Scotland's Most Remote War Memorial
Poignant tribute to brave brothers who fought and died in WWI
Brothers William and Alistair Elliot grew up in the now empty estate cottage in Glencoul, Sutherland, where high on a deserted glen, more than eight miles from the nearest road, stands the white marble cross bearing their names.
Accessible only by boat or after a long walk over surrounding hills, there may be no poppy wreath laid at Scotland’s most remote war memorial.
But the family of the two brothers who fought and died in World War I and whose names are the only ones etched on the cross in Glencoul, Sutherland, say there could not be a more fitting spot.
Brothers William and Alistair Elliot grew up in the now empty estate cottage that lies in the shadow of the memorial. As young boys, the sound of their laughter and voices once filled the glen. So their family believe it is only right that, in their deaths, a memorial to the two war heroes should sit at the place they loved so much.
Speaking before Remembrance Day on Sunday, the soldiers’ nephew Willie Elliot, 79, a veteran of the Korean War, said: “It is very easy to get emotional when you are up there and see their memorial sitting in such a remote but beautiful place.
“I haven’t visited the memorial for several years because it is not easy to reach. But just because it is in such a remote place doesn’t mean they won’t be remembered.
“William is buried in a war cemetery in France while Alistair’s body was never recovered so he lies as an ‘unknown soldiers grave in Belgium.
“At the time it was built, this war memorial was close to the family home, overlooking where William, Alistair and their brothers grew up. “Now only hill-walkers and perhaps people out shooting deer will come across it. But we know many people take an interest in it.”
William and Alistair were the eldest of five brothers born and raised on the Duke of Westminster’s estate at Glencoul. Their parents, John and Margaret, moved into the two-storey house after shepherd John took a job as a deer stalker on the sprawling estate, now part of the Reay Forest Estate.
William was born on November 7, 1891, and Alistair on November 11, 1892. Their brothers Matthew was born in 1896, John David in 1898 and James in 1901.
Retired ghillie Willie, who was named after his tragic uncle, lives in Achfary, the nearest town to the remote cottage. He said: “The house where the brothers grew up was so remote that, rather than them having to travel miles to school, the Duke of Westminster – who owned the estate – arranged for a small school house to be built on to the side of their family cottage, including a room for the teacher to live.
“I think all five brothers had an idyllic childhood growing up in such a beautiful place that was so far from everything else that was going on in the world. “But even living so far away from everything didn’t mean the war did not reach them. Of five sons, the eldest four were all called up. “My father, John David, was injured and carried a piece of shrapnel in his face all his life. His brother Matthew was gassed and, while the gas didn’t cause terrible lasting damage, it affected his breathing when the weather was cold. But the two older brothers paid the ultimate sacrifice.”
His uncle William was a stalker on the Reay Estate when he was called up to serve as a corporal with the Cameron Highlanders. He travelled to France, and was serving with the 2nd Entrenching Battalion, a holding unit for men returning to the trenches after being in hospital, when an influenza outbreak struck. William died of pneumonia on March 29, 1917, and was buried at Longueness Souvenir Cemetery in St Omer, France.
Alistair had left Glencoul and was working as a clerk with the Bank of Scotland in Glasgow when the war began. He was originally called up to join the Glasgow Highlanders before becoming part of the Highland Light Infantry, where he served as a Lance Corporal. He died on April 12, 1918, at Neuve Eglise, Belgium. His family were told he was listed as missing in action and presumed killed. Although his body was never recovered to be placed in a marked grave, his name is listed on the Ploegsteert Memorial in Belgium.
Another nephew of the two brothers, Tim Elliot, whose father James was their youngest brother, said: “My father would have been around 13 when his two oldest brothers went to war and never came home. “My father visited William’s grave in France and years ago I went to the battlefield in Belgium to search for the memorial that holds my Uncle Alistair’s name. “But the memorial at Glencoul, sitting as it does where the brothers were all born and grew up, is hugely special.”
Below the brothers’ names on the war memorial at Glencoul, the inscription reads: “Their memory will ever be cherished by their sorrowing parents and brothers.”
Tim, 67, from Ipswich, added: “It was actually paid for by the Duke of Westminster at the time and just a few years ago the existing duke paid for the marble to be repaired after a few cracks appeared. Alistair’s name was misspelt by the stonemason who carved the stone but what matters is that he is remembered.
“The house at Glencoul has been empty for many years but the school house on the side is used and maintained by the Mountain Bothies Association.
“Despite its location in such an isolated spot, we know a lot of people still come across the memorial and think of my uncles. “It is important that we remember everyone who lost their lives in the World War I and this memorial ensures my uncles will never be forgotten.”
Adam Brown, of The Scottish War Memorials Project, said: “To visit, you have to get someone to take you by boat from Kylesku down the sea loch. “It is so remote that I haven’t visited this memorial myself. It is certainly one of the most remote memorials in Scotland.”
Taken from War History Online November 2012.