The Story of my Four Branches
with some twigs, nuts, deep roots and many little leaves

A Scottish Soldier James McTurk Drain

Private James McTurk Drain

I’d always been told that my Great Grandfather James McTurk Drain was a Scottish soldier. It was also widely believed that he was in the “Black Watch”. What was certain is that he had signed up to fight for King and country in the “Great War”, although I was told he was a regular (a soldier in everyday life, not just in wartime).

The day James left to go off to war, my Granddad, Ernest who was only 7 years old at the time, remembered how his dad had bought all the children on the street an ice cream, then marched proudly down the street, whistling "It's a long way to Tipperary". That was to be the very last time he ever saw his father.

The story goes that James or Jimmy had a strong Scottish accent. He was, apparently, able to play the bagpipes. And he was ambidextrous, able to carve granite with both his left and his right hands. James had followed his father and his maternal Grandfather into the quarries, before becoming a stone mason.

It's unknown how and why James found his way to Manchester; probably for work although that is presumption on my part. He was followed by his older brother, and his sister Jemima, and the three of them married in Manchester, although James was the only one to remain here.

James met his wife Sarah Owen here in Manchester, and they were married on 10 October 1898 at St. Luke's Church in the Miles Platting area of Manchester. They were soul-mates and adored each other.

James and Sarah's first child, William was born 25 March 1900 in Manchester. Two years later, their second child James was born on 22 March 1902, this time in Dalbeattie in Scotland. It would seem that Sarah missed her mum, Ann, and it wasn't long before James brought his wife and two young sons back to Manchester.

The couple had their first and only daughter, Annie on 8 April 1905. In 1908, my Granddad Ernest was born, 12th April. Herbert followed on 4 May 1910, and the youngest son, John - named after his paternal grandfather, was born on 22 March 1913.

Then came the "great war". The war to end all wars. It was perhaps the worst of all wars.

Like most men at the time, James believed it was his duty to fight for his King and Country. And like most men, he signed up immediately. The irony is that had this been now, James would have been considered too old at 37 years to join up.

So, back to my search for James, the Scottish Soldier. So far, everything I knew about James had been through memories of my Granddad. I had no paperwork. No "real" evidence to work from. So bearing in mind that James was Scottish, and had served in the Black Watch, I started my investigations to discover the truth about James McTurk Drain.

Imagine my surprise when I found his name in the “Book of the Dead” – a record of every soldier killed in the Great war. There he was, J Drain Pte. 2nd Battalion Border Regiment d. 29 Mar 1915.

Wait a minute…. Pte… that’s short form for Private; so okay no-one had ever said he was an officer. BUT… 2nd Battalion BORDER REGIMENT – that is definitely NOT the Black Watch. Further digging told me that soldiers back then had to sign up in the area they had been born in… which lead to the discovery that my handsome SCOTTISH Great Grandfather had in fact been born in Shap, modern day Cumbria. So, in effect he was English?

Wow. one tiny bit of information had led to the collapse of lots of family stories. He HAD been brought up in Scotland from a very young age, and had always called Dalbeattie home. Later discoveries included a letter from the Mayor of Norwich to his father (not his wife, Sarah) to offer a few words of comfort knowing that he had spoken to James just days before he died from his injuries and that he (James) had wanted to go home to Dalbeattie. More recently, seeing his name on a plaque which had been sited on a wall in Dalbeattie primary school, the very school he had attended as a young boy, along with the names of all those other former pupils who had lost their lives in the "Great" war.

And every year I now go to stay in Dalbeattie with my husband for Remembrance Day, so that I can place a wreath on the cenotaph which has his name inscribed as one of the sons of Dalbeattie who fought and lost his life in a stupid battle in a far off country. Am I proud of him? Oh yes, immensely so. And although my Scottish Soldier was in fact English, he will always be my Scottish Soldier!

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