WW1: Schoolboy prank that led to shooting of Grangemouth man

The likely spot near the Kerse Burn where James Waddell was shot in 1914
The likely spot near the Kerse Burn where James Waddell was shot in 1914

A mixture of deafness and a schoolboy prank led to a council worker being shot by a World War One sentry in 1914.

James Waddell, who lived in Dundas Street, Grangemouth, was 63 when he died unnecessarily in Zetland Park – not far from where the war memorial is today.

He was an employee of Grangemouth Town Council’s burgh engineer’s department.

At the end of August 1914, 955 officers and men of the Scottish Rifles – better known as the Cameronians – were billeted in Grangemouth.

Mr Waddell was one of a group of council workmen drafted in when the Grange Burn flooded on December 3.

He was left on duty in case there was any more.

All the soldiers involved in that night’s events knew about the workmen. However, the soldiers heard shots fired in the park putting them on high alert.

At 2 a.m. on December 4, Privates Benjamin Doncaster and Robert Storrar (19), who were on sentry duty, said they saw a man approach them and called him to a halt. They said he kept moving toward them and “we both fired at the same time”, according to their evidence at a later fatal accident inquiry into the death.

At the inquiry Mr Waddell was described as “dull of hearing” – “slightly deaf”. For that he lost his life, it seems.

Days after the incident three young boys came forward to admit firing the shots into the burn before and after attending a Boys’ Brigade meeting.

The sheriff who presided over the inquiry said that “in time of war it was a well-known fact that people, especially on sentry duty, imagined all sorts of things happening and saw hosts of the enemy when nothing existed”.

The jury of the fatal accident into the inquiry unanimously declared Mr Waddell was accidentally shot

In May 1915 the Cameronians left Grangemouth for an “unknown destination”. This turned out to be Gallipoli where they landed on June 14.

A fortnight later the battalion took part in a frontal attack without artillery support on a Turkish position, known as H12, suffering 272 casualties