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Retired Major fulfils mission to honour heroes absent from Brechin war memorial

Retired Royal Marines Major Steve Nicoll at Brechin war memorial. Pic: Gareth Jennings/DCT Media.
Retired Royal Marines Major Steve Nicoll at Brechin war memorial. Pic: Gareth Jennings/DCT Media.

For as many as 106 years, their ultimate sacrifice has gone unrecognised on the cenotaph in the community they left but would never see again.

But nine Brechiners are to finally be honoured on the Angus town’s war memorial.

Their inclusion on the monument is the result of former Royal Marine Steve Nicoll’s determination to “right the wrongs of the past” for those whose names were missed from the roll of honour of two world wars.

Brechin cemetery
Steve Nicoll carried out extensive research of the headstones in Brechin cemetery. Pic: Gareth Jennings/DCT Media.

And among them are a decorated Black Watch Corporal as well as a Women’s Auxiliary Air Force Sergeant who succumbed to tuberculosis as a result of her war service.

Dedicated research of family graves

Steve, a retired Major, has carried out extensive research on the headstones of Brechin cemetery to match local names with those on the war memorial – and uncover those who were not honoured.

And he now hopes local descendants may be able to complete the human side of the story.

Steve Nicoll at Brechin War Memorial
Steve Nicoll with the new panel at Brechin war memorial. Pic: Gareth Jennings/DCT Media.

“My survey of the cemetery has identified nine names of Brechin war dead named on family headstones which I’ve corroborated with details from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) database and Scotland’s People,” said Steve.

“It’s been a very interesting and worthwhile thing to do.

“We should right the wrongs of the past, but given the way things were recorded back then it is inevitable that some would fall between the cracks and not be recorded on the war memorial.

“And I can’t say definitively that there are no others.

“But if they do emerge there will be room on a new panel on the memorial for their names to be added.”

Family history hope

“We may have found the names, but that is just one step,” said Steve.

“I hope there are family still out there who may be able to put faces to these people through photos and other background.

“I’m grateful to Angus Council for their support, in particular environmental services manager Kevin Robertson.

“These things always take a lot of time, and have not been made any easier by the pandemic.

“But we now know for certain that they will be honoured on the war memorial – as they deserve to be.

Brechin war memorial
The original First World War plaque on Brechin cenotaph. Pic: Gareth Jennings/DCT Media.

“And my hope is that we can have those names in place by this year’s Remembrance commemoration.

“I think that would be fitting – and if there are family members still around they will be able to attend the remembrance and see these names on the memorial for the first time.

Steve’s work has already seen other names inscribed on the cenotaph.

In 2020, that of Brechin-born teacher James Gourlay was added.

He was a volunteer fire watcher in Middlesborough when the city came under attack by German bombers and the 36-year-old lost his life in a house fire explosion.

And brother John and James Glen, both of the Black Watch, are the most recent additions.

Elder sibling James was killed in action in France in the spring of 1917 aged 24.

Two years’ later his 20-year-old brother John died of tuberculosis in Dundee War Hospital.

Brechin cenotaph
The Glen brothers are now honoured at Brechin cenotaph. Pic: Gareth Jennings/DCT Media.

The Brechin nine

These are the names which will be added to Brechin war memorial.

Milroy (Roy) Coates. 15th Battalion Royal Scots. Commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial by the CWGC. Killed in action July 1 1916.

Alfred Murray. 2nd Battalion Royal Scots. Killed in action in France July 30 1916, aged 18.

Charles Graham. 6th Battalion Black Watch. Killed in action July 28 1918, aged 23. Awarded the Military Medal.

Henry George. 1st Battalion Black Watch. Killed in action on April 21 1916, aged 27. Buried in St Patricks Cemetery, Loos, France.

Alexander Webster. 70 Squadron Royal Air Force. Killed in a training accident on January 24 1919 aged 26. Buried in Cologne Southern Cemetery, Germany.

Helen Jarron. Women’s Auxiliary Air Force. Died of tuberculosis August 13 1946 aged 23.

Andrew Moyes. 5th Battalion Black Watch. Died of wounds March 23 1943, aged 22. Buried in Sfax Cemetery, Tunisia.

James Milton. Royal Army Service Corps. Drowned on 28 June 1945, aged 29.

Robert Murray. 9th Battalion Manchester Regiment. Killed in action in Italy on October 8 1944, aged 34. Buried in Coriano Ridge War Cemetery, Italy.

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