Belgian teacher honours memory of Scottish soldier killed in action in 1916

Marijke Vandevyvere will make a special trip to visit the grave of Major James Lawson Mitchell of Pitlochry.
Marijke Vandevyvere will make a special trip to visit the grave of Major James Lawson Mitchell of Pitlochry.

The grave of a Scots soldier who made the ultimate sacrifice during the First World War will be visited by a Belgian woman who has devoted herself to honouring his memory.

Major James Lawson Mitchell of Pitlochry is buried in Vlamertinghe Military Cemetery near Ypres, Belgium, and Marijke Vandevyvere is likely to be his only visitor on Armistice Day.

The 38-year-old teacher lives nearby and regularly visits his final resting place to pay her respects following a chance visit to his one-time, local church four years ago.

“Sometimes I bring flowers, other times I just have a moment of silence to reflect and on this Armistice Day I will definitely stop by as we remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice,” she said.

Pitlochry Parish Church was James Lawson Mitchell’s local church (Church of Scotland/PA)

In August 2018, she and her husband, Davy Glorie, spent a few days in Pitlochry, and it was in the town’s parish church where she saw the brass, wall-mounted plaque to the only son of town solicitor Hugh Mitchell and his wife Elizabeth, and was moved by his story.

“Vlamertinghe Military Cemetery where this young lad is buried is not far from where we live and I made a promise to visit him when we returned home and so I did,” she said.

The first time she visited his grave, she placed a thistle that she brought from Pitlochry next to the headstone.

Born in the Perth and Kinross town on April 13 1883, Major Mitchell was educated at Ardvreck School, Crieff, before going to Fettes College in Edinburgh and the Royal Military College in Woolwich, London.

He joined The Royal Field Artillery in 1901 and was deployed to Belgium with the Expeditionary Force and volunteered for the Flying Corps.

But Major Mitchell was killed in action at Ypres on March 16 1916, at the age of 32.

In a letter sent to his parents after his death, a Brigade Major wrote: “I can’t tell you how much we all feel his loss, he was absolutely fearless and devoted to duty.”

And Major Mitchell’s service batman wrote: “He was looked up to and loved by the officers, NCOs and men under command, as a father to all.

“He was a gentleman and a soldier of the best type.”

Before the war broke out in 1914, Major Mitchell lived in Japan with his Japanese wife and child, and was fluent in the language.

They remained there when he returned to Europe to fight and emigrated to Canada following his death. Some of Major Mitchell’s descendants have visited Pitlochry.

Pitlochry Parish Church will be holding a service on Remembrance Sunday, where wreaths will be laid at the memorial on which Major Mitchel is named among 96 other fallen from the two world wars.

Pitlochry Parish Church session clerk, Ginnie Wilkie, said: “We get a lot of visitors to the church in the summer but the chance of having someone from Belgium who has really taken to heart the story of a chap from a well-known local family who died during the First World War is amazing.

“We have tried to keep up with Marijke ever since her visit and it is wonderful that she regularly visits Major Mitchell’s grave when no one from Pitlochry could easily do that.

“We are very grateful to her.”