b. 28/05/1877 Kelso, Scotland. d. 23/12/1956 Liverpool.
Donald Dickson Farmer (1877-1956) was born on 28th May 1877, in Kelso, Roxburghshire in the Scottish Borders. son of Thomas and Iona Farmer. Donald’s father was a pastry cook and confectioner by trade, and it seems that he may have been the roaming sort, for he periodically moved his family around Scotland, to Dundee, Pitlochry, Carnoustie, Perth and Edinburgh.
Donald was only 14 years old when he approached the Army Recruiting Officer only to be advised that because of his age he was too young to enlist, so he should go to do six weeks of training in the Militia at Glencorse Barracks in Edinburgh, the depot of the Royal Scots.
Terrible arguments ensued at home. Remembering his father’s parting shot about having ‘made his bed’ and ‘never darken these doors again’, Donald left home. He tramped all the way to Fort Leith where he was sworn in, got the “Queen’s Shilling” and a railway voucher to the Depot of the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders in Inverness. He was two months short of his 15th birthday but gave his age as 18.
In September 1892, after intensive training, Donald set sail for Malta to join the 1st Battalion and three years later was in Gibraltar. In 1897 Donald was made a Corporal and received a Bounty of £3 per year for 2 years if he re-engaged. He accepted and was given home-leave. Knowing he couldn’t return home to be under his father’s roof again, he accepted the offer of hospitality from fellow solider Robert Bonnar who took him home to meet his family, including his sister Helen (Nell), who later became Donald’s wife.
In 1898, the two soldiers left for Cairo and the Sudanese War where Donald was present at the Battles of Atbara and Khartoum. On Saturday January 20th 1900, with trouble brewing in South Africa the Battalion was ordered to proceed south. Donald, now a sergeant and still only 22, became part of a mounted infantry.
During the attack on General Clements Camp at Nooitgedacht, on the 13th December, 1900, Lieutenant Sandilands, Cameron Highlanders, with fifteen men, went to the assistance of a picquet which was heavily engaged, most of the men having been killed or wounded. The enemy, who were hidden by trees, opened fire on the party at a range of about 20 yards, killing two and wounding five, including Lieutenant Sandilands. Sergeant Farmer at once went to the Officer, who was perfectly helpless, and carried him away under a very heavy and close fire to a place of comparative safety, after which he returned to the firing line and was eventually taken prisoner.
Three days after capture, Donald knocked his guard unconscious and managed to escape eventually finding his way back to his Battalion. Donald was presented with his Victoria Cross by HRH Prince of Wales at Pietermaritzburg, Natal on August 15th 1901. The Battalion returned from South Africa to Maryhill Barracks in Glasgow and in 1903 Donald married Nell Bonnar.
They made their home in the married quarters at Fort George, near Inverness. Four children followed, born in Fort George, Dublin, and Tidworth Barracks, Salisbury. By summer 1914 Donald had completed over 22 years of service in the army, witnessing conflicts in the Sudan War and Boer War and was promoted to the rank of Regimental Sergeant Major. His name was put forward to be a Colour-Sergeant and he joined the Liverpool Scottish Territorial Army in Liverpool, responsible for recruitment and training. He and his comrades set sail for France aboard the SS Maiden.
The Liverpool Scottish first saw action at the Battle of Hooge on the Somme and saw heavy casualties, with 21 officers out of 23 killed and 399 other men losing their lives. In Donald’s own words “Our Medical Officer was the bravest man I knew. He was missing for 2=3 days after the Hooge Battle and it was found that he had attended all the wounded in No Man’s Land and had also dressed the wounds of Huns.” The man Donald was describing was none other than Noel Godfrey Chavasse VC and Bar, MC.
Donald continued to see service at the front. Due to a fault at the War Office, he was thought to have been a casualty and missing presumed dead. much to the distress of his family until this news was retracted. Promotion followed and he was then posted to Aldershot as Captain and Adjutant before returning to the trenches. At the end of the war, Donald and his lads were billeted on the outskirts of Brussels where Donald was then asked to go as 2nd in Command of the 111 Corps Concentration Camps. The accommodation was listed for 150 troops and a group of engineers. In a few days this increased to 800 with more arriving daily. By 1919 Donald was now Company Commandant and he arranged the dispatch of those for demobilization.
On the outbreak of World War Two, Donald served for a time in the Home Guard. until he retired. Farmer also had the distinction of living long enough to attend the 1956 VC Centenary Celebrations attended by Queen Elizabeth II. Farmer died six months later, on 23rd December 1956 in Liverpool and was cremated at Anfield Crematorium, and his ashes were scattered in the Garden of Remembrance. His medals are held by the Queen’s Own Highlanders Museum, Fort George.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: QUEENS OWN HIGHLANDERS MUSEUM, FORT GEORGE.
BURIAL PLACE: ANFIELD CREMATORIUM, LIVERPOOL. PLOT 9 GARDEN OF REMEMBRANCE
Kevin Brazier – Cemetery Plan of Anfield Cemetery, Liverpool.
Thomas Stewart – Image of Farmer VC’s Medal Group and reverse of his VC medal at the Queens Own Highlanders Museum, Fort George, Scotland.