He was Wee Eck because he was the youngest son (though two girls would come after him) of Andrew Phillip, a stone mason from Inverkeillor, and Betsy Rough, of Kettins. The family was mostly girls - seven in all, with just four boys (though one died of croupe at three years old). You can see little Alex standing on the right, holding his mother's arm, in this photograph of the Phillip family from about 1886, about the time they moved to Dundee.
Alexander had the misfortune to be born in a fateful era - the final two decades of Queen Victoria's reign, whose children were ushered into the brave new twentieth century, then raked into the First World War, only to be torn apart and buried in the mud of Flanders, the sands of the Middle East, and the weather-worn hills of Gallipoli.
Wee Eck followed his father into the masonry business, but when the war blew across Europe he enlisted with the City of Dundee Royal Engineers, soon being posted to the 446th Northumbrian Field Company. In July of 1917 he found himself in the Hindenburg support trenches, and on the first day of August he and another Sapper, Henry Cawley, were killed outright by a German shell as they worked in the Swift support trench, right on the front line near to Chérisy.
His commanding officer, Major C. E. Boost, wrote to his father the very next day, the day his colleages buried him at Heninal ...
"I am very sorry to have to tell you that your son, Sapper Phillips [sic] of this Coy., was killed yesterday by a shell in the front trench system. In your great sadness I feel that it would help to know that your son has done splendid work whilst with the company. His close attention to duty and willingness to do anything that was required of him has earned himself a reputation not only with the men of his section, but with his section officers ... I am enclosing his cap badge which I feel you would like ..."
A fellow engineer, Sapper Thomas Brown, wrote a couple of weeks later to Alex's younger sister, Jemima ...
"I hope you will excuse me for intruding upon your grief, but I thought you would like to hear from one that was not far from your brother when he was killed. Please take comfort in the fact that his death was instantaneous and that he died a steady and true soldier, in the cause of his King and country. I cannot speak too highly of your brother for he and I were the best of pals for the all too short time I knew him, and I always felt he was a man to be relied on. I think the way him and I got on so well together was because we were about the only Scots in this lot, so you know we are a little clannish. As long as we stay here I will see that his grave his kept green for it is a sacred spot to me ..."
Look at the family photo above once again. The eldest child, Betsy, just behind Wee Eck, lost two sons in the war - Henry, at Gallipoli in July 1915, and Andrew, who drowned in Ireland while convalescing from wounds received in action at Combles. The tall chap at the back is John, the eldest son. He lost his boy, Alexander, just a few months after his little brother was killed, in December 1917, and another son, William, was poisoned in a gas attack in April 1918 - and survived. The wider Phillip family also suffered. Andrew's brother, James Phillip, lost a grandson, William, at Meteran, with another of his four serving sons wounded.
Alex's mother, Betsy, whose arm he holds in the photograph, died in 1899, so she would never know the horror of the war and the fate of her son and three grandchildren. His father, Andrew, carried the grief of his family's loss until his death in 1931, at the age of 87. He outlived five of his 11 children.
See my WWI family war memorial here.