Pte Arthur B. Colville – 7th Battalion The Royal Scots

“Then when the second collision occurred the bottom came out of the compartment, and he, along with Private Arthur Colville, Musselburgh, dropped down and crawled along searching for a way out. They found none and turned. Fire had broken out, and the flames were close upon them. Colville suggested prayer, and they offered prayer.”

excerpt from The Evening Telegram and Post, May 27, 1915

These were the final moments in the life of Arthur Balfour Colville, a 24-year old Private in the 7th Battalion The Royal Scots, and a victim of Britain’s worst ever train accident. Last month I published three postcards showing Musselburgh men from the 7th Btn The Royal Scots, posted by Arthur to his family three days before the disaster at Gretna Green. Although I identified some of the soldiers in these photographs I have not yet identified Arthur. Records show that his photo appeared on page 5 of the May 28, 1915 edition of the Musselburgh News but unfortunately their archives are not online (and I’m on an island 4400 miles away).

Arthur Balfour Colville was born on Feb. 7, 1891 in Inveresk, East Lothian to Andrew Colville, a watchmaker, and Margaret Anna McPherson. He was one of 12 children, 11 of whom survived to adulthood. In 1911 seven of the children were living at home with their parents, grandmother and one grand-daughter in a 9-room house at 7 Hope Place in Musselburgh. 19-year old Arthur was a gas surveyor for the local gas company, the same company that employed his older sister Isabella as a shop-keeper.


Imperial Service Obligation form

Arthur joined the Territorial Force when he enlisted with the 7th Battalion The Royal Scots on April 16, 1913. Private A. B. Colville was assigned regimental number 1440 and signed the Imperial Service Obligation form when his unit was mobilized in August 1914.

Prior to the war Arthur’s two older brothers James and Archibald emigrated to Canada and enlisted with the 8th Battalion, C.E.F. at the start of the war (they were assigned service numbers 39 and 41).

On April 24, 1915 Archibald was reported missing at the Second Battle of Ypres. The Colville family would still have been reeling from that news when the reports of the troop train collision at Gretna Green began spreading through the streets of Musselburgh on the morning of May 22nd.  225 soldiers lost their lives in the accident, including Arthur Balfour Colville. He is memorialized at the family grave in the Inveresk Parish Churhyard and at the Edinburgh (Rosebank) Cemetery. Older brother Archibald is memorialized at the Menin Gate in Ypres.

from the Evening Standard and Post, May 27, 1915

from the Evening Standard and Post, May 27, 1915

6 replies

  1. Charles McDonald mentioned above was my great-uncle – and I remember him well. My grandfather, Thomas McIlwraith, was also a survivor, and I’m hoping to find a reference to him. Both went on to sign up in World War Two, one in NZ and the other in Australia.

    • Hi Rosemary,

      Thanks very much for your comments. Had you seen this newspaper clipping before? You might find something about your Grandfather Thomas on the “British Newspaper Archive”. I received an email yesterday saying they were offering a 1 month subscription for GBP8.00 (normally GBP30). Promo code is “AMAZINGAPRIL”.

      My great-great Uncle John Reid Cunningham was in the 7th Battalion Royal Scots but was on a different train that day. He made it to the steamer in Liverpool but died in Gallipoli on June 28th. I was hoping I might be able to find a photo of him in an Edinburgh paper but so far I’ve had no luck.

      Thanks again for your comments,

      • Hi Steve,
        No, I had not seen the clipping before, but thanks for the info on the ” British newspaper Archive “.
        I’m sorry to see that your great-great-uncle did not survive Gallipoli. I take it that he was a Musselburgh man and wonder if his name is on any of the war memorials in the town.
        Thanks again for the opportunity to see my grandfather as a very young man in uniform – he was 19 in the photo. I never knew him as he died, relatively young, in Australia. I did ask the authorities there if I could be sent his Australia Defence Medal from the second world war, some years ago, as he never claimed it, but they said that as I was not named in his 1943 will, I could not have it ( even though I was not born then.)
        Kind regards,

  2. Hi Rosemary,

    You’re very welcome. I plan to post an update to this story and would like to include a closeup of your grandfather and great-uncle. Did you get the email I sent you on April 5th?

    My great-great-uncle lived in Edinburgh, not far from Haymarket Station so he was not in the Company that included a lot of Musselburgh men.

    Thanks again,

  3. Hi Steve,
    I DID receive Grandad’s Australia Service Medal in the end, thanks to some relatives in Queensland who sent me an application form. I am absolutely delighted to have it!

    Best wishes,

    • Hi Rosemary,

      That’s great news. I can understand how the government would have rules around the distribution of medals but at the end of the day it belongs where it will be most appreciated. Thanks for letting me know!


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