watch.

The earliest traces of William Brough’s life show that in 1891 (according to census data) Brough and his family were still living in Temple Lane, Dundee. William was six years old at the time, and had an older brother, David who was nine-years-old, and two younger siblings, Agnes (aged two) and Charles (aged nine months).

The 1901 census reveals that ten years later, William was still living at Temple Lane, but had found work as a farmyard labourer.  His elder brother David was an apprentice glazier, whilst Agnes and Charles were at school – as are the 4 further additions to his family: Jessie (seven), Robert (five), John (two), and George (one).

Aged 20, William married Isabella Duncan in 1905.  He was now working as a tanner’s labourer, and Isabella worked as a jute-spinner in one of Dundee’s many jute mills. This was not to be William’s first career change – before joining up to fight in the Great War, he was employed as a foundry worker in a jute mill, and later as a dockyard labourer.

On 24 February 1915, William signed up, leaving his wife and their four children in Scotland.  This is where details become patchy, but it appears that he signed up for a ‘territorial force battalion’, army number 6359.  He then moved into the 4th Battalion of the Black Watch, which later merged with the 5th and formed the 9th Battalion of the Black Watch. His army number was 202258.

There are fairly detailed accounts of the movements of the 9th Battalion, but prior to that, it is difficult to ascertain where Lance Corporal William Brough was in France. As far as we can make out, he fought and survived the Battle of Loos, The Battle of the Somme, and Arras.  After Arras, the Battalion moved towards Ypres and began preparations for what would become the 3rd Battle of Ypres, Passchendaele.

There is slight confusion in military records as to what actually happened to William at this point. Several sources state that he was killed in action on 30 July 1917, however the Black Watch diaries only register a casualty that day. We can only assume that he died soon afterwards.  Despite being the day before the official start date of Passchendaele, there was heavy shelling and sniper fire as the enemy knew they were coming.  William was 33.

Isabella, William’s wife, re-married 10 years later, in 1927, and had yet another son, named George.  Isabella lived to the ripe old age of 81, dying of bronchio-pneumonia on 13 January 1965.  All of their children have also passed on, but several of their grandchildren and great grand-children are still in touch with each other.

The Frontline Walk takes place every year – to find out more, visit their website: https://www.soldierscharity.org/events/the-frontline-walk/