Alex

Alex

Strichen sits aside the North Ugie Water, a river which runs from it’s source on Turlundie Hill, several miles to the west, to the North Sea at Peterhead. Above the village rises Mormond Hill, and so between the water and the hill lie the perpendicular streets of the planned village. Alexander Cranna Birnie was born, in the early hours of the sixth of November 1891, in a small terraced cottage on West Street. He was George and Lizzie Birnie’s third child together, although she also had a son, and he a daughter, from previous relationships. Strichen’s main staple, at this time, was agriculture coupled with a local weaving and dying industry. Since the arrival of the railway in 1865 the area had enjoyed an economic boom with it’s population swelling to 1200 inhabitants. There were two mills in the village in 1891 - one a sawmill and the other a long established meal mill. George Birnie worked as a miller in the latter - a means to provide for his growing family which would see the arrival of four more children in the next eleven years. By the time of the Scottish census in March 1901, the two oldest boys, George Webster Sim and Robert Webster Birnie, had moved out and Grannie Lizzie Bisset (Lizzie’s mum) had moved in. The family were now in a larger house on Water Street. Nine year old Alex, along with his sisters Lizzie and Jessie, were now “scholars” at Strichen parish school and dad George was employed as a market gardener. Baby Allan would arrive later that year and Adam the next, so their father doubtless eager to improve the family’s financial situation, would have been keen eyed for any opportunities which might better their position. After Grannie Lizzie Bisset passed away in April 1904, at the ripe old age of eighty four years, George secured a position as caretaker at the General Hospital in Ellon. So the Birnie family loaded all their worldly belongings aboard the Fraserburgh to Aberdeen train and travelled five stops south to their new home, at 4 Water Lane, on the banks of the Ythan. Nineteen year old Alex Birnie had left school and was working as a “groom and coachman” by 1911. The census of that year stated sister Jessie was a “domestic servant” with fellow siblings Alice, Allan and Adam at school. A young eighteen year old apprentice blacksmith, named John Cowieson, was a boarder in the house and the family seemed settled and prosperous……….. little did the Birnies realise how events would soon turn, for them as a family and for many families throughout the north-east and beyond,…… and for Alex. With the outbreak of the First World War, in August 1914, many young men all over Britain rushed to enlist. With the creation of many local units, to strengthen recruits’ sense of affiliation, and a strong national enrolment drive, the Army’s ranks swelled. Alex enlisted for National Service and by late 1914 he was a Private in the 5th( Buchan and Formartin )Battalion of the Gordon Highlanders. He signed on with E Company - who drew from Ellon, Auchnagatt, Methlick, Skilmafilly and Newburgh. With Alex now courting, his sweetheart Elizabeth Jane Scott would have been wondering what lay ahead for the couple - and in particular Alex - when his training was completed. He was initially barracked at the Gordons’ HQ, in Peterhead, then travelled south to Bedford. Alex had some home leave during this spell, but with basic training completed, his Battalion left Bedford on 2nd of May 1915 for France.The Gordons docked in Boulogne later that night, transferring immediately to the “theatre of war.” The contrast of the beautiful Aberdeenshire countryside, with the hellish devastation of the French Flanders battlefields, could not have been more stark. These were horrific, deadly and terrifying places and we cannot begin to imagine the terrible physical and emotional experience this was for Alex and his mates. During his military service, however, Alex rose from Private to Lance-Corporal and then Corporal, so he must have maintained good morale within himself and probably helped his mates do the same. The Division, of which the Gordons were a part, concentrated in the area of Lillers, Busnes and Robecq and were rushed to the defence of Ypres, being in action until the 19th of May when they moved to Estaires on the River Lys. The brigade was re-named the 152nd Brigade, 51st(Highland)Division and were next in action at the Battle of Festubert at the end of May 1915. Alex and his unit were then moved on and fought at the Second Action of Givenchy, from the 15th to the 16th of June, before moving south to the Somme, eventually taking over the line near Hamel. Alex was granted a furlough (a brief home leave) in December 1915. In the week from the 15th to the 22nd he became both a husband and father. He married his sweetheart Elizabeth and saw the birth of his baby daughter Georgina. The Birnies enjoyed a very short, precious time together before Alex had to return to France at the close of the

Created by: George56892

  • Profile picture for Alexander Cranna Birnie

    Born 1891

    Died 1916

    British Army 2436 Private Gordon Highlanders

    British Army 2436 Corporal Gordon Highlanders

    British Army 2436 Corporal 1/5th Battalion Gordon Highlanders