After the War – Amateur Dramatics

History of the Byre, St Andrews between the Wars

Prior to, and in the years immediately following, the First World War, amateur musical and theatrical productions formed part of the entertainment in St Andrews.

Enthusiasts came together largely to perform sketches, plays, musical numbers or light opera to raise money for good causes. Two leading lights in the pre-war years were Mr Walter Mitchell and Miss J E Huntingdon (later Mrs Stuart McEuen).

In September 1921 for example, a performance of “His Excellency the Governor”, a farcical romance was performed on several nights in the Town Hall to raise funds for local war widows and their children. It was largely due to the efforts of Mrs Stuart McEuen that the performance came about and Mr (now Major) Walter Mitchell returned to St Andrews to take a part in the play.

The decade following the end of the First World War saw an upsurge in Amateur Dramatic Societies in every corner of the country. In fact, throughout Scotland, the number of Amateur Dramatic Societies had doubled between 1914 and 1929. Why was this?

One answer might be that people had survived the carnage of the war but none of them has been left unscathed. Many had lost family members and friends; large numbers had themselves been wounded. With the coming of peace, the public at large was, perhaps, in the mood for the lighter things in life.

In October 1929, just after the town had said goodbye to “Jo” the Tank and the German artillery gun from the Kirkhill, St Andrews formed a Dramatic Association. It was seen as:

“a common meeting ground for all the dramatic enthusiasts in the place [regardless of] whatever other societies they might belong. By this means it was hoped to discover and encourage any talent that might be latest.”

One of the office bearers of the newly formed St Andrews Dramatic Society was local journalist and playwright A. B. Paterson.

One of these “other societies” mentioned was Hope Park Church Bible Class Dramatic Society.

In “The Byre Theatre – Through the Years”, Alex Paterson relates:

“…Hope Park Church Bible Class produced one full length play every year, and in addition, entered a team in the one-act play festival of the Scottish Community Drama Association. I was Director of these productions, and I was to bore the members by telling them that the development beyond the Kirk Hall performances would lie in our finding a little theatre of our own.”

This dream was, of course, realised in 1933 when the St Andrews Play Club was formed from members of the Hope Park Church Bible Class Dramatic Society, and they took possession of a semi-derelict cow byre.

But that is another story…

The St Andrews Play Club during a performance in 1935 of “Murder Trial” in the original Byre Theatre.

Photograph courtesy of the St Andrews Preservation Trust

Text prepared by Fiona Gray and Kate Owen

Corporal John Ripley VC (RH) 1867-1933

St Andrews in the First World War

Corporal John Ripley VC, better known as ‘Jock’ was born in Banffshire. He joined the 7th Volunteer Battalion, the Black Watch in around 1890.

In 1895 Jock married a local girl in St Andrews, Jane Laing, and thereafter lived in the town for the rest of his life. As well as being in the Territorials, Jock worked as a Slater, and was a member of St Andrews Fire Brigade. In 1912, after over twenty years’ service, he left the Territorial Army. His service had seen him rise to the rank of Colour Sergeant, and in 1909 he was awarded the volunteers’ Long Service and Good Conduct Medal.

At 48, Jock returned to active service as a Recruiting Sergeant at the outbreak of the war. In September 1914 he received the rank of Corporal whilst training with the 3rd Battalion, the Black Watch. In February 1915, Jock was transferred to the 1st Battalion the Black Watch who were embarking for France. In a later press interview, when asked how he managed to get recruited for active service despite his age, Jock replied that, “it must have been owing to the slip of the pen”, confirming that he had recruited himself.

Whilst serving with the 1st Battalion, Jock was awarded the highest British milliary honour, the Victoria Cross (VC), for his action at Rue de Bois on the 9th May 1915.

He received the Victoria Cross for:

“For most conspicuous bravery at Rue du Bois at 9th May 1915. When leading his section on the right of the right platoon in the assault, he was the first man of the battalion to ascend the enemy’s parapet, and from there he directed those following him to the gaps in the German wire entanglements. He then led his section through a breach in the parapet to a second line of trenches, which had previously been decided upon as the final objective in this part of our line.

“In that position, Corporal Ripley, with seven or eight men, established himself, blocking both flanks and arranging a fire position, which he continued to defend until all his men had fallen and he himself had been badly wounded in the head.”

Sergeant Ripley after receiving the Victoria Cross, outside the Palace gates, 2nd from the right, shaking hands with George Ayton (golfing family)

On returning to St Andrews, crowds gathered in the street to welcome Jock home. Local people expressed their appreciation of his achievements by presenting him with a purse of Sovereigns in October 1915. His injuries prevented him from returning to active service, however he continued in his role as Recruiting Sergeant until he was demobbed in March 1919.

After the war he returned to civilian life as a Slater and volunteer fireman. On the 14th August 1933, Jock fell from a ladder whilst working on Castlecliffe House on the Scores in St Andrews. He succumbed to his injuries at St Andrews Memorial Cottage Hospital some hours later, aged 66.

He was buried at Upper Largo Churchyard with military honours.

Text prepared by Fiona Gray and Kate Owen

Photograph: The First Ten

St Andrews in the First World War

At the outbreak of the Great War on August 4th 1914, ten local residents immediately set about assisting in the war effort. These men were either ex-servicemen of either the regular or territorial forces; with Britain’s regular army standing at just 80,000 men in 1914, reservists were essential throughout the war.

These men were over the age limit to see active service, but they still wanted to volunteer and help their community as best they could.  They provided basic military training to new volunteers, of which there were nearly 2.5 million signed up across Britain, until conscription was introduced in January 1917.

The First Ten

Photograph courtesy of the St Andrews Preservation Trust.

Text prepared by Fiona Gray and Kate Owen.

Photo: The 2/7th (Fife) Battalion, Black Watch

St Andrews in the First World War

The 2/7th (Fife) Battalion, Black Watch, was formed in St Andrews in early September 1914 as a second line unit, consisting of Black Watch Territorials.

The 2/7th Black Watch leaving Crawford Priory near Cupar Fife, the residence of their Commander Lt. Col. The Hon. Thomas Cochrane who is pictured riding at the head of the group on the black horse.

From “The Dinna Forget Book” of the 7th Black Watch.

Sphagnum Moss – Another War-time Hero

St Andrews in the First World War


On 17th November 1914, an article appeared in the “Science and Nature” section of The Scotsman, entitled “Sphagnum Moss in Surgery”.

The article, written by an Edinburgh military surgeon, Charles Walker Cathcart and Regius Keeper of the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh, Professor Isaac Bailey Balfour told of the extraordinary capacity of Sphagnum Moss to absorb and retain water.

They identified two particular species of Sphagnum Moss that grew in abundance in Scotland, Ireland and parts of England which were particularly superior at absorbing blood, pus and other body fluids.  Very importantly, Sphagnum Moss has antiseptic properties.

Although the wound-healing properties of Sphagnum Moss had been known for centuries, the Germans had recognised its significance in surgery from the early 1880s. By the outbreak of hostilities in 1914, Sphagnum Moss was well established as the standard material for surgical dressings in Germany.

British surgeons on the other hand used cotton wool dressings at this time which were less than half as absorptive as Sphagnum moss and less comfortable a dressing for patients. The imported cotton was also more expensive, and as the war progressed, more and more of it was being commandeered by the military to make notrocellulose explosive.

Cathcart and Balfour advocated the use of Sphagnum moss and centres for its cleaning and preparation throughout Scotland. His model soon spread to the rest of the UK and Ireland.

By June 1916, The Scotsman reported that Cathcart’s “Edinburgh Infirmary War Dressings Supply (Sphagnum moss)” organisation was sending out about 20,000 of these dressings per month to hospitals.

Gathering and Cleaning Sphagnum Moss in St Andrews

Although appeals went out through The St Andrews Citizen for townsfolk – and holidaymakers – to help collect Sphagnum moss, it was the St Andrews Boy Scouts who were the major collectors. It grew on the moors of Stavithie and Cassindonald Farm near Mount Melville.

The moss was delivered to households by the Boy Scouts to be dried. The semi-dried moss was then passed to a large body of volunteer cleaners or “pickers”. In June 1916 it was reported there were nearly 100 volunteers pickers.

While the collection of moss fell largely to the Boy Scouts, the cleaning was predominantly the responsibility of the League of Honour Girls Club (formed from the National Union of Women Workers in 1915) at 8 Playfair Terrace. The occupants of Gibson’s Hospital were also employed as pickers.

St Andrews War Hospital Supply Depot

The St Andrews War Hospital Supply Depot was initiated in 1915 by Mrs Gilbert Watson, End House. This was a sub-group of the Queen Mary’s Needlework Guild whose war-time focus was on making articles of clothing for the sick, wounded and prisoners of war.

The Depot was to become one of Charles Cathcart’s Centres for preparing Sphagnum moss surgical dressings, overseen by the Edinburgh Infirmary War Dressings Supply (Sphagnum moss). It was noted in March 1918 that St Andrews had been commended as one of their most important branches.

The War Hospital Supply Depot, operated initially from Mrs Watson’s home but soon that became impractical. The situation was resolved by the University when they put Upper College Hall at the Depot’s disposal. There was also a branch of the Depot at St Leonard’s School where the girls made some 60,000 Sphagnum dressings and swabs.

Their work focussed on a range of surgical requirements such as:

  • Shell dressings
  • Pneumonia jackets (for gas attacks)
  • Gauze swabs
  • Stretcher quilts
  • Special large bandages for abdominal, chest, shoulder and hip injuries
  • Sphagnum moss dressings
  • Fracture pillows filled with Sphagnum moss dust

In the first year, the Depot sent out a total of 76,785 articles with 132,141 in the second year. This reflects the ever increasing demand for hospital supplies as the war progressed.

Memories of Mr Laurie Auchterlonie

Laurie Auchterlonie recalls the gathering and distributing of the Sphagnum moss work that his father, James H. Auchterlonie, and members of the local Boy Scout troop in St Andrews carried out during the first world war:

“Gathering the moss was a troop effort. The moss was collected from wet/boggy areas – I believe from some miles up the Grange Road. A motor car was used to carry the youngest Scouts to the area, and returned to pick up subsequent groups.

“A particular task which, he as one of the group of three, carried out, was the distribution of sackfuls of the wet moss, delivery each to a separate household where volunteers spread the moss out to dry and removed unwanted vegetation. The distribution and collection was carried out on a Saturday morning. The trek-cart which belonged to the Troop was used, and this was based in the Scout headquarters.”

Text prepared by Fiona Gray and Kate Owen

Highland Cyclist Battalion

St Andrews in the First World War

The Highland Cyclist Battalion was formed from the 5th Volunteer Battalion of the Black Watch and came into being on 2nd July 1908. Its function was coastal defence, but its members also undertook messenger services as the danger of invasion along the Fife and Angus coast was fairly limited.

Soldiers of the Highland Cyclist Battalion with their bicycles-which they provided themselves

The battalion was to a limited extent motorised with both vehicles and motorbikes.

Corporal John Christie

Corporal John Christie, a member of the Highland Cyclist Battalion, on his motorbike at a Fife camp, prior to mobilisation. Corporal Christie was one of the few motor cycle dispatch riders. Later in the war he became a sergeant instructor, armours.

Photography courtesy of the St Andrews Preservation Trust.

Text prepared by Fiona Gray and Kate Owen.

The First World War Tank at Kirkhill

St Andrews in the First World War

In 1919, many battle-scarred tanks were presented to towns and cities across Britain in gratitude for their particularly noteworthy financial achievements in the purchase of war bonds and savings certificates. One of these Presentation Tanks, “Jo” was given to St Andrews along with a German artillery gun war trophy.

St Andrews to get a Tank

The Scottish War Savings Committee has awarded St Andrews a tank in recognition of its large contributions to the War Loan. Our City is one of the few places in Scotland that has earned this award.  The War Trophies Association have awarded St Andrews a German heavy gun and carriage.
7th June 1919

The Tank arrives

Some gifts are embarrassing, and this would appear to be the case with the tank which St Andrews was presented with in recognition of its large contributions to the War Loan. The derelict war monster has arrived in the Ancient City; and finding that without its internal machinery being in good working order the tank required quite an engineering feat to move it about. The City Fathers would be glad to hand over the gift to some other town with an ambition to possess this kind of war relic.

It will require three traction engines to drag it to a suitable resting place if that can be found.  Then considerable damage would be done to the streets, and the Town Council is not keen to undertake this risk. They have decided to dump the tank down near the Old Station, where it now lies, so that as small an expense as possible may be incurred.
6 September 1919

“Jo” the Tank placed at the Kirkhill

“Jo”, formerly known as “The Adventuress”, the “female” tank [so-called because they were the smaller type and used small guns], has now taken up her last resting place at the historic Kirkhill.

As “Jo” weighs thirty-two tons, she is a very bulky lady. It was discovered that with a little internal “fixing-up”, she would crawl along by herself and the order for traction engines was cancelled.

Crawling along at a fair pace, she started out on her last journey, and proceeded by way of Pilmour Place and North Street Kirkhill.  A little difficulty was experienced in negotiating the corner at Gregory Place, but she was well manoeuvred, and got through the lane without any mishap.

With remarkably little manoeuvring, “Jo” was successfully run on to the concrete bed where one of the old cannons formerly stood.

The site chosen for the tank is probably as good a one as could have been got for it, but there is a danger that unless precautions are taken, children who venture to the edge of the cliff to inspect the front of the tank get a fatal fall.

13 September 1919

“Jo” the WWI Tank at the Kirkhill. The German artillery gun can be seen on the extreme right of the picture. The girl in the foreground is one of the Gourlay family.

“Jo” the Tank was to survive 10 years at Kirkhill before being sold for scrap. By the time of WWII, the majority of towns and cities throughout the UK had done likewise, for various reasons:

  • Town councils were not prepared to pay for their upkeep (they rusted very quickly)
  • Many were scrapped as part of the WWII war effort (although the metal was very low quality and of little use);
  • The Pacifist Movement objected to them as they glorified war;
  • Many people disliked the continuous reminder of the trenches or the loss of family members during WWI.

For St Andrews, it was ongoing Health and Safety concerns that finally the sealed the fate of “Jo”.


Tank and Cannon to go from the Kirkhill

A number of residents in the area petitioned the Town Council with respect to the erosion of the cliffs around Kirkhill. It was stated that the cliff, which is undermined at the tank site, is another increasing source of danger.

Based on the [Burgh Engineer’s] report it was agreed that the tank and cannon at the Kirkhill should be removed forthwith.

11 May 1929


The Tank Sold for Scrap

Dean of Guild Linskill has his troubles in these days, but one thing that has rejoiced his heart is that he is at last to see the success of his effort to have the tank removed from the Kirkhill.

He has always maintained that it marred its historic surroundings. He does not forget what the tank did for us in the War, but he does not think that the historic Kirkhill is the place to preserve one.

It is understood that a purchaser has been found for the tank and that it will be broken up. The cannon will also be removed. The tank has become a danger in its present position, for landslides are always threatening at this part of the cliffs.

1 June 1929


Goodbye to “Jo”

The tank and cannon have now been removed from the Kirkhill and the uninterrupted sea view is a great improvement.

13 July 1929


Photogragh courtesy of the St Andrews Preservation Trust

Text prepared by Fiona Gray and Kate Owen