Missing Men – William Rankin McLintock

Missing Men

William Rankin McLintock, Private Royal Canadian Dragoons, aged 30.

William McLintock’s Gravestone

A brief bleak item appeared in the Milngavie & Bearsden Herald in July 1917. Under the headline “Strathblane Soldier Killed”, it noted: “The past week has been a sad one in Strathblane. Private Wm McLintock of the Canadians was the son of Mr Robert McLintock, who was manager in the Blanefield Printworks for several years. Private McLintock left this parish when young and went to Canada but like many another, he heard the call and answered and has made the supreme sacrifice.”
William Rankin McLintock was born in Blanefield at Netherton House (next to the Blane Valley Inn) in 1886 and moved to Kessogbank (the house next to it) after its construction four years later. His parents Robert McLintock and Agnes Rankin were both from the Balloch area and had married in 1872. William was their third child, a brother for Jean and Finlay. By the time William arrived, his mother was nearly 45 and his father, having started out as a humble clerk, had risen to be the manager of the local calico printworks, employing up to 500 men, women and children. He was also vice president of the first bowling club in the area. The 1891 Census finds the family settled in newly-completed Kessogbank by which time William was four, Finlay 11 and Jean 13.

Kessogbank, Strathblane

Unfortunately family life at Kessogbank did not go as planned. When William was only five years old, in June 1892, his mother died of tuberculosis. Two years later his father too had died of the same disease, a big killer in the days before antibiotics. Both parents are buried in Strathblane Churchyard. It’s not clear what happened to their orphaned children in the immediate aftermath but it’s possible that they were taken in by their Uncle John McLintock of Alexandria, who is listed as a witness to Robert’s death.
The 1901 Census shows Jeanie L McLintock , a 22-year old milliner, and William R McLintock , 14-year old scholar, back in the village as ‘visitors’ at the schoolhouse of teacher John I McEwan and his wife Mary. But it’s unclear how long they had been living with the McEwans.
In 1907 Jean chose to make a new life for herself in the province of Manitoba, Canada, sailing on the SS Corinthian from Glasgow to Halifax. She was probably following her sweetheart, William Brown, who had emigrated the previous year. The two married in 1908.
William decided to follow them. Initially, he seems to have gone to Edmonton, where he served in the military and qualified as an engineer. Almost as soon as the war against Germany had been declared, William enlisted at Valcartier, Quebec. His attestation papers describe him as 5ft 6 1/2ins tall, with dark complexion, grey eyes, brown hair, and a 39ins chest when fully expanded. By this time he had become a member of the 34th Fort Garry Horse Regiment of Winnipeg, which, according to the Niagara-on-the-Lake Museum in Ontario, “chartered two trains themselves, and came down to Valcartier without authority; and no one had the heart to send them back.” Indeed, the arrivals were far from the finished article, described as “a motley crew” putting “a tremendous strain on the administrative departments, which at times neared the breaking point.” But this was far from unusual when the pre-war militia regiments answered the call to arms. Not an auspicious start, but there’s no doubt that when the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) eventually reached France it had been transformed into a very effective fighting machine.
The first convoy to Europe sailed on October 3 1914 and was an impressive array of 33 troop transport ships and 7 naval escorts carrying 33,000 officers and men. William McLintock and the Forth Garry Horse were aboard the SS Lapland, a ship of the Belgian Red Star Line. The original disembarkation point was set as Southampton but due to German U-Boat activity, it suddenly switched to Plymouth.
Upon arrival in England on October 14, William’s regiment became part of the 6th Battalion and its role changed to infantry, which must have been difficult for such proud cavalrymen to accept. But they had to adapt, and throughout the war they alternated between the two roles at the whim of the generals.
William was sent to the tented West Down Camp on Salisbury Plain to endure two months of arduous training in atrocious weather. Morale deteriorated but in January 1915 Canada’s two Cavalry Regiments, the Royal Canadian Dragoons and Lord Strathcona’s Horse, having also trained as infantry, were reunited with their horses.
In December 1915 the Fort Garry Horse was then chosen to replace the 2nd King Edward’s Horse in France, thus creating an all Canadian Cavalry Brigade. On February 25 1916 William McLintock boarded the SS Nirvana at Southampton bound for Le Havre to join the war for real at last.
Shortly afterwards William transferred to the Royal Canadian Dragoons (RCD). The reasons are unclear, but as part of the same Brigade he was never too far away from his former regiment. He was to see action in the Battle of the Somme (July to November 1916), notably at the Battles of Bazentin Ridge and High Wood (July 14-17), Pozieres (July 23 to September 3) and Flers-Courcelette (September 15 to 22). And throughout this time his brigade was permanently allocated to the 2nd Indian Cavalry Division and under the command of the British 4th Army.
On March 16 1917 his new regiment was able to fight as a cavalry unit once more and captured the town of Longavesnes, north of Peronne. This was followed on the 27th by a combined attack on German positions in the Guyencourt-Saulcourt area, the first major action involving the entire Canadian Cavalry Brigade as a mounted unit.
The handwritten confidential war diary of the Royal Canadian Dragoons provides a revealing account of the last few days of William’s life. His ‘B’ Squadron of forty men was involved in a successful night time trench raid on the night of July 8, just South of Buisson-Gaulaine Farm, near Athies. This also included his old regiment the Fort Garry Horse and Lord Strathcona’s Horse.

William McLintock’s Battalion War Diary

He was in esteemed company. They were led by Captain Roy Nordheimer, who was to be awarded the Military Cross by the end of the War. In addition, there was Lieutenant Evan Edward Price, the Brigade Intelligence Officer, who not only won a Bar to his Military Cross during this very action but the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) and a Mention in Despatches. Not forgetting Lieutenant Donald Stobart Gwyn who was to receive the Military Cross. The Royal Canadian Dragoons were certainly a courageous band of men. In this raid they captured an officer and 35 ORs (other ranks) and one machine gun plus “many of the enemy were killed and bombed in their dug-outs.” However, this led to brutal German retaliation the following day, just as the RCD were in the process of being relieved by the 11th Battalion Suffolks. An entry in the war diary for July 9 noted that while the squadrons were returning independently to Athies “Private McLintock (was) killed in afternoon by enemy shell.”
The official Canada War Graves Register (Circumstances of Casualty) 1914-1948 document officially confirmed that William was killed in action and “was one of a carrying party employed in a communication trench, when he was hit in the back by a piece of shell which penetrated his heart causing instantaneous death.” The attack took place just South West of Bellicourt, and William is buried at Mons-en-Chaussee Communal Cemetery (outside Estrees-Mons), four and a half miles South East of Peronne, near St Quentin. The inscription on the stone is a quotation from the Song of Solomon: “Until the day breaks and the shadows flee away.” (The full sentence continues: “turn thou my beloved and be thou like a roe or a young hart upon the mountains of Bether”).

Had William survived, the following days behind the lines for the RCD were to be a typical mix of the mundane: exercise rides, cleaning up, re-fitting, marching, parades and inspections. It is a far cry from the dangers of the front line, reinforcing how life at the Western Front was a cruel lottery.
In the CEF War Graves Register 1914-1919, William’s sister Jean, his next of kin, was listed as living at Kessogbank Farm, Deloraine, Manitoba. So despite losing her young brother and her main ties with Scotland, she had chosen the name of her childhood home in Strathblane for this home from home in Canada. William does not feature on either of Strathblane’s two rolls of honour. And, though an old photograph of Kessogbank shows the war memorial in the background, the name of William Rankin McLintock does not appear on it.


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