6th Gordon Highlanders, 15th March 1918
Synopsis of Life and Military Service
John Symon MacPherson was born on 26 September 1897. His military personnel file held at the National Archives in Kew shows that he’d attended Ampleforth College in York and had been in their Officer Training Corps until he left the school in April 1913. At the start of the war he was living at 11 Carlton Place, Aberdeen and according to records was employed as an engineer (presumably learning the trade). On 15 October 1914 he enlisted in Aberdeen and joined the 4th Reserve Battalion, Gordon Highlanders as 2761 Private MacPherson. A medical examination shows that he was 5 feet 8 inches tall, with a chest measurement of 35¾ inches fully expanded. He also had good teeth and arches!
By December 1914 he had applied for a Commission as an officer. His application included a reference on his moral character which was vouched for by an administrator of St Mary’s Cathedral, Aberdeen. This suggests he was a regular church goer. The commanding officer of the 4th Battalion supported his application and on 29 May 1915 he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the 6th Battalion Gordon Highlanders.
In 1916, on the Western Front, he was wounded with a bullet wound in the upper
forearm. The wound may have happened on 10 September 1916 as that was when records state he left his unit, and he was sent back to England on 13 September 1916. He left Boulogne for Dover on the Hospital Ship, St Denis.
He was sent to the John Howard Convalescent Home in Kemp Town, Brighton. This was opened in 1914 at the expense of Sir John Howard as a convalescent home for gentlewomen, but it was almost immediately requisitioned for use as an officers’ hospital. John Symon MacPherson was officially classified unfit for duty for 6 weeks. His record shows that he was declared fit for duty on 7/11/1916.
He was promoted to Lieutenant on 1 July 1917. In 1917 the 6th Battalion were part of the 51st Highland Division which was now regarded as one of the foremost fighting divisions in the army. The Germans called them “The Ladies from Hell”.
During his time with the 6th Battalion he would have been involved in some of the heaviest fighting on the Western Front. It’s likely he would have been involved in the Battle of Loos when the 6th Battalion went to assist the 8th Battalion defend the Hohenzollern redoubt. However after being surrounded they had to fight their way back under heavy fire.
Other battles that he might have been involved in include the battle of Beaumont Hamel during the Somme Offensive, Rolincourt as part of the Arras offensive, Passchendaele Ridge, and Cambrai. At Passchendaele the 6th Battalion lost more than 300 men over a period of several months and Private George Imlach McIntosh won the Victoria Cross. His citation states that:- “On 31 July 1917 at Ypres, Belgium, during the consolidation of a position, the company came under machine-gun fire at close range and Private Mclntosh immediately rushed forward under heavy fire and reaching the emplacement, threw a Mills grenade into it, killing two of the enemy and wounding a third. Subsequently entering the dug-out he found two light machine-guns which he carried back with him. His quick grasp of the situation and the rapidity with which he acted undoubtedly saved many of his comrades and enabled the consolidation to proceed unhindered by machine-gun fire”.
Having survived numerous battles, John Symon MacPherson died of wounds on 15 March 1918. As he was wounded John was evacuated first to a Casualty Clearing Station and then to a hospital away from the front line. He died in No 35 General Hospital in Calais.
In the week running up to his death there were only two other 6th Battalion fatalities. His death was a week before the 1918 German Offensive so it’s possible he may have received his wounds from a German reconnaissance party gathering intelligence before the offensive, or simply through the random ‘morning hate’ shelling that took place. His two comrades were buried at Beugny near Cambrai so it’s likely it’s near there that John received his wounds.
He is buried in the Calais Southern Cemetery. A simple inscription reads:- “BELOVED SON OF C. J. AND E. MACPHERSON PRIESTWELL, DUFFTOWN SCOTLAND”
On 13 January 1919, his estate was confirmed and completed at Banff in favour of his father, leaving £188.
On 5 June 1919, the War Office wrote to John’s father stating that the next of Kin of all officers and men who fell in the defence of their country would receive a plaque and scroll if they would like one. John’s father responded that he would be glad to receive it.
According to the 1901 Census on 31 March 1901 John Symon MacPherson was residing with his parents at Priestwell, Dufftown, Banffshire. From information from this census and from a family tree on ‘Ancestry’ the family is shown as:-
- Father – Charles Joseph MacPherson, born 11 February 1866 at Elgin, died 1932- Occupation – Solicitor.
- Mother – Elizabeth Symon or MacPherson, born 29 January 1866 at Dufftown, died 1951.
- Brother – Charles Fowkes, born 9 December 1898 at Dufftown, died 1950.
- Sister – Isobel, born 30 May 1901 at Dufftown, died 1999.
- Sister – Patience Mary, born 3 April 1905 at Dufftown, died 1974.
- Brother – Alexander Gordon, born 24 September 1906 at Dufftown, died 1981.
Their father was a solicitor and appears to have been quite successful. At the time of the 1901 Census they had three household staff, Penciel Shaw the nurse, Jessie Baron the domestic cook, and Mary Jane Sherron who was a domestic housemaid.
- The 1901 Census and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission gives his and parents address as Priestwell, Dufftown, Banffshire.
- At the start of the war he was living at 11 Carlton Place, Aberdeen.
John Symon MacPherson is honoured and remembered on the Mortlach Parishioners Memorial, and Our Lady of the Assumption Memorial, both Dufftown, Moray.
Links to Additional Information
- Commonwealth War Graves Commission – John Symon MacPherson
- Lives of the First World War – John Symon MacPherson
- A Street Near You website – John Symon MacPherson
- Imperial War Museum – Dufftown Parishioners War Memorial
- Imperial War Museum – Our Lady of the Assumption Memorial
- Find a Grave – Calais Southern Cemetery – John Symon MacPherson
- Charles Fowkes MacPherson, Royal Flying Corps – Brother of John MacPherson
- Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
- Register of Soldiers Effects.
- Medal Index Card.
- Medal Roll – Gordon Highlanders – Victory and British War Medals.
- Medal Roll – Gordon Highlanders – 1914-15 Star.
- Soldiers Who Died in the Great War.
- Find a Grave website.
- Scotland National Probate Index
- Trevor Torkington