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- Transcriber's Note: Inconsistent hyphenation in the original document has been preserved. Obvious typographical errors have been corrected in this text. For a complete list, please see the end of this document. -
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Seventeenth Highland Light Infantry.
THE GIFT OF THE MEMBERS OF THE GLASGOW CHAMBER OF COMMERCE.
The Seventeenth Highland Light Infantry (Glasgow Chamber of Commerce Battalion).
Record of War Service, 1914-1918.
GLASGOW: DAVID J. CLARK, 23 ROYAL EXCHANGE SQUARE AND 92 UNION STREET. 1920.
In compiling and editing this history of the Chamber of Commerce Battalion, the aim of the editors has been to present such a narrative as will provide a detailed but not overburdened account of the Battalion's movements and operations throughout the years of its existence, and at the same time give a representative impression of the various outstanding events which have built up the character and the traditions of the unit.
In accordance with the wishes of the History Committee, the narrative dealing with Field service has been kept within the limits of the Battalion's share in the campaign, and accordingly no attempt has been made to give any picture of the relative positions of the various other units operating with the 17th, or of the general strategic import of the actions described.
The chapters dealing with the beginnings and home training, and those general items in Part III. are founded mainly upon matter supplied by officers of the unit and members of The Outpost staff. The Roll of original members in Part IV. has been gathered together by Lieut. and Quarter-Master Kelly. The material in the section dealing with the service of the Battalion overseas has been gathered from the following sources:—
For data—the Official War Diaries of the 17th Battalion H.L.I. preserved in the "Records" Office, Hamilton; supplementary notes supplied by Lieut.-Cols. Morton and Paul and Major Paterson, D.S.O., M.C.; Brigade and Battalion Operation Orders; Battalion Operation Reports.
For impressions, opinions, and descriptions—numerous and exceedingly helpful literary vignettes from members of The Outpost staff and others, and from interviews.
The Editors desire to record their appreciation of material contributed and help given by:—Lieut.-Col. Morton, Lieut.-Col. Paul, Lieut.-Col. Inglis, Major Paterson, the Rev. A. Herbert Gray, C.F., Capt. G.H.R. Laird, Capt. M. MacRobert, Capt. T.P. Locking, Mr. Cameron of the Chamber of Commerce, Lieut. and Quarter-Master Kelly, Mr. Meadows of Saltcoats (for allowing illustrations and excerpts to be taken from the diary of his son, the late Lieut. B. Meadows), the relatives of the late Lieut. D.W. Hourston (for a selection of photographs from his collection), and the following gentlemen identified with the publication of The Outpost:—Messrs. A.M. Cohen, W.S. Corbett, Mark Drummond, W.M. Dixon, A.G. Deans, W. Glennie, A.G. Houstoun, J.L. Hardie, C. MacCallum, J. M'Kechnie, N. M'Intyre, W.K. M'Taggart, D. Murray, J.L.L. Niven, F.K. Pickles, H.F. Scott, D.M. Thomson, R. Tilley.
JOHN W. ARTHUR. ION S. MUNRO.
GLASGOW, May, 1920.
I.—FORMATION AND HOME TRAINING. PAGE
THE NATION'S CALL TO ARMS, 13 Declaration of War—Strain on the resources of the Regular and Territorial Forces—Kitchener's Call to Arms—Civic response—Glasgow Corporation Battalions—Meeting of the Chamber of Commerce and Resolution—Committee formed—The Technical College.
A BATTALION IN BEING, 15 Attestation and enrolment—"A" Company from Technical College—"B" Company from Schools—"C" and "D" from the City—C.O., Second in Command, Adjutant, Company Commanders, and Staff appointed—Leaving the City—Government acceptance—Farewell visit to City.
ESPRIT DE CORPS, 19 Traditions of the H.L.I.—the 71st and 74th Foot—Uniform—pre-War Establishment—Regular and Territorial Battalions—War Service Battalions raised—the allocation of the 17th Battalion.
HOME STATIONS AND TRAINING, 21 Gailes—Troon—Prees Heath—Wensleydale—Totley—Codford Camp—Overseas Orders—Message from the King—Embarkation.
II.—ON ACTIVE SERVICE.
ON TREK, 27 Arrival at Havre—March to the forward area—Bouzincourt and Millencourt—instructional tour of front line trenches—condition of trenches—first casualties— Molliens.
TRENCH ROUTINE, 30 In the line—Xmas '15 and the New Year—the new trench—"Standing to"—routine and patrols.
THE RAID, 33 The "Red" Division—in the line at Authuille—Colonel Morton wounded on March 21st—A raid postponed—carried out on 22nd—success of Lieut. Begg's party—congratulatory messages and awards.
A LULL BEFORE THE STORM, 37 Preparations commenced for the Somme offensive—a complimentary shoot with "P" Battery—Divisional, Brigade and Battalion identification marks—happy days at Rubempre.
THE BATTLE OF THE SOMME, 39 Spirit of the Battalion prior to the battle—zero and "over the top"—Leipzig Trench carried—flanks exposed—precarious position of the unit—great casualties—protective bombing posts—consolidation— Battalion relieved—Victoria Cross gained by Sergeant Turnbull—Roll Call.
A DIARY ACCOUNT OF THE BATTLE, 42 Extract from the personal diary of the late Lieut. B. Meadows giving a wonderfully realistic picture of the July 1st Battle.
HULLUCH AND THEREABOUTS, 48 Senlis—last parade under Col. Morton—Bombing raid north of Ovillers—Move to Bethune—1st Army Area—inspection by General Munro—depleted ranks—trench warfare about Hulluch—Cambrin Sector.
BEAUMONT-HAMEL, 51 The attack—weather conditions—failure of artillery support—forlorn hope—break-down of assault—gallantry and sacrifice—casualties—Mailly-Maillet—Franqueville and Rubempre—Xmas 1916 and New Year—football and high spirits.
THE NEW YEAR, 1917, 53 Bad weather—Courcelles—trench labours—varied moves—beginning of Spring Offensive—attack by the French—the advance—Nesle—condition of inhabitants—great digging work at Germaine.
ON THE HEELS OF THE ENEMY, 55 The taking of Savy—casualties—patrolling—capture of Fayet—congratulatory messages—strenuous days—Canizy—competitions with the French—work and sport—Hangard—leaving the Fourth Army—Farewell message from General Rawlinson.
IN FLANDERS, 60 En route to Steenbecque—R.T.O.—the 14th Corps—reconnaissance of Messines Sector—heavy marches—Coxyde and Kuhn—amenities of Nieuport area.
OPERATIONS ON THE COAST, 62 Enemy hurricane bombardment—enemy attempt frustrated—attack abandoned—visit to H.L.I.— sports—visit of Dr. Kelman—patrol work by Corpl. Wilson—listening post raided—departure for Adinkerke.
THE YPRES SALIENT, 66 Passchendaele—gallantry of attack—casualties— Hilltop Farm—move to Landethun and Yeuse—Serre Sector—close of 1917.
THE DISBANDMENT, 71 Hogmanay—with the II. Corps—the blow—new army establishment—Hospital Camp—disbandment—the passing of the "17th."
III.—AN ODD MUSTER.
THE SPIRIT OF THE BATTALION, 76 The Padre's tribute.
CO-OPERATION, 78 The 17th and the Gunners.
"THE OUTPOST," 81 The Battalion Magazine.
SPORT OF THE BATTALION, 83 Football—running—boxing.
THE R.S.M., 84 Tribute by Lieut.-Col. D.S. Morton.
A REMEMBRANCE, 84 An echo.
THE COMFORTS COMMITTEE, 85 The Ladies' Committee and Office-bearers—their helpful work.
MEMORIAL SERVICE IN GLASGOW, 86 The Somme—Rev. A. Herbert Gray's text.
THE CLUB, 87 The object—Battalion Benevolent Fund—Committee formed—Hope of the future.
"E" COMPANY, 89 17th H.L.I. Reserve—19th Battalion—drafts— activities—Lieut. Col. Anderson, V.C.—78th T.R.B.
IV.—HONOURS AND AWARDS.
Battalion Honour, 91
The Victoria Cross, 91
Honours gained by Officers and others while serving with the Battalion, 93
Honours gained by original Members of the Battalion after being transferred to other units, 96
List of Officers who were granted Commissions in the Battalion on its formation, 100
"Other Ranks" of the Battalion who were granted Commissions in the Battalion, 101
Roll of Warrant Officers, N.C.O.s and men who joined the Battalion prior to 22nd November, 1915, 102
FRONTISPIECE. Facing Page
THE LATE MR. MONTAGU M.W. BAIRD AND MR. JAMES W. MURRAY, PRESIDENTS OF THE CHAMBER, 14
FAREWELL MEETING AT THE TECHNICAL COLLEGE, 17
EARLY DAYS—A REST BY THE WAY, 18
H.R.H. THE DUKE OF CONNAUGHT, COLONEL-IN-CHIEF OF THE H.L.I., AND COLONEL J. STANLEY PATERSON, 19
LIEUT.-COLONEL DAVID S. MORTON, V.D., C.M.G., 20, 35
ON THE SEA FRONT AT TROON—LEAVING TROON, 20
MESS ORDERLIES (PREES HEATH CAMP)—"GUARD, TURN OUT" (WENSLEY CAMP), 21
A PEACEFUL BIVOUAC (SALISBURY PLAIN)—RECRUITING MARCH AT CODFORD, 22
OFFICERS OF THE BATTALION AT MAR LODGE, TROON, 1915, 24
VISIT OF THE DIRECTORS OF THE CHAMBER OF COMMERCE, TROON, 1915 25
THE BATTALION ON PARADE, 26
HAVRE—RUINS OF BETHUNE, 28
THE CATHEDRAL, ALBERT—BEFORE AND AFTER BOMBARDMENT, 34
MAP ILLUSTRATING OPERATIONS OF 1ST JULY, 1916, 40
VIEW FROM BOUZINCOURT LOOKING TOWARDS THE LINE, 44
COOKHOUSE AT BECOURT—OBSERVATION POST, HULLUCH SECTOR—WAR'S DESTRUCTION, 50
LIEUT.-COLONEL W.J. PAUL, 51
LIEUT.-COLONEL J. INGLIS, C.M.G., D.S.O., 60
TYPES OF SUPPORT LINE DUG-OUTS AND FIRST AID POST, 68
MAJOR THE REV. A. HERBERT GRAY—CHURCH PARADE (PREES HEATH), 76
PHASES OF BATTALION TRAINING, 77
"THE OUTPOST" STAFF ON ACTIVE SERVICE—ORIGINAL EDITORIAL STAFF, 81
THE LATE STEVEN D. REITH, D.C.M.—LCE.-CORPL. F.K. PICKLES, 82
MARGUS, THE MASCOT—ONE OF THE BATTALION RUGBY FOOTBALL TEAMS, 83
LIEUT. AND Q.-M. (FORMERLY REGIMENTAL-SERGEANT-MAJOR) JAMES KELLY, 84
MRS. DAVID S. MORTON, CONVENER OF THE COMFORTS COMMITTEE, 85
LIEUT.-COLONEL W. AULD, V.D., 90
THE LATE LIEUT.-COLONEL WILLIAM HERBERT ANDERSON, V.C., AND SERGEANT J.Y. TURNBULL, V.C., 91
"They ask a better Britain as their monument."
I.—FORMATION AND HOME TRAINING.
THE NATION'S CALL TO ARMS.
Great Britain declared war on Germany on August 4th, 1914, and almost immediately the combatant strength of its Regular Army was on service and the great bulk of that gallant force engaged in those fierce actions against odds which marked the early fighting.
The War Office was quickly alive to the fact that the Regular Army could not cope in point of numbers with the Germanic hordes. On the day following the declaration of war the Territorial Forces of Great Britain were mobilized, and with a marvellous and inspiring unanimity their members volunteered for Overseas Service. But even the addition of these many thousands to our striking force was realised to provide no more than a relief for the rapidly exhausting strength of the "old contemptibles," and Lord Kitchener issued his great manifesto calling the people to the Empire's help, and laid the foundations of a New Army—Kitchener's Army—the finest and most disinterested body of soldier patriots that ever stepped in a sound and worthy cause. At once the patriotism of the country declared itself and the Nation sprang to arms. The City of Glasgow proved itself second to none among the cities and districts of the Kingdom in its answer to the call. The Town Council recruited two fine battalions, the 1st Glasgow, which was mainly drawn from the Tramway employees of the city; and the 2nd Glasgow, which was recruited from former members of the Boys' Brigade. Other institutions in the city were bestirring themselves in the national cause, and at a meeting of the Chamber of Commerce Directors, held on 3rd September, 1914, it was unanimously resolved, on the motion of Bailie W.F. Russell, to form a Glasgow Chamber of Commerce Battalion. Enthusiasm for the scheme was quickly evident, and no time was lost in getting the matter put upon a practical basis. At the same meeting of Directors the following gentlemen were appointed as the Committee in charge:—Messrs. M.M.W. Baird, James W. Murray, F.C. Gardiner, G.A. Mitchell, H. Moncrieff, W.F. Russell, A.A. Smith, with Sir Archd. M'Innes Shaw as Convener, and Mr. John W. Arthur as Vice-Convener, the former making Military matters his chief concern, the latter caring for Clothing and Equipment. Mr. Montagu M.W. Baird, the President, and Mr. James W. Murray, the Vice-President, did much to foster the movement.
The Chamber of Commerce sustained the loss of Mr. Baird, who died on October 14, 1915. Mr. J.W. Murray succeeded him as President and applied that deep interest in all the work and welfare of the Battalion which marked his services throughout the history of the unit. Mr. Thomas Cameron, the Secretary of the Chamber, also in countless ways contributed to its success.
At this stage the Council of the Royal Glasgow Technical College approached the Chamber of Commerce Committee, and it was arranged that students of the College would find special opportunities of forming a detachment within the Battalion. This arrangement was found acceptable in every way, and many students entered for the service of their country under the colours of what was at that early stage known as "The Chamber of Commerce Battalion, 3rd Glasgow."
A BATTALION IN BEING.
No time was lost in bridging the gap between "Resolution" and "Action." By September 12th, 1914, the work of enrolling recruits had begun, and Medical Examination and Attestation were commenced under the supervision of Colonel J. Stanley Paterson, Officer in Charge, No. 2 District, Scottish Command. Colonel Paterson did much for the Battalion in many directions, and in a recent letter says:—"I have never lost, and never will lose, the deep interest I took in the 17th H.L.I. from the moment of its initiation, and the full story of its doings will give me the greatest pleasure to read."
The Lesser Hall of the Merchants' House was for many days the Headquarters of busy recruiting, and those associated with these stirring times will long remember the enthusiasm with which the enrolment was conducted. With the help of Dr. Beilby and Mr. Stockdale of the Royal Technical College, "A" Company was speedily recruited, and was composed mainly of the College Students. Colonel R.C. Mackenzie, C.B., did much for "B" Company, enlisting in its ranks former pupils of the City Schools, the High School, Glasgow Academy and others. "C" and "D" Companies were composed principally of men from the business houses and different trades in the city and district. For a few weeks the men, living in their own homes, were instructed and drilled in four of the Territorial Force Association Halls. During the recruiting and the early weeks of the training, Major Rounsfell Brown acted as Adjutant, and rendered excellent service.
Kit was issued to the four original Companies, "A," "B," "C," and "D," on 19th and 20th September.
It was at first expected that Colonel Fred. J. Smith, late of the 8th Scottish Rifles, might be chosen as Officer in Command, but for reasons of health he was unable to undertake the duty. The choice eventually fell upon Lieut.-Colonel David S. Morton, V.D., who had seen much service, and was well fitted to fill the post. His volunteer experience included service in the 1st L.R.V., the Engineers, and various Commissioned ranks in the 5th H.L.I., ending, on his retiral, with the rank of Lieut.-Colonel. In 1900 he served with the 71st in South Africa as Captain of the H.L.I. Service Company. He was mentioned in despatches, and received the "South Africa" Medal with three clasps.
Major W.J. Paul was appointed second in Command. His service had been with the Scottish Rifles (the 4th V.B.S.R.), in which unit he rose to the rank of Major, second in Command. He retired in 1907 with the Honorary rank of Major.
The original Officers in Command of Companies were:—
"A" Major W.J. Paul. "B" Major J.R. Young. "C" Major W. Auld, V.D. "D" Major E. Hutchison.
The Regimental Staff included Captain D.R. Kilpatrick, R.A.M.C., as Surgeon attached; Lieut. and Quarter-Master Slade; Regimental Sergt.-Major Kelly; Regimental Quarter-Master Sergt. T. Keith; and Orderly Room Quarter-Master-Sergt. J. Copland.
Up to this point the drill and training were being well pushed on. It will be remembered that the extraordinary demands made on khaki cloth, by the sudden institution of a national army, made it practically unobtainable in these early months. A navy blue serge cloth was substituted for making tunics, trousers and greatcoats, and these made a neat and serviceable uniform. This uniform was issued at Gailes and was exchanged for khaki in the following summer at Troon. The Battalion was now ready to set out for its war training station, and on 23rd September assembled in the Examination Hall of the Royal Technical College, and had a good send-off by the Directors and Members of the Chamber of Commerce, Colonel Stanley Paterson, and other friends. At this meeting, Colours for the Regiment were promised by Mr. Montagu M.W. Baird, the President of the Chamber; Bugles, by Dr. and Mrs. Beilby, of the Technical College; and Pipes and Drums as a joint gift by the Directors of the Chamber of Commerce and Merchants' House. After the Meeting, the Battalion entrained for the Camp at Gailes.
A member of the Battalion, giving a general impression of these memorable "first days," writes:—
"We all assembled in our various drill halls. We watched and whispered. Some asked, who is that man with the loud voice shouting at us, giving us papers and getting us into what he called Companies. We knew soon. Then they selected N.C.O.'s (acting) from amongst those who had some previous training. After that we went away. The N.C.O.'s stayed and took the bundles of papers, our pledged word to our king, and wearily for hours sorted them and listed the names.
"Days followed when we marched and when we got to know our officers by sight and to call ourselves by our Company name. Then came the day we drew our kit and carried off strange bundles to our homes. We got the magic words 'To camp at Gailes.' Then we were soldiers now. We paraded by Companies and assembled in the Square and marched to the train. A motley crowd carrying on our shoulders all manner of weird shaped bundles. The crowd laughed and cheered us. Thus we left the City that held us very peculiarly her own, her citizens and sons for the last time. Henceforth her soldiers."
The Chamber of Commerce Battalion was now an accomplished fact, and the following authoritative acceptance by the Government and the War Office, linked it as an integral part of the Service Regiments of the British Army.
"WAR OFFICE, "LONDON, S.W., 2nd November, 1914.
"TO THE PRESIDENT, "CHAMBER OF COMMERCE, "7 WEST GEORGE STREET, "GLASGOW.
"I am commanded by the Army Council to offer you, and those associated with you, their sincere thanks for having raised the 17th (Service) Battalion, Highland Light Infantry (3rd Glasgow) of which the administration has now been taken over by the Military Authorities.
"The Council much appreciated the spirit which prompted your offer of assistance, and they are gratified at the successful results of the time and labour devoted to this object, which has added to the armed forces of the Crown the services of a fine body of men.
"The Council will watch the future career of the Battalion with interest, and they feel assured that when sent to the front it will maintain the high reputation of the distinguished Regiment of which it forms part.
"I am to add that its success on active service will largely depend on the result of your efforts to keep the depot Companies constantly up to establishment with men in every way fit for service in the field.
"I am, Sir, "Your obedient Servant, "(Signed) B.B. CUBITT."
On 7th November, the Battalion paid a return visit to the City of Glasgow. The Battalion arrived and formed up on the station platform. A word of command and away they marched into the streets, crowded to the uttermost by friends and relatives. Hardly a cheer was heard. The men marched between banks of faces, in a deep silence. What a strange reception, surely the most impressive men ever had, proving what was in the hearts of those that watched the men and how they felt for them. Only when they entered the Square did cheers and the buzzing of an awaking crowd break out. "We felt," says an officer, "rather disappointed; but we knew what it meant." The unit was then inspected in front of the Municipal Buildings by representatives of the Chamber of Commerce.
ESPRIT DE CORPS.
It will be of value and interest to give here a brief survey of the history of The Highland Light Infantry, which enshrines a record of service and gallantry second to none in the annals of our Empire, and to which the Chamber of Commerce Battalion was fated to add a page as heroic and imperishable as any in its great traditions.
The Highland Light Infantry was originally raised as two separate Regiments of Foot, the 71st and the 74th. What was to become famous as the 71st was raised in 1777 by Lord John MacLeod and was known as "MacLeod's Highlanders." It was a kilted regiment and wore the Mackenzie tartan. It was originally numbered the 73rd, and under this designation won early distinctions in India in the campaigns against Hyder Ali and Tippoo Sahib. Nine years after its inauguration it became the 71st, and after service in Ceylon and at the Cape it received in 1808 the title of "The Glasgow Regiment." Shortly after this the 71st entered once more the fields of war in the Peninsula campaign under Wellington, and shared in many actions including the storming of Ciudad Rodrigo, the siege of Badajoz and at Vittoria. Then came their crowning gallantry at Waterloo against the flower of Napoleon's armies. In later years the Crimea, Canada and the Bermudas were added to their war honours.
The 74th was raised at Glasgow by Major-General Sir Archibald Campbell with a view to service in India. The 74th also wore the kilt, but of Black Watch tartan. Their record runs much on the same lines as that of the 71st, and quickly they are also found performing deeds of stubborn gallantry in India in the Mysore Territory. When the hour of Tippoo Sahib had come, the 74th was the first to enter the tyrant's last stronghold, but it was later, at the battle of Assaye that they earned a fame which finds its echo to-day in the old badge of the Elephant, which that action entitles them to wear. For long afterwards the unit possessed the proud by-name of "The Assaye Regiment." After sharing with the 71st in the rigours of the Peninsula, Canada and the West Indies, the 74th saw service in the Kaffir War, Madras, and in Egypt, including Tel-el-Kebir, where they were in the fiercest of the fight.
It was in 1809, as a reward for their services, that they were formed into Light Infantry, and were permitted to retain such parts of the national dress as were not inconsistent with the duties of Light Infantry. They then discarded the kilt and adopted the tartan trews which still appear in the full dress uniform of the Regiment. The kilt is now worn by two Territorial Battalions, the 6th and the 9th.
Subsequently the two Regiments were formed into one Regiment of two Battalions.
The "H.L.I.," as all the world calls it, was of course present during the South African War. They fought at Modder River, and though they suffered severely at Magersfontein, continued to share in the hardships of the remainder of the campaign.
At the outbreak of the Great War there were in addition to the 1st and 2nd Battalions, two Special Reserve Battalions (the 3rd and 4th) and five Territorial Battalions, numbered the 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th.
After declaration of war, the 10th, 11th, 12th, 13th, 14th, 15th, 16th, 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th Service Battalions were raised, together with the 21st (Territorial) and 1st (Garrison) Battalions. In addition, the 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th Battalions each had second and third lines, and at one time there were as many as thirty Battalions in existence. These were more or less connected with the City of Glasgow and district, and serve as an indication of the patriotism and loyalty of the community.
On 14th December, 1914, the War Office issued an order that the Chamber of Commerce Battalion was to form a unit of the New Army, and was to be designated the 17th (Service) Battalion Highland Light Infantry, of the 117th Infantry Brigade, of the 39th Division. This intimation was received when the Battalion was stationed at Troon, and was hailed with great enthusiasm by all ranks.
Their comradeship in the common cause, their keenness for practical service and the esprit de corps engendered by their attachment to the illustrious Highland Light Infantry, knit all ranks together in enthusiasm and determination.
It was about this time that instructions were received to recruit a fifth Company as part of the 17th Battalion establishment. As this Company eventually became the nucleus of a further Battalion with a parallel history of its own, it will be treated separately in another chapter. (Page 89.)
HOME STATIONS AND TRAINING.
The Battalion arrived at Gailes on 23rd September, 1914, and this event might be called the beginning of the Great Adventure. The war seemed miles nearer as the light-hearted and high-spirited lads stepped out of the train and viewed the rows of glistening white tents. The large array of kit bags was in many instances supplemented by suit cases, filled with surplus personal effects thought necessary for creature comforts. The novelty of the surroundings, and twelve men in a tent, including numerous belongings, did not conduce to sleep; and the next morning reveille found all but the old soldier already astir. The weeks at Gailes were spent in organising, and the efforts of all ranks to become efficient were worthy of that spirit which lasted throughout the existence of the Battalion.
The issue of something in the nature of a uniform and a few Drill Pattern rifles raised hopes that the training was being hurried on. On the 13th October, a move was made to Troon, where the good citizens afforded luxurious billets to the Battalion.
In spite of the vigorous training that was enforced during the next few months, and which stood the men in such good stead later on, the social side was not neglected and helped to cement a great feeling of good fellowship and understanding between the officers and men. It was with mutual regret that the Seventeenth took its departure from Troon on 13th May, 1915, and the memory of the stay in the Ayrshire town will always remain as one of the most pleasant memories in the history of the Battalion.
There is something very remarkable about the record of the 17th H.L.I. when billeted in Troon. For though brain-weary subalterns spent hours trying to balance their billeting monies to the satisfaction of exasperated and exacting Company Commanders, there was very little trouble in the Orderly Room, that pulse of trouble.
Here are some noteworthy facts:—
I.—The Guard Room was always empty.
II.—There were practically no men "crimed" for lateness on parade.
III.—There were practically no "crimes" for being out of "billets."
IV.—There were no complaints of rowdyism in billets.
V.—There were no charges of drunkenness.
VI.—There were only very few charges of pass breaking.
VII.—There were very few claims for damage, and these on examination were more vindictive than real.
VIII.—It was not necessary to serve any billeting notices.
These are a few of the significant facts that mount up to bring honour to the rank and file of the 17th H.L.I.
The three troop-trains carrying the Battalion arrived at Whitchurch, Shropshire, on the morning of the 14th May, and the men marched some three miles south to the great hut-city on Prees Heath. This was the first War Station of the Brigade, where the 15th, 16th and 17th H.L.I. joined the 11th (S.) Battalion Border Regiment (The Lonsdales). There the men found hut life very comfortable. The cleaning and tidying of their new abodes kept them busy, and was carried out with the cheery zest and whole-hearted enthusiasm so characteristic of the Seventeenth. Full advantage was taken of the adjacent Y.M.C.A. establishment, which proved an admirable Institution. The Concert Hall, Refreshment Tables, Reading and Billiard Rooms, were well patronised at all off-duty hours, and the men appreciated the cheerful kindness of the attendants, who were voluntary lady workers from the County houses.
Extended manoeuvres were impracticable in this well-fenced agricultural area, so the training embraced much route-marching, and barrack-square work, musketry, signalling, visual training, etc. There were several trying marches in the scorching May-June weather, to Clive's native district, Moreton-Say and Market Drayton, to Wem and Hodnet, and to the beautiful scenery of Hawkstone Park, and Iscoyd Hall. Football, cricket, hockey, golf and cross-country running provided healthy recreation, while excursions to old-world "Sleepy Chester," to Shrewsbury and into Wales were popular week-ends.
In the third week of June, 1915, the 17th H.L.I. changed quarters from the flat stifling district of Prees-Heath to the breezy upland valley of Wensleydale, in the North Riding of Yorkshire. There is hardly a level acre in the district, but this was a welcome change. Many an enjoyable journey was made, in the intervals of Brigade Training, northward to lonely Swaledale, south to Coverdale, across the Valley of the Yore, to the prominent peak of Penhill, or to the beautiful Aysgarth Falls.
The Infantry Brigade, the 97th, had the 95th and the South Irish Horse as comrades for the training round Leyburn and Middleham, and Bellerby Moors; and some pleasant friendships were formed with the Warwickshire and Gloucestershire lads, and with the "foine foightin' bhoys" from Cork and Tipperary.
On the 27th of July tents were shifted to Totley Rifle Ranges in Derbyshire, where the preliminary Musketry Course was fired by the Battalion during the next fortnight, with most creditable results. The men made themselves great favourites in Totley and Dore, and at Sheffield, where they received a very hospitable welcome at all times, and especially on the occasion of a memorable route march through that city on 9th August. The Battalion was given an enthusiastic send-off at Dore and Beauchief Stations on 10th August, when entraining for Salisbury Plain, the scene of their next training ground.
When the Seventeenth steamed into the station at Codford St. Mary, on 11th August, and saw the occasional houses peeping through the tall trees, it was the thought that, after the bustle and stir of Totley, they had indeed become soldiers in earnest. The Camp Warden strengthened this belief with his assurance that no unit stayed longer than six weeks in the Camp, and after that,—Southampton and France, for the testing and proof of all that had been learnt so eagerly. As it turned out, three months were spent at Codford—months of rigorous training, of long interesting divisional manoeuvres, and general hardening. The men learned to dig trenches quickly and well, for they had to spend nights in them; to march many miles without complaint, and fight at the end of the hardest day's march; to use Lewis guns, not as amateurs with a strange toy, but as men whose lives depended on their speed and ability. The mysteries of transport, and the value of a timetable were revealed.
Needless to say these days of field exercises were not lacking in some amusing incidents which seem to dog the footsteps of peace conditions manoeuvres and which act as very welcome episodes amid the hard work that such training involves. Towards the close of one of the periodical manoeuvres carried out by the Seventeenth under the critical eye of an Inspecting General a bugle had sounded and the manoeuvres ceased. Officers grouped together and men lay on their backs and talked. The General turned to one of the Battalion officers who were now beginning to assemble round him, and said, "What was that call?" He often did such things as this to test knowledge of detail. "The Stand Fast," said the officer to whom the question was addressed. "Oh! come! come!" said the General, "Now, what was it?" he further questioned a Company Commander. No reply came. Then he turned to the Second in Command, "Now, Major, what was it? Tell him." "The Stand Fast, sir," said the Major. "Really," said the General, "you gentlemen must learn the elementary things in soldiering. Bugler, tell these gentlemen what that call was." "The Stand Fast, sir," replied the bugler. The General hurried on with the conference!
At Codford the Battalion had its first taste of army biscuit and bully-beef. From Monday to Thursday manoeuvres were held; on Friday, "clean up," and on Saturday, after the Colonel's inspection, the luckier ones went to Bath and Bristol for the day, or to London or Bournemouth for the week-end. Friday was pay day—"Seven Shillings me lucky lad," and after pay-out, the reading of the Army Act or a Lecture on bayonet-fighting or tactics. Games flourished. The Battalion football team played and defeated Bath City, and met the other Battalions of the Division at Rugby Football, and invariably won. On the ranges with rifle and Lewis gun, the Battalion maintained its place as the Battalion in the Division.
At last word was received that the Battalion would cross to France on November 22nd. Only fifty per cent. got week-end leave—there was no time for more. Training was over. Few will forget the brave skirl of the pipes as the Battalion swung home in the morning from Yarnbury Castle, file after file silhouetted against the orange and gold of the rising sun. Always, when the wind blows fresh and sweet in the morning, those who are left of those happy times will think of Codford, the "jumping off place" of the Seventeenth for France.
The following message of God-speed and goodwill was received by the Battalion as part of the 32nd Division before setting out:—
"17TH SERVICE BATTALION HIGHLAND LIGHT INFANTRY. "BRIGADE ORDER NO. 1285, OF 19TH NOVEMBER, 1915. "MESSAGE FROM HIS MAJESTY THE KING.
"Officers, Non-Commissioned Officers and Men of the 32nd Division, on the eve of your departure for Active Service I send you my heartfelt good wishes.
"It is a bitter disappointment to me, owing to an unfortunate accident, I am unable to see the Division on Parade before it leaves England; but I can assure you that my thoughts are with you all.
"Your period of training has been long and arduous, but the time has now come for you to prove on the Field of Battle the results of your instruction.
"From the good accounts that I have received of the Division, I am confident that the high traditions of the British Army are safe in your hands, and that with your comrades now in the Field you will maintain the unceasing efforts necessary to bring the War to a victorious ending.
"Good-bye and God-speed."
To the above message the following reply was sent:—
"Please convey to His Majesty the heartfelt thanks of all ranks of the 32nd Division for His gracious message and their determination to justify His expectations.
"The Division deeply regrets the accident which has deprived it of the honour of a visit from His Majesty, and humbly offers its best wishes for His Majesty's speedy and complete recovery."
On Sunday, 21st November, 1915, the Battalion paraded in full strength, 1,032 all ranks, at their hutments, Codford. A minute and final inspection was made, and everything pronounced to be in order. A memorable feature of this parade was the head-gear, Balmoral bonnets of the war service pattern being worn for the first time. Next morning the Battalion left Codford in three parties for Southampton, and without any delay embarked on two transports for Havre, the remainder of the Division going via Boulogne. It was a perfect crossing, no wind, bright moonlight, with everyone in the best of spirits.
At 7 a.m. on the 23rd, the troops disembarked at the port of Havre and marched off at once to the Rest Camp, three miles away, great interest being displayed in the few German prisoners working on the docks. On arrival the Battalion found it was under canvas, no floor boards and plenty of mud—a first taste of real discomfort. Moreover the day was raw, with a suspicion of snow, and no one was sorry when it was announced that the Camp was being left first thing in the morning. That evening a few of the Officers visited the town itself, and others went out on a first reconnaissance to discover the route to the station, and the Ration Depot.
The next day, after drawing two days' rations as well as "Iron Rations," the Battalion left for the "Front,"—"A," "B," and "C" Companies going off at 1.15 p.m., and "D" Company following a few hours later.
Arrival at Havre—March to the forward area—Bouzincourt and Millencourt—instructional tour of front line trenches—condition of trenches—first casualties—Molliens.
The Battalion arrived at the Port of Le Havre, disembarked in high spirits, and in the morning of 23rd November, 1915, part of the troops left the docks for a three mile trek to a rest camp; but soon the Battalion set out on its first journey "up the line" in cattle trucks. Travelling through the night of the 24th, via Rouen and Amiens, the unit reached Pont Remy, some twelve miles east of Abbeville, in the early hours of the following day, and soon had commenced their first route march into the battle-ways of France, and, incidentally, at the first resting place, Mouflers, made cheerily light of what was their first experience of faulty billeting arrangements. One billet, for 150 men, at the Folie Auberge was uninhabitable, and the appearance of the billets in general was greeted with good-natured growls of amazement and disgust. The weather, however, was mild and sunny, and after about eight hours' work all the troops were more or less under cover. When every incident was an experience novel and suggestive, such minor discomforts did not trouble anyone seriously; but considered in retrospect it must be admitted that these, their first billets, were very poor for a village so far behind the line. If it was an unpromising beginning for the companies, it proved a delusion and a snare for headquarters, for they scored on this occasion in having at the Chateau the most comfortable billets they ever were fated to enjoy.
The next day was spent in resting, and on the 27th the march was continued along the magnificent Amiens Road, through Felixcourt and Belloy-sur-Somme to La Chaussee. This was a day of keen frost and bright sunshine, and headed by the band, the 17th stepped out through the various villages in the best of spirits. Following the same column was the 17th Northumberland Fusiliers and two A.S.C. Companies. That night the billets were good, everyone felt somehow in holiday mood, helped perhaps by the successful bargaining for eggs, chickens and wine, for to make purchases at all was even at that early date a matter for rejoicing. The pipers delighted with their playing the heart of Madame la Comptesse at her chateau at Turancourt where Brigade headquarters were stationed.
On the 28th, a bitterly cold day, the Battalion marched eleven miles via Coisy and Ranneville to Molliens-au-Bois, and there they stayed until the morning of December 1st, when they were joined by M. Duchamps, interpreter. Molliens-au-Bois lies about eight miles north of Amiens, but the outstanding feature was that, from the high ground above there was got the first glimpse of the illuminations provided nightly by the Bosche, all along the battle front.
On 1st December they left at 8.15 a.m., in company with the 16th H.L.I., and on the way a Company of the 17th Northumberland Fusiliers joined the column, which now was moving into the front area.
During the afternoon of that day, the Officers and N.C.O.s of "A" and "B" Companies went from Bouzincourt into the front line trenches, just north of Albert, and were attached for instruction to the 7th Gordons and the 7th Black Watch of the 51st Division, and on the following day these two Companies joined their Officers in the front line for one night. The trenches were in a very bad condition after hard frost and heavy rain. Parts of the trenches were collapsing under the severe conditions and cases were reported from neighbouring units of men being drowned in the mud and water.
On the 3rd and 4th December "C" and "D" Companies from Millencourt went through a similar programme. On the 6th the front line only of Sectors F1 and F2 were taken over, and then on the 8th the whole Battalion took over Sector F1—some 2,000 yards of system from just north of La Boisselle towards Authuille (Blighty) Wood. The front line and communication trenches were knee deep in water and the trench shelters were poor. Rats galore and of enormous size added to the amenity of the district.
On the 4th of December the 17th suffered their first casualty by enemy action, Pte. J.M. Harper, "A" Company, being wounded by a rifle grenade.
The next day Ptes. A. Taylor and R. Cross, of "D" Company, were wounded while bringing up rations. On the afternoon of the 11th, the Battalion, having completed its course of practical instruction, was relieved, and returned, two Companies to Bouzincourt, two to Millencourt. During the relief the enemy shelled the position heavily, and the Battalion was fortunate in escaping with only one casualty, Pte. R. M'Kelvie of "B" Company. The next day the Battalion marched back to Molliens-au-Bois, via Senlis and Beaucourt, to recuperate after their opening experience of active trench warfare conditions. The mud and water and the delapidated condition of the trenches were indeed an eye-opener to the men, as much as the comparative absence of "enemy activity." As they tramped back to Molliens, they passed some Companies of the 15th H.L.I. en route for their first spell, and their blank astonishment at the muddy appearance of the returning 17th Battalion was much appreciated by the war-worn veterans!
All ranks received a good reception from the villagers, and the next few days were spent in resting, inspections and training. Considerable time was taken up in making duck-boards from the smaller trees of a wood near the village until this exercise was stopped by the forester. A few secured the grant of leave to Amiens, a privilege greatly enjoyed. The work of the organisations home in Glasgow and the interest taken in the Regiment and the men of the 17th Battalion soon became manifested by the arrival of parcels to such an extent that the postal arrangements were severely strained!
In the line—Xmas '15 and the New Year—the new trench—"Standing to"—routine and patrols.
The Battalion returned to the line from Molliens-au-Bois on 23rd December, 1915, and from then till 17th February, 1916, held the Sector F1 alternately with the 11th Border Regiment. The outstanding features of this period were the digging and then the taking over of the new trenches across the big re-entrant on their right on 2nd February, and the enemy raid on the 2nd K.O.Y.L.I., on their left on 9th February.
It will be noted that this spell of trench warfare activities brackets in both Christmas and New Year—both of which were accordingly spent in the front line trenches. As far as possible Christmas fare was provided in the line, and strict orders were issued that if the enemy made any friendly offers they were to be rejected strenuously. The only exchange of greetings notified for Christmas and New Year in the Official War Diary of the Battalion is a brief record of shelling and machine gunning. But during this period the Battalion had nevertheless very few casualties—only seven killed, including two died of wounds. The first casualty was Corporal Houston of No. 16 Platoon, who was killed at Lower Donnet on 3rd January.
Except for patrol work, the piece of work carried out on 2nd February, 1916, in connection with the new trenches was the first military operation carried out by the 17th when in close touch with the enemy, and it was confined to "B" Company and a Platoon of "A" Company, who acted as covering party.
For some time the Battalion had been exercised in night manoeuvres, and on 1st February they had a full-dress rehearsal of the impending operation, which, on Tuesday, 2nd February, came off sooner than had been anticipated. The scheme was to form a new line of trenches, protected by wire, nearer the German line, some 300 yards in front of the existing one, the length dug being about 600 yards, with communication trenches in addition.
At 6 p.m., in pitch darkness, "B" Company filed out into "no man's land." Instructions were, "No firing, bayonet only if necessary." There were Hun flares and machine guns, but no search-light. Had the enemy but used the light, all might have been spoiled. Their lives depended on no Hun reaching their line, or getting back with information. They went straight out the 600 yards without a hitch. That fixed their right flank, where Major J.R. Young was in command. Captain Russell led his half Company 500 yards straight across the front, with two scouts on either side, checking. At every five yards a man dropped and was placed, facing his proper front. They moved slowly, snail pace, but only three times in the 500 yards had the line to drop flat, until the last man was placed. The next thing was to get in touch with "A" Company, who were putting out the platoon to guard "B" Company's left flank. Rather jumpy work, this joining hands in pitch darkness. It was a long, silent night. At 9.30 the tinkling sound of the wire being fixed was heard, and they knew from this that the digging had commenced—some 800 men, good and true, working silently as they had never worked before.
When 1.30 a.m. came their time was up. The right half Company, under Major Young, rose silently, and crept off to a place in the wire where a gap had been arranged for the men to pass through. Captain Russell with the left half Company followed. The wiring and digging went on till 3 a.m., protected by patrols sent out in front of the wire. A new trench, with communication trenches, had been laid 300 yards out from their old line, protected by treble staked wire, on a frontage of 600 yards. The new trench was held till dawn before handing over. There was no hitch, and not a man wounded. The Battalion would have given much to see the Huns' faces when they looked across and found that long line of serpentine earth and wire shoved out under their noses. There would probably be some court-martialling of their patrols. Everything worked in absolute harmony, and with perfect success, and all got back safe to tell the tale. The Hun discovered what had been done only the following morning when all was over.
The lack of the more strenuous forms of active service excitement during the digging of this trench was more than made up for in the week following—when it was manned nightly in full strength, in spite of severe bombardment by the enemy.
After the successful and useful piece of work in advancing the line just described, the Battalion settled down to a period of normal trench warfare and intensive training, but managed to slip in a game of Rugger and an Association game or two. Intermittent spells of artillery and trench mortar and gas shell bombardments of varying severity disturbed the sector, but despite this the unit not only immediately repaired any damage done, but considerably extended and improved the system.
On the 9th of February the shelling became very heavy, culminating towards evening in an intense bombardment on the sector lying to the left of F1. At the same time an attempt was made to neutralise the fire of the British batteries on the Ancre by gas shells. Intense excitement prevailed in the Battalion, which was billeted in Aveluy, in Brigade support, when it was called on to "stand to" and man the bridge-head defences. Meantime the Hun carried out a raid on a part of the line known as the Nab, which was occupied by the 2nd K.O.Y.L.I. This point was occupied for half-an-hour or so by the enemy, who picked up about eleven K.O.Y.L.I. prisoners and then retired. The K.O.Y.L.I. suffered some sixty casualties in killed, wounded and missing, so "B" Company and part of "C" of the 17th were rushed up into the raided sector to reinforce the battered garrison, and stayed there till morning.
Again the conditions stereotyped themselves into that nerve racking ordeal known to the civilian public as "nothing to report"—the type of warfare recognised by all who have any experience of modern active service life as calling for all that is highest in regimental efficiency and discipline, and individual initiative and grit. The weather, taking it all over, was wet and stormy, causing endless work in repairing the line and pumping the trenches clear of water. But the bright star in this bloody, muddy firmament was the commencement of leave, which opened about the 14th February. Even if your name was well down the list, or not yet even on it at all, a new species of keen counter-attraction was provided to the demands of war.
The "Red" Division—in the line at Authuille—Colonel Morton wounded on March 21st—a raid postponed—carried out on 22nd—success of Lieut. Begg's party—congratulatory messages and awards.
On 17th February, 1916, the 97th Brigade was relieved by the 96th Brigade, and consequently the Battalion moved back for an expected rest of some weeks. The 15th Lancashire Fusiliers took over the Battalion Sector, and the 17th went into billets at Millencourt. Many fatigues were carried out round about Albert, the principal work being the laying of cables and the improving of roads. On the 24th, quarters were changed to Henencourt and from billets into huts in the wood—most unpleasant, firstly on account of snow and frost, and then, following a thaw, on account of knee-deep mud. But a further change on the 29th to Dernancourt brought back billets good and comfortable.
The attack on Verdun had upset the plans which had been made to give the Brigade the rest which it had been anticipating, and this last move to Dernancourt brought them into the line once more, just south of Albert.
The 32nd Division, by now, with good cause, had been named by the Germans as the "Red" Division because the Hun was given no rest by the Divisional Artillery and constant raids, and on account of the red distinguishing marks worn by all ranks of the Division on their tunic sleeves. The 32nd took over from the 18th Division, and on the 1st of March, 1916, the Brigade was in Divisional Reserve. On the 3rd of March, the 97th Brigade relieved the 14th Brigade, the 11th Border Regiment and 2nd K.O.Y.L.I. taking over. On March 10th the 17th H.L.I. relieved the 11th Border Regiment, and so once more they were in immediate face of the enemy. This sector was in front of Becourt Chateau, between Fricourt and La Boiselle.
A considerable amount of wiring was done, but life here was comparatively pleasant and the return of spring much appreciated. But, unfortunately, on the 21st of March, Col. Morton was wounded at Albert, Major Paul taking over command of the Battalion.
Working parties were heavy, and on one occasion the Bosche blew a camouflet while work was in progress. During this period great preparations were made for a raid, and there was keen competition for a place in the selected party. The night selected for the raid, 2nd April, however, was unfortunately bright, and this combined with the fact that the enemy, by means of listening apparatus, seemed fully aware of what was on, led to a postponement when actually in "no man's land." The hazardous work of laying the guide tape preparatory to the abandoned raid was carried out by 2nd Lieut. H. MacRobert and Corpl. J. Chapman.
This Sector was left on the 4th of April, and the Battalion, being relieved by the 2nd Scottish Rifles, of the 23rd Brigade, 8th Division, moved to Bouzincourt and went into huts vacated by the 2nd Inniskillens.
After a week's rest at Bouzincourt the Battalion returned to the line at Authuille, on 12th April, 1916, the 97th Brigade holding the line between that village and north to Thiepval, with the two other Brigades behind, in support and in reserve. Alternately in the line, in support, and in reserve, the 17th remained in this Sector until the opening of the Somme Battle on 1st July, 1916. But the period was not without stirring incident. By the 15th of April final arrangements were being made to carry out what was to prove a highly successful raid on the enemy, which operation was accomplished on 22nd April.
"23rd April, 1916,—Last night we made a successful raid against the enemy's trenches, south-west of Thiepval. Thirteen prisoners were captured, and in addition, a number of casualties were caused to the enemy by our men bombing their dug-outs. Our casualties were very slight."
This bald official statement of the 17th H.L.I.'s first raid is to the lay mind singularly unimpressive, but behind it there is an interest and a measure of glory of which the 17th is happy to be proud. Let it be remembered that it was their first "stunt," their first real hand to hand brush with the enemy, and that to the 17th fell the honour of getting the first "jab in" for the 32nd Division.
It was on the 28th of March, 1916, that volunteers were called for to raid the enemy's trenches, and out of the hundred who answered, a party of 45 was selected, under Lieut. A.J. Begg, and Lieut. J.N. Carpenter. This party went down to Dernancourt, behind Albert, to complete the training for the raid, and the intention was to rush the enemy on the night of 2nd April. That night, however, as already explained, proved unfavourable on account of a bright moon, and the party, after crawling stealthily towards the enemy's wire were observed near his trenches and were forced to withdraw. Training was resumed at Bouzincourt, and it was decided then to have the assistance of a preliminary artillery bombardment. A point in the enemy's salient south-west of Thiepval was selected, the wire there was cut in advance by the artillery, and close observation was maintained on the spot from day to day. Meanwhile the enemy's fortifications were duplicated on the ground behind Bouzincourt, and there, night after night, the raiding party practised the assault. The most careful preparations were entailed, with much planning and understanding of detail. Every man had to know thoroughly his part. There had to be no hitch anywhere. Lieut. Begg saw to it that the training was complete, and given any luck, success was fully assured.
On the night of the 22nd of April, the party, with blackened hands and faces, and equipped with an assortment of weapons worthy of Mexican outlaws, presented themselves at the head of Thiepval Avenue, and filed up to the "starting point" to await the report of the Patrol under Lieut. MacRobert, who also had charge of the tape-laying party which included Corporal Chapman. At 9.30 p.m. our artillery suddenly opened on the enemy's salient, and poured down on it such a tornado of steel as the Germans had never experienced before. For twenty minutes our shells flayed the German front line, and under this arch of shrieking explosives the battle party crawled right up to the rim of the bombardment. What wire remained uncut was blown to fragments by a torpedo, and when the barrage lifted and came down behind, the raiders jumped into the enemy's trench and set to work. For twenty minutes they bombed and destroyed, cleared dug-outs, pulled down machine guns, barricaded communication trenches, and handed prisoners back to escorts. Then on a signal they as quickly withdrew, and still under cover of artillery fire made their own trench again. Thirteen affrighted Germans, of two different units, accompanied the party; and, finest of all, every man of the party returned. Eleven of them were wounded, but only one seriously. Among those slightly wounded was Lieut. Begg, who was the spirit of the assault.
As a result of this success many congratulatory messages were received and several decorations awarded. Among the list of telegrams were the following:—
From the G.O.C. 10th CORPS:—"Corps Commander congratulates the 17th H.L.I. on their successful enterprise, which reflects great credit on all concerned."
From the G.O.C. 32nd DIVISION:—"I congratulate you. I was confident that the 17th H.L.I. would do the trick. Convey this message to them."
From Sir HENRY RAWLINSON, G.O.C. 4th ARMY:—"Please convey to 32nd Division, and particularly to the 97th Brigade and 17th Battalion Highland Light Infantry, my heartiest congratulations on their successful raid last night. The preparations were well and carefully thought out, the Artillery support was good, and the whole conduct of the operations reflects credit on all concerned."
From the G.O.C. 97th INFANTRY BRIGADE:—"Commander-in-Chief has awarded the following decorations:—Lieut. Begg, and 2nd Lieut Carpenter, Military Cross; 15507 Sergt.-Major Reith, D.C.M.; 15458 Sergeant Taylor, 2797 Private Leiper and 15720 Private M'Intosh, Military Medal. All 17th H.L.I. Major-General Rycroft offers his heartiest congratulations to above officers, N.C.O.s and men on their decorations. Letter with authority following."
The Battalion had three men killed and four wounded during enemy retaliation, but any serious effort by the enemy was checked, and on the 24th the unit went into reserve billets at Bouzincourt.
A LULL BEFORE THE STORM.
Preparations commenced for the Somme offensive—a complimentary shoot with "P" Battery—Divisional, Brigade and Battalion identification marks—happy days at Rubempre.
On 27th April, in brilliant summer weather, the Commanding Officer, Company Commanders, the Intelligence Officer and four N.C.O.s per Company attended a Divisional Exercise at Baizieux, and this was the start of those preparations which were to culminate in the Battle of the Somme on 1st July.
On 3rd May the Colonel returned and took over command from Major Paul, and during the following day, Major Lawder, Commanding "A" Battery, 168th Brigade, R.F.A., entertained those who had taken part in the raid and allowed them to fire the guns which had rendered such fine support during the sortie.
Identification marks had now been issued for some time for major operations pending. The Divisional colours were crimson and the sleeve mark was a red circle for the 97th Brigade. The K.O.Y.L.I. had one bar below the circle; the Border Regiment, two; the 16th H.L.I., three; and the 17th, four bars, worn horizontally and parallel. Runners, bombers, etc., had further identification marks. Prior to this, from November 1915, to April, 1916, no distinctive mark had been worn on the sleeve, but on the centre of the tunic collar at the back there was worn a strip of ribbon coloured yellow, pale blue, and yellow. During the succeeding period, up to the disbandment of the Battalion, the sleeve marks were used only. While the circle was always red the bars were coloured respectively black for Headquarters; red for "A" Company; green for "B"; yellow for "C"; and blue for "D" Company. The Divisional sign on flags and limbers, etc., was a red coloured intertwined double 8.
The weather was now very fine, and when not in the line, delightful days were spent at Rubempre, Contay and Warloy, and strenuous days on Divisional exercises at Baizieux in preparation for the Somme. From this it will be seen that the Battalion was not engaged in killing Germans all the time, or being killed by them. At times they had a change. There were periods of rest. The word "rest" is very often the subject of sarcastic humour amongst troops. "Resting" may mean anything. It may be quite a good time or it may be worse than the firing line. Too often it is simply an occasion of smartening up—guards, ceremonial parades, saluting, and "spit and polish" generally—in fact the things that can be indulged in to excess. And very often a rest simply means preparation for a big stunt. But the 17th will remember occasions when they did have a real rest. This was particularly the case at Rubempre. The weather was good, and they had a comparatively easy time. They had about three hours' training in the forenoons. Thereafter they were free. There were sports and games in the afternoons for the enthusiasts. There were entirely successful concerts and sing-songs in the evenings. It was a change to see and be among civilians—to be welcome in the village houses—and generally to experience peace time conditions again. This may not seem to amount to very much, but it meant a lot then. And it certainly had a fine effect on the morale of the Battalion. It was a sheer relief to be out of sound of the guns, to forget the mud, the exhaustion, mental and physical, the weary night watches, standing to, and working parties.
But such days passed quickly, and all too soon they found themselves on the road again, loaded up, silent, thoughtful, on the way back to the firing line.
THE BATTLE OF THE SOMME.
Spirit of the Battalion prior to the battle—zero and "over the top"—Leipzig Trench carried—flanks exposed—precarious position of the unit—great casualties—protective bombing posts—consolidation—Battalion relieved—Victoria Cross gained by Sergeant Turnbull—Roll Call.
Signs of the coming conflict were everywhere. The tremendous accumulation of men and material had been going on unceasingly for weeks, and during the long June days clouds of dust hung in the hot, still air above the roads. For the roads all led towards the line, and the tramp of men, and the rumble of wheels were unending. The Battalion had long ago recovered from a hard and monotonous winter of trench warfare. To each man there remained the joy of remembering days and nights that were unpleasant—for it is a joy to remember, in the comfort and happiness of to-day, the discomforts and sorrows of yesterday. Now the sun was shining. Training was going on apace under the pleasantest of conditions. They were a healthy family. Each man felt his potentiality, and unconsciously boasted it in his every action. Such was the feeling in the Battalion when the certainty of conflict came. To everyone it was the "Big Push"—the mighty Armageddon—of which all had thought and spoken during the winter of waiting. There was no doubt as to the issue. Each man went about his duties with an eye to an immediate and definite future. If anything he gave greater care to his rifle. In his feeling the edge and point of his bayonet, there was something of a caress. Now was the look in each eye born of the lust of killing. It was the knowledge that on a bright morning—now only a few hours distant—man would be matched against man. "Justice of our cause may have been somewhere in our sub-consciousness. Certainly it was not uppermost. To each man the coming conflict savoured of individual mortal combat. The days of waiting were gone. He was going forward to prove his manhood"—so write two veterans of that fight.
The story of that morning is an epic. For every man it was the first experience of "over the top." In sun-baked trenches everyone longed for the zero hour, while the guns rolled and shells crashed with ever-increasing intensity. Nothing was real. Men stood and waited as if in a dream. They felt as if they were listening to the overture; that soon the curtain would rise. Even when the guns ceased their roar for a few moments towards the end, and in the death-like stillness was heard the warbling of birds in "no man's land"—the grim reality of it all was felt. With the lifting mist of the morning, the curtain rose....
At 7.23 a.m. the Battalion started moving across "no man's land." When the barrage lifted the men entered the enemy front line and the work of the moppers-up soon began. The advance across the open was splendidly carried out, all ranks behaving magnificently, as was the case throughout the entire action. Leipzig Trench was taken and the leading lines advanced against the Hindenburg Trench. These were mown down and by 8.15 a.m. every Company Officer was a casualty. It now became obvious to Colonel Morton that Leipzig Trench must be held, as without reinforcements, no further advance could be made, both flanks being exposed, as the 8th Division on their right had been driven back. The left was particularly exposed and parties under Sergt. Macgregor and Sergt. Watt were organised and sent to strengthen the left where "B" and "D" Companies had been almost annihilated. It was now 9 o'clock and the Battalion casualties now amounted to 22 officers and 400 other ranks. The bombers, who had been sent up to replace casualties, were holding the flanks successfully. By 11.15 the entire line was very weak, and still at 2 o'clock in the afternoon the situation was unchanged, 2nd Lieut. Morrison and 2nd Lieut. Marr working and organising the protective flank bombers without the least regard for personal safety. At 4 o'clock the 2nd Manchesters reinforced them with two Companies. Just at this time the line wavered a little in face of the overwhelming bombardment and the appalling casualties, but control was immediately gained. At 5 the shattered unit was ordered to consolidate the ground taken. This was done and two strong enemy counter attacks repulsed. At 9.30 the Battalion started to be relieved by the Manchesters, but the relief was not wholly carried out until near midnight, although several bombing parties had to carry on till well towards mid-day of the following day before being relieved. The 17th concentrated on Campbell Post and held the line in that Sector. In the evening of the next day the Battalion was relieved and returned to dug-outs at Crucifix Corner.
The first V.C., not only for the Battalion, but of the Division was gained in this battle and was won by Sergeant James Young Turnbull.
The following is the extract from The London Gazette, of 25th December, 1916, intimating the award of the Victoria Cross:—
"No. 15888 Sergeant JAMES YOUNG TURNBULL, late Highland Light Infantry.
"For most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty, when, having with his party captured a post apparently of great importance to the enemy, he was subjected to severe counter attacks, which were continuous throughout the whole day. Although his party was wiped out and replaced several times during the day, Sergeant Turnbull never wavered in his determination to hold the post, the loss of which would have been very serious. Almost single-handed he maintained his position and displayed the highest degree of valour and skill in the performance of his duties.
"Later in the day this gallant soldier was killed whilst bombing a counter-attack from the parados of our trench."
Of all the units operating in that ghastly Sector, the 17th H.L.I. was the only Battalion which reached and occupied and held the enemy's trenches from La Boiselle northwards. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, writing of the battle of the Somme in his history of the war, emphasises what this unadorned record of the day's fighting bears out—that there had been no flinching anywhere, and the military virtue shown had been of the highest possible quality; but the losses from the machine guns and from the barrage was so heavy that they deprived the attack of the weight and momentum necessary to win their way through the enemy's position. "In the desperate circumstances," he says, "it might well be considered a remarkable result that a stretch of the Leipzig Redoubt should be won and permanently held by the Highlanders, especially by the 17th Highland Light Infantry."
Throughout these terrible operations Colonel Morton was present in the most advanced positions encouraging and cheering the men by his personal example and utter disregard for danger. In this work he was gallantly seconded by his Adjutant and his Headquarters' Staff, who were individually forward directing operations when all the Company Officers had been knocked out. It is not too much to say that the resolute spirit and example of the Colonel rallied the Battalion to heights of endurance and endeavour which found their greatest inspiration in his presence in the firing line.
Great work was also done by Captain D.C. Evans, R.A.M.C., who, for over forty-eight hours, without interval or rest, attended to the Battalion wounded. Throughout the action he carried on his task of relieving suffering and saving life quite heedless of the shelling and firing and quite cool in the face of the ever growing number of cases demanding his attention and skill.
At the Battalion parade for Roll Call on the 4th of July, the casualties totalled 22 officers and 447 other ranks.
A DIARY ACCOUNT OF THE BATTLE.
Extract from the personal diary of the late Lieut. B. Meadows giving a wonderfully realistic picture of the July 1st Battle.
The narrative of the 1st of July Somme Battle as written in the diary of the late 2nd Lieut. B. Meadows, who, before taking his commission, served with the 17th H.L.I., gives such an impressive account of the battle that we include it here almost in entirety. The foregoing chapter gives a general idea of the intensity of the great battle from the impersonal and official viewpoint, with data checked and balanced. But the following account introduces the personal and human element with poignant effect. Some of the very minor facts are a little inaccurate, but that is inevitable when an individual soldier describes a general action from his own viewpoint. Nevertheless the editors consider that in no other Battalion source is there such a vivid record of experiences to be got which reflect the feelings of all those who took part in the action concerned.
"The last four days before zero," he writes, "were known as 'W,' 'X,' 'Y,' and 'Z' days. By 'W' every enemy observation balloon had been destroyed and so dense a fleet of aircraft patrolled the battle area as to make it impossible for the enemy aircraft to approach the lines. Thus the enemy was made blind. On the night of 'W' we got orders to move forward. Before leaving the billet we made a large bonfire with boxes from the C.Q.M.'s stores. On this we burned all our letters, and round it we had the last sing-song the old 'Seventeenth' ever had. We then believed it 'Y' night, not 'W' night. The night before we had gone up to the trenches through Aveluy and Authuille with petrol tins full of water. These were stocked in dug-outs and along the trench and formed our reserve water supply. Many of our guns were firing 'gun fire,' yet the enemy made little artillery reply. He retaliated chiefly on the front line defences with trench mortars. Of such a violent nature was this bombardment that the Lonsdales had to call on our 'D' Company for support to make up for their casualties in shell shock, etc. Curiously enough, during the days 'D' Company held the line they suffered no casualties, although the trench was battered out of all recognition. When it was dark on 'W' night we marched to Bouzincourt. Here we spent the night in huts. Before daybreak we were shelled and had one man killed. Day showed an extraordinary sight. Bouzincourt stands on the hill, the battle area stretched out like a map below. Near the Crucifix on the Aveluy road a long naval gun barked. Just behind us was a 15 inch howitzer. Its shells could easily be watched in their flight overhead. In front were an infinite number of guns all in action. A long line of observation balloons made a crescent round Albert. One could count over twenty, and not one German. The air was thick with our aeroplanes. The German lines looked like long ribbons of white fur. The air was full of shrapnel balls, especially over the woods, and the villages were burning. The heavy howitzers were causing dreadful eruptions on the German strong points. La Boisselle, believed impregnable, was a concentrated hell. The Germans were putting shrapnel into the woods that lie in the triangle between Hamel, Bouzincourt and Aveluy. Here our guns were massed. And now and then a mushroom of smoke would spring up in unexpected places. The noise was so terrific that it became monotonous. We were served out with cotton wool for our ears, but in spite of this the concussion on the 1st of July was so great that we all became stone deaf, and for days after almost without the use of our voices. We prepared for 'battle order.' All our belongings we packed into our valises, and these were stored in an empty house in Bouzincourt. We wore steel helmets, at that time they were without sandbag coverings, and in strong sunlight reflected almost as brilliantly as polished steel. I noticed on the 1st July, looking back from the advanced line to the German original front line, how the helmets of our reserves holding that line shone up and made their wearers clear targets. We wore the haversack on our back containing mess tin, small kit, two days' rations, 'iron rations,' pair of socks and waterproof sheet. We carried four sandbags just below. Then we had the usual equipment, pouches containing 120 rounds, bayonet, water bottle and entrenching tool. Another 100 rounds in bandoliers, and I had extra an apron containing 12 Mill's bombs and butterfly wirecutters. The whole formed fairly heavy equipment. In the late afternoon when we were all lined up prepared to march off, orders came to cancel all orders. We stood by for two days. On 'X' night the 16th H.L.I. sent a platoon over to find out the condition of the enemy defences. Owing to an accident they were almost entirely wiped out. On the following morning while playing a football match the Sixteenth again suffered casualties from a 5.9 which burst between the goal posts. In the evening of 'Z' day, the 30th of June, we marched off by platoons. The thunder of the heavy guns as we passed through their belt was almost unbearable, and nearer the lines long lines of eighteen-pounders were giving 'battery fire' down long rows of twenty batteries, sometimes all speaking at once. We entered 'Oban Avenue' at the right end of the village of Authuille. It was the 'up' trench for the advance and 'Campbell Avenue' the 'down.' Both trenches had been deepened, in some places, to twelve feet, and were fairly safe from shrapnel. The line in which we were to spend the night had been blown almost completely out of existence and it was difficult to find sufficient cover for the men. I and the bomber who was next to me in the line found a corner and there slept for the night. We were once disturbed by the enemy destroying a trench mortar store situated close to where we slept. Daybreak came and still there was no word of 'zero.' We made some breakfast, and about half-past five word was passed along that zero was 7.30, and to move into battle positions. We moved to the right until we were in contact with the next Company. At 6.25 a.m. the final bombardment commenced. Every gun was firing 'gunfire' and the rush of metal overhead was extraordinary. The reply was feeble. At 7.25 we left the trench and walked over to within 60 yards of the barrage. At 7.30 the barrage lifted and we rushed the front line defences, destroying the garrison, in and out of dug-outs. I have few definite memories from the time we first saw the Germans to the time the machine gun swept us down outside the Liepzig Redoubt. It became evident that we, who were working up between two communication trenches, after two or three rushes, that further advancing was impossible without support. We waited for our own reserve waves and the Lonsdales who should have come on behind. But no reserves reached us and we saw our only hope lay in the fact that they had rushed one of the communication trenches and might manage to bomb out the machine gun. But the bombers were checked out of range of the gun. We began to work towards the communication trench, but owing to the lie of the ground we were badly exposed and I at length found myself the only living occupant of that corner. About twelve o'clock I managed to leap the parapet without being hit. I found my platoon officer, Lieut. MacBrayne, lying shot through the head. Of the others of my platoon I could get no news, except those I saw lying dead or wounded. Tom Train had completely disappeared. An order came up the trench, '17th H.L.I. move to the left and prepare to support the Dorsets.' The communication trench was at this time chiefly manned by K.O.Y.L.I. (who should have supported the 16th H.L.I. who had been held up by the German wire and cut up before able to take the first line of defences. Those left were forced to retire to their own line). A few Lonsdales (the 11th Borderers had been cut up coming up through 'Blighty Wood,' Colonel and Adjutant killed and all officers casualties) were able to give us practically no support, and a Company of Manchesters, sent from Divisional Reserve. I moved to the left. An officer suddenly jumped the parapet and shouted 'Come on, the 17th!' I followed him along with about twenty others. But we found the barbed wire impossible to cut through and he gave us the order 'Every man for himself.'
"Making my way back to the trench I rested in a shell hole occupied by a Sergeant wounded in the leg. Whilst talking to him we both fell asleep and slept until about 5 p.m., when the Germans counter-attacked. Their artillery became violent and they attempted to come over the open. We ran for the communication trench and found it disorganised. Orders got mixed and some seemed anxious to retire. Fortunately the 17th H.L.I. bombers, who were in the advanced position, held their ground, driving the enemy back with their own bombs, and the attack over the open was checked by our brigade machine guns which had been massed in the German front line. During the whole action we lost no ground that had previously been gained. By this time our Battalion had been badly hit. 'B' Company on our left had been caught in the wire and cut to pieces by machine gun fire. My own Company, 'A,' was down to low numbers. My Captain and my Platoon Officer were both killed, all the platoon's N.C.O.s were killed or wounded, two Sergeants outright, and all the L.-Corpls. dead. We had 17 officers killed and were working the Battalion with two officers. The Colonel, who had been well forward all day, was without a scratch. It was a remarkably clear day, very hot. We were on the ridge that formed the defence on that side of Thiepval. From here we could see the whole battlefield. I saw the huge eruption at La Boisselle, when the six mines went up, and I remember watching long lines of Highlanders charging along the opposite slope of the valley. The aeroplanes followed every movement, flying low overhead and directing the artillery by dropping flares. The Germans counter-attacked in a half-hearted way through the night. We had casualties from our own artillery and mortar batteries, otherwise the night was quieter than we had expected. We managed to carry away a number of our wounded in waterproof sheets. The battalions on both flanks were unsuccessful in storming the enemy's front line defences, thus our flanks were exposed and blockades had to be formed at the front line and all lines forward to our advanced positions, which developed into a series of bombing posts. Local fights went on at their posts all through the day and night, and it was while chasing each other round corners at the head of the communication trench in the afternoon that we lost Sergeant Turnbull, V.C., who had done wonderful work all day. The nature of the Leipzig defences, a maze of trenches and underground saps, made advancing into the salient extremely hard. One was continually attacked in the rear. What seemed dug-outs were bombed, and when passed numbers of the enemy rush from them, they being really underground communications with their rear defences. The whole fighting was of a cold, deliberate, merciless nature. No quarter was given or taken. One of the battalions opposing us was similar to our own, a students' battalion from Bavaria. The enemy used explosive and dum-dum bullets, and sniped off any of our wounded lying exposed in the open. They were helped in their work by an arrangement we had come to regarding wounded. It was not permitted to stop to take back prisoners or to stop to dress a wounded chum; but it was permitted to stick the bayonet of the wounded man's rifle in the ground and thus to mark the spot where he lay. The Germans observed this and watched for any movement in the heap beside the standing rifle. Men coolly fired at each other at point blank range, and sniping became the chief cause of casualties. It resembled a duel between two men who had had a deadly quarrel—so intensely deliberate. On the morning of the 2nd of July we handed over the front line of attack to Divisional Reserves and went into support. At sunset we were relieved by the Cheshires, and moved back to the dug-outs at Crucifix Corner. We had a number of casualties coming out of action. We were given tea, food and rum, and went off into a heavy sleep."
HULLUCH AND THEREABOUTS.
Senlis—last parade under Col. Morton—Bombing raid north of Ovillers—Move to Bethune—1st Army Area—inspection by General Munro—depleted ranks—trench warfare about Hulluch—Cambrin Sector.
In the sadness and stress of the first days after the Somme, there came messages round to say the Battalion was saying "Good-bye" to its Colonel. Worn out with fatigue he had been reluctantly persuaded by the Brigadier and the doctors that if he wished to live and serve his country more in the war he must retire from the dreadful strain of command. In a field at Senlis, on the afternoon of 8th July, the remnants of the Battalion, on their last parade under Colonel Morton, were drawn up, silent and deeply moved. In a few words the Colonel told the Battalion what he was going to do and all stood there with their losses and their heartbreaks, hardly able to keep down the tears. Addressing the men he congratulated them in warm and feeling terms for their devotion while under his command and wished them well in the uncertainties of the future.
Colonel Morton had started them, trained them, and cared for them; fought Brigade and authorities for them; led them and loved them—and now they were to lose him. He said little, for much of a speech would not come, but he knew their memories and he knew what they felt. Major Paul, on behalf of the Battalion, expressed the profound regret of all ranks in losing the guidance and leadership of Colonel Morton, who had raised the 17th to such a high state of proficiency, and to wish him a well merited rest and all happiness. Just these few words of "Good-bye," then they cheered him and, with a lump in their throats they were not ashamed of, they dismissed. All said good-bye in their hearts and wished him God-speed. It is sad to part with a loved C.O. who, too, feels the parting.
Major Paul then took over command of the 17th and that evening once more they moved into the trenches in support at Quarry Post, Authuille Wood.
On the 13th July a bombing party of about 100 men were ordered to attack the German Line, north of Ovillers, linking up with the Inniskillen Fusiliers, and this party at midnight under Captain Ferguson, Lieuts. Herron and Kirk and Sergeant Stewart, in conjunction with the Inniskillens and a party of Engineers, carried out the raid.
The greatest credit was due to the initiative shown by Captain Ferguson, in making excellent dispositions under very difficult conditions. Owing to the strength of the German wire, a frontal attack was impracticable, and after much thought, it was decided to attack obliquely. The attack was most successful, a considerable number of Germans being killed, while at least 16 were taken prisoners. The objectives were all taken in a few minutes, but unfortunately the raiders' losses were heavy. Captain Ferguson was mortally wounded, eight other ranks were killed, and the other two officers and about 35 other ranks were wounded.
Writing of this incident, one of the Battalion officers says that after the patrol had gone out those who were not taking part in it heard the firing and the clamour of the small battle while they waited eagerly for news of its progress. "News came in that the front was safe, and proud of the efforts of our Battalion, we waited for their return. The waiting was hard to bear, but the return sadder to witness. They came back. On the right they had succeeded. On the left they had died. A triumph and a disaster in one. On that small field were left yet more of the (oh! so sadly few) gallant men of the Seventeenth who, though exhausted and battle-worn, had in their own true and fine spirit responded to the uttermost to the call for gallant work. Later the body of Captain Ferguson was found right up to the German lines grasping an empty revolver, far ahead in the charge of even his gallant followers."
For this action, the Battalion received thanks and congratulations from the Corps and Division. A counter-attack drove the raiders out of the captured trench; but the object of the raid—to create a diversion from a major operation on the right—had been successfully accomplished.
This particular week, which was the last the Battalion saw of the Somme fighting until later in the year, was one of the most strenuous times which the unit had experienced. The available men for defensive purposes were only too few and as new assembly trenches had to be dug every night and all night, and also owing to the difficulties of rationing and watering, the men were unable to get any rest.
The Brigade commenced a move to Ampliers on 16th July, and on the road the Battalion was met by Lieut.-General T.L.N. Moreland, commanding the X Corps. He expressed to the Commanding Officer his appreciation of the good work done by the Battalion while under his command, and his deepest sympathy in their losses. On the 26th the Brigade moved into Bethune and two days afterwards paraded in full marching order, including "tin hats," on a sweltering afternoon, to be inspected by General Munro, G.O.C., 1st Army. A very warm day. Owing to the calls on an Army Commander's time, this inspection was considered to be a great honour and a mark of appreciation by the authorities of the fine spirit shown by the Division during the Somme battle.
August saw the unit leave Bethune to take over the Cambrin right sub-sector from the Northamptons, after putting in some fine shooting on the old French Government Rifle Range at Labeauvriere. The strength of the unit in the trenches apart from the officers, at the taking over (August 5th) was 199—tragic testimony to the Somme. Immediately on taking over the trenches they were subjected to trench mortar bombardments and sniping raids. On 12th August Lieut. and Adjutant Paterson became Captain and Adjutant, Major Paul became Lieut.-Colonel, and 2nd Lieuts. Morrison and Marr, Captains.