Crossmichael, Parton & Balmaghie

Church of Scotland

Presbytery of Dumfries and Kirkcudbright

Scottish Charity Number SCO14901     




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Crown Court Church of Scotland Tercentenary



A Special Celebration at Easter


Crossmichael, Parton & Balmaghie Church

Long Service Awards – 187 not out!

Easter is a special time for Christians the world over, but for four of our elders at Crossmichael, Parton & Balmaghie Church it was very special indeed. Together their service as elders amounts to more than 187 years!   Our minister Sally Russell is seen here with Church Officer Jimmy Adams [47 years service], Willie Bell [38 years of which 27 at Crossmichael], Jim Callander [55 years] and Session Clerk Willie Little[47 years].  Willie Little has also been church organist for 65 years. A tremendous achievement.






James Clark Maxwell


Light Connections

 “Are scientists always atheists?” somebody mused.

“No, of course not, although there is a notion that if you can’t reduce God to an equation He doesn’t exist”.

Listening to this I smiled, thinking of an 19th century physicist whose faith had convinced him God was not an equation and that humans were not alone at the top of the tree.


A man of genius

 James Clerk Maxwell produced mathematical equations showing electricity, magnetism and light were linked together.  He developed a theory of electromagnetic waves which was a seismic shift in scientific discovery in 1864. His theories became the foundation for Einstein’s work. Maxwell has connections with us at a local level as the family home is at Glenlair, situated a few miles from the villages of Crossmicael and Parton. Maxwell was an Elder of the Church of Scotland and he is buried in Parton Kirkyard.

Connecting with the natural world

Maxwell as a child and adult wandered around the fields and woods of the family estate near Parton. He asked many questions because he was always curious about how things worked.  His relationship with the natural world was one of respect and wonder rather than one of control and submission. His equations arose from a genuine curiosity to reveal the mysteries of natural laws. His faith was a determining force in his life but it was of an intense personal nature. He was as bold in his thinking about Christianity as he was with regard to science.  Those aspects of him have a real meaning and connection through to us today.


Musical connections

Last September, an evening to celebrate Maxwell the man, rather than the scientist,  was held in Parton Kirk.  Part of the entertainment was a performance of a Scottish country dance called Maxwell’s Waves.

Sometimes it is difficult to see what is right in front of you. After a week or two of rehearsals for the dance I looked around and realised all the ingredients for our ‘Go For It’ project were here. A light came on!  The dance required sixteen people plus a team of musicians who had been drawn from the churches of Crossmichael, Parton, Corsock and Kirkpatrick Durham as well from outside the church.  That was one box ticked. We were working together in a collaborative way to produce an outcome which was both unusual and enjoyable. The dancing master, our Session Clerk and Organist, said this was about fun, fitness and friendship and that proved to be true.  We had shown we could have a joint event. Dancing Maxwell’s Waves in a church he had attended was ensuring not only ‘his soul will live and grow for long to come’ but our project could grow too.


Mere serendipity?

 The young Maxwell was always questioning what made things work.’ What’s the go o’ it’ he would ask. It seems serendipity that Maxwell and his ‘go’ of things should end up being part of our ‘Go For It’ project.


Contributed by  Morag Chisholm, Crossmichael and Parton Churches. 

Also posted on the "Go For It Blog" Ref CROMP08  

With thanks to John Simpson for the Maxwell details


Church of Scotland Society Religion and Technology Project





Crossmichael and Parton Church

Remembrance Day Crosses  


As part of a community project to remember the Crossmichael heroes of the First World War, Crossmichael Primary School was contacted to invite the children to be in involved in the commemoration.  I was asked to  talk to Primary classes 3 to 7 about the young men who enlisted and the animals required for active duty on the battlefield.  The younger age group would hear of life before, during and after the Great War, and in particular how horses were a vital part of life during those three periods.  The older group were told a bit more about the realities of war.  Both groups were very attentive and asked pertinent and perceptive questions.  I found it a joy to be involved in a small way, researching the war with the children and I was most impressed by their sketches and displays illustrating their impressions and understanding its  horrors.

Text Box:  

Recently on a trip to the Ypres battlefield area with a relative, to research a family member missing in action, I was struck by the appalling scale of the losses and in particular of those missing in action.  There were some 300,000 men with no known grave, including 15 of the 42 Crossmichael fallen.  The Menin Gate Memorial, with 54,896 names, was built to record the names of the missing, but it was not big enough.  Thiepval has a further 72,194 names, but still not enough. Tyne Cot another 34,984 and Ploegsteert (“Plug Street”) a further 11,367.  Those four memorials lying within a 35-mile radius have over 173,000 names of the “lost” engraved on their walls.  Sadly there are many other memorials to those Known unto God.  The numbers are shocking.

No one now can remember our men, but we felt strongly that it was important that we acknowledge each by name.  Poppy Scotland provided the small crosses and we inscribed each one with the name, rank and age of one of the men. On Remembrance Sunday, Ahrlene Fuller, Olive Kirkpatrick and I read the names in sequence, stating their age and when they died, before planting each cross in a tray of sand.  This small tribute was very moving, especially for Olive, who read the name of her grand-uncle John James Breckenridge, after whom her father was named.  John James died of his wounds in 1916 and is buried in Wimereux Commonwealth War Grave Cemetery, near to Lt. Col. John McCrae who wrote the famous and moving poem “In Flanders Fields”.

The naming ceremony struck a poignant chord - indeed a member of the congregation said that we had done a wonderful thing.  On Armistice Day the Primary School children walked from school to the church.  Previously, the pupils had transformed the church into a striking gallery with their displays, paintings, and 5-foot high paper poppies.  In a moving service of tribute each pupil played a part, singing, placing a cross, reciting a poem he or she had written and reading out the names of every Crossmichael man who lost his life in that war.  It was a wonderful and deeply touching experience for all who attended, and one we intend to repeat. 




Pupils at the Primary School Remember Crossmichael's War Dead



The pupils from P3 to P7 at Crossmichael Primary School have been studying a variety of aspects of The First World War. We welcomed the opportunity to look at our local community and how it had changed or not, over the last hundred years.  We looked at old photographs of the main street and played 'spot the difference'. We found out about farm life and the use of working horses, people and later machinery used in ploughing, bailing and harvesting. With the help of John Nelson, his knowledge, artefacts and photographs we were able to find out about real people in our community and their lives a hundred years ago. We listened to Michael Murporgos War Horse and read some first world war poems. These inspired our art work and poetry of our own. The culmination of all our research and activities was being able to honour the boys and young men who lost their lives in the horror of the war. We wanted to be respectful of their ultimate sacrifice but mindful of our own actions and the ability to bring peace and be kind. The Act of Rememberance held in Crossmichael Parish church on Tuesday 11th of November was well attended by the community. The names of the dead were read out and the pupils planted poppies. The church was decorated with our artwork including giant poppies. We read some of our own poems and we all joined together to sing 'Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.' The service ended with a prayer led by Oonagh, standing in for Rev. Russell.
All of the children learned so much about life 100 years ago, the local area and war time.  It was a very moving topic to be involved in
I believe they all gained a great deal from their experience.


Roz Stevens


Lest We Forget

Capt. Frederick John Lawrie Johnstone, MC


On Sunday 9 November people throughout the country commemorated the hundredth anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War as well as remembering the fallen from the Second World War, the Falklands, Iraq, Afghanistan and many other conflicts.  This year’s Remembrance Sunday was marked by moving tributes and memorial services, and at Crossmichael Parish Church the day was made more poignant when the names of the local soldiers who died in the Great War were read out individually, allowing the congregation to put faces to the statistics.  It brought home to everyone that these men continue to live side-by-side with us every day, through their presence on the war memorial and through their families who still live locally.  Some of these families came along to the Remembrance Day service, proof indeed that these men died to give their children and their children’s children a better tomorrow.

To keep this connection with the past alive we are starting a new series of articles in this month’s newsletter, which puts faces to many of the names on our local war memorial, of young men who were so very much a part of our community a hundred years ago, and who went on to make the ultimate sacrifice.  We begin by telling the story of 21-year old Frederick Johnstone, who won one of the highest military honours for his outstanding bravery and who sacrificed his own life to save others.

The Military Cross is awarded in recognition of “an act or acts of exemplary gallantry during operations against the enemy on land, to all members of the armed forces” and only the bravest receive it.   But such an honour could not have been further from a young Frederick Johnstone’s mind when in 1895 at Ernespie Mansion in Crossmichael he was born into a wealthy and respected local family.  The only son of Charles Lawrence Johnstone, an East Indies merchant, and Ellen Stormonth  (McKie) Johnstone of Gelston Castle and later Drumpark, Dumfries, Frederick grew up locally.  He went on to receive his education at Eton, where he was a member of the cricket and football teams and an expert angler and known as a good shot.

However that all came to an end when, at only 20 years old, and an officer of the Eton College Officer Training Corps  he  joined  the 2nd Battalion of the King’s Royal Rifle Corps and in November 1914  headed for the war in Europe.  As a 2nd Lieutenant he first saw action at La Bassée in the autumn of 1914.  For the young man from Crossmichael it was a baptism of fire, which prepared  him for the many battles to come.

Le Bassée was one of the bloodiest battles of the Great War.  The Germans had rested a few weeks and massed artillery, they were now eager to push on and capture the Channel ports and thus prevent British troops and supplies reaching France.  A million Germans participated in this drive and their intense artillery fire into the trenches made existence terrible beyond description.  The dead lay thick, and they lay for days under the feet of the living.

From here Frederick, who was promoted to temporary Captain, was sent to Loos.  Here he saw gas let loose on soldiers for the first time.  British casualties were 48,367 in the main attack and a further 10,880 in the subsidiary attack, a total of over 59,000.  He survived, but before he could draw breath he was sent Neuve Chapelle and then to Festubert, where machine guns were used for the first time, and then on to the Somme.

His unit was called into to action at High Wood.  High Wood was the last of the major woods in the Somme offensive of 1916 to be captured by the British.  The woods were first attacked on 14 July of that year, but had yet to be taken.  When Frederick and his unit arrived, fighting was well under way and the Kings Rifles were sent to relieve troops at 1am on 21 July, their first taste of fighting on this notorious battleground.  It had been recorded at this point that no officers had returned as casualties. It was as if Frederick’s fate had been sealed.

By this time the wood was largely destroyed and Frank Richards in “Old Soldiers Never Die” describes the conditions in High Wood at about this time.  Parts of the parapets of trenches contained the corpses of those killed in earlier attacks, and he describes heads, arms and legs sticking out.  Because of the severe firing, the bodies of men killed had been used as shields by the survivors, and they had then been covered by earth to build up a parapet. Now, when shells landed near, during a very heavy bombardment, the dead were blown out of these parapets once more.  For young Frederick and his men it must have seemed as if they had arrived in Hell itself.

 A number of innovations were employed at High Wood to try to break the deadlock, including hydraulic devices known as “pipe-pushers”, which were used to push tin canisters  containing explosive  under the German trenches

where they could be detonated.  On the night of 27 August attacks were made on the east side of the woods, allowing short advances.  The largest German counter-attack of the Battle of the Somme took place on the same day to the east of the wood, during the afternoon and evening, and it was in the midst of all this madness that Frederick was fatally injured, dying of his wounds on 29 August 1916 in the military hospital at Abbeville - but not before he had made his mark.  He was awarded the Military Cross “… for conspicuous gallantry in action. During heavy fighting he assumed command of two other Companies as well as his own, organised a successful counter-attack, kept up the supply of ammunition and bombs, and did fine work!”  Despite a whole series of attacks spanning two months, High Wood held out until 15 September 1916.  It was never fully cleared after the war, and it is estimated that the remains of around 8,000 soldiers, British and German, still lie today in High Wood.

Captain Frederick Johnstone was buried at Abbeville Communal Cemetery in France and is remembered on Crossmichael war memorial.  He is also remembered at St Ninian’s Episcopal Church in Castle Douglas where it may be that one of the actual wooden war memorial crosses from the High Wood battlefield is on the wall ... but that is a story for another day. 

[Submitted by Ahrlene Fuller]





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