Remembering WW1

There will be a Service of Remembrance at the Fearnan War Memorial on Sunday 11th November. Please note that the service will start at 10.50, not 11.00 as previously stated on the Blog.

The Memorial will be decorated with the hundreds of poppies knitted by people in the village as well as by Fearnan-connected people around the world. Some of those knitters can be seen here putting the final touches to the design scheme.




After the service on Sunday, the Village Association will be serving tea and coffee in the village hall and all are welcome to join us.


Fearnan War Memorial

Over 16 million people died in WW1 – the sheer scale of which is difficult to comprehend. Fearnan itself suffered a heavy toll in the war. When the village’s memorial was unveiled in August 1920, the Perthshire Advertiser reported that Mr Campbell of Borland made reference to the great number of village boys who enlisted, and how a third of them had made the supreme sacrifice. Fearnan lost 8 men, more than any of the other villages in the Kenmore parish, including Kenmore itself.

For two families, the Frasers and the Mathesons, the cost was exceptionally high, as both lost not one but 2 sons in the conflict.

Fearnan War Memorial 1920s

Over the last 4 years, we have been able to uncover information about all but one of the men named on the Memorial, thanks to the excellent research done by Ian McGregor, Mike Haig and others.

To honour those who died, we have drawn together as much as we know about these 8 men so that at the service on Sunday, they will be remembered not simply as names written on a memorial stone, but as men who lived and worked here some 100 years ago.

Duncan & Peter Matheson


Our research was greatly helped by a letter and photographs sent from Marilyn Ward, who is the granddaughter of Duncan Matheson, pictured here in his HLI uniform. Marilyn had read about our research on the FVA website and shared family documents and photographs.

We now know that Duncan was the son of William Matheson and his first wife, Christina.  Duncan was a tram driver and enlisted in the army, together with many of his fellow workers, in the 15th Highland Light Infantry (Glasgow Tramways Battalion).

He is pictured below with colleagues at training camp in Ayrshire. The shortage of army uniforms explains the fact that they are still wearing their Glasgow Corporation Transport uniforms. Duncan is third from left in the back row:


Glasgow Tram Drivers Battalion

In November 1916, a letter from Duncan to his brother William was published in a local newspaper.  The letter is remarkably upbeat, given the circumstances and Duncan’s recent experiences.  Presumably this was to reassure the folks at home. It describes both the lead-up to a battle – waiting in the trenches “up to the arm pits in mud” – and then the attack, signalled by an exploding mine.

Duncan was wounded in the fierce battle that followed: “A piece of shell entered my left thigh, and passed clean through it without touching the bone. A regular beauty!”

Due to heavy shelling, it was several hours before he could crawl back to his own front line trench and from there make his way, along with other wounded men, back to the collecting station some two miles away, where his wounds were attended to and “the inner man fortified”.

As we now know, Corporal Duncan Matheson died the following year on the 14th July 1917, of wounds received in further action.

As he was in the Tram Drivers Battalion, Duncan is also named on the war memorial in the Riverside Museum in Glasgow.

Peter Matheson, 2nd Batallion Black Watch

Very sadly for the family, his brother Peter Matheson, 2nd battalion The Black Watch, was killed in action at the Battle of Hanna, Mesopotamia (now Iraq) on 21/1/1916.

In addition to being commemorated on the Fearnan War Memorial, Peter is remembered on the memorials in Basra, and in Aberfeldy where he lived with his wife and daughters.

He is pictured on the left.



Duncan and Malcolm Fraser

Duncan and Malcolm Fraser were the sons of James and Jessie Fraser of Rosebank, and tragically both died in the last few days of the war.



Left: Duncan Fraser (Scots Guards) and right: Malcolm Fraser (Scots Greys)

Private 13011 Duncan Fraser, 2nd Battalion Scots Guards enlisted in January 1915.
He died of gas poisoning (age 39) on Sunday 13/10/1918, at Number 46 Casualty Clearing Station.

The following entry appears in the Fearnan School Log Book on the 25th October 1918:

“Sad news reached the village this week – the death through gas poisoning of another of our brave soldiers at the front. Duncan Fraser, an old pupil of this school, was among the first to join up and has been in the thick of it for a considerable time.”

13011 Duncan Fraser was in same battalion as 13009 James Dewar (see below). Their numbers are almost consecutive, and it is highly likely that they enlisted together.

Private D/13435 Malcolm Fraser, 2nd Dragoons (Scots Greys). Malcolm died on 30th October 1918, shortly before the Armistice, from pneumonia (possibly influenza). His death was also recorded in the Fearnan School Log Book:

“Again, sad tidings! The brother of the brave soldier referred to a fortnight ago has succumbed at the Western Front to pneumonia whilst another who has been in the transport service for some time has been killed. Both of these lads had seen four years service in the army and both deserve the high encomiums passed upon them by the villagers. Both were much beloved and are much mourned.


Hugh Cowan

Private S/15683 Hugh Cowan of the Black Watch was the son of Donald and Ann Cowan of Balnearn, Fearnan.

Hugh Cowan photo

Private Hugh Cowan

Hugh Cowan was called up on Wednesday 7th June 1916, at Comrie, where he had been working as a ploughman, and was posted to the 11th Battalion The Black Watch. From this date up to the end of November, he was training at Dunfermline, before embarking at Folkestone, on Friday 1st December 1916 and landing at Boulogne on the same day.

After further training at Étaples, he was soon transferred as Private 33495 to the 1st Battalion of the Royal Scots Fusiliers, joining them in the field on the evening of Wednesday 13th of December 1916, when the Battalion relieved the 7th Battalion of the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry in the trenches at Serre, on the Somme. The relief was completed by 9.00 p.m., with Hugh Cowan being one of 140 men who had joined that day as reinforcements. Luckily, although enemy artillery was heavy, (as was the rain), they had no casualties and they were in turn relieved by a battalion of the East Yorkshire Regiment on the 16th December.

Hugh probably was in action on the 9th and 10th of April 1917 in the Arras Offensive during the First Battle of the Scarpe, but it was on Thursday the 3rd of May, 1917, that he was killed in action on the first day of the Third Battle of the Scarpe, aged 19.

His battalion was part of the 8th Infantry Brigade of the 3rd Division, VI Corps, of the Third Army. The Official History states: ” The enemy obviously had foreknowledge of the attack; for, prior to its launch he deluged the front with chemical and high-explosive shell. At Zero, in fact, the field batteries were enveloped in thick clouds of gas. The detachments, wearing respirators, stuck manfully to their task. The infantry, however, was much disorganized. Most of the battalions also wore respirators during the assembly, and numbers of men who did not put them on, were overcome by vomiting. The 8th Brigade (Hugh Cowan’s brigade) fell into confusion, largely owing to the fire of parties of the enemy who had been pushed forward into shell-holes and had thus avoided the British barrage. The waves of the 2nd Royal Scots and 1st Royal Scots Fusiliers becoming prematurely merged, the barrage was lost, and the attack broke down.”

He was buried in Vis en Artois British Cemetery (Ref VII.D.2).

On May 25th 1917 the Head Teacher, Miss L M Roberts, referred to Hugh’s death in the School Log Book, and its impact on her pupils:

“The scholars were much grieved today to learn of the death of Hugh Cowan who fell ill in action on 3rd May. He was well known having been brought up in the village and until he joined up had been a shepherd with his father at Balnearn.”

Hugh Cowan Memorial Plaque


This picture of Hugh Cowan’s Memorial Plaque (also known as the ‘Death Penny’) comes from Hazel Bellman, a descendant of Hugh Cowan.

The Plaques were cast in bronze and issued to the next of kin, in this case, Donald Cowan, of Balnearn, Fearnan.



John Fraser

John was the son of Donald and Kate Fraser of Upper Fearnan. Wounded by shell-fire on the 7th of September, 1918, succumbing to those wounds the next day, the 8th, aged 25.



John Lauchlan Fraser, Driver 96764, Headquarters 2nd Divisional Ammunition Column, Royal Field Artillery.


James Dewar

Private James Dewar

James Dewar, Scots Guards

Guardsman 13009 James Dewar, 2nd Battalion The Scots Guards was the youngest son of Mr and Mrs Peter Dewar, Tomdarroch, Fearnan.

Formerly a member of Govan Police Force, he enlisted on 7/1/1915 and went to France on 6/10/1915. He was wounded in April 1916 and killed in action on 28/3/1918, three days before his 30th birthday.

 His father, Peter, was a Gamekeeper but appears to have died during the war years. His mother subsequently moved to Drummond Cottage, Keltneyburn.



Duncan McPhail

Thanks to research by Mike Haig and Mark Duffy (both members of the Great War Forum), we now know that Duncan McPhail signed up with the Scots Guards early in 1915. He is listed in the Parish of Kenmore Roll of Honour (“List of men, natives of the Parish and others residing therein, who have gone forth to serve their King and Country in the War”).

Duncan was 32 years of age and is described as a farm servant. The medical inspection that he underwent after signing up shows that he was in poor health and he was subsequently discharged on account of his health. His Death Certificate shows that he died, not long afterwards, of meningitis.



If anybody can add to the information that we have on these men who are commemorated on the Fearnan War Memorial, we would be delighted to hear from you.  You can use the Comments section of the Blog to get in touch.



About Fearnan Village Association

Fearnan Village Association was formed in 2007 to provide a means through which those who live in the village can come together to discuss and respond to issues of importance to the village, particularly those that will have an impact on our quality of life. We also organise social events, such as the very popular Pudding Night in February, Strawberry TeaZ in July, and other events and coffee mornings throughout the year.
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4 Responses to Remembering WW1

  1. Lindsay Mills says:

    Duncan Matheson is also named on the war memorial in the Riverside Museum, because he was in the Tramways battalion

  2. Pingback: June Blog | Fearnan Village Association

  3. Pingback: Service of Remembrance | Fearnan Village Association

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