J D Davies

Dead Admirals Society Dons a Kilt

Apologies for the ‘radio silence’ last week. Regular followers of this blog will know that I sometimes take myself off to Landmark Trust cottages to brainstorm new novels or just to chill, and I spent last week at the tiny but perfectly formed Glenmalloch Lodge in Galloway. The upside of this was that even by Landmark standards, it was remarkably quiet and peaceful; the downside, that it was some distance beyond the reach of modern technology, while the incredibly muddy two mile unmade track connecting it to the nearest civilisation – a track, moreover, that was frequently blocked by a large herd of cows who saw absolutely no reason to move one inch off their usual route (a bit like Northern Line commuters, in fact) – hardly encouraged frequent trips in search of wifi hotspots. Hence no blog last week. However, my trip has given me an abundance of material, so there’ll be at least two posts this week, possibly even three. Without further ado, then…


My travels around Galloway coincided with the autumn rugby internationals, and the conjunction of the two occurrences led me into some odd lateral thinking.

For example, it seems to me that if you were organising the funeral of a Six Nations rugby fanatic, you’d want the French to provide the food and the Italians the wine (or vice-versa), the Welsh to lead the singing, the Irish to lay on the wake, and the English to ensure the whole thing was tax deductible.

And the Scots?

No contest. You’d want the Scots to provide the tomb.

Let me explain in great haste, before my enraged Scottish friends start to charge southwards in pursuit of me, that I’m actually paying a very great compliment here. Yes, I know that Catholic countries have some pretty OTT cemeteries, and London’s Victorian necropolises take some beating, but venture outside the big towns and cities, and you’re likely to find that things get a whole lot more modest. Not in Scotland, though, where even the tiniest, most remote village kirkyard can resemble a miniature Highgate, and the tombs and gravestones give you an astonishing wealth of genealogical detail. For example, take a look at this stunning Gothic monstrosity, straight out of the Hammer House of Horror. Glasgow? Edinburgh? No – Monigaff kirkyard, aka ‘the nearest civilisation’ I referred to above. Not naval, but not exactly what you’d find in a standard village churchyard in, say, Bedfordshire.

So let’s get back to ‘dead admirals’, or, more accurately, obscure naval themed memorials. Another ruined kirk I visited was that at Anwoth, near Gatehouse of Fleet, best known for this incredible early seventeenth century tomb to members of the famous Gordon clan.

Just behind it, though, was this wall memorial, which I assumed at first glance to have been of a not much later vintage – eighteenth century, say, or first half of the nineteenth, given how badly weathered it is. Then I went up close, and spotted the words ‘Royal Navy’. Excellent, I thought! What obscure, forgotten actions of the Napoleonic Wars might be recorded here? But then I noticed the word ‘submarine’, and did a double take. Even closer reading revealed this to be a memorial to Lieutenant Andrew McCulloch, killed when HMS Laforey was sunk off the coast of Italy on 30 March 1944. Yes, 1944 – and yet the memorial is already in this state!

Further south, just below the otter memorial to Ring of Bright Water author Gavin Maxwell which overlooks Monreith Bay, stands the ruin of Kirkmaiden, which takes a little finding (principally because it’s been literally sidelined by a golf course). It’s worth the hunt, though, if only for this intriguing memorial. Definitely one worth further research – although the gentleman in question already has a remarkably fulsome Wikipedia page. (Be warned, though- the link to Kirkmaiden is to another church of the same name, confusingly not too far away as the crow flies.)

Finally, back to Monigaff. Not a naval officer this time, but naval connections don’t get more impressive than a direct link to Nelson, and that’s certainly the case with General Sir William Stewart, a friend of the great admiral, who also served with Wellington and was the first commander of the Rifle Corps (of ‘Sharpe’ fame). Here’s a link which shows the inscription in much more detail.

Next time – not dead admirals, but undead kings. Sort of. Watch this space!