Local War Hero



June's Story


Let me introduce myself. I am June Cutter, great niece of Private 20354 William James Birse the soldier mentioned on your last magazine. William, a Lewis Gunner with the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders, was killed on 31 July 1917 during the 3rd battle of Ypres.

 Nearly six years ago, just before my father William Birse died, I promised him I would find out about his Uncle. This was the beginning of a long, long journey.

One dreary day in May 2009 my husband, Gordon and I went to seek ancestors of mine and search for a memorial with my great uncle’s name on it. We travelled from Dorset to Birse,Tarland, Coull and finally Cushnie. I did find several family names in the Cushnie Church graveyard, but, no name on any of the War Memorial stones.








Our trip also to us to a farm in Coull called Woodfield, where I knew my family had lived at one point. Here, I hoped to find out more about my family. It was a very emotional time for me but finally, I managed to introduce myself to Farmer Ross and asked for permission to gather some soil so that I could sprinkle some onto my father’s grave and then keep some to hopefully one day take to Ypres to sprinkle near the dying place of the soldier William. Thankfully he obliged and let my husband and I wander down to the actual farm that I have had a photograph of all these years.


Our journey then took Gordon, Allana [my daughter] and I over the Channel via the Euro Tunnel, towards Belgium. Luckily, my daughter had already done this trip with her school and took us straight to the Ypres Menin Gate Memorial, guiding us directly to where my great uncle’s name was. Ypres is a surprisingly lovely town, with beautiful buildings and the Menin Gate is a magnificent archway, a beautiful but, somber place with thousands of other soldier’s names. I dare you not to weep. Here we placed a photo and poppy next to ‘our’ soldier’s name with great pride. I then scattered the soil from Coull close to his name and onto the grass verge at the Menin Gate. Having done this, I then collected soil from that area hoping to take it back to Scotland.  Later on that evening we attended the 8p.m. Bugle’ last post’ ceremony for all the soldiers and guess what? A piper was there! This is not the usual nightly ceremony procedure, where crowds of people from all over the world come to pay their respect so you can imagine how pleased my family was. Tears of pride and sorrow were rolling down our faces for my great uncle and all the other soldiers who had died. Next day we headed to the war fields. A sad place well kept by the people of Belgium.


Once we returned home to Dorset, I began again to pester various departments asking why my great uncle did not have his name on any War Memorial Stone in Scotland. I contacted London and Edinburgh M.P.’s looking for help in finding how to make this wrong a right. No-one could help or just did not want to help. The question in my head kept me searching.

Surely my great uncle should be on a Memorial Stone somewhere?


A few months later, on the 19th September, 2009, I was doing my usual Family History Search

when I came across a web address for Cushnie Church. It was being designed by a man called Garry Hunter. It was the first day of this web page and I was the first visitor! This gentleman was to be the answer for me to continue my quest to search for a memorial with my great uncle’s name on it, or to have it put on a memorial.  I cannot say enough thanks to this man for his help and I also thank his family for their time and patience with me. Luckily, this man was interested in my mission.

A few months down the line and after several emails and telephone calls, Garry and myself finally caught up with the British Legion, Aberdeen Council and Stirling Castle to name a few departments and finally got the ‘ok’ for work to go ahead and arrangements were made for William James Birse name to be inscribed alongside the other soldiers,on the War Memorial Stone outside Cushnie Church.

 In June 2010, I arrived in Cushnie again, somewhere I now feel I have roots, and got to scatter the soil from Ypres near the War Memorial and near William’s father’s headstone in the churchyard. One of my tasks was now done.

Sadly, I was too early to see the inscription completed in June but, on the 18th August, 2010 the

work was completed and Garry sent me photos to see it with my very own eyes. My family and I thank everyone involved in this difficult but, worthwhile journey.

All these men should be remembered for what they did for us and I for one am very proud to have our family name included with all these other brave men and boys.

Thank you Cushnie & Tough,

June Cutter