Families of German Descent

St Andrews in the First World War

The Rusack Family

Legislation introduced at the outset of war severely curtailed the civil liberties of non-British-born subjects (even naturalised citizens who had resided in the UK for decades). Suspicion of outsiders, particularly of German descent, was high.

One St Andrews family targeted by the authorities was the Rusacks.

William Rusack had established the well-known Rusack’s Marine Hotel after settling in St Andrews with his Scottish wife Janet in 1874. Some forty years later, he and his family were suspected of being German spies.

William also owned Bogward Farm. The farm supplied fresh produce to the hotel, and William’s son Harry kept a number of pigeons there.

Hettie Rusack, William’s daughter, recalls in her memoirs:

“During the 1914 war Papa was suspected of sending pigeon messages to Germany, and a hydraulic ram which my husband had designed to water the garden… was duly inspected by the Town Councillors. Papa, who didn’t know a pigeon from a duck, was forced to destroy every pigeon.

“Another ridiculous assusation, because of being of German extraction [was] when the hotel was requisitioned by the army for conferences. ¬†One day there was a special one in the huge dining room, and soldiers were stationed round the hotel. It was rumoured that Mr Rusack was being tried for his life, and a crowd gathered on the Links in front of the hotel.

“Papa, who generally did the banking in the afternoon, went home and walked through the crowds, where one client said she thought she had seen a ghost, for it was Mr Rusack himself.”

William and Janet’s son Louis signed up in 1915. The youngest member of the Rusack family, he enlisted with the 7th Battalion The Border Regiment and landed in Boulogne on the 15th of July 1915. He was killed at the Somme on the 4th of July 1916, aged 28.

Louis’ brother David was a Lieutenant in the Scottish Horse (13th Battalion Black Watch) and was wounded in action in November 1916. His brother Albert was a surgeon on HMS Fearless.

Members of the Rusack family c1900. Sitting in the front row on the ground is Louis who was killed in action in 1916.

Photograph courtesy of the St Andrews Preservation Trust

Text prepared by Fiona Gray and Kate Owen

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