WW1 Centenary visit uncovers touching tale of four Moray brothers

The resting place of a first world war hero selected at random during a tour of Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) sites has turned up a tale of four Moray brothers who served their country 100 years ago.

An official visit by the CWGC Commissioner Iain Anderson last week was held to draw attention to the 43 graveyards in Moray that hold a total of 475 Commonwealth War Graves.

Mr Anderson and Moray’s MP Angus Robertson placed a plaque at the gates of each cemetery where war graves exist, part of an initiative by the all-party Parliamentary War Heritage Group and the ‘In from the Cold’ project which aims to map the final resting place of 300,000 Commonwealth war dead.

At Elgin Cemetery the pair paused at the grave of C Keil who had served in the Seaforths, his gravestone alongside that of his parents and a brother who was killed in France, James Keil.

Acting on a remark by Mr Robertson that behind each stone there was a story, local historian Sandra Ross discovered that the grave was that of Charles Keil, a private with the 6th Seaforth Highlanders who was born at Byres Farm, Bellie, Fochabers in 1896.

Charles died of wounds received in action two days before Christmas in 1916.

Sandra said: “Charles would have at the time been part of 152nd Brigade of the 51st Highland Division.

“The battalion had been heavily involved in the attack and capture of Beaumont Hamel on November 13 during the Ancre offensive, which was the last of the Battles of the Somme.

“Since he is buried at home it is possible he was wounded then and cleared back to a UK hospital. The short time between joining and death would imply that he underwent short training period prior to being sent out with a reinforcement draft to join the battalion in time for the start of the Somme battle.

“The Division was not involved until September when it took part unsuccessfully in the attack on ‘High Wood’”

Further Research

Further research by Sandra revealed detail on a second member of the family, James Keil, who was a Lance-Corporal with the 2nd Seaforth Highlands. James had been born in 1885 in Urquhart and joined the army in 1901, serving in India and France before being killed near Donve, south of Messines, in November 1914.

Sandra said: “James would have been in the regular battalion which came back from India and was part of 10 Brigade, 4th Division.

“They arrived at Boulogne on in August 1914 as part of the British Expeditionary Force. This division was in the fighting retreat holding back the German 6th Army advance.

“James would have been involved at the Battles of Le Cateau, the Marne and the Aisne, before going forward to Belgium to stop the ‘race for the sea’ and in action at the Battle of Messines.

“The date of death suggests he was killed during day to day skirmishing as trenches were being developed.”

Using the Morayshire Roll of Honour, Sandra uncovered two more brothers who had served – Hugh Keil who was born in 1890 in Birnie and Peter Keil, born in Elgin in 1882.

Sandra said: “Hugh joined the army at Fort George in 1890. He was gassed in France and was awarded the Mons Star – he would also have been in the 10th Brigade, 4th Division with his brother James.

“Peter was in the 9th Seaforth Highlanders after joining in Grantown on Spey in 1915. He was awarded a DCM and MM for gallantry in the field.

“His battalion acted as pioneers with the 9th(Scottish) Division which was involved in many battles from 1915 onwards.”

Never Forget

Following the tour of the Moray war graves, Angus Robertson MP said: “I think for a lot of kids in our schools who are learning in this centenary year about what happened in the first world war and preceding conflicts – there is an understanding that there are many buried here in Moray.

“You do not need to go to the Western Front to see the graves of people who served with such as the Seaforth Highlanders – they are buried here in Elgin, in Lossiemouth and Buckie and elsewhere in our community.

“We also have graves from those who serviced in the UK armed forces and those of Canada, Australia and New Zealand – and many more.

“It reminds us of the tremendous sacrifices given for our liberty, and also reminds us that many are from families who are still here. There are generations with us now who can recall a father or grandfather who served.

“So this centenary year is an opportunity to visit our cemetery’s and that is why they are being signposted by the CWGC who do such a tremendous job maintaining these grave sites throughout Moray and Scotland.”

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