It is hard to tell the story of John Kinross without first focusing on his father, also John Kinross, known locally as ‘Jock’. He was a forceful presence not only in his son’s life, but also in the life of the village.
Jock was born into a farming family in Perthshire, Scotland. He completed a three-year apprenticeship in banking but decided he preferred farming and was given the tenancy of Gannochan Farm in Perthshire by his father in 1880. Soon afterwards, in 1884, he married Isabella Millar. (His sister Mary also married Isabella’s brother, Thomas.)
Moving south, Jock took on a farm in Warwickshire. It was in that county that Jock and Isabella’s third child, John, was born, in Kingsbury on 27 April 1890.
Jock was clearly ambitious; with his brother James, he then took on four farms in Middlesex.
In 1894 Jock and Isabella moved with their five young children to Buckinghamshire, to Riding Court Farm and Ditton Park in Datchet. John was four years old when his family moved to the village and his two youngest sisters were also born here. By the time of the 1901 census, Jock and Isabella had seven children: Jenny (Janet), Lizzie, John, Isabella, James, Peggy (Margaret) and Dora (Dorothy).
There is an excellent website, Kinross Genealogy, which gives very detailed, well-researched information about the Kinross family and includes the following photographs.
Jock ran Riding Court as a market garden and dairy farm with a herd of Shorthorns. In an article published in the Slough Observer on 14 April 1913, it was described as a picturesque and historic 300-acre farm, formerly owned by Lord Montagu of Beaulieu. A tenant since 1894, Jock had purchased it in 1911 when it came up for sale. “The house itself is a fine example of Elizabethan architecture with the narrow windows of that date, and low, handsome oak-wainscotted rooms,” wrote the reporter. “It has from time to time been enlarged in many ways but still retains its principal characteristics. It stands back some distance from the main road,and is approached by a long winding drive. Immediately in front of the house there is a garden with lawns and some of the rooms overlook Windsor Castle.”
A farming family
Much of the agricultural land bounded by London Road, Horton Road and Ditton Road was also farmed by Kinross, in fact he owned and rented a number of farms and land in the area, including Yeoveney Manor, amounting to some 1500 acres in total. (His children, John and Jenny, appeared on the 1911 Census at Yeoveney where John was managing his father’s farm.)
Jock had firm views on how to succeed in farming. “Kinross is strongly of the opinion that a farmer must be a man of enterprise and energy if he is to make a successful business of it and that if he will combine with these points mental ability and scientific knowledge there is no doubt that farming as a business can be made profitable in the present day,” reported Slough Observer.
“Milk selling forms a considerable feature of Riding Court farm,” the Observer article continued. “The bulk of the milk is sold wholesale in Slough and Datchet, and any excess beyond this demand is sent up to London. The land of the district is generally good, the soil being a strong depth of loam on gravel, but the rents are stiff compared with those in other parts of the country and the average price works out at about £2 an acre. …/… With regard to labour in the district, there are plenty of men but the wages are high and there is a lack of cottages, although they are worth about 4s a week in this side of the county.”
In the early 1900s, the family also ran the Riding Court Farm Dairy shop, in the centre of the village at 6 High Street. (See Datchet History for more information.)
‘Squire’ of the village
Jock was a central figure in local life, behaving as, and being treated as, the ‘Squire’ of the village. He became a County Councillor and Justice of the Peace. He was one of the original members of Datchet Parish Council, becoming chairman of the council for eight years. He was also a chairman of the Cemetery Committee, a trustee of the Barker Bridge House Trust, a school manager, and chairman of the Horticultural Society. It was said that he would donate generously to any cause raising funds for the welfare of the village, and he was largely responsible for securing a new fire engine for the village.
Complicated family life
Jock seems to have thrown himself into affairs of the heart with much the same enthusiasm as he showed for affairs of the village and farming. His wife, Isabella, was with her in-laws in Logie, Stirling, on the 1911 Census (which recorded her as 45 years old, married 21 years, and mother of seven children, all still living), although how long she stayed there isn’t yet known. Meanwhile, the Kinross Genealogy website reveals that Jock had an affair with Lilian Winifred Sinnock, with whom he had two daughters, in 1912 and 1914, both given the surname Miller.
Isabella died on 10 May 1913 in Datchet and buried at the family grave in Datchet Cemetery.
Almost exactly a year after her death, and around the same time that his lover Lilian was giving birth to their second child, Jock married a woman 30 years his junior. May Violet Henriette Purser was just 22 when they married at Paddington, London. May was a farmer’s daughter; her father ran Tanhouse Farm at Colnbrook. Born c1892, she was younger than most of Jock’s children, including John. Jock even fibbed about his own age, knocking three years off his true age of 52 on the marriage certificate. To complicate the family arrangements even further, two of Jock’s daughters married two of May’s older brothers. Jock and May went on to have four children of their own from 1915-1927.
Joining the army
When war broke out, Jock’s eldest son, John, enlisted in London in August 1914. He became Corporal 2163, in the 14th Battalion of the London Regiment (London Scottish). The Battalion was formed in August 1914 at 59 Buckingham Gate. It was part of 4th London Brigade, 2nd London Division. On mobilisation they moved to Abbotts Langley. On 16 September 1914 they left the Division and landed at Le Havre. They were engaged at Messines on 31 October 1914 under the command of the Cavalry Corps. In November 1914 they came under the command of 1st Brigade in 1st Division. At the time the Division was engaged at the First Battle of Ypres.
Killed in action
John died, aged 24, on 21 March 1915. According to the Slough Observer, 3 April 1915, he was killed in action near Neuve Chapelle. Later the same month, the Datchet Parish Magazine also ran an article about John: “the universal opinion of the parish, and of all who knew him on active service, marks him as a young man of a striking personality. Keen and resourceful in all he did, straight and trustworthy in work and play, he has left us an example which our young men must try and follow.”
Letters from the front
The Kinross Geneaology website has published two letters written by John’s Commanding Officer, Lieutenant H A H Newington, and his best friend, 2nd Lieutenant F A J Macfarlane, to Jock Kinross. These letters were originally published in a printed memorial document for John Kinross, 1915.
John’s Commanding Officer wrote explaining that John had been shot while he was in the trenches. He was improving some head cover when a bullet came through the parapet and struck him on the head. He was rendered unconscious and died two hours later. His CO commented on how John was one of those men who could always be relied upon, and cool in a tight place, ‘and we have been in some of them together’, he wrote.
John’s best friend also wrote from the Field, 22 March, 1915:
“Dear Mr Kinross,
“I believe that Lieut. Newington wrote and told you the terrible news about your son John – but his letter would probably only be an official message, whereas I write to you as one who has lost his greatest friend – I can hardly yet realise that he has gone. John and I were very, very close friends, and had gone through everything together, starting the first night in the same advanced trench at Messines, and from that time we shared everything, beds, smokes, leaves, etc., and any jobs that were going. When they made me an officer just lately I lost sight of him a bit, but we always used to chat when we met, and he often came round to my billet with other friends, and we would have a smoke and chat together. I went down to the trenches in the evening to help bring his body back, and we took him down to the dressing station, and it was an honour to me to help carry the stretcher. I arranged for the burial in a little soldiers’ cemetery, which one of the regiments out here has bought, and where all the soldiers who have fallen in the fighting round here are buried, – it is beautifully kept, and each grave has a cross and a little name plate. I have ordered a little brass one for John, with the details on it, and have arranged to have the grave photographed and the cemetery as well. The Chaplains read the service, and Sergeant Piper Gray, the Doctor, and myself, Sergeant Cundell, and Lance-Corporal Green, of his Company attended as mourners. The whole regiment would have liked to come (but we were in the trenches) as everyone was very proud of him. He was a boy absolutely devoid of fear, always cheerful, and his example was a great help to everyone around him. I can speak very feelingly about this, as I have never known him depressed under any circumstances. All his papers and effects were given to me and I have them now.
“I have also got his bonnet which he was wearing when shot, and the bullet holes are in it. Would you care for me to send it to you? Or if you think it is too ghastly, I would send his cap and badge alone. I cut off 6 buttons from his tunic and his Corporal’s stripes from his jacket, and will send these home to you, or his sisters, if you would like them. He had also bought a little silver brooch, London Scottish Crest, for his sister Dora [Dorothy]. This I will also forward to you.
“Please write and ask me any more questions you like, or his sisters would like to know, and I will try and answer them. It will not be troubling me as he was my great friend, and it was a friendship cemented by conditions and hardships of the firing line.
“With all my sympathy to you in the loss of a noble son, and to his sisters in the loss of such a brother.
“F.A.J. Macfarlane, 2nd Lieut.”
John is remembered at Le Touret Military Cemetery, Richebourg-L’Avoue, Pas de Calais, France, in section II, row G, grave 3. (Full details are on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website.) His headstone reads: He was a fearless and a gallant lad and died on the field of honour.
He is also remembered on the WWI memorials in Datchet, and in Stanwell where he managed one of his father’s farms, and on the Kinross family grave in Datchet Cemetery. The family headstone, pictured below, reads: “And of John Kinross, their eldest son, Corporal in the London Scottish Regiment, born 27th April 1890 at Kingsbury, Warwickshire, died 21st March 1915 in France. He hastened to join the army immediately on the outbreak of the war on the 4th August 1914, was sent out to France in September, fought all through the following terrible winter campaign in Flanders, took part in several engagements round Ypres and elsewhere in France and Belgium, particularly in the glorious assault on Messines where his regiment was decimated but earned undying fame and was killed in action near Neuve Chapelle, on Sunday the 21st March 1915. There his body rests.” Another stone underneath reads: “He was a fearless and a gallant lad and died on the field of honour, beloved by the officers of his regiment and everyone who knew him.”
John was awarded the British and Victory Medals and 1914 Star.