First World War Centenary: Brothers in arms and in death - the four who went to war

The Independent's Robin Scott-Elliot pays tribute to his great-grandfather and his brothers, none of whom came back

In the nave of Glasgow cathedral is a dark, rectangular plaque. The BBC lit it up for the commemoration service but on a normal day you need to stand close to read the names inscribed there, names redolent of another age; Bertie, Ronnie, Charlie and Teddie. My great-grandfather and his three brothers. In 1914 they went to war and none came back.

The story of the Andersons is a snapshot of Britain’s war, captured within one doomed family. Like many it began with bright-eyed enthusiasm, Charlie writing home en route to the trenches that he was “so glad we will all be in this together”. His war lasted eight days, his body never found.

Ronnie, a dreamer, was shot by a sniper a year later. He was 31, four years older than Charlie. Teddie joined the Royal Flying Corps and flew above the Somme on its bloody opening day. He called it “Cloudland” in letters home. The war years passed and Teddie and Bertie survived. Then, in the space of a week in late March, 1918, the Andersons’ war came to a crushing conclusion.

A matron from the hospital where Teddie died wrote to his mother Nora: “Towards the end he felt no pain at all and he slowly slipped away to a better place.” His mother had to believe that was so.

 

Bertie Anderson was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions on the day he died. In a letter written to his widow, Gertie, a colleague described his final moments. “He was cheering me on, his face wreathed in smiles and the last I saw was the swing of his stick going on.”

Bertie was not a history-book hero. He was a husband, son and father who put down his accountancy books and did what the demands of his time necessitated. Then he did an extraordinary thing in an extraordinary time.

The news of Bertie’s death came via a 19-word War Office telegram.

Map: The troops from around the world that served Britain in WW1

Willie, the boys’ father, should be counted among the victims of the Great War. He never recovered from the loss and died not long after the war, although not before seeing the plaque unveiled.

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