Do you feel lucky? I guess it’s all a matter of perspective, and whether you are an optimist or a pessimist, but Remembrance Day earlier this week was a stark reminder that luck can be determined to a great extent by the age in which you are born.

A boy born in 1896 in Whittlesea, in Cambridgeshire, might have to ride his luck somewhat more than one born in Arbroath in 1971, as I was.

James Whyle was the one born in 1896. An English emigrant to South Africa, he joined the South African army in 1914 at the age of 18 with his best friend, Lochart Pringle. They were shipped to German South-west Africa (now Namibia) mainly to stand guard in the blockhouses defending the railway lines, although he did fire a few .303 rounds at a distant German biplane for form’s sake.

The war in GSW Africa was over before it started, so the young adventurer and his pal jumped on a ship for London and joined the London Scottish Regiment, an Englishman and a South African in the famous Hodden Grey kilt – and very proud they were to wear it.

By Christmas, they were in the waterlogged trenches at Loos, exchanging hand grenades with the Germans 40 yards away in their own trenches. Shelling was continuous and there was a steady stream of casualties.

On one occasion they passed some inexperienced Irish recruits in the support line who were being careless about keeping their heads down. They had just turned the corner when a shell landed on the poor fellows and blew them all up. They were regularly sent out into no man’s land at night scouting out the enemy defences.

They had many close shaves, but both of them survived that winter and were asked to apply for a commission. Lochart thought it was too much bother and he stayed with the regiment.

It is well known that the survival rate of officers was much lower than for other ranks, but in a reverse twist of fate, officer training put James out of harm’s way in England at the start of the battle of the Somme on July 1. The London Scottish were massacred at Gommecourt – 241 men were killed on the day or died of wounds, 616 men were killed or wounded out of 871 who went over the top.

James’ best friend, Lochart, was among them. He was last seen advancing into the smokescreen towards the German trenches. His body was never found.

By February, 1917, 2nd Liuetenant James Whyle was back in France, at Miraumont, attached to the 23rd Royal Fusiliers. The ground was frozen too hard to dig trenches on the newly captured patch of French soil, so they hid in shell holes.

On the day of the start of the Battle of Miraumont, there was a thaw, so they had to advance slowly through the mud into a wall of bullets and shells. James walked about 100 yards and was shot through the lung, usually a fatal wound in those filthy conditions and in the days before antibiotics.

Somehow, he clung on to life and was shipped back first to England and then up to Cawder House, in Bishopbriggs. Later, he was sent further north where it was thought the cool, clean air of Banavie, near Fort William, would give his ravaged lung a chance to heal.

Lady Lochiel, at nearby Achnacarry, whose husband, Cameron of Lochiel, was fighting in France at the time, used to invite wounded soldiers to have dinner and stay the night. An act of kindness for which James was very grateful.

For the best part of two years, James was gravely ill, nearly dying twice. In September, 1918, still very weak and coughing up blood, he boarded the SS Galway Castle with 950 women, children, wounded men and crew to return to South Africa. Two days out from Devonport, the ship was torpedoed by U-boat U82. The call was given to abandon ship.

The swell was mountainous and many of the lifeboats were smashed or swamped against the side of the ship. Around 150 of the ship’s complement perished.

James made it into a lifeboat and spent the next nine hours baling water from it in the middle of the North Atlantic. Eventually they were rescued by the escort ships and returned ignominiously to England. He lost everything, except the pyjamas and dressing gown he was wearing when the ship was struck.

James Whyle finally made it back to South Africa after the war ended. He saved up enough to buy a beautiful farm called Grasslands in the green Amathole mountains of the Eastern Cape. He had five children, and named the first boy Lochart.

One of his grandsons, also a Lochart, farms there today. Another Lochart grandson farms in Scotland, and his descendants are scattered far and wide between Australia, South Africa and the UK.

Without doubt James would have counted himself fortunate to have come through the other side of the awful maelstrom that consumed so many of his friends.

I am incredibly lucky that he did, because he was my grandfather.