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ianw

Capt John Lauder

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ianw

I have recently been transcribing the pocket diary of a labour company soldier who reports a visit to John Lauder's grave at Ovillers in March 1917.

Lauder died on 28th December 1916 and is reported to have been the victim of a sniper. Several websites suggest that the sniper may have been one of his own battalion. Is there any evidence to support this ?

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Guest Hill 60

Ian - I've read this suggestion (can't recall where). It was suggested that J. Lauder was so despised by his own men that one of them shot him.

I haven't seen any written evidence to support this accusation but to be honest, I haven't really looked into it that much.

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Guest Ian Bowbrick

Ian,

There was a thread on this before and I remember quoting a reference for this 'fragging' rumour - can't remember it off hand but it you search back you may be able to find it.

Ian B.

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Tom Morgan

This still has to go down as a "peristent rumour" for the time being. It's certainly true that Capt. Lauder was the only man in his battalion to be killed on that day. (There was one other soldier who died of wounds.)

Tom

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Tom Morgan
I have recently been transcribing the pocket diary of a labour company soldier who reports a visit to John Lauder's grave at Ovillers in March 1917.

With rumours it's often useful to find out when a rumour started, or when the earliest reference to it was.

Does the diary entry itself refer to the rumour?

Tom

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ianw

No Tom, the diary does not mention the circumstances of the death at all.

I wonder what the battalion war diary records

It seems that his father was regarded as a social climber and widely cold shouldered by the real Scottish gentry. That said , his son must surely have been a reasonable soldier to have been promoted Captain by 1916. However, his soldierly qualities may have been based on unpopular harsh discipline, I suppose.

This thread harks back to the recent quesrtion of just how common this sort of incident was and written references will be inevitably very few and far between.

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Kate Wills

This is indeed a persistent rumour. The problem with anyone's death (modern civilian, and / or WW1 dead) is that no-one feels inclined to sully the name of the dead.

This case sounds like a suitable subject for research, and I suppose the only supporting evidence may come from any of his men's letters that still exist, or interviews with veterans made comparatively recently (such as the 50th or 60th anniversaries of the Somme).

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ianw

I understand that the incident may feature in a recent novel based on the A.S.H in the Great War entitled "Empty Footsteps" by MacIntyre. Has anyone come across it ?

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Sue Light

Now, I realise that this is probably about as biased an account as you could possible wish for, but perhaps it can be accepted as giving just an inkling about the man!

From 'A Minstrel in France' by Harry Lauder [1918]:

“Ah, but this war was not a game to him! He was not one of those who went out with a light heart, as they might have entered upon a football match. All honour to those who went into the war so; they played a great part and a noble part! But there were more who went to war as my boy did – taking it upon themselves as a duty and a solemn obligation. They had no illusions. They did not love war. No; John hated war, and the black ugly horrors of it. But there were things he hated more than he hated war. And one was a peace won through submission to injustice……..

…..In another letter he told us that nine of his men had been killed.

‘We buried them last night,’ he wrote, ‘just as the sun went down. It was the first funeral I have ever attended. It was most impressive. We carried the boys to one huge grave. The padre said a prayer, and we lowered the boys into the ground, and we all sang a little hymn: ‘Peace, Perfect Peace!’ Then I called my men to attention again, and we marched straight back into the trenches, each of us, I dare say, wondering who would be the next.’

….John was promoted for the second time in Flanders. He was now a captain, having got his step on the field of battle. Promotion came swiftly in those days to those who proved themselves worthy. And all of the few reports that came to us of John showed us that he was a good officer. His men liked him, and trusted him, and would follow him anywhere. And little better than that can be said of any officer…..

………John did so well in the bombing school that he was made an instructor and assigned, for a while, to teach others. But he was impatient to be back with his own men, and they were clamouring for him……

‘Yon’s where the men are, Dad!’ he said to me just before he started.”

Sue

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Guest Hill 60

Didn't Harry Lauder pen the song (Keep right on to the) End of the Road after his son's death?

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Sue Light

A bit more digging and I've now found what I was actually looking for, which is Harry Lauder's own account of his son's death:

"It was about eight o'clock one morning that my boy John was killed, between Courcellete and Pozieres, on the Ancre, in the region that is known as the Somme battlefield. It was soon after breakfast, and John was going about, seeing to his men. His company was to be relieved that day, and to go back from the trenches to rest billets behind the lines. We has sent our laddie a braw lot of Christmas packages not long before, but he had had them kept at the rest billet, so that he might have the pleasure of opening them when he was out of the trenches, and had a little leisure, even though it made his Christmas presents a wee bit late.

There had been a little mist upon the ground, as, at that damp and chilly season of the year, there nearly always was along the river Ancre. At that time, on that morning, it was just beginning to rise as the sun grew strong enough to banish it. I think John trusted too much to the mist, perhaps. He stepped for just a moment into the open; for just a moment he exposed himself, as he had to do, no doubt, to do his duty. And a German sniper, watching for just such chances, caught a glimpse of him. His rifle spoke; its bullet pierced John's brave and gentle heart.

Tate, John's body-servant, a man from our own town, was the first to reach him. Tate was never far from John's side, and he was heart-broken when he reached him that morning and found that there was nothing he could do for him.

Many of the soldiers who served with John have written to me, and come to me. And all of them have told me the same thing: that there was not a man in his company who did not feel his death as a personal loss and bereavement. And his superior officers have told me the same thing. In so far as such reports could comfort us, his mother and I have taken solace in them. All that we have heard of John's life in the trenches and of his death, was such a report as we or any parents would want to have of their boy.

John never lost his rare good nature. There were times when things were going very badly indeed, but at such times he could always be counted upon to raise a laugh and uplift the spirits of his men. He knew them all; he knew them well. Nearly all of them came from his home region near the Clyde, and so they were his neighbours and friends."

The account continues for some time in this vein, giving examples of his life with his men, and how soldiers continued for some time to go to the family house in Dunoon to pay their respects. Perhaps coloured with a rosy glow by his father, but perhaps difficult to believe that it's all fabrication?

Sue

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Paul Reed

Somewhere in my dusty archives I have a newspaper article about this, from many years ago. If I remember correctly, the story came from a sister of a soldier who served with Captain Lauder, who 'told her the story when she was young'... hardly a reliable source.

If I can find it, I will post some further details later.

The fact that Lauder was the only casualty that day, in my opinion, doesn't prove much; his unit was in the line at Courcelette at the time, and during that winter most casualties were from the weather rather than enemy activity.

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Guest Ian Bowbrick

If I was Agatha Christie, I would say the butler (man servant did it!) :ph34r:

Seriously however, it would be interesting to find out if there was a first hand account of the incident from one of his men.

Whilst his men might have respected him greatly, it only takes one man, one rifle, one bullet, one tiny incident to drive a man to do it. However the report of a rifle being fired in a confined space such as a trench could not have been remained a secret!

Ian

:)

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ianw

I wonder if it is possible to establish the distance between the frontlines at the time of Lauder's death.

Quite agree that his being the only casualty on the day cannot be construed as supporting any particular view of his death.

As regards the discharge of a rifle, shots might have been actively exchanged , I suppose, depending on the operation or not of " a live and let live" policy between the protagonists on that front. A British rifleman knowing Lauder was going out could have taken advantage if the front were active on that day - but , of course, this is pure conjecture. Equally, a German sniper could have been looking for the mist to clear suddenly to offer targets of opportunity.

I presume that 1st/8th A.S.H may well have been an actively offensive battalion as part of the famous 51st H.Div.

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Malcolm

My Grandfather was in A company, No3 platoon 1/8th Argyle & Sutherland Highlanders as a Lewis gunner and would only talk about the war rarely but I remember him telling me that 1/8th were an agressive lot ' as that was the only way to survive '

He also told me that the 1/8th were known as the silent 8th as they never shouted or screamed when they went in with the bayonet.

Aye

Malcolm

post-1-1061732728.jpg

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ianw

Thanks for that information, Malcolm.

Seems like they may well have been the type of battalion that would have been aggressively pursuing the war with the enemy even just after Christmas , so they may well have been having sniping competitions with German troops opposite.

Did their "silent" killing with the bayonet extend to quietly removing a martinet officer ? I suspect we will never know !

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Guest

I found this article on Lauder's death, in the People's Journal.

fp9kcx.jpg

I have also read an account which states he was out collecting souvenirs at the time of his death.

Why is there such a mystery over the death of this man?

Would his service record be available at Kew?

Mike

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ianw

This article suggests that he was maybe killed by the shell but I suppose he could have been sniped as he exposed himself.

Yes, it is interesting that the circumstances of his death are to a degree shrouded in mystery. Does the war diary give any sort of description of what occurred?

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Guest
. Does the war diary give any sort of description of what occurred?

I have a couple of months of the 1/8th Diary, but not, am afraid, the diary for December. You would have thought an officer would have been mentioned. As Cpt would he not have been the Adjutant, and have written the diary?

Mike

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truthergw

This death has been the subject of a long thread which grew quite animated at times and covered a lot of ground, as the really interesting threads tend to do. The little evidence we have seen on the forum is from a bereaved parent. He says his son was popular and the men liked him. He was a Captain so not incapable of his job. Unless someone has evidence to the contrary, I believe that a vicious rumour is all it ever was.

The newspaper clipping is very interesting and displays a bit of ' boilerplate'. A standard scenario for reporting the death of a local man. A few weeks and two or three deaths later, and that report is forgotten unless someone sees it while eating fish and chips. 

If speculation is required, I would speculate that Lauder's son was the victim of snobbery. His father was ' only' a music hall comedian. Who does he think he is, strutting around in his captain's uniform. His father met the same reaction from the classes who expected to provide officers. Lauder had made a lot of money and that irked some who struggled to maintain their position in society. Hard to believe that a low Scots comedian's son could be a good officer.  There would have been a degree of schadenfreude in the ' upstart' losing his son and a willingness to believe that he had been shot by his own men. 

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treetop

I heard from one 'historian' but this can only be classed as a rumour that Lauder was actively disliked for wanting to rush his command into dangerous positions for the pursuit of glory. It could easily be that one of them,or many more, didnt like the idea of their lives being compromised by a glory seeking officer. Clearly nobody would dream of owning up to that action because of teh consequences but it does seem perfectly possible in such circumstances.

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Ian Riley

If I was minded to dispose of my company commander or 2ic, I suspect that I would not choose a relatively quiet day in the line to do it. I might wait for a serious bombardment to cover my tracks. I would also have to be careful to stage manage it so it happens at a point were the officer might be likely to offer a target accidentally . I would have thought it unlikely (though without the benefit of looking at the battalion's war diary) that on 28 December or for some time previously, with lines static in mid-winter, there had been much 'rushing of soldiers into dangerous positions' although I suppose the counter-suggestion is bound to be that revenge is a dish best served cold.

I would have thought by the end of 1916, soldier were becoming used to officers coming from less traditional backgrounds though I would need to dig out Gary Sheffield's book on Leadership in the Trenches to look for some figures

I agree that it could 'easily be' that some soldiers did not like him; it is quite another step to risk the firing squad by taking the law into one's own hands. There seems no evidence at all to support this assertion (judging from the discussion above) and some (albeit it implied from his father's account of subsequent visits from comrades) to indicate that it is unlikely.

Ian

PS As a Captain (see post #19 from Skipman), he could have been a company commander (even a company second in command) the Lewis Gun officer or the signals officer (though none of these are necessarily Captains).

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stephen p nunn

Not specifically about Capt Lauder, and forgive me if this has been debated at length before. Many years ago a woman I work with told me that her late father (a GW veteran and Chelsea Pensioner) told her that there were incidents when men would shoot disliked officers as they were all called over the top. It shocked me when she told me this and has stayed with me ever since.

SPN

Maldon

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garrettg

Hi there, I have the definitive answer to the question of captain Lauders death.

My grandfather (mothers father) was George Tait (spelt Tate by Harry Lauder), and he served as captain Lauders `batman` during the war. He was there when Lauder was killed.

He never said whether Lauder was liked or not, but he did say what happened.

Lauder was wearing a bullet proof vest at the time, and thought of himself as invincible. He was standing up, looking out towards the enemy, when he was shot by a sniper through the head (throat I think). The men set down return fire, and my grandfather crawled out to collect the body. He put Lauder into a wheelbarrow and took him to the field hospital where he was pronounced dead.

We have a lovely framed photo of lauder in his uniform, with a letter from his mother thanking my grandfather for trying to save her son. I will try and post a photo of this later.

My grandfather, returned safely home from the war, and carried on his trade as a stone mason. Dying years later when he fell from a ladder at height.

thank you for reading. G Garrett. Argyll

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hazelclark

Well, the "bullet proof vest" could account for a lot!

H.C.

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