Don, Archibald William Robertson

Fourth son of Robert Bogle Don and Lucy Flora Don of Broughty Ferry, Forfarshire, and one of three Wykehamist brothers, another of whom, Lieutenant R.M. Don (Coll. 1907-1912), Black Watch, was killed on May 8th 1917 (see individual entry). He entered Winchester from Horris Hill and became Head of his House, a Commoner Prefect and a leading member of Natural History Society. He devoted much of his leisure to the study of Art although as the Headmaster, Dr Burge, noted he was “apparently quite bewildered by the sight of any language other than his own”.   He was given permission to abandon Latin and to concentrate on Zoology and Botany and to spend any time when not otherwise engaged on the study of these subjects.   He hoped this would save him a year’s work once at Cambridge.   “I mean to make the best use I can of it”.    Arthur Innes Adam (Coll.1907-1912), a friend of both Archibald and his brother Robert, said he was one of the greatest authorities on geology in the school, and had a very good collection of fossils he had found.

On holiday in Switzerland in 1903 he “strained his heart” and as a result was forbidden to play games or take part in any violent exercise. In 1909 he went to Trinity College, Cambridge, and played an important part in the life of the College. In 1911 he was elected to an Exhibition and later to a Senior Scholarship and was placed in the First Class in the Natural Science Tripos, specialising in geology. The following year he became a Fellow of the Geological Society.

He decided on a career in medicine and was about to start work at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital when the war broke out. The Red Cross were urgently recruiting surgical dressers to serve in France and Don volunteered immediately, going to France with a Red Cross Motor Ambulance. He found the work unsatisfying, so in December 1914 he applied for a commission and was gazetted into the 10th Battalion Black Watch, in which his brother also served. His diary records the deaths in action of some of his friends from his school days. “April 12th 1915 Mike Hunter [C1905-1910] has died of his wounds. So my first friend has gone, and all who knew him and loved him are left with a gap in their lives. I’ve lost something that nothing can replace.” He then heard of the death of his best friend in Chawker’s ‘Bay’ (Isaac Bayley) Balfour (F1903-1908), who was killed in Gallipoli in 1915. “July 8th 1915 Bay has been killed in action. These last few days I have been thinking of him constantly: first at Oxford, whence I wrote to him, for Oxford means Bay to me very largely. Then at Gray’s Inn I was looking at old letters, and re-read all his. It is hard to be losing one by one all these irreparable friends. It has been a day such as Bay delighted in, and that at first made it harder. Great clouds and blue tracts moving and changing, and the hills alive with sun and shadow. From Craig Owl the hills were quite amzingly soft and clear. And a big wind helped to make it perfect. Thank goodness he had hills and sky and flowers and things in Gallipoli. He wrote about it all quite happily when last they heard, and he had had one of my letters, which is a sort of comfort.”

In 1914 he had joined the Union of Democratic Control (a pacifist society) which had 300,000 members by 1915. As a serving officer he was criticised for this and eventually resigned his membership.

Don’s Battalion was posted to Salonika at the end of 1915 where he took the opportunity in quiet moments to further his study of geology and archaeology.   On 16th July 1916 he fell ill with malaria and was sent to hospital at Salonika but was largely better after a few days and by September felt fully recovered. However on 11th September he died of a sudden re-occurance of the illness and was buried in grave O.12 of the Lembet Road Military Cemetery, Salonika.

Source: “Archibald Don – A Memoir” edited by Charles Sayle published by John Murray 1918.

War: World War 1

  • Surname: Don
  • Forenames or initials: Archibald William Robertson
  • House: F
  • Years in School: 1904-1909
  • Rank: Lieutenant
  • Regiment: Black Watch
  • Date of Birth: 11th December 1890
  • Date of Death: 11th September 1916
  • How Died: Died of malaria
  • Location in War Cloister: Outer C6
  • Decoration: NA