The Story behind the Stone – the families, estates and stories of Kirkmichael, Cullicudden, the Black Isle and beyond

William Clark (1881–1916) of the 79th Cameron Highlanders of Canada and the Clark family of Gordon’s Mills

text by Dr Jim Mackay; photography as given below each image


thanks to Lynn Reid for assisting with this story

There are 21 names on the Resolis War Memorial for the 1914–18 conflict. Those 21 deaths represent a significant proportion of the young men of the parish able to serve their country.

The hamlet of Gordon’s Mills. Photograph Jim Mackay

This is the story of just one of those men, William Clark, a man whose background proved remarkably difficult to track down and whose history, as recently revealed, was a most unusual one. He was no idealistic youngster lying about his age to qualify to fight. He was a mature married man who lied about his age to appear younger, to ensure he could fight in the war to end wars.

The entries for World War 1

The Resolis War Memorial not long after erection; the modern plinth had not yet been installed.

The inscription recording the death of Sergeant William Clark. Photograph Andrew Dowsett

Lynn Reid messaged the Kirkmichael Trust to ask if we had any information on the “Sergt. W. Clark.” who appears on the Resolis War Memorial, as she thought it likely that he was a relative. William Clark, brother of her great grandmother, was reputed to have died in the First World War. The problem was there was no evidence to confirm they were one and the same person.

The Clark family lived in the easternmost house at Gordon’s Mills, a house now burnt down, although the remnants of the walls still stand. Just across the field from the house is Kirkmichael. And next door is the converted mill in which Friend of Kirkmichael, and first Trust webmaster, Gavin Meldrum, lives. Those attending the Trust’s guided tour from Gordon’s Mills to Newhall many years ago had even paused beside those walls and had asked who had once lived in the ruined building.

Kirkmichael is one field away from Gordon’s Mills. Photograph Jim Mackay

It had been the home of the Clark family for 27 years. Donald Clark was the son of crofters Donald Clark and Ann Fraser. His wife, Sarah MacKintosh, was the daughter of crofters John MacKintosh and Helen Patience. They married in the parish of Petty in 1880. He was a ploughman, and hence moved around different farms, although like most agricultural workers he must have yearned for more tenure.

We first find the family in Gordon’s Mills in the 1911 Census, with six children in residence with them, born in the different parishes where Donald had found employment previously: Petty, Daviot and Croy. William, born in 1881, was already away.

And what exactly were Donald and Sarah doing in Gordon’s Mills? The 1911 Census return gives him as “Farm Manager”. Whose farm was he managing?

The Reverend Dr. James Duff McCulloch D.D. (1836–1926)

Next door at Gordon’s Mills was a rather famous minister of the time, James Duff McCulloch. He has recently been described as “a towering figure in the reconstruction of the Free Church after 1900” (Preserving a Reformed Heritage by John W. Keddie, 2018). McCulloch had been born in Logie Easter across in Easter Ross and had spent much of his early ministerial career at Latheron, Caithness, before becoming the minister of the Hope Street Free (Gaelic) Church in Glasgow. Whilst there he served as Moderator of the Free Church. And from 1904 until his death in 1926 he was Principal of the Free Church College in Edinburgh, although retaining the ministry of the Hope Street Gaelic Church.

McCulloch obviously had a hankering for a Black Isle residence, though, as he is first recorded in the valuation rolls for 1880/81 as owning “Land, House, Garden and Mill of Gordon’s Mill”. In 1895, this extended to becoming tenant of the adjacent land of Capernich. He also became tenant of the nearby land of Tighninnich.

The Ross-shire Journal of 30 June 1893 had noted McCulloch adding to his holding:

Resolis – Let of Farm. – The Rev. James Macculloch, Hope Street Free (Gaelic) Church, Glasgow, has taken a lease of the small farm of Whiskeypark, Resolis, adjoining his property of Gordons Mills. This was a holding which was much sought after by small farmers and others of late.

Whisky Park has now disappeared, but house and steading stood immediately west of the entrance to Gordon’s Mills, just along the road from Kirkmichael.

In the 1915 valuation, rather importantly, “Rev. James D. Macculloch, 272 St Vincent Street, Glasgow” was given as proprietor of “farm, House, & Garden, Gordonsmills”, “Mills, Gordonmills”, and four houses at Gordonsmills, the first of which was occupied by “Donald Clark, grieve.”

The Clarks’ house has long gone, but we think it was very similar in style to the remaining old houses at Gordon’s Mills, albeit their’s was two storey. These houses were all owned by Reverend McCulloch. Photograph Jim Mackay

The Reverend James D. McCulloch, in 1915, from the Clark wedding photograph courtesy of Lynn Reid.

A few notes about the good minister, indicating his activity in the parish – he seemed to assist in several communions, whenever he happened to be in residence, and his name pops up occasionally.

Ross-shire Journal 22 October 1897

Rev. Mr Macculloch, of Gordon’s Mills, has kindly granted the use of the mill dam to the curlers, and, although small, it will be very convenient for practice. Insch pond, although somewhat distant, will be specially useful for matches, and can always be depended upon for early curling.

The North Star 21 July 1910

The Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper was dispensed in the Resolis Free Church on Sabbath last. The Rev. J. Maciver, minister of the congregation, has been ill for some time, and the Rev. F. Macrae, Knockbain, is acting as interim moderator. He was very ably assisted by the Rev. Principal Macculloch, Glasgow; and the Rev. J. Macdonald, Rosskeen. There were large attendances throughout. On Thursday evening the old Free Church Jamimaville, after undergoing extensive repairs, was re-opened by the Rev. Principal Macculloch, who preached to a very large congregation. A free-will offering taken at the door realised over £8 …

Clearly, with his duties in the south, the Reverend Dr McCulloch could not often be at Gordon’s Mills to manage the land himself, and he would have needed a reliable farm manager or grieve. Donald Clark must have been introduced in this role sometime between 1901 and 1911.

Interestingly, though, Donald Clark is described in 1919 and 1920 (on his daughters’ marriage certificates) as ‘Store Keeper” which suggests that he was running a store at Gordon’s Mills as well as managing the land.

Marriages out of Gordon’s Mills

Over the years 1915 to 1920, no less than five Clark daughters were married at Gordon’s Mills! The first was Lynn Reid’s great grandmother, Helen, who married gardener Alexander Murray on 2 July 1915. The marriage was photographed by none other than Donald Fraser, the remarkable Cullicudden photographer whose own Story behind the Stone on our website continues to grow as more images come to light. It is a wonderful photograph, capturing: the house, of which only parts of the walls remain and the families, including several young men in uniform – a clear reflection of the war in which the world was engaged. The minister with magnificent side whiskers is none other than the Reverend Dr James Duff McCulloch himself. He conducted only two marriages in Resolis, both involving the children of neighbours.

The marriage of Alexander Murray and Helen Clark, 2 July 1915. Photograph by Donald Fraser, Bog of Cullicudden, and provided courtesy of Lynn Reid

In January 1917 mason and crofter Donald Sinclair, a widower in Ferryton, married Annie Clark. Their distinctive headstone, with a castle-like top, stands close to the north dyke in the old burial area at Kirkmichael. It reads:

[South side] Erected / by / DONALD SINCLAIR, / in loving memory / of his wife / ANNIE CLARK, / who died at / Ferryton Resolis / 19th. Septr. 1919, / aged 33 years. / Also the above / DONALD SINCLAIR, / who died at Inverness / 15th March 1953, / aged 75. [West side] Sacred / to / the memory of / ALEXR. SINCLAIR, / shoemaker, / Ferryton Resolis. / Died 4th April 1905, / aged 69 years. / And of his wife, / ANNIE GORDON, / died 24th. June 1918, / aged 77 years.

It reveals that Annie had died tragically just two years after their marriage. She is the only member of the Clarks whom we know to be buried in Kirkmichael.

The Donald Sinclair and Annie Clark headstone in Kirkmichael. Photograph Andrew Dowsett

The inscription. Photograph Andrew Dowsett

In December of 1917, Royal Navy stoker Stephen Plouman from Stockton-on-Tees married Margaret Clark. In July 1920, Dingwall labourer David MacCulloch married Catherine Clark. And in December of that year, a gamekeeper from Easter Suddie, W. Wilkie, married May Clark. The children were all flying the coop.


William Clark (1881–1916) “They were a wall around us, by day and by night

But where was Sergt. W. Clark in all of this? It was a reasonable assumption that oldest son William, whom we know had been born in 1881 in Daviot & Dunlichity but was not present in family in Gordon’s Mills in 1911, probably had married. He hadn’t married in Resolis, so researching the marriages of various William Clarks of the right age, with a mother named Mackintosh, located him.

The register entry for the marriage of William Clark and Mary Mackay came with an official stamp which led to the Register of Corrected Entries. This provided rather an unusual story for the time. First the registration:

6 June 1902, at 63 Muirtown Street Inverness, after Banns according to the forms of the Church of Scotland
William Clark ploughman (bachelor) 20 Muirtown Farm, Munlochy [parents] Donald Clark ploughman Sarah Clark ms Mackintosh
Margaret McKay domestic servant (spinster) 19 63 Muirtown Street Inverness [parents] William Mackay blacksmith (d) Margaret Mackay ms Mackay
Annie Clark witness William MacGregor witness

and then the entry on the Register of Corrected Entries:

RCE: 22d. November 1913.– Decree of Divorce was pronounced by Lord Dewar Ordinary in an action at the instance of William Clark, Freight Handler, Isabel Street, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, against his wife, Margaret Mackay or Clark, 2 Albert Place, Inverness. The above insertion is made under the direction of the Registrar General…

Well, divorces were most uncommon in this period. What on earth was William Clark doing in Winnipeg, divorcing his wife in Inverness? Lynn located the story in the Aberdeen Press and Journal of 24 November 1913:

Unfaithful Inverness Woman.
In the Court of Session on Saturday, Lord Dewar heard evidence in a divorce action raised by William Clark, freight handler, sometime residing at Connage, Petty, Inverness, now at 308 Isabel Street, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, against his wife, Margaret Mackay, residing at 2 Albert Place, Inverness.
The evidence of the pursuer had been taken on commission, and the first witness called on Saturday was a sister of the pursuer, a domestic servant, who said her brother went to Canada in 1910, and he had been there since. In February last, she was in Inverness and went to the defender’s house. The defender was out, but there was a baby about a fortnight old in the house. When defender cam in in witness asked if the child was hers, and she said it was, and that a man Ross was the father.
James Marshall, inspector of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, spoke to Ross’s wife having complained about her husband living with Mrs Clark, and also about Mrs Clark wishing him to get Ross to pay for her child.
Decree of divorce was granted.

Well, it was likely that if they had been married and living together from 1902 to 1910 then there would have been children, and sure enough in the 1911 Census, at “25 U. Kessock St Inverness” Margaret and quite a family could be found, the birth locations indicating that the family had lived first in Inverness, then in Knockbain, and then in Cromarty.

Margaret Clark head 29 married duration of marriage 10 children born alive 4 children still living 4 Inverness
Willimina Clark dau 9 Inverness
Sarah Clark dau 7 Knockbain Ross
William J Clark son 5 Knockbain Ross
Margaret Helen Clark dau 1 Cromarty Ross
Johan Mackay sister 26 s Inverness
Margt M Mackenzie niece 1 Inverness

It must have been shortly after the birth of Margaret Helen that William emigrated to Canada. At present we can only hypothesise why he did so – perhaps he was finding it hard to make enough to support his family and was sending money back to Inverness. It was not uncommon for married men to settle abroad to get themselves established before sending for their families.

Now that we knew whom to look for, the future couple could be spotted in the 1901 Census, before they married, both living in the home of farmer William McIntosh at “Kirkton of Barivan”, she as a domestic servant, he as a ploughman “Horses”. He gave his birth parish as “Croy” but the coincidence of a ploughman named William Clark and a domestic called Margaret Mackay from Inverness, of the right ages, being present in the same house, would be rather stretching it.

On his departure for Canada in 1910, it must have been very hard on Margaret to be left in Scotland to look after their four young children.

Over in Winnipeg, William, who had been a freight-handler, joined the city fire service and, a couple of years after his divorce, married, on 3 August 1915, Elizabeth Mary Shepphard, the day after joining up. There is a story there, alright – was he making a commitment to return? Or were they wanting to cement their relationship before he went away to Europe, possibly to his death?

William and a friend, fellow fireman in the city fire service Alex Taylor, joined up at the same time. The war records have been preserved meticulously by the Canadians, and from those records the following heroic story emerges. William was no raw, young recruit: he was a mature, twice-married, well-travelled man, who must have known better than most what he was letting himself in for.

William Clark enlisted in Winnipeg on 2 August 1915, joining the 79th Cameron Highlanders of Canada, number 153574. He was five foot 11 and a half inches, dark-complexioned, blue-eyed, black-haired. The address of his next-of-kin was his second wife, Mrs Elizabeth Mary Clark of 308 Isabel Street, Winnipeg, and he gave his trade as a fireman. He gave a false date of birth (7 June 1885), making himself four years younger – we think this was probably to make it easier to join up. Although at this time the age requirements were 18 to 45, the ideal recruit was healthy, strong and young. When conscription came into force in Canada in 1917, the age range initially was 20 to 24! Having arrived in England, William was taken on strength at Shorncliffe Army Camp, Kent, on 19 December 1915 and “Embarked for France 20.2.16”.

It must have been desperate conditions by this time in the trenches. He became Lance Corporal from 18 June 1916 and Acting Corporal on 31 August 1916, but was killed in action on 8 October.

A note in red ink in the Canadian records states: “Mrs Sarah Mackintosh Clark, Gordon’s Mills, Poyntzfield, By Invergordon, is orphans child’s grandmother. Child of first wife receiving Gratuity at $24 for two months.” We cannot interpret this fully, but it seems that some support was being directed to the youngest child, Margaret Helen. Another note refers to a service medal sent to his mother being redirected, so it is hoped that it reached her eventually.

His death was sudden. “While attempting to get out of a shell hole, in front of Regina Trench, he was shot by a bullet from the rifle of an enemy sniper and instantly killed.”

The following is drawn from Wikipedia:

Regina Trench (Staufen Riegel) was a German trench dug along the north-facing slope of a ridge running from north-west of the village of Le Sars, south-westwards to Stuff Redoubt (Staufenfeste), close to the German fortifications at Thiepval on the Somme battlefield. It was the longest such trench on the German front during the First World War. Attacked several times by the Canadian Corps during the Battle of the Ancre Heights, the 5th Canadian Brigade briefly controlled a section of the trench on 1 October but was repulsed by counter-attacks of the German Marine Brigade (equivalent to an army division), which had been brought from the Belgian coast. On 8 October, attacks by the 1st Canadian Division and the 3rd Canadian Division on Regina Trench, also failed.

Clearly it was during this failed attempt on 8 October 1915 to capture Regina Trench that William Clark was shot. The Canadians went on in the weeks following to capture the trench.

The story continues in Wikipedia:

Regina Trench Cemetery is a Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery, situated astride the location of the trench, containing 2,279 burials and commemorations of men killed at or near the trench line during the First World War. 1,680 of the men are identified as British, 564 Canadian, 35 Australian, one American airman and there are 1,077 burials of unknown soldiers, with special memorials to 14 casualties believed to be buried among them. Most of the men buried at Regina Trench fell in battle between October 1916 and February 1917.

Back in the Black Isle, the Clark family continued to burgeon, with sons and daughters marrying and Donald and Sarah becoming grandparents and even great-grandparents. They moved away from Gordon’s Mills back to Inverness-shire, but they were associated for the longest period with Resolis. Sadly, the house in which they lived at Gordon’s Mills burned down. We do not know exactly when this occurred, but 1974 photography of the mill building shows that the house had fallen before long before that time.

The house stood on the far side of the mill.

It would have been just to the right of the photographer here.

BY 2007, vegetation had grown up over remnants of the walls.

A sad ending for a house that once had contained such a busy and happy household.

On their fiftieth wedding anniversary, the local newspaper on Saturday 6 July 1940 (in the midst of the next World War), gave their life story, albeit making some play about the happy couple sharing a birthdate, which simply wasn’t the case. Thanks to Lynn for providing this.

They Have the Same Birthday / And it was 82 Years Ago / It would be difficult to find a better example of well-matched married bliss than that of Mr and Mrs Donald Clark, two Inverness-shire octogenarians, who now live in retirement in a sequestered cottage near Culcabock.
      They have no fewer than 59 descendants, three sons, six daughters, 46 grand and four great-grandchildren. They are the same age, 82; were born on the same day, 29th September; and within a few months they will celebrate the sixtieth anniversary of their marriage.
      Despite their many years, Mr and Mrs Clark, who now reside at Drakies Gardens, are a hale and hearty couple.
      “They tell me I don’t look a day older than 60,” Mrs Clark told me. Anyone would subscribe to that view. And to prove that her goodman is fit she informed me that he had just returned from Inverness, a walk of two miles uphill.
      Born in Strathnairn, Mr. Clark belongs to Strathnairn, having been born in the Aberarder district; while his wife, whose maiden name was Sarah Mackintosh, hails from Westerton, Petty. They had eleven of a family, of whom nine are alive. One was killed in the Great War. One son is a ship’s carpenter at Tarbert, Argyll; the second an engine-driver at Motherwell; and the third a policeman in Edinburgh.
      An agriculturist all his life, Mr Clark has been on various farms in the Inverness district. For 27 years, however, he resided in Ross-shire, at Gordon’s Mills, Balblair. He came to Drakies Gardens when he retired several years ago.
      Asked how she kept in touch with so many descendants, Mrs Clark answered smilingly that her chief difficulty was in counting them. “One of my sons – the one in Tarbert – has eight of a family,” she added. “The rest have smaller ones. With all our children married we can expect our record to grow still bigger.”

The son killed in action was of course William, and the Clarks were still living at Gordon’s Mills in 1921 when the Resolis war memorial was erected. It was natural for them to have the death of their son William commemorated upon it. They had him recorded as Sergeant, presumably due to this being the equivalent of Corporal in the Canadian forces.

At least one other son served, as the Ross-shire Roll of Honour in Souters’ Ross-shire Directory of 1915 gives, under Resolis, “6094 Donald Clark, Gordons Mills, Gur., N.S.R.G.A.” Donald may well be one of those present in uniform in the 1915 wedding photograph.

But the story of William Clark himself came to an abrupt halt in front of Regina Trench, during the Battle of the Somme.

Regina Trench Cemetery


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