The grave with no headstone

I have decided to take this opportunity to write about someone who is remembered, not for the details on his headstone, but for what he did during his life and those who have inherited his courage.
‘We regret to record the death of Mr James Willie McDine DCM, who succumbed after a short illness, on Sunday, at the age of 54’. Was the line in the Newport County Press on the 11th January 1920. The local Isle of Wight newspaper recorded a very touching tribute about my Granddad, who died over 30 years before I was born, and 2 years younger than I am now.
James Willie was christened John Willie, however when his elder brother died in 1878, as was tradition, he took the family christian name. He was the youngest of seven siblings, the first child, Alfred Henry being born when his mother Harriet was only 14.
The odd thing to me is that I always was under the impression that my Granddad James Willie was Scottish and my Gran, Emily Louise, was from Ireland. It was only after researching my family tree a few years ago that I discovered they were both true ‘Caulkheads’, being born in the Isle of Wight. My Great Granddad, also James McDine was the true Scot, born at Dumfries in 1814. I also later discovered that as a child I had been told she was from the ‘island’ not Ireland! In fact Emily was previously a Cushen, the ancestry of which can be traced back to the 1600s.
How did James Willie appear to be Scottish to everyone, yet in fact was born on the typically English Isle of Wight? Well it appears that over the years, the ‘Caulkheads’ or Islanders were suffering from the interbreeding associated with such a limited community. It was decided that the Black Watch regiment was to be stationed on the Island to bring some fresh blood into the Isle of Wight community, and what now is Parkhurst Prison was their extensive barracks.
My Great Granddad was in the regiment, as was his son James Willie and later on Willie James, James’s first born.
“Daddy what did you do in the war?” Is the famous line we hear mentioned so often. Well, James Willie joined his father’s regiment in 1880, at the age of 14, when the regiment was stationed at Parkhurst Barracks, and after serving 15 years was transferred to the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders for the purpose of going on the staff of the old Volunteers. At the outbreak of the South African war, in 1899, he rejoined his old regiment, and went to the Front almost immediately, and his distinguished conduct at Magersfontein gained him the D.C.M. His other decorations included the Egyptian medal, with four bars (the Nile, Tel-el-Kebir, Kerbekan, and El Teb), the Egyptian star and the South African medal (Queen’s). He was severely wounded in the thigh at Paardeberg on February 18th 1900. On the outbreak of hostilities with Germany he joined the 12th Battalion Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, but owing to failing health was invalided out in the latter part of 1914.
His son, Uncle Willie James, born in 1896, who I see every day in the sepia photo in our study dressed in his kilt and glengarry fought bravely in the First World War.
He was wounded in March 1915 and in September was in hospital suffering from gas poisoning. By October 1915 he was back at the ‘Front’ in France and news came that he had been killed in action on the afternoon of the 13th. The Isle of Wight County Press in their obituary stated “He was a gallant son of a gallant father”. He is remembered with honour at Loos Memorial, France and also is named on the memorial at St Edmund’s Church, Wootton, Isle of Wight. As a mark of respect, we attended the memorial service on Remembrance Sunday last November, where they read his name out. I felt proud but humble of the gallant efforts of the young boys sent into the fields of slaughter.
My Uncle Archie, again another poignant photo in our study, was James Willie’s 4th child. Born in 1907 he was in the 2nd Battalion of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders as a Warrant Officer Class II. He died in action aged 34 on 21st December 1941 and is remembered with honour at Taiping War Cemetery, Malaya. My elder brother Peter resembles Archie and I often wonder what it must have been like for my father losing his brothers in the prime of their lives. I am so glad Peter is still around.
My Uncle Roy, no guessing where I got the name then, survived his ship being sunk in a World War II battle; he went on to be the Isle of Wight pilot until his retirement, navigating ships like Queen Mary and Queen Elisabeth in from the Solent to the mouth of the Medina.
Even my dad Ken joined the army as a rugged PT Instructor, but was invalided out before he could serve in battle due to having a heart defect, caused by a severe bout of rheumatic fever as an infant.
Well James Willie, my gallant Grandad I mentioned earlier had a marvellous send off by all accounts. “The funeral took place with full military honours on Thursday,
70 Royal Irish Rifles attending from Parkhurst. Eight warrant officers acted as bearers, with the Comrades of the local post. The polished coffin was draped with the Union Jack, on the top of which were his glengarry, medals and red hackle. The procession wended its way to St. Mark’s Church, to funereal music by the band of the Royal Irish Rifles. The Rev. T.A.B. Canston officiated, and at the close of the service in the church the band played “Abide with me”, the congregation singing it.” I must admit, when I read that last bit of the account taken from the County Press cutting, I remember the many times I have watched the FA Cup on the TV and had a tear in my eye at that powerful tune.
I have been helped in researching my Isle of Wight ancestors by several islanders, one of who is Doreen Gazey, the church archivist where my Grandad is buried. It was perhaps a sign of our times that James Willie’s headstone was removed some years ago when the council sold off the old graveyard. The land was levelled and apart from records that Doreen showed me, all is gone. The touching ceremony he had in 1920 counting for nothing in the eyes of those who did not know about him or his neighbours in the Wootton cemetery.
I have never witnessed what my brave ancestors have endured, never had to battle with enemies to honour my country, but although I abhor violence and war, I admire the bravery of those who have given me the freedom I take for granted.
I am proud to be a McDine.

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