Private, 14394, William Duncan (37) – Killed in Action

1st Gordon Highlanders, 9th April 1917

Gordon Highlanders Cap Badge, similar to the one which would have been worn by William Duncan.

Banffshire Herald

The following is an extract from the Banffshire Herald dated the 5th May 1917 – Mr John Duncan, Parkhead, Cornhill, has received information that his son, Private William Duncan, Gordons, was killed in action on the 9th April. He was about 37 years of age, and previous to enlistment in May of last year he worked in a munitions factory.


Private William Duncan was born in Rothiemay, Banffshire about 1881. He enlisted at Aberdeen in May 1916 and served within the 1st Battalion, Gordon Highlanders and his military number was 14394. He served in the France / Belgium Theatres of War.

He was killed in action on 9 April 1917 at the age of 37 years and was initially buried at Ronville British Cemetery until October 1921 where he was interred at Beaurains Road Cemetery, Beaurains, Pas de Calais, France.

There is some conflicting information in ‘Soldiers Died in the Great War’ document which gives the date of 11 April 1917 as the date of death.

Account of the Battle – 9th April 1917

The following is a Report on the Battle of Arras on the 9th April 1917 from the 1st Gordon Highlanders, when William Duncan was killed in action.

Report on Operations at Arras

9th April 1917

At 5.30 a.m. – Zero Hour, the trench bombardment started and the Battalion advanced in the following formation:-

Two waves of two companies each; each company on a two platoon frontage. Little opposition was encountered, the wire was reported well cut and the (?) objective (Glasgow and Gateshead trenches from New German Trench to .16) was reached at the scheduled time 5.30 a.m.. Consolidation was preceded with, strong points being formed at B-6-and D. The appropriate casualties up to this point were 60.

The two front Company Headquarters were established at the ruin in centre of GLASGOW trench and their 4th GERMAN LINE south of TILLOY Road. By the time the Kings Own had cleared and formed a garrison in trenches X and Y facing south. The 10th Royal Welsh Fusiliers passed through 1st Gordon Highlanders and made good the far edge of DEVILS WOOD. The slight casualties experienced are attributable to the fact that all the waves were clear of own front line trenches before the German Barrage came down. Touch was maintained on the left with the 6th Queens throughout.

No machine-gun fire was encountered until reaching the second line. Battalion Headquarters remained in the tunnel. The fact that the communication between Companies, Battalion and Brigade was never lost is attributed to the fact that the Battalion Headquarters were not moved but that a Report Centre was established by 2nd Lieutenant N.M. Paton in Y Trench in the German Third line with telephone communication to Battalion Headquarters.

About 11.30 a.m. the 1st Gordon Highlanders were placed under the orders of the O.C. 8th Infantry Brigade. At 12.40 p.m. the following message was received – 1st Gordons will move forward to BOIS-des-BOEUFS and secure left flank of 8th Infantry Brigade. They will get into touch with the 7th K.S.L.I. and 8th East Yorks and support them if necessary. 1st R.S.F. and 8th K.O.R.L. are in reserve.

The Battalion Headquarters which had been moved forward to the third German Line at 1 p.m. was further advanced to NOISY REDOUBT about 3 p.m. and was again moved to a point on the TILLOY Road south of BOIS-DES-BOEUFS at 4.30 p.m. The attack of the 8th Infantry Brigade on the Brown Line having failed, an order by telephone was received at 6.25 p.m. that the 1st Gordon Highlanders along with the 8th K.O.R.L. Regiment on their right would attack the Brown Line at 7 p.m. and with the information that the 12th Infantry Division had taken FEUCHY CHAPELLE and the grid south of the CAMBRAI ROAD. This information proved to be incorrect.

The 8th Kings Own did not receive their orders until 6.50 p.m. with the result that the Battalion attacked the Brown Line alone and was infiladed from FEUCHY CHAPELLE with machine-gun fire. The Battalion had to fall back to the neighbourhood of the FEUCHY CHAPELLE Road where they dug themselves in. At a conference of Commanding Officers at 12 mid-night, the O.C. 8th Infantry Brigade decided that the Gordon Highlanders and Kings Own should be withdrawn in Reserve to a trench running north and south in front of BOIS-DES-BOEUFS and half the Brigade should take the Brown Line at 12.15 a.m. on the 10th.

10th April 1917

The Attack on the Brown Line having proved successful, the Battalion was replaced under command of the G.O.C. 16th Brigade.


William Duncan was born around 1881 at Rothiemay, Banffshire. In the 1891 Census his family was shown as:-

  • Mother: Jane Duncan, born c.1844, died 1936.
  • Father: John Duncan, born c.1851, died 1937.
  • Sister: Jane Duncan or Murray, born c.1880, died 25 May 1945.

Also in the census was his fathers Grandson Alexander Forsyth, then aged 4 years and Grandaughter Jane Duncan then aged 10 years.


1891 Census – His address at that time was shown as Pathhead, Ordiquihill, Banffshire, he was a Munitions Worker prior to enlisting.

His family following his death resided at 52, Aird Street, Portsoy, Banffshire.

Grave of William Duncan – © Pearlady (Find a Grave)


Following his death, William Duncan was awarded the Victory and British War Medals.


Currently there is no record of him being remembered on a war memorial.

Links to Additional Information


  • Commonwealth War Graves Commission
  • Medal Index Card
  • Soldiers Died in the Great War 1914-1919
  • 1891 Census
  • Lives of the First World War website
  • Medal Roll – Gordon Highlanders – Victory and British War Medals
  • Banffshire Herald dated 5th May 1917


Contributor :-

  • Vincent Stuart
  • Pearlady – (Grave Photo)

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