Sir Gawaine Baillie

Sir Gawaine Baillie

The first West Lothian casualty of the War was also the person with the highest social rank - Sir Gawaine Baillie, baronet, of Polkemmet.

On 25 September 1914 the West Lothian Courier reported:

Profound regret was experienced last week-end when the lamentable tidings arrived announcing the death of Sir Gawaine Baillie, Bart., of Polkemmet, Whitburn,  Lieutenant in the Royal Scots Greys, who had been killed in action, while bravely and gallantly leading his men to the charge. Cut off in the bloom of youth, his death has cast a deep gloom over the Whitburn district.

Polkemmet is plunged into sorrow at the tragic, yet glorious, end on the battlefield of the young Laird, whose frank, sunny disposition towards all with whom he came in contact won him friends everywhere.  He was a general favourite with this brother officers and men.

The 'tragic, yet glorious' end of the young baronet is also mentioned in the following letter published in the Linlithgowshire Gazette on 13 November 1914:

Private Emslie, of the Scots Greys, who is now acting as a despatch rider, writes home to his mother at Linlithgow, under date 20th October, as follows: "Just a line to say that I am still in the land of the living and in the best of health. We are having a busy time of it just now, fighting from morning till night. I have a lot to do on my bike, and the roads out here are terrible. Between the mud and great holes made in them by shell fire, they are something awful. I am sorry to say poor Willie Mitchell has died of his wounds. I don't know where he is buried, but I know where he was wounded, at the battle of the Aisne, where we lost a lot of men, as well as Sir Gawaine Baillie of Polkemmet, one of our officers, who had a lance put through his body, when he was wounded, by one of the Uhlans".'

(The Uhlans were German cavalry troops armed with lances)

The family of Sir Gawaine were wealthy enough to pay for his body to be repatriated to the UK. He was buried in the family mausoleum at Whitburn South Parish Church. However, the Graves Registration Commission (forerunner of the Imperial War Graves Commission), established in 1915, realised that it would be unfair if wealthy families could bring home their dead, but poorer families could not afford to do the same, so in 1915 the repatriation of bodies was forbidden and henceforth all burials were made close to where the men fell.

In the very first week of the war, Sir Gawaine had offered his mansion at Polkemmet as a war hospital. After his early death, his mother, Lady Baillie, undertook the work of organising the house as a Red Cross Auxiliary Hospital. It opened in 1915 and continued in use until 1918.  

©West Lothian Local History Library

For more information the First World War in West Lothian, contact the West Lothian Local History Library - http://www.westlothian.gov.uk/article/2055/Local-History-Library; or email localhistory@westlothian.gov.uk.

 

Sir Gawaine Baillie, the young laird of Polkemmet, Whitburn