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Captain Thomas Barrie Erskine

Biography of Captain Thomas Barrie Erskine

Thomas Barrie Erskine, known as “Tommy”, was born on the 16th November 1889 in Parkhead, Glasgow. His father, James Erskine, was an Insurance Canvasser and former Captain of the Gordon Highlanders, and his mother was Janet Penman Barrie Erskine. He had a younger brother Captain Ralph Erskine, also a student at the university and also died in World War I, and a younger sister Agnes. He also had two siblings who died in infancy, James and Margaret. His mother died of tuberculosis when Thomas was 12 years old.

Thomas first studied at Allan Glen's School in Glasgow, starting in 1902 and winning two bursaries, before coming to the University of Glasgow in 1908. He took a great many subjects in his time at the University, spanning the Arts and Sciences. It appears he was considering a career in Medicine, as he took classes in Anatomy and Physiology. He lived at 8 Deerpark Gardens, Tollcross, Glasgow with his father and brother while he studied.

Whilst studying Thomas was an athlete and member of the Clydesdale Harriers and at one point held the post of secretary. He competed in many local sports meetings and occasionally won prizes. During university he was a Sergeant in the Officer Training Corps.

Upon the outbreak of war Thomas was gazetted to the 4th Bn. Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders and was attached to the 1st Bn. Gordon Highlanders as Captain. In June 1915 he was mentioned in despatches, and on 12 July 1915 Tommy ‘a very gallant and capable officer’ was decorated with the Military Cross, the third level military decoration awarded to officers, for ‘gallantry during active operations against the enemy’.

Thomas died at Hooge on the 20th of July 1915 aged 25. The London Gazzette reported on the circumstances leading to his death in the report below accompanied by an illustration captioned “Gallant Young Highlander’s Heroic Death Near Hooge”.

“Lieutenant Thomas Barrie, 4th Battalion, Princess Louise’s (Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders), attached 1st Battalion, The Gordon Highlanders. For conspicuous gallantry and ability. Between 12th and 20th May, 1915, he obtained definite information of the enemy’s dispositions near “Hill 60” by personal reconnaissance by day and night, and, after locating the enemy’s nearest occupied trench from a distance of 10 to 20 yards, he checked their activities by incessantly bombing their working parties. His work was marked by equal boldness and judgment. He has also shown since conspicuous energy and skill in the construction of defences in Hooge Village.

On the night of 19/20 July, while taking part in a bombing raid on the front line German trenches at Hooge Chateau, near Ypres in Belgium, in which they lobbed grenades into the deadly enemy machine-gun dug-out posts, he came across one which was defended by a breastwork against which the bombs could make no impression. Snatching a pick-axe, he began to try and make a hole in the roof through which to drop a grenade, when he was mortally wounded with a shot through the chest.”

After his death he was awarded a posthumous MA by the university and is remembered on the Roll of Honour. Thomas is buried in Brandhoek Military Cemetery, west of Ypres (now Ieper), Belgium.

Summary

Captain Thomas Barrie Erskine
Rank: Captain
Regiment: 4th Bn. Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders - Gordon Highlanders
Degree: MA
Awards: Military Cross, Mentioned in Despatches
Comments: Killed in action, 20 July 1915
Note/Press Clipping: Ch 4/4/2/3/343
Photo ID: N/A

Sources

University of Glasgow Faculty and Registry records.

Burial Place: Commonwealth War Graves Commission - Debt of Honour Register.

Information from the Clydesdale Harriers and Allan Glen's Old Boys.

With thanks to Robert Lee for providing us with photographs of Thomas and further information.

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