Bridge of Weir

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Captain William Speirs Barr

18th Battalion, Highland Light Infantry

died of wounds 23rd May 1917

aged 23

Fins New British Cemetery, Sorel-le-Grand
St Machar's Church Memorial
Glasgow Academy Memorial
Kilbarchan Cemetery

Son of James Barr and Mary Train
Rockcliff, Bridge of Weir
Husband of Isobel Florence Gilmour, Glencloy, Bridge of Weir

His Life

Brothers Fred, Lyle and Speirs Barr were all killed in World War I. They were sons of James Barr, founder of the successful Glasgow business of James Barr and Son, Chartered Surveyors.

William Speirs Barr was born on 27th May 1894 in Rockcliffe, Bridge of Weir, the fifth and youngest son of James Barr from Glasgow and Mary Train from Ardrossan, Ayrshire who had married in Greenock on 30th April 1879.

In 1881, James (36), a civil engineer, and Mary (29) were living in Partick, Glasgow with their first child, Mary W, domestic servant Catherine Bankier, and nurse Jane Quintell.

In 1891, the Barr family of eight was living in 53 Hamilton Drive, Kelvinside. James senior was a Civil Engineering Surveyor and Valuator running his own business. Murdina Morrison was the domestic servant and Jessie Smith, nurse.

In 1901, the family, now ten, was still in Hamilton Drive. They had two servants, Jane McLeod and Elizabeth Allan.

Fred, Lyle and Speirs Barr all attended Glasgow Academy.

By 1911 the family had moved to Rockcliff in Kilbarchan Road, Bridge of Weir. James senior had died on 28th July 1910, and the oldest son James, a valuator, was now head of the household. Fred was a marine engineer, Robert was an apprentice measurer's valuator and Speirs (16) was an apprentice to an iron and steel merchant. Mary, Janet and Lyle were no longer in the family home. A female student named Dunn from Earlston, Berwickshire, was visiting. Effie Nicolson was the cook, and Bessie McNeil the domestic servant.

Speirs was an iron broker when war broke out and a private in the Territorial HLI. He was mobilised immediately into the 9th Battalion and entered the theatre of war in France on 5th November 1914. He received his commission on 7th April 1915 with the 18th Battalion (4th Glasgow). Initially a "bantam" battalion, it was formed from men under the regulation height of 5ft 3in. They quickly acquired a reputation for brawling and indiscipline and were nicknamed "The Devil Dwarfs". They, and other bantam battalions, were formed into the 106th Brigade of the 35th Division. It crossed the channel in January 1916 and fought on the Somme. The division lost its bantam status at the end of 1916 when the commanding officer complained that the condition of volunteers was deteriorating from tough, pugnacious "little-uns" that had earned the bantams' fighting reputation, to what were now simply under-developed or sickly specimens from the towns.

On 23rd September 1916 Speirs married Isobel Florence Gilmour, daughter of William Dickson Gilmour, coal master, and Janet McIndoe, at Glencloy, Montrose Terrace, Bridge of Weir.

He was promoted to Captain and in March and early April 1917 the 35th Division was engaged in pursuing the German retreat to the Hindenburg Line. William became a casualty and finally died of wounds on 23rd May 1917. He was buried in Sorel-le-Grand, between Cambrai and Peronne, a location consistent with that campaign. He was the third of the three brothers to fall.

Their mother Mary Train Barr was very involved in raising money for the war effort. She died at Rockcliff on 6th September 1918 aged 66. She didn't live to see the war end.


1881 Census 1891 Census 1901 Census 1911 Census Birthplace
Name Age Name Age Name Age Name Age
Mary W1 Mary W11Mary W21Glasgow, Lanark
Janet S9Janet S19Glasgow, Lanark
Ethel D8Ethel D18Ethel D28Glasgow, Lanark
James6James16James26Glasgow, Lanark
Frederic T2Frederic T12Fred T22Glasgow, Lanark
John L1John L11Glasgow, Lanark
Robt I9Robt I19Glasgow, Lanark
Wm S6Wm S16Bridge of Weir


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