The story of two Great War soldiers who were brought together in battle but separated by one bullet - as one fell and the other survived - continues BBC ALBA’s series of poignant World War One documentaries.
Càirdeas Cogaidh / A War Friendship follows the quest of Donald Meek to establish the previously untold story of the two men and the legacy that one man was able to create thanks to the other’s bravery.
Private John Macdonald, Donald’s great uncle from Tiree, was killed at the Battle of Arras in France in 1917. John’s story has haunted Donald all his life and up until now, he had never had a complete picture of what happened to him.
During the programme we see how John’s letters home and his war diary take Donald on poignant journey to France for the first time in an attempt to lay John’s ghost to rest.
In common with many areas of the Highlands and Islands, the war had a profound impact on Tiree. Around 300 men left the island to serve in the armed forces and 76 lost their lives – Pte Macdonald amongst them.
John’s letters and diary, which were scrupulously kept and passed down through Donald’s family, offer a personable and valuable insight into a typical soldier’s experience of life on the Western Front: the longing for loved ones; the cold, wet and muddy trenches; the gratitude for food and clothes parcels sent from home.
But one letter in particular, from John Macdonald’s officer, sets Donald on another journey in the footsteps of another ‘John’: John ‘Jock’ Livingstone Stewart.
This letter was written by 2nd Lt. Stewart to John Macdonald’s family explaining how Private Macdonald was killed by a sniper’s bullet on the first day of the Battle of Arras while attending to the injured Stewart. Stewart’s praise of John’s abilities and his bravery were a huge comfort to his family and the letter has been long cherished by Donald.
After the war John L Stewart graduated from veterinary college in Edinburgh and Donald traces his life to Ghana where he achieved a lasting legacy as a pioneering vet in the British colonial service. There he was instrumental in the eradication of infectious cattle diseases which were decimating herds and ruining farmers’ livelihoods in the north of the country.
Stewart was also active in promoting the education and employment of the local population and his remarkable legacy is still evident in the veterinary laboratory and livestock breeding station in Pong Tamale, Northern Ghana.
Following retirement, Jock Stewart settled in the Transvaal, South Africa, where he had a reputation as being somewhat eccentric. However, he was also active in supporting the local black farm schools at a time when the apartheid system was at its height whilst managing to fish on the local lakes each afternoon, obsessively pursuing his hobby of fishing.
Càirdeas Cogaidh / A War Friendship will be shown on BBC ALBA on Monday 10 November at 9.00pm.