Captain John C. Lauder

Captain John C. Lauder


(Exit Stage Left, 1916)

Ovillers Military Cemetery, Somme, France: grave ref/ panel no. I.A.6 :- John Lauder, Captain, 1st/ 8th Bn, Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders who died Age 25 on Thursday 28th December 1916. Son of Sir Harry Lauder and Dame Annie Lauder, of "Laudervale", Dunoon, Argyll.

Whilst going on stage in London's West-End in early January 1917, Sir Harry Lauder received a tersely-worded War Office telegram reporting his son's death in action. Bravely, Harry continued on-stage, singing "Keep Right On To The End Of The Road". The accepted story is of Captain Lauder being killed leading his Highlanders into battle against the Germans. However another, different story, told over the years amongst local Argyll people, is retold here.

John Currie Lauder, a privileged child, whose rich, famous father sent him to the prestigious City of London School, did well and "went up" to Cambridge. His father had bought two estates in Cowal, Argyll, building palatial residences on each. Despite his demeaning "Highland" stage-act, Harry Lauder wanted to play the Highland Laird for real. But local lairds cold-shouldered this jumped-up music-hall singer who got rich ridiculing his countrymen.

Undeterred, Lauder Snr used his influence to secure for John an officer's commission in the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders, a fitting social position for a "laird's" son. When war came, on 4th August 1914, John was with his father, touring Australia. A telegram recalled him to his battalion in Dunoon, Argyll.

They were sent on active service in April 1915 as part of the 51st Highland Division, seeing some action first at Festubert then Givenchy. Lauder was seen as a haughty disciplinarian, a stickler for the rules, and was disliked intensely by his men.

On 13th November 1916, the 51st were chosen to spearhead the last Battle of the Somme. The 51st attacked with such ferocity and bravery that they were henceforth respectfully known as "The Ladies From Hell" by the Germans !

In late December, following hard frosts and heavy casualties, Lauder and his men were still on the Western Front.

28th December 1916 was a quiet day on the Somme. For the 1/8th Argylls, only one fatality. Captain JC Lauder.

How ? There were no enemy attacks that day.

According to "the story", he was killed by his own men, who despised him and had no respect for him as a leader.

Although there are no official records, the story is strongly entrenched and part of local folklore in Argyll, the very county where the battalion and it's men belonged.

The story has also since appeared in a novel, Empty Footsteps, by Lorne MacIntyre.

Is it true? Did J C Lauder get what was coming to him ?

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