Voices from the frontline: the CAs of World War One

Red poppies from WW1
Alistair McEwan By Alistair McEwen

21 March 2017

“Scottish units played a key role in some of the conflict’s bloodiest battles, such as Gallipoli, Loos and Arras. The latter saw the largest concentration of Scottish armed forces ever.”

The outbreak of war in August 1914 changed the lives of people in Britain and interrupted the careers of many men who were making their way in their chosen professions.

Colin Kerr CA, a director of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, was kind enough to send me an article he wrote in this magazine (November 2014) about the members and apprentices from the professional bodies that were eventually to form ICAS, who lost their lives during the First World War. 

Estimates for the number of Scots killed in the First World War range from 125,000 to more than 145,000. What seems to be clear is that Scotland sustained more casualties as a percentage of the population than England, Ireland or Wales.

Researching our fallen heroes

The list attached to Colin’s article had very basic individual details and I decided to do some additional research, to make these men more than just statistics. So far it has been possible to find interesting background details on 70 of those who fell. 

The research will be published in due course on Scotland’s War and I would be pleased to receive any information about those who served, including photographs and letters. 

As Colin indicated, Scottish units played a key role in some of the conflict’s largest and bloodiest battles, such as Gallipoli, Loos and Arras. The latter saw, at some 53,000 men, the largest concentration of Scottish armed forces ever. At Arras, in April 1917, 14 men of the 6th, 7th and 17th Corps died in the two stages of the battle, which were part of the wider French offensive of General Nivelle. 

Although the British 3rd Army was broadly successful, the offensive was a failure overall, resulting in the mutiny of the French Army.

With the Colours: A List of Chartered and Incorporated Accountants

The book With the Colours; a List of Chartered and Incorporated Accountants and their Clerks Who are Serving with the British Forces on Land and Sea, 1914-1916 reproduced the lists of names previously published in The Accountant. A separate listing of Scottish accountants and clerks was published at the end of the book.

Lieutenant Alastair Ebenezer Buchan, 6th Battalion Royal Scots Fusiliers, died of wounds on 9 April 1917, aged 22, and is buried in Duisans British Cemetery, Etrun, France. His brother, John (the author of The 39 Steps), wrote this: “Alastair fell at the head of his company of Royal Scots Fusiliers on the first morning of the battle of Arras. 

"He was one of those people who seemed to have been born especially for the Great War. Cheerful, dreamy, absent-minded, he went creditably through the stages of school and college and decided on chartered accountancy as his profession. But he never seemed to take any of these things quite seriously, as if he were waiting for another kind of summons.”

This is typical of the many poignant stories that are uncovered of young men and women who cheerfully went off to war, and it is interesting to speculate how Scotland would have progressed if so many of them had not fallen.   


About the author

Alistair McEwen is a retired management consultant, now turned public historian. Since 2009 he has been running a major volunteer programme in support of the Scotland’s War initiative.


Read the full version of this article in the December 2016/January 2017 edition of CA magazine.

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