Rhu man died in World War One attack

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Private-J.T.Cameron-wA RHU teacher who gave his life for his country during World War One at the age of 28 had earlier survived when a troopship was torpedoed. 

Private John Thomas Cameron was born at Kilchrennan, Argyll, on March 21 1890, the third son of gardener John Cameron of Rose Vale Cottage in Rhu, at that time spelt Row.

John Thomas was educated at the village school and Hermitage Higher Grade School, then studied at Glasgow University where he graduated with a Master of Arts degree and became a teacher on the staff of the Dumbarton Supplementary School.

He enlisted in the 8th Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders on July 12 1916, and after training was sent to Egypt. On the journey the troopship was torpedoed, but he survived.

After 18 months service on the Eastern Front he was transferred to France and attached to ‘D’ Company of the 52 Battalion Machine Gun Corps. He was killed in action on October 3 1918 near Cambrai.

The battle of Cambrai-St Quentin, from September 27-October 9, was the main British contribution to Marshal Foch’s all out attack on the Hindenburg Line. It saw three British and one French army force the Germans out of their strong defensive line and back to the River Selle.

Foch’s plan involved a Franco-American attack between Reims and Verdun, a combined French, British and Belgian attack in Flanders, and a mainly British offensive between Cambrai and St Quentin.

Here four allied armies, three British and one French, under the overall command of Douglas Haig, attacked the strongest part of the German line.

The German defensive position had been carefully chosen towards the end of 1916. Long sections of it were based on the Canal du Nord and the St Quentin Canal, which ran through steep sided 60ft deep cuttings.

The battle began on September 27 with an attack by the First and Third Armies on the Canal du Nord. They advanced four miles along a 13-mile front, captured 10,000 prisoners and cleared the canal.

The southern attack began two days later and did not go according to plan.

A preliminary attack the day before had failed, leaving American troops in an isolated advanced position close to German strong points. The artillery could not fire on these strong points for fear of hitting the Americans, and nor could the first part of the advance be protected by a creeping barrage.

The American attack was soon bogged down, forcing the Australians to join in much sooner than expected. The attack on the St Quentin Canal was now in serious trouble, but a bridge at Riquaval was still intact.

The 137th (Staffordshire) Brigade captured the western bank of the canal, and the 1/6th North Staffords rushed the bridge. By the end of the day two divisions were across the canal, and IX Corps had captured four miles of the main Hindenburg Line.

The following day the 3rd Army were in the western suburbs of Cambrai and by October 2 the line of the St Quentin Canal had been captured. General Max von Boehm, commanding the local German army group, was forced to retreat to a new line running south from Cambrai.

This line held at first, and the next day Private Cameron lost his life. News of his death was sent home by an officer after Cambrai was liberated on October 9.

An obituary was published in the Helensburgh and Gareloch Times on October 30, and began: “It can be truly said that members of the teaching profession from our district have made a praiseworthy response in the great war, several of whom have made the supreme sacrifice.

“It is with deep regret we announce that another member of that profession, Private John Thomas Cameron, has been reported killed on October 3.”

The tribute concluded: “By all whom he came in contact with he was a great favourite, and among his many friends in the Gareloch district it was fully anticipated that a bright future was before him.

“He was of a quiet and unassuming nature, and his last visit home was some six weeks ago. To his aged father and other members of the family many expressions of sympathy have been extended at this trying time.”

The story of Private Cameron was unearthed after Iain Findlater Cameron, from Perth in Western Australia, contacted the Helensburgh Advertiser in July 2010 in search of information about him, as he was his father’s uncle.

His elderly father, also John Thomas Cameron, who emigrated from Milngavie in the 1950s, thought that he recalled a professional studio photograph of his uncle in the uniform of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders — and he was correct.

This picture of him was published in a book entitled ‘Helensburgh Roll of Honour 1914-19’ published by Macneur & Bryden, who also published the weekly newspaper the Helensburgh and Gareloch Times.