Brothers in Arms
Memorial Plaques, or Dead Man's Pennies as they were often known, were presented to the next of kin of soldiers who were killed in the First World War. They contain only the soldier’s name; no rank, regiment or service number is included, so that the soldiers would remain equal in death. However, this can make it difficult to match the plaque to any one particular soldier, particularly if they have a common name. Our plaques were donated to the museum in 2015, after being discovered in the attic of a house in Glencoe. With no information other than the names Archie and Angus Cameron, we began the challenging task of identifying these soldiers.
Working on the assumption that Angus and Archie were brothers, it was relatively simple to search census records and find households with sons by those names who were around the right age for the war. This led us to a family in Kilmallie, and from there on to the Kilmallie War Memorial. Thanks to the research carried out by Martin Briscoe, we were able to identify two names on the war memorial as being Archie and Angus: ‘Pte A C Clark’ of the Machine Gun Corps and ‘Pte A Cameron’ of the Cameron Highlanders. Archie was born Archibald Clark Cameron in 1887, to John and Margaret Cameron; his younger brother Angus was born in 1890. John was a shepherd, and the family lived in Strone Shepherd’s House in Kilmallie. By 1911, the brothers had moved away from home. They had two older brothers, Donald and Samuel, both of whom had become shepherds in the local area, so it is likely that the younger brothers had to move away to find work.
When war broke out, Angus enlisted in the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders, a local regiment that had been raised in Fort William. He was 28 years old when he was killed in action on 19th July 1918, likely during the Capture of Meteren – part of the German Spring Offensive - which took place on that day and involved Angus’ battalion.
Archie joined the Machine Gun Corps, and became part of the rather elite 1st Armoured Motor Battery. Going by his service number, he will have enlisted around July 1915 into the Motor Machine Gun Service, who were actively “on tour” in Scotland at that time, recruiting in various cities. There were specific requirements to join the MMGS and the unit was very selective about who it took in: as well as having an interest in and ability to ride motorcycles, Archie would have had to demonstrate knowledge of motorcycle mechanics and the ability to carry out running repairs, and also pass an interview with Geoffrey Smith, editor of ‘The Motorcycle’. The unit arrived in East Africa in March 1916, and Archie died from Blackwater Fever – a complication of Malaria – on 8th May 1917. He was 29 years old.
Archie and Angus were both unmarried, and their parents had passed away by the First World War, so the Memorial Plaques will have been sent to their surviving siblings. By the 1950s, three of their siblings – Donald, Samuel and Catherine – were living together in Minard Cottage in Tigh Phuirt. Samuel and Donald died in 1952 and 1954 respectively. Catherine, twin sister to Angus and last remaining member of the family, remained in Glencoe until her death in 1959, at which point the Memorial Plaques likely passed into the possession of her friend Donald Aitchison, who was named as informant on her death certificate. It was in his house that the Memorial Plaques were discovered some 50 years later.
We are proud to have been able to reunite the memorial plaques with their history, and tell the story of Angus and Archie Cameron for the first time.
We would welcome any more information about the Cameron brothers, particularly regarding where their medals might have ended up (these would also have been posted to their next-of-kin) or if anyone remembers the family. If you know anything that might help us, please get in touch with Catriona at email@example.com.
Thanks to Martin Briscoe for his research into the Kilmallie War Memorial and to David Murdoch from the Great War Forum for his information on the Motor Machine Gun Service. Picture taken from 'The Motorcycle', vol. 16, Jan-Jun 1916, pp. 186-7, scanned by the Boston Public Library.