The Calders - a Railway Family

The Calders - a Railway Family

The railway came to Elgin in 1852 before anywhere else north of Aberdeen and it spread quickly to other parts of the district. Today only three towns in Moray are rail served - Keith, Elgin and Forres - but at the outbreak of the First World War almost every town and village in Moray was connected to the national railway network. As a result a large number of people were involved in this industry from the glamorous job of engine driving to the more mundane though essential ones of signalling, track maintenance and selling tickets.  Elgin as a major station had a substantial staff and a number of these lived in distinct railway enclaves in Elgin at Moycroft and Ashgrove in the appropriately named row of house know as "Railway Cottages".

In 1908 George Calder, who was employed by the Great North of Scotland Railway as a Surfaceman (person that maintains and repairs the railway track), moved with his family into number 1 Ashgrove Cottages. Two of his sons, Patrick and Alexander, followed their father into railway service and joined the Great North of Scotland Railway. Both joined the Superintendent of the Line Department, Patrick as a Clerk and Alexander as a Signalman. The eldest brother James had also worked as a Signalman, but had decided in 1906 to seek his fortune overseas, emigrating to Canada.

Initially the outbreak of the War had no effect on the family and all remained in their civilian jobs. It was James that enlisted first and he joined the 78th Battalion Canadian Infantry (Manitoba Regiment) on 22 April 1915. He undertook extensive military training in Canada and during this period he married Florence Brooks on St Valentine’s Day 1916 and they had a daughter, born on 28 February 1917. By that time James had left Canada and was serving on The Western Front.

Next into military service was Alexander who had been working as an Assistant Signalman in Aberdeen. He returned to Elgin and enlisted in the 6th Battalion Seaforth Highlanders on 8 November 1915. Patrick also enlisted in the Seaforth Highlanders, joining the 2nd Battalion on 5 March 1917. Mr and Mrs Calder had one remaining son, John, who at 16 years of age at the time of Patrick’s enlistment was too young for military service.

Spring 1917 saw French and British preparation for a big offensive on the Western Front and the 6th Battalion Seaforth Highlanders was involved in this action. On 9 April through falling sleet and snow the British attacked the German lines. Alexander was killed in this action and now lies buried in the Highland Cemetery at Roclincourt.

The promise of victory over the Germans made by the French General Robert Nivelle in the spring of 1917 came to nothing and cost an enormous number of French lives. This resulted in a mutiny in the French army and the burden of fighting on the Western Front fell to the British Army. In July, Sir Douglas Haig launched his major offensive in Belgium to capture strategic German railheads and submarine bases. By October this struggle centred on the village known as Passchendaele, where the Canadian Corps was ordered to relieve the exhausted ANZAC forces and prepare for the capture of the village. On 26 October, under heavy shellfire 20,000 soldiers inched their way forward using shell craters for cover. Somewhere in this area, James Robert Calder was struck by shrapnel in his left arm and head and he was taken for treatment to Number 3 Canadian Clearing Station at the Lijssenthoek Evacuation Hospital where, on 1 November 1917 he died and is now buried at the Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery that now occupies this site.

In August 1918 Field Marshal Haig planned for a limited offensive at Amiens to capture a stretch of railway line that ran from Mericourt to Hangest. Sir Henry Rawlinson led the British 4th Army against 20,000 German troops that were at Amiens. Included in the 4th Army were the 2nd Battalion Seaforth Highlanders in which Patrick Calder, now a Corporal, served. This date became dubbed "the black day of the German army" and was the start of the 100 days that eventually led to the defeat of Germany. During the fighting on 8 August Patrick was killed and is now buried at Pont-du-Hem Military Cemetery, La Gorgue, Nord, France.

Steps to commemorate those from Moray who served during the First World War started in 1921 with the publication of the Moray Roll of Honour. The three Calder brothers featured in this publication

A more public commemoration took place on 4 December 1921 when the Elgin War Memorial was unveiled by Colonel Johnston of Lesmurdie. This bronze figure, designed by Percy Portsmouth, listed the 461 of the town and parish who fell in the First World War and this included the three Calder brothers.

In the New Elgin, Ashgrove and Linkwood Parish arrangements for a memorial were not so advanced. A site had been chosen in April 1921 though no progress had been made by February 1922. At a bad tempered public meeting in March it was revealed that one of the Memorial Committee had received a threating letter decorated with a skull and cross bones. When common sense prevailed the contract to design the Memorial was given to A J Morrison, Architect, of Elgin and the work of sculpting was undertaken by  J R Henderson, and on 29 October 1922 the ceremony was held to unveil the structure remembering the 69 War dead. The railway connection of the Parish was conspicuous by the placing of the custody of the Memorial into the care Parish Councillor Mr Peter Stuart who was a railwayman.

Far away from Elgin, decisions had already been taken about one of its major employers The Great North of Scotland Railway. Under the Railway Act it ceased to exist on 1 January 1923 as it became part of the London and North Eastern Railway.

Source: John Ross

Troops embarking at Elgin Station
Troops embarking at Elgin Station