Private Joseph Barr

Private Joseph Barr

Private Joseph Barr was born in the village of Slamannan outside Airdrie on the 1st June 1879, and lived much of his adult life in Coatbridge working as a bricklayer & Army Reservist. He is believed to be the first Coatbridge casualty of the First World War, losing his life at Becelaere, near Ypres, in November 1914.

Private Barr served initially in Egypt and Fort George near Inverness in the early 1900s, and by 1907 was working in the civilian world as a tradesman. On the outbreak of the First World War conflict in 1914, he reported to the Highland Light Infantary depot in Hamilton and re-entered military service. Eventually stationed within the 2nd Highland Light Infantry (HLI), Private Barr was dispatched to France and saw immediate action in the battles at Marnes and Aisne in the successful defence of Paris itself.

The 2nd HLI were then moved to the Ypres area, to join in the effort to halt the German 'race for the sea'. A key strategic manouevre, the Germans hoped to blockade the Channel ports and bring about a decisive victory by not allowing the British to disembark more troops in the area. 

As a member of 'B' Company 2nd HLI, Private Barr was one of sixteen men killed in hand to hand action when the Germans invaded 'B' Company's trench in Becelaere at 4.30am on the 7th November 1914. These were the only casualties suffered by the 2nd HLI that particular day.

After this action, in which the Germans lost eighty men, it was decided for strategic reasons that the 2nd HLI abandon 'B' Company's trench to the remaining Germans. Thus, eight of HLI's dead, Joseph Barr included, were initially buried with their fallen German adversaries in the German cemetery at In De Ster ('The Star Inn'). In the early years after the Armistice, the 2nd HLI dead were handed back to occupying British forces, where they were re-interred and are now buried in Oosttaverne Cemetery.

The events surrounding these actions were extremely noteworthy at the time, and several first hand descriptions were published in the British press. By the end of November 1914, the HLI had only 30 of its orginal cohort of men still available, a story typical of the wider British Expeditionary Force infantary battalions which had left Britain less than four months earlier. Private Barr's service and death was thus hugely emblematic of the larger British war effort at this time.

Private Barr is commemorated on both the Coatbridge and Glenboig war memorials.

From an article by Joe Barr - reproduced with thanks.

More info: 

Private Joseph Barr
Private Joseph Barr. Image: copyright, Joe Barr; processed by Alistair McEwen.
'B' Company, 2nd Battalion Highland Light Infantry (HLI)
'B' Company, 2nd Battalion Highland Light Infantry (HLI). Joseph Barr is second from right. Image: copyright, Joe Barr; processed by Alistair McEwen.
'B' Company, 2nd Battalion Highland Light Infantry (HLI)
'B' Company, 2nd Battalion Highland Light Infantry (HLI). Joseph Barr standing 8th from the right, immediately behind the seated men. Image: copyright, Joe Barr; processed by Alistair McEwen.
S.S. Lake Michigan
S.S. Lake Michigan - the ship which took Joseph Barr to France. Credit: U.S. Naval Historical Center.