Today marks the 75 anniversary of Victory in Europe (VE) day. The announcement that the war had ended in Europe was broadcast on 7 May 1945, and 8 May was declared a national holiday. It marked the end of nearly six years of war, the loss of millions of lives and an event which would have a lasting impact on the political, social and economic state of Britain.

Evidence of this impact is still present today, including on our streets and in our buildings. Rolls of Honour, statues and plaques still mark the lives lost during the war and commemorate their sacrifice. In St Andrews House, a Scottish Government building in Edinburgh, a memorial plaque lists those members of staff whose lives were lost during the Second World War.

Although our buildings and archives are closed to both staff and the public, we can still take this time to find out more about the lives of these men. Using the National Records of Scotland (NRS) website, ScotlandsPeople and external resources such as the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, we can gain a glimpse into their lives.

James Dobie Aitchison
The first man listed on the memorial, James Dobie Aitchison, was born on 21 March 1916, in Baker Street, Leith, the son of John Wight Aitchison (an accountant) and Jessie Walker Aitchison (nee Chivas). He married Isabella Lilian Morgan on 26 September 1942 at St Stephen’s Church, Vincent Street, Edinburgh, less than a year before his death in 1943.

ScotlandsPeople.co.uk, Statutory Register of Births, 1916, 692/2 274 p92 of 436
ScotlandsPeople.co.uk, Statutory Register of Births, 1916, 692/2 274 p92 of 436

Aitchison was a Pilot Officer in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, 150 Squadron. He died on 30 April 1943, aged 27, near Algeria, North Africa. The death registers record the cause of death as “Air Operations”.

Buried at El Alia Cemetery in Algeria, his grave inscription reads, Everlasting happy memories of you, Jimmy dearest, till we meet again. Lily”.

An article in The Press and Journal newspaper on 20 May 1943, found in the British Newspaper Archive (BNA), reveals why Aitchison was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. Pilot Officer Aitchison and Sergeant John Campbell Leckie, two members of a flying bomber damaged by Anti-Aircraft fire, were killed when the bomber crash landed in a battleground. Together they prevented the aircraft falling into enemy hands.

Newspaper clipping titled 'Landing in Battlefield'. ©D.C. Thomson & Co LTD. Image created courtesy of The British Library Board
©D.C. Thomson & Co LTD. Image created courtesy of The British Library Board

Wilfred Buchan
Wilfred Buchan was born on 16 April 1895 in 5 McGregor Street, Brechin, to Jane and William Buchan (a coach painter). A sergeant in the Royal Air Force Volunteers Reserve 101 Squadron, Wiflred died on 1 November 1941. The service returns record that his place of death was unknown, but it was presumed that he died on this date during “Air Operations”.

An article in The Brechin Advertiser, “Local and District Casualties in the War: A Missing Brechin Air Sergeant”, published on 19 May 1942, tells us a little about his life. His wife reports that he is presumed “not accounted for”. A wireless-operator and air-gunner, Buchan was reported missing after an air raid on Berlin on 7 November, three months after their marriage. The operation hit targeted industries such as railways and utilities and was the last raid on Berlin for more than a year. Despite a search by three Motor Torpedo Boats, nothing was found.

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The article also reports on Wilfred Buchan’s entry into the Civil Service and that he met his wife while she was serving in the Auxiliary Fire Service at the War Office.

©Johnston Press Plc. Image created courtesy of The British Library Board
©Johnston Press Plc. Image created courtesy of The British Library Board

James Little Noble
Not all of those listed on the memorial were soldiers. James Little Noble was a civilian and air raid warden. He died on 7 April 1941 during an air raid on Gretna.

Earlier on that day, German bombers had conducted a bombing raid around Glasgow, dropping over 400 bombs, primarily on shipyards around Largs, Govan, Greenock, Riccarton and Inchbeam. Following the attack as they returned to Germany, a lone German Dornier Bomber crew released a payload of 50kg bombs on Gretna. Out of the seven bombs dropped diagonally across the town, the third destroyed Gretna Masonic Lodge and killed 27 people, including James Little Noble.

That evening a reciprocal lodge meal was being held with members in attendance from Dumfries, Carlisle, Lockerbie, Langholm and Longtown Freemasons. The bomb pierced the roof and exploded inside just as the meeting had finished, instantly killing those in the building (for information about the bombing of Gretna, see “The Gretna Bombing: When War Came to Gretna 7th April 1942”).

Ronald Reid Gilbert
Born on 25 February 1922, in 10 Viewforth Square, Edinburgh, Gilbert served as a Pilot Officer in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve 78 Squadron.

Just as not all those listed on the memorial are soldiers, not all of the men died during combat. During the night of the 23 August 1943, Gilbert had taken off as part of an operation to raid Berlin. The raid was one of the most serious during the war, much of Berlin’s government district was damaged, 20 ships were sunk and 854 people were killed. Instructed to divert to Leconfield on return, Gilbert’s aircraft, a Handley Page Halifax II (BB373, EY-K), collided with another plane while preparing to land. Both aircraft crashed at Hull Bridge near Beverley, Yorkshire .

Reginald John McMinn
Born on 21 February 1923, McMinn served in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, 153 Squadron as a Flight Sergeant. Part of Operation Gardening – a term used to describe the dropping of mines from bomber aircraft into the sea – McMinn was on one of several aircraft flying over the Kattegat, Denmark when his plane came down in the sea off the Danish Island of Samsø.

ScotlandsPeople.co.uk, Statutory Register of Deaths 156/AF 169 p169 of 201.
ScotlandsPeople.co.uk, Statutory Register of Deaths 156/AF 169 p169 of 201.

The service return records show that he was presumed dead and lost at sea.

Scotland’s archives provide a fascinating insight into the lives of those caught up in the Second World War and other conflicts, helping us to better understand the stories behind the names on the memorial. We are still researching those who are listed on the St Andrews House plaque:

“In Memory of our Colleagues

James Dobie Aitchison
Arthur George Alexander
Peter Buchan Allan
John Brown
Wilfred Buchan
John Chrystal
George Henry Clarkson
Thomas Crowe
Alexander R. Dawson
Arthur Colin Diemer
John Baxter Edwards
James Thompson Farmer
William Ferguson
Francis Funai
Ronald Reid Gilbert
Murdo Gillies
George Gair Horsburgh
George William Logie
Alexander Farley McKellar
Donald McKinnon
Reginald John McMinn
Robert Ivor MacNamee
David Hill Montgomery
James Little Noble
Albert William Rose
James Ferguson Scott
William Henry Scurr
James McKenzie Slater
William Edward Strachan
Eugene Oscar Townsend
Andrew James McKay Vass
James Wilson
William Renton Wilson

Who Fell in the World War
1939-1945″

If anyone has any further information about these men, please contact education@nrscotland.gov.uk.

Jocelyn Grant
Archivist

Sources/Further reading

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