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‘Young John’: The Life of Captain John Lauder

The name Sir Harry Lauder remains familiar due to the lasting legacy of his twentieth

century international fame, at a time where such a feat was hard to accomplish. One of the

most prominent singers and comedians of this period, he was the first man to sell a million

records and was recognised as the highest paid music hall artist in the world by 1914, having

performed around the globe. Lauder had a personal connection with Dunoon, cementing

his affection for the town with the purchase of Gerhallow House in 1908 (or Laudervale as it

was renamed in 1912.) Several of his songs were inspired by Dunoon and the surrounding

area, such as ‘Bella the Belle o’ Dunoon’ and ‘Roamin’ in the Gloamin.’ Although the life of

Harry himself is renowned, the story of his only child Captain John Lauder and his untimely

death in the First World War on the 28th of December 1916 is less so. Having recently

rediscovered documents and photos concerning the Lauder family within our archives, here

at Castle House Museum we are reflecting on the life of John, or ‘Young John’ as Harry

affectionately called him, on this poignant anniversary.


John Lauder was born in 1891 to Harry and his wife Dame Anne Vallance Lauder and lived

the first few years of his life in Hamilton, South Lanarkshire. After moving to Glasgow a few

short years later, Harry’s growing success in England meant the family eventually settled in

Tooting in 1903. John was educated at the private City of London School, which was part of

a great musical tradition. Harry noted that John took after him musically, being able to beat

along to music from one year old. John then went on to study at the University of

Cambridge. His progress there was regularly reported on, such as by the Lancashire Evening

Post who congratulated him on ‘passing the first part of the Law special,’ and noted he

often steered boats in competitions, and acted as ‘coxswain’ for his college. John graduated

in 1911 with a B.A in Political Economy, and had his sights set on a career as a barrister.

Although the press often commented that his intended future in law was very different from

his father’s career on the stage, the Civil and Military Gazette noted that John was part of

dramatic arts society 'The Cambridge Footlights,' where he was known as ‘Jock Lauder’ and

described as a ‘prominent member.’ Reflecting on John’s life two years after his death,

Harry wrote of his pride in his son’s work, that although he himself had ‘worked in the mines

before he was John’s age’ he ‘thanked God he was letting [him] do so much for his boy’ and

offer him these opportunities.


When John turned twenty-one in 1912, part of the celebration of this ‘coming of age’ was a

large gathering held at Laudervale to which he and his father invited children from the

Glasgow Parish Council’s Seaside Homes along. The children were entertained by songs

from Harry, and the Aberdeen Press and Journal noted they were ‘treated to tea, and all

received many presents.’ To further commemorate the occasion a large party was held at

Laudervale and described in the Western Daily Mercury as ‘an occasion for most hearty

rejoicing in Dunoon.’ There was a large dinner for local public men held in the evening, with

the guest list including clergymen and the town Provost. John was presented with a silver

rose-bowl and his good health was toasted. The menu for this dinner was reported on as a

matter of interest, with guests being treated to ‘Wee Herrin’ frae Loch Fyne, Hare Soup frae

the Hill at the Back o’ the Hoose, Fricassée of Chicken frae the Coop, and ‘A Big Dumpling Frae the Bullwood, Dunoon.’




Menu from John's Coming of Age Dinner, 1912.

After graduation John travelled to visit his parents during Harry’s Australian tour, but

received a cable message from the British War Office in August 1914 to return home and

fight for his country. John was also strongly urged by his father to do his duty for his

country, and reportedly stated ‘you must go home, your country needs you.’ Subsequently,

John became a second-lieutenant in the eighth Battalion Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders,

and began active service following training. In his book ‘Roamin’ in the Gloamin,’ Harry

wrote that ‘so many thousands of our best and bravest young men’ were being killed, ‘it was

too much to hope my boy would escape.’ Harry supported his son and fellow troops by

entertaining them with songs, and also was touched during one visit to find that a fellow

soldier had declared John’s billet to be the Front’s very own ‘Laudervale.’ John and Harry

had big plans for John after the war, that he would return to Glenbranter near Dunoon and

take charge of the estate there Harry had bought for him, Invernoaden House. Harry wrote

that ‘when my son comes home from the wars, I’m in hopes he’ll take kindly tae the thochts

o’ sheep farming and gie the thochts o’ sheepskins and legal processes the go-by,’ and had

hopes for him to be ‘a decent Scots laird growing the nation’s meat, and as the years go by

growing the nation’s men.’


From Left to Right: John's fiancee Mildred Thomson, John Lauder, John's mother Ann Vallance Lauder.

Turning back to the realities of the Front, John was promoted to the rank of Captain in 1915.

During his service he was wounded twice, subjected to gassing, and struggled with

pleurisy. It was upon returning home to recuperate after his third injury that John became

engaged to his childhood sweetheart Mildred Thomson. Upon their engagement large

celebrations were thrown for them in the summer of 1916 at Invernoaden House, their

intended future home. Mildred was present at one of John’s last meetings with his father in

August 1916 at the Alhambra Theatre in Dunfermline, where the three attended a

production of ‘The Bing Boys.’ John proclaimed at the theatre that he was fully recuperated

and intended to return to the Front. Captain John Lauder died on the 28th of

December 1916 aged twenty five after the reported explosion of a shell. His name can be

found on the Innellan War Memorial. Harry found out about his son’s death on New Years Day 1917, after a telegram was received by his wife in Dunoon and redirected to Harry at the Shaftesbury Theatre where he was meant to perform that evening. Reflecting on this experience, Harry wrote that he realised John ‘had been dead four days before I knew it! And yet, I had known,’ describing himself as ‘sad and uneasy’ in the days before. Just before Christmas, Harry had written in a London newspaper of his desperation to hear from his son, reported by the Dundee Evening Telegraph as a ‘direct and touching’ message, a wish for his safe return.


New Year's Message from Harry Lauder, 1922-23.

Overall, Harry’s devotion to his son is clear and was well-known at the time. Tales were

reported of his adoration: his crossing of a treacherous River Clyde by fishing boat when all

other methods of transport had been abandoned to see John when he was lying ill at

Laudervale, and his purchase of a thousand pound motor car for John using earnings from

his 1907 American tour. Although grateful for his career and good fortune which allowed

him to provide for his son, Harry also lamented the amount of time he spent away from his

family. He wrote in 1928 that John ‘had everything that a boy could desire,’ but Harry was

‘always so full up with business that [they] never had the good times together that a father

and son ought to have had. After the death of his son, Harry dedicated his life to his

memory. He set up the ‘Harry Lauder Fund’ to help wounded ex-servicemen and raised one

million pounds by 1919. He also ensured the creation of ‘Lauder Monument’ in Invernoaden

to ensure the lasting memory of his son. This has stood since 1921 and was composed from

marble and bronze.



Lauder Monument as pictured in 2018 after restoration work. Photo taken by Paul Sanders for See Loch Lomond, used with permission.


References:

‘A Lauder Festival,’ Western Daily Mercury. 21 st December 1912

‘Harry Lauder and His Son,’ Dundee Evening Telegraph. 3 rd January 1917

‘Harry Lauder’s Only Son Killed,’ Todmorden Advertiser and Hebden Bridge Newsletter. 5th

January 1917

‘Harry Lauder’s Son At Cambridge,’ Lancashire Evening Post. 19th December 1912

‘Harry Lauder’s Son Graduates,’ Dundee Courier. 19th December 1911

‘Harry Lauder’s Son Killed,’ Coatbridge Leader. 6th January 1917

‘Harry Lauder’s Son, Captain in A.& S.H. Is Killed, ’ Dundee Evening Telegraph. 2nd January

1917

‘Harry Lauder’s Son,’ Aberdeen Press and Journal. 26th November 1912

‘Lauder’s Heir,’ Wigtown Advertiser. 14th December 1912

‘Sir Harry Lauder,’ Civil and Military Gazette. 7th September 1928

‘The Harry Lauder Pipe Band At Bathgate,’ Linlithgowshire Gazette. 2 nd April 1915

‘The Scottish Stars of Yesteryear,’ Aberdeen Press and Journal. 1 st September 1999

‘Young John, Harry Lauder’s Only Son Killed,’ Evening Herald. 2nd January 1917

Harry Lauder. A Minstrel in France. (Hearst’s International Library Co: New York, 1918)

Harry Lauder. Roamin in the Gloamin. (J.B Lippincott Company: London, 1928)

William Wallace. Harry Lauder in the Limelight. (The Book Guild: Sussex, 1988)


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