Alec (Alexander) McCombie
Private, 1st Battalion Highland Light Infantry
Military Service Number 21635
Born March 1897 in Llandugwyd, Cardiganshire, Wales
Killed in Action 15 April 1917
Remembered with Honour on the Chatby Memorial, Egypt
Alexander McCombie was the youngest of the four children of John and Martha McCombie. He is referred to in various sources as Alex, Alec or Alick. The family appear to have moved around a lot, living in Scotland, England and Wales. Alec was 14 at the time of the 1911 Census, living with his family at The Lodge, Wrea Head, Scalby, where his father was a domestic gardener and an active member of the village community. He lived in the village for 15 years, becoming head gardener at Wrea Head for John Edward Ellis MP and his wife Maria (nee Rowntree) at the impressive country house they built in 1891, which is now the Wrea Head Hotel. John McCombie was also Churchwarden at St Laurence’s Church, Scalby and was very well thought of, as this extract from the Scarborough Mercury of 29 September 1916 shows, “…. Mr McCombie was held in much regard for his excellent personal qualities“.
Before he enlisted into the army Alec was an apprentice at the shop of Messrs. Wallis and Blakeley (a grocer’s shop where the Yew Tree Cafe is now situated). Details of his enlistment need to be pursued, but he signed his Soldier’s Will on 2 August 1916. He left all his property and effects to his sister, Jessie.
On 1 December 1916 the Scarborough Mercury reported that, “Alec McCombie is in Manchester Infirmary with a septic leg.” On 25 May 1917 the paper reported his death, commenting that he had served abroad previously and been wounded.
At the outbreak of the war the 1st Battalion Highland Light Infantry was based in India but was moved to France and took part in a number of actions on the Western Front during 1914 and 1915. In December 1915 it was moved to Mesopotamia to capture Baghdad and defend British interests in the region against the Turks.
In March 1915 Alexandria became the base of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force. The port was used by hospital ships and troop transports to bring reinforcements. Inevitably enemy submarines attacked them and one such was a transport ship called the “Cameronia” which was torpedoed and sunk on 15 April 1917 east of Malta. 127 officers and men were lost, one of whom was Alec McCombie. He was 20 years old. There is a sobering report of the sinking and a survivor’s account in The Times on 19 May 1917. It took just 40 minutes for the ship to sink.
After his death Alec’s sister Jessie, who later moved to Knaresborough, received some monies and a War Gratuity payment. He was also entitled to the Victory and British War Medals.
Alec’s older brother, William, also joined the army, enlisting at Grantley Hall, outside Ripon, on 30 January 1915, aged 23. He joined the Gordon Highlanders (Military Serial Number S/9072) but was discharged in Aberdeen less than 3 months later, owing to an enlarged thyroid gland (goitre). Obviously a determined young man, William tried again in January 1916 and was accepted into the Lincolnshire Regiment (MSN 39541). He later transferred to the Labour Corps (MSN31496) and served with the BEF in France from 2 April – 19 May 1917 before being discharged in Notingham on 16 August 1917 owing to his goitre, and tachycardia. He was awarded an army pension, and we know about him from his Army Pension Record, which has survived. It must have been a comfort to John, Martha, oldest daughter Helen and Jessie McCombie to know that one of the McCombie boys had ‘done his bit’ and was safe. William married Hilda King on 30 June 1919 and at the time of his marriage was a gardener, living at Osgodby Hall, Barlby. William and Hilda named their son Alexander.