Date of birth: 13 August 1884
Date of death: 6 January 1917
Killed in action aged 32
Buried in Amara War Cemetery. Plot X E 2
William Joseph Cornwall was born in Monmouth to Donald Laurie, a tax surveyor, and Leonora (born Cornwall). His grandfather, William Laurie, was a sugar merchant, and Donald was born in Barbados.
William was educated at Dundee Grammar School, and later at Carlisle Grammar School. He achieved a second class Arts degree (including Latin, Greek, Roman History, Mathematics, Logic and Political Economy) at the University of Edinburgh. In 1905-6 he enrolled at the University of Glasgow to study Political Economy, Moral Philosophy and Geology, but did not graduate. At the time he was living at Greenock where his brother, George Archibald, died in 1906, which may have affected his studies. In 1907 William registered at Christ Church for one year as an Indian Civil Service Scholar, and enrolled in the class of Sir Henry Jones, Professor of Moral Philosophy - there is no record of him having taken any examinations.
From the Thirtieth Annual Report of the Greenock Philosophical Society at the M'Lean Museum and Lecture Hall, Greenock:
“In connection with the Geological Section it is interesting to report that a representative collection illustrating the geology of the district is being made for the Museum by Mr. William J. C. Laurie, a young Greenock student presently at Oxford University. This should add considerably to the interest and usefulness of the geological collection.
“The Geological collection by Mr. William J. C. Laurie, referred to in the last Annual Report, has also been completed. It contains 245 specimens and is intended to show the chief types of rocks found in the area of the Clyde basin below Glasgow. A few specimens, however, have been taken from just outside that area. The rocks are classified according to origin and composition rather than according to locality, as being more useful to students, and, Mr. Laurie remarks, perhaps more satisfactory in general. The specimens have been placed in two new cases occupying the centre of the Museum and these, together with the Geological Survey Maps of the District which have been procured for reference, form an important addition to the Geological Section.
“The Committee desire to express the great pleasure they have in receiving these two collections, representing, as they do, a great amount of skill and labour given freely by two young Greenock students in the time they could spare from their own work and studies ; and the Committee now record their thanks to Mr. Russell and Mr. Laurie for having made these valuable additions to the collections in the Museum. It should be mentioned that both gentlemen in their reports to the Committee acknowledge their indebtedness to Mr. Brunton, the Curator, for his willing and careful assistance in the arrangement of the specimens and the preparation of labels, often given long after the usual closing hour of the Museum.”
William’s name is on a list in The Edinburgh Gazette 6 November 1908 of those appointed to the Civil Service of India after an Open Competition. The Foreign Office catalogue 1912-14 notes that W.J.C. Laurie requested permission to travel from India to Europe via Chinese & Russian Turkestan.
As a result of his overland trip back to Britain, which began in May 1914, William wrote an article which appeared in the Journal of the Central Asian Society. He and a companion travelled with 100 baggage “coolies” so it was hardly travelling light. Ponies, yaks and camels were also used. The adventure was punctuated by various hunting expeditions, and negotiations with Chinese and Russian dignitaries. He reached London on 30 July. It was poignant to read him reporting a narrow escape from Austria following the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and the Austrian declaration of war against Serbia.
He returned to Bombay, sailing from London on 10 October 1914 aboard the Arabia. In India he joined the 124th Duchess of Connaught’s Own Baluchistan Infantry, an Indian Regiment with British officers, which was sent to Persia in 1916. The attack on Kut under the leadership of Sir Frederick Maude started on 13-14 December 1916. The attack on both sides of the River Tigris took two months just to clear resistance on the west bank below Kut, and it was probably during this campaign that William was killed in action in Mesopotamia on 6 January 1917.
William, and his remaining brother, Donald Saunders OBE, who died of pneumonia in Belgium in 1919, is commemorated in the Memorial Chapel at the University of Glasgow.
a) Carlisle School Memorial Register 1264-1924
b) Centre for Research Collection, University of Edinburgh library, (first matriculation 1901-2 vol 33; Graduates in Arts)
c) Supplement to the London Gazette 1 January 1919
d) University of Glasgow Archives Service (Roll of the Fallen; Matriculation Register)
e) Archives at Christ Church Oxford
f) W. J. C. Laurie, 'An Overland Journey from India to England, 8 November 1914', Journal of the Central Asian Society, ii (1915)
g) Friends of Christ Church Cathedral
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