In service of their King and country

Thiepval, one of the scenes of the worst fighting in the Battle of the Somme
Thiepval, one of the scenes of the worst fighting in the Battle of the Somme

As a farmworker, my grandfather was in a reserved occupation; farmworkers, like miners, were not liable to be called up for the services, writes Alan Mason from Dalkeith History Society.

I didn’t fully realise that other occupations, e.g. bakers, were exempt from war service until I read a report dated September 1916 about the Dalkeith Local Tribunal, which judged exemption cases.

The Army tried to get exemption removed from two bakers, who had lost their jobs when Mrs Small closed her shop, on the grounds that they were only exempt if they worked for Mrs Small.

Representatives of the men successfully argued that Dalkeith was desperate for bakers and that they had already found work in another bakery.

Of course, the Army was also desperate for men at the time as it was the height of the Battle of the Somme. One man taking part in the battle was 2nd Lt. (later Captain) Alfred Noble, the son of Robert Noble, the owner of the Justinlees Inn, Eskbank.

The Advertiser of the September 28, 1916 reported the circumstances in which he won his Military Cross as follows:

“Second Lt. Alfred Noble of the Royal Scots, for conspicuous gallantry in action. He organised several attacks on an enemy position when all other company commanders had become casualties.

“He personally led the first party into position under heavy machine-gun and rifle fire. Later, he organised bombing parties and personally carried up supplies of bombs across open ground under short-range machine-gun fire.”

A brave man indeed. Incidentally, he later named his house in Lasswade Road “Bernafay”, after the area where he won his MC.

One soldier, still at home, was up to slightly more dubious activities. The young man, a private in the HLI, hired a bike from Mr Dick’s garage on New Edinburgh Road and sold it for 10/- (50p). To make matters worse, he already had a conviction for stealing a bike, and was fined 30/-with the option of 30 days in prison.

Another Dalkeith man off to the war was the Rev William Dunnett, minister of St Nicholas Church. He had volunteered in 1916 and served first of all as an orderly in the Medical Corps before he became a chaplain serving in Mesopotamia.

For his services he was later decorated with the OBE. Mr Dunnett travelled around Dalkeith on a motorbike, with his wife in the sidecar.

He arrived in Dalkeith in 1903 (he was the first person to have his photograph in The Advertiser) and ministered to his flock at St Nicholas for 47 years.

Mr Dunnett’s sister also had a motorbike; she was the first woman in Scotland to hold a motorbike licence and was later head of the Domestic Science College in Atholl Crescent.

There is another family connection to this story. My wife Helen’s granny, Helen Bowie, worked as a maid to the Dunnetts and one of her duties was looking after Willie Dunnett junior, a man I knew well when he was president of Dalkeith Rugby Club.