Tombstone Tuesday: Lance Corporal Thomas Boswell Bisset, 1st/6th Bn. Black Watch

Aubigny Communal Cemetery Extension, Pas de Calais, France. Final resting place of Thomas Boswell Bisset (9 November 1890- 2 April 1917). Photo credit: Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

For last week’s Tombstone Tuesday I posted a photo of great great grandmother, Margaret Bisset‘s, headstone.

The photo piqued my interest, and in trying to find out more about this branch of the family, I stumbled upon a reference to Lance Corporal Thomas Boswell Bisset.

Thomas Bisset, Scoonie Parish War Memorial. Photo courtesy of The Scottish War Memorials Project (

Thomas was Margaret’s nephew; the eldest son of her brother William Reekie Bisset and his wife Susan Miller Thomson. This makes him my first cousin, three times removed.

From the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website, I discovered that Thomas served with the Black Watch, and died on 2 April 1917. He is buried in Aubigny, Pas de Calais, France.

Assuming that Thomas was buried in Aubigny because he was killed nearby, I Googled the date and location to see what military action was taking place at the time of his death.

What I found was the Battle of Arras; a major offensive involving British, Canadian and ANZAC troops which took place between 9 April and 17 May. Thomas’s death is recorded as occurring a week before the battle began, but it seems that prior to the offensive itself there were significant casualties on both sides as each army prepared for the battle both knew was coming. It is estimated that the six week offensive cost 160,000 allied troops their lives – as well as those of a similar number of German soldiers.

Thomas Bisset is the second member of the family we’ve found who is buried in a War Cemetery in the Pas de Calais region. The Big T has a great uncle who was killed in March 1918 at the 3rd Battle of the Somme. Private Eric Andrew Gray was a member of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force, and served in the Canterbury Regiment. From Archives New Zealand, we were able to get a copy of his war record which told us a little about a man the Big T had grown up hearing about. The records didn’t tell us anything about Eric’s death – except the date –  but we did manage to piece together some understanding of his final days from the Regimental War Dairy which is available online through the New Zealand Electronic Text Collection – an initiative of Victoria University of Wellington Library.

I have been to the Black Watch Museum website to see if they hold something similar, but no joy, so I will have to try and piece together the movements of Thomas Bisset’s Battalion through other sources, and with luck I will be able to find his war record on Ancestry.

A week ago, I knew nothing of the Bisset family. But by becoming interested in a picture of a headstone, I have climbed a branch of my family tree that has so far produced a war casualty, a man with at least two surnames (and three different “fathers”) and a connection to a 1920s tourist attraction. Watch this space!