Graham Leslie McCallum

The tree of happiness flowers and fruits most abundantly for the creative man


Several years ago, while researching the McCallum Family in South Africa, I happened upon a reference to a certain Dispatch Rider D. McCallum. The school where he had been educated (Pretoria Boys’ High School) had noted his name and death in a school magazine from the Great War years . The in memoriam recorded that D. McCallum had been killed in action as a Dispatch Rider for the Corps of Royal Engineers.

My Father George Edward McCallum had been a Dispatch Rider in the South African Army, and this quickened my interest.

(below) George Edward McCallum in Dispatch Rider attire, Tempe, Bloemfontein.

George Edward McCallum, Motorcycle Squad

I traced an article in a 1917 Pretoria Newspaper that Sapper D. McCallum was serving as a Dispatch Rider with the Royal Engineers in France. This indicated to me that D. McCallum had died either in 1917 or after.

I contacted the archivist at Pretoria Boys’ High School, and requested further information. Unfortunately, the school records for the time were not comprehensive, and his enrolment papers and the names of his parents were not known. However – the helpful school’s Historian informed me that it was thought McCallum had matriculated in 1910, and that his name could possibly have been ‘Donald’. Although this was speculation, one must always assume there is some truth in oral evidence. I was going to keep an open mind regarding this and look for names such as Duncan, Daniel, David, Douglas and such like. Frustratingly, nothing more was known of him, nor was there any South African archives that had any record of a soldier named D. McCallum. Sadly, it was as if this soldier of the Great War had never existed.

At the commencement and duration of World War 1, the vast majority of South Africans who volunteered for active service were enlisted in one of 4 infantry regiments, together known as the South African Overseas Brigade. This Brigade was attached to the 9th Scottish Division for most of the war, until casualties mounted to such staggering numbers that the regiment was disbanded and reformed as the South African Composite Regiment until the end of the war. However, many South Africans who wanted to enlist, simply took themselves off to England and joined with existing British units and regiments. Many South Africans joined-up with the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Air Force that was formed in 1918. It is worth noting that many ‘South Africans’ from the time might not necessarily have been born in the Union, having emigrated to South Africa with their parents.

Our information was that D. McCallum had joined the Corps of Royal Engineers as a Sapper and was deployed as a Dispatch Rider; but was there any record of a D. McCallum serving in the Royal Engineers during World War 1, and who had perished? I found 2 entries in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission records. Further research determined that the name of one was Daniel McCallum. He was a Driver and ranked as a Sergeant and so I had to eliminate him from my search

The only other record of a D. McCallum is the following…

D. McCallum. Sapper. 164598. Royal engineers, Unit – 205th Field Company. Scottish National.

Was it possible that our Sapper D. McCallum had been born in Scotland, but had spent his youth in Pretoria, South Africa.

And what of  Dispatch Riders? – we know that the Royal Engineers (Signal Service)  were the first unit in the  British Army to make use of motorcycle Dispatch RidersThe Dispatch riders of the Royal Engineers and Royal Corps of Signals fulfilled an important and vital role in maintaining lines of communications; often under dangerous and difficult conditions. On the Western Front this entailed traversing muddy roads and trails, or negotiating heavy traffic, frequently under heavy fire and shelling.

Unfortunately, when I contacted the Corps of Royal Engineers for information – like many British institutions, one has first to cross their palms with silver before they will assist.

To date (2015) – I have not been able to determine what the ‘D’ in Sapper D. McCallum’s name stood for, or any other information on his parents. Sadly – for the time being, his origins remain a mystery. I remain ever hopeful that we will be able to restore D. McCallum to contemporary memory.

Graham Leslie McCallum

As of 2017, new information emerged from newly released records and I was able to determine that D. McCallum is indeed Donald McCallum. He was resident in Pretoria, South Africa and attending Pretoria Boys’ High School as his father was serving in the Overseas Military. Donald’s father was Lieutenant-Colonel Donald McCallum (senior) and his mother was Charlotte Kathleen Lily McCallum (born c1867 in Dublin, Ireland). Stationed in 1911 at the Army Headquarters, Artillery Barracks in Pretoria, Donald McCallum was a Lieutenant and Quartermaster in the Army Services Corps and was born in 1867 at Glencoe, Argyllshire, in Scotland.

Residing with him were his wife and two sons, Frank McCallum who was born 1900 in Cairo, Egypt; and our Donald McCallum (junior) who was born 1896 at Chester, Cheshire, England. Their mother Charlotte was born in c1867.

Donald’s brother Frank was to go on and have a distinguished military and political career. In 1978, when interviewed he related how his brother was killed in World War 1, and how he wanted to join-up to avenge his brother. However his father, although a soldier himself, did not approve of a life devoted to the killing of people. No doubt the recent tragic death of his older son was a factor. Regardless, Frank joined up with Indian Army at the age of 18, and retired in 1948 with the rank of Brigadier.

Sapper Donald McCallum died on the 2nd of April 1918. His remains lie buried at Warloy-Baillon Communal Cemetery Extension. Grave – VIII.E.22.

(below) The commemorative cross at Warloy-Baillon, Somme, France.

Warloy-Baillon, Sapper Donald McCallum

A Royal Engineers Despatch Rider, WW1

(above) An unknown Dispatch Rider from the Royal Engineers.

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