Family uncovers story of Milngavie soldier’s World War One sacrifice

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A young Milngavie soldier’s moving last words to his family from the trenches of World War I have been revealed by his great-niece.

Private Peter Gray Logan of the 5th Battalion Cameronians (Scottish Rifles) was killed at the Somme in 1916, in one of the bloodiest battles of the war. He was 22 years old.

His great-niece Kathleen Logan has discovered three letters written during the brave young soldier’s two years on the front line.

In the heartfelt correspondence from France to his family back home in Stewart Street, Peter tells of his homesickness and his longing for the war to be over.

On Christmas Day, 1915, he told his brother William: “I could hardly settle down. I was that home sick. Ah, how I wish the thing was over.”

A letter from his father John to his soldier son says his good health is “the fervent wish of all at home.”

He also tells Peter a parcel is on the way, containing a five and one Franc piece, socks – and a copy of the Milngavie and Bearsden Herald.

Less than two months before his death, Peter wrote home about shells and mortars breaking the stillness of a beautiful but cold night and hostile aeroplanes hovering overhead.

He added: “Plenty of larks too, giving one a longing return to the golf course where there were scores.

“Indeed, this must have been a beautiful countryside before the war.”

The young man was slaughtered with thousands of others at High Wood, the last of the major woods in the Somme offensive to eventually be captured by the British after months of fighting.

It was never fully cleared after the war, and it is estimated the remains of up to 8000 soldiers, British and German, still lie there today.

As the centenary of the Great War is marked this year, historians are uncovering scores of tales of brave soldiers like Peter.

Kathleen revealed that the full story of her uncle’s harrowing experiences was only unearthed through a surprise telephone call from a long-lost relative in Australia.

She said: “I got a call from Kirsten McDowell, a cousin I didn’t know I had. Her grandmother was Peter’s sister who emigrated to Australia in the 1920s.

“I think the centenary coming up had spurred Kirsten on to research her ancestors and she managed to track down myself and my sister.

“It was such a surprise. Kirsten came over to Scotland a few months ago and along with my sister Ailsa, we generated all the information together about great uncle Peter.”

Kathleen, who lives in Linlithgow, has now forwarded the details about the young soldier to the Royal British Legion. The Legion have launched a campaign, Voices of Veterans, which aims to preserve the tales of military life, especially in the run-up the centenary.

There are no surviving members of Kathleen’s family now living in Milngavie, but she says she hopes more stories of local soldiers in the area can be documented - perhaps some who served in the same battalion as Peter.

She said: “There is a photo of Peter with five comrades and I would be keen to know if anyone recognises any of them.”

Peter’s name is engraved on the war memorial in Milngavie and his obituary appeared in the Milngavie and Bearsden Herald on August 25, 1916.

The young insurance worker was actively involved in the Boys Brigade in his home town.

A member of the Territorial Army, he enlisted immediately when war broke out in 1914.

Kathleen said: “There is a memorial to his battalion in France and I remember being told as a child that he had no grave.

“Some of his possessions were returned and I also remember we had a huge photo of Uncle Peter hanging in our lounge. It was a bit spooky – I felt his eyes were following me all round the room.

“The fact he survived the fighting for two years is testament to his courage and skill.”

As well as the letter, Peter’s family have treasured keepsakes, including awards made to Peter posthumously - the British War Medal and Victory Medal, and the 1914 Star medal.

They also have, intact, the decorative brass Christmas box belonging to Peter, which was sent to the forces by Princess Mary, daughter of King George V and Queen Mary.

The box still contains the original pipe, some cigarettes and a bullet pencil.

To commemorate the 
sacrifice of the Cameronians at High Wood at the Battle of the Somme, wooden crosses were erected there in December 1916.

They were replaced in 1924 by the first of the permanent stone memorials at the edge of the wood.