b. 13/01/1894 Dunfermline, Scotland. d. 14/04/1917 Arras, France.
John MacLaren Erskine (1894-1917) was born at 30 Bridge Street, Dunfermline, Fife, Scotland on 13th January 1894. His father was William Erskine, a master draper and senior partner in Messrs W & J McLaren & Co drapers of 26-30 Bridge Street, Dunfermline. William was also an Elder/President of the United Free Church, Chalmers Street, Dunfermline. His mother, Elizabeth “Bella” or “Bessie” nee Dick, was a teacher at Bathgate Academy, Dunfermline. William and Elizabeth were married on 29th March 1893 at The Bath Hotel, Glasgow. John had six siblings: William McLaren, Elizabeth Tennant, David Dick, Gilmour, Stewart and Harold. His oldest brother, William McLaren, was killed in action on The Somme in 1916 and is buried in New Munich Trench Cemetery, Beaumont-Hamel.
John was educated at Dunfermline High School. Following an apprenticeship with Messrs Robert Maude & Son of Princes Street, Edinburgh, he was employed as a draper with Messrs Pettigrew & Stephens of Glasgow. His father intended that he would eventually take over his position at Messrs W & J McLaren & Co.
John enlisted on 10th August 1914 and carried out basic training at Glasgow, Falkirk and Larbert. He was stationed at Broughty Ferry, near Dundee, Angus in September and sailed with the Battalion from Southampton for France, arriving at Le Havre on 5th November. He was promoted to Lance Corporal, then Corporal and finally Acting Sergeant.
On 22nd June 1916, at Givenchy, France, whilst the near lip of a crater, caused by the explosion of a large enemy mine, was being consolidated, Acting Sergeant Erskine rushed out under continuous fire with utter disregard of danger and rescued a wounded serjeant and a private. Later, seeing his officer, who was believed to be dead, show signs of movement, he ran out to him, bandaged his head, and remained with him for fully an hour, though repeatedly fired at, whilst a shallow trench was being dug to them. He then assisted in bringing in his officer, shielding him with his own body in order to lessen the chance of his being hit again.
He was promoted to Sergeant in July 1916, and was wounded on the Somme in the same month. He was posted to Fourth Army School of Instruction before returning to active service. John was decorated with his VC ribbon by GOC 33rd Division, Major General RJ Pinney at Bellancourt, France on 1st January 1917. He was killed in action near Fontaine-les-Croisilles, Arras, France on 14th April 1917 and is commemorated on the Arras Memorial to the Missing.
As he never married, the VC was formally presented to his mother by King George V at Hyde Park, London on 2nd June 1917. In addition to the VC, he was awarded the 1914 Star with “Mons” clasp, British War Medal 1914-20 and Victory Medal 1914-19. His sisters and brothers presented the VC to the Cameronians in June 1965. It is now held by the Cameronians Museum, Hamilton, Scotland.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: CAMERONIANS REGIMENT, HAMILTON, SCOTLAND.
BURIAL PLACE: NOT KNOWN GRAVE - ON ARRAS MEMORIAL, FRANCE. BAY 6
His medals at the Cameronians Museum, Hamilton, Scotland (Picture - Thomas Stewart)
His name on the Arras Memorial, France.
The War Memorial in Dunfermline, Scotland with Erskine's name
Erskine on the family grave.
All the pictures above provided by
War Illustrated, 26th August 1916
Memorial Stone in Dunfermline courtesy of Thomas Stewart