Museum of the Manchester Regiment
The Men Behind the Medals

William Bertram

William Bertram : Photograph of William in Tameside Local Studies and Archives Centre.  Reference: MR3/17/87

Photograph of William in Tameside Local Studies and Archives Centre. Reference: MR3/17/87

William Bertram : (L to R) Egypt Medal; Khedive's Star; Queen's South Africa Medal with clasps 'Cape Colony', 'Orange Free State', 'Transvaal'

(L to R) Egypt Medal; Khedive's Star; Queen's South Africa Medal with clasps 'Cape Colony', 'Orange Free State', 'Transvaal'

William was born on the 11th December 1859 in Edinburgh, Scotland. He was named after his father and his mother was Adelaide Mary. Adelaide's father was John Batman, who founded the city of Melbourne in Australia. William had at least one brother, Allan Lockhart, and one sister, Eliza V.

His father had served as an officer in the 72nd and the 77th Regiments of Foot (later the Seaforth Highlanders and The Duke of Cambridge's Own (Middlesex Regiment)), but by the time William was born he had retired to Kersewell House in Lanarkshire. He was a farmer and landowner, as well as serving as an officer in the 55th Lanarkshire Rifle Volunteer Corps.

William seems to have been inspired by his father, as he was commissioned as a Lieutenant in the 2nd Royal Lanarkshire Militia on the 20th January 1877. He wanted to serve in the Regular Army though, and he applied in January 1878. He was told that because of his Militia service he would not have to take any more examinations to be accepted. William reported to the Royal Military College at Sandhurst in Berkshire on the 1st May. He was 6 feet tall and spoke fluent French.

William was commissioned into the 96th Regiment of Foot on the 5th September 1878 and joined them in Chester during November. He served in Manchester and Aldershot with his regiment until the 11th March 1881 when they were sent to Malta. On the 1st July the 96th Regiment was renamed the 2nd Battalion of the Manchester Regiment. In August 1882 William went to war in Egypt.

The Anglo-Egyptian War had broken out in June after the pro-British Khedive was deposed. Britain wanted to protect its commercial investments in Egypt, as well as the Suez Canal, which gave access to India.

The 2nd Battalion sailed to Alexandria aboard HMS Euphrates, and arrived on the 17th August. William did not serve with them during the war; he was attached to a Mounted Infantry Company based in Alexandria. The war ended in September with the British restoring the Khedive to power, but having much more control over the country. William left Egypt on the 13th October for Multan in what is now Pakistan, again aboard HMS Euphrates.

William stayed with the 2nd Battalion until he returned to the UK in February 1885. We don't know much about what he did during his time there, but we know the 2nd Battalion also served in Bengal.

After he returned to the UK we believe William was assigned to the 1st Battalion of the Manchester Regiment at Shorncliffe in Kent. We don't know what jobs he held during this period.

On the 14th January 1888 William married Ethel Angell Towse at St Stephen's Church in Kensington, London. We believe they made their home in or near Edinburgh, as their son William Robert was born there on the 4th January 1889. Their daughter Grizzele Ethel was also born in Edinburgh on the 17th September 1890. They had one more child, Ian A. in 1898. Ethel's brother was Sir Ernest Beachcroft Beckwith Towse, who won the Victoria Cross in 1899 during the Boer War.

William was promoted to Captain in early 1888 and appointed Adjutant in the 5th Volunteer Battalion of The Cameronians (Scottish Rifles) on the 2nd July. This unit was based in Airdrie, Lanarkshire.

As Adjutant William was the only Regular Army officer in the unit. He was responsible for organising training and administration for the volunteers, as well as directly managing the other Regular soldiers assigned to the battalion.

The 5th Volunteer Battalion was disbanded in 1891. We believe William returned to the Manchester Regiment, although we don't know whether he served with the 1st Battalion in Limerick, Ireland or at the Depot in Ashton-under-Lyne. In late October 1894 he sailed to Dinapore, Eastern India (now Danapur in Bihar State) to join the 2nd Battalion.

We don't know what William did during his second period in India, but we believe he stayed in Dinapore for the entire time he was there. William was able to return to the UK between the 1st May and the 13th September 1897. This was most probably a period of leave.

The 2nd Battalion left India in 1898 and moved to Aden, now in Yemen. William left them there and returned to the UK. He was promoted to Major on the 2nd August 1898. He decided to retire on the 5th April 1899.

In his retirement William and his family went to live in Kersewell House, where he had grown up. His mother had died in 1882, but his father still lived there with Eliza. William senior died in 1905 aged 98. William joined the Royal and Ancient Golf Club at St Andrews, and he was a keen curler.

The Boer War broke out in South Africa in October 1899. The British Army suffered some shocking defeats early in the war, and by the end of 1899 the Army was sending large numbers of reinforcements to South Africa. William wrote to the War Office offering his services, and on the 13th January 1900 he was told that he was needed at Number 3 Remount Depot in South Africa. This was a unit that selected and trained replacement horses for the forces in South Africa.

William sailed to South Africa on the 19th February aboard the SS Austral. Number 3 Remount Depot was based at Stellenbosch in Cape Colony. William was its Commandant between the 5th and the 20th April, and then again between the 20th June and the 16th September 1900. He had a four-in-hand horse drawn carriage that he used to travel around the depot for inspections.

We don't know what else William did in South Africa, although his medal clasps tell us that he served in the Orange Free State and the Transvaal as well as at the Remount Depot. We also don't know when he returned to the UK and retirement.

William clearly found it hard to leave the Army behind. He joined the 9th Lanarkshire Rifle Volunteers as a Major on the 21st June 1905 and by the 20th December he had been promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and was its Commanding Officer. William was made the unit's Honorary Colonel on the 30th December 1907 and retired on the 10th March 1908. On the 1st April the Volunteers were disbanded and replaced by the Territorial Force. The 9th became the 8th (Lanark) Battalion of the Highland Light Infantry.

The First World War broke out in August 1914, and the Army began to expand massively. Many retired soldiers and officers rejoined, and William was no exception. He was re-commissioned as a Major into the new 11th Battalion of the Manchester Regiment. This unit was based at Belton Park in Lincolnshire in early 1915. William was living in a nearby hotel with Ethel when he was suddenly taken ill. He died on the 18th February 1915. He was 55 years old. William was buried alongside his family at Coulter Parish Church, Lanarkshire.

William's children all served during the First World War. William Robert served with the Canadian Forces in France, Ian joined the Royal Navy, and Grizzele was a nurse with the Red Cross. William's medals were presented to the Museum of the Manchester Regiment in 1971. By 2012 Kersewell House had been renamed Bertram House.

Museum of the Manchester Regiment
c/o Portland Basin Museum
Portland Place
Heritage Wharf
Ashton-under-Lyne
OL7 0QA

Telephone: 0161 343 2878
Email: Portland.Basin@tameside.gov.uk
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Trustees of the Manchester Regiment Museum & Archive and Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council