August 4th, 2014 marks the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of what became known as World War One. I never met my grandfather on my dad’s side, David Tweedie Cranstoun; he died ten years before I was born. A trained ‘dispenser’ working in a pharmacy shop in Rothesay, he joined the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) in 1916, ultimately winning the Military Medal for ‘Bravery In The Field’ in 1918.
How do I know this? Not from learning stories about him when I was a child. It never occurred to me to ask questions about his life. By the time I did, all the family members who’d known him personally were dead.
But it’s easy to find out about an ex-soldier’s military record, I can hear you say. When you know their service number you can access their service records online. What could be simpler?
And that’s true – except my grandfather’s service records were among those damaged or destroyed by the Luftwaffe in World War Two. But some fragments remain, burn marks evident around the sides.
So this is what I’ve found out about the grandfather I never knew. He was born on May 2nd, 1887, the illegitimate son of Jane Tweedie, a domestic servant.
The fact that he was illegitimate came as a surprise. Growing up in Glasgow in the 60s, ‘that kind of thing’ didn’t happen in families like ours. And you know, I’m not sure my dad ever knew, because somewhere between 1900 an 1910, before he married and became a father, David Tweedie changed his name to David Tweedie Cranstoun. As far as my siblings and cousins were aware, our Cranstoun great-aunts and uncles were truly our grandfather’s flesh and blood. They were always present for family celebrations and there was never a hint of ‘scandal’ about the man who – in reality – was their half-brother.
Married with three children, David joined the army in 1916, serving, as I mentioned before, in the Royal Army Medical Corps.
I know very little about his war. It must have been bloody and he must have seen some horrific sights. According to surviving records, he contacted measles at the front and was a patient in an isolation hospital in Glasgow for some time. And he must have done something very brave to win the Military Medal in 1918.
I also know that after he was demobbed from the army in 1920 he couldn’t settle. According to my father, my grandfather found it hard to adjust to everyday civilian life and signed up to fight for the ‘White Russians’ following the Bolshevik Revolution in 1921.
Today, 100 years on from the beginning of that bloody First World War, I can’t help thinking of David Tweedie Cranstoun and all the sons, brothers, fathers, sisters, daughters and mothers who served in that conflict at enormous emotional and physical cost to themselves and their families.
We owe them all so much.
Thank you, Granddad.