Letters: French Mayor seeking descendants of Edinburgh WW1 hero James McPhie
A French Mayor has written to the Edinburgh Evening News
On behalf of the Mayor’s office in Aubencheul Au Bac, France, we are trying to find the descendants of James McPhie VC, as we are organising a commemorative ceremony for the 100th anniversary of his death on 14 October 2018.
James McPhie joined the Territorials in 1912 when he was just 17.
The son of Allan and Elizabeth McPhie, he was born at Salisbury Place and attended South Bridge School before becoming an upholsterer.
He saw service with the 416th (Edinburgh) Field Company, Royal Engineers (TF) and his company were sent to France in April 1916.
By October 1918 the 416th were at the Canal de la Sensee near Aubencheul-au-Bac, under Canadian command.
At first light on October 13 they launched a bridge to attack the enemy on the opposite side. Under heavy shell and sniper fire the troops who landed were ordered to retreat but the bridge broke, leaving many trapped.
During the night Cpl McPhie and a group of sappers repaired the bridge for the escaping soldiers and the retreat began but the bridge broke again.
McPhie and another sapper jumped into the canal and held the broken sections of the bridge together, helping more men to cross.
McPhie was shot in the face and fell into the canal. His body was rescued, and he was buried four miles from Cambrai – his brother John, a Lance Corporal in the same unit, helping to lay him to rest.
His heroic death came just 28 days before Armistice was declared.
His posthumous VC for “most conspicuous bravery” was presented to his widowed mother Elizabeth by King George V in the ballroom of Buckingham Palace on April 3, 1919.
After the war a plaque was also unveiled in St Giles’ Cathedral in memory of all the Royal Engineers who died in the war, and in 1963 a wooden bench was placed in Princes Street Gardens in James McPhie’s memory, below the Scots Greys Memorial. His VC is now in the Imperial War Museum.
Sarah Assheton-Smith, 8 Chemin des Postes 59265 Aubencheul Au Bac. Tel 00 33 3 27 92 93 55.