Granton War Memorial

William Finlay Gordon

The name ‘Finlay Gordon’ appears on the Granton War Memorial followed by the letters RS indicating that he had served in the Royal Scots. When an initial search was done on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website no possible match was identified.

It was then found that in the published Roll of Honour for the Edinburgh Institution (the school which later became Melville College and is now Stewart’s Melville) the name William Finlay Gordon appeared. An address in Afton Terrace, Wardie, was also given. Since this address was within Granton Parish as then defined, there seemed no doubt but that he was the man named on the Granton War Memorial. The Edinburgh and Leith Post Office Directory for 1914 showed that the Afton Terrace address was that of Andrew Gordon, an Edinburgh solicitor. From the 1901 Census it was clear that William Finlay Gordon was born in Edinburgh in 1896 and was the son of Andrew and Mary Gordon. However it was still not possible to identify him on either the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website or on that for the Scottish National War Memorial.

At this point I would like to thank Rev Garry A Ketchen for his help in resolving this matter. He located an article in the Evening Dispatch of Monday 23rd July 1917 which explained the circumstances of William Finlay Gordon’s death. There was a similar article in the Scotsman on the same day under the headline ‘Fatal Shooting Accident in Edinburgh’.

William Finlay Gordon was not serving in the armed forces at the time of his death. He had been rejected for military service – presumably on medical grounds. He was, however, acting as a motor driver for the Red Cross and was about to proceed to France in this capacity. The reports imply that he already had experience working for the Red Cross in the war zone in France.

On Sunday 22nd July 1917 (one of the hottest days of the year according to the Scotsman) he went to visit a friend in Greenhill Gardens. The friend was also a Red Cross driver. The two young men examined an automatic pistol and William Finlay Gordon tested it by firing at an improvised target. His friend then tried to fire the pistol and it jammed. Both men tried unsuccessfully to get it to work and the friend then tried to extract the cartridges. The pistol went off and a bullet was lodged in William Finlay Gordon’s chest. He was taken to the Royal Infirmary where he died the same day.

On the Granton War Memorial it is implied that he served in the Royal Scots. We will probably never know the full facts about this but it is possible that he was one of the many young men who rushed to join the army at the beginning of the war. If so, he would most likely have chosen to join the Royal Scots – his father was an officer in one of the Territorial Battalions of the Royal Scots and was on active service at the time of William’s death. Medical Examinations were, because of the numbers involved in 1914, sometimes not as thorough as they should have been – much to the annoyance of the military authorities who then had to devote time and resources to the process of discharging unfit men. Perhaps he did serve in the Royal Scots at some stage – we must give him and his family the benefit of the doubt.

Probably his family would have felt that his death was attributable to the War and, therefore he deserved recognition on local war memorials. Without the War he and his friend would probably not have had access to an automatic pistol!

He is also commemorated on the War Memorial in Inverleith Church. He is buried in Warriston Cemetery.

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