AN EAST Lothian farmer who became a prominent agricultural expert was described as the “greatest man in the county” when he died 100 years ago this month.

Lieutenant Colonel Bill Gemmill, DSO, was the second son of farmer William Gemmill, of Greendykes, Macmerry, and known by much of the village and surrounding communities.

Educated at George Watson’s College, he was a prominent county agriculturalist and described as a very public-spirited man.

In fact, it was his sense of public spirit and love of his country which led to his death in 1918.

For while some men of his age may have shrunk back at the thought of the Great War raging in Europe, Bill Gemmill was straight back in the fray when fighting broke out in 1914.

A veteran of the Boer War, Colonel Gemmill was in command of a battalion of the Royal Scots in 1918 when he was killed during fighting at the age of 41.

At the time, an officer of the battalion wrote: “The worst blow of all was the loss of our gallant colonel. He was a topper – absolutely cool all the time, and a fighter. You can’t imagine how cut up the men are about him.”

In Macmerry itself, news of his death was greeted with sadness at the closing meeting of the Guild of Honour at the start of April 1918.

The Haddingtonshire Courier reported that a Mr Connor made an “eloquent” appeal to people to support the war efforts in the wake of his untimely death.

He said many in Macmerry had known Colonel Gemmill from boyhood and that it was through the sacrifice of their soldiers that they were enabled to live and enjoy the comforts they enjoyed today; the least they could do was to save, and to lend their savings to the Government that they might be able to keep their soldiers supplied with food and munitions.

Mr Connor told the meeting Colonel Gemmill was a great soldier and a great man, adding: “The greatest man in the parish – I think, I might say, perhaps the greatest man in the county.”

Colonel Gemmill received the Distinguished Service Order in 1915 and held the Italian decoration of the Order of St Maurice and St Lazarus.

He was twice mentioned in dispatches (April 15, 1915, and May 17, 1917). His war honours also included the 1914 Star and the South African Medal and clasps.

He was survived by his widow, an infant daughter, and his elderly mother.

His names is included on the Arras Memorial.