Temptation got the better of Sergeant Alfred Gamage when he was handed just under£97 in bank notes as change by a Post Office clerk in Hamilton back in November 1900 – he deserted the Highland Light Infantry and fled to America.
Gamage, a Londoner, was orderly room sergeant with the 4thBattalion of the regiment and had been entrusted with a cheque for £701 and 10 shillings to buy postal orders, which were to be used to pay the men’s wages. The battalion’s adjutant, Captain Thomas Twynam had planned to take the cheque to the Post Office himself but other commitments intervened. So, he asked Gamage, regarded as being of exceptionally good character, to go in his place. He later said that he never expected that the Post Office would give Gamage any change from the cheque but would instead keep the money until he could collect it. The cost of the money orders turned out to be only £604 15 shillings and eightpence. The clerk handling the transaction, a James Neilson, gave Gamage £96 in Scottish pound notes, along with 14 shillings and fourpence in coins.
When Gamage failed to return to the barracks in Hamilton, Tywnam went to the Post Office. There he was told that Gamage had left with the money orders and the cash. Twynam told the Post Master to cancel the money orders and reported Gamage’s disappearance to local police.
Twynam then returned to the barracks and arranged for two colour sergeants to be sent to Glasgow to look for Gamage in all the places where a soldier might spend an ill-gotten windfall. The two sergeants drew a blank when it came to finding Gamage – though they believed he had been seen in a Glasgow music hall.
Two police inspectors from the Hamilton Burgh Police joined the hunt. Bars and music halls were checked again. Women who, in the words of police, were “known to be on intimate terms with several soldiers” found themselves being questioned about Gamage. Because Gamage was a Londoner, he’d enlisted in the capital in 1895, Scotland Yard was also brought into the search.
Three days after Gamage vanished, a package containing all but two of the missing money orders arrived through the post at the Hamilton barracks. It bore a Lancashire postmark. And the next day one of the two still missing postal orders arrived in an envelope addressed in Gamage’s handwriting. It turned out that the final money order had been hand-delivered by Gamage in Glasgow to the sergeant for whom it was intended. But of Gamage there was still no sign and no-one appears to have suspected he planned a new life in the United States. That changed in the summer of 1901 when a swarthy smartly-dressed man in his late twenties, with an anchor tattoo on his right forearm and a scar on his right cheek, showed up at the British vice-consul’s office in Kansas City. He identified himself as Gamage and said he wanted to return to Scotland to pay for his crimes. He explained that following his arrival in the mid-Western city he had started attending Salvation Army meetings. It was these meetings that brought home to him the gravity of his crimes.
Gamage had been holding down a job in Kansas City and his employer would later write to the British authorities, as did the Salvation Army, describing him as a respectable and well behaved man. The wheels of international justice ground slowly. Gamage changed address twice while waiting to be arrested and on both occasions made sure the British authorities knew where he could be found.
On the 14thJuly 1901 Acting Inspector George Pirie of the Hamilton Burgh Police was sent to London to collect the extradition papers for Gamage. Pirie arrived in New York on 25thJuly but it was not until 5thAugust that the American authorities in Washington approved Gamage’s extradition and ordered US Marshals to hand him over. Gamage and Pirie arrived in Liverpool on 17thAugust. Gamage freely confessed his crimes to Pirie during the trans-Atlantic voyage and told him he intended to plead guilty at the first opportunity. He appeared before Sheriff Davidson in Glasgow on 20stAugust and was remanded in custody until 28thAugust. On the 28thhe insisted on pleading guilty at Glasgow Sheriff Court and his case was referred to the High Court which was sitting next day. At the High Court in Glasgow the judge, Lord Justice-Clerk Kingsburgh, said that usually such a breach of trust would attract a very severe sentence. But in view of Gamage having given himself up and his obvious remorse, he would sentence him to six months’ imprisonment.