Private John Duncan MacBEAN

King's Own Scottish Borderers
7th/8th Battalion
"C" Company (Trench Mortar Battery),
Service Number:
Date of Death:
26 June 1917 - Died (Hospital)
Cemetery / Memorial:
Grave Reference:
South-East corner of Churchyard

Personal History:

John (known as Duncan) was born in the June quarter 1891, the only son of John (Stone mason) and Adah (née Hubbard) MacBean. In 1901 (Census RG 13/3270) they were living at Myrtle Cottage, 10 Duke Street, Burbage, Buxton.

Ten years later (1911 Census RG 14/21237) the family were at the same address and John was working as a "Teacher". John (Snr.) and Adah remained at Myrtle Cottage after the War and probably until their deaths, when they were buried with Duncan in the same grave in Burbage Churchyard.

Military History:
John enlisted in the King's Own Scottish Borderers at Buxton. His Medal Index Card does not indicate a date for his entry into the War, which usually suggests that it was after 1915 as otherwise he would have been eligible for the 1915 Star Medal. His Service papers have not survived the ravages of Luftwaffe bombing, but John's Service Number would suggest he enlisted in March 1916 (based on another soldier in the Regiment with a similar number).

Both the 7th and 8th (Service) Battalions (King's Own Scottish Borderers) were formed at Berwick-on-Tweed in September 1914 as part of K2 (Kitchener's Second New Army) and attached to 46th Brigade in 15th (Scottish) Division. Both Battalions landed at Boulogne on the 10th July 1915 and on the 28th May 1916 whilst based in Bethune, merged to form the 7/8th Battalion. Assuming John (Duncan) enlisted in March 1916, it is to this amalgamated Battalion he would have been posted, probably August/September 1916.

In late September the 15th (Scottish) Division were engaged in the Battle of Flers-Courcelette, (15th - 22nd September) and then the Battle of the Transloy Ridges, (1st -18th October), phases of the Battles of the Somme 1916. During The Battle of Arras (9th April - 16th May 1917) they fought at The First and Second Battles of the Scarpe, 9th - 14th April and 23rd - 24th April 1917.

It was probably on the last day of the Second Battle of the Scarpe, one of the Battles of Arras, 1917, when he was wounded, as a large number of Officers and men of the 7/8th Battalion were killed in action on the 24th April. The communications received by his parents would support this date (24th) as after being treated primarily at a dressing station, transferred to a Casualty Clearing Station, then on to the Base Hospital, tended to take 4 - 5 days from the initial wounding.

The Battalion History for this action reads:

"On the morning of the 24th April the battalion was ordered to be prepared to move to the assembly position in rear of the O.B. Line of the previous day. The Brigade was to attack the Red Line at 4 P.M. The advance to this line began at i p.m., the battalion, except "C" Company which was already in String Trench, moving by platoons at five minutes' interval, and reaching the area at 3 P.M., with only four casualties, though it was heavily shelled at times during the advance.

The battalion advanced at zero hour in artillery formation with "A" Company on the right, "B" Company on the left, and"D" Company following "A." "C" Company joined in behind "B" Company as the battalion passed String Trench in its advance. As the jumping-off" ground of the battalion was about 800 yards in rear of the front line, the advance was made with all possible speed, and this alone saved many casualties, for a barrage of all calibres was put down by the enemy on O.B. i, and on Shovel Trench.

At 4.50 P.M. the Red Line was captured and consolidation commenced. Cavalry Farm on the right battalion front was reported to be still in enemy hands, and it was also reported that many casualties were being inflicted by German snipers and machine gunners posted there. The support line occupied by the battalion extended to the right of the 29th Division, and our left flank was in touch with the 1st K.O.S. Borderers, who, at 6.15 P.M., reported a suspected massing of the enemy on their front. No counter-attack developed.

The total casualties for the period from the 23rd to the 26th of April were: 1 officer killed, 4 wounded,and 150 other ranks killed and wounded." [CWGC Records show 1 Officer and 21 other ranks killed in action during this period - most (14) are commemorated on The Arras Memorial. A further 6 died of wounds during the following week in Hospitals in Étaples and Boulogne.]

The first indication that John had received the wounds from which he ultimately died was reported by 'The Buxton Advertiser' on the 5th May 1917, when the Assistant Matron of the No. 18 General Hospital (at Camiers) wrote to his parents:

"I am sorry to tell you of the serious illness of your son, Pte. J.D. McBean [sic]. He was brought in here seriously wounded in the abdomen. Everything possible is being done for him, and he has every care. He sends his love to you. I will write again shortly and let you know of his progress."

The paper went on to say that on May 1st John's parents received a short letter from him to the effect that "… although seriously ill, his parents must not lose hope."

The next day (Wednesday) a telegram was received from the Matron advising them that "Duncan" had been operated on the previous day, "… and progress was satisfactory". The paper also stated that this was the second time he had been wounded, and ".. it is fondly hoped by all who know him that his improvement be maintained".

It seems that very soon afterwards Duncan was transferred back to the U.K. but died on the 26th June after 7 weeks in Fazackerly Military Hospital, Liverpool. In reporting his death, 'The Buxton Advertiser', 30th June 1917, reported the cause of death as: ".. shrapnel wounds which afterwards set up septic poisoning". (Suggesting that his initial wounds were from shell-fire.)

It was also reported that underwent further operations in Liverpool and that ".. it was found necessary to repeat the incisions and it speaks volumes for the bravery of this youth that he bore without murmur these painful operations when it was impossible to administer the usual anaesthetic".

Duncan died with his father and mother at his bedside, his mother having been with him for most of his time in that Hospital. He was, of course, their only child.

Duncan's body was brought home to Burbage ".. enclosed in a beautifully polished coffin with brass fittings". The funeral was simple, in keeping with the family's wishes. "Blinds were drawn practically throughout the village and on every hand there were signs of deepest sympathy.

The remains were laid in a rock-hewn grave, hard by the deceased's home and close to which spot has been the meeting-place for generations of the youth of the village".

· The Buxton Advertiser, 5 May and 30 June 1917
· "A Border Battalion: the History of the 7/8th (Service) Battalion, King's Own Scottish Borderers"  (1920) p. 147

Link to CWGC Record
Private John MacBean's grave
Burbage Church Buxton