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Strathallan and the Great War

Strathallan was less than a year old as an academic institution when the First World War broke out at the end of the summer of 1914.

Amidst a flood of volunteers and patriotism, hundreds of thousands of young British men, from all over the British Isles and Empire, enlisted. By the end of 1915 the male teaching staff, such as Mr Wilson and Mr Fretwell, were called up to serve in the army to be replaced by female teachers and refugees such as Mlle Fouganiny and Monsieur Claes from north-eastern France and Belgium respectively.

Harry Riley himself was called before military tribunals on several occasions to plead exemption from military service, ultimately granted on medical grounds – he was notoriously colour-blind and he had a knee injury from previous football playing days. Both had prevented him from pursuing his original career choice, the Royal Navy.

According to Stewart Gowans writing in 1948, Riley’s mood for the day was often governed by the fluctuating fortunes of Allied troops on the battlefields of northern France – he hung a large map of Europe in the dining-room and moved the little flags backwards and forwards. It is said that the boys gave sighs of relief on the days the flags moved forward. And it is a little known tale that Riley was alleged to have been imprisoned briefly in Belgium in the summer of 1914, while on holiday, it is said that he was suspected of being a British spy.

Much of the early success of Strathallan came from three particular pupils, as prefects, sporting giants and academic leaders, all of whom were to give their lives during the Great War. James Gowans, George Mollison and Allan Harley are our only known fatalities of the First World War. All three were amongst the first boarding pupils when Harry Riley opened Strathallan School in September 1913. All of them were sporting icons in the early history of the School at Bridge of Allan, but they were not in isolation in joining up. A number of fellow original Strathallians also joined up in their turn, surviving the war. The list we have is certainly not exhaustive but has been reconstructed as best can be done a hundred years later.

Valuable as the contributions were of all Strathallan’s pupils who fought and served in the war, it is entirely right and proper that we should honour the memory of those who gave the supreme gift of their own lives during the War. And so, each year on Remembrance Day, the names of James Gowans, Allan Langlands Harley and George Mollison are read out along with those who died during the Second World War. These men, each unique in their talents and their contributions to the early history of Strathallan were ultimately responsible for fostering and engendering the spirit of duty and faithfulness that helped Strathallan grow from such small beginnings to a major public school.

Lance-Corporal James Gowans

Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, Strathallan Captain of School 1913-14

James was a slow-left arm bowler in the earliest School cricket side, not to mention the first Captain of School, but he distinguished himself in passing the Cambridge Senior Examination with Honours in December 1913, going on to finish second in Britain in the London Matric in early 1914. Bolstered by this impressive academic background he went up to King’s College London in the autumn of 1914, entering the Engineering Faculty, and improving his burgeoning academic standing by winning the Tennant Prize for Geology in his first year. According to his obituary in the King’s College Review, ‘his modesty of disposition gained the affection of both Staff and Students.’

At the end of the university year in 1915 he joined up as a private in the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. He served with the Battalion in France, being shot through the knee. According to accounts he lay in no-man’s land for over fifteen hours before being rescued, subsequently contracting pneumonia. Repatriated to recover from his wounds, he died at Tooting Military hospital on the 6th of June 1917, aged just twenty. His body was returned to Perth and buried in the Wellshill Cemetery.

Gunner George Gilchrist Mollison

Royal Field Artillery, Strathallan Captain of School 1914-15

Another of the original boarding pupils in Bridge of Allan days he, together with his younger brother Charles, was a member of the victorious cricket and football sides of 1913-15. He was wicket keeper in the Cricket XI and was appointed Captain of School in 1914-15. He became a gunner in the Royal Field Artillery, probably in 1916, seeing action in the Ypres area where he died, probably in the Passchendaele offensive, on the 24th of September 1917. He is buried in the Klein Vierstraat British Cemetery, 6 kilometres southwest of Ypres on the southern part of the Salient. He was only twenty when he died.

Lance-Corporal Allan Langlands Harley

Seaforth Highlanders, Strathallan Captain of School 1916-17

Allan attended Strathallan as one of the original boarders in 1913, becoming Captain of School in 1916-17, with a distinguished academic and sporting record. He had passed the Junior Cambridge Examination in 1915, finishing second in the British Empire at his branch of study, then passed the Senior Cambridge in the first rank, at 16, the following year. During his last year the School XIs won every match during the cricket and football seasons. He was a great favourite with the boys in the School, especially the younger ones, and on going up to the ‘Varsity’ he was ‘chaired’ to the station by his admiring School fellows. In 1917 he was due to go up to Edinburgh University to study medicine but was instead called up for war service at age 18. Enrolling as a private in the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, after training he was seconded to the Seaforth Highlanders who saw action in the area near Arras and the Somme in the latter years of the war. Barely three days after landing in France Allan was listed as missing in action. Wounded at La Bassee on the 9th and taken prisoner on 11th April 1918, he died of wounds at Seclin on 8th May 1918. He was buried in the Cabaret Rouge British Cemetery near Souchez in France. He was only 18.

Charles B Binnie

One of Strathallan’s initial day pupils at Bridge of Allan, he served in the Royal Marine Labour Corps, being discharged on account of his wounds on the thirtieth of May 1917.

Tom Dalrymple

Like so many others, one of the original Day pupils at Bridge of Allan, he joined the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, as part of the 9th Battalion’s Dumbartonshire Territorials, rising to the rank of Lieutenant.

Tom Ferguson

Amongst the first pupils, along with his brothers, at Bridge of Allan, he was the first to score a 50 for the Cricket XI. He served initially as a wireless operator, training along with another Strathallian, James Wotherspoon, at the Crystal Palace in London. Later he was said to have played rugby for the British Army against the Australian Army. He may have reached the rank of 2nd Lieutenant [Temp] in the Highland Light Infantry.

Renton H B Haldane

Renton Haldane, an original day pupil from 1913 entered the 6th (Renfrewshire] Battalion (Territorial] rising to the rank of Major.

Charles P Mollison

Younger brother of George Gilchrist Mollison [Died 1917], he reached the rank of 2nd Lieutenant in the Royal Scots Fusiliers. After the war he went on to play cricket and rugby for the Army at the age of nineteen, whilst also winning the regimental boxing Championship.

Arthur B Terriss

One of the original day boys at Bridge of Allan, he became a Temporary Lieutenant in the Gordon Highlanders.Arthur B Terriss One of the original day boys at Bridge of Allan, he became a Temporary Lieutenant in the Gordon Highlanders.

Alexander Thomson

One of Strathallan’s first day pupils, he reached the rank of Temporary 2nd Lieutenant in the Seaforth Highlanders and was reported for distinguished service which we believe earned him a Military Cross.

James Wotherspoon

One of the early pupils at Bridge of Allan, he trained as a wireless operator, along with Tom Ferguson, at the Crystal Palace in London. He was attached to the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve.