Gilbert Gunn was born at Inchcape in 1866. He was intended for a commercial career and at the age of 14½ he started his training in an office in Edinburgh. At the age of 16 he joined the volunteer force and when he was 17 he quit the office and enlisted in the 93rd Sutherland Highlanders, then stationed at Glasgow. Promotion was rapid – within three months he was a full corporal.
After a tour of service in England & Ireland he volunteered for foreign service and was transferred to the 91st Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders, then stationed in Hong Kong, where he served for three years. At the age of 22 he had reached the highest non-commissioned rank attainable. On the 91st Argylls’ return to Scotland he was commissioned into The Royal Scots and he left for India in 1893 at the age of 27. From 1899 to 1901, now a captain, he was stationed at Poona.
By this time he was a qualified interpreter in Urdu and he was put in charge of the Plague Department as a severe epidemic of plague was sweeping the area. In 1901 he left India for South Africa and took part in the guerrilla warfare in the Eastern Transvaal till the conclusion of peace the following year.
From 1902 to 1906 Gilbert was Adjutant of the 1st Dunbartonshire Rifle Volunteers. In 1906 he was, by selection, promoted to major in the Cameron Highlanders. After a tour of service in Ireland (including the Belfast riots of 1907) and in England, he commanded the Depot of the Cameron Highlanders at Inverness from 1910 to 1913. From August 1913 to March 1014 he held the appointment of Inspector of Recruiting for Scotland, a new appointment of which he was the first incumbent. In March 1914 he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, with the appointment of Commandant of the Queen Victoria School, Dunblane of which he was one of the founder members.
The photograph dates from 1914 and shows Colonel Gunn in the company of King George V.
In December 1914 he was given command of the 8th Battalion of the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders (8th Reserve Battalion). When, owing to recruiting difficulties, the authorities decided the battalion was not to go overseas, Colonel Gunn applied for command of another battalion to serve with the Expeditionary Force. He was transferred to the command of a battalion of the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders, a post which he held from February 1916 to June 1917. He was mentioned in dispatches and in March 1918 he was promoted to full Colonel.
* Nov 1914 Formed at Invergordon as a service battalion of the Fourth New Army (K4) and joined the 101st Brigade of the 34th Division.
* Feb.1915 Moved to Inverness.
* 10 April 1915 Became a 2nd Reserve Battalion and then moved to Tain, Scotland.
* October 1915 Moved to Catterick as part of the 9th Reserve Brigade.
* March 1916 Move to Stirling and became the 40th Training Reserve Battalion
Champion of the Gaelic tongue
When Gilbert Gunn died in 1940 the tributes to his fine qualities poured forth. In particular his advocacy for Gaelic received much attention: “When the writer last visited his home, he found the Colonel in the vestibule, a box of broken biscuits in his hand and a number of sparrows and tits partaking of a hearty meal from their good friend. He had only to go to the door, call on his feathered friends and down they would come to be fed. To the end he remained the same loveable personality.”
“Of a fearless and enthusiastic nature, it pained him to see the indifference with which his fellow-countrymen allowed their magnificent language and great traditions to decline, and many a time he upbraided them for their lack of spirit which allowed their local affairs and the well-being of their language to be directed by strangers entirely foreign, and in many cases antagonistic to the fine traditions of the Gael.
In particular as a member of the Rogart Educational Association, he fought hard and successfully along with his co-trustees to preserve the Mackay Bursaries for Gaelic-speaking boys and girls when attempts were made some years ago to alter the original conditions laid down by the donors of these Bursaries, who stipulated that they should be held by Gaelic speakers only.
He was buried in his native Parish of Rogart among the hills he loved so well. He has left behind him a fragrant memory of a useful and unselfish life. Gus am bris an là, agus an teich na sgàilean – Until the day break, and the shadows flee away.”
Thanks to John Ross for this tribute.