We're now half way through the four years of centenaries of the First World War. The scale of the war is in many ways incomprehensible. Every village was affected - every village has its own war memorial. Whittingehame in East Lothian was no exception. Whittingehame's memorial was formally unveiled in 1920 by Arthur Balfour, former Prime Minister. Balfour had himself played a prominent role in the First World War, succeeding Winston Churchill as First Lord of the Admiralty on 25 May 1915, then becoming Foreign Secretary on 10 December 1916, a post he held until after the war.
Balfour had been born in Whittingehame House, the son of the local MP, so it perhaps was no surprise that he agreed to unveil the war memorial in the parish of his birth.
Recently, though, while looking through the records of Whittingehame Kirk Session, we came across war-time copies of the parish magazine. In the January 1915 issue, the parish minister gives a Roll of Honour:
Roll of Honour for Whittingehame Parish
It's worth bearing in mind that in 1911, there were only 92 men aged 18 to 40 in the whole parish. This would seem to suggest that around one-third of the adult male population had signed up a full year before conscription was introduced by the Military Service Act 1916.
A year later, the parish magazine again contained a Roll of Honour
Roll of Honour for Whittingehame Parish, January 1916
The number of men in service had increased a little, and five men - Matthew Symington, David Stoddart, George Burgess, James Gray, Matthew Keiller and William Johnston - had been killed and another six injured.
The toll continues to rise in the January 1917 issue of the parish magazine:
[List of the dead]
By this stage, going by the 1911 population figures, roughly half of the adult males in the parish were in the armed forces. The final list is then produced in the 1918 issue of the Parish Magazine
I print a Roll of Honour for the Congregation and Parish, which is as complete and up-to-date as I can manage to make it from any information that has been given me. I look forward to making express use of it especially in our meeting for prayer on the first Sunday of 1918, as the King has suggested. First, in a special Roll by themselves, I inscribe those who have died for home and country and for the great cause of righteousness and humanity involved in this War. They were seven in number a year ago; now they are twelve. We shall not see them again in this world, but we cherish their memory; it is a very sacred memory to us; for “greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”
There is no reason to suppose that Whittingehame was in any way exceptional in this regard. It just goes to show the enormity of World War I that roughly half the men of the village saw action, of whom about a quarter were killed.
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