12TH OCTOBER 1917 AGE 20


There's a scene in Hislop and Newman's Wipers Times where General Mitford informs Captain Roberts that Madame Fifi, owner of the local brothel, has just been executed by the British as a German spy. General Mitford hopes that Roberts never imparted any military secrets about the war to her. Roberts replies that he couldn't, he doesn't know any secrets, he just sits in his trench and has no idea what's going on.
I wondered whether this was the implication behind Corporal McNeill's inscription, a covert criticism of the fact that so many soldiers went blindly to their deaths not knowing what was going on. However, I wasn't sure that McNeill's father would have used the old-fashioned word 'whither', so I looked the sentence up and discovered that it comes from Hebrews Chapter 11 verse 8:

"By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went."

Abraham put his trust in God, he had faith in Him, he obeyed His instructions just as Noah had done, and Moses, and numerous other characters from the Old Testament. None of these people knew what God had in store for them but their faith had brought them to a "better country, that is an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God for he hath prepared for them a city".
This is therefore not an unusual inscription for a God-fearing Scot to choose, but I'm still not one hundred per cent convinced that there's no hint of criticism in it. Many people did use the words of the bible and the prayer book to make covert criticisms of the war. For example, Lieutenant Robert Carpenter's inscription: An only son
"To what purpose is this waste?"
S. Matt. 26.8
John McNeill was born in Gargunnock, Stirlingshire, where his father was the gardener to the Stirling family of Gargunnock House for forty years. McNeill was a bank apprentice when he joined up in February 1916 at the age of 18. He served with the 11th Battalion Royal Scots and was killed in action on 12 October 1917, the opening day of the Battle of Passchendaele.