We are delighted to be able to publish this article by Val Chapman about her grandfather, James Brydone, who lived in Fearnan in the first half of the 20th century. Importantly, in this year that marks the 100th anniversary of the end of WW1, it provides insight into the war-time service of one of the Fearnan men who fought and lived to tell the tale, as well as providing glimpses of life in the village at the time.
My grandfather, James Brydone, was one of the Perthshire Brydones.
James was born in 1883 on South Harris, where his father was a factor on Lord Dunmore’s estate. The family later moved back to Blair Atholl, where James was schooled. He also attended Perth Academy and was a great reader all his life.
In 1902, aged nineteen and working as a shepherd, he married my grandmother, Jessie Robertson Crerar. Jessie had been born at her grandparent’s farm, Stix, to a comfortably off farming family and was raised on Kynachan Farm, Foss. James and Jessie’s first child, Thomas, was born at Stix.
By 1905, James was employed as a deerstalker on the Breadalbane Estate and they lived in the Keeper’s house at Cromrar, on the Fearnan to Fortingall road. Here they had four daughters, Detta, Myra, Ishbel, Evelyn (my mother), and a second son, Peter. Sadly, they lost premature stillborn twin boys after a horse kicked Jessie. The children were all christened in Fortingall Church.
In 1915, the family moved to the Rustic Lodge, Taymouth, on the road to Kenmore, also owned by Breadalbane Estate. It was here in 1917, that Jessie bore their last child, a son, Hamish.
In WW1, James enlisted initially with the Royal Highlanders (Black Watch). The exact date is unknown, as his was one of the Scottish records partially destroyed in WW2 and only his first regimental number remains. However, his discharge paper shows that on the 13th June 1917, shortly before Jessie gave birth to Hamish, he was transferred to the Lovat Scouts, a sub-unit of the Household Cavalry and Cavalry of the Line.
Prompted by the success of German snipers, Lord Lovat was recruiting “glassmen” and sharpshooters (many of whom were former gamekeepers), for his Lovat Scouts. He needed men who were experienced in stalking and in using a telescope, for sniping and observing, so he combed the Highland regiments for ghillies and stalkers.
In May 1917, Lt Colonel Donald Cameron of Lochiel took over command of these men. James was transferred to the 10th Battalion Cameron Highlanders, given an Enfield rifle and trained in every branch of Observation and Artillery, probably at Beauly and St Andrews. The Scouts needed to be able to pinpoint map references accurately and to be signallers.
Men were formed into groups of nine, along with one Officer and twenty-one Other Ranks, and worked in pairs of four men and two reliefs. One man spotted while his partner sniped. They were sent 24 hours ahead of their battalion to familiarise themselves with enemy positions, and with a specific job – either for a reconnaissance of enemy wire before a raid, or to watch parts of the line which might be threatened. They hid in shell holes, or rubble, or camouflaged themselves amongst greenery. When in the trenches, the snipers used a curtain to keep the light out of loopholes*. As the men usually spoke to each other in Gaelic, they were often mistaken for Germans!
(*Loopholes were originally arrow slits in castle walls, and a sniper’s loophole is an aperture made for observation and firing under concealment.)
James served in France as an Observer and was at the third battle of Ypres on the Somme.
He recounted to my mother how, one day, when he was up a tree forward of the line observing the enemy, a German soldier, doing a similar job, crept by. He walked right under James who felt that this man, too, probably had a wife and children waiting for him at home and was fighting a war he did not want. He could not shoot a man in the back (which also would have given his position away) so he remained still, and eventually the soldier returned to his own lines, without ever knowing his life had been spared.
At the end of the war the Lovat Scouts remained at Merlimont in France for several months whilst being demobbed. Each of them was interviewed and assisted, if needed, to find a job in civilian life. James was demobbed on 31st January 1919, his reference stating that he was “an excellent glassman and proved himself a sober, trustworthy and willing soldier during the period that he served.”
Whilst James returned to his family, Jessie’s youngest brother, Duncan Robertson Crerar, who had been a chauffeur for a doctor in Aberfeldy before emigrating to Sydney, Australia, enlisted early on as an ANZAC. In 1915, he went to his death at Gallipoli, where he lies at Lone Pine Cemetery. He is commemorated on the Memorial Arch in Aberfeldy and at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.
During the period of James’ service, Jessie – like so many other women at the time – had coped single-handedly with a young family. In the course of the war, she and the children had moved again to another rustic lodge near Keltneyburn, beside the iron bridge over the River Lyon. On a later visit, my mother showed me where Granny did the washing (in the river below), and I have a postcard written by Grandpa from Rheims in France addressed to her there. The children walked across the fields to the school in Dull, which is now a private house.
On his return from France, James found employment as a gamekeeper for the Parker Nesses of Letterellen (by this time his former employer, the Breadalbane Estate, would have been in considerable financial difficulty). The family was tenanted in the croft of Tomdarroch in Fearnan, which Jessie later bought when the Breadalbane Estates were sold in 1922.
The children were schooled at Fearnan and Aberfeldy and the family were friends with many locals, including Chrissie Maclean and the Stewarts of the Tigh-an-Loan Hotel. Their oldest son, Tommy, emigrated to New Zealand.
James and Jessie conversed in Gaelic, but insisted that all the children spoke English well, though they were able to take part in the Gaelic Mods. Morag the cow grazed in the Cow Park behind the house, and they kept chickens and bees, and sold honey. The dogs, usually retrievers, had kennels in the grounds and went hunting with Grandpa for rabbits.
Mum recounted how, one night, the younger children hid in the graveyard, waiting until the two older girls walked back at night from a dance. Wearing white sheets and rattling the dogs’ chains, they jumped up, howling! The older girls took off in fright and the ‘ghosts’ had to race back and jump into bed fully clothed before Granny could find out!
When the girls were old enough they found work in domestic service around the area. The remaining children gradually left home during the 1930s. By WW2, Myra and Mum were both registered nurses and Hamish served on HMS Ganges. Jessie was in the kitchen in Tomdarroch when the Russian plane flew low overhead and saw it crash and burn on Drummond Hill. (Reference:The Fearnan Air Crash 1943)
James’ unmarried sister, Jean Brydone, also lived in Fearnan, in Briar Cottage, and was joined by their brother Alec after WW2. Jean died in Aberfeldy Cottage Hospital, aged fifty-one, in 1949.
In 1945, James, who had cancer, died of a stroke in Dundee Royal Infirmary, aged sixty-one, followed a year later by Jessie, from heart failure. They lie together in Kenmore churchyard and some of their children now rest there, too. Tomdarroch was sold back to the Parker Nesses and then sold on to John Grindlay.
To this day many of the Brydone grandchildren and great-grandchildren, whether living in Scotland or abroad, continue to visit Fearnan. It will always hold a special place in our hearts.
About the Writer
Val was born in London, but raised from infancy in Southern Rhodesia, where her mother had nursed in WW2. After high school and then nurse training in England, she returned to live in Africa. Val subsequently worked around Europe for 3 years, nursed for 4 in Canada (including the Arctic), and then lived in Australia for 21 years. She is now retired and living near English cousins in Devon. Her Zimbabwe-born daughter, Fiona, is a scientist in America.
Other members of the family emigrated from Perthshire to New Zealand over the space of four generations, and Val regularly visits both her Perthshire cousins and the New Zealand Brydones.
She has visited Fearnan on a number of occasions, including a trip in 1960, two years before her mother, Eve, died.
Val has followed the Fearnan Blog for a number of years and we are delighted that she has now become a contributor.
Blog Editor’s Postscript: there is a link between the Brydones and present day Fearnan. Val’s great Uncle Archie married Rose Liney – great aunt of Graham.