First World War : 1914 – 1918

The badge shown above is the commemorative lapel pin for the 100th Anniversary of the 1914 – 18 War.   There are probably more books, poems and songs about and dating from this conflict than from any other.   The whole country was involved with men who stayed at home were given white feathers of cowardice by strangers in the street, when men were slaughtered in tens of thousands.   But most of the information is out there for anyone who really wants the facts, the details.   Sportsmen were of course swept up in the jingoism like any others were.   The contribution from football is written up in the book about McCrae’s Battalion which was mainly composed of football players from Hearts, Raith Rovers, Falkirk, Hibernian, East Fife and Dunfermline.   The contribution from Scottish athletics and harrier clubs is less well known.   Individual athletes from just about every club in the land volunteered to play their part in the War.   And they did so in great numbers – for instance 30 members of Teviotdale Harriers from a total membership of 140 enlisted.   The biggest club in Scotland was Clydesdale and many joined up.   Just look at this note from the ‘Evening Times’.   A total of 70 club members who had enlisted, and it should be noted that this is not at all an exhaustive list: other club men such as Duncan McPhee enlisted or were conscripted and saw service abroad.   

I would like to draw your attention to three names in the middle of the list – Lieutenant James Erskine, 7th Gordon Highlanders, and his two sons, Lieut.  Thomas Barrie Erskine, 1st Gordon Highlanders, and Lieut Ralph Erskine, Royal Scots Fusiliers.   Note also the date of the list – 21st August 1915 – and then look down the list and note that four of them had already been killed in action, including Tom.   The Erskine family tragedy typifies and maybe magnifies the kind of tragedy that befell many a family across the country.    After hostilities had broken out, at the Clydesdale Harriers Committee Meeting held on 5th September 1914, the final item on the Agenda was the paragraph:   “At this stage in the meeting, and before the election of office bearers for the new season, Mr James Erskine moved the adjournment of the meeting sine die, and also that we recommend to the SCCU that there be no cross-country running meantime.   This was duly recorded.”

James Erskine

James Erskine  grew up in Glasgow and by the age of 16 was working as a stockbroker’s clerk. In 1887 he married Janet Barrie.   James and Jenny  had 5 children. Their first child, also called James, was born in 1888  but tragically died of  pneumonia and peritonitis in 1894 a few days before what would have been his 6th birthday. There followed two more boys, Thomas Barrie Erskine (born 1889) and Ralph (born 1893) before in 1895, they had a daughter, Margaret Strachan Erskine. Sadly, as was commonplace then, Margaret too became an infant mortality statistic, dying of tubercular meningitis the following year.   James and Jenny’s final child Nancy was born in 1897, but there was another tragedy to follow. When Nancy was only four, her mother Jenny died of consumption. James was now a widower with three surviving children,– Tommy, Ralph and Nancy.   

James was a founder member of Clydesdale Harriers when they started up in May 1885.   His business as an insurance salesman was doing well enough to advertise via a full page in the Harriers Handbook.   James was on the club committee from the start and in 1888/89 was club secretary and also a District Leader for Number  One District (Dennistoun, Camlachie Rutherglen), as well as being on several sub-committees: Business Committee, Advising Board, and Headquarters Representative to the South Lanarkshire Section.   He remained secretary until 1890/91 when Andrew Dick took over the position.   He did some track running and won prizes – 4 in 1989.   He took a step back at this point, probably because of the family situation.   James had been born in 1888, Ralph in 1893, Margaret in 1895 and Nancy in 1897.    

The boys in their turn joined the Harriers with Tom becoming joint club secretary with Harold Servant, who was to die at the end of the War after serving in the RMLI.   He was also a runner who ran well in club teams and in August 1914 was a competitor at the Rangers Sports in August in the invitation 1000 yards race.   

Ralph was much less of a committee man but an outstanding natural sportsman.   Second in the SAAA 880 yards championship twice and world lightweight boxing champion – a title he won in New York – he was a very successful sportsman indeed when the War started.

Tom was in the Gordon Highlanders and kept a diary of his life as a serviceman, and extracts from this can be found at the family website, page 

Tommy Erskine’s Diary (22): 24 March 1915 – Back in the trenches – Many Casualties at Neuve Chapelle

from which this short extract has been taken: 

“We went back to a support farm on Sunday 4 pm & returned to the firing line last night, so that of the last 10 days we have spent only 2 in billets. There is no prospect of a relief yet – there doesn’t seem to be a battalion to take our place here at present. We go back to reserve farm tomorrow night, and after 2 days there we will return again to the firing line unless the batt is relieved. I hope they’ll give us a longer spell in billets when it does come – we’re ready for a rest now. This is the longest spell in the trenches the batt has had since Ypres.

I have here a paper of 22nd inst. giving another list of casualties of Nueve Chapelle. Our 2nd batt has lost most of its officers including its Colonel. Poor Tommy Letters* the cheery clever fellow of Glasgow University, whom Ralph & I often spoke about, is reported ‘missing, believed killed’. It’s terrible. Capt Halliswell HLI (Highland Light Infantry) is wounded. I wonder if Charlie Mylles got through it. It’s a piece of pure good fortune that our Batt didn’t happen to be in this show. There were 517 casualties among officers alone.

The Germans yesterday put a rifle grenade into the trench on our right, killing 1 officer & wounding 6 men – of the Suffolk Regiment. I hope my grenades have accounted for a good many of the enemy.”

Tommy was a highly regarded by all in the Army and in July 1915 was awarded the Military Cross – the third highest medal available to a serving soldier.   He was killed six days later.    You can read more about Tommy at  this link.

Like Tom, Ralph had been a pupil at Allan Glen’s School as was his brother. He was a gifted athlete and boxer, featherweight boxing champion of the world at age 17. Sporting success reported at the time included the Public Schools’ Boxing Championship of England in 1911, and the Feather-weight Amateur Championship of Scotland in 1912.   He also won the European championship at Paris. In May 1911 Ralph sailed to New York for a fight for the (unofficial) Amateur World Featherweight Title. He fought at the famous National Sporting Club on 27th May 1911 and the following day the New York Times reported: “The star of the lot was Ralph Erskine, the 17 year old boy who fights in the 125 pound class. He fought Alfred Roffe, the Canadian champion, and simply toyed with his opponent all through the three rounds. He had all the actions of an experienced performer and the speed of a Jem Driscoll”. He easily outpointed Roffe.”   As a runner he won many a race and was twice silver medal winner at the SAAA Championships and ran for Scotland in the triangular international against England and Ireland.   When war broke out in 1914 Erskine, a medical student at Glasgow University, was an athletics blue and had served as sports secretary and secretary of the athletics section. On a hiking holiday in Arran with his friend Charles Higgins when war broke out and they immediately headed back to Glasgow to join up. Ralph was given a Commission in the Royal Scots Fusiliers, and, having landed at Boulogne on 9th July 1915, he was promoted to Captain and after some heavy fighting in France, fought in the Battle of Loos (25 September – 18 October 1915).   In December 1915 Ralph relinquished the temporary rank of Captain, and joined the Royal Flying Corps, forerunner of the RAF (first spending some time with the Australian Forces Royal Flying Corps, probably for training).   After getting his “wings” Ralph returned to France with 66 Squadron of the Royal Flying Corps from 22nd September 1917 as a pilot. He was flying a Sopwith Camel, B6414.

Ralph was killed at the age of 25 when his aircraft was shot down in Northern Italy – the first British airman to fall there. “Force-landed in front line trenches near Flers. Aircraft destroyed by artillery fire.” According to information in a later family letter, he didn’t have a parachute. He was wounded in the leg, but died in captivity on 1 January 1918 and was buried at the British military cemetery in Tezze, near Venice.   If youwant to read more about Ralph, follow this link

Ralph and Lennie on their wedding day, March 1917
with James Erskine (left)

It was a tragedy the likes of which we can never even imagine for James.   His wife and four of his five children had died and to multiply the horror of the situation he had to inform his remaining child, daughter Nancy, and the letter doing so read as follows:

My dear wee Nancy,

I have just received bad news from Lennie’s father. He has been told unofficially that a message has come through Copenhagen stating that a Captain Erskine and another RFC officer (whose name is illegible) were killed and buried together.

I know you will be deeply grieved – what can we do or say.

My heart us sold for Lennie and for you (who both loved him so dearly). I hope you will be able to comfort each other from the depth of your great sorrow. For me – ‘the rest is silence’.

Your always loving



The Minute of the Clydesdale Harriers Annual General Meeting, the first since James Erskine moved suspension of activities in 1919, read:

“There was a splendid turnout at the annual meeting (adjourned since September 1914) of the Clydesdale Harriers. Owing to illness the club president, Mr William Gardiner, was unable to take the chair, and this duty was undertaken by Mr M.F. Dickson, an ex-president.

“Office Bearers were elected as follows:- Honorary Presidents: MF Dickson, Captain James Erskine, J.C. Lawson and Charles Pennycook. President: William Gardiner. Vice President: Lieut James Lamond; Joint Secretaries: Alexander McGregor and James Findlay; Treasurer: George Reid; Captain: William Ross; Vice Captain: Frank McCormack. It is noteworthy that three of the original members of the club – started 35 years ago – were present at the meeting, and still take an active part in the management of the club.”

James Erskine was present and elected Honorary President.   Small Consolation for his massive losses.  Nor was the support of athletes for the war restricted to Scotland – all countries provided fit young men for the colours,   The Dublin club of  Clonliffe Harriers History lists 57 members (four who were KIA) who fought in the War.   One of them at Neuve Chappelle (see TB Erskine’s Diary)

When you hear of the sportsmen killed in the War, think by all means of McCrae’s Battalion, but think also of all the Harriers of all clubs who were lost.   All are equally deserving of our memories.

Cross-Country Contretemps

The Scottish National Cross Country championship has been contested since 1886 when it was won by AP Findlay of Clydesdale Harriers.   The International Cross-Country Championships dates from 1905 when it was restricted to the one wee corner of Europe but from the start there have been quibbles about selection or choice of venue or some other feature of the championships.   Some of these will be noted here – for a start we have the disgraceful decision about the venue for the 1978 International Cross-Country Championships venue  and the tale of the Cambuslang Two.   Just click on the links.

The Cambuslang Two

Eddie Stewart

For decades the high spot of the cross country season was the International Cross-Country Championship.   Anyone with any pretensions wanted to make the team and worked really hard to do so.   There were, as is natural with any event as prominent as this one, sometimes problems and controversies that arose.   eg the choice of venue for the 1978 world cross-country championship.    The commonest cause for disagreement however was team selection.   In 1985 there was what was possibly the biggest and most controversial selection ever.

The teams were chosen in the main following the results of the National Cross-Country Championships.  The Scottish squad was usually selected after the race with the names of those chosen in the Press on Monday morning.   There were exceptions – on occasion a top runner was injured or had some minor ailment such as the ‘flu or a cold, and was counted in the team on the basis of form throughout the year.   Grumbles were commonplace, scandals were rare.   

The National at the Jack Kane Sports Centre in Edinburgh on 23rd February, 1985, was a good exciting race over a mixed course including farmland and good grass running.   It was won for the sixth time by Nat Muir of Shettleston from John Robson of Edinburgh Southern Harriers.   The first nine men home, in order, were Muir, Robson, Ross Copestake (Dundee), George Braidwood (Bellahouston), Jim Dingwall (Falkirk Victoria), Charlie Haskett (Dundee), Eddie Stewart (Cambuslang), Colin Hume (ESH) and Neil Tennant (ESH).    So far so good.   The team selected  for the International in Lisbon on 24th March consisted of Muir, Robson, Copestake, Braidwood, Dingwall, Haskett, Hume and Tennant plus Robert Quinn, winner of the Junior race.     Stewart had been left out.  Those selected had finished in the National in 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 8th and 9th positions.   It looked like a clear case of favouritism.

Worse was to come but first, a word of explanation.   Because the Scottish age group dates were different from the international age group birth dates, there were always some highly placed Scots who could not be selected because of this discrepancy.   The Junior team selected was Begen (Springburn), Carey (Annan), Hanlon (ESH), Russell (Law), Scally (Shettleston) and Smith (Winsford).   Those who were at the race, and those who were not there but perused the results with any care, noticed that one athlete was omitted who would, on previous years’ criteria, have been selected was Pat Morris of Cambuslang.   Pat had been sixth in the Junior race, fourth in the international age group runners, and was left out.

Two Cambuslang Harriers omitted from the Scottish teams for the major event of their winter season after ostensibly qualifying for the race.   The local paper led with this article:

The runners concerned were both liked and respected in equal measure by their peers.   Nobody in Scottish athletics had a bad word to say for Eddie who was one of the quietest men in the sport, never boasting about his achievements although he had quite a lot to boast about.   Pat was a cheery, friendly young man who always seemed to be laughing or having a good time.   They were both hard runners who never gave anybody an easy race and both had plenty of talent.   There seemed no obvious reason for their exclusion from the teams.

Cambuslang Harriers were not happy with this turn of events and Des Yuill. one of Scottish road and cross-country’s longest and hardest working officials, was their spokesman.   In the Glasgow Herald on Friday, 28th February, Stewart McIntosh wrote as follows:  

“Cambuslang Harriers are pressing for a motion of no confidence in the SCCU’s selection committee after two Cambuslang runners were passed over for the Scottish Junior and Senior teams at the world cross-country championships.   The teams were selected after last Saturday’s Scottish National Cross-Country Championships in Edinburgh.   Cambuslang’s Eddie Stewart was not among the nine selected for the senior team despite finishing seventh on Saturday.   The first six men home were selected, however, Stewart, who finished only three seconds behind Haskett, was ignored while Colin Hume and Neil Tennant, both of Edinburgh Southern, were selected although they finished in eighth and ninth positions, 20 seconds behind Stewart.   The winner of the Junior race, Robert Quinn of Kilbarchan, was also selected.   

In naming  the six man junior team the selectors similarly by-passed Cambuslang’s Pat Morris who finished sixth in the junior championship race.   Because of a age disqualification, the first three finishers were too old to run internationally as juniors.   The selectors picked the fourth and fifth finishers, but ignored Morris, who was only three seconds behind.   Again they reached back into the field for the eighth and eleventh finishers in the Youths race.   It is usual to give a position to the first youth only, and the beneficiary of this unusual move is Tom Hanlon of Edinburgh Southern, who was second youth.

Cambuslang officials are incensed at what they see as a lack of reward for good performances in the “national”  and they feel particularly aggrieved that three Edinburgh Southern men have been selected in the face of better performances by Cambuslang runners.   “We are not doing this to force a re-selection,” says Des Yuill of Cambuslang Harriers, “But we want to ensure that a proper and fair selection procedure is set up for future years.”   

The motion of no confidence needs the support of six other clubs, and Yuill is confident that he will have these by the weekend.   The Scottish Cross-Country Union will then have to hold a special meeting to discuss the matter within 14 to 21 days and that would force the issue before the Scottish squad travels to Lisbon.” 

Des Yuill and Jim Scarbrough of Cambuslang had been involved in athletics for decades – they had both been runners and raced for their clubs in all the main races – McAndrew Relays, Nigel Barge Road Race, county and district relays and so on – but their real worth to Scottish athletics was as officials and administrators.   They had held positions in club, District and National committees of the SAAA and SCCU.   They knew the rules and had known the administrators that they were dealing with for some time.   They knew what to do.   Once they had decided to ask for a General Meeting to discuss the matter, they wrote to the other clubs.   The first letter below was asking for support.


The support was quickly obtained with the clubs in support being Bellahouston, Clyde Valley, East Kilbride, Garscube, Kilmarnock, Kirkintilloch, Larkhall, Law, Livingston, Maryhill, Springburn and Strathclyde University.    At this point with feelings running quite high, and athletes and officials across the country taking sides, mainly in support of the Cambuslang Two, the wise old heads of the Cambuslang Harriers committee decided to withdraw the request for a Special General Meeting in return for a slot at the Annual General Meeting of the SCCU.   The following letter was sent by Des Yuill to all club secretaries.


The line to be taken by the two club representatives at the annual general meeting at the start of May, 1985, was to ask for a definite selection policy to be set out by the SCCU for the guidance of runners and clubs in future.    Reasons for that were set out in the letter above.   Pat Morris did travel to Lisbon and run for the team after all when one of the others withdrew through injury  but Eddie had still missed out.   Came the day and Des’s speech was a model of its kind.   The club’s points were made, the withdrawal of the vote of no confidence repeated and the request for a definite selection policy for future teams made.   The speech is worth reading again and is reproduced below;


The comments from the club as expressed above are clear, well set out and cover all the bases.   The club emerged from the situation with credit.  The discussion was carried on in a civilised fashion, the Union agreed to look positively at the selection procedures and all parties were satisfied – or as near satisfied as was possible in the circumstances.



1970 Commonwealth Games: 25th July

In the photo above, Ian Stewart leads Ian McCafferty over the finish line in the final of the Men’s 5000 metres.   Kip Keino was third.   After Lachie won the 10,000 m earlier in the week, and the marathon men did their bit midweek, and temporary Scotsman Peter Stewart picked up a medal in the 1500m, the Rosemary Stirling won the women’s 800m on the last day, this really made the week for Scottish distance runners.   The day itself was a really good one for the Scots and after the marvellous closing ceremony where the protocol really did break down spontaneously (it’s been too staged at events since then, it was the end of a wonderful part which had happened to include a Games of very high standards athletically indeed.

Then there was the closing ceremony: the details were contained in the programme – see this page after the last race – and it was a formal affair as was the custom then.   The teams marched in and lined up on the infield, the flag was lowered, folded and given to the representative from New Zealand, a speech or two and then the athletes were supposed to march out in formation.   Well, they started to leave in that fashion and then they just broke ranks and the various countries just mixed with each other, they danced, they generally had a good time on their way from the stadium.   Everyone, including the Royal family was delighted – this breaking of ranks and expression of joy and happiness and friendship was to a large extent what gave the Games the title of The Friendly Games.   It was a moment that could never ever be replicated.   To an extent it was following the formalities that went before but it was a marvellous experience for all who were there on the day.   

The pages dealing with the formalities are included on this page after the race details.






1970 Commonwealth Games: 24th July

The penultimate day was short in time – only 4 events taking place – but very high indeed in terms of quality.   For instance the men’s 800m included Ralph Doubell of Australia – coached by Franz Stampfl, he had won the Olympic 800m in Mexico in 1968.   He won his Heat.   The women’s 800m was equally interesting with Sheila Carey, Noreen Braithwaite and Pat Lowe of England lining up with Rosemary Stirling, Georgena Craig and Margaret Speedman of Scotland with others such as Potts of NZ in there as well.

1970 Commonwealth Games: 23rd July

The events of 23rd July will stay with many of us for a long time to come.   The picture above is of the first three in the marathon – It was fast from the start with 10 miles comfortably or not – sub-50 minutes.   All three Scots did well with Jim Alder, the reigning Games champion at the distance finishing second to an inspired Ron Hill.   The photo above shows Alder, Hill and Don Faircloth (third).   The race was basically organised by the Scottish Marathon Club.   Headed by David Bowman, the club provided stewards, virtually all the officials out on the course as well as most time-keepers and judges.   The list of events below indicates that the heats of the 5000m with Ian Stewart, Ian McCafferty and Lachie Stewart all lining up against such as Kip Keino and Joseph Ngeno (Kenya, Dick Quax and Richard Tayler (New Zealand), Allan Rushmer and Dick Taylor (England), Ron Clarke (Australia) and others.   The final of the women’s 1500m was also on the cards and a great afternoon was eagerly anticipated.




1970 Commonwealth Games: 22nd July

This was one of the very best days of the Games.   Look at the names – Don Quarrie and ‘the great Charles Asati’ as both Glasgow Herald and Scotsman referred to him, Raelene Boyle Alice Annum Margaret Critchley, Kip Keino, Brendan Foster, Ben Jipcho  and they were all racing against the runners we saw and ran with most weeks of the year – Helen Golden, Moira McLeish, Liz Sutherland and the rest.   Then there was Ian McCafferty in the final of the 1500m   – when the runners came out of the tunnel those who knew Ian’s running just groaned.   He walked out of the tunnel and sat down.  Everybody else emerged into the daylight and started doing wind sprints or were jogging around and looking purposeful.   Ian just looked listless.   He could only finish sixth in 3:42.2 while runners who should have been well behind him were winning medals.   Mind you, he did have a chance to redeem himself when it came to the 5000m final and his run in that race was wonderful.    Now for thr programme.




1970 Commonwealth Games: Complete Programmes for Every Day

The Commonwealth Games held in Edinburgh in 1970 were more than just the first major Games to be held in Scotland, they were the high spot of many sports people’s lives.   The best distance runners from Africa, sprinters from the Caribbean were here in Scotland – and our own runners like Lachie, Ian McCafferty, Les Piggott, Dick Wedlock and others were competing against them.   And these men and women that we rubbed shoulders with at Gourock games, at Babcock’s Sports and in the District Championships did not let us down.   Letters were sent out to all the athletic clubs in the land well before the event with seating plans and ticker prices and order forms.   The people who kept the sport going twelve months of the year were getting first choice of the tickets for their preferred events.  This was before thy went on sale to the general public.   To me a much better way to sell them.   School staff were given a free seat when they brought a specified number of pupils.   They really were special in a way that neither Edinburgh 1986 or Glasgow 2014 could be, although they each had their own charms.   

What these pages attempt to do is follow the running events at the Games as they were printed in the programme  day by day and follow them with the results as published in the official Games Report Book.   Links to the separate days are at the foot of the page.   But first: the calendar of events.

17th July: Athletics Opening Day     18th July   21st July   22nd July    23rd July  .24th July   25th July

The programme for the last day has details of the closing ceremony which went to plan – until the athletes decided not to exit exactly as detailed: they started in orderly ranks and then broke loose, dancing, mixing with athletes from other lands and generally celebrating the end of a wonderful Games.   I would suggest that neither 1986 nor 2014 could match that moment.   Despite the Proclaimers in 2014!


1970 Commonwealth Games: 21st July

Helen Golden – in an unusual strip!

19th July was a Sunday and there were no Games sports of any description held on that day and Monday 20th was a rest day for athletics so the next day to see any action was 21st July.   Lachie’s win was quite unexpected although all who knew him were confident that he would do well  and after he defeated Ron Clarke and the rest we were delirious.  We needed the two days to recover!   


1970 Commonwealth Games: 18th July

.Start of Men’s 10000 metres.

Since we already have the pages dealing with officials, administrators and top brass, as well as conversion tables, we will not duplicate these pages.   We have all the pages dealing with the events held on this, the second day of the Games, and results filled in by Alistair Lawson.   This was the day when Lachie Stewart became a world famous runner: I was there and could not have told anyone what the events after that men’s 10000m was – or indeed if there were any! Results below, but first the cover: