10126 Private Herbert Rose, 4/SAIR (The South African Scottish),
Enlisted aged 15.
Grievously wounded in the Battle of Marrières Wood;
Died of tuberculosis, 29 May 1919, at the South African Military Hospital, Richmond.
Buried in the South African War Graves Section, Zone Z, Richmond Cemetery.
For the ‘daft days’ following Christmas, I gave myself a research mission, to complete gaps in the CWGC’s spreadsheet for the 39 South African soldiers buried beyond the South African War Memorial in Richmond Cemetery. For the majority of these men, the CWGC spreadsheet does not provide their full names, many ages are incorrect and, for 14 of the soldiers, it provides no information on their parents or spouse. These are details you need to know if your aim is to rescue their stories from oblivion.
A Scottish South African
H. Rose, the youngest soldier buried in this section, was a private in the First South African Infantry Brigade, a brigade that was a valued part of the 9th Scottish Division, from its arrival in France in July 1916 until the brigade’s heavy losses at Marrières Wood during the German Spring Offensive/the Kaiserschlacht, of March 1918. His regiment, 4/SAIR (the 4th South African Infantry Regiment) was known as The South African Scottish, a kilted regiment, drawing its members chiefly from the soldiers of the Transvaal Scottish, the Cape Town Highlanders, and others, the majority with Scottish connections, from British Colonies across Southern Africa. There is a memorial book for this regiment in alcove M of the Scottish National War Memorial in Edinburgh Castle, which will have H. Rose on its list.
His South African service record supplies us with this soldier’s full name, Herbert, and records that his next of kin was his father, Alexander Skeane (sic) Rose, whose postal address was P.O. Marseilles, O.F.S. This translates into Post Office Marseilles in the Orange Free State, a former Boer republic. As readers of my post on another Herbert (Herbert William Deutschmann) may recall, the fighting force of the 2/SAIR was raised from the Orange Free State, Natal, and the Kaffrarian Rifles. I began to suspect that Scottish roots were the impetus for Herbert, a Free State man, choosing to enlist in 4/SAIR. rather than in his geographically local regiment, 2/SAIR.
I noted with interest that his South African service record gave his age at enlistment as 19. That was the age the soldier gave when he enlisted, though it might also be what he thought he could pass as. The South African Hospital in Richmond Park was primarily a rehabilitation centre for patients with life changing injuries. Herbert’s record reveals he had been in and out of the hospital over a period of 14 months before his death, which would have given the hospital administrators plenty of opportunities to establish his age and his date of birth, information which could be drawn upon when notifying the Registrar for Richmond of Herbert’s death. This made it worth checking the General Register Office’s Deaths Index, which confirmed his name, but recorded his age, on 29 May 1919, as 18. This would suggest a date of birth no earlier than 30 May 1900 and no later than 29 May 1901.
It is possible to find South African Probate Records for most of the deceased soldiers of WW1. Some of them also have an English, Scottish or, more rarely, an Irish probate record, as well as their South African ones. I was able to view Herbert’s probate record, submitted nine months after his death, dated 19 February 1920, filled in and signed by Alex S Rose, his father, at Marseilles.
Unhelpfully, Alexander did not name Herbert’s mother, writing simply deceased in the space set aside for her details. But on the helpful side, Alexander identified his son’s birthplace with a specific address: 4 Hampton Place, Edinburgh. Not for him merely the country, or the city, but an actual street address. This address would later provide crucial supporting information to confirm his mother’s identity and as well as his birthplace.
In the probate document his father, Alexander, also narrowed down Herbert’s age at death to 18 years 5 months. When I later learnt that Alexander had trained as a chemist in Scotland, I felt we could be fairly confident in his calculation of his son’s age. If we go back five months back from 29 May we get 29 December of the preceding year—going back 18 years from that, his birth was probably in December 1900 or early January 1901, depending on whether his father rounded up or down when calculating the months. Narrowing down Herbert’s date of birth was critical, because I already knew that there was no obvious Scottish birth record for our Herbert Rose among the various Herbert Roses I had found in the General Register Office’s Births Index. There was also no entry under his mother’s maiden name.
What is certain from this, is that Herbert was 15 when he enlisted in either late July or August and still that age when he embarked for England three months later, he would have turned 16 at about the time he arrived in Northern France, in the first quarter of 1917.
What triggered the enthusiasm of so many men to enlist under age at this point in the war? For South Africans it seems to have been the brigade’s gallant stand against a superior foe.
The national reaction to Delville Wood
While Herbert’s service record does not show the date on which he enlisted, we can surmise roughly when that was, by working back from when he was taken on the strength in France, back to his departure to join his regiment in France. It records that he embarked at Cape Town on the Walmer Castle on 6 November 1916.
The date of embarkation is significant and could suggest what impelled so many youngsters to enlist under age. In times when the need for fresh troops was urgent, three months was the time it took to train recruits. The Walmer Castle sailed when it was a few weeks over three months since mid-July 1916, when, over a momentous four days, the South African Brigade had followed instructions to hold Delville Wood at all costs. Orders which the brigade gallantly followed—to the despair and the ungrudging admiration of the opposing Germans—until only one tree was left standing. Virtually all the South African dead have no known grave.
The effect of this loss on the country was tremendous. To give an example, the Mayor and Council of Cape Town’s swift reaction to the tragic news, was to hold a three minutes’ silence across the city to coincide with the customary daily firing of the noon day gun on Signal Hill. Three minutes proved a little too long, so, within a few weeks, it was reduced to a two minutes’ silence.
This ritual would continue every day, for nearly four years, until the very last soldiers returned home from Europe, in the early months of 1920. Sir Percy Fitzpatrick recommended to the British government that it should consider adopting a similar silence as part of the first Remembrance Day commemorations in 1919. The government turned down his suggestion, so Fitzpatrick aimed higher. George V was enthusiastic, and thus it was that, across the Commonwealth, we still have a Two Minutes’ Silence included during the Remembrance commemorations each November.
Another effect of the loss of so many men, was a rush to enlist by young South Africans, many of them under age, almost certainly inspired by the South Africans’ stand at Delville Wood. Nine months’ training for these recruits was compressed into three, and by the end of October, troops were on their way to war. Since Herbert’s group embarked for Europe in early November, he is likely to have enlisted in either late July or early August. After their arrival in England, the recruits underwent about two months’ further training and preparation, before their regiments ‘transferred’ to Rouen in the first quarter of 1917. (The date for that isn’t clear on the card. I think it reads 11/3/17.)
The photo below may be familiar to anyone who saw the exhibition, Common Cause, at the Scottish National Museum in 2014, where this photo was enlarged to fill an entire wall. It stopped me in my tracks then, as I could see, from their kilts, that these young men were serving in the the 4th Regiment. I hasten to say, that this was not Herbert’s intake, but fresh recruits arriving in France in June 1918, who perhaps responded to the call to enlist, following the brigade’s losses at Marrières Wood in March 1918. This was the action in which Herbert was seriously injured, and another action in which the South African Brigade was ordered to hold yet another wood at all costs. Almost to a man, they did—but not before holding up the German reinforcements and supplies for eight hours, and that at a critical point where the bulk of the British forces was in retreat. The South Africans’ gallant stand during the German Spring Offensive allowed British forces to regroup and attack.
I now realise that, when Herbert and his fellow recruits arrived in France in early 1917, they may have felt as exuberant as the carefree band of the replacement 4/SAIR, depicted engaging in a battle dance in June 1918. I’m sure readers, especially those who have a background in teaching, can spot any truant schoolboys amongst the soldiers, probably right down to their possible school year groups.
It feels important to recognise the many under-age boys who managed to sneak away to war from the distant colonies of the then Empire. My great uncle Stan, another under-age recruit, was killed in the same action in which Herbert sustained his grave injury.
Herbert’s story concerns me for additional reasons. Ancestry provides its record hints gratuitously, often based on flawed research by its subscribers, and even in those hints, Herbert seems a lost soul, invisible, even to his own relatives. While his Rose relatives, including his father, appear on a handful of Ancestry trees, not one tree on his paternal line, has Herbert’s mother or Herbert recorded on it. Some have a second spouse for his father, with a son, born in 1924, but I will step back on that here—perhaps adding it later, as an Appendix, in the hope his half-brother’s family will come across Herbert’s story.
Herbert’s father, Alexander Skene Rose
Alexander Skene Rose, the youngest child of John Rose and his wife, Isabella Skeen (sic), was born on 21 January 1865 at Embo Mains, near Dornoch, Sutherland, where his father was the farm bailiff and overseer. John Rose was a native of Grantown-on-Spey, and his wife, Isabella, of Manbean, Elgin, where on 28 December, 1848 they had been married, as was usual, in the bride’s parish of Elgin. Their eldest children, Jessie and James, were born in Elgin, with the younger children all born at Embo. However, less than two months after Alexander’s birth, his father died, after suffering from heart disease and dropsy for 5 weeks. His death was followed, in August of that year, by the death of the second youngest of his sisters, Isabella (1859–1865), also at Embo.
At some point, after the death of her husband and daughter, Isabella returned with her surviving offspring to Elgin, where the 1871 census finds her at Milton Duff, occupied as a Crofter. Her eldest son, James Skene Rose, was independent, having already joined the army. In Isabella’s household on Census Day were her three youngest sons, John employed as a clerk, while George Christall (b.1861) and Alexander were both still attending school.
John (1855–1943) would eventually become an accountant in the South African Civil Service. He married Amy Bertha Lister in Pietermaritzburg in 1899, just two months before the start of the Anglo-Boer War, and his emigration there, may have been what prompted a restless or, perhaps, ambitious, Alexander, to emigrate as well. Their brother, George, became a school master, and it was probably while he was studying in Lancashire that he met and married his wife, Annie Elizabeth Nicholson in 1891. George soon moved back to Scotland where he spent the bulk of his teaching career on North Uist, though he died away from home at Ben An, Polmont. At least one of George’s children emigrated to Canada. As for Isabella’s eldest son, James, his life in the army took him away from Scotland. He married in middle age, and died in Crookham, Hampshire, in 1910. His wife remained in Hampshire with their two children.
Herbert’s mother, Jane (‘Jeanie’) Bookless
There was a further unsettling piece of information in Herbert’s probate record. In the section for names of children, failing whom, the names of brothers and sisters, his father wrote:
Deceased was my only Son, & had no Brothers or Sisters. His mother died from Shock on hearing of his accident.
With no first name for Herbert’s mother, I looked for the Death Notice of a female with the surname Rose, living in the Orange Free State, in the district of Ladybrand, of which Marseilles is part. There was one. She was Jean[i]e Rose, born Bookless, aged 54, who died after suffering from cardiac disease for some years. Unfortunately, Alexander, her widower, did not know the name or occupation of his father-in-law, nor the name of his mother-in-law. In the section on the form for Issue of the Deceased, was recorded 1 male, aged 17 on 6 June 1918. Herbert, still alive and in England, was that 17 year old male.
In fairness to Alexander, he registered the death of his wife on the day of her death, and must have been suffering himself from the double blow of receiving news of his son’s injuries and the death of his wife in its aftermath. Perhaps, at this point, I should admit some confusion when I later discovered his own marriage by declaration, which recorded his father as Alexander Rose, Farmer (deceased). I hasten to add, in Alexander’s defence, that he was not yet two months old when his father died and may only have heard him referred to within the family as ‘Papa’.
Herbert’s mother was the daughter of James Bookless of Oldhamstocks, East Lothian, a plumber and his wife, Jane Peffers of Haddington. Born on Christmas Eve, 1825, in Oldhamstocks (East Lothian), to Alexander Bookless and Christian Watt, James Bookless grew up in the Vale of Bilsdean. The younger son of a blacksmith, James chose to serve an apprenticeship under Thomas Burn, a plumber in Coldstream, following which, he was in a position to marry Jane Peffers in Haddington on 20 June, 1847. The couple had 5 children: Christina, named after her paternal grandmother (1849–1914); Alexander Peffers (1851–1877) named after his maternal grandfather; William Bookless (1854–1864); Jane, known as Jeanie (1860–1918) and named after her maternal grandmother, and finally Jessie (1864–1865) who died in infancy. Jeanie would outlive all her siblings.
Information available for Jeanie from the age provided at her marriage in 1901 (33) and in the 1901 Scottish census (also 33), suggested a birth in 1867–1868, with that provided on her death (54) suggesting a birth in 1863–1864. There is, however, no record of the birth of a Jean or Jane Bookless within those time spans. Finding the family in the 1861, 1871 and 1881 censuses with information from her mother in the latter two, provided a matching and credible set of ages, (4 months, 10, 20) suggesting a birth in the last months of 1860. Jeanie is a nickname for Jane, and Jeanie’s mother, Jane Peffers, sometimes also appears in records Jeanie. Eventually I had enough additional information to conclude, with some conviction, that James and Jane’s daughter, Jane, born on 21 November 1860, is ‘our’ Jane or Jeanie Bookless, and the mother of Herbert Rose.
After Jeanie’s birth, the family moved to North Berwick, where her sister, Jessie, was born and where her father died in 1867. Jane then moved with her children, Alexander and Jeanie, to Edinburgh, where five young lodgers joined the family at 47 Grindlay Street. By 1871, Alexander Bookless was supporting his mother and siblings as a plumber and Jeanie was still attending school.
At that time, Jane’s eldest daughter, Christina, was one of two domestic servants at the Free Church Manse in Coldstream, in the employ of Robert Paul, the Free Church Minister, his mother and two sisters. (Coldstream was where, 30 years previously, Christina’s father had been apprenticed as a plumber.) The following year, Christina married Andrew Wight, a commercial traveller and settled in Edinburgh. It was probably only after the early death at Oldhamstocks, of Jeanie’s brother, Andrew Bookless in 1877, that Jeanie and her mother, Jane, moved in with the Wights and their four children, at 16 Buchanan Street, in South Leith. Jeanie presumably contributed to the household income from her work as a shopkeeper.
Also in South Leith in 1881, were Isabella Skeen and her sons, John and Alexander Rose. John Skene Rose, technically the head of the household was a Clerk at the General Register House, an easy walk from their home in Leith, taking the very route I follow, 150 years later, when I go to the NRS or the SPC. John emigrated to the Colonies some time before Alexander did, but their time together, supporting their mother, may have brought them closer and convinced Alexander that he, too, could have a brighter future in the Colonies with his wife and son.
It was on 27 February 1901, that A. S. Rose, chemist and bachelor, and Jeanie Bookless, spinster, were married by declaration, at 30 Chambers Street, Edinburgh. It does not note her occupation. Both parties gave their ages as 33. Jeanie’s address was 4 Hampton Place, as was that of both witnesses, Jeanie’s niece and nephew, Margaret and Andrew Wight. You may recall that this was the address given in his probate record as Herbert’s birthplace in Edinburgh, and while we do not yet know the actual date of his birth, we calculated, working backwards 18 years and five months from the date of his death, that he was probably born in December 1900 or in the first weeks of 1901. Was this marriage being declared under pressure to enable their infant son’s birth to be recorded as legitimate? And if so, why is there no birth record for him as Bookless or as Rose?
On 31 March 1901, barely four weeks after their marriage, we find Jeanie, once again, in the household of her widowed sister, Christina and her nine children, ranging in age from 10 to 28. Jeanie gave her occupation as dressmaker, with her age, still recorded as 33, despite her having already reached her 40th year. Neither Alexander, nor their son, Herbert, is listed in that household.
I suspect that Herbert’s father is the passenger, A. S. Rose, on the Kinfauns Castle, which departed Southampton for Cape Town on 3 August 1901. He is recorded on the passenger list, with tallies under Scotch and Single, but without ages, so I cannot yet confirm that this is our man, but it is a little curious, if he is ‘our’ Alexander that he would describe himself as single, when he had a wife and son. Was this an assumption made by the purser, that a man travelling without a family must be regarded as single?
It would have been an interesting time to be arriving in the Cape Colony nine months before the end of the Anglo-Boer War. While I have yet to find out more about Herbert’s youth, we do know that Alexander eventually brought his wife and son out to join him, that the family settled at Marseilles, near the Free State town of Ladybrand and that Alexander became a cheese maker. We learn also from Herbert’s military record that, when he enlisted, actually aged 15, he too, gave his occupation as a cheese maker.
The South Africans’ Last Stand at Marrières Wood
I have recorded aspects of this battle in other posts on this blog so I will say less about it in Herbert’s case. In Flowers of the Forest, Trevor Royle comments on the resolve of the South Africans at Marrières Wood, and adds, “as the divisional historian [John Buchan, also a novelist and politician] put it, at the bitter end rescue was now impossible and the South Africans grimly set themselves to sell their lives at the highest price.” (p.259)
Sadly, there was another piece of information, in the section of Herbert’s probate where the informant provides the names of all the deceased’s children, failing whom, the names of brothers and sisters. There his bereaved father wrote:
Deceased was my only Son, & had no Brothers or Sisters. His mother died from Shock on hearing of his accident.
It’s not clear what his father meant by accident. We know of a serious injury as Herbert’s service record notes a severe Gun Shot Wound during the Battle of Marrières Wood. Was that gunshot wound an accident, or even friendly fire?
The Final Entries
Here are the last entries in Herbert’s service record—the square brackets surround my ‘padding out’ the abbreviations in the original document. His service record also notes that he qualified as a Marksman (sniper?) in June 1918, after his discharge from the hospital.
24.3.18: G[un] S[hot] W[ound] Body Mild; Admitted 41 St[ationar]y H[ospital] Gailly.
26.3.18: Admitted 2 General Hospital, [Le] Havre.
27.3.18: Invalided to England.
28.3.18: G[un] S[hot] W[ound] Shoulder sev[ere]; Richmond S.A. Hosp[ital].
RH marginal note R7.7.18
16.5.18: Now convalescent.
18.5.18: Richmond Park S.A.H[ospital]; D[i]sch[ar]g[e]d.
Presumably Herbert returned to France to join his unit.
31.1.19: Admitted Glencourse (sic) Hospital.
Glencorse Barracks and Hospital was at Penicuik, in Scotland. This may have been the closest Herbert had been to his birthplace since the family’s emigration to South Africa. A Parliamentary question from 1913 indicates the treatment in which that hospital specialised at that time. (Link provided in Sources.) Note that this was not necessarily true by 1919, given its unpopularity in 1913.)
Twelve weeks later, an entry was made in Herbert’s record, presumably at the South African Military Hospital in Richmond, but there is no note of his transfer there. There’s no indication of when, how or why he returned south.
19.4.19: “Tuberculosis. Seriously ill.”
For most of May, this last entry was repeated on his service card, every 7 to 10 days, until 26 May, when the last entry became ‘now dangerous’.
His death is not recorded on the card, but he died three days later, as his entry in the Register of Soldiers’ Effects confirms.
Herbert’s father Alexander lived through the Second World War, still running his Cheese Factory in Ladybrand. He died on 22 July 1947, aged 82. The informant, H.A. Rose, was the mother of his son, John Alexander Rose (1924–2013) and was Alexander’s putative wife, Heather Aubrey Daniel.
There are still too many loose ends to Herbert’s story, but we do at least, so far, know his name and the names of the parents who grieved for him.
Heather Aubrey Daniel or Ward
When Heather’s Scottish born mother, Violet Virginia McDonald, died in 1940, Heather was described in the probate record as Heather Aubrey Ward, (born Daniel) Widow. As Alexander was still alive, it is likely that the Daniel family knew of her current marital status, and that would seem to indicate that Heather was not at that stage legitimately Alexander’s wife.
On the death, in 1948, of Heather’s son, Joseph ‘Joey’ Morgan Ward, his sister Daphne Hyacinth Ward, indicated that the whereabouts of their father, and whether he was alive, were unknown. It would appear that Heather and her young children, had been abandoned by her husband, Charles Ward, in the early 1920s. However, Daphne described their mother, in Joey’s probate record, as Heather Rose, which seems to suggest that that is how she was regarded within the local community.
Buchan, J[ohn], The History of the South African Forces in France, London & Edinburgh, 1920.
‘Herbert William Deutschmann’, https://southafricaremembers.wordpress.com/2020/07/30/herbert-william-deutschmann-1892-1918/ accessed 6/1/2022. A post on another Herbert killed at Marrières Wood.
Frood, M.W., ‘Simply magnificent’, https://southafricaremembers.wordpress.com/2014/11/28/simply-magnificent/, accessed 6/1/2022. More reflections on Marrières Wood.
Hansard, ‘Glencorse Barracks (Hospital), https://api.parliament.uk/historic-hansard/commons/1913/apr/29/glencorse-barracks-hospital, accessed 7/1/2021.
Paterson, H., in South African Military History Journal, ‘The Forgotten Battle’, Vol. 18, No.2., June 2018.
Royle, T., The Flowers of the Forest: Scotland and the First World War, Edinburgh, 2006.
South African War Graves Project, https://www.southafricawargraves.org/, accessed 3/1/2021.
Photograph of the 4th South African Infantry dancing at Rouen (June 1918) is from the cover of Stuart Allan and David Forsyth’s Common Cause: Commonwealth Scots and The Great War, Edinburgh, 2014. The original is held by the Ditsong National Museum of Military History in Johannesburg.