Serjeant Malcolm MacFarlane

This is part of a series of essays about the First World War casualties commemorated by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in Pennsylvania.

Serjeant Malcolm MacFarlane

Serjeant Malcolm MacFarlane died during the influenza pandemic while serving in Philadelphia with the British and Canadian Recruiting Mission.

He was born on 20 June 1889 at Newington in Edinburgh, the youngest of the six children of James and Janet MacFarlane.[1] The family had lived in Linlithgow, where James MacFarlane worked as a grocer and where the first five children were born, before moving to Newington sometime in the 1880s. His father found work there as a stationary steam engine driver and when Malcolm left school, he went to work as a graphical draughtsman for the well-known cartographers John Bartholomew & Son Ltd.

His wartime military career is not clear because of the destruction of his service records. It appears, however, that he served from 1916 firstly with the Corps of Royal Engineers (167314, Sapper), which is not surprising given his pre-war employment. He later transferred for service with the infantry and joined The Royal Scots (The Royal Regiment) (renumbered 352008). Newspaper accounts after his death indicate that served with 9th (Highlanders) Battalion, Territorial Force, and was wounded but there is no other information to support this.[2] [3]

Recruiting in Delaware County, Pennsylvania

At some time after joining The Royal Scots, while held on the strength of the Regimental Depot, he was posted to the recruiting staff based at Cockburn Street in Edinburgh. Then, in mid-1917, he was posted as an Acting Serjeant to the British and Canadian Recruiting Mission in the United States, and sailed onboard the SS New York from Liverpool on 24 July 1917 with others destined for the recruiting staff. Upon his arrival, he joined the section in Philadelphia, which had opened in the city in June. The section was commanded by Colonel St. George Loftus Steele CB, formerly of the Indian Army and a veteran of the North-West Frontier and the Boxer Rebellion. His staff comprised 10 officers (British and Canadian), a Regimental Sergeant Major (Canadian), nine sergeants (five Canadian and four British, although one of the Canadians was actually from Boston), and a single private soldier. It was responsible for Eastern Pennsylvania, Southern New Jersey, Delaware. Maryland, and the District of Columbia. Serjeant MacFarlane was soon busy and had regular speaking engagements across the region to encourage men to enlist.[4]

He remained in the United States in this role until he fell ill with influenza in September 1918—he died of pneumonia on 1 October in St Agnes Hospital.

The grave of Malcolm MacFarlane

On 3 October, he was buried in Mount Moriah Cemetery, Philadelphia in a ceremony with military honours provided by a detachment of the United States Marine Corps, which escorted his coffin for over four miles to the cemetery from the undertaker’s premises.[5] The grave lies in the northern part of the cemetery in the eastern part of the Naval Asylum Plot in Section 1, Row 7, Site 39. It is marked by a private gravestone, which was bought by subscriptions raised in the United States and in the United Kingdom and dedicated in a ceremony a year after his death on the evening of 1 October 1919.[6]

He is commemorated by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission here.


1. (Back) James MacFarlane (12 July 1847-15 March 1931) married Janet Grant (1850-5 September 1934) on 30 April 1872 at Linlithgow: William (28 January 1873-NK); Ann (later Shanks) (24 August 1874-NK); Margaret Russell (later Brownlee) (19 April 1877-3 January 1917); James Russell (17 April 1879-7 February 1934); Jessie Russell (later Nicholson) (3 January 1881-1967).
2. (Back) ‘British Soldier to Rest Here’. (3 October 1918). Evening Public Ledger. p 1.
3. (Back) There are no British War Medal and Victory Medal Roll entries for MacFarlane in the rolls of the Royal Engineers or the Royal Scots. His number, 352008, is amongst those allocated to men of the 9th (Highlanders) Battalion, Territorial Force when the Territorial Force was renumbered in early 1917.
4. (Back) An account of the Philadeplphia section of the British and Canadian Recruiting Mission may be found in the history of the city during the war. See: Philadelphia War History Committee. (1922). Philadelphia in the world war, 1914-1919. New York: Wynkoop Hallenbeck Crawford Co. pp 719-723.
5. (Back) Ibid.
6. (Back) ‘Dead Soldier Honored’. (2 October 1919). The Philadelphia Inquirer. p 10.

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