World War I and Three Kilwinning Men

An Unsung Hero

Sgt. Peter Edwards

53465 Sgt. Peter Edwards whose address was given as c/o Boyd, Corsehill Head, Kilwinning enlisted in the Royal Horse and Royal Field Artillery on 1st December 1908 at the age of 17. He became a Physical Instructor and by the outbreak of war in 1914 he had been promoted to Sergeant. He served throughout WW1 and was awarded the Mons star in 1914, the British War medal and the Victory Medal. He was also awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal with 2 bronze oak leaf emblems and was mentioned in dispatches for “gallant and distinguished service in the field” by Field Marshall Sir Douglas Haig in November 1917. The certificate which followed in 1919 was signed by Winston Churchill, then Secretary of State for War.

Sergeant Edwards continued to serve after the war, and was discharged after serving 12 years in the army. He died later of influenza.

Sgt. Peter Edward’s Medals

During his time fighting in Europe, Peter Edwards sent home several embroidered silk post cards to his wife, Mary. These were blank postcards onto which an embossed paper surround has been glued, to frame and hold a central piece of silk. On the silk, a design is hand embroidered in coloured thread by local women. Designs were often patriotic or sentimental. Some featured insignia of individual regiments with intricate designs often requiring great skill to reproduce in thread. (information from Imperial War Museums)

The Silk Embroidered Postcard

On the back of one with a pink flower motif, he wrote “In the Pink. Hope this finds you well. yours ever, Peter xxxx”

Private 9294 John Chrystie

Kilwinning Heritage was contacted by Loughborough Carillon Tower & War Memorial Museum in Leicestershire, who stated they had a Death Plaque commemorating Private 9294 John Chrystie who served in the Royal Scots Fusiliers during WW1. These memorial plaques were issued after the First World War to the next-of-kin of all British Empire service personnel who were killed as a result of the war.

Like many others, John had been killed in action in the ill-fated Gallipoli campaign on 30th December 1915, age 22. He is buried in Turkey.

The museum had discovered that our War Memorial in the Abbey grounds has a John ‘Christie’ recorded on it but were puzzled by the difference in the spelling of his name, but are confident that research proves it is the same person. They stated their records didn’t show how his plaque came into their possession, and they have now sent it to Kilwinning Heritage.

John Chrystie Plaque

The Gallipoli campaign was one of the bloodiest actions in WW1 and lasted from February 1915 to January 1916. Forces of the Ottoman Empire fought against a combined Allied force from UK, France, Australia, New Zealand, British India and Newfoundland. It is estimated that over 100,000 men were killed.

A WWI Love Story

Allan Breckenridge Wilson joined the 4th (Reserve) Battalion of the Royal Scots Fusiliers in 1916 as a Private, was appointed Acting Corporal in May 1917, and finally promoted to Corporal in February 1918, just before being posted to France. He had gained qualifications in Musketry and Lewis Gun instruction and at this time he seems to have transferred to the 10/11th Regiment of the Highland Light Infantry. At the end of March 1918, his unit was posted to France. In their first engagement with the enemy, he was captured at Laventie near Armentieres on or about the 9th April with most of his fellow soldiers and officers.

Allan Wilson’s sweetheart was Jenny Peacock Glen who lived at 64 Main Street, Kilwinning. In May 1918 she received a dreaded letter from the army:

“Dear Miss Glen. Your letter of 2nd inst to hand. I am sorry to inform you that Cpl. Allan Wilson is reported missing since 9/4/18. As there are no officers left in the Company who went into action on that date, very little information can be had regarding any of the men, all the information I can get from those who came out of the attack, is to the effect that the Company was surrounded and as far as we know prisoners. I can give no definite information regarding any of the Coy as the morning was very foggy, and one could only see a few yards. Trusting this will ease your mind a bit.”

The prisoners had in fact been sent to a POW camp or “Gefangenenlager” at Dulmen, Westphalia, in Western Germany.

During his time in France and then as a POW in Germany, Allan wrote to Jenny many times. All his letters and cards which had been scrutinised and censored by the prison camp authorities were treasured by Jenny and these and other prison camp memorabilia were carefully preserved. His letters give a fascinating insight into life in the camp.

“. . . My own darling sweetheart. How I do long to hear from you once again and have one of the letters which you alone can write. Over 11 weeks now since I heard from you, dearest, but of course you can’t help that. I understand that it is always the same – prisoners have to wait many weeks before letters begin to come through . . .

“. . . yesterday I had my first personally addressed grocery parcel. What a thrill it gave me to see . . . the first letter after 4 weary months without one. It was nice of you . . . to think straight away of sending me cigarettes. They arrived all safe and in good condition – Gold Flake too – I could not have asked for any more acceptable brand . . .”

After hostilities ceased, it took a long time for prisoners to be repatriated, and Allan did not reach home until January 1919 when the couple were reunited. They married in June 1920. Their daughter, the late Isobel Wilson M.A., was a teacher of English at the old Kilwinning High School and the former Irvine Royal Academy. A well-known figure in the town, Isobel Wilson was a keen local historian and wrote several books on the subject of Kilwinning’s history.

I am grateful to: Julia Edwards from Kent, widow of Peter Edwards’ grandson; Loughborough Carillon Tower and War Memorial Museum; the Chrystie family of Kilwinning and the Abbotsford Nursing home for their generosity in helping me put together these stories so that they will not be forgotten. In the Abbey Tower Heritage Centre we have all the medals, embroidered cards, letters, German prison camp money, certificates and photos which together help to tell the stories of these Kilwinning men who had three very different experiences of the “Great War”.

This blog post was kindly provided by Christine Watson from Kilwinning Heritage. Check out their website to plan your visit to the Heritage Centre at Kilwinning Abbey Tower. Or why not give them a follow on their Facebook page?