Peter John Stewart MacPhail

In memory of Peter John Stewart MacPhail, B.A. (Oxon), Writer to the Signet, Lieutenant R.G.A., died at Winchester 26th November 1918 aged 30, son of Peter and Catherine MacPhail; the above Peter MacPhail, J.P., died 11th September 1921 aged 72; his wife Catherine McEwan died 4th November 1946 aged 88

CWGC: Lt. Peter John Stewart McPhail, Royal Garrison Artillery, d. Winchester, 26 Nov. 1918, a. 30; son of Peter & Catherine McEwan McPhail, 7 Craigmillar Park, Edinburgh; Mural memorial of Peterhead granite 12’ high 9’wide; bronze lettering, bronze frame, RGA badge in bronze, granite curb. W 212

Peter John Stewart MacPhail or McPhail was born at 7 Craigmillar Park, Edinburgh, on 10 August 1888, the son of Peter MacPhail (1848-1921) and his wife Catherine McEwan (1857-1924).  Peter MacPhail was born in Weem, Perthshire, the son of Peter McPhail (c.1800-1872) and Elizabeth McEwan (1803-1889).  By 1871 he had moved to Edinburgh and was living in Hill Square with his future wife (then only 13) and parents-in-law and working as a shopman for his future father-in-law, John Stewart McEwan (1833-1908).  It is not clear if Peter MacPhail’s mother, Elizabeth McEwan, and wife, Catherine McEwan, were related, but both the MacPhail and McEwan families came from the Kenmore area in Perthshire.  There was also a strong connection with Stewart families in Kenmore:  John Stewart McEwan was born in Kenmore in June 1837, the son of Alexander McEwan (1778-1869), a farmer, and Catherine Stewart (1787-1866), and he married Margaret Stewart (1837-1887).  Again, it is not clear if Catherine and Margaret Stewart were related but they too both came from Kenmore families.  

John Stewart McEwan moved to Edinburgh in the early 1860s and in the 1871 census he was living in Hill Square and was listed as spirit merchant.  The household included not only his wife and three daughters and a female domestic servant but also three shopmen, one of whom was Peter MacPhail, and John Stewart, who was described as a relative and was also listed as a spirit merchant.  John was almost certainly his brother-in-law as Margaret Stewart’s brothers, John (1836-1902) and Duncan (1851-1919) Stewart, had also moved to Edinburgh and, like John Stewart McEwan, prospered in the wine and spirit trade.  In addition, Margaret’s sister Christian (1842-1910) had married Alexander Crerar (1825-1879) in Crieff in 1867 and he too was from Kenmore and had established himself as a wine and spirit merchant in Edinburgh.  All these family members appear to have come from relatively modest farming or crofting families in the parish of Kenmore but by the 1891 census the McEwan/McPhail family was living at 7 Craigmillar Park, John Stewart and his family at number 34 and Christian Crerar at number52 with her children and her brother Duncan Stewart, while wills and inventories show they all left substantial estates.  The drinks trade could clearly by a profitable one!

Having moved to Edinburgh by 1871 to work, Peter MacPhail and his brother Donald (1845-1926) went into business on their own account in the late 1870s–the Edinburgh Post Office Directories first list Peter as a wine and spirit merchant in the West Port in the 1876-77 edition and Donald as a spirit dealer in Bristo Street in 1877-78.  In the 1881 census they were lodgers in Keir Street and both were described as wine and spirit merchants.  Peter MacPhail married Catherine McEwan later that year.  Catherine’s mother died in December 1887 and Peter and Catherine appear to have moved to 7 Craigmillar Park to live with her widowed father about then.  Donald MacPhail was also living there in the 1891 census but he married later that year and moved out to a house of his own.

Peter John Stewart MacPhail appears to have been Peter and Catherine’s only child – certainly the only one to survive childhood.  He was educated at Merchiston Castle School and Oriel College Oxford, graduating with a B.A. degree in 1911. He returned to Edinburgh and studied Law at Edinburgh University and was apprenticed to A.R.C. and R.0. Pitman.  He was admitted as a Writer to the Signet in March 1915.  The war then intervened.  He was a member of the OTC Artillery August – November 1915 before being commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Royal Garrison Artillery in November 1915.  He was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant in 1917.  He served in the 128th Heavy Battalion of the RGA.  He went to France in January 1917 and was wounded in March 1918.  He returned to England and died of influenza and pneumonia in Easton Military Hospital near Winchester, on 26 November 1918 aged 30.  

Peter J. S. MacPhail’s name is listed on the war memorials at Merchiston Castle School, Oriel College, Oxford, and St Columba’s (Presbyterian) Church, Alfred Street, Oxford.  Another of our Grange Cemetery war graves men, Patrick Grant Thomson, is also listed on the St Columba’s memorial.  St Columba’s had been established as a chaplaincy by the Church of Scotland, the United Free Church of Scotland and the Presbyterian Church of England, to cater for Presbyterian students in Oxford.  It has another Grange Cemetery connection in that the chaplain from 1914 to 1933 was the Reverend David Colville Lusk, whose family memorial is on the west wall of the Grange Cemetery extension area, and includes two of his sons who were killed in action abroad in WW2.