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Family History on Remembrance Day

We've all heard the statistics about the millions of young men who lost their lives in 20th century conflicts, and the nation comes to a halt on Remembrance Sunday to remember our loss. There are few families in the UK who will not have had one or more family members involved in the World Wars, or the more recent conflicts. Looking at their stories can perhaps add a more human aspect to our overall understanding of the impact of these conflicts.

Let me tell you about my cousin Elisabeth. Elisabeth was born in Edinburgh in 1857, eldest child of Archibald Peterkin and Joan Scott Hewat. Archibald was a cabinet maker, and the family lived in Leith Walk. In 1885, Elisabeth married Thomas Stoddart and the couple had four boys. George, the eldest, was born in 1887, followed by Richard in 1892, Archibald in 1895 and Robert in 1900. The 1901 census finds the family living at 5 Sunnybank Terrace, in the Meadowbank area of Edinburgh.

In 1914, Britain went to war with Germany. The three oldest boys were of the right ages to enlist. George joined the Royal Scots Fusiliers, firstly as a Private, before being promoted to a Lance Corporal. Richard joined the 1st Battalion of the Scots Guards, and Archibald joined the Royal Scots regiment.

On 12 July 1915, Archibald was killed in action in Gallipoli. On 26 September of the same year, George was killed in action in Pas-de-Calais, northern France. Two weeks later, Richard was also killed in northern France and was buried in the same cemetery in Loos-en-Gohelle as his brother George.

Between 12 July 1915 and 10 October 1915, Elisabeth lost three of her four boys. Robert, the youngest, was the only child to survive the conflict, as his July 1900 birthdate made him too young to sign up. Robert emigrated to Canada in 1920, married there and died in Montreal in 1936.

The level of loss from one family is almost beyond comprehension.

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