Story #7: Remembering the Fallen
A family story of commitment, sacrifice and the MacRobert’s Reply.
As we approach this years Remembrance Day ceremonies, we caught up with fellow Scot, Fiona Ferguson, Head of Communications at the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund. Keen to hear a personal account of what people/families had really gone through, we asked Fiona to guest write on our journal this week. Read on to hear her story of the incredible MacRobert’s of Douneside, Scotland.
The RAF Benevolent Fund is the Royal Air Force’s leading welfare charity, providing financial, practical and emotional support to serving and former members of the RAF as well as their partners and dependents. Keep a look out as next year is their Centenary and their celebratory plans are apparently well underway!
The MacRobert’s Reply by Fiona Ferguson
At 11:00 am on 11 November 1918, the guns fell silent over Europe and the First World War – the war to end all wars – came to an end.
From the Western Front in France and Belgium, the First World War was fought across Europe, Asia, Africa and beyond and saw around 17 million soldiers and civilians killed and millions of families affected.
There cannot be many people today whose ancestors were not touched by either World Wars in some way. There were only 13 villages in Britain that saw every man who went to fight return home safely in both the First World War and Second world War.
One particular Scottish family; the MacRoberts from Douneside, Scotland was irrevocably affected.
Born in Massachusetts Lady Rachel Workman was a geologist, cattle breeder and an active feminist. Educated in the UK she met and married Sir Alexander MacRobert, a wealthy self-made Scottish business man. They had three sons Alasdair, Roderic and Iain.
Sadly, in 1922 Sir Alexander died suddenly from a heart attack.
Eldest son, Sir Alasdair, was killed in a civil flying accident near Luton, Bedfordshire in 1938, aged just twenty-six.
It was the youngest sons who succumbed to the tragedy of the Second World War. Second son, Sir Roderic, a pilot in the Royal Air Force was lost in action on 22 May 1941, also at the age of twenty-six. He had been leading a flight of Hurricanes in a strafing attack on a German-held airfield in Iraq. The young Baronet’s remains were later recovered and laid to rest in Mosul War Cemetery.
Like his brother, Sir Iain, aged twenty-four, was a commissioned officer in the RAF having joined straight from University. Less than six weeks after signing up, Sir Iain was reported missing when his Blenheim aircraft failed to return from a rescue mission in search of a bomber crew known to have ditched into the North Sea. Like so many, his body was never found, and Sir Iain MacRobert has no known grave.
Having lost her entire family, Lady MacRobert elected to remain in her adopted homeland and gave thought to how she could serve the war effort. She decided to provide funds for the purchase of a Short Stirling bomber to be known as “MacRobert’s Reply” and four Hawker Hurricane fighter aircraft.
This was the start of a tradition that the RAF has kept alive to this day. A succession of RAF aircraft has since carried the name and last November a frontline Scots-based Typhoon was renamed ‘Sir Roderic’ in honour of the RAF tradition. The MacRobert family were well known locally as significant philanthropists and Lady MacRobert set up a charitable trust in her sons honour which still supports the military family today.
As we all know, the First World War was not ‘the war to end all wars’ and every year since 1918 we have had British servicemen and women fighting in wars or taking part in campaigns across the globe.
On 11 November we remember the fallen of all conflicts, from the battlefields of World War I to 21st-century conflicts. Wreaths of poppies are laid at memorials in villages, towns and cities and men, women and children mark the moment the Armistice was signed with a two-minute silence.
Remembrance Sunday is a day for the nation to remember and honour those who have sacrificed themselves, like the MacRobert sons to secure and protect the freedoms each and every one of us enjoy today. This Sunday, enjoy a dram on us at any of our restaurants by simply mentioning ‘MacRoberts Reply’ as we raise a toast in honour of these remarkable men and women and their families.
With thanks to Fiona Ferguson and the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund for their contribution.