Lieutenant Arthur Lang

Biography of Lieutenant Arthur Lang

Arthur Lang was born in Kilmacolm, Renfrewshire, on 16th April 1892. He was educated at St Columba's School in the village, and later at Glasgow Academy, where his early academic promise was recognised when he won the Dux medal as well as medals in Mathematics and Classics. He left school in 1909 and went up to the University to study in the Arts Faculty. When he was matriculated that year his address was listed as Cowglen House, Thornliebank, and his father Robert's occupation is recorded as a bonded storekeeper. In later matriculation forms he is described as a warehouseman. This was a little misleading. It was a prosperous family background Arthur came from. His diary, kept in 1909 and again from 1912-1914 was gifted to the university and provides a marvellous insight into the life of this talented young man.

In the late summer before he went to university, Arthur's diary discloses a good life, riding, visiting the theatre and having long discussions with his friends about religion and politics. He was a serious young man and an avid reader. He listed the many books he intended to read for self-improvement. He had also begun to write poetry. 'The result was truly awful' he confided to his diary, 'but I will persevere.' And he did persevere. During university he wrote and published poetry in the Herald.

As might have been expected he shone academically. He was a Prizeman in Professor John Phillimore's Latin class in his first year and gained a first class certificate in Greek. In his second year, 1910-1911, he studied Political Economy in addition to Latin and Greek, earning a first class certificate in Greek. Arthur took Moral Philosophy in the session 1911-1912, the only subject which ever required a resit. Otherwise he proceeded easily to Intermediate Honours in the Classics (1st class Hons) and Greek and Roman History with Greek prose in his final year. In 1912, however, he sat Oxford entrance exams and won an honorary exhibition to New College. He left Glasgow for Oxford, returning in 1914 to graduate MA.

In the two years before the outbreak of war, Arthur was living a full life, noted for both its rigours and its leisure. He worked hard, constantly reading, and he initiated a routine of cold baths to start the day. He had a girlfriend, Cissy, and the pair seemed to enjoy the cinema, theatre, and frequent outings for tea. Arthur golfed and smoked cigarettes, preferably Egyptian. But the war was casting a shadow. Arthur could hardly wait to enlist. His father, however, opposed the plan and wrote to him in Oxford to tell him so. On 17th August 1914, Arthur writes;

"This is absolutely hellish. I'd give anything to fight. What a bloody awful time I'll have reading Plato etc. when nearly everyone else I know has some sort of military job... I curse Oxford and blast and damn."

Arthur would win the argument with his father. Already in the OTC at Oxford, he was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant to the 6th Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders and promoted to Lieutenant on 13th September 1915.

Lieutenant Arthur Lang was killed in action in France on 29th August 1916. The colonel of his regiment wrote that his name had twice been brought to attention in March and April of that year for gallantry. He is buried at the Citadel New Military Cemetery, Fricourt. The cemetery was begun by French troops in August 1916 and 378 Commonwealth servicemen are buried there. A little book of his verse was published by his friends to celebrate as well as commemorate his life. Among them are some humorous lines and some prophetic ones. He wrote one about 'The Empire' a couple of years before the war and, in slightly sardonic tone about the abilities of 'youths from office stools' to defend it, announced:

"But stay!The muse has brought
O such a funny thought.
Imagine it, our gallant little band,
The staunch, the ever-ready O.T.C.,
Fighting and falling for its native land,
An interesting spectacle 'twould be.

A poem he also wrote with a self-deprecatory claim to be 'great thoughts' turned out to be perhaps a greater thought than he knew. He called it 'An Electric Bulb Which, Being Spent, Went Out':

"Light glowed within it, bright and hot,
Frustrating night's pervading gloom.
It shone: and suddenly was not;
And darkness filled the room.

"No switch can now awaken it,
To light me, when I read in bed.
Unlike the girl in Holy Writ,
It sleepeth not:It's dead.

"The current whence its life it drew
Remains immortal as before;
But, bulb, farewell, for you can do
No darned good any more.



Lieutenant Arthur Lang
Rank: Lieutenant
Regiment: 6th Bn. Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders
Degree: MA
Awards: N/A
Comments: Killed in action, 29 August 1916.
Note/Press Clipping: Ch 4/4/2/3/738, 1088
Photo ID: N/A


Obituary: Diary, University of Glasgow Archives, (GUAS Ref: DC 338/1, 338/2)

University of Glasgow Registry, Faculty and General Council Records

'Verses by Arthur Lang' (Glasgow: James Maclehose and Son, 1917)

Burial Place: Commonwealth War Graves Commission - Debt of Honour Register

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