Wartime Family Devastation

Many towns and cities in the UK were devastated by loss during World War One.  Not the least was South Queensferry, a small Royal Burgh with a population in 1911, of around 2,000, excluding the naval personnel, due to the proximity of Port Edgar, of 1,510.
The Forth Rail Bridge was long since built and many incoming workers returned to their own Towns and Villages, but some remained, having made a new life for themselves and their families in Queensferry.

Forth Rail Bridge ©Artist John Johnston, with kind permission – JWJonline.net

Queensferry has 66 names on the WWI War Memorial, which was erected on the outside wall of Rosebery Hall, in 1927. Queensferry History Group are uncovering many more names, with ongoing research, who they believe should also be on this Memorial.

Queensferry War Memorial

Many families were intermingled by marriage, making their loss feel even greater. This was also true of WW2, some 20 years later.

One such Family were the McArthurs who were connected one way or other to at least 6 different family names, leading, in this story, up to the McPhillips family. This tree shows the main characters in their story

Our story begins in 1852, when John McArthur, a Fisherman, married Catherine Brown. They had 7 children.
Moving on, one son, John, married Emily Fossett,  in Queensferry, in 1874 and they had 10 children, 7 boys and 3 girls. They lost three of their sons, during, or as a result of WWI and are commemorated on the Queensferry War Memorial.
*William McArthur, born on The Loan, served in the Royal Scots, was awarded the DCM for conspicuous bravery in 1916 and killed in action in the Somme, 1918, aged 39. He had married in 1903, and left behind his widow Janet Fawcett and 6 daughters.

The Distinguished Conduct Medal The second level of military decoration awarded for bravery.

*John McArthur, born in West Terrace, served in the Royal Scots. He died of Tuberculosis in 1921 aged 40.
*James McArthur, born in Hill Square, served in the Seaforth Highlanders. He died of Tuberculosis in 1923 aged 28.
: (A fourth son, Colin, too young to serve in the War, also died of Tuberculosis in 1923, aged 22).

We see that the War was not the only devastating killer around then. Tuberculosis being only one other battle taking many lives. The Influenza epidemic also struck as the War was ending.  The “Spanish Flu” was so named, as Spain, a neutral country during the war, was the only country free to report on it, unlike the Allied and Central Powers nations where war- time censors suppressed the news of the Flu, to avoid affecting morale. This “Spanish Flu” claimed many more worldwide victims than the War did. There are many Commonwealth Graves in Queensferry Cemetery, of men who died far from home and a large proportion are victims of Influenza.

Queensferry Commonwealth Cemetery

To continue – Son Robert McArthur married Harriet Shoolbread in 1912 in Queensferry. This brings another family link into the story. Harriets brother Albert Shoolbread served in WWII  in the 10th Gloucester Regiment and survived the War. Harriets brother John lost two sons, Harriets nephews, in WWII, both commemorated on Queensferry War Memorial.

James Shoolbread, born in 1916 in Queensferry,  enlisted into the Royal Air Force 3rd Squadron and was Flight Lieutenant Wireless Op/Air Gunner. He was flying a Wellington X4 when he was killed in action in Algeria, in March 1944, aged 28 and is buried in the Dely Ibrahim War Cemetery. He is commemorated on Queensferry WWII Memorial.

Thomas Louis Benoit Shoolbread, born in 1921 in Queensferry, enlisted into the RAF. He died in January 1945, age 23, at Wavendon, near RAF Cranfield, Buckinghamshire, when he crashed in a De Havilland Mosquito while on approach to the airfield in bad weather and is buried in Queensferry Cemetery. He is commemorated on the Queensferry WWII Memorial.

AIRCRAFT OF THE ROYAL AIR FORCE 1939-1945: VICKERS WELLINGTON Whitney X4.) : © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205126843
De Havilland Mosquito –Wikimedia Commons                          

And so – – – – – – –

Emily Fosset’s brother, Robert Fossett, born in Brown’s Close, married Catherine McArthur, daughter of John McArthur’s sister Jemima, in 1880 and they had 5 children. Two of their three sons, also born in Brown’s Close, were killed during, or as a result of the War and are commemorated on Queensferry’s War Memorial. Son John died in 1926 aged 47.

*Robert Fossett of the Machine Gun Corps, awarded the DCM in 1916 for conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty, died in Turkey in 1918, aged 28

*David Fossett, of the Black Watch, died in India, 1921 aged 25.

John McArthur and Emily Fossett’s daughter Elizabeth, married Michael Quigley. Michael was born in West Calder but they both lived in Queensferry. 
*Michael served with the Royal Irish Fusiliers and died in France in 1917, aged 33. He is also commemorated on Queensferry’s War Memorial.

John McArthur’s sister Margaret, married Thomas Ley, in 1907. Thomas was one of 9 children born to George Ley and his wife Margaret Smith. In 1886 George was a Tay Bridge Labourer and by 1889 the family are living in West Terrace, Queensferry and he is a Bridge Labourer, working on the Rail Bridge. He became a Shale Miner by 1891 and by 1911 he is a Baker living in Harbour Lane. He died of Tuberculosis, aged 53, in 1914.

Three of his six sons served in WWI and are commemorated on Queensferry’s War Memorial.
* Thomas Ley, born in Dundee, served in the Royal Engineers and died of Tuberculosis, in 1919, aged 34. 
* David Ley, born in Bellstane, served in the Royal Scots. He died in 1916 aged 22.
* William Ley, born in West Terrace, served in the Royal Scots, he died in France in 1917, aged 25.

Edward Tierney Ley born in Harbour Head, on 21st March 1898, served in the Argyll and Southern Highlanders  and survived the War. He married in 1942 and died from illness in 1947. Teirney is another family name touched with tragedy during WWl, but no related connection to the other families here has been found so far, they may just have been good friends as Edwards Father George Ley and Patrick Tierney, (whose son Martin Tierney served in the Royal Scots in WWI and died in 1918 of Influenza, also commemorated on Queensferry’s  WWI Memorial), were Bridge Labourers then Shale Miners, both at the same time. They both lived in the West end of Queensferry and most likely visited the “Stag’s Head” pub together. Patrick Tierney died in 1915 due to a Shale Mining accident.

Edward Tierney Ley. ©McPhillips Family

Edward Tierney Ley served in the Argyll and Southern Highlanders. His records are untraceable.  It is possible his WWI service records were amongst many others sent to Arnside Street, London for safe keeping. The area was heavily bombed in 1940 during the blitz and 70% of records were destroyed in the ensuing fire.

There was a lot of tragedy in this family as the 3 remaining brothers died young from various illnesses –
* George Ley died in 1899, aged 10,  Robert Ley died in 1902 aged 7 and John McPhillips Ley died in 1916, aged 15.

Two sisters survived, Margaret D.S.Ley married Edward Connolly, a Watchman in 1905. He died of illness in 1918 aged 38. She then married George Bell in 1920. Sadly he died in 1926. She died in 1968.
Annie Hampton Ley married John McPhillips and had 8 children.

This is where the McPhillips family come in. Their story is reproduced here with permission from the family.

Patrick McPhillips, born around 1838 in Ireland, married Elizabeth Smith, in 1859 in Queensferry. They had 8 children.

Son Patrick died aged 22, of Smallpox, in 1886, on hospital ship Hougoumont. The Hougoumont was used as a storage vessel during the building of the Rail Bridge in the Forth, then from the mid 1880’s used as a hospital ship for the many suffers of Smallpox. There are numerous records listing this as the place of death. The Hougoumont was the last convict ship to transport convicts to Australia, in 1868.

Image: Hougoumont at Forth Bridge works, 1885. Wikipedia Public Domain

Daughter Mary died aged 2, in 1861. Daughter Elizabeth died aged 19, in 1891, Son Edward died aged 21, in 1897 and Son Thomas died of illness aged 37, in 1908. Patrick and Elizabeth’s three surviving children were Anne Jane, Catherine and John.

Ann Jane McPhillips had 3 children, George in 1889 and Elizabeth in 1898 (no father listed for either), and Patrick Connolly born in Smithsland, in 1895, to John Connolly (brother of Edward, husband of Margaret D.S. Ley). Ann Jane died of Pneumonia, in 1900, two years after Elizabeth was born.
Sister Catherine McPhillips, married Daniel Waddock in 1887. Daniel and Catherine, living in Kirkliston, took in Patrick Connolly and Elizabeth, when Ann Jane died, possibly adopting them. They also had 8 children of their own.
 * Patrick Connolly served with the Royal Scots and died during the Battle of the Somme in 1916 aged 21, he is commemorated on Queensferry’s  WWl Memorial.

Brother John McPhillips, born in 1861 in Queensferry, was a Shale Miner. He married Annie Hampton Ley, sister of Thomas Ley, in 1901 aged 39, Annie was aged 19. They had 8 children, 6 boys (all served in WW2) and 2 girls.

 The two girls emigrated to Canada. Margaret in 1929, with her husband Jack, who served in the Royal Navy during WWI and Anne in 1947, she died there in 1957.

John died in 1936 and Annie died in 1942, both in Queensferry.

On Queensferry’s World War II Memorial we have the names Thomas Ley McPhillips and  Daniel Waddock McPhillips. With these names we now begin to see the family connections.

Thomas, George and Patrick McPhillips ©McPhillips Family

* Thomas Ley McPhillips, was born in 1907 in Smithsland, to John McPhillips and Annie Ley. He was a Bridge Painter, married Janet Gardener Marshall Murray in 1940 and they had 2 children.  He lived in Inchgarvie Park. At 18 years of age, in November 1925, he enlisted into the Royal Tank Corps until 1937, then was in the Army reserves until 1941. He re-enlisted in 1941, serving in the Royal Engineers and was killed in Italy in February 1944 aged 36. He is remembered with Honour in Beach Head War Cemetery, Anzio. His widow married his brother Patrick in 1945.

Thomas McPhillips 3rd from left with fellow Bridge Painters.©McPhillips Family
Painters on the Forth Rail Bridge c1931. Image courtesy of Associated Newspapers.

* John and Annie’s son Daniel Waddock McPhillips, born in 1916, in Hill Square, never married, and served in the 1st Battalion Royal Scots. He died aged 27, of wounds received in action, in Burma, in April 1944, and is remembered with Honour in Kohima War Cemetery, India. The Battalion’s casualties for April 1944 were fifteen soldiers killed, two officers and thirty-five soldiers wounded and one soldier missing.

Kohima War Cemetery, CWGC

Four more of John and Annie’s sons served in WW2 and survived, with remarkable stories to tell.

 * John Ley McPhillips, born in 1902, in Smithsland, served with the Royal Engineers and was awarded an MBE in 1943 for his bridge work in Tunisia. He was employed on repairs to a 150ft span railway bridge over the river, Oued Tindja. Reconstruction of this bridge was difficult due to the presence of quicksands and considerable flow of water in the river. He showed great skill and determination in overcoming all difficulties and it was largely due to his energy and example that this bridging operation was executed rapidly thus opening the important railway route to Bizerte.

*George McPhillips born in Hill Square, 1906, served as a Gunner in the Royal Artillery. His secondary unit was 2 Light Anti Aircraft Regiment. He was listed as missing in 1942 in Cyrenaica, North Africa. He was a prisoner of War in German hands until 1945. He seemed to have been moved around as 3 camps are listed. Stalag 4C Wistritzbei Teplitz, Czeckoslovakia and also in Italy POW camp number 70, Monturano, (Parma).  He is also listed as having been in Stalag IV B, Muhlberg. He married Catherine in 1946 and he died in 1964. His wife died in 2003.

Stalag lV B Muhlberg  -Wikimedia Commons Use

* Patrick, born in 1904 in Smithsland, served with the 1st Battalion Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.  Records show he was wounded in December 1940 while serving in Egypt, being awarded the DCM and Bar, for bravery in the field and each subsequent act of distinguished conduct. As Company Sergeant Major, he set a fine example of courage to all his company. While wounded early on in an attack on heavily defended position, he was the first of his company to reach enemy lines. He remained at his post despite being in great pain and his cheerful spirit and entire disregard of danger, was an inspiration to his company.
He was reported “missing” in May 1941 while serving in Crete, then listed in August 1941 as “Prisoner of War”. Holding the rank of Regimental Sergeant Major, he was held prisoner of war No:11900, in Stalag 383, Hohen Fels, until August 1945.

Stalag 383- public domain. Housed some 8,000 British Men as Prisoners of War.
Stalag 383 “Ferry Lads” ©McPhillips family

Patrick McPhillips is in this image, sitting front and centre, captioned with Stalag 383 “Ferry Lads”. If you can identify any of the “Ferry Lads”, please contact Queensferry History Group at  queensferryhg@gmail.com

* Edward was born in 1922, in Queensferry. He served in the Royal Navy and among the ships he served on were HMS Philoctetes in 1942, a former Merchant ship taken over in 1940 as a depot and repair ship, based in Freetown, Sierra Leone until 1945, and C Class Destroyer HMS Constance, based in Hong Kong as part of an 8 fleet flotilla, tender to HMS Tamar, British Naval Base.

 After the war Edward lived in Winchburgh. He married in 1955 and he and his wife lived in Queensferry. They had 6 children.  Edward died in 2000 aged 78.

Edward McPhillips, sitting. ©McPhillips Family
HMS CONSTANCE Underway. © IWM FL 8435. (under Non Commercial License)

A Christmas card sent from Gibraltar in 1945,  by Edward, to his sister Maggie and her husband Jack in Canada. ©Mcphillips Family

Written with permission from the McPhillips family who did much of the research and also permitted the use of family photographs here.
Collated by Norma Brown.

 ©Queensferry History Group. 2022

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