Leith soldier’s war tale revealed by archivists

John Warnock Clapperton. Picture: contributed
John Warnock Clapperton. Picture: contributed
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It was a battle many believed would be over by Christmas – but now the story of one Leith man who enlisted to fight in the First World War on Boxing Day has been unearthed by archivists.

Private John Warnock Clapperton joined the army on December 26, 1914, leaving his family home in Dalmeny Street to be shipped off to a conflict that was to claim the lives of more than 100,000 Scots over four years.

His story has come to light after keepers at the National Records of Scotland discovered his registration certificate.

The 20-year-old butcher – who served in the 9th Battalion of the Royal Scots Regiment and then later the 12th Machine Gun Corps – was initially stationed in Kilmarnock and Grantham, before being drafted to the front line in France.

It was there that he sustained horrific injuries in battle, leaving desperate field surgeons with no choice but to amputate his right arm.

But the devastating wounds may have saved his life, preventing him from completing his duties overseas and forcing his return to Britain.

There, he underwent further treatment at a hospital in Reading and later back in Edinburgh.

Eventually, John returned to set up home in Leith, marrying Catherine Martin in 1941. He died in 1966, aged 71.

Leith historian John Arthur said John’s life story was evidence of the area’s “strong history” relating to the First World War, with a sixth of its population signing up to serve their country from 1914 onwards.

He said: “I think the national archives releasing this is a good thing, because we can’t forget the cost of freedom. I think nowadays people – especially the young – think we have a divine right to be free and that freedom costs nothing.

“What they seem to forget is that a lot of people laid down their lives so that we can live the way we want to live.

“The point is that there’s always a price for things. A lot of people sacrificed their lives. And a lot of them probably thought the war was going to be over in six months, and they would just be getting a trip abroad.

“Nobody thought it would turn out how it did turn out – and it turned into something pretty horrible. Even with Remembrance Day, people forget the cost of war and the horror of war.

“Leith people have been very patriotic over the centuries and I don’t think people nowadays quite realise that.”

Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop said: “John’s is a story that will be familiar to many whose fathers, grandfathers, uncles and brothers went off to battle a century ago. John’s registration certificate has given us an interesting insight into the life of a young Scot whose wartime Christmas a 100 years ago would have been quite different to ours today.”