Helped Soldiers to Desert

Here’s a story from 91 years ago where a Blantyre couple found themselves in trouble with the law.

The story goes that on Wednesday 3rd November 1926, Mr William Crichton, a pit sinker and his wife Mary Barr, residing at 41 Glasgow Road, were up in court, charged with having aided three soldiers of the Cameronians from Hamilton Barracks to desert!

William Crichton was also charged with having attempted to persuade a fourth soldier to desert.

Later rounded up and appearing in the same courtroom, two of the three soldiers who deserted said that one Sunday night on 19th September 1926, they purposely went over the wall at Hamilton Barrracks, and proceeded with haste Blantyre. However, it was late and they needed somewhere to rest and decided to hide in the back of a random property at 41 Glasgow Road, Blantyre. (Former tenements on Glasgow Road, where Springwells is now).

Got Civilian Clothing

Knowing they were in huge trouble, they camped out in the cold, but were soon discovered by surprised tenant, William Crichton, who did not know them and proceeded to tell William they simply needed clothes.

It was a cold evening, so William took them into his house, gave them something to eat, and put them up for the night. Early next morning he provided them with civilian clothes. Having put these on, they left their uniforms behind, and walked via Edinburgh all the way to England. The gravity of their escape soon dawned upon them and the realisation that being away longer would only make it worse for them when caught. One soldier gave himself up to the police in Newcastle, and the other at Penrith. The third soldier, who had come up with the idea about the desertion was not heard of again!

However, this is not the most remarkable part of the story. Read on….

A fourth soldier was at Hamilton Showground on October 16th, when he was approached by a man who said he knew how to help soldiers desert from the regiment, and that if the soldier had 12 shillings, he would obtain civilian clothes for him. The mystery man wrote the name and address of William Crichton on a slip and told the Soldier to call to that house in Blantyre, but careful, the person whose name he gave was a known Communist and was not a fan of the army. In court it was stated that William Crichton was not the man at the fair, so either William had an accomplice, or he was being set up!

Back at the barracks that evening, the 4th solider, knowing of the 3 missing soliders and having no desire to leave the barracks himself, promptly gave the name and address and the piece of paper to his corporal.

Tunics In House

Police were despatched to William Crichton’s home, made a search and there, they found two military tunics, which were identified as belonging to two of the deserting soldiers theirs. Mr Crichton in the witness-box, denied the charges made against him forming a story that, going out his work 5.30am one mprning, he found the two tunics hanging on his stairwell railing. He took them into the house and told his wife to hang them up. His wife stood by the story.

William admitted that he had the tunics a month before the police called, and considered the tunics were thrown away by others, and never thought reporting his find to the police or the military. Asked if he had fed the deserting soldiers one night, he replied in court saying, “I’m a miner. I can hardly feed myself, let alone the British Army!” 

The Sentence

Ultimately though, the Crichton’s story did not stack up to the admitted testimonies of the soldiers retrieved from desertion. The fate the soldiers received is unknown. However, Sheriff Shennan found both Mr and Mrs Crichton guilty of the charges brought against them. The Sheriff characterised these unusual offences as very serious, and sent William Crichton to prison for three months with hard labour. Mrs Crichton was fined £3, with the option of fifteen days’ imprisonment.

From “Blantyre Explained” by Paul Veverka (c) 2017

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