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Rev. William D. T. Black

William Black was appointed minister of Rutherglen's Munro Church in 1913 before enlisting to serve in the Great War. He became a Chaplain with the Cameron Highlanders and was killed in action in 1917 aged only 36, one of 179 British Army chaplains who died in World War I.

Right, photograph of Rev. William Black taken from Our Little Cathedral: The Story of the Munro Church, Rutherglen, 1850-1950 by Rev. James Dick

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One of five children, William Duncan Thomson Black was born in Calton, Glasgow on 10th. March 1881 to parents William and Elizabeth. He married Janet 'Jenny' Cunningham in November 1907. He studied divinity at Glasgow University, taking up a ministry at the South United Free Church in Fraserburgh in 1909. Mr. Black returned south in 1913, becoming minister of the Munro Church in Rutherglen, the fourth man to hold that position

There, according to Rev. James Dick in Our Little Cathedral: The Story of the Munro Church, Rutherglen, 1850-1950, this 'broad-minded, sunny-hearted, courageous soul...gave a fresh impetus to the Congregation and for the short period he was among them, the church made great strides.'


'What might have been done', what great things accomplished', wondered Rev. Dick, 'had Mr. Black had a normal ministry among his attached people! As it was, in less than two years, marked advancement was made in all departments of the work and the membership greatly increased. But the first World War, falling on Britain like a bolt from the blue, changed all this, and, before long, Mr. Black was off to play a great part in a great campaign.' 

Captain William D. T. Black, Chaplain to the Forces

'At the hour of his country's need' wrote Rev. Dick, William Black 'offered himself for service'. Serving at first with the Northumberland Fusileers as a Corporal, later records show him as 'Rev.' with the Northumberland Regiment. 

He was then transferred to the Army Chaplains' Department where he was attached to the 7th. Cameron Highlanders as Chaplain to the Forces, 4th. Class which carried the nominal rank of Captain.

Right, image of Rev. Black which appears on his memorial plaque in the Munro Church.

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Chaplains in the British Army were expected to conduct religious services and provide spiritual comfort to the soldiers, often those who were wounded or dying, particularly in the case of those chaplains serving alongside medical units. Rev. Dick tells us that Rev. Black 'got the kind of chaplaincy he desired - not in a base hospital or a rest camp - but with a Highland Regiment up the line.'





This report is from Chris Baker's Long Long Trail website, a reference resource about the British Army in WWI:

On 21 August, [1917] enemy shellfire aimed at the railway alongside the camp [at Brandhoek]: The war diary reports that the third or fourth shell killed Nurse [Nellie] Spindler. Hit in the chest, she died within five minutes. Four other nurses were concussed.

Rev. Black was also killed at Brandhoek by a piece of shrapnel which hit him in the chest, the day after the incident described above. Without further research, it is impossible to say what other similarities if any, his death had to that of Nurse Spindler, or to know why he was at Brandhoek that day. It may be that he had gone to a Casualty Clearing Station there along with some Cameron Highlanders injured at Passchendaele. He may well have been a frequent visitor to Brandhoek.

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Rev. Black was reported as killed in action, aged only 36, on 22nd. August 1917 at Brandhoek in the Flanders region of Belgium. This is where we have to surmise to some extent about the circumstances of his death.


The village of Brandhoek is almost 7 km (4.3 miles) west of the Belgian town of Ypres. Rev. Black was killed at Brandhoek three weeks after the commencement of the Third Battle of Ypres, sometimes known as the Battle of Passchendaele.


Brandhoek was the site of a Field Ambulance and Casualty Clearing Stations during World War I. With the commencement of the Third Battle of Ypres on 31 July 1917, the numbers of casualties passing through Brandhoek greatly increased, as did enemy fire on the area. Although considered comparatively safe, Brandhoek was still within range of the German guns at Passchendaele.

Left, a Casualty Clearing Station at Brandhoek. Photo: World War I 

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The term 'killed in action' applied when a person died without receiving medical attention, suggesting that Rev. Black died instantly. He is buried at Brandhoek New Military Cemetery No. 3. That cemetery had just been opened, in anticipation of the casualties expected from the British offensive at the Third Battle of Ypres which had commenced a few weeks earlier. 

Rev. Black's name is included on the Rutherglen War Memorial along with those of the other local men who died serving with the Cameron Highlanders in World War I.

Left, Rev. Black's headstone at Brandhoek Military Cemetery No. 3. Photo: Commonwealth War Graves Commission

Right, Rev. Black's name highlighted in the Cameron Highlanders section on Rutherglen's War Memorial. Photo: Carrick McDonald

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Rev. Black's headstone at Brandhoek has the British Army Chaplain's cap badge at the top. His name, rank and date of death are underneath, and below that, a simple Christian cross denoting his religion. The inscription on the base reads: 'Faith, Hope, Love, and the greatest of these is Love', a quote from 1 Corinthians 13:13, chosen by his widow, Jenny. 


These seemingly prophetic lines are from Rev. Black's last letter home to the Munro Church congregation:

If we who name the name of Christ, can only show the soldiers that our religion is not a matter of mere profession or tradition, but a real thing, a great power, a heroic task, a thing to which a man who is a man, may well give his life.

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The Munro Church, Rutherglen

The Historic Environment Scotland website tells us that the Munro Free Church, in Western Avenue, was designed by Glasgow architect Charles Wilson in 1849 in the Early Gothic style. The church is a B-listed building. The manse and the church halls added later are not included in the listing. Built after 'the Disruption'  of 1843 for the Free Church of Scotland, the church is known today as Rutherglen West & Wardlawhill Parish Church. The original West Parish Church stood on the south side of Chapel Street where the flats which overlook Burnhill Street are now.


Left, the Munro church photographed in July 2023. 

Photo: Carrick McDonald

W. Ross Shearer in Rutherglen Lore, published in 1922, says this about the Munro Church and its first minister: 'Soon after the Disruption, a Free Church was erected in Glasgow Road.   It is a plain Gothic building, with a square pinnacled tower, with 820 sittings. It was here that that famous divine, the Rev. James Munro, known for his fearlessness and outspoken manner, thundered from the pulpit on the seriousness of sin. A typical Scotch preacher...invariably clad in his shepherd-tartan plaid, he never missed an opportunity of doing a kindness or speaking a word for his Master during his forty years' ministry in Rutherglen.'


Right, tablet on the wall of the Munro church in memory of Rev. James Munro, first minister of the church, erected by the congregation in 1885, a year after his death.

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Memorial Plaques

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Set into the front of the pulpit of the church is a large, well maintained bronze plaque which is inscribed as follows:


Left, the Munro Church World War I memorial plaques set into the pulpit.

In addition to Rev. Black's memorial plaque, two other plaques listing the names of 50 men, members of the Munro Church congregation, who also died in the Great War, are set into the pulpit.


Rev. Black's memorial plaque features a portrait of him in Army uniform surrounded by the leaves of a laurel wreath. 


The Black Hall

There is another memorial to Rev. Black in the form of the hall which bears his name, built at the Munro Church in 1929. The dedication ceremony was attended by his widow, Jenny. 

Right, interior of the Black Hall at the Munro Church, dedicated to the memory of Rev. William Black.

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The Black Hall continues to be used today for a wide variety of spiritual and community events.


The stone embedded above the entrance to the hall bears the inscription: In Memory of Rev. W. D. T.  Black, MA, Minister of This Church 1913-1917. Laid by Mrs. Black 1929. The day and month are unreadable due to weathering of the stone. 

Left, stone above the entrance to the Black Hall, inscribed to the memory of Rev. William Black. Photo Carrick McDonald

Carrick McDonald

© 2023 Rutherglen Heritage Society.  

 1. The Disruption, also known as the Great Disruption, was a dispute within the Church of Scotland, which in 1843, resulted in 450 evangelical ministers breaking away to form the Free Church of Scotland.

2. Glasgow Road was the address of the Munro Church until it was rerouted around the east side of Rutherglen War Memorial in the mid-1970s. What was left of the old Glasgow Road at that location became part of Western Avenue.

3. The memorial plaque in the church states that Rev. Black was killed 'near Poperinghe in Flanders' rather than at Brandhoek which other records show. Brandhoek lies between Poperinghe and Ypres.


  • Many thanks to Alistair McInnes, Session Clerk at Rutherglen West and church member Robert Tennant for allowing us access to the church building and halls and to the members of the congregation for their hospitality at the community cafe on the day of our visit.

  • Thanks to my son-in-law Frank Smyth who shares my interest in military history, for pointing out the Black Hall memorial stone which I would otherwise have missed. I was too busy looking down!

  • Thanks to Zen Boyd at Rutherglen Heritage Centre for letting us copy the section relating to Rev. Black from their copy of Our Little Cathedral: The Story of the Munro Church, Rutherglen, 1850-1950 by Rev. James Dick.

  • Thanks to Alex Elliott of Tempe, Arizona, who first made us aware of Rev. Black's story.

  • Photographs of the church and Black Hall interiors were taken by us courtesy of Rutherglen West Church. Other image credits are shown individually. 

Sources, links and further reading

Our Little Cathedral: The Story of the Munro Church, Rutherglen, 1850-1950 by Rev. James Dick, 1949, p28. 

Rutherglen Lore by W. Ross Shearer, 1922, p309.

The Long Long Trail. WWI reference website giving the history of the Cameron Highlanders in that conflict. Click here

My Heritage genealogy website for biographical information about Rev. Black.

Rutherglen Cenotaph. A page on Lesley Gaffey's family tree website which provides information on the WWI soldiers named on   Rutherglen's war memorial. Click here

National Army Museum website. Section giving the history of the Royal Army Chaplains' Department. Click here.

Historic Environment Scotland website. For a full description of the Munro Church's architecture. Click here

Christian Study Library website. For more information about the Disruption. Click here

Associated articles on this website

Blog: Commonwealth War Graves Commission tour of Rutherglen Cemetery, November 2021. Click here

Rutherglen Old Parish Church: see section about Pte. James Richardson VC. Click here

Cpl. Robert H. Robertson's 'Dead Man's Penny'. Click here 

Sgt. John Brown Wishart, DCM. Click here

Sgt. William Beattie. Click here

Pte. Alexander Hunter Watt. Click here

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