Adel Churchyard Passchendaele Centenary walk

1 August 2017 | Pamela Linden

Ann Lightman and Val Crompton have kindly provided the following report on Adel Churchyard Passchendaele Centenary Walk and a biography of Captain Alec McDougal Gordon.

In Adel Churchyard, in Leeds, West Yorkshire, a walk was held on 30th July, to commemorate Passchendaele victim and Military Cross holder, Alec McDougal Gordon, plus another seven who died in 1917 – two in the Arras offensive (including a V.C.), two in the Battle of Cambrai, one on the Somme plus an air accident and a death on the home-front – in the Army Service Corps.

Prayers were said at Adel Parish Church during the well-attended 10am Service, remembering all those who died at Passchendaele, a hundred years ago. After the service, Adel’s Passchendaele Centenary walk around the churchyard was led by Ann Lightman. It covered the loss of eight lives; one commemorated in the nearby Golf Clubhouse, five in the Churchyard and two more on the War Memorial inside the Church. Just one died at Passchendaele, but two losses each in the Arras Offensive and the Battle of Cambrai, one on the Somme (plus an air accident and one on the home-front) highlight the fact that WW1 was a relentless killing machine. The work of the CWGC commission, the decorations awarded (a Victoria Cross and a Military Cross) and the font cover, inside the Church, were highlighted.

Captain Alec McDougal Gordon MC 23.6.1892 – 7.11.1917 aged 25 at Vlamertinghe New Military Cemetery.

Alec was brought up in Adel – at Church Lane House, which became the University of Leeds’ Sadler Hall and was then demolished and the Sadler estate built in its place. The family had moved to Potternewton Hall, Leeds, by 1911, which is why he is not on Adel War Memorial. Alec’s father was a Conservative Alderman from 1883, Lord Mayor of Leeds 1900/1901 and had his own accounting firm, in Leeds, John Gordon & Co from 1908. Alec attended Charterhouse School, Godalming from 1906-11. He was in the second X1 for both cricket and football. He left for Oxford, but the outbreak of war interrupted his studies.

He was a volunteer in the West Riding Brigade Artillery (Territorial) from 1.2.1911. By April 1915 he was in France as Lieutenant with the Royal Field Artillery (Leeds Territorials). He was awarded the Military Cross. He was mentioned in despatches in Nov of that year. By March 1917 he was an Acting Captain with the 246 Brigade, Royal Field Artillery. His fast promotion is due partly due to the high mortality, partly due to conscription – the new men needed officers and also to his ability. He was mortally wounded on 6th November and died the following day. The Adel grave* inscription reads ‘Capt ALEC McD GORDON M.C. Leeds Artillery who fell near Passchendaele 6th Nov 1917 aged 25, resting at Vlamertinghe’.  

Alec’s father John Gordon, commissioned the font cover, in Adel’s 12th c church, in Alec’s memory. We have no positive proof of where it was carved. It has been credited to Eric Gill (though it is not in Gill’s usual pared-down style). The specification had called for a design, carved in oak, with eight panels depicting the sacraments of the early church, to suit Adel’s octagonal medieval font. When, in 1921, this gift was received by Adel Church PCC, it was seen that instead of the sacrament of penance, a scene of paradise with a bird of paradise and seven angel trumpeters, had been carved. This caused controversy at the time, as did the name of Eric Gill. The controversial War Memorial stone frieze at Leeds University by Eric Gill was carved in 1923. The Adel font cover is a beautiful piece of wood carving. John Gordon had the money and the contacts to obtain the best Britain could offer and the quality of the carving is testament to the fact it is the work of a superb craftsman.

*Alec is remembered on the Gordon family grave in Adel Churchyard (see photo). His mother had died in 1914. Alec, his father and Alec’s older brother, Major Charles Frederick Gordon MC, whose military cross was awarded for bravery rescuing the wounded under fire, 1st July 1916 (opening the Battle of the Somme), are all remembered on the family grave.