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.

Recollections of Mr Bill Scott

St Andrews in the First World War

Bill Scott was interviewed in his home in St Andrews in 2016 on behalf of the St Andrews Preservation Trust.

He talked of his parents’ experiences of the First World War:

“My father [William Robertson Scott] was born in 1890 at Cameron and he was educated at Cameron village school and then he went on to become an apprentice at Mount Melville Estate, as a gardener.

“In 1914 when he was twenty-three he came into the Lammas Fair and he was recruited, or volunteered, to join the Army. And he joined the Fife and Forfar Yeonmanry to begin with, which was later subsumed into the 14th Royal Highlanders The Black Watch.

“After training he went down to England then off to Egypt and then he went to Suvla Bay but never landed and returned back to Egypt.

“He then went into Palestine and, apparently, from what he told us and I think it is recorded in the history of the Fife and Forfar Yeomanry, that they actually relieved Jerusalem from the Turkish Occupation.

“And he was then transferred back to the United Kingdom then off to France where he was wounded by shrapnel in the leg and bullets in the arm on 2nd September 1918 at a place called Moislains, in Norther France.

“He then, of course, went into a field hospital and, after the war, he continued his recovery and convalescence at Bangor hospital and that continued, off and on as an inpatient and an outpatient, until 1927.

“My mother [Alice Jean MacKay] was trained as a nurse. She went to France towards the end of the First World War and worked in a field hospital near Arras. She came back to St Andrews and they were married in 1924.”

The Offensive at Moislains

Moislains is near Peronne. It lies on the River Tortilla, and just east of the village runs the Canal du Nord. East of the canal, the ground rises steeply to a ridge of high ground. 

After arriving in France, a period of leave was granted; some of the men had not been home since leaving England in 1915.

On 1st September the Battalion went into line at Moislains, the area from which the Germans had been pushed that morning.

The Plan:

Attack the enemy trenches of the far side of the Canal du Nord, including a strong system of German trenches some way behind the first ones, and finally take the crest of the Moislains ridge.

What actually happened:

Despite heavy machine gun fire, they got across the canal and up the slope, driving the enemy out of some wooden huts.

Advancing towards the second system of German trenches, the Battalion came under heavy machine gun fire from Moislains and from behind. The village had never been fully cleared and the enemy remaining there had moved quickly behind the Battalion opening fire on them. They were also subjected to heavy artillery fire.

To advance under such conditions was out of the question and as casualties by this point were very heavy, there was no alternative but to withdraw.

The total casualties were:

  • 3 officers and 38 other ranks killed;
  • 14 officers and 157 other ranks wounded.

Bill Scott’s father was one of the 157 wounded soldiers.

14th (Fife and Forfar Yeomanry) Battalion The Black Watch – List of Actions and Operations, 1917-1918

1 Jan 1917
Egypt – The Fifth and Forfar Yeomanry becomes 14th Battalion The Black Watch

5 Mar 1917
Arrive in Palestine

25-27 Mar 1917
First Battle of Gaza

17-19 Apr 1917
Second Battle of Gaza

May – Oct 1917
Trench warfare

17 Oct – 7 Nov 1917
Third Battle of Gaza

Nov 1917
Trench warfare and salvage work

7-9 Dec 1917
Capture of Jerusalem

26-30 Dec 1917
Defence of Jerusalem

May-Sep 1918
Trench warfare and in reserve
[including the offensive at Moislains]

18 Sep 1918
Battle of Epephy

17 Oct 1918
Crossing of Haute Deule Canal

Oct – 11 Nov 1918
Advance to Victory

A.G. Wauchope: A History of the Black Watch (Royal Highlanders) in the Great War, 1914-1918, Vol III, pp 313-342

Text prepared by Fiona Gray and Kate Owen

The Patterson Brothers

St Andrews in the First World War

The two sons of Alexander and Helen Patterson of 2 South Castle Street, Alexander William Patterson enlisted in June 1915. Alexander, the elder of the two brothers, aged 25 and his younger brother William was just 18.

Not long after signing up, the brothers first went to Barry Camp in Angus for training with the 1/7 (Fife) Battalion, The Black Watch, a territorial battalion raised in St Andrews in August 1914. During this time, William sent a postcard home, which reads:

Dear Mother, 

Just a postcard to let you know that we have come here on Friday for shooting started at 6am to 9, then 10am to 1pm and 3 till 6 and I am getting on alright. It was fair on Friday, slight showers this morning and heavy at night. It is an old tent I am in now and I was flooded out, but that is all in the fun.  From your son, 


Alexander survived the war, however his young brother William was killed on the 25th of April 1917 aged 20, during a major offensive at Arras. The family were later sent a bronze memorial plaque, commonly known as the ‘dead man’s penny’. The plaque was sent to the relatives of those who had fallen during the War. It depicts an image of Britannia holding an oak spray with leaves and acorns, an imperial lion, and two dolphins representing Britains’ sea power. Directly under the lion is the emblem of Imperial Germany’s eagle being torn into pieces by another lion. Just the name was engraved on the plaque – no rank was given to show equality in the sacrifice made.

Private William Patterson Killed

Private William Patterson, B.W., son of Mr and Mrs A Patterson, 2 South Castle Street, was killed in action on 23rd April. He enlisted at the beginning of the War. A St Andrews officer who has sent a letter of sympathy to Mr and Mrs Patterson says he had known their son since he joined the Colours, and had good reason to admire his soldierly qualities and exemplary behaviour. Private Patterson was 20 years of age, and before enlisting was a gardener with Mr Todd, Wayside.

Photographs courtesy of St Andrews Preservation Trust

Text prepared by Fiona Gray and Kate Owen.

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