I have decided to begin blogging on my research which I started a couple of years ago. The journey has been interesting and taken many twists and turns and I would like to keep a record of what have done and what I intend to do.
In order to do this I must first back-track to the very beginning...
My mother in 2007 and at that time in her 69th year and in seemingly good health asked me to find out 'what happened to your granddad in the First World War', my granddad being her father. My responses were:
We already know what happened, he was a 6th Seaforth Highlander, under-age, reported and made to be a stretcher bearer, was wounded and captured as a POW. He also joined up as a runaway about two weeks after the war started.
And, as she insisted she wanted to know how he was captured, where he had been as a soldier and POW - I don't have time to find this stuff out right now.
I had asked tons of questions as a child and got the answers. I didn't think there would be anything more to find out. However, she didn't let it drop and in 2009 I began to do some searches on the internet based on what she (and my grandma previously) had told me. 'He was captured at Arras in 1917'. I couldn't really make sense of the information I found and the truth was, I still didn't really have time - always too busy.
In 2010 my mother died unexpectedly from an undiagnosed heart condition/disease and in amongst all of the grief and torment, I also felt I had let her down. For I had loved and worshipped my granddad while he was alive because to me he had always been a hero and yet as a grown-up, I no longer had time for him or my mother who wanted to know what her father really did.
After the funeral a cousin asked me to take her to another kirk so we could visit her mother's grave too and on that visit she told me she knew where our old family graves were and would show me. As it turned out she couldn't find them and so some weeks later, I returned to look alone. I had almost given up after quite a while of looking and started to walk away. On reaching the gates, I checked my watch and decided to allow another 15 minutes but doubted I would be successful. Some of the grave stones were completely illegible due to the erosion. I only went another row down when I found two of them, side by side.
My attention was caught by an inscription on the grave of my great, great grandparents 'and also their grandson William Proctor Duncan who was killed at Beaumont Hamel November 13, 1916 aged 31. Buried in Maillet Wood cemetery...' I asked myself several questions. Who was he? How had I not heard of him? How did he tie into granddad and the war? He must have been highly thought of but now forgotten. He needed, like granddad, to be remembered once again.
That was the start of the journey in the summer of 2010 when I began some serious ancestry research on my granddad's side of the family and in particular, the enigmatic William Proctor Duncan.
Six weeks after my mother died, my father died. He had emigrated to Cape Town in the late 1980s and had remarried my step-mother died ten months after him. Because of the distance and circumstances of funerals taking place immediately, I could not attend either. Instead in the spring of 2011, I found myself on a train to London having taken 3 days unpaid leave from work, to collect the belongings of my father that were being brought back from South Africa after the death of my step-mother, by her granddaughter whom I had never met.
I had managed to accumulate quite a lot of information on my great, great grandparents, their ten children and their grandsons William and George (my granddad). The day before leaving for London, I did something quite strange, I typed the words William Proctor Duncan into the Google search engine, not really expecting anything at all. What a shock I got. I found he was being discussed on something called The Great War Forum...
There was a conversation on the Forum and as I recall, it was entitled A Service Number on a Spoon.
It appeared that a spoon had been found by an amateur archaeologist near what had been the sight of a CCS at Poperinghe. It had been engraved with the letters SEA. and a number 3936. The feeling was that the letters denoted a Seaforth and the number was a service number. They had identified that William Proctor Duncan, a Seaforth, had that service number. However, it appeared from the conversation, he was not the only Seaforth with that number.
I must admit, I was very shocked that a relative of mine was being discussed on the Internet. When the initial shock subsided it was also quite exciting that having found out nothing about my granddad, here I might be able to find out more about the war service of his little known cousin. I checked what I had found out about him again. Just to make sure there was no mistake and they were actually discussing the right man.
So far, I had found him on two census aged 5 and 15 at the home of his grandparents at the Tugnet, Spey Bay. He had been born in Corstophine, Edinburgh the illegitimate son of the eldest child and daughter of the 10 Duncan children, according to his birth certificate. She was at lodgings and gave her usual address as Tugnet. She had been a servant in Fochabers but how she had ended up in Edinburgh, I didn't know at that time. I thought that his name, William Proctor Duncan was a nod to who his real father might be, a clue to be followed later.
The CWGC had yielded more information and his service number. It was definitely him. I needed to make contact...