Monthly Archives: August 2009

The bizarre mystery of the relationship of my stepfather and the Butcher of Gallipoli

This is one of those stories that will probably remain a mystery, simply because there is nobody left alive who would know the answer.

My stepfather, James Couper Henderson Brash (known as Couper) was the only son of the world renowed pathologist and decorated World War 1 hero James Couper Brash, who as Professor of anatomy at Edinburgh University was on the team that delivered the first murder conviction in the UK using forensic evidence in 1936.

Couper’s father was fascinating and accomplished, and his Military Cross hangs on my wall today. Couper himself was a decent and kind man who met and married my mother fairly late in life, and died childless in 1990. His only sister, Nancy, also died childless and there ended that particular branch of the Brash family.

As I was in the UK in the period that Saddam Hussein was helping himself to my posessions in Kuwait (1990/1), it fell to me to travel to Edinburgh and deal with the formalities after his sudden death. Part of that was clearing out his desk (which also is in my house as I write this),  the things that weren’t thrown out or went with my mother ended up in a box in my house.

It was several years later that I actually examined them, and found four cards, approximately 6×10″ dated from the mid to late 1930’s which were Christmas cards from a General Sir Ian Hamilton, to Couper, with handwritten personal messages. Even later during a lunchtime session in the Manchester Central library, I looked Ian Hamilton up and learned that he was none other than the Commander in Chief of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force in the unsuccessful campaign against Turkey at Gallipoli, earning him the nickname the Butcher of Gallipoli, and effectively ending his military career.

This leaves several unanswered questions. The fact that Couper obviously valued and kept them for fifty years means they held a special meaning for him, but what? How had they met? The inscriptions on the cards to me, at least, suggest a highly personal relationship. To my knowledge Coupers father, James, did not serve under Hamilton and even if he had, as a mere Captain would have not exactly been in his social circle.

I will probably never know. I’m posting the images of the cards here in the hope that someone might find them one day and be able to add something.