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The King and I and the Galashiels War Memorial

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Anybody researching a casualty on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission(CWGC) website knows that anything in the “additional information” column is always greatly appreciated but few have something as intriguing as:  Son of Admiral John Bush, of Bangkok, Siam; husband of Jean I. Bush, of 21, Lauderdale St., Edinburgh.”

The Galashiels War Memorial only lists only one member of the RAF; Captain V.G.A. Bush.  There is only one man of that name listed on the CWGC site, not in the RAF but in the RFC as he died in early 1918 before the RAF was formed.  And according to the CWGC additional information his father was Admiral John Bush of Bangkok, a rather improbable sounding character.  But John Bush did exist; an English merchant seaman who arrived in Bangkok in 1857 with his wife and was encouraged by the British Consul to apply for the position of Bangkok  Harbour Master.  He served in this role until the late 1800’s when one of his sons took over.  He also ran the Bangkok Dry Docks and Captained the King of Thailand’s ship when he made longer voyages.  He had 4 children with his wife from England but his first wife Elizabeth (nee Lawson )died in 1866. John Bush then married Mae Plian  and in the early 1890’s had two further children Victor and Victoria.  John Bush died in the early 1900’s and sometime shortly after Victor came to the UK, presumably to study and the 1911 census finds  him at a boarding school in Edinburgh.

Victor studied at George Watsons College in Edinburgh where he won prizes for drawing and played rugby in the 2nd fifteen he finished in 1911 and started a university course.  However his studies were interrupted by the announcement of war and on the 29th of August 1914 he enlisted in the 9th Battalion of the Royal Scots but along with other OTC Cadets was quickly commissioned and joined the 10th Battalion of the Highland Light Infantry in November 1914 as a 2nd Lieutenant .  He arrived in France on the 8th of August 1915.  He presumably fought with the HLI at Loos on the 25th of September 1915 where they suffered considerable losses.  Perhaps as a result of this he applied and was accepted into the RFC qualifying as an observer in early 1916 and as a pilot by August.  By the 10th of August he was back in France serving with 1st Squadron, flying Morane Parasol’s and later Nieuport Scouts. He got some home leave in December and married Jean McLeod, he gave her family address when he joined up so he must have known her for some time.  They married in St Davids Church, Viewforth in Edinburgh on the 16th of December.  His sister Victoria, now in the UK, was one of the witnesses.  On his return to France he was involved in bringing down at least one enemy plane a Roland C on the 4th of March 1917.  Shortly afterwards he returned to the UK to serve as a flying instructor

He served at a number of flying schools and the 26th Reserve Squadron before he was posted in late..  August 1917 to the No.1 School of Aerial Fighting at Turnberry near Ayr.  During this period he was Gazetted a Captain.  It appears he lived in Ayr at 5a Miller Street with his wife.  He died from head injuries he received in a crash on the 8th of February.  One of the wings of the Sopwith Camel he was flying failed and as a result he was unable to control the aircraft and it crashed on the outskirts of  Ayr at a place called Kincaidston farm (now a housing estate).  He was buried in Edinburgh in Merchiston Cemetry.  As well as the Galashiels War Memorial  he is remembered on the memorial at Gorgie in Edinburgh and on the memorial in St Michaels Church in Edinburgh.

Why is he remembered in Galashiels? – None of the official records finds him in Galashiels but an article in the “Southern Reporter” in September 1917 recording his promotion to Captain notes that he was “formerly of Galashiels”.  In addition according to the 1911 census his wife’s younger brother was born in Galashiels.  So he and his wife had some connection to the town and thus a place on the War Memorial. 

Captain V G A Bush is an interesting person, possibly the only British Officer with Thai Origins? Does anybody know of any others

His sister went on to serve in the WRAF and married an American serviceman in Montrose in July 1918 and evidently emigrated to the United States.  The last record I have found of his wife is from 1920 when she was living in Pewsey Wiltshire when she applied for her late husband’s medals

But what of the connection to the King and I?

When Anna Leonowens, the “I” in the “King and I” first arrived in Bangkok she was met by John Bush, then known as a Captain and stayed at his house until the King arranged accommodation for her.

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Thanks to Neill Gilhooley for some very helpful links to information about Captain Bush 


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