"Their name liveth for evermore." Ecclesiasticus 44v14

"Their name liveth for evermore." Ecclesiasticus 44v14

Those are the words inscribed on the base of Strathblane War Memorial and on thousands of similar monuments throughout Britain, erected to remember the dead of the First World War. The Biblical quotation was selected after the war by Rudyard Kipling from the Apocrypha ("Their bodies are buried in peace but their name liveth for evermore.").

In a sense, the statement is true. A century later, the name, rank and regiment of each of the parish's 27 dead are still there, deeply etched across three panels in groups of nine. One of the panels has been replaced, so that like all those gleaming Commonwealth War Graves it seems unnaturally new and, like the men it names, unaged. The final two names, Philip Binnie and John Dillon, were appended after the unveiling in 1921 but otherwise the men are listed in alphabetical order without regard to rank or social status, in recognition of their equality in death and the brotherhood of the trenches. So the heir to 10,000 acres brushes shoulders with a local coal merchant.

Each year on Remembrance Sunday, self-consciously wearing our poppies, many of us continue to gather at the memorial, drawn by a vague sense of duty to these men. Now that the police stop the traffic, we can nurse sombre thoughts during a two minutes' silence that is broken only by birdsong, the soft shuffling of guides and scouts and the occasional vocal toddler. Then the community briefly reclaims the section of the A81 that bisects it, by walking to the parish church behind the local pipe band.

The death of the last veterans of the First World War and the fact that nobody attending our little remembrance ritual knew any of these men personally - the eldest participant was born in 1918 - has not lessened the impact of this traumatic anniversary on our collective consciousness. Yet there is a danger that a ritual that is so well-worn becomes emptied of any real meaning. Petrified in stone. A danger that we fall back on well-worn cliches - slaughter, sacrifice, horror, grief - because the truth about why and how these men died is still untellable, even inexplicable. We talk about remembrance while we forget.

So we are left with the litany of names - Jack Barr, Robert Blair, the Cartwright brothers, William Devlyn, Fergie Thomson and the rest of them - our lost boys. As families have died out or moved on or new generations come along who have forgotten or never knew them, we have lost their faces, their voices, their cruelly truncated biographies.

In 2013 a group of locals was brought together by a single goal: to find out who these men were and tell their stories in a book. The profits will go to Erskine, the Scottish charity that has been rebuilding the shattered lives of veterans since 1916.

A Heritage Lottery Grant was secured and John Watson, a businessman with local links, supported the venture. As word spread, more joined. Our backgrounds and interests included genealogy, local history, librarianship, military history, project management, journalism, photography and design. Curious relatives of the 27 men began to appear, offering precious fragments of memory and memorabilia and keen to know more.

Of course, most soldiers did not try to record their experiences or had their letters censored by their commanding officers. Few veterans talked about their experiences and many families later destroyed correspondence. Our fear was that there would be plenty of material from commissioned officers - the privately educated sons of the great and the good - but precious little from the rank and file.

To some extent that was true. The lives and military careers of four of the lieutenants are very well documented. The Edmonstone family has kept all of Willie Edmonstone's letters home in a wooden box at Duntreath Castle. William Ker's correspondence is widely quoted in a book about his naval squadron, the Hawke. He also features in two elegiac poems by AP Herbert. And the story of best friends Jack Barr and Eric Yarrow is recorded in heartbreaking detail in a major archive of Yarrow's letters, diaries and photographs held by Oundle School.

As Yarrow's great niece Avril Lawson puts it: "He was on the threshold of life with a promising future ahead. However, he was just one of the many young men who lost their lives during those awful days and his family was devastated to hear of his death, like so many others."

Trying to capture the lives of men who left little behind them was more challenging. First came months of scouring forces' records and information from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, as well as statutory records and census returns in the Mitchell Library family history section and on the ScotlandsPeople website. Short reports of individual soldiers' deaths in local newspapers provided precious personal detail. The recent publication online of the official war diaries of a number of regiments, sometimes referring directly to one of "our men", was a bonus. So was the online publication in May 2014 of the wills of 26,000 ordinary Scottish soldiers who died in the First World War, including eight on the Strathblane memorial.

In some cases descendants were able to share stories and artefacts. Former local garage owner, Donald Macintyre, the nephew of Private James Macintyre, provided the pocket atlas his uncle carried to war, complete with a pressed wild rose bud from Loch Lomondside and the poignant calendar tab on which his crossed-off days in the trenches end with his death. Local transport operator, David Frood, nephew of Nan McGregor, who was Private William Devlyn's sweetheart, came up with his jaunty diary. Retired headteacher, Sandra Mitchell produced a silk embroidered postcard inscribed "To My Dear Wife" that her grandfather, Private Alexander Mitchell, sent home from France.

Also, though some are poor quality newspaper pictures, we were able to gather images of nearly half of the men. One or two are achingly beautiful, several look more like boys than men, some seem serious and wise beyond their years and a couple appear too sensitive for the savagery of the Western Front. It is hard to look at them without feeling a little pang of anguish.

What has this project taught us, more generally? In different ways, these men represent a microcosm of both the war and the local community, so that studying their lives and deaths is like having access to two powerful telescopes.

Only eight of the 27 joined the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders or the Highland Light Infantry, the two main locally raised regiments. In fact, the rest represent almost every aspect of military service, including the Royal Naval Division, the Royal Flying Corps, the Machine Gun Corps, the Royal Garrison Artillery, the Army Cycling Corps, the Scots Guards and even the Lovat Scouts. And the deaths of men in the Railway Operating Division, the Army Service Corps and the Royal Army Medical Corps offer a sharp reminder that you did not need to have a gun in your hands to become a war casualty. Their service demonstrates how, behind the huge army fighting on the Western Front lay a second largely unheralded army, providing the complex infrastructure on which the war machine depended.

The variety of regiments represented also reflects the way conscripted men were used increasingly to plug manpower gaps caused by attrition. And there was a wide variety of both ages and physique. James Macintyre was just 19, while bachelor Daniel Morrison was 38. Gardener Robert Blair appears to have joined a bantam regiment, for men under 5ft 3ins, while we know that Willie Edmonstone, at more than 6ft 3ins, was said to have been the tallest officer of his age in the British Army. Two of the 27, James Cartwright and Donald McIntyre, died in training without leaving Britain.

The industrial scale of losses in particular offensives is reflected in the bunching of death dates. Five died at the Somme in 1916 and six more between September 26 and October 12, 1917, in the Third Battle of Ypres (Passchendaele). In fact, at least 10 men on the memorial died within a few miles of Ypres, from Donald McNeil in November 1914 to George Don three years later.

Reading about the circumstances in which these men died, it is striking how many were felled by snipers, machine gun fire or shells, often while still in their trenches. Though some had certainly experienced it, not one of our 27 definitely died during hand-to-hand combat. And while there was plenty of unimaginable courage, these accounts leave the impression that this war was more about endurance than gallantry in the conventional sense. As historian Benedict Anderson put it: "The numbers of those killed greatly exceeded those who killed." (The exceptions must be the machine gunners and artillery, who were able to harness new military technology to such devastating effect.)

All this is echoed in the changing tone of local newspaper coverage of the war. The first Strathblane man to die was 24-year old Sergeant Donald McNeil of the 1st Black Watch, the only professional soldier and one of the first of the "Old Contemptibles" into France in August 1914. His death two months later produced a jingoistic report in the Stirling Observer about a battle in which the Black Watch supposedly charged "clinging to [the] stirrup leathers" of the Scots Greys. The two Scottish regiments then dispatched the enemy with "the wild work of the bayonet" and "the slashing flail of the heavy cavalry sabres". The report concludes by assuring the bereaved that their man "fills a hero's grave". The recently published official war diary of the 1st Black Watch suggests that Donald probably died from enemy shelling near Ypres. The stirrup charge is a complete myth, reflecting the extent to which newspapers helped whip up the patriotic fervour that sent a million British men to recruiting stations by Christmas 1914.

As the war dragged on and casualties mounted, the tone of reporting changed. When Wilfrid Moyes, the minister's son, was awarded the Military Medal in 1917, the news made a single paragraph in the Milngavie and Bearsden Herald, wedged between coverage of a football match and an advert for a cough remedy. By this time, valour, death and devastating injury had become so commonplace that they had almost ceased to be news. And the jingoism had disappeared as myths crumbled beneath the weight of reality.

Nor is there much sign of the local press downplaying the horror of war. For example, when Robert Rowley Orr and his brother Eric were both invalided home after being gassed in the first German chlorine attack in 1915, the Milngavie and Bearsden Herald reported it, even if it added that the brothers were making a good recovery. Also throughout the war there were lectures at the Village Club and elsewhere on subjects such as "To the Trenches and Back", rather contradicting the idea that the home population knew nothing of the horrors unfolding in France and Belgium.

No sound recordings survive from the First World War but many soldiers described the mind-numbing and literally deafening impact of the pounding of thousands of shells, the "storm of steel", sometimes around the clock for days at a time. It is hard to imagine how that must have affected boys from a village where, following the closure of the printworks in 1898, the single loudest noise they had ever heard was probably the demolition of the works' 160ft high "great chimney stalk" in 1910. (Some of the older boys had played truant from the local school to watch this event.)

As if this cacophony wasn't bad enough, rank-and-file soldiers were expected to carry extremely heavy loads over long distances. In his diary William Devlyn describes a 13-mile march in pouring rain in November 1914, while carrying "kit weighing about 70lb, a rifle 9 1/2 lbs and 250 rounds of ammunition".

Yet it is easy to understand the appeal of joining up, especially in the autumn of 1914 when the press was full of lurid stories about the evils being perpetrated by "the Hun" on "poor little Belgium" and when it was widely believed the war would be over by Christmas. For local men like Daniel Morrison, who was the illegitimate son of a washerwoman and had grown up in poverty, it must have represented a unique opportunity for a foreign adventure.

Typically, the men believed the war would soon be over. A month before his death in the Second Battle of Ypres in 1915, Eric Yarrow wrote to his father: "One hears about the war ending soon so I will be back ere long." And shortly before he was killed on the Somme in 1916, Willie Edmonstone was writing home: "I think the Huns are beginning to feel the strain of the war and I believe the opinion is that it will be over this year."

The letters home from the young lieutenants often betray a sort of devil-may-care attitude, as if the war was a bit of a lark. Even allowing for the natural desire to spare their families the full horrors of the trenches and the way a public school education suppressed the expression of emotion, clearly these lads were having a surprising amount of fun. It is sometimes easier to mock these swashbuckling young officers than admire them but that is to forget that these men, some of them straight from the classroom, were expected to lead their platoons from the front. That may explain why nearly one quarter of the men on the memorial were officers. The life expectancy of a lieutenant on the Western Front was about six weeks, an attrition rate that was even worse than the rank and file. Yet they volunteered unflinchingly. We have Eric Yarrow's desperate plea to his shipbuilder father in September 1914 to allow him to join up, observing that "there are many of the working class who are sacrificing a great deal by enlisting".

Perhaps it is too easy to fall into lazy stereotypes about the brave Tommy led by blundering toffs. In this project, nobody is more outspoken about "Kitchy" and British high command than the Eton-educated laird's son, Willie Edmonstone, godson of King George V.

Amid the carnage and brutality of war, there is also plenty of kindness and compassion. The young lieutenants are forever giving their men gifts of morale-boosting items like cigarettes and socks. George Don's will leaves £10 to his sister's children "for their mother's kindness to me while I have been at the front". And at Strathblane Parish Church the congregation donated money throughout the war to fund Christmas boxes, which were despatched to local men serving their country as far afield as India.

In some ways, this project tells us as much about our own community as it does about the war. Despite the title "A Village Remembers", strictly speaking it encompasses the three villages that make up the local parish: Strathblane (which grew out of the village of Edenkiln), Blanefield (formerly Netherton) and Mugdock. And it includes a large rural hinterland that takes in several local estates, including Craigallian, Carbeth and Duntreath, as well as Glengoyne distillery, where the doomed Cartwright brothers' father was the first manager.

The focus of this project on the parish war memorial reinforces the idea of a "lost generation". In reality, across the UK, despite estimated war dead of 887,000, eight households in nine did not suffer a bereavement. Of the 200,000 Glaswegians who served, around 180,000 made it home, even if many were maimed physically or scarred mentally. In our own community, there are 147 names between two church Rolls of Honour and so our 27 war dead, while higher than average, represent only part of the story.

Nevertheless, they do seem to present a microcosm of the community in 1914, a very different society to today's largely middle-class population of commuters and the retired. The 27 include Willie Edmonstone, 19-year old heir to the largest local estate; Wilfrid Moyes, son of the local minister; Colin Rankin, son of the former long-serving village doctor; Jack Barr, son of the famous industrialist and academic Professor Archibald Barr (of Barr & Stroud); and Eric Yarrow, son of Sir Alfred, the shipbuilder. Many of their addresses - Duntreath, Campsie Dene, Kessogbank, Milndavie House, Old Edenkiln, Easterton and Westerton of Mugdock - house other families today, linking the modern community with that of 1914.

Yet in amongst the wealthy and privileged are the ordinary Tommies. Many of them worked on local estates or for large houses as gardeners, gamekeepers, stockmen or chauffeurs and occupied garrets, lodge houses, estate cottages or bothies.

Some of the men had grown up in great poverty, others amidst unimaginable wealth. The 1901 census finds nine-year-old John Dillon sharing a two-roomed home in the Dumbrock area of Strathblane with seven relatives, while four-year-old Willie Edmonstone is in the family home in London's Belgravia, leaving 42-roomed Duntreath Castle empty except for a few servants. While all the officers on the memorial and a few others were privately educated and four went to Oxford or Cambridge, others had left the local school at 14 to work. In fact some of these men were born and brought up far from Strathblane and only lived and worked in the community briefly before being enlisted. Meanwhile, with the closure of the Blanefield printworks that had once employed hundreds of men, women and children, many of those born in the parish had moved away to find work.

Some war dead, reported as being local men in news reports or with gravestones in the local churchyard, and others who had emigrated before 1914, do not appear on the memorial. Perhaps there was nobody left to plead their case. In a couple of instances, men died as a result of war wounds after the memorial had been commissioned. For that reason, our book contains a chapter about these "missing" men. Deciding who to include on the memorial must have been a difficult and sometimes controversial task. (One of these so-called missing men was reported to have "died of shell shock".)

The overall impression of Strathblane in 1914 is of a community in flux. It had turned from a grimy, polluted industrial place to a pleasant rural retreat, attracting increasing numbers of summer visitors from Glasgow and beyond.

Meanwhile, the lives of some women were changing. William Devlyn's girlfriend Nan McGregor and her sister are running the village's new telephone exchange. The parish church Roll of Honour includes the names of three women, including the widow of Sapper Alex Lowe, awarded an honour for her contribution to the war effort in the Queen Mary's Auxiliary Army Corps. The war had left women taking on traditionally male roles. In Strathblane that included the village posties. This meant two young women carrying out the dreaded job of delivering the letters and telegrams informing households that their family members had been "killed in action" or "died of wounds". It may be simplistic to argue that these changes won women the vote but they certainly made female suffrage harder to resist.

Other barriers would start falling. The fact that the war memorial lists men alphabetically rather than by rank echoes decisions made after the war by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Looking at them, you get a sense that life in communities like ours would never be the same. (A single page of the 1911 census lists six local households, three of whom would lose a son in the war.) These families, united by their loss, could not be divided by class. Perhaps deference has never died but it began to lose its power after the communal trauma of the First World War.

After the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in June 1919, which marked the official ending of the war, one idea that united the community was to build a monument to "the men of the Parish of Strathblane who fell in the Great War".

The £800 cost was quickly raised by public subscription and a design by Sir Robert Lorimer chosen. Built of Doddington stone, it consists of a square base, with a slender shaft topped by four shields and a cross. It was constructed at the junction of Glasgow Road and Campsie Dene Road on a triangle of land donated by the Graham family and unveiled by the Duke of Montrose on August 25, 1921, amid a torrential downpour.

In 1949 the names of the six local men killed in the Second World War were added. The entire structure was dismantled and moved when Central Regional Council widened the junction. On an adjacent wall there is now a plaque commemorating Gary Wright, the 22-year old Royal Marines Commando, killed in action in Afghanistan in October 2006. His family have written a moving foreword to the book, considering how their experience compares with that of families of the men on the memorial.

The idea that a nation had the power to command the ultimate sacrifice from millions of its citizens may seem strange to us in these more cynical more self-centred times. Harry Patch, the last survivor of the trenches, who died aged 111, once said: "It wasn't worth it." Who are we to disagree with him? It is certainly harder to see the First World War as a "just cause" than the Second World War. So Remembrance Sunday is sometimes dismissed as an outdated glorification of war.

Yet, as Richard Holmes put it in his monumental work, Tommy: "We must judge the men who fought the war by their motives and achievements, not by the conflict's origins or results." The effect of reading all the 27 stories of the men on Strathblane War Memorial is to admire their courage and cheerfulness and lament the waste of so much potential. Their families may no longer be paralysed by grief but the lingering sense of loss remains. Gathering the stories together gives us some idea of the dark shadow their deaths cast across little communities like ours. As Willie Edmonstone's father Archibald put it: "Nothing will ever be the same."

The private grief suffered by these 27 families echoes the closing line of Wilfred Owen's Anthem for Doomed Youth: "And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds." There is a similar resonance in the letter Eric Yarrow wrote to Morag Barr in Mugdock on May 7, 1915, about the death of her brother Jack a few days earlier: "Often as I sit in my dug-out, I picture to myself your pretty house and beautiful garden and the contrast with the devastated countryside out here is very sad because although the walls of our fair homes stand intact, in so many cases the hearts of the inhabitants are broken."

Yarrow was killed the following day.

William Ker, Lieutenant, Royal Naval Division, aged 24.


William Ker was born in Glasgow in 1892, the second son of a prominent chartered accountant and was educated at Cargilfield School in Edinburgh and Rugby, where, ironically, he excelled at football. 

While at Oxford he switched to hockey and played for both Scotland and his university, where he was praised for his "electric sprints and his shooting". He joined Milngavie Golf Club after his parents moved to Easterton, a large house in Mugdock. (Clearly more at home in the fresh air than the library, he graduated with a third-class degree in Classics.)

At the outbreak of war Ker was commissioned into the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, transferring in January 1915 to the Royal Naval Division. However, like most of "Churchill's Little Army", his battalion was destined to spend the war on land. Ker found himself in Gallipoli assigned to Hawke Battalion C Company, which consisted largely of North Country miners.

In May 1915 Ker and an old friend, the poet AP Herbert, went swimming to escape from the fly-blown squalor of the trenches and relax before battle. William described the scene in a letter home: "You should have seen me and AP Herbert the other evening bathing in the Dardanelles with the Turkish lines in sight on a ridge to our left, the Plain of Troy before us on the other side."

In a poem about the same incident, Herbert catches beautifully the conflicting emotions of men facing imminent death enjoying the simple sensuous pleasure of swimming. It ends with the lines:

It may be we shall never swim again,

Never be clean and comely to the sight,  

May rot untombed and stink with all the slain.  

Come then and swim. Come and be clean tonight.

In fact, the Hawke Battalion emerged largely unscathed from this first taste of trench warfare. Ker's next letter home revealed his capacity for dry understatement:  "There were a lot of snipers about and being shot at when you are not replying (most of our men were digging) is always trying."

As Douglas Jerrold writes in his book about the Hawke: "William Ker's letters … have only one defect as history: that they reflect a temperament singularly equable and courageous and fortunate also in keeping in good health." 

Soon Ker was admitting: "Nearly everyone is upset inside … due to nothing in particular, but to the rations and the dust and the life in general … We all discourse at length about our internal economies, and none of us believe that there is anything the matter with anyone else."

In September he confided: "I should like to be back in your soft grey land again," even if his Aegean view "rivals Ben Lomond at its best." Later he enthuses about "a gorgeous Scotch morning with a northerly wind and a ruffled blue sea, white flecked over to Imbros, which reminds me more of Arran than ever".

By December, Ker realised the Gallipoli campaign had failed even 

if "the attitude of the men here is that it never occurred to them that 

we may be beaten by Turks or Germans, or anyone else.  The psychology of the ordinary Tyneside or Paisley man in the ranks is sufficiently impenetrable".

The Gallipoli campaign was abandoned in January 1916 and the troops withdrew. The Hawke became part of the 189th Brigade on the Western Front. By October Ker was on the Somme, where British troops had spent three months trying to break through German defensive lines.

The division was deployed in the battle of the Ancre. On November 13 he led his men into an attack. "Without a word, without half a second's hesitation, we saw the first wave of the battalion move from their trenches and pass into the mist and out of sight," wrote Douglas Jerrold, adding: "We saw the last of the Hawke Battalion as we had known it."

German machine guns, missed by the initial artillery barrage, simply mowed them down. The Hawke Battalion had been wiped out. The battle may have raged for two days but for William Ker it was over in 10 minutes.

The village of Beaucourt was taken the following day but the RND had suffered 4,000 casualties. Jerrold mourns the dead of Ancre and asks: "What was C Company without Ker, so gifted that his most strenuous efforts seemed effortless, yet moved to vehemence by patent folly or injustice - a personality of rare promise and still rarer charm?"

William Ker is commemorated at the Thiepval Memorial in Northern France as well as in Strathblane and elsewhere. 

The Balliol College War Memorial Book records Ker as having "a fine candour, an unmistakable sincerity of purpose and a vein of humorous good sense, and all these refined by an uncommon modesty". 

But the most eloquent tribute came from AP Herbert. 

His elegiac Beaucourt Revisited closes thus:

I crossed the blood-red ribbon, that once was no-man's land,

I saw a misty daybreak and a creeping minute-hand;

And here the lads went over, and there was Harmsworth shot,

And here was William lying but the new men know them not. 

And I said, "There is still the river, and still the stiff, stark trees, To treasure here our story, but there are only these";

But under the white wood crosses the dead men answered low, "The new men know not Beaucourt, but we are here, we know."

James McIntyre, Private, Seaforth Highlanders, aged 19.

Small objects can tell big stories. Take the battered pocket atlas belonging to Private James Macintyre, the youngest man on Strathblane War Memorial. Open it and stitched into the back cover is an ordinary calendar tab for the year 1916. 

Each day is meticulously scored out in pencil … until September 5. A few weeks later this little book found its way back to his distraught family.

James is not only the youngest man on the memorial but also one of only two 19-year olds. 

The other is Lt Willie Edmonstone, son of the local laird. Though these two young men probably never met, a web of coincidence links their very different families and the memory of a fateful meeting between their fathers remains as poignant today as it was a century ago.

James, the oldest son of a successful tartan manufacturer, was born in 1897 in Bellshill. Soon afterwards the family rented a villa in Blanefield. Two more sons and a daughter were born. The children attended the local school and each Sunday the family walked up to the Gowkstane, a well-known local landmark.

By 1911 they had moved to another rented home, eight-roomed Milndavie House, an elegant Georgian villa in Strathblane. The children spent holidays with their grandfather in Callander, which was accessible from the village by steam train. It was a comfortable childhood and a happy one, at least until the death of their mother Margaret from lung cancer in 1912, aged only 39.

Nevertheless, the company was thriving and James was being groomed to succeed his father when war intervened. Though only 17, and against the wishes of his family, James enlisted in Stirling and joined the 3rd Battalion Seaforth Highlanders. One family member who supported his decision was his father's sister Rhoda. A card in the miniature atlas she gave him read: "My dearest James, you are splendid to be off already and I do wish you luck … Your loving Auntie R." 

Though he joined a reserve battalion based in Cromarty, it provided drafts for other battalions serving overseas. That was his route into the 8th Battalion, which landed at Boulogne in July 1915. Even after that he seems to have enjoyed some home leave. A pressed wild rose-bud fixed in his pocket atlas with stamp paper is labelled "Ardlui June 1916". 

A few weeks later he was back on the Somme, where the fighting was hotting up as the Allies tried to make a decisive push against the Central Powers. 

His battalion's official War Diary offers vivid insight into the cycle of tedium and terror that made up the day-to-day lives of James and his comrades. Throughout August they were involved in a constant round of training, parades and working parties in the trenches, where they were vulnerable to heavy enemy bombardment. There are several references to men being treated for shell-shock, though it is clear that many were simply sent back to the front line after a few days.

Every day or two the battalion either relieves or is relieved by battalions from another regiment in the 44th Brigade. Each of these moves is the subject of detailed choreography, including lists of what each man is to carry. On one occasion this includes a loaded haversack, 220 rounds of ammunition, two bombs wrapped in sandbags, a pick or shovel, gas mask, gas goggles, helmet and a spare satchel. The closest thing to a treat is a very occasional shower. 

There are minutely detailed battle plans, followed by shocking casualty figures and diary entries revealing various reasons why the plans fell apart almost instantly. The fog of war makes it unclear exactly where and when James was fatally wounded. 

The last day crossed off on his calendar is September 5. His death date is given as September 8 in army records but September 12 in a subsequent letter to his father from the Infantry Record Office. 

The most likely scenario is that he was badly injured on September 8 when his battalion was held in reserve during the attack on High Wood, east of Albert. There is a warning order that day that the Germans may be preparing a counter-attack. And on the following day there is a report that trenches around Bethell Sap had "been seriously damaged by shell fire". Lists show that 29 of the battalion's 85 casualties that month occurred on September 8. 

James was taken to the 38th Clearing Station at Mericourt-L'Abbe, where he died. His Commonwealth War Grave is at nearby Heilly Station Cemetery.

When the news of James Macintyre's death reached Strathblane, Sir Archibald Edmonstone of Duntreath, whose own son Willie was fighting on the Somme, requested his coachman to drive him to Milndavie House so that he could offer condolences to the lad's father. According to James's nephew, Sir Archie returned to Duntreath, "only to discover soon afterwards that his own son had died". 

The exact chronology of this story is unclear but it has the ring of truth. Willie Edmonstone died on September 15, a few days after James Macintyre. As an officer, his death would have been notified by telegram, while the family of James, a humble private, had to make do with a pro forma letter in the ordinary mail. So two boys from one community, born a few weeks apart, died a few days apart and, as it happens, a few miles apart. And two families, once divided by class, were brought together by unimaginable grief.

Ferguson Thomson, Private, Scots Guards, killed, aged 22

The light smile of Guardsman Thomson, displaying the ribbon flash of the Military Medal, contrasts with the serious look on the face of the 10-year-old Fergie Thomson in a remarkable family portrait taken 12 years earlier. 

The soldier leans casually on the arm of his chair. The boy stands stiffly with his parents and numerous older siblings, all dressed in their finery for a special celebration, yet appearing remarkably grim-faced and suspicious of the camera.  

Ferguson Nelson Thomson, known as Fergie, had been born in Bearsden in August 1896, the youngest of 12 children. His family later settled at Clachan Cottage on the Carbeth Estate near Blanefield, owned by the Barns Graham family.  

The Thomsons were a close-knit and hard-working family.  In the 1911 Census, father Thomas, aged 54, was working as a road surfaceman employed by the County Council. Sons Thomas and William were joiners and 16-year old Davie had found employment as a gardener, while 14-year old Fergie was still at school. 

 Living with them was granddaughter Jeanie, born illegitimately to the Thomsons' eldest daughter Jane. They continued to care for the little girl after her mother married and moved away. Jeanie and Fergie attended the local school together.

Fergie was 20 by the time he enlisted in November 1916 in Stirling with the 1st Battalion Scots Guards. From August 1917 he served in France. His brothers had also joined up so that by 1918 the Thomson family had five sons in uniform.

In May 1918, while Fergie's Battalion was stationed on the Western Front, his group was sent on a night patrol to locate and secure an enemy post.  The group was split in two and crept around the post, then rushed it with bayonets fixed. The Milngavie and Bearsden Herald takes up the story: "[Private Thomson] was the first man to enter the post, himself, capturing two of the enemy, fearlessly, and on his own initiative entering a shelter and clearing it of the enemy. He displayed throughout the operation the most marked courage and coolness".  

For his bravery he was awarded the Military Medal, presented to warrant officers, NCOs and other ranks for gallantry in action against the enemy. But any happiness felt by Fergie's family in celebrating his award would be short-lived.  

His battalion was transferred to the 2nd Guards Brigade, which was soon involved in the capture of the Hindenburg support line, which consisted of row upon row of barbed wire, six defensive lines and many concrete firing positions, around 6,000 yards wide.  In late September, British, Australian, French and American forces joined in the attack on the line, successfully breaching it on September 29, the day Fergie died.

During the passage of the Canal du Nord, Fergie sustained wounds from which he never recovered, the second-last man from the village to be killed before the end of the war. He was 22.

His grieving parents applied for and were sent a photograph by the Graves Registration Department of the War Office, showing the simple wooden cross marking his grave at Thilloy Road Cemetery at Beaulencourt in France, which they treasured for the rest of their lives.

After the breakthrough of September 29, the Germans retreated. The Allies pressed home their advantage during October, which turned out to be the final month of the war. The Armistice was declared less than six weeks after Fergie's death. His brothers all survived the war.

The family dispersed but Fergie's older brother Thomas and his wife Mary Maclean continued to live in the village and so the family name lived on in Strathblane until the death in 2006 of their son, the village postman Colin Thomson, who was well known in the area. Fergie has a Commonwealth War Grave in the carefully maintained plot at Thilloy Road Cemetery, which members of the Thomson family have visited regularly over the years.

John Barr, Lieutenant, Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, aged 23

John Young Barr, known as Jack, is the first name on Strathblane War Memorial. He is also one of the men we know most about both because he features in the records of his friend, neighbour and fellow officer, Eric Yarrow - both perished in the Second Battle of Ypres - and because he was the son of the brilliant engineer and inventor, Professor Archibald Barr, founder of Barr and Stroud.

Born in Glasgow in 1892, Jack was the second of three sons. There was also a daughter, Morag. Around 1908 the family moved to Westerton of Mugdock, where Professor Barr had a reputation as a convivial and witty host, becoming in 1911 the first president of Strathblane Village Club, donated by his friend, the Clyde shipbuilder Alfred Yarrow.

Jack was educated at Kelvinside Academy and Rossall School in Lancashire, where he was a keen sportsman, school captain and an NCO in the Officer Training Corps. Two years in the Oxford University Cavalry set him up for a commission as second lieutenant in the 7th Battalion Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders (A&SH) and during his short period fighting in France, he was promoted for bravery on the field.

By this time Jack had met up with a welcome familiar face from the Blane Valley, Alfred Yarrow's son Eric. Along with a third A&SH lieutenant, Gifford Moir from Alloa, the lads styled themselves the Three Musketeers. If depictions of trench warfare in Flanders seem unremittingly grim to the modern reader, it is hard to guess that from the way Yarrow characterised the capers of the Three Musketeers, recording in his diary that they "ride into Armentieres fairly often and manage to get a glimpse of our friends." In the accompanying photograph the young trio on horseback look as if they have not a care in the world. Within barely a month all three would be dead. 

In early 1915 Yarrow reported: "Moir and Barr and I went to the trenches last Friday night." They had difficulty sleeping because the dugouts were flooded and rats "played havoc in the straw". 

In a letter to Jack's mother, Isabella, Eric Yarrow described what happened on April 25 at St Julien, north-east of Ypres: "Those who saw Jack say that he led his men brilliantly and with great courage and it is characteristic of his stout heart that, though wounded, he continued to lead his men until they with him fell victims of the machine-gun, which killed them instantly.

"At nightfall I went out and found Jack's body in a well-advanced position, a few yards in front of those of his men who had been killed with him. Some of Jack's men, anxious to pay a last tribute to their commander, whom they all loved and admired, carried his body to a position at the back of the trench where I had dug a grave. Late at night, amid the shriek of shells passing overhead, the groans of wounded and the noise of men passing to and fro, we laid Jack's body to rest and erected on his grave a small cross which was lit up by the light from a burning farm."

Yarrow imagines how sad the Barrs must be at home in Westerton and promises to send on his belongings. He ends by describing his friend as "one of the bravest and noblest of God's sons". Moir was killed on the same day and Yarrow himself died less than a fortnight later. The area was taken by the Germans and not recaptured until July 1917.

In 1918, Archibald Barr refused a knighthood for services to the Allied war effort on the basis that he had only done his duty and others had given so much more without recognition. Perhaps he had in mind not only his own son Jack but also the 35 Barr and Stroud employees killed in action. Another name on Strathblane War Memorial is Corporal Robert Rigg of the Gordon Highlanders, killed less than a month after Jack. He was the son of Professor Barr's chauffeur. 

As an early volunteer, Jack qualified for the 1914/15 Star. His brief life and tragic death are commemorated on no fewer than seven memorials.

Donald McIntyre, Trooper, Lovat Scouts, aged 23

Although Donald McIntyre's name appears on Strathblane War Memorial and he is certainly a casualty of the First World War, he was a soldier who never got to fight. He never even left Britain. There are other features that also mark him out. Of the 27 men remembered, he is one of only two who was dead before the end of 1914. He is also the only one to have joined the Lovat Scouts.

Donald, born in 1890, was the son of a sheep-farm manager living in Old Kilpatrick. Soon afterwards, the family moved to Blairquhosh, on the Duntreath Estate of the Edmonstone family. 

The McIntyres will have been aware of the many tourists who would visit Blairquhosh to see "the Meikle Tree" (sometimes called Rob Roy's Tree), a huge ancient oak that stood by the roadside next to the farm. By 1905 there were seven McIntyre children, although two years later 17-year old William, the eldest, died of a burst appendix.

By 1911 Donald, now aged 20, was far from home, working as a gardener on the vast estate outside Kelso belonging to the Duke of Roxburghe. The census finds him sharing the gardeners' bothy at Floors Castle with seven other gardeners and tending one of the finest gardens in Scotland. As a subsequent newspaper account describes, during his three years at Floors he became "a prominent playing member of Kelso Rugby Football Club and he also played cricket in the Floors Castle team". 

By 1914 Donald was working at Keir House near Stirling, which brought him under the influence of the owner, Colonel Archibald Stirling, who took command of the 2nd Lovat Scouts in 1914. 

He was the brother-in-law of Lord Lovat, who had founded the Lovat Scouts in 1899 as regiments of cavalry and infantry, recruited largely from the expert riders, experienced stalkers and crack marksmen employed by Scottish sporting estates. 

Doubtless with some encouragement from his employer, Donald volunteered for the 2nd Lovats soon after war was declared and headed off to Huntingdon for training. From Huntingdon the Lovats moved to Alford in Lincolnshire for further training. It was here that disaster struck. Just as Donald's parents must have been expecting to hear that their son was departing for Alexandria, they were informed that he had died at the training camp. 

No report of this event offers any explanation. Was it an illness or an accident in training, perhaps involving live ammunition? Unlike modern deaths in British military training, there appears to have been no inquiry or inquest. One wonders if his parents were told of the circumstances or made to live the rest of their lives wondering how their son died. 

We know that two of Trooper McIntyre's comrades accompanied his body home from Lincolnshire to Strathblane, where he was accorded a full military funeral. It was the first such service ever conducted at Strathblane Parish Church, according to a report in the Stirling Observer. 

The weather was fine and the newspaper reported: "A firing party of the RFA from Maryhill, under Sergeant Hooper (himself just home from the front) joined the funeral cortege at Blanefield School, where Colonel Coubrough, in uniform, and a large gathering awaited the hearse. 

"The company then marched in slow time to the church, where Rev Mr Moyes gave an impressive address. After the coffin was lowered into the grave, the soldiers fired three volleys, and the solemn scene was over."

We are left to imagine Donald's heartbroken parents, his brother John and four sisters, including 10-year-old Agnes, slowly walking up Glasgow Road behind the coffin, draped in the colours of the Lovat Scouts Imperial Yeomanry, and then standing at the graveside as the three shots rang out. 

To add insult to injury, Donald appears not to have qualified for any war medals, even the Allied Victory Medal, issued to around 5,700,000 servicemen.

On Christmas Eve a short article in The Southern Reporter observed: "Both as a civilian and a soldier he was much liked, being a young man of open and genial disposition." The Stirling Observer described him as "well known and esteemed in the Blane Valley".

The Lovat Scouts became valued sharpshooters on the Western Front. Archibald Stirling's son David went on to found the SAS and the Rev Moyes would lose his own son Wilfrid to the war in 1918.