The High School of Glasgow recently got in touch with the museum to borrow our World War One Handling Boxes. Chris MacKay, the principal teacher of History at the school mentioned the story of the Warnock siblings. He has shared this account of their sad tale.
Both World Wars left a deep mark on the High School of Glasgow. They cost the lives of many of the former pupils and few families escaped untouched. Some lost more than one family member. It was not unusual to hear of brothers from the same family being killed in the fighting. Our story today is unusual in that it involves a brother and a sister.
Elizabeth McMath Warnock and her younger brother George Muir Warnock grew up in Glasgow. Their parents, William and Mary Warnock lived at Westminster Terrace in the city. George attended the High School of Glasgow until 1908 and then worked with a firm of stockbrokers as a clerk.
Elizabeth or Daisy, as she was known, became a teacher. She attended Jordanhill Training College and taught at Tureen Street School in the east end of the city.
Their lives were to change forever in August 1914. At the outbreak of war, like thousands of other young men, George volunteered for the armed forces. He became a member of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders and was sent to France in 1916. He impressed his superiors with his approach to his work. This resulted in him being commissioned as an officer in 1916 and given the responsibility of looking after the battalion’s Lewis machine guns.
Throughout 1917, George took part in a number of battles including Arras and Cambrai. The above painting was created by R.Y. Forsyth, George Warnocks orderly. It is based on a letter from Warnock which described the brave fighting he witnessed of Captain MacTaggart at Arras. MacTaggart sadly lost his life in the fighting but only after being shot in the eye, then hand and finally the stomach.
In March 1918 George was in the frontline when the Germans launched a massive attack. The Spring offensive was Germany’s last attempt to win the war. Although it was to fail, it resulted in large numbers of British soldiers becoming casualties. This included George. He was wounded by a bullet which hit him on his side and entered his right lung. He was transferred to the 8th General Hospital in Rouen and underwent an operation to remove the bullet. Sadly, it failed, and he died on March 29th.
One of his officers wrote to his parents that: “George was one of the bravest and best boys I ever knew, [He] was most lovable and always had a ready smile no matter what was happening; [He]was my most able and willing assistant in many things when I was Second in Command of the Battalion and I loved him as I did my own son. I have seen your son in battle and never was anyone so keen to do his duty. His conduct in and out of the line was absolutely beyond reproach; he was a very gallant and true gentleman.”
Another wrote “Your son was a very great loss, not only as a friend but as a very fine officer. During the Cambrai Battle he was the only officer left in Headquarters with me and he did magnificently……. I cannot speak too highly of his work throughout.”
By coincidence the hospital he was taken to at Rouen was where his sister Daisy, was working for the Red Cross. Like many other women she had been determined to play a part in the war effort. In 1915 she had joined the Voluntary Aid Detachments. Better known as V.A.D.’s, these were volunteers who helped with the nursing of wounded soldiers. Once she had demonstrated her nursing skills she was sent to Malta and then to France in October 1916.
Her life as a VAD was not easy or glamourous. Long hours were spent cleaning and taking care of the wounded. Off duty hours were spent living in tents and huts which were cold in winter and too warm in summer. The suffering of wounded would have deeply affected her. One fellow nurse wrote
“You went first to the men who were visibly dying and gave each one a shot of morphia. It was all you could do for them. You had seen death many times in your hospital training, but it was different then, for He had come for the old or those weakened by illness. Not this harvest of the young and strong who had been full of life only a few hours before”
It would have come as a shock to Daisy when she learned that her brother was in hospital. It is almost certain that she would have been present at his funeral. Within a few weeks Daisy herself, was ill from disease. She died on May 5th, 1918. The chairman of the Red Cross wrote to her parents “Your daughter passed away whilst nobly and heroically serving the country and her magnificent work will remain an inspiration to the personnel of the British Red Cross of which she was a distinguished member.”
She is buried close to her brother in St Sever Cemetery in Rouen. It was left to her father to choose the inscriptions on his children’s gravestones.
Daisy’s carries the inscription “I Have Finished The Work Which Thou Gavest Me To Do”. George’s was inscribed with “Greater Love Hath No Man.”
George was one of 673,375 British soldiers who lost their lives in the Great War.
Daisy was one of 373 nurses killed in the Great War
Each one left a story.