Sunday, November 30, 2014

52 Ancestors #48: He Died a Long Way from Home

Ancestor Name: Joseph BARR (1897-1917)

Joseph Barr is an ancestor in a round about way, but I found his story so interesting and poignant I wanted to share it.

He was born on 4 January 1897 at the family home, which were workers' cottages at Blantyre Works in Blantyre Parish. His parents were Joseph and Isabella (Muir) Barr.[1] and Joseph worked as a laborer at the foundry. Joseph was the couple's middle child. He had an older brother named Hugh and his sister, Mary, was born in 1898. In 1901 the family lived at 74 McAlpine's Buildings and his father cut steel castings all day long in the hot factory.

Joseph's mother, Isabella, died in late 1905, leaving her husband with three children between the ages of 11 and 7. In 1910 Joseph's father married Christina Muir[1], who was his late wife's older sister. She had never been married, but had three children between the ages of 23 and 14. Those children were first cousins and step-siblings to Joseph and Isabella (Muir) Barr's children. Joseph and Christina also had a child three years before they married.

Glasgow Road in 1903; photograph courtesy of The Blantyre Project

In 1911 the blended family lived at 293 Glasgow Road and Joseph was still working at the steel works. Later that month, Christina's daughter, who was named Isabella Laird Muir, married Charles Findlay in the Barr home. Charles Findlay was the great grandson of my great great great grandparents, Robert and Henrietta (Brown) Muir.

Joseph Barr was likely conscripted into the 1/8 Battalion of the Cameronians (Scottish Rifles), which was part of the 156th Brigade, 52nd (Lowland) Division, some time in 1916 as he did not qualify for a Star medal at the end of the war. The division had been fighting the previous year in Gallipoli and had been evacuated to Egypt in January 1916. I believe Joseph Barr joined his battalion there. In Egypt and Palestine, the division fought in the battle of Romani and the three battles for Gaza before taking the city of Jerusalem.

On 24 October 1917 Private Joseph Barr used a British Army form to write a will. He was one of over 26,000 Scottish soldiers to do so. In it he left everything to his sister, Mary Barr, who lived at Burnside Cottage with her father and step-mother. Burnside Cottage in Springwell was also the home home of Joseph's step-sister and first cousin and her husband, Charles and Isabella Laird (Muir) Findlay.

Will of Private Joseph Barr, written in his own hand; image courtesy of

On 11 December 1917 Joseph Barr was either killed in action or died from wounds sustained in battle. (The documents are contradictory on this point.) He death occurred five days before the Armistice of Erzincan, which officially brought an end to the hostilities in the Middle Eastern theater.

My supposition is that Joseph died from wounds received in the Third Battle of Gaza, which was fought in October and November, culminating in the capture of Beersheba. If he was killed in action, it would have been been two days after the Ottoman Army surrendered Jerusalem. British General Allenby walked into the walled city on 11 December and reviewed the troops with much ceremony later in the day.

Joseph Barr was buried in the Kantara War Memorial Cemetery in El-Qantarah el-Sharqiyya, Egypt. His name is also engraved on the Blantyre War Memorial.

Blantyre War Memorial, High Blantyre; photograph courtesy of Scottish Mining Website

This is my entry for Amy Johnson Crow's 52 ancestors in 52 weeks challenge.

[1] I can find no connection between Isabella and Christina Muir to "my" Muir line.

Joseph Barr was born on 4 January 1897 in Blantyre to Joseph and Isabella (Muir) Barr. In 1915 he enlisted in the 1/8 Battalion, Cameronians (Scottish Rifles) and saw action in Gallipoli, Egypt, and Palestine. He was killed in action or died of wounds received in battle on 11 December 1917 in Palestine. He is buried in the Kantara War Memorial Cemetery in Egypt.

Other posts about ancestors who served in World War I.

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