Robert Lee only knew his great-grandfather James Erskine briefly when he was very young. But when, in later life, he inherited a trunkful of old letters and diary entries, he discovered the extraordinary, though tragic, story of the Erskine family.
Brought up in Glasgow in the Victorian era, James lost two children to infant mortality, and his wife to tuberculosis. His two surviving sons, both talented athletes and one a world champion boxer, were killed in the First World War, having showed amazing bravery. In addition, his son-in-law, Robert’s grandfather, was killed on the opening day of the Passchendaele offensive, leaving his daughter a widowed mother aged only 20.
After the Great War, James fought a protracted but unsuccessful battle with the War Office to have his son’s Military Cross upgraded to a Victoria Cross, and subsequently handled his sorrow by becoming a recluse, living a Spartan life on a Scottish hillside into his 80s.