One hundred years on – the story of a Moray loon in the trenches is revealed

When Moray ex-pat Sandy Stewart located a letter written by his great-uncle from the trenches in 1916 it prompted an internet search that greatly surprised and touched him.

The letter was written in August of that third year of World War 1 by Jim McConnachie, a farm worker from Archiestown, who wrote to his brother and sister of the daily hardships faced by soldiers in the trenches.

Sandy, who now lives in the United States, said: “My great uncle was killed shortly after writing the letter and I knew that his name was one of those engraved on the war memorial at Archiestown.

“Jim was a simple farm loon who did what was expected of him and paid the ultimate price.

“Like many he enlisted prior to the war, no doubt for some outside interest and company to relieve the backbreaking tedium of working a croft on poor ground.”

After discovering the letter, in which Jim talks of a recent engagement that saw his unit suffer heavy casualties, Mr Stewart was prompted to learn more about his ancestor – and was amazed at just how much he did manage to find through internet searches.

In the letter Jim McConnachie speaks of how his Sergeant Major was killed. He said: “We came out of the trenches on Monday. We were in for 12 days this time – we were in a very hot part of the line (and) this time we had quite a good few casualties.”

Archiestown war memorial (commons)

Yet life went on around the trenches in France – with Jim relating how they were enjoying fine weather and local farmers were being kept busy at the harvest. He goes on to describe one of the hardest things was “we are always in bad need of a bath when we come out of the trenches”.

Sandy says that through his research he discovered what happened to his relative.

He explained: “He was killed at the tail end of the Battle of the Somme in an action known as the Battle of Beaumont Hamel.

“Jim McConnachie was serving with 10 Platoon, ‘C’ Company of the 1/6th Morayshire battalion of the Seaforth Highlanders. He was just 24-years-old when he was killed on November 13 1916.

“Born in Craigellachie he was the youngest son of James McConnachie, a crofter, and Jim was working on his father’s croft when he enlisted at Archiestown in March 1913.”

[box] “I can assure you that he was a very fine soldier and well liked by all of the men.”[/box] Sandy found a letter to Jim’s father from Captain James Bliss, the officer commanding ‘C’ Company, in which he wrote: “I have to convey some very bad news to you.

“Our battalion took part in an attack on the German lines on Monday the 13th last and I regret your son 1409 Pte J McConnachie was killed while crossing the first German trench. Will you please accept the sympathy of myself and the whole platoon in your bereavement.

“Your son had been in No10 Platoon since he came out here and I had charge of that platoon for a time and led them into action on Monday last. I can assure you that he was a very fine soldier and well liked by all of the men.

“The casualties have been very severe. Our company went into action with four officers and 118 men and came out with one officer and 46 men. I fear this letter will be no consolation to you but if you could only have seen those brave fellows your feelings would be those of pride.

“I will arrange to have his effects sent to you in the normal way and if there is anything I can do for you please let me know.”

Captain Bliss, who was from Forres, was himself killed in action some seven months later at Ypres.

Sandy said: “I know that the croft house at Blackholes, where the family used to live, was to the west of the main road about a mile north of Archiestown.

“It has been demolished now but the stones can still be seen as a mute reminder of the past.”

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