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Brechin City: 1906-1920, the Early Years


For a second successive year, Brechin City had no fixtures but many of its former continued the daily reality of military service.
Gordon Macfarlane: killed
Sergeant Gordon Macfarlane of The Black Watch was noted as “a keen footballer”.[1]
Gordon Young Macfarlane was born on the 30th of May 1893 at 17 Crawford Road, Edinburgh, the son of Robert Macfarlane, retired law agent, and Mary Amelia Macfarlane (nee Thomson).  He was the nephew of the Rev E.T. Thomson, minister of Brechin’s East United Free Church who, in December 1912, had performed the opening of Brechin City’s Sale of Work.  Gordon McFarlane was noted as a member of the East United Free Church when its congregational roll of honour was published.[2]  Gordon McFarlane’s parents died about 1906, and after their deaths, he had come to Brechin from South Africa.  He had been a student at Brechin High School as indicated by his name on the High School’s Roll of Honour.[3]  He “became one of the leading players in the Brechin Cricket Club.  He was the fifth of the 1914 team who has laid down his life in this great struggle. ‘Mac’ was one of the best bowlers in the shire and was chosen more than once to play for his county.  He was also a keen footballer and enthusiastic in sports generally.”
Gordon McFarlane played for Brechin Hearts in seasons 1911-12 and 1912-13.  He is noted as one of the scorers (the other having been Walter Fowler) in the replayed Forfarshire Junior Cup tie against Dundee Clepington in October 1911.[4]  He played centre half for Hearts in a challenge game against a Brechin City XI in December 1911.  Coincidentally he and Walter Fowler were again the scorers for Hearts in a derby game against Brechin Rangers in October 1912.[5]  He also however played at least one game for Brechin City for whom he appeared at left half against Montrose in the opening game of the 1913-14 season.[6]
He had been at the front since the beginning of November 1914, going out with the local Territorial Battalion and arriving in Franceon the 1st November 1914.   At the beginning of 1917 he was awarded the D.C.M. for having, though himself wounded, gallantly reorganised some men, and driven the enemy out of a bombing post and rescued a wounded officer who had been captured.[7]  He had been a lance-corporal in D Company, 5th Battalion, The Black Watch, in November 1914 when he volunteered for foreign service[8].  His Service Number at the time of his decoration was 1470 and at the time of his death was 240161.
He was killed on 31st July 1917, serving with the 4th/5th Black Watch, in the early period of the Third Battle of Ypres, commonly known as Passchendaele.  He has no known grave but his name is commemorated on the Menin Gate Memorial at Ypres in Belgium.
John Walker: wounded
John Walker, who had played for City in 1910-11 and again, briefly, in 1916, was wounded on 20th September.
Frank Forbes: killed
The next of the Brechin footballers to be killed was Frank Forbes who died in September 1917 of wounds sustained in the Third Battle of Ypres, often referred to as the Battle of Passchendaele.
Frank Forbes played as a juvenile for Brechin Arnot in  season 1904-05, appearing in a Brechin Juvenile Select in Janairy 1905.  He is noted as playing Junior football for Brechin Rovers in both 1909-10 and 1911-12.  He played one game in 1911-12 forBrechinCitybut then appeared regularly in 1912-13, 1913-14 and 1914-15 in the city ranks.  He normally played as a forward and is recorded at outside right, inside right and inside left but also played at least once at left half
He was employed at the Denburn Works[9] which he left in January 1915 to enlist in the Royal Army Medical Corps.[10]  Given that he was not a recipient of the 1914-15 Star, he did not arrive in France until at least the beginning of 1916.  Curiously, although the Denburn Works Roll of Honour notes Frank Forbes in its list of employees who served in the war and, on that list, notes him as having died in September 1917, his name is not noted on the list of those killed which appears at the beginning of the publication.
Frank Alexander Forbes was born in Littlejohn Street, Dundee on 22nd January 1888, the son of David Forbes, then a sewing machine company porter, and Julia Forbes (nee Mitchell).  His father, originally a ship’s carpenter, and again employed as such in 1891 and 1901, was likely born in Brechin.  The 1881 and 1891 census returns state that he was: the 1901 census gives his place of birth as Dundee.  Frank Forbes’s mother was definitely born in Brechin and his parents had been married in Brechin.
He was residing in Dundee, still in Littlejohn Street, in 1891 with his parents and two brothers and in 1901 with his widowed father and brother, but by the time of his marriage in May 1916 he was noted as residing at Andover Hill, Brechin.  Frank Forbes was therefore, although a Dundonian by birth, a Brechiner by ancestry, by residence and through his football clubs.  He was noted as a cloth lapper on his marriage certificate but, in brackets, also as a private in the Royal Army Medical Corps.  Cloth lapper was, in other words, his civilian occupation in May 1916, but he had already enlisted by that date in the Medical Corps.  His wife, Jane Muckart, was also resident in Brechin, inKinnaird Place, at the time of their marriage.
Private Frank Forbes served with the 134th Field Ambulance, Royal Army Medical Corps, his service number being 53477.  He had been wounded in June 1917.[11]  Over the course of the 24th and 25th September 1917 there was hard and prolonged fighting north and south of the Menin Road, the road out of Ypres to the east, with major engagements around Zonnebeke and Polygon Wood.[12]  On 26th September 1917 Frank Forbes was out with a party bringing in the wounded when he was hit in the leg by part of a shell and died later in the same day.[13]  His widow was by then resident in Montrose Street.  He is buried at Voormezeele Enclosures, near Ypres,Belgium, only a short distance beyond Railway Dugouts, the resting place of Collie Martin.
George Hastings: killed
George Hastings played five games for City in 1914-15.
George Hastings’s family had left Brechin and removed to Arbroath and Hastings appears on both the Brechin and Arbroath War Memorials.  Before enlisting he had, for some time, been “on munitions work, and prior to leaving Brechin he was employed at one of the public works.”[14]
George Hastings was a private in the 7th Battalion, The Scottish Rifles (The Cameronians).  His service number was 33666.  At his death he was noted as being “attached to the Royal Engineers”.  He died in the middle east on2 November 1917 while the Third Battle of Gaza was raging.  He is buried in theGazaWarCemetery.
Robert Jaffray (or Jeffrey): killed
The last of the Brechin footballers to fall, in November1917, was one of the first to have left Brechin, Robert Jaffray.  Robert Jaffray, the son of Robert Jaffray, millworker, and Jemima Jaffray (nee Paton) was born on the 7th October 1896 at 179 Montrose Street, Brechin.  By 1901 his family (parents and three sisters) and he were residing at 271 Montrose Street.
Private R Jaffray was one of the winners at the New Year Shooting Competition organised at the Stannochy by the local Territorials at the outset of 1914.[15]  Private Robert Jeffrey (sic) was one of the majority  of D Company, 5th Battalion, The Black Watch, to have volunteered in November 1914 for foreign service.[16]  He then went to France with the 5th Battalion.  He was noted as a member of Maison Dieu Chruch when its roll of honour was published and is commemorated on that church’s war memorial.[17]  When he was killed however, he was serving as a corporal with the 154th Company, the Machine Gun Corps, to which he had transferred in August 1916[18]. His Service Number was 24486.  He had been awarded the Military Medal early in 1917 when a lance-corporal with the Machine Gun Corps.  His M.M. was gazetted on 18 June 1917.[19]  He had also been recommended for a Distinguished Conduct Medal shortly before his death.[20]  (At this point the only decoration for gallantry which could be awarded posthumously was the Victoria Cross.)
He was “well known in junior football circles prior to the war”[21] and had been employed at the Denburn Works which he left in August 1914.[22]  He had also however turned out forBrechinCity, his first traced appearance being against Arbroath in the Forfarshire Cup in January 1911.
The titanic battle of Third Ypres had officially ended on 10th November 1917 when the British took Passchedaele.  The Highland Division, including the 154th Machine Gun Company, had moved south-east.  Over the period 20th November to 7th December it  took part in the Battle of Cambrai.  Robert Jaffray died on 23rd November 1917 of wounds, likely sustained in the struggle for the capture of Bourlon Wood, and is buried at Rocquigny-Equancourt Road British Cemetery, Manancourt, France.  At the time of the registration of his grave his parents were residing at 127 River Street, Brechin, which is also the address at which he was noted at the point of his enlistment and again in January 1916.[23]  (It is worth noting that Robert Jaffray appears on the Commonwealth Graves Commission’s web site and on various other records as Robert Jeffrey, even appearing on one of his medal rolls as Robert Jeffray.)
Post war football for Brechin City resumed on 29th March 1919 when City travelled to Forfar and lost by four goals to one.  The squad (Bruce, Bushnell and Johnston, Gold, Cameron and Smart, Small, Walker, Richardson, Hampton and Milne) included a fair range of pre-war veterans.[24]  Bruce, the keeper, had played for City in 1912-13.   Jim Bushnell had been a Brechin Hearts regular who had had one game for City in 1907-08 and who had played for the 3/5 Black Watch at Ripon in 1916. Johnston had played a handful of games for City in 1911-12 and again in 1914-15 as well as having had a trial in 1914-15 for Dundee Hibs. Walker was the quoted thrice wounded John A. Walker who had served with the Black Watch. Richardson may or may not have been the George Richardson who played for City in 1907-08 and who served with Cameronians. Hampton is almost certainly Harry Hampton, cousin of the more famous Colin, another pre-war City regular who served with the Black Watch.  Milne was James Milne, outside left for City in 1910-11 and 1911-12, who had also played for Dundee and had been a sergeant in the Black Watch.
It was agreed that there would be no competition that season for the Forfarshire Cup.[25]
As the season drew to a close, John Walker turned out for Dumbarton against Vale of Leven and Eggo, Brechin’s new winger, appeared for Heart of Midlothian against Celtic.[26]
George Richardson: wounded and decorated

George Richardson (in 1906)

Sergeant George Richardson of the Machine Gun Corps was wounded in thighs and chin in late 1918.  He was returned to hospital in Sheffield.  Richardson had played for Brechin Hearts and Brechin Rovers and arrived at City in 1907-08.  He played 17 games for City that season, and was selected for both the Forfarshire XI and the Northern League XI.  He then returned to Junior football with Brechin Rovers before emigrating to the U.S.A.  He returned to enlist in the Cameronians (Scottish Rifles) at the beginning of the war and arrived in France in 1915.  He later transferred to the Machine Gun Corps and was awarded a Military Medal.[27]
Colin Hampton: captured, released and decorated
Colin Hampton, Brechin City’s erstwhile goal-keeper, who had been playing for Chelseawhen war broke out, was a sergeant with the Machine Gun Corps in Mesopotamia, when he was captured by the Turks in October 1918.  He was released with the end of hostilities and returned to his unit.[28]  He was awarded the Military Medal.[29]  Colin Hampton arrived back from Mesopotamia to Brechin in the spring of 1919.[30]
Bruce, Bushnell, Richardson and  Milne continued for the new season.  Brechin’s centre half, James Forbes, who had showed up well in army football, transferred to Clyde in November.[31]  Bobby Eggo, a former Brechin half-back who played for Heart of Midlothian, transferred to Sheffield Wednesday, after a trial in December 1919.[32]  He turned out for City however, in two end-of-season friendlies against Montrose in May and then re-signed for Wednesday.[33]  As new year approached, City signed three new players, J. Dickie, a left back, from Dundee Fairfield, W. Sharples, a centre half or inside right from Dundee Stobswell, and Andrew Milne of Brechin Comrades.  Leighton, who was to feature regularly over the season, had played with both Brechin Hearts andBrechinCity in 1915-16.
The season started with the Scottish Qualifying Cup.  Brechin beat Montrose 3-1 at Montrose on 6 September 1919 but perhaps the events of the previous evening were of even greater significance.  At a public meeting in the Masonic Hall, with W Oram (President ) in the chair, it was announced that a park, The Glebe, had been secured and that the raising of funds to put the park in order and to build changing accommodation was under way.  The club however set itself on a course from which it has never deviated and rejected the option of floating itself as a limited liability company.[34]  During the weeks which followed however, doubt continued to be expressed as to whether the Glebe would be ready for the league programme.
City was soundly defeated, 6-0, by East Fife in the second round of the Qualifying Cup.  They went out in the first round of the Eastern League Cup after a two-nil defeat by Raith Rovers.  In February 1920, over 2000 spectators saw City draw two all with Montrose at the Glebe in February in the first round of the Forfartshire Cup.  The gate exceeded £70.[35]  In the replay at Montrose on 6 March 1920, the crowd was over 2500 and the receipts amounted to £80: City lost by the sole goal of the game.[36]
On the 14th October 1919, City played St Johnstone at the Glebe in an Eastern League fixture, the first ever game atGlebePark.  St Johnstone won by three goals to one.
Brechin had opted to join the new Eastern League, along with Arbroath, Forfar Athletic, Montrose, Dundee Hibs, St Johnstone, Lochgelly United, Cowdenbeath and the reserve XIs of Dundee and Raith Rovers.  The Eastern League proved a briefly viable competition in which, by the season’s end, all the fixtures had been completed.  Brechin also however continued to operate in a revived Northern League which, as well as Brechin City, comprised Arbroath, Arbroath Amateurs, Forfar Athletic, Dundee Hibs, Montrose, St Johnstone and the reserve XIs of Dundee andAberdeen.  Unlike the Eastern League, and more like its pre-war namesake, the Northern League was unable to sustain the completion of its fixtures. Brechin City had a poor record in the Eastern League and only a slightly better one in the Northern League.
It appears that the end-of-season Eastern League table was as follows.

  P W L D F A Pts
Dundee Hibs 18 13 3 2 37 19 28
Cowdenbeath 18 11 3 4 59 29 26
Dundee A 18 9 3 6 38 24 24
Arbroath 18 9 7 2 39 43 20
St Johnstone 18 8 6 4 54 37 20
Forfar Ath 18 8 8 2 24 36 18
Lochgelly Utd 18 6 8 4 22 32 16
Raith Rov A 18 7 11 0 32 27 14
Montrose 18 4 12 2 29 48 10
Brechin City 18 1 14 3 27 58 5

Although City’s record in the Northern League was better, it was in a competition to which the participants obviously gave little commitment.

  P W L D F A Pts
Montrose 7 5 1 1 28 10 11
Arbroath 8 4 2 2 23 14 10
Forfar Ath 9 4 5 0 15 15 8
Dundee A 4 3 1 0 9 4 6
Dundee Hibs 4 2 0 2 5 3 6
Brechin City 7 2 3 2 13 15 6
Aberdeen A 9 2 6 1 7 11 5
St Johnstone 2 1 1 0 1 2 2
Arbroath Amat 4 0 4 0 3 30 0

The AGM of the Forfarshire Football Association, at which George Cumming of Brechin was elected secretary, took place in the summer of 1919 and grants of £20 were awarded to each of Arbroath, Montrose, Dundee Hibs and BrechinCityfrom funds made available by the SFA.[37]  The new future for the Angus clubs however was to be in the newly reconstituted Eastern League to which it was announced in July both Brechin City and Montrose had gained admission.[38]  There was however some doubt as to whether City would be able to achieve a ground by the start of the season and the Eastern League membership was therefore somewhat problematic.[39]
On 25th October 1919 City held a flag day and in the evening a benefit concert was held in the City Hall.  The flag day raised £31 and the concert realised “a considerable sum”.[40]
At the club’s AGM the president, Mr W Oram, reported income in excess of £700, the transfer of Forbes having brought City £100.  There was small working surplus over the season.  Mr Pram was re-elected president and the old war-horse, George Cumming, was elected secretary.   There were however complaints published in the local press from supporters claiming that the public had not been invited to the AGM.[41]  George Cumming was also elected as secretary of the Forfarshire Football Association, which distributed grants from the SFA to enable them to resume after the war to the various local clubs: City received £38.[42]
It is almost impossible to calculate the games played by respective players because complete team lists are scarce.  It is clear however that among the most regular players over the season were Kidd, McGovern, Milne, Smith, Bushnell, Forbes and Stewart, with Stewart and Milne among the top scorers.
One other development of note was the formation of a new Junior Club in Brechin, the Comrades, comprising entirely ex-servicemen.[43]  The early team included Jim Livie, the veteran keeper who had played for Brechin City, Brechin Hearts, Brechin Hibs, and Brechin Rovers and served with the Black Watch during the War.  Another regular was Jim Bushnell who had been a regular pre-war Hearts full-back who had had one game for City before the war but who, after demobilisation, turned out at least twice in 1918-19 and again at least twice at the beginning of 1919-20 for City.  Two juvenile (or ‘second class junior’) clubs emerged, Brechin Victoria and Brechin Renton,Victoria eventually becoming the Junior side which continues to exist today.  The long established Brechin Hearts however were never revived post-war.
The author of this article would be glad to hear any information which corrected, improved or enhanced any of the information given here and would be delighted to hear of any readers who have documents, photographs, articles or simply memories or knowledge of any of the names mentioned or of any other Brechin footballing connections with the 1914-18 War.  The author can be contacted at: .
Any such material will be used to supplement this article.
The major sources for this work were:
Adams, David G: The Kirn Poke o’ Brechin, Chanonry Press, Brechin (1986)
Adams, David G: The Brechin Bran Tub, Chanonry Press, Brechin (1987)
Adams, David G: The Brechin Rag-Bag, Chanonry Press, Brechin (1988)
Adams, David G: The Brechin Lucky Dip, Chanonry Press, Brechin (1989)
Alexander, Jack: McCrae’s Battalion, Mainstream, Edinburgh (2003)
Carr, William: A Time to Leave the Ploughshares, London (1985)
Cheshire, Scott: Chelsea, A Complete Record 1905-1991, Breedon Books (1991)
Crampsey, Bob: The Scottish Football League, the First 100 Years, SFL, Glasgow (1990)
Cumming, George: Through the Years with Brechin City FC, Simmath Press, Dundee (1948)
Falls, Cyril: History of the Great War, France and Belgium, 1917
Gibbs, Philip: The War Dispatches, Tandem, London (1968)
Gourlay, David M.A.: A Brechin Eleven and A Printer’s Dozen
Hampton, W: Collection of Colin Hampton Memorabilia (including medals, press cuttings and photographs)
Lynch, Michael: Scotland, A New History, Pimlico, London (1992)
McArra, Kevin: Scottish Football, a Pictorial History, Edinburgh (1984)
McLeod, Rod: 100 Years of Scottish Football, STV, Glasgow (1973)
Price, Norrie: Up Wi’ The Bonnets, N Price, Aberdeen (1993)
Smailes, Gordon, Scottish Football Records, Derby (1995)
Smout, T.C.: A Century of the Scottish People, 1830-1950, Fontana, London (1997)
Swinburne, John: Motherwell Football Club, 1886-1999, Tempus, Stroud (1999)
Wilkie, Jim: Across the Great Divide, Mainstream (1984)
Wood, Alex.: Collection of Walter Fowler memorabilia (including medals, photographs and Brechin Hearts membership card)
The Brechin Almanac 1918
The Brechin Almanac 1920
Brechin and The Great War 1918 (Brechin Advertiser, February 1919)
The Brechin Advertiser
The Courier and Argus
The London Gazette
D & R Duke, Denburn Works, Roll of Honour, Brechin (1919?)
Relichtie Arbroath FC fans’ website
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s Debt of Honour web-site
The County of Angus Roll of Honour
Corstorphine, James K: The East Fife Football Historian website
Dundee United FC website
Fulham FC website
Loons Mad, independent Forfar Athletic fans website
The National Archives, Documents on Line, for World War One medal lists
McColl, Brian: Scottish Football Encyclopaedia website
Parker, Jim: Machine Gun Corps Research website
Ross, James M: Scotland – List of Qualifying Cup Winners, website
Tangerine Dream, independent Dundee United fans website
WELLnet, Motherwell FC website
Birth Certificates were traced for most mentioned men and marriage certificates for several via Scotland’s People, the web site for the General Register Office for Scotland, from which were also traced census entries
In addition the following individuals and institutions were of enormous assistance in compiling the material on which this article was based and their efforts and support is acknowledged with gratitude:
Chelsea Football Club (Claire Lait);
Crystal Palace Football Club (Rev Nigel Sands);
Dundee Football Club (David Forbes);
Dundee United Football Club (Mike Watson and Steve Gracie);
Bill and Agnes Hampton, Brechin;
Jenny Hill, The Brechin Advertiser;
James Livie, Brechin;
Ken Macaskill, of Edinburgh and formerly of Brechin
Steve Mitchell, Editor, Brechin City Programme and Director, Brechin City FC;
Jack Souter, Luthermuir;
The Staff, Brechin Public Library;
The Staff, The National Library of Scotland.

[1] Brechin Almanac, 1918
[2] The Brechin Advertiser,12 January 1915
[3] The Brechin Advertiser,6 April 1915
[4] The Brechin Advertiser,24 October 1911
[5] The Brechin Advertiser,29 October 1912
[6] The Brechin Advertiser,2 September 1913
[7] Brechin Almanac, 1918, and Supplement to theLondon Gazette,26 January 1917
[8] The Brechin Advertiser,3 November 1914
[9] Brechin Almanac, 1918
[10] D & R Duke, Denburn Works and the Brechin Advertiser,19 January 1915
[11] Brechin Almanac, 1918
[12] Gibbs, p 175
[13] Brechin Almanac, 1918
[14] The Brechin Advertiser,29 January 1918
[15] The Brechin Advertiser,6 January 1914
[16] The Brechin Advertiser,3 November 1914
[17] The Brechin Advertiser,12 January 1915 and27 April 1920
[18] National Archives Medal Roll, Jeffray, Robert
[19]London Gazette, Supplement,18 June 1917
[20] The Brechin Advbertiser, 4 December 1917 and the Brechin Almanac, 1918
[21] Brechin Almanac, 1918
[22] D & R Duke, Denburn Works
[23] The Brechin Almanac, 1916 and the Brechin Advertiser,4 January 1916
[24] The Brechin Advertiser,1 April 1919
[25] The Brechin Advertiser,15 April 1919
[26] The Brechin Advertiser, 6 May 1919
[27] The Brechin Advertiser,24 June 1919
[28] The Brechin Advertiser,3 December 1918
[29] The Brechin Advertiser,31 December 1918
[30] The Brechin Advertiser, 6 May 1919
[31] The Brechin Advertiser,18 November 1919
[32] The Brechin Advertiser,23 December 1919
[33] The Brechin Advertiser, 18 May 1920 et seq
[34] The Brechin Advertiser,9 September 1919
[35] The Brechin Advertiser,17 February 1920
[36] The Brechin Advertiser,9 March 1920
[37] The Brechin Advertiser,8 July 1919
[38] The Brechin Advertiser,29 July 1919
[39] The Brechin Advertiser,19 August 1919
[40] The Brechin Advertiser,28 October 1919
[41] The Brechin Advertiser, 4 May 1920
[42] The Brechin Advertiser, 18 May 1920
[43] The Brechin Advertiser,16 September 1919


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