Project to honour fallen war heroes across the Borders

history of Coldstream book was first launched in 2010 by (l to r) Michael Hickman, Will Murray, John Elliot, Gerald Tait and Trevor Swan.
history of Coldstream book was first launched in 2010 by (l to r) Michael Hickman, Will Murray, John Elliot, Gerald Tait and Trevor Swan.

Ten years ago, four Coldstream friends hatched a plan to honour fallen war heroes across the Borders.

The aim was to gather as much information about each casualty as possible and share their discoveries online, as a lasting tribute.

They knew it was going to take a lot of time and research but believed it was a worthy endeavour.

Sadly, one of the four – Gerald Tait – died in February 2019.

However, Will Murray, John Elliot and Trevor Swan – all members of the local history society – have pressed on with the mission.

They have achieved so much already – Gerald and John focusing on graveyard inscriptions with Will and Trevor researching the fallen listed on war memorials.

However, Will told us this week that the project would likely continue for a further 10 years – if not longer.

He said: “We’ve been doing it for ten years now but it’s a big, big job recording details of all the fallen across Berwickshire, Roxburghshire and north Northumberland.

“It’s not only the time it takes to research each individual; it also takes time to upload the details of each fallen hero and update it should families later get in touch with information.

“Entries are also divided between the Boer War, First World War, Second World War and other conflicts and the locations of the war memorials.

“So far, we’ve researched 94 war memorials – we’re nearly finished at the Melrose War Memorial.

“But we then plan to move on to Gattonside, Darnick and Belford in north Nothumberland.

“It’s complicated as some memorials have the rank, regiment and date of death, which is excellent.

“Others, though, just have the rank and regiment and some just have a name – those are the difficult ones, particularly if it’s a popular name.

“We access the Commonwealth War Graves Commission site, which currently has around 1.3 million entries.

“So if you’re looking for a John Brown and don’t know exactly where he’s from, it can throw up 200 to 300 possible entries.

“Therefore, it can take quite some time to trace the person we’re looking for.”

At the moment, the team are trying to track down the details of three casualties listed on the Eyemouth War Memorial who have them stumped – and are hoping readers may be able to help.

Gunner John Maltman Foxton, Royal Artillery, is named within the World War Two Section. On the same memorial are Seaman William Maltman, Royal Naval Reserve and Seaman George Cormack, Royal Naval Reserve.

Will said: “We do a lot of research for every casualty, such as where they went to school and where they worked prior to their service.

“Sometimes, though, we have very little to go on and that’s the case with these three men.

“Gunner Foxton has an unusual name so it should have been easy to trace but we’ve drawn a blank.

“Hopefully, someone reading this may be able to help us.”

Anyone who visits the war memorials section on the Coldstream History Society website will quicklysee how much work has gone into sharing the information.

The men involved have committed much of their spare time to the project for more than a decade.

But the remaining trio are determined to continue.

They are also trying to find the time to complete another project.

Will said: “The four of us wrote Second to None, a history of Coldstream, which was first published in 2010.

“We’ve recently received a £500 grant to republish the book, with an additional 50 pages or so.

“We’ve got a lot of information and updates that we need to add in and we’re in the process of doing that just now.

“It’s just trying to find the time to do it all!”

Given these determined friends have already covered all of Berwickshire, most of north Northumberland and east Roxburghshire, as far as Melrose, we’re sure the book will be on shelves soon...so watch this space.

In the meantime, if you can help shed any light on the three Eyemouth casualties, Will would be delighted to hear from you.

He added: “Sometimes we simply have to hope that families will learn about what we’re doing and come to us with the information.”

To find out more about the project, visit www.coldstreamhistorysociety.co.uk/category/projects/war-memorials.

A wee toast to Private Purves

While each and every one of the hundreds of casualties are interesting, there are some that resonate with the men researching them, whether for their heroics or the difficulty in tracking them down.

We asked Will to share a few of his own personal favourites. He said: “Flying Officer Ronald Orr, RAF, is listed among the World War Two casualties on Coldstream War Memorial.

“The background here was difficult to track down until we found out his brother Danny lived in Edinburgh.

“Danny was able to give us the details we needed to complete the picture. Shortly afterwards Danny died, aged 100.

“Private James Charles Purves, 11th Hussars, is also listed on the Coldstream section of our website, but not on the War Memorial. He took part in the Charge of the Light Brigade at Balaklava in the Crimean War on October 25, 1854.

“We did a lot of research on him, the results of which can be read on the site. We always raise a toast to him on the anniversary of his death.

“And Captain George Stuart Henderson VC, who is listed on the Gordon War Memorial, is possibly the most decorated Scottish soldier in history.”

Killed in action on July 24, 1920, aged just 26, he was the son of Robert and Mary Henderson of Mount Hooley, Jedburgh.

He is commemorated on the Basra Memorial in Iraq and Jedburgh War Memorial.

Five times Mentioned in Dispatches, his Victoria Cross citation reads: “On July 24, 1920, from Hillah in Mesopotamia, the Company under his command was ordered to retire. After about 500 yards a large party of Arabs opened fire causing the Company to waver. Henderson at once reorganised the Company, led them gallantly and drove off the enemy.”

During the second charge he fell wounded but died fighting.