Major Archibald Henry Buchanan-Dunlop of Whitley Rise was pictured in the Berkshire Chronicle of 8 January 1915 beneath the headline “Major who sang carols between the trenches”. A short paragraph beneath reported that he was one of the “moving spirits” in the Christmas truce between British and German troops on the Western Front [ref 1].
The truce was unofficial and the Imperial War Museum say:
The truce was not observed everywhere along the Western Front. Elsewhere the fighting continued and casualties did occur on Christmas Day. Some officers were unhappy at the truce and worried that it would undermine fighting spirit.
Major Buchanan-Dunlop had been educated at Loretto School in Scotland and then joined the army, spending some time with the Royal Berkshire Regiment. He retired from his army career in 1909 and returned to his old school where he taught gymnastics and drawing. He was the eldest of four sons of H D Buchanan-Dunlop, a retired lieutenant-colonel in the Royal Artillery who lived at Whitley Rise on Basingstoke Road.
Rupert Shepherd has pieced together his great grand-father Archibald Buchanan-Dunlop’s role in the truce in The Notorious Major B-D and the Christmas truce using the many letters he wrote to his wife Mary and other sources [ref 2].
At the start of the First World War, Archibald Buchanan-Dunlop was called up as a reserve and joined the Leicestershire Regiment.
On 8 December he wrote to his wife:
What wouldn’t I give just to spend Christmas day with you & our little boys… I shall miss the Carols in Chapel this year & the Christmas anthems [at Loretto School]. You don’t really know how fond you are of them till you’ve got to do without them.
His wife sent him the programme from the 1914 carol concert that had taken place on 17 December and the words of the carols. On Christmas Day he was in the trenches at La Grande Flamengrie in northern France (pictured above) and he wrote to her about meeting and talking with German soldiers during the day and singing carols to one another in the evening:
Even out here this is a time of peace & goodwill. I’ve just spent an hour talking to the German officers & men who have drawn a line halfway between our left trenches & theirs & have all met our men and officers there. We exchanged cigars, cigarettes, & papers. They are jolly, cheery fellows for the most part, & it seems so silly under the circumstances to be fighting them…
Last night a select band of officers & men sang carols to them, & they did ditto.
His brother Colin was also in the trenches about five miles away and made a surprise visit on Boxing Day:
He was so cheery, & looking very fit & well & awfully clean & neat. How he managed that, too, I can’t think. He was much struck by my appearance I think, & no wonder, for I was in a waterproof, mostly clay, & had my Balacklava helmet on with a bit of Jean’s [his sister] holly in it, & my moustache & beard are not tidy, & I’m not clean. He stayed about half an hour with us. I’m so glad we have found each other at last.
By 2 January 1915, Major Buchanan-Dunlop and his company were in Armentières but he said that the Saxon troops who had been facing them were still keeping a cease fire which may have lasted well into the month.
National press reports of the truce, especially the front page of the Daily Sketch on 5 January, may have exaggerated his personal role. The Berkshire Chronicle seems to have followed suit publishing his photograph and an almost identical paragraph saying that he had been one of the “moving spirits” in the truce.
The brigade commander, Brigadier-General E. C. Ingouville-Williams, wanted an explanation of the event and Archibald Buchanan-Dunlop prepared his defence should he to be charged with disobeying orders by his superiors. He wrote on 9 January:
However as I say I’ve no military career to blast, for I certainly shouldn’t dream of staying in the service if Sconnie [A R Smith, Head of Loretto Senior School] wants me back, & I can get to Loretto again – Also I don’t mind generals, and am not at all afraid of them.
Eventually the furore around the carol singing died down. He appears to have regained the confidence of the military hierarchy and was given a temporary promotion to lieutenant-colonel in October 1915. His part in the war ended when he was sent home as a casualty in 1916, and he was invalided out of the army in 1917 because of the effects of gas.
Rupert Shepherd concludes:
His service record and his decorations show that Buchanan-Dunlop was a conscientious and long-serving soldier with a strong sense of duty – and perhaps a slightly sceptical attitude to his superior officers, which he would have shared with soldiers throughout the ages.
After the war
After military service, Archibald Buchanan-Dunlop returned to Loretto School where, on his retirement in 1937, he was the bursar. During the Second World War, he commanded a company of the Home Guard in Edinburgh. He died in December 1947.
Major Colin Buchanan-Dunlop
Archibald’s younger brother Colin Buchanan-Dunlop, who had visited him on Christmas Day 1914, was killed in action on 14 October 1915. The Reading Observer reported his death along with his photograph and that of another brother Henry who was invalided home at the beginning of the year [ref 3].
Major Colin Buchanan-Dunlop is the most highly ranked of the servicemen whose deaths are recorded in the First World War memorial at St Mary’s Episcopal Chapel on Castle Street.
At the beginning of 1915, his visit home to Reading was reported in the Reading Mercury. His last day had overlapped with the return home of his brother Henry and so they had arranged to meet in London [ref 4].
Whitley Rise, 33 Basingstoke Road, was built in the mid nineteenth century and, after a succession of owners, was sold in the early 1900s. Some of the land was bought by Reading Borough Council to build the George Palmer School which opened in 1907.
The family of H D Buchanan-Dunlop moved into the house about that time and lived there until around the 1940s.
During the Second World War, a building at Whitley Rise was converted for use as a report and control centre for Civil Defence. At first it was one of two that were designed as back ups for the Town Hall centre, but by 1942 it also provided night time cover [ref 5].
The house was demolished in the 1950s and an extension to the Avenue School was built on the site, however the coach house and a cottage remained until the school was demolished around 2010 [ref 6].
The name Whitley Rise was given to a new housing development and the entrance into it follows the same sweeping driveway as to the house. There is also an old wall to the north of Scholar’s Place.
References and links
- Berkshire Chronicle 8 January 1915 p4 digitised at Berkshire Stories
- The Notorious Major B-D and the Christmas Truce has been the primary source for this article and the quotes included.
- Reading Observer 23 October 1915 p3 via findmypast.co.uk (subscription required)
- Reading Mercury 6 February 1915 p5 via findmypast.co.uk (subscription required)
- Mike Cooper, Early Closing Day p16
- Dennis Wood. Views from the Hill: The Story of Whitley especially p38
- Daphne Barnes-Phillips. So many hearts make a school: the centenary of George Palmer School Reading & George Palmer School in photographs. Both have an image of the cast of a school production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream taken in the garden of Whitley Rise in the 1950s on p153 & p29 respectively.
- Loretto School website & Christmas Truce Commemoration
- In Grateful Memory, John Dearing’s new booklet about the monuments and inscriptions in St Mary’s Episcopal Chapel
- Imperial War Museum – Christmas truce & Archibald Buchanan-Dunlop & Colin Buchanan-Dunlop photograph & administrative correspondence with his mother
- A Street Near You – local legacies of the First World War, features Major Colin Buchanan-Dunlop on the home page.
- Berkshire Stories – Reading Libraries First World War project