My Account

Part Two – Captain Lumgair, 1st/4th Battalion KOSB

29 April 2024

The following takes place over the course of a year, April to April, as Captain Lumgair made himself known to me and his story took shape.

The folder containing Captain Lumgair’s archive material is a mixture of some significant items – his commission to 2nd Lieutenant, dated 11th January 1913 and the tailor’s estimate for his officer’s uniform – along with all of the other bits of paraphernalia people hold on to over the years. Railway tickets, notes, newspaper clippings and post cards. Items that hold little meaning in their early years of existence but which, after a while, take on new significance and meaning; mementos of past lives. It was April 2023 when I first started looking at Lumgair’s archive folder and a search through some old museum records found that the collection also contained other items belonging to Lumgair; the previously mentioned belt but also a WWI officer’s uniform and some boots. With much searching, I narrowed the items down. They were in separate locations, forgotten and with little to connect them to the man who had once worn them. This was not just locating items, identifying their provenance and putting a label on them. This was piecing together the remnants of a life, the possessions of a real person and the human story that went with them.

Robert Robertson Morrison Lumgair was born in Melrose in 1891. His obituary in the Hawick News, 27th April 1917, states that “He had been on much active service, and came through the Gallipoli campaign unscathed. He was educated at Harrogate and at Uppingham and was about 25 years of age. Capt. Lumgair was well known in Border cricketing circles as a good all-round player. After playing for a season with Peebles County he played for the Selkirk Club. He also played for the Selkirk Rugby Club. He has left a widow and a daughter […]. Captain Lumgair was held in very high esteem in the Border district, generally, and no one who know him will be surprised to know that he was greatly beloved by his men.” Gladys Lumgair, nee Laidlaw, was from Hawick – there is small, battered photograph of her in his archive file, a photograph small enough to have been carried inside a pocket or book. This photograph was the first face I was able to attach to either of them.

I found that the museum collection also contained Lumgair’s medals and bronze commemorative plaque, issued to all fallen soldiers of World War I. There is what looks like a holy water stoup, made from a modified tin canteen and with the words ‘In memory of Gallipoli, 12 July 1915, 4/KOSB’ punched into it. Again, illustrating the need to record, commemorate and somehow give meaning to extreme experiences. Creating physical marks to say where they were and what they had both endured and survived.  The ritual of blessing with holy water to comfort, protect and act as a reminder of sacrifices made.

Fast forward a year and I was deciding what jobs I needed to do one Friday in April. I knew that I wanted to update the museum blog and also research items in the collection relating to the 4th Battalion KOSB.  Starting with some 4th Battalion investigation, I stood in front of a shelf of large photograph albums, not named to specific people but generally organised by battalion and date.  I was drawn to two, battered and worn and bound in green fabric. As I began to look through them, I noticed what good quality pictures they were; well defined and each photograph taken and positioned with thought. As faces began to crop up, there was one that I recognised. It was Gladys from the crumpled photograph from Lumgair’s archive folder. A photograph of the officers of the 4th Battalion, with their names written below, confirmed that the male face that featured in many of the photographs was Captain Lumgair. These albums belonged to him and there was now a series of beautiful photographs to illustrate the objects I had been looking at over the course of the past year.

When we think of photographs from World War I, we tend to think of images that are of either poor quality or of serious and upsetting subject matter. But Lumgair’s photographs are full of humour, personality and human emotion. He takes pictures of his friends just as they’ve woken up, one rubbing his sleepy eyes. Another series of photographs shows a KOSB officer, Johnny, pre, mid and post falling from his horse – an experience he seems to be completely unfazed by.

The most touching images are of Gladys and Lumgair. They take turns photographing each other, with the subject gazing lovingly at the person holding the camera. They are always either laughing or smiling and their feelings for each other permeate the printed image. A series of images shows them on a boating trip to Loch Earn during Lumgair’s leave, 1915.  Gladys smiles at him from one end of the boat, the empty camera case to her left and Lumgair’s Glengarry to her right. She takes a picture of him as he rows and looks adoringly towards her.

The albums chart the final years of Lumgair’s life; his blissful time on leave with Gladys, visiting family along the Borders, trips around Scotland, close friendships with comrades and then back to the reality of World War 1. A beautifully observed record of life in the face of mortality. On 21st May 1915, 1st/4th Battalion set sail from Liverpool to Gallipoli and, despite the small size of the photographs, Lumgair captures the scale of masses of soldiers leaving the dock; a ship packed with soldiers perched, legs dangling, on every available surface.

Once at Gallipoli, he captures the extreme to the mundane; the heat and dust, shaving in the trenches, gas masks.

The larger of the two albums becomes more of a scrap book, with menu cards and daily orders glued inside. There is a page with a section of dicing from Lumgair’s Glengarry, his red felt toorie from the top and a feather. Another page contains pressed flowers picked from Gallipoli, a moment of beauty noticed amongst the flies, death and disease.

I hadn’t planned to spend that day devoted to Lumgair. It was pure chance that I found the albums and became immersed in his story. I did some digging and found out a few details about him and Gladys. They were both born in the same year. He was born in Melrose and they had settled in Selkirk. He never got to meet his daughter who was only four months old when he died. Gladys had died in Edinburgh in 1980 and there is a gravestone in Hawick in memory of both of them, though Lumgair was buried where he died. The only other thing I did that day was to put some things on the museum social media relating to Gallipoli. I chose an image of Captain Lumgair sitting in his dugout, a captured bayonet in his hand, and it wasn’t until the following day that I realised what date it had been: 17th April, 107 years to the day that he died.

Top magnifiercross