A First World War soldier who died more than 100 years agohas finally been laid to rest with full military honours after a farmer made a chance discovery of a spoon engraved with his initials.
The remains of Lance Corporal John Morrison were discovered Cuinchy, near Arras in France two years ago when a farmer working in his field spotted a spoon engraved with his service number 5181.
This, and the presence of other artefacts, led the MoD’s Joint Casualty and Compassionate Centre (JCCC) to trace his family and determine LCpl Morrison’s identity using DNA.
Ministry of Defence experts then used DNA tests to track down LCpl Morrison’s 90-year-old nephew, Dr Ian Morrison, in Dingwall and his cousin, Sheila Thomson, in Forres – just a few miles away from the infantryman’s family home.
A new headstone bearing LCpl Morrison’s name was provided by The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC), who will now care for his final resting place in perpetuity.
The burial with full military honours took place at Woburn Abbey Cemetery in Cuinchy in a ceremony led by the Reverend Stewart A Mackay, Chaplain The Black Watch 3rd Battalion, The Royal Regiment of Scotland.
In attendance at the service was Mrs Eilidh Rennie, Mrs Fiona Macpherson and Mr Malcolm Morrison, great-nieces and great-nephew of LCpl Morrison – all children of Dr Morrison, who could not attend the poignant tribute.
LCpl John Morrison, who served with the 1st Battalion The Black Watch died aged 29 years old during a fierce battle. Just days before Christmas 1914, the 1st Battalion along with others of the division, received orders to redeploy from Ypres to Cuinchy to counter an anticipated advance by the enemy.
On the morning of 25 January 1915, four enemy mines were detonated in the notorious Brickstacks sector of the front and the line held by the Coldstream and Scots Guards was overwhelmed by a concerted attack.
Three companies of LCpl Morrison’s battalion – along with other reinforcements – were thrown into the line in a desperate attempt to stabilise the position.
It was during the hours of bitter fighting that ensued that LCpl Morrison became one of the 59 fatalities suffered by his battalion that day.
Following his death, his parents received a letter from one of John’s comrades describing his last moments: ‘The attack was fierce and John got a bullet in the leg.
Nevertheless, he crawled to the assistance of his officer, also wounded, and was in the act of helping him to remove his pack when he was fatally shot.
He was promoted to Lance Corporal only a few days before.
The officer concerned, 2nd Lieutenant Lewis Willett, elaborated further on the circumstances of John’s death in a separate letter to his brother: «Some gallant fellow crawled up to me shortly after I was hit, and attempted to assist me off with my pack, but owing to the nature of my wound, I was unable to turn my neck sufficiently around to see who it was.
«I heard he was hit, and asked him if it was so. He replied: ‘Yes Sir’; and when I inquired later, I received no reply, but could just touch his hand by reaching back, and found he was dead.
«From the sound of his voice I thought it was your brother, who was in my Platoon, and I hoped it wasn’t so, and that I had made a mistake, for he was one of my most valued men.
«His end was a gallant one, and his was a peaceful conclusion to a career, which, had he been spared to prolong it, he could have looked back on with the justifiable pride of one who has done his work well.»
Before LCpl Morrison’s remains were recovered, he was commemorated on the Le Touret Memorial along with the names of 53 of his other comrades who were also killed in action on the same day but have no known graves.
John’s death was not the only tragedy to touch the family. His brother, George, the youngest of the family, died of wounds on 11 April 1918 whilst serving as a Captain with the 1/6th Battalion Seaforth Highlanders.
George’s own son, John, born a little more than seven weeks before his father’s death was also killed in action as a Navigator Flight Lieutenant over Normandy just a month after D Day.
Eilidh Rennie, great-niece of LCpl Morrison said: «The Morrison family have been very impressed by the investigative work carried out by the MOD’s JCCC, firstly to identify our (great) uncle following the discovery of his remains and then to determine the circumstances in which he died.
«They have also very kindly researched the deaths of his brother who was killed in 1918 and who was awarded the Military Cross (MC) and of his nephew, killed in 1944 while serving in the RAF. This has provided us with some hitherto unknown family history.
«We are very grateful for this and for the organisation and arrangements made by the JCCC and The Black Watch for a full ceremonial burial in the military cemetery in Cuinchy, France near to where the remains were unearthed at which a number of us were present.»
Reverend Mackay, Chaplain of The Black Watch said: «Today’s service reminds us of the great sacrifice that soldiers are called upon to make when they come to serve their country in times of war, when our peace, our freedom and our future generations are threatened.
«LCpl John Morrison lived in the beautiful Highlands of Scotland, served in the Royal Highland Regiment, and laid down so that many of us can continue to enjoy what he enjoyed in his lifetime. We need to remember that and continue to strive for peace as much as we possibly can today.»
The Black Watch, 3rd Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland, provided soldiers at yesterday’s ceremony (Wed) to bear the coffin, fire the salute and play the pipes.
Dr Morrison previously said he was indebted to the efforts made by the military to link him with his «heroic» forebear.
«My cousin and I have been immensely impressed and grateful for the investigative work carried out by the MOD’s JCCC, and by the Black Watch in honouring one of their own with a full ceremonial burial,» he said.
«This discovery has excited intense interest in the Morrison family.»
LCpl Morrison was born on 14 November 1885 at Tomintoul, Banffshire. He was the fourth of a family of seven children born to his parents, John and Margaret, between the years 1882-1893.
His father worked as a gamekeeper who by the early 1890s was employed on the Brodie Castle Estate, Forres, Morayshire, where he eventually became the head gamekeeper.
John followed in his father’s footsteps and also became a gamekeeper on the Ardtornish Estate at Morvern, Argyllshire.
At the outbreak of war, he decided to volunteer and travelled to Perth to enlist with The Black Watch on 7 September 1914. Beverley Simon, from the JCCC said: «JCCC takes huge pride in being able to ensure that the remains of the deceased are buried with the appropriate dignity, ceremony and respect.
«It has been an enormous privilege to have met Dr Morrison and his family and to ensure that they have been personally involved in the planning and conduct of LCpl Morrison’s burial arrangements.»
The JCCC, part of the MoD’s Business Services (DBS) organisation, arranges interments of casualties from WWI and WW11 and traces relatives.