The Commonwealth War Graves Commisson (CWGC), an organisation that looks after the graves of UK and Commonwealth war dead, is appealing for relatives to come forward to help identify three deceased Scottish soldiers from WW1.  Could you be connected to any of these individuals?

Ideally their identities need to be confirmed by DNA matches to living relatives.

Help Needed to Confirm Identity of Three Scottish Soldiers

CWGC has a specialist unit responsible for the recovery of the remains of Commonwealth War Casualties in France. In the past few years this unit has identified three Scottish soldiers found with artefacts that give a good idea of who they were. CWGC is working with the UK Ministry of Defence’s Joint Casualty and Compassionate Centre (JCCC) team who are the authority in charge of the formal identification.

The three soldiers were fortunately each found with some items that provided clues to their identity.

Two of the soldiers were discovered in January 2019 by a farmer ploughing his fields at Cuinchy in France.  Records show that two members of the Black Watch are recorded as having been killed in action on 25 January 1915 in the area and both bodies were discovered with spoons stamped with numbers identifying them to be Black Watch soldiers.

One spoon has the number 3800 stamped on it, which has led the JCCC to believe this artefact relates to Private David Gemmell, whose regimental number was 3/3800 and is the only soldier with this number who is still missing from the First World War.

The second casualty’s spoon shows the number 411 and it is believed to be part of the service number 4115, which belonged to Pte George Brown.

The third casualty was found on the edge of High Wood near Longueval in France. There were no official military artefacts found with his remains –  just the British boots he was wearing.  However, he did have a knife buried with his remains and the handle was engraved with the words “J Wilson 1791 D Coy”.

Commonwealth War Graves Commission records show only one casualty that matched these details. Private John Wilson of 6th Battalion Black Watch (Royal Highlanders), who died on 30 July 1916 and has no known grave.

Below are some of the details of each man and his family which may help in tracing living relatives…


David Gemmell was born in 1869 in Dundee to David Gemmell (1824 – 1904) and Mary Cable (1824 – 1902). He was the youngest of eight children; his siblings were:

  • Helen (born 1849)
  • Eliza, Jean and Jane (all listed as born in 1861)
  • Jessie (1866 – 1948)
  • Joan/Johanna (born 1855)
  • Georgina (born 1864)

The 1891 Census shows him aged 22 and living with his parents at Hilltown in Dundee. By the time of the next Census in 1901 he was a plumber and lodged in a house in Stobcross Street, Glasgow.

Three of David’s sisters married:

  • Jessie, married George Williamson and they had three sons, George (1896 – 1952), James (1899 – 1971) and Edwin (1903 – 1976)
  • Joan/Johanna married Jesse Carr in 1875 in Dundee
  • Eliza married Andrew Petrie Thomson


George Brown was born in 1879 in Beath, Fife, Scotland to Archibald Brown and Elizabeth (known as Eliza or Lizzie) Drybur. He was one of nine children and his siblings were:

  • Mary (born 1870)
  • Eliza (born 1872)
  • Christina (born 1874)
  • Isabella (born 1876)
  • Catherine (born 1881)
  • Thomas (born 1884)
  • Janet (born 1886)
  • Archie (born 1889)

JCCC believe only George himself seems to have married. His wife was Elizabeth Scott and they had one daughter, Mary, who was born in 1910.


Little information is available for Pte John Wilson aside from showing that he was born in Gowanhill, Lanarkshire.

Initial research suggests that he was one of three children born to William and Grizel Hope Wilson (nee Brown). He had two sisters:

  • Helen Hutchison Wilson (commonly known as Helen Brown). She was born in Hutchesontown, Lanarkshire in 1891 and is believed to have married George Stewart in Dennistoun in 1921. She died in 1968.
  • Janet Wilson, born in about 1890 in Govan.


JCCC are now looking for family members of these three casualties to help them confirm identification by DNA comparison. If you believe you are a family member of these three men, please contact JCCC via [email protected].

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