On 11th November 2014, Megan McHugh contacted me on Facebook to say, “This is Robert Hastie, my Great-Grandfather. He was in WWI.” Attached was an old photo of Robert in uniform.
Wanting to help Megan more with filling in some details about Roberts life, and with her help by providing me with a few comments, I was able to write this short article, about how this brave man came from Blantyre and died shortly after the war.
Megan told me the family story is that Robert was gassed 3 days after the war ended (as the news had not hit all of the front lines yet!). This is exceptionally unfortunate but i was able to find out it was not that which killed him.
Robert J Hastie was born in Rutherglen in 1885. I don’t believe he was any relation to the Hasties of Stonefield Farm. Like many local families in the 1880’s his parents James Alexander Hastie and mother Janet Morrison decided to move to
Blantyre. Between 1885 and 1891, they moved whilst Robert was a young boy to 89 Merry’s Rows, coal miners cottages. Robert’s father was a coal miner and the house was provided to them for a small rental, as a perk for him working at the nearby colliery. Merrys Rows were small homes of 46 single houses and 50 double houses, brick built with a washhouse to every six tennants.
Conditions must have been very cramped, as by 1891 when Robert was only six, he was the middle of 7 children in that small house! By 1901 as the children grew up, Robert at 16 found himself the second eldest of his siblings still living at home. He decided (or was told to) become a coal miner, taking up the profession at the same colliery as his father. His siblings still at home were Margaret, William, James and Alexander.
On 20th January 1906, when Robert was 18, he married his Ayrshire sweetheart Minnie Hammil. Minnie moved to Blantyre following their wedding.
Like most men in 1914, Robert at 29 felt the call of the army upon him at the outbreak of the first World War. This document with Robert’s own signature on it, enlists him into the army after a series of questions. His regimental number was 2374 part of the Battalion of Royal Scots. He enlisted as a rifleman and leaving behind his family, including baby James at only 3 months old, he set off to fight in France and Belgium.
I can only imagine the terror he must have witnessed in that terrifying war in the trenches. To be gassed AFTER the war, must have been absolutely frightening and tragic for anybody close to him in that war. He did survive though and returned home at the end of the war to Scotland.
Its here, though, that i pick up the trail, not in Blantyre, but whatever reason, he ended up at Dundee, where sadly on 24th January 1919, at the young age of 34, he died. Many soldiers came back from WW1 with post traumatic stress, although it was not properly recognised at the time, commonly known as “shell shock”. Robert may have suffered from this, and his health may have been seriously affected by exposure to war.
Minnie would have been devastated. Losing a husband as a young woman would have been a particularly unpleasant thought of spending your life alone. Minnie was mother to three
daughters and a son. Little Margaret, Janet, Minnie and baby James needed a father too. The eldest of these children was only 10 at the time of Robert’s death.
Minnie married again, this time to Patrick Bryce later in 1919, most likely needing support. She kept her name Minnie Hastie Bryce. The colliery owners were notorious for throwing out the families of miners who had met with death, from their business owned cottages. I think this may have been a driving force at the back of her mind, as well as father for her children, as well as her new found own love.
I picked up the trail again when Minnie was 43 years old when in 1929 she emigrated to the USA on board the Athenia, passenger ship with her family. By 1935 she was living at Flint, Genesee, Michigan, USA. She lost Patrick in 1959 but lived on at Flint until her death on 20th January 1970 at the ripe old age of 82.
I leave you with this wonderful photo. Here is the Hastie family in 1919. No Robert, meaning he was likely deceased at the time. The family wear black in mourning. Minnie sits with her 3 girls and young son, and I can only imagine the grief they were all enduring when this was taken.
Thank you to Megan for the leads on this story. I hope i have told your great grandfathers story well.
Sources: Megan McHugh Ancestry.co.uk, PV records.