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Sgt. John Brown Wishart

A Gallant Son of Rutherglen

Researched and written by Jean Wishart Wilson

© Rutherglen Heritage Society

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Above, John Brown Wishart in the uniform of the Highland Light Infantry.

They say you should never judge a book by its covers. That certainly applies to John Brown Wishart, born and brought up in Rutherglen before World War I. 


His army records tell us that when he was 26 in 1915 he joined the 9th Battalion Highland Light Infantry; his height was recorded as 5ft 5ins and his fully expanded chest as 35 inches. The same records show he was an exceptionally brave soldier. A small man with a large measure of bravery, somebody of whom Rutherglen should be very proud.

The records show that he was mobilised for service in August 1915 but it wasn’t until the following year in July that he embarked for Boulogne en route to the 21 Infantry Base Depot at Etaples from where he was sent to a training battalion; thereafter he saw action and was made up to acting Lance Corporal. However it wasn’t until his second tour of duty in October 1918 that he carried out not one, but two remarkably brave acts for which he was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal. 


His heroics were not recorded in the London Gazette until more than a year later when his actions were described thus:


331780 Cpl J B Wishart, 2nd Bn, H.L.I. (Glasgow).  During the operations just north of Vertain on 23rd October, 1918, he displayed magnificent courage and dash. On crossing the River Harpies, he saw an enemy post ahead doing much damage. He rushed single-handed through our barrage, killing one and capturing the remainder of the garrison. Later, when his section was held up by an enemy machine-gun post, he left his section to draw the enemy’s fire and try and snipe them while he in dead ground crawled up to their flank. He rushed them with a bayonet and bomb by himself, capturing eighteen prisoners, one heavy and one light machine gun.

Right, the Distinguished Conduct Medal awarded to Cpl. John Brown Wishart

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By the time of the above events he was an acting Lance Corporal but shortly after his brave actions, he was promoted to the rank of Acting Sergeant on the 9th of December, a rank confirmed later in December.  He was demobilised from service on 1st. May 1919 in Hamilton. He was able to return to the grocery business as a grocer’s salesman in Carluke where few beyond his family knew of his bravery.


Records show that John Brown Wishart was born in Rutherglen in 1889, probably at 16 Bankhead Place where the family was living at the time of the 1891 census. By 1900 the family was living at 1 McAlpine Place. John was one of nine children reared in Rutherglen.  His father, John Wishart was born in Pettinain, Lanarkshire. He became an ironstone miner and moved around with work until he met and married Maggie Brown, a dressmaker from  Carluke. They lived in Carluke before moving to Rutherglen via Mossend, by which time he had become a steel smelter, probably finally at the Clydebridge Ironworks.  


John Brown Wishart, aged 22, was working as a grocer’s assistant according to the 1911 census, still living with his family in McAlpine Place. On 26 August 1915 he enlisted in the Territorial  Army in Glasgow and joined the 9th Battalion Highland Light Infantry (Private No 4625). It was only on 18 July 1916 that he embarked from Folkestone for Boulogne.  Shortly after he was made Acting Corporal with the 9th Battalion, HLI and posted to the 2nd battalion. He had a short furlough in late March 1918 and on returning he was promoted to Corporal.  A few months later was the time for John’s heroic actions (see above), soon after which peace was declared. 


Before demobilisation he became a full sergeant and left the Army on 1st. May 1919 in Hamilton.  Still in Rutherglen was his family, now depleted by the death of his father in 1913, who sadly didn’t live to hear of his son’s heroic deeds. His mother Maggie lived on till 1924 and was immensely proud of her son.  She always maintained that John should have been awarded the Victoria Cross rather than the Distinguished Conduct Medal.

John’s mother was probably correct in her belief since, as we can see here, the rationale for the creation of the DCM was bound up with a preoccupation with class and rank that was a characteristic of the British Army of the time.

This decoration was instituted by Queen Victoria on December 4th, 1854, during the Crimean War, as a means of recognition of acts of gallantry in action performed by Warrant-officers, non-commissioned officers and men. The decoration was recommended by the Commander-in-Chief and the D.C.M. was the second highest award for gallantry in action, after the Victoria Cross, for all ranks below commissioned officers. Recipients may add the letters DCM to their name. 

The D.C.M. was reserved for exceptional acts of bravery. 

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John returned to Rutherglen to claim a wife, Rose Kenna, a telephonist of 91 Cambuslang Road, Rutherglen. They married at 49 Cathcart Street, Rutherglen in 1920. Settled in Carluke, he became the Manager of the local Cooperative store, a popular but quiet, self-effacing man who never spoke of his exploits in the war. John and Rose never had children and when John retired, they moved to Corby, Northants to be near Rose’s sister – and a large number of other Ruglonians no doubt. 


After John and Rose were both dead, nobody knew what had happened to his medals.  However a couple of years ago the set of four appeared on the market and the daughter of a cousin of John bought them so they could once again be within the family and a reminder of John Wishart DCM, a Rutherglen hero.

John Brown Wishart died in 1951. He was a cousin of Jean Wilson's father.




Many thanks to Jean Wilson for providing this article along with the splendid photo of John Brown Wishart, and of his Distinguished Conduct Medal. 

Special thanks are due to Scott Wishart for help with the military records.

Grateful thanks also to Ian Barr

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