Grave of ‘lost’ Leith soldier found by historian

Three generations of the Allen family visit the grave of William Allen, who died in the Gretna rail disaster. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
Three generations of the Allen family visit the grave of William Allen, who died in the Gretna rail disaster. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
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THE family of a Leith soldier killed in the Gretna rail disaster has been able to visit his final resting place for the first time after it was uncovered by an amateur historian.

For almost a century, Sergeant William Allen was thought to have been buried at Rosebank Cemetery, where a memorial stands to the 12 civilians and 214 soldiers from “Leith’s Own” 7th Battalion of The Royal Scots killed when their train collided with empty passenger cars on the line near Gretna on May 22, 1915.

But thanks to the work of 76-year-old retired geography teacher Andrew Grant, Williams’ overgrown and neglected gravestone has now been found almost two miles away, at Warriston Cemetery.

Three generations of the Allen family have now been able to visit their relative’s grave, which has been restored by cemetery workers.

The grave of the “lost” victim is just one of 400 of fallen First World War soldiers from Leith that Mr Grant has tracked down. His interest in First World War history began when a search for information about his wife’s uncle, who was killed in France, revealed that his four brothers had also served and been wounded in action.

“It’s like an acorn,” he said. “It started with one person and has grown into a full-time quest to find out more and more about Leith during the Great War.”

He has worked on his project between two and three hours a day for the past three years, poring over documents and press clippings, and scouring cemeteries for war graves. Mr Grant aims to document the final resting place of every single Leith fighting man on the port’s 2206-strong roll of honour compiled at the end of the war, and is only about 20 names away from reaching his goal.

In the process, he has unearthed records of more than 400 other Leithers who never returned from the front, and whose names were never added to the roll of honour. “My roll is actually much more complete than the official one,” he said.

He has even discovered the unmarked grave of a German naval captain, whose ship the Blücher was sunk at the Battle of Dogger Bank in 1915.

“There were very few survivors, 25 I think, and they were brought into Leith and imprisoned at the Castle,” said Mr Grant. “One of the survivors was the captain, who died as a result of pneumonia. They gave him a full military funeral and he is buried in Newington Cemetery.”

He has passed two volumes of completed research on to Leith Library where it can be viewed, and to the Lothian Health Services Archives, which holds the official Leith roll of honour.

paris.gourtsoyannis@edinburghnews.com