Roll of Honour

2nd Lieutenant

Robert Alexander Cameron Macmillan

MA DPhil

Robert Alexander Cameron MacMillan was born on the 11th May 1883 at the United Free Church Manse in Ullapool, in the district of Lochbroom, Ross-shire. He was one of seven children, and the youngest son of the Reverend John MacMillan and his wife Sarah Macmillan (nee Boyd), who had married on the 19th March 1873 in Anderston, Glasgow, Lanarkshire. He was described as an unusual child, high-spirited but thoughtful and deep. He went away from home to attend Glasgow High School and in his last year there won 51st place in the Glasgow University Bursary Competition.

Memorial chapel at the University of Glasgow
The Memorial Chapel at the University of Glasgow

He began his studies in the Arts Faculty in the autumn of 1901 and enrolled for classes in Latin, Greek and Mathematics. His address was given as 83 Oxford Drive, Maryhill, Glasgow. The following year, 1901-1902, his aptitude for Philosophy began to emerge, and thereafter he went from strength to strength. On 3rd November 1904 he graduated with a First Class Honours in Philosophy, after having gained an impressive clutch of prizes and distinction certificates.

After graduation, he seemed in doubt about the next steps. He matriculated in 1904 again and took Political Economy, describing his studies as coming under the auspices of the Arts and Law Faculties. He won an Exhibition to study at Cambridge, but decided not to take it because of a change in his family circumstances. His father died and he did not want to depend on his brothers.

Meanwhile he was content to finish his studies in Divinity, where he excelled again and was elected to the Euing Fellowship. As Fellow, he was invited to lecture to the Honours students in Philosophy and he also assisted with Hebrew. Following his academic bent he went to Germany to begin doctoral studies but returned and in 1909 was called to Prestwick South Church. He was there for two years before following his family out to South Africa, where he became a Minister in Johannesburg.

Robbie was torn between the church and academia. At times he was tempted to become a full-time philosopher. In 1912 he gained a DPhil from the University of Glasgow, and his thesis, The Crowning Phase in Critical Philosophy - A Study in Kant's Critique of Judgement became the basis of a book which brought him acclaim when it was published. His mother, Sarah, lived just long to see it, with its dedication to her, in print. He returned to Scotland, still unsure of his future direction, but in December 1913 he accepted a call to St John's Church, Kensington. He continued to write articles for Mind and the Expositor, and to apply himself to the practical and spiritual demands of his ministry.

When war began, he wanted to be involved and not on the sidelines. He wrote of the "unfairness of the sheltered security which a clergyman enjoys at a time like this." In the end he took an army chaplaincy, attached to the 2nd Bn. Cameron Highlanders. He went first to France and then Salonika. But it was not enough to satisfy his yearning for total commitment and he resigned to come home and train to be a soldier. Not everyone agreed with his decision and he tired of people asking him about it, but he felt it was absolutely right. He was commissioned as a Lieutenant in November 1916.

In his last sermon before he went off to France with the Seaforth Highlanders he declared that the "interests of the race, cared for, defended, died for - that is religion." From the battlefield of Arras in April 1917 he wrote in a last letter home of his happiness in the spring weather and "simply for the mere joy of living and being in a measure free." Robbie and his men went over the top on 9th April and he was reported missing two days later. The officer who last saw him in the thick of things reported that "Macmillan was going strong." His body was found and buried at Brown's Copse Cemetery, Rouex, about nine kilometres from Arras.

His death was widely mourned by his family and friends and by his congregations. His former Professor of Philosophy wrote of his promise as a philosopher. His family and personal friend John Buchan spoke at a Memorial service for Robbie, of whom he said that he was 'a brilliant scholar' and above all 'the kindest and loyalest of friends'. Those who knew him best recognised that he was a complex man, sometimes a tortured one. He was an idealist, gentle and generous, something of a mystic, but also one fuelled by a cause, tough and fiery in it.

He was survived by sisters and brothers, one of whom, Ebenezer, went through University about the same time, became a minister in Pretoria, Moderator of the Church in South Africa, and latterly a well-known member of the Oxford Group. Robbie's family commissioned a privately published Memoir of his life, and his letters to the novelist John Buchan are in the Buchan Collection in the National Library of Scotland.