The Bluebell Soldier

Walter Scott Murphy

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Walter Scott Murphy (Courtesy of Alister Cruickshank)

Today is the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme, 1st July 1916. Among the thousands that fell on the first day was 23-year-old Private Walter Scott Murphy born at the Bluebell Cottage, New Cumnock the son of John Murphy railway surfaceman.

It is with the railways that our story begins.

The Glasgow & South Western  Railway line

A visit to New Cumnock Railway Station today reveals a plaque to commemorate the momentous completion in 1850 of the final section of the Glasgow to Dumfries and onto Carlisle railway line.The final section stretched from New Cumnock, Ayrshire  to Closeburn, Dumfriesshire including the impressive engineering feat of the 1400 yard Drumlanrig tunnel.

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The route of railway line very much follows that of the River Nith as it cuts it way through the Southern Uplands in its journey from New Cumnock to Closeburn by way of Kirkconnel Sanquhar, Carronbridge and Thornhill.  It is in the village of Durisdeer however that the story of the Murphy railwaymen begins.

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A: New Cumnock B: Closeburm C: Durisdeer D: Wanlockhead

Durisdeer

Building and maintaining the new railway brought many opportunities for work and attracted many immigrants from Ireland, particularly at the time of the great famine of 1845-1852. It was during this period that brothers  John and Peter Murphy found work as railway labourers and board at Muirfoot in the parish of Durisdeer.

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A:Muirfoor B: Braehead C: Drumlanrig Tunnel D: River Nith

I. John Murphy (I) & Allison Moffat

John Murphy progressed to be a foreman plate-layer by which time he had married Allison Moffat, daughter of Thomas Moffat and Margaret Glencorse. The couple settled at Braehead Cottage, Hapland situated between the River Nith and the railway line. Together they had four children Peter, Margaret, John and Thomas. Following the death of his mother Allison in 1881 second son John continued to live with his father at Braehead Cottage and worked alongside him on the railway as a plate-layer. Widowed sister Margaret Copland and her two infants sons also shared the home.

II. John Murphy (II) & Margaret Scott

In 1884 John Murphy married Margaret Scott who worked as a farm servant and cook at the nearby Hapland farm. She was the daughter of Walter Scott, lead-miner at Wanlockhead and Catherine Taylor. The following year their first child, Catherine was born at Braehead and four years later she had a brother John for company.

By this time  John Murphy senior had passed away in 1885 at the grand old age of 80 years old, having worked for over 40 years on  fittingly at Tunnel Cottage a few hundred yards from the entrance of the Drumlanrig tunnel.

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A: Hapland farm B: Braehead C: Tunnel Cottage

New Cumnock

In 1890 the Murphy moved up the tracks and up the Nith Valley to New Cumnock and settled at Bluebell Cottage flush with the railway line to the north and with the Horsehoe Loops of the River Nith to the south. The cottage, which was home to two families sat next to the water tanks that quench the thirst of the steam locomotives on the Glasgow and Southwestern Railway line earning the Bluebell the alternative name of The Tank.

It was here on 14th October 1892 that Walter Scott Murphy was born while a day after the Murphy’s neighbours at Bluebell Cottage, William Hastings and Jane Forsyth, welcomed their daughter Agnes Jane Hastings into the world.

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A: Bluebell Cottage or The Tank

Tragedy struck the family when their son John was struck down with diphtheria and died in 1893, one month before his fourth birthday and was laid to rest in the Auld Kirkyard, New Cumnock. A second son John was born five years later followed by William Scott Murphy (1901) and Alister Moffat Murphy (1903) . Joining the Murphy family at Bluebell Cottage was nephew William Copeland to work on the railways as a plate-layer.

Daughter Catherine Taylor Murphy moved to Glasgow and found work as a domestic servant in Thistle Street, Glasgow and later in 1905 married the man of the house Joseph Rowley, flesher salesman.

Walter Scott Murphy also moved to Glasgow in 1911, aged 18 years where he found work as grocer’s assistant and lived as a boarder in Glebe Street, Townhead . He appears to have returned to New Cumnock at some stage working perhaps at the railway station but his tracks go cold until that fateful day on the 1st July 1916.

Private Walter Scott Murphy (14554), Highland Light Infantry

In response to Lord Kitchener’s call to arm Walter Scott Murphy travelled to Glasgow to enlist in the Regiment of the Highland Light Infantry  in the 16th (Service) Battalion (2nd Glasgow). The 16th was formed on the 2nd September 1914 by the Lord Provost and the City of Glasgow predominantly from members or former members of The Boys’ Brigade. Two other battalions were also formed and together all three were better known as 15th (Glasgow Tramways), 16th (Boys’ Brigade) and 17th (Glasgow Commercials).

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Courtesy Regimental Museum Glasgow

First day of the Battle of the Somme

These three Glasgow battalions formed part of the ill-fated attack on the German defensive position of Leipsig Salient near the village of Authullie in the north of France. On the opening day of battle the British forces suffered almost 60,000 casualties including 19,240 fatalities. Walter Scott Murphy of Bluebell Cottage, New Cumnock was killed in action on that sombre day.

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16th Battalion Regimental Colours

Lonsdale Cemetery , Athuille

Lonsdale Cemetery now contains 1,542 Commonwealth burials and commemorations of the First World War. 816 of the burials are unidentified but there are special memorials to 22 casualties known or believed to be buried among them. [Commonwealth War Graves commission]. It is here where Walter Scott Murphy lies.

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Courtesy Scottish War Graves Project

“Beloved by All, Father, Mother, Sister and Brothers”

[For reasons unknown he served under the name of Walter Scott . His brother William Scott Murphy also dropped the name Murphy]

Auld Kirkyard, New Cumnock

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Although buried in foreign fields Walter Scott Murphy is remembered on the family headstone in the Auld Kirkyard, New Cumnock.

Walter’s family continued to live at Bluebell Cottage up until at least 1925, the property now owned by the London, Midland and Scottish Railway  which in 1923 had swallowed up the Glasgow and South Western Railway  in a major of host of railways.

In 1924  Walter’s youngest brother Alister, bakery salesman married Martha Love, from South-Western Road, Craigbank the daughter of James Love, miner and Helen Harper.

John Murphy and his wife Margaret Scott late moved to Kilmarnock and lived at Irvine Road. Their sons John and William (also adopting the surname Scott) established the J&W Scott Garage in the town.

John Murphy died at Victoria Hospital, Glasgow in 1933, aged 72 years and Margaret died at her home in Kilmarnock in 1951, aged 88 years old. Both lie together in the Auld Kirkyard, New Cumnock.

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Acknowledgements

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