Category Archives: France

Weekending 9th April 1916

The Black Watch is my family, but I do worry about my sons

My name is George Shaw. I am a carpenter from Perthshire. I saw active service in the Black Watch in Africa under Colonel McPherson and fought alongside Kitchener, now the chief of the British Army. My two sons, George and William are now in France with the Black Watch. I am very proud of them but, of course, their mother does worry.  William has this blog, and I have been persuaded to write some of my thoughts for it. I hope this will suffice, for I do not regard myself as a literary man. The news from France is very frustrating. I do not understand why we are not just sweeping the Hun aside and marching to Berlin. We have success in Mesopotamia, why not France? George tells me that it is very different from my day, that modern warfare is fought at distance and death can come from a mile away. It may be that is so, but grit and cold steel won the day in Egypt. Perhaps we should revert to the old ways…

George Shaw in his Black Watch uniform

George Shaw in his Black Watch uniform

 

Working in Gray’s is fine. Their workshop is a busy place, and there is camaraderie amongst those of us engaged in cabinet-making, though we all seem to be getting older and there’s very few coming in to the trade these days. But that’s down to the war, of course. Most days we get a laugh with each other, even when we’re on coffin making duties which we all take a turn at. But yesterday I was asked to make two coffins, and both were for children, so it makes you feel less cheerful. And then today, I read about a German bomb dropped in Ramsgate, down in the south of the country, and there were four children killed in the incident. Things like that boil the blood, and they justify this war against the cruel Hun.

These children were on their way to Sunday school, which makes matters seem even worse, and the driver of a passing automobile was killed too. Some of the bombs from the raid landed on a hospital too, and on shops and private houses, which shows how uncaring and brutal the enemy is. How would I feel if that was my child? I hate to think how I would feel – hateful, desolate, and angry at my powerlessness I suppose. My George and William are both in the army, both have done trench duty, both have been shot at and no doubt bombed by the Germans, but, at least, they and their fellow troops can retaliate. They can fight back, and do to the enemy what is being done to them. And I am fortified by the knowledge that my sons do not go about killing children.

This is a long war, far too long, and there is constantly news coming out in the newspapers about the different fields of conflict. Sometimes the news is good, and sometimes less so, and sometimes there seems to be a lull, but the lull is just as difficult to take because you know the warfare will rekindle. There isn’t a man jack of us here in Gray’s who doesn’t have someone in service, and though none of us, thanks to the grace of God, has lost a son yet, there are a few who have lost nephews and Godchildren. You live with it, but in the pit of your stomach there is always a dread and a fear that bad news might visit your own household.

We are a strong family. While Helen and I discuss our sons a lot, we include our daughters in most of what we talk about. That’s only fair on Christina for after all she is doing all she can to help in this conflict. When she’s not hard at it in the munitions factory, she’s down at the railway station doling out blankets and things to the soldiers returning from the Front. She’s a clever lass, and she can see in the eyes of these men the fear and anguish mixed with the relief at being home. She knows they’ll be going back to whatever it is, and she knows her own brothers are going through the same emotions. She’s said, more than once, that she hopes there are girls handing out blankets, and a kind word, at every station in the country. Christina now wants to be a nurse. She feels that in her time in the factory she has done her best for the cause, but she thinks that in nursing she can offer even more. She speaks to her mother, more than to me, about these things, but she knows we’ll both support her.

Her sister, Janet, is a deeper wee soul. We worried about the change of school, from the country school at Abernethy to the busier school in Dundee, but she seems to have adapted fine. It must be so difficult for her generation, because so many of them have fathers, and brothers of course, off at war. Janet is a grand wee knitter, her mother says she takes that off her granny. Janet has knitted countless scarves and socks, and her classmates do the same – them that can afford the wool. Dundee is a down-at-heel place for many. Some people struggle to clothe themselves so you can hardly expect them to send stuff out for our boys. But though life’s a struggle for some, there’s still a strong spirit of support for the country’s commitment to the war.

More news came in the newspaper the other day. Attested married men are being called to arms, and there was an emergency recruitment drive ordered by Lord Kitchener himself. This is a worrying development, I think. If we’re taking more and more men for the Front it makes it look like it could be a long time before the country is out of this conflict. And, of course, if they are looking for more men then more women are going to be needed in so many jobs. They did also make mention, in the same page of the paper, that ‘Conscientious Objectors’ are going to be put to the land to cover for honest men who have answered, willingly, the country’s cause. Maybe a fairer man than me can sympathise with these people, and for many it’s maybe a religious conviction that stops them, but I have little but disgust for them. Maybe, because I have two boys in the fray, and a girl who does all she can too for the war effort, that I take a high-handed view on this, but just about every man I know feels a bit the same. At a time when our country needs to be defended, I feel that ALL men should do their bit.

After soup for dinner, we had some bread and dripping tonight, and we thought of William because we know it’s something he loves. Jenny turns her nose up at it, but she at least tries a wee bit to show her support for her brother. Christina is starting early tomorrow, and Helen will get up at the crack of dawn to make sure her daughter has some breakfast. Jenny will sleep a bit longer, but she’ll help her mother with the dishes. We are all in this together. I’m at the coffin shop again tomorrow, and I hope I don’t get children’s ones to do.

weekending 12th March 1916

My Name is Lily Galbraith and this is my first blog

My Name is Lily Galbraith and I live with my parents in Abernathy near Perth. I have known William Shaw since our school days and when he returns from the war in France we walk out together. We exchange letters when he is at the front. This is my first entry in this blog…

Lily Galbraith 1914

Miss Lily Galbraith.

I happened to meet Mrs Shaw today, walking down the High Street. She seems to have aged so much in the few months since we last spoke, but, of course, I didn’t tell her so. I asked after William, and his brother George, and she told me how well they seemed to be doing, but it was easy to see that she is pained at their absence.

I am careful to watch what I ask of people these days; it is so easy to stir up emotions, or worse, to be given bad news in the innocent asking. But I knew William was well, and George, because I received a letter from William just three days ago. I was torn between telling Mrs Shaw about the letter or not – it would be beastly for her to be finding out that he’s writing to me if he isn’t keeping up with his family as much. I’m not sure why, but I kept the news of my letter from her.

Mrs Shaw asked if I’d seen the motto in the newspaper that day. When I replied that I hadn’t, she read it to me. It said, It Costs More to Live Now Than Ever Before – But Isn’t it Worth it? What can you say to that? It does certainly cost more and more for things, but if it’s going to the war effort how can anyone naysay that? I don’t think there is a person in the land who would think that it is not a price worth paying, but the problem we all have is that there seems no end to this dreadful conflict.

The newspapers are a constant source of information, but they often carry worrying news. Just this week there was a report of a German seaplane raid in England which killed two men and a boy. It is troubling that aeroplanes can wreak such havoc, and it must be concerning for others in the same area that the war is now on their doorsteps. Of course, I don’t mention that, or indeed any other negative news to Mrs Shaw, or others you know who have men in the war. So we speak about brighter news, like the excellent word of a proposal to extend the shipbuilding industry in Dundee. Not that I’m over there all that often nowadays – working at the farm takes up so much time – but it is easy to see that the town needs work. Hardship can be seen all over this part of our land, but it seems very concentrated in Dundee.

It is strange being a teenage girl in this time. We are doing more and more jobs that used to be done by the young men, though we are happy to take these on. If we can’t be occupied in the war, then at least we do all we can for the war effort in a cheerful and diligent fashion, even if it’s painful or tiring. We do miss having men of our own age around though – you really appreciate what a nice bunch they are when they’re not around. Mind you, doing more work around the farms seems quite ordinary when you compare it to working in the munition factories, where my old friend Lilias and her mother are in occupation. They moved to Thornhill last year, her mother’s parents live there, and now she’s working in a factory in which she is making munitions. We keep in touch by letter, but she never goes into detail about what it is they are doing, though I’m not sure I’d want to know anyway. It is vital work though, and she must feel a more direct sense of helping the war effort than I sometimes do.

Last week my father left his Courier lying on the table when he went to bed. He hasn’t been keeping too well of late because of the swellings in his joints. Normally we files the paper away after he’s read it – he’s been keeping copies since the war started and they are kept flat under a table in the bedroom. My mother grumbled a bit at first, but now she encourages him to keep them. So when he left the one on the table I had a thorough read through it, and it is impossible not to be drawn into events. To read about our men missing and presumed killed brings it very close to home. Of course, each and every one will have a family and friends back home and so each becomes almost a personal tragedy for the reader. There was one report from action around Pilkem which stated that eleven British soldiers were missing after chasing attacking Germans back to their trenches, and it was believed eight of the eleven had been killed. Of course we understand that news from the Front is necessarily vague, but to quote eight as being killed seems to have an air of certainty.

On the same page is a Casualty List from Mesopatamia. It makes dreadful reading, and the Black Watch seem to be suffering a lot. You look at the names of the dead, and of the wounded, and of those reported missing, and though you don’t recognise any of the names still it fills you with dread. I miss William, more and more each day. His letters are so welcome, and yet I feel a sadness that he has to be there, along with his brother and so many other men from our area and our country. I wonder how it will be when he gets back. And when it will be.

I’ve resolved to tell Mrs Shaw that William has started writing me, and that I write back to him. Maybe it will help her, knowing that his letters are cheering me. Maybe it will let her share her thoughts with me, as we are both missing the same young man. I would like that to be the case. I would like her to know that I am so proud to know her son. I hope it helps. Tomorrow I start work at 6.30, and I’ll do my best, but my mind, like everyone around me, will be on our servicemen and what this day might bring to them.

Weekending 5th march 1916

Frustration as we are held from fighting at the front

Sunday post front 5th March 1916At last the weather has started to improve. The snow has gone and whilst it rains regularly, the bitter wind has abated. How busy we are! It seems that we have not stopped since the announcement was made that we are merging with the 5th. We are due to meet at a place called La Belle Hotess (not so very far away) next week to complete the process. My role as a messenger for Capt Cunningham has allowed me to listen to the plans and I am pleased to say that Colonel Sceales will lead the 4/5th and the 4th will make up A and B company under Capt Cunningham and Capt Stevenson, and the 5th will form C and D companies under their officers. At least the lads will be together and will take comfort from that, though they do not know this yet and I have refrained from telling them. After the initial shock, I think we decided that it wasn’t so bad that it is the 5th. After all, it could have been an English batallion Or even and Indian regiment! That would have caused a riot at the mobile kitchens. Though, I must say, the colonial men are admirable fighters.

Sunday Post Verdun mapBy far the main frustration is that we are wasting our time so far from the front when we should be fighting the Hun. The French are feeling some heat at a place called Verdun at the moment. The Sunday Post has described this action as ‘easily the biggest battle of the war’, suggesting that Germany alone may lose a million men from this single campaign. Apparently they are determined to breakthrough on their western front while the Russian armies are still winter bound. I hope they throw everything they have, for they say that Verdun is impregnable and to commit so many must surely bring our victory closer.  Whilst we are deep in the French countryside, the only natives we see are the women peddlers who venture onto our camp. They sell trinkets and cards. But all their men folk are away, at the war.

Sunday post peddlers

 

 

I bought a pretty embroidered card to send to Lily. I cannot tell here where I am, but I am allowed to tell her that I am safe and well.

weekending February 20th 1916

Dreadful news! we are to merge with the 5th!

BL_0000565_19160220_001_0001

We were just getting into a regular routine when suddenly we upped sticks and moved first to Corbie on the eastern outskirts of Amiens, the to La Neuville about 40 miles north east again. It was there we were told the shocking news that we, the 4th Battalion are to merge with the 5th!

We were aghast at the news. Particularly as training had seemed to be going so well.  The new battalion is to joined a newly arrived 118th Brigade. No sooner had we been told, than we were on the march again to St Omer close to Calais. The weather was dreadful and we marched in a blinding snow storm. Indeed the roads were almost impassable – had it not been for the efforts of Transport Sergeant Cruickshanks none of the waggons would have found us again. Then when we arrived, nobody had arranged any billeting for us and we had to find warmth and comfort where we could. During this time we lost our punishment detail – those found guilty of the more trivial offences. First thing the next morning the Colonel received a note from them: They had found themselves a place of refuge a few miles away, took turns guarding themselves to ensure their own good conduct, and now would be exceedingly obliged if their rations and letters could be forwarded to them! A detail was sent and they found themselves back with the battalion in double quick time!

william shaw, Sunday Post 1916

I took this photograph two days after we had arrived in St Omer. What rough conditions, brought about by the wintery weather.

ammunition worker sunday post 1916

 

I found this photo in the Sunday Post last week and it reminded me of Chrissy. I know that she finds the work stressful and dull at the same time – A little bit like my work! I know also that she takes comfort from the friendships she has made. I know that without the lads, my experience in France would be bleak indeed. However, I know that with our women folk working so hard and more soldiers on their way – the paper said that even more men are being conscripted – this war will end soon and we can all go home.

 

 

 

 

 

weekending 30th January 1916

The 4th Battalion are moved behind the lines

sunday post 30th january 1916

Well, we have had a busy time. Landing so far behind the lines, gave us the opportunity to create our camp on virgin land,  However the weather is bitterly cold and wet, with snow thick on the ground. We have been inspected by both General Harper and our Brigadier, General Stewart. They seemed to be well satisfied, even though we shivered in our sodden uniforms. The mobile kitchen has worked wonders, and we eat like kings at the moment. despite the harshness of the season, we could almost be enjoying our holidays except that we are nowhere near the sea.

We spend our time in training. Back to digging trenches, charging with full packs and with our bayonets fixed, from one end of a field to the next. How quickly 600 hundred man can turn a grassy field into a sea of mud! After only a few days, our camp looks like the front in miniature.

From home, the news is that the government is calling for conscription. The Military Service Act will force all men of military age to join up and fight. How times have changed! Only last year, conscription was regarded as the preserve of tyrants. Now we must employ it to fight them.

I have written to Mother, telling her that I am away from the front. At least now she has only George to worry about. Captain Cunningham has insisted on reading all letters out, saying that we can not give away any information that may be useful to the enemy. Even knowing that we are not near the front could be of value to them. Does that mean that we are to be sent elsewhere?

After a week or so, I began to feel rather home sick. We were still in our new camp, so far behind the lines, and whilst we were very busy bringing the new lads up to scratch, the repetition and relative safety of our position has proved difficult for some of us more experienced soldiers to get used to. After only a few days, I found myself barking at a small group who were failing to grasp the simple concept of digging a trench. It is not boredom that I feel, more a lack of any excitement. I dare say the weather hasn’t helped – it has snowed, rained and hailed in equal amount. My fellow NCOs feel a similar lack of enthusiasm. On the one hand, I should be grateful that I have escaped the daily risks of trench rotation for a short time, but on the other I want to be doing something other than digging, charging and cleaning kit.

Sunday post war leaders january 1916

 

 

I saw this picture in the Sunday Post this week. All four leaders of the foreign powers together. Only when I read the description did I realise that this photograph has been fabricated – they have never been in the same room together. And the say that the camera cannot lie!

 

 

 

 

Everyone was hoping for some sort of celebration the  week of Burns night. Of course we had plenty of tatties and neeps, but we had to make do with salt beef instead of a haggis. A piece in the Sunday Post this week told what Rabbie Burn’s patriotism would have meant today. famed for his call for universal brotherhood, he was passionately against ‘ the mighty villains who desolate provinces and lay nations waste’ and was, of course a member of the local militia. I prefer his lines from ‘Scots Wha Hae’: Lay the proud usurpers low, Tyrants fall in every foe, Liberty’s in every blow, Let us do or die’ .

More drill and training the following week and the weather just as cold and wet. We spent our time getting clean and dry only so that we could get ourselves filthy and soaked again. There is a mix of men who have joined us. Some older family men, who try to get by exerting themselves as little as possible, and some younger ones for whom this is a great adventure. I remember that feeling well. The men have been split into sections – bombing sections, machine gun sections, and Danny and I are in the rifles section, which is the best one, of course. Each day, we go off and do our own practice. It takes my mind back to Barry Buddon, when I was training. Only this time, I am showing these men what to do. They know the basic drills, but they haven’t been tested much under live fire. There are certain tricks – how to speed up changing magazines and how to keep your barrel oiled and continue firing, for example that they don’t show you at home. These things can make all the difference. Each day we hold a competition amongst the men and make a note of the winners. There are some here who are naturals and they will be trained as snipers. We didn’t really have any before the war. The Hun have shown us how effective they can be, so now we shall have our own crack shots, picking off their officers and keeping every body’s heads down.

There has been more action than usual in the front lines. Even back here we can hear the guns. We instantly know if they are British or German and this week it has been our turn to take it. According to the papers we seem to be holding our own, though the French have given ground. Many of us are frustrated to be back here, when we could be helping, but we console ourselves in the belief that our turn will come.

 

 

Weekending 9th January 1916

We welcome General Haig and then get ready to travel

sunday post 9th january 1916

We have been in the trenches again and find that our headquarters – not so grand as it sounds, merely a hole deeper, built off the main trench – had been shelled Our two days was spent quietly digging and building a new on and defending our patch. It was very quiet. I don’t think either side really has the stomach for it. the shelling continues, but very little else. Then back for two days rest. we have been moved a small distance `north to Allouagne, not very far, but we are now attached to the 44th Brigade. Danny says we shall be off soon. I have been reading about our new Commander in Chief , General Haig, in the Sunday Post. We were all sorry to see General French replaced. He really cared about his soldiers.

sunday post douglas HaigBut General Haig seems to be made of the right stuff. He is a Scotsman from Fife and his family have fought with for Scotland for generations. The Post says that his ancestors fought with Wallace and at Flodden.  The general himself fought with distinction in Sudan and Africa. The whole battalion seems to have renewed enthusiasm and energy. There is a feeling that we shall soon be out of these muddy trenches and on the road to Berlin at last.

New year was celebrated in the reserve trench, the hour struck out on an old can. No Music, no celebration. Just quiet good wishes to our friends and brothers.

Two days later we received the order to prepare to move. not back to the trenches, but way back to undergo more training. I must say this is a very good thing. Although we are now up to full strength, many of our new comrades are completely raw and I for one am heartily sick of seeing them killed and wounded because they are so inexperienced. So, unlike our usual repositioning, this time we have packed up everything the 4th Battalion can lay claim to – tents, chests, the cooking utensils, most of the medical statin and tons of stores – ammunition, food and equipment. A few days later were boarded trains at Lillers, just north of Bethune and headed west. The train consisted of cattle trucks with canvas over the top to protect us from the weather. Whilst it was dry, it was terribly cold as we rattled through the countryside. There was a genuine sense of excitement, especially when we realised that we were heading away from the front. After a long train journey and a night march, we arrived at a town called Rainneville which is just north of Amiens.

General Harper

General Harper

 

 

 

We were allowed the morning to recover and rest and then, whilst on parade, we were told that we now attached t the 51st Highland Division under the command of General Harper. Our Brigade consists of the 4th and 5th Battalions Black Watch, the 4th Seaforths and the 4th Camerons. So we are one big happy family!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Whilst we are happy to be away from the fighting for little while and living in countryside that shows no sign of the ravages of war, It is very cold and not infrequently wet. of curse we are completely used to this weather and withstand it. However I cannot help but be envious of the 2nd Battalion who recently arrived in Mesopotamia and are now positioned in Basra. I studied a map which appeared in the Sunday Post and can only try to imagine what it must be like to work and fight in such heat. Father always said it was unbearable, but as I stood sentry duty with the cold wind whipping about my legs, I decided I could withstand the hot sun and the dust. After our withdrawal from Turkey, I thought that we would focus our efforts in France – hence General Haig’s appointment – but perhaps our general has another purpose in mind for us.

Sunday Post Mesopotamia 1916

Weekending 26th December 1915

Christmas in the trenches. A Postage Fiasco – I am nearly shot.

French Street, the Germans occupied the far end

French Street prior to British Shelling

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas in the trenches. I was sent to the front line with a message for Capt Cunningham. On the way I was able to take some more pictures of a village which had been pretty heavily shelled by both sides. As I waited for the reply, I chatted to the lads.  They said that it had been pretty quiet for the four days they had been there – just a few snipers. We are all looking forward to Christmas and hoping for a good rest.

Christmas in the trenches

 

The last time I was in Bethune I bought some postcards to send home. One for Mother and one for Lily. They have all the allied flags embroidered on them and “Christmas Greetings”. I do hope they will like it. it makes me laugh to think that the war was supposed to be over a whole year ago and that I was so anxious to get to France before the fighting had stopped. Capt Cunningham asked to take a knapsack back for him with my reply and to deliver it safely to the officer’s quarters. It contained the valuables of the seven men who had been killed during those few days – watches, wedding rings and bibles. To be returned to their families…

It may sound strange, but there was a jolly atmosphere to Christmas week. We were out of the front line for a few days and everything was quiet – though we had been told that there would be NO REPEAT of anything that took place last year. No truce, no suspension of aggression. Not that the Black Watch had anything to do with the strange happenings last year. The weather wasn’t so bad and we were well back from the fighting. There was some concern when our post stopped for a couple of days. We are used to receiving four deliveries a day, so two days without any post was very unusual. We ere worried that parcels sent from our families would not arrive ( as we hoped to share out an excellent Christmas feast for ourselves), and also that our cards and good wishes would not teach them in time. However, the morning before Christmas two large lorries arrived, full of packages and parcels for the 4th. What  a delight! I received a lovely card from Lily – a picture of a soldier being kissed by a beautiful young girl (though not as beautiful as Lily) – and a wonderful parcel from Mother.

However, the journey had not been kind. Those parcels must have had a rough crossing. Mother’s cake had been battered to a shapeless mass of crumbs, and a jar of beetroot had broken and spilled into the three pairs of good socks she had sent. Fortunately the jar of jam had survived intact, the bar of chocolate was whole and the cigarettes, once dried out were still useable. This did not just happen to me, all the parcels had suffered. The afternoon was spent trying to redress the damage – wash socks, clean vests and dry sodden food. We largely succeeded, but I was not he only soldier smoking pink cigarettes and with beetroot coloured feet.

On Christmas day itself, we attended a church service at which we were informed by Colonel Sceales that the battalion was now back u to full strength and the fourth company was being formed that very day. He received a rousing good cheer. At last we can prove our mettle again on the field! Later we received a Queen Mary Tin each, containing a Christmas card from the Royal family, chocolate, tobacco and marmite. The tin is very useful, as the lid shuts very tightly. I shall keep my pocket bible in it.

The weather was cold but dry and so after our makeshift additions do our usual bully beef lunch – and an early rum ration, we enjoyed ourselves playing football, smoking, singing and generally making merry. I took Tom and Danny over to show them my camera and the photographs, which I had had developed in Bethune. We were so engrossed , that we did not notice Capt Cunningham and Lt Smith approach. Capt Cunningham demanded to know who had taken the pictures and then told me that I could be shot as a spy. Unauthorised photography is a serious offence. He demanded that I hand over the photographs, camera and films. I only had one film left. He asked me to show him how the camera worked and so, nervously, I loaded the film into the camera. Then he insisted on Me taking a photograph of the two of them  “Just to see that I knew how to do it”. And told me to get it printed the next day. He was very pleased with the result and told me that I would be allowed to take pictures, but only under orders. he would keep the camera when it was not in use. He told me that I was now the official unofficial battalion photographer!

christmas in the trenches. captain Cunningham and Lt Smith

Captain Cunningham and Lieutenant Smith.

Weekending 12th December 2015

 A new colonel, the Battalion back to full strength

sunday post front

I am now spending more time with the officers, fetching and carrying for them. It keeps me out of the trenches and the digging. in one way I am quite pleased, there hasn’t been much action in the last few weeks,  and so there hasn’t been more than the usual trickle of casualties  – three or four dead and a dozen wounded every day. Obviously it is the new boys who tend to forget where they are. some of them can’t resist taking a quick look over the top, or standing straight, just to stretch their backs. They don’t remember that the Hun are just waiting for this to happen, even though many of them have been out at night flushing their snipers out of the local shell holes. I spend a lot of time moving up and down the trenches, taking notes to and fro, and then sometime taking the rum rations to the sergeants to disperse to the platoons.

I was in the front trench the other evening, when I came across an orderly helping two soldiers to the medical station. One was a German hobbling on a makeshift crutch, his left foot a bloody mess. The other, with one arm bound to his chest, but still holding his rifle was a lad from the 5th battalion. The orderly told me that they had shot each other at exactly the same time just beyond the wire and the German was here because ‘Johnny’ had had his friends with him. Only minutes afterwards here they were now best of friends, helping each other back to the reserve trench.

As the days go, I am going further afield. I do hope that I shall get to the 1st battalion soon and  see George.

So the news this week is that we have a new colonel. His name is  Colonel Sceales and he has come over from the Argylls. Of course, he replaces Colonel Walker, who was killed during the Loos offensive. Nobody knows anything about him, not even Danny, who usually acts as our oracle for all things. I must say that the news has raised morale in the battalion. I think we were a little worried that the 4th’s days may be numbered and we would be reduced to fetching and carrying for the others. A new colonel means that we shall be an independent fighting unit again. We now have three companies fit for service, and more soldiers are expected soon to rebuild the fourth.

From a Loophole in a Black Watch trench

When I was searching through my kit the other day, behind the lines, I found my camera and after a moment’s hesitation, thought I would take it with me and see if I could take some photographs when i am on my travels through the trenches. I know that it is frowned upon by the officers, though I know that some of them have taken pictures in the past. My first task afterwards was to take a message up the line to the officer in charge of some sepoys. Whilst he was deliberating with a couple of lieutenants, I slipped out along the trench and shared the firing step with the sepoy on guard duty. I had already loaded the film and set the aperture and the shutter speed, to my best estimate. I then pointed it out and pressed the shutter.  Just in time, I had closed the camera and placed it in my tunic pocket before the captain came out with his reply. I am rather pleased with the result. I shall try to take more as I go. Perhaps I shall find a job with the Courier after the war!

I saw this picture in the paper and i made me think of Chrissy. She was so excited to be working in the munitions factory, but now she has tired of it. She told me in her last letter that it bores her and she feels she is not doing enough for the war. She is wondering if she can become a nurse. She spend her Saturday afternoons in Dundee station, giving blankets and soup to soldiers who have returned from the front and is determined to aid the sick and wounded. Whilst i am very proud of her, I do not want her to come out here. Worrying about George is enough for me.

sunday post nurses

Weekending 28th November 1915

I deliver some whisky and hear some awful news

front sunday post 28th november 1915

I was called to see Lt Smith last week when we were resting behind the lines. He asked me how I was and then told me that he had something special for me, because he knew that I could be trusted and because I knew my way around the trenches. Although the actual fighting seems to be over for the time being, there is still a great deal of traffic going through the reserve trenches. New recruits are being taken up to the front lines all the time to join their new units, rations and letters are delivered daily and messages are carried between the commanders. Of course, the telephone lines carry orders to and fro, but the unofficial communications are usually delivered by hand. Capt McIntyre, who has just returned after recovering from his wounds, needs a trustworthy messenger, and I have been selected!

The good news is that I am immediately relieved from digging and labouring duty. Now, however, I must hang around the officers’ quarters at their beck and call. My first job was to take a new Lt up to his company at the front line just past Givenchy.  For me it was easy enough, as I know it like the back of my hand – we had just finished digging some of those trenches. But he found it terribly difficult, especially as it was dark. And for someone carrying only a pistol and a knapsack, he seemed to make a terrible amount of noise. I was glad to leave him there – I felt much safer on the way back. The next morning, I had to deliver orders to the two companies we have in the front trenches at the moment. The phone lines were down. I really enjoyed it. I saw plenty of people I knew and, whilst I could not stop to talk, I was able to exchange news as I went. I found the relevant officers, waited for their replies, and was back in time for breakfast.

And so I am taking it easy. I have plenty to do, but it is mainly fetching and carrying and hanging around, waiting for more orders. Normally I think I would be bored by such a prospect but, after those weeks of digging trenches and burying the dead, it is a welcome relief.

hmshs anglia

 

I picked up a copy of the Courier the other day and was shocked to see that the HMSHS Anglia - the hospital ship that carried me home only a few months ago – has been sunk travelling between Calais and Dover. Over a hundred wounded officers and men were drowned.  That is awful news. I can only imagine what it must have been like. I Know I would not have been able to look after myself when I was being  brought back home. I remember seeing a film at the cinema of the sinking of the White Star Titanic and to think that wounded men would have suffered in the water like that fills me with anger. I hope the nurses and doctors managed to get onto the lifeboats.

 

 

I was called into see Capt McIntyre yesterday. He had a case of whisky and asked me to deliver a bottle to each the company commanders for St Andrew’s day. They were received very gratefully. Then I was given a further eight bottles and told to take them to the 15th Division Headquarters. Capt McIntyre told me I must be sure to present a bottle to General McCracken, the Divisional Commander and then to a list of other officers. he said that I must be very careful to make sure I found the correct office. I set off to the chateau, which was a few miles away, taking a lift in a supply lorry. I was stopped at the bottom of the drive by a sergeant and sentry who insisted on looking at my cargo. I thought for a moment I might lose some of it, and I think they were tempted, but I explained that my captain would be coming to see the listed officers very soon and would know if the bottle had not arrived. I was reluctantly waved through. The Chateau was full of staff officers, all looking very serious and busy. They were dressed very smartly and I felt quite bedraggled next to them. It made me want to scratch myself all over. I soon found the GOC’s office and delivered my first bottle. The Officer at the desk picked it up and barely contained a snort of laughter. He called over his colleague and they both chortled. “Do you think it is an omen?” one asked. The other looked around to see that noone was within earshot – though I was a mere four feet away –  and said “Well, let’s hope so. I don’t think anyone can bare to see Sir John crying into his soup again. It is all too embarrassing.” I was given a receipt and dismissed. I delivered the other bottles, all of which were greeted with a raised eyebrow or a knowing smile and then I returned back to our quarters.

I spoke to Danny Robertson about it that evening. He is a constant source of gossip and seems to know what is happening. When I told him what had happened, he burst out laughing. He explained that Many officers don’t think that Sir John French will last much longer as the Commanding Officer, because of Loos. ” Not that it was a failure,” said Danny, ” Just that it wasn’t a success.” Danny said that the other officers are all waiting to see who will take command in his place. ” I know three officers – senior ones – who have placed bets on it happening by Christmas. Nobody knows, but they are all looking for signs. Then you go around and give out bottles of whisky to the officers. Haig whisky.”

The penny dropped. I don’t know if General Haig’s family make whisky. I always thought they must be gentry. I am sure that Capt McIntyre didn’t intend it, but his gifts certainly seem to have put the cat amongst the pigeons.

sunday post 28th November 1915

 

 

 

 

Weekending 14th November 1915

More labouring, but we add another company to the battalion

Sunday Post 14th November 1915

 

This week has demanded more work from us in the front trenches – digging and shifting like navvies – and then some training behind the lines. We now have enough men to parade a third company and I am very pleased to see them all march so splendidly. However, we can no longer call ourselves ‘Dundee’s own’ – as our new recruits seem to come from all over Scotland and beyond. Navvying would most suit some of them as there are definitely some accents from across the Irish sea, some from the highlands and some from the north of England. It is strange to think that the Black Watch could welcome this disparate crowd, but we are mighty grateful to them. I just hope they fully understand the traditions of this great regiment.

Photo from the Sunday Post 14th november 1915

It is very cold and wet here at the moment. Fortunately there is little action, both sides seem to have turned their attentions elsewhere. The feeling is good amongst the lads – seeing the replacements arrive so quickly has boosted morale after Loos. There also seems to be good news on other fronts. We are holding our own and gradually exhausting the Germans. The Italian army  are still fighting in the Austrians in the mountains and have been enraged by the sinking of a passenger ship, the Ancona, carrying over one hundred Italians on their way to America. These German submarines, who strike without warning and kill civilians without mercy have a lot to answer for. The Russians are still over in the East. The Czar has a massive army, and judging by this picture of some of his troops, they are well equipped and ready to fight. However, I would be surprised if anything significant happens now that the weather is so poor. We can wait until it improves and wear the Hun down a little more in the process.

 

One of the new officers, Lt Smith, has earmarked me for some special work next week. I don’t know what it may be, but he said that my knowledge of the front line trenches would be very useful. So long as it is not more digging I will be happy…