The three pals who marched off to war and never came home

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Brodick bookshop owner Damian Beeson Bullen has been writing a new canto for his poem, The Ballad of Black Watch Brodick, every day in the run up to Remembrance Sunday. 

The poem, serialised on his website at, will contain 27 cantos once complete and covers the subject of the Brodick men who joined the Black Watch on the same day during World War One and who later all died on the same day during the Battle of Loos.

While conducting research for the poem, Damian, better known as Damo, penned a short article on the subject for The Arran Banner readers.

Main story

It had all begun with the ‘shot that echoed round the world’, the assassination of the Arch Duke of Austria, Franz Ferdinand, and his wife, by Serbian agitants.

This was the spark that lit the tinderbox of tensions that had been rising since the German Kaiser, Wilhelm II, became determined to drive his country into the upper tier of First Class Empires. During the diplomatic scrambles in the assassination’s aftermath, European peace fell like a house of cards, with a general war being declared in early August 1914.

The announcements were widely celebrated in the jingoistic fashion, with hundreds of thousands of British men answering Lord Kitchener’s call of ‘Your Country Needs You’. Of those gallant lads who were simply ‘doing their duty’, only a lucky few would come back alive and, of these, many would be harbouring life-changing wounds. It was a ghastly affair and the trenches the sheerest of hells.

What made the early battles of World War One so disastrous to communities is the idea of the ‘Pals’ regiments. Entire workforces, sporting teams and whole streets worth of men would join up together. It is shocking to think that as these great friends and brothers advanced across no-man’s land in a line, they would be cut down by a single burst of machine gun fire, or blown up by a single shell.

Back at home, their mothers and wives would have to watch in fear and grief as the telegram boy delivered the government’s announcements of each soldier’s death, door by weeping door.

An Arran version of this terrible tale begins at Brodick Castle where three lads answered Kitchener’s call to arms, joining the Black Watch together on the same day, September 7 1914. One of them was George Goldthorpe, a young fellow from Humberside who had just seen out 11 years of service in the Navy. He had resettled on Arran in 1911, finding work as the porter and postman at the castle. He was also a fine athlete and began training the Brodick football team which went on to win the island championship two years in a row.

With George at the recruiting office in Ardrossan were two neighbours, John McAllister and William McIntyre, who lived in a pair of houses at the opening of Douglas Row – Stronach cottage and Fir cottage. All three men went into the 9th Battalion, Black Watch, part of the 15th (Scottish) Division that took the flower of Caledonian youth to France in the summer of 1915.

On September 25 of that year, the British Army attacked an area of the Western Front near the French town of Loos. Of the 12 volunteer battalions in the advance, eight were Scottish, drawn from Angus, Tayside, Fife, Perthshire, Aberdeenshire, Stirlingshire, Lanarkshire and Ayrshire.

Once the Black Watch 9th Battalion began the bloody business of storming the German trenches, they would leave behind them a trail of tartan and khaki bodies wherever they pushed on. Eventually taking the town of Loos, they held it for a few hours before being relieved by reinforcements. Traipsing back battle-torn through scenes of horror and carnage, the survivors of the 9th Black Watch discovered more than 500 of their men had been killed or wounded in battle. Elsewhere on the battlefield lay the bodies of 20,000 Scots, setting off a tidal wave of grief that would soon be flooding its way across Scotland.

There is no record of what happened to George Goldthorpe, William McIntyre and John McAllister in the killing fields about Loos, but we do know they all died on September 25. McIntyre and McAllister’s fate’s offer a special poignancy to the list of names on the fine Great War monument across from Ormidale sports field for they grew up together, played together, worked together, joined the army together, talked of ‘Dear Old Arran’ together in the trenches and died together on that heart-breaking day in September 1915.

Top to bottom:  John McAllister, Sergeant George Goldthorpe and William McIntyre.


Top to bottom:  John McAllister, Sergeant George Goldthorpe and William McIntyre. No_B45remembrance01

The names of the three pals can be seen in the Brodick section of large plaque at Arran War Memorial hospital which lists the names of all the soldiers lost during the two wars. 01_B45remembrance02