Tag Archives: Barry Buddon

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 14th March 1915

My first action – Neuve Chapelle 10th-14th March

pka_blwm_tn324_large

We spent the end of last week and the beginning of this week helping to supply the front line. It was a lot of shifting and carrying, but it kept us occupied and allowed us to familiarise ourselves with the reserve trenches and, sometimes, visit the front line which we were told was fairly quiet. It didn’t mean there was no shelling or firing but the locals, as we called them, told us that it was often much worse that this. Each trench has its own name, sometimes there are signs ” Piccadilly” or “Princes Street”, but there are other signs which are far more important. These are usually at junctions or places where a trench gets shallower. They read “KEEP YOUR HEAD DOWN” or “SNIPERS” . These have been put in because soldiers have been killed when they haven’t been attentive, or they have been forgetful.

On the afternoon of the 9th we had some time to rest and Cpl Quinn said that we should write a ‘proper’ letter to our families, which he would collect. Jamie said that meant a letter that they will include in our belongings if we get killed. He said that means we shall be in action soon. This left everyone deep in their own thoughts. How hard it was to put into words how I felt at that moment. We were all sitting around, almost afraid to start writing. I decided to write one letter to my whole family and then short notes to each of them. Then another letter to George. I told my family that I loved them and hoped they were proud of me. I thanked my mother and father for bringing me up properly.  I told Chrissy to be strong for Mother and Father and to work hard. I told Janet to work hard at school.

Lily Galbraith 1914

My darling Lily Galbraith

 

I tried to write to Lily, but I didn’t know what to say. I knew how I felt for her, but I didn’t want her to feel guilty if I died. Yet I felt that must write something. I wrote that I have cherished her friendship and hoped that she will go on to find happiness. Horribly formal. But if I wrote how I truly felt it would have been unbearable. Even writing those simple words left me in a very maudlin mood with a heavy heart. Afterwards I placed her picture in my breast pocket with my bible. Cpl Quinn came to collect the letters. He also took our money, any notebooks and personal items that might be useful to the enemy. He said we should try to get some sleep. But there was little hope of that! The whole platoon was restless. Nervous.

 

 

 

In the middle of that night we were awoken by Cpl Quinn. He told us to be silent and get ready to move.  He told us not to forget anything – remember our webbing, rifle and kit. We were cold, bleary eyed and bewildered, but we did as ordered. The weather was foul – cold and wet. our boots squelched in the mud as we made our way to the reserve trenches. Even in the dark I could tell that everyone was in a sombre, determined mood. This moment was what we had all signed up for. To strike a blow of freedom against those beasts who had raped Belguim and were rampaging through France. Quietly we formed up. I could see the shadows of hundreds of soldiers all going the same way. The whole battalion was on the move. I saw our Indian friends ahead of us. Small and silent. At least they knew what to expect. We rested near a breastwork called Windy Corner. Cpl Quinn told us to settle down and rest. Sergeant Milne came round with some brandy, to keep us warm he said.  we had acquired an enormous amount of brandy from local sources. It made a pleasant change from the usual rum. He was generous and we all felt better. He watched us as we shared it around. He said that this would be a messy affair, but to stay with the officers and obey orders. He said he was proud of every one of us. Just for a second, he reminded me of my father….

Black Watch and Dogras wait at Neuve Chapelle

Black Watch and Dogras wait at Neuve Chapelle

 

 

We waited there until the action started. The Brandy began to wear off after an hour or so. It was very cold and we were very stiff and cramped. As jamie said, there was barely room to shiver! Arthur dropped his rifle-and the clattering noise seemed to echo up the trench. Daybreak was cold and wet. We found ourselves next to some Dogs (Dogras), who were further up the trench. Suddenly Cpl Quinn was there, and Sergeant Milne. They were patting our shoulders, waking us, telling us to be ready..

 

 

 

At 7am. Our guns began their bombardment and I have never heard anything like it in my life! Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that I felt it – with every fibre of my being. My hands were over my ears but it made no difference. The noise was incredible. It was a thunderous, constant rumble that bounce from your toes up to your head. I cautiously looked back and the whole western sky was alight with fire, like an angry sunset.  I don’t know how many guns were firing, but it seemed like hundreds – thousands maybe.  The shells screeched and whistled overhead. They must have fallen upon the Germans like dogs from Hell. I could not imagine anyone surviving such a constant and overwhelming attack. My whole body was trembling from the noise. I could barely hold my water bottle to my lips. We were bumping into each other as if we couldn’t control ourselves. It was freezing cold, yet I was sweating. I was not the only one who was overwhelmed by the barrage. I could see fear, amazement, shock, in my comrades faces. Cpl Quinn walked among us. Watching. After forty minutes or so the bombardment stopped and the ground beneath our feet stopped shaking. Though I didn’t. My nerves were on edge. I didn’t know what to expect next. It wasn’t fear. No, I was not afraid. More numbed by the complete silence. My senses were dulled. I could see people walking and moving near me but I couldn’t hear them. My fingers gripped my rifle, yet I didn’t feel its weight or the hardness of the wood and metal.

I could see movement ahead of us. The soldiers ahead were moving forward slowly, winding their way through the trenches. I couldn’t see much but , gradually, I started to hear the spit of machine gun fire.

Occasionally bullets dropped around us. They seemed almost spent and squelched into the mud in the earthworks on the top of the trench. Cpl Quinn said that the German machine gunners were obviously getting rattled by our lads, and that if he saw any of us shooting so badly he would give us what for. After an hour or so we were near the front line. The gunfire was more intense and we were told to keep our heads down. We filled the trenches, but still managed to make way for some stretcher bearers who were taking some wounded back. They slid and slipped everywhere and the poor wounded just had to hold onto the stretchers as best they could. The wounds were bright red, mainly in the legs and stomach. They had bandaged the men on the field but the blood seeped through. The wounded men were silent. And so were we.

I don’t think I was alone in not knowing what was happening. I vaguely understood, but did not now what I would be expected to do. I decided to  stay close to Cpl Quinn or Sergeant Milne. If I was close to them, I would be in the right place. And so we are huddled together in the trench, waiting for our turn. It was bitterly cold and still raining. Ken Collins called out for some more brandy, but nobody laughed. I suddenly decided to take a grip of myself. To take control of my feelings and govern them. I was determined not to show fear and to do my duty. I thought about my father and George. They had endured this moment. The minutes before. The anticipation and realisation that death may be close. Yet they had not failed. I was determined that neither would I. I would not fail..

Map Neuve Chapelle 1915At about 11am, Cpl Quinn started moving along the line, telling us to get ready and make sure we had everything. We moved towards the front trench and, just before we stepped up on to a makeshift ladder that would take us above the trenches, we fixed bayonets. then we were on the land, and what a desolate, barren place it was. There were acres of mud ahead and miles of trenches left and right. Small tree stumps broke up the landscape, suggesting that it was once farmland with orchards and hedging, but other that that, no sign of what beauty might have been here before. The Cpl was at the top of the ladder and he pointed out  the trench ahead of us. “We need to hold that trench” he said. ” The Seaforths have taken it, we just need to hold onto it. The Hun don’t like giving an inch, so be sure they will throw everything they have at us!” Jack asked him where we were and he replied “Those ruins over there are a village called Neuve Chapelle. And God help any German who hasn’t run away from it. Don’t be distracted, don’t slow down for anything. Get to that trench!” And with that he led us through the mud, over the planks that crossed our front line trenches and into no man’s land.

We set off, I concentrated on the heels of those in front of me, but I couldn’t ignore  the scores of bodies of British soldiers, mainly Seaforths, but also some Gurkhas. They lay twisted on the ground. I imagine they had been shot, but because they were mainly lying on their fronts, I could not see their wounds. A few were still alive, a couple crawling forlornly towards our trench, one crawling on towards the german trench, refusing any help or assistance. One man held out his hand towards me, begging for water. there was a large hole in his side which was a livid red with fresh blood. I slowed and reached for my bottle, but Cpl Quinn was instantly cajoling me forward shouting at me not to stop or slow down, but to keep on going. I had to leave him. Later Cpl Quinn assured me that the stretcher bearers would have found him and helped him, but I wonder if that was true.  However, the man caused me to look around for the first time and I was amazed to see the battalion all stepping forward in platoons, being led by Col Walker himself. The gunfire intensified, both machine guns and rifle fire, with bullets clipping the ground around us.

Robbie, my friend

Robbie, my friend

A man went down to my left, just spinning round and falling and then another sank to his knees in front of me, clutching his stomach. His rifle had fallen to the earth and his head fell forward. It didn’t register with me at the time, but later I realised it was Robbie. The handsome postie from Carnoustie. The friend who had shared so much with me. The man I joined up with. Suddenly lots of us were falling to the ground, but not hit, just hiding from the gunfire. I dived down into a small hollow. Bullets were thudding into the ground around us. men cried out as they were hit,mainly in the arms and shoulders, which were facing the enemy. Of course, if they were hit in the head. they just fell silent. Peering forward very carefully, I could see an arm waving us ahead. It seemed impossible in all this gunfire, but gradually we worked our way towards the trench, crawling inch by inch, stopping and lying completely flat when we felt the gunfire getting close. After a while, the firing seemed to slow and miraculously, I saw the arm again, waving us forward. We started to move more quickly and ahead of us I could see the trench. There were dead Seaforths everywhere, in higher numbers than before. Suddenly my comrades were up and running to the trench and I was running with them. The gunfire got louder and an occasional shell laded close enough to spatter mud high into the air so that it fell upon us like thick black rain. I got to the wire posts, which stood forlorn, the wire having been cut or blown asunder earlier. I leapt for my life and half fell, half rolled into the German trench, surrounded by my comrades. Looking around, I could see many dead Germans, splayed out with arms wide open and legs twisted, positions fixed in death. Their faces revealed angst and terror. none of them carried a rifle or other weapon and I supposed that they have been killed by our artillery bombardment.

neuve chapelle 1915I found my friends, Jack Gray and Danny Robertson and then, Cpl Quinn who was further down the trench. He signalled to us to follow him and he slowly moved along the trench, looking for traps. As we moved along, we passed more dead Germans. But these must have been killed in trench fighting, as they had bullet wounds, and bayonet wounds. Some of them were still bleeding. Their bright scarlet blood was everywhere. On their tunics, limbs and faces. Jack found them mesmerising and we had to jolly him along. Danny stabbed a dead Hun with his bayonet as we passed. We met a Seaforth Highlander who directed us towards a reserve trench. We picked up speed, feeling a little safer until we came to the German reserve trench, which was full of Gurkhas. We were told to make ready for a counter-attack. We picked up some of the dead Germans and heaved them over the top of the trench to make a kind of barrier facing the new German line. Of course the original earthwork faced our lines. Eventually we couldn’t lift them over their dead comrades and we had to be satisfied filling sandbags. but they weren’t much easier. The mud was almost liquid beneath our feet and seaped out of the bags as we threw them forward over the German bodies. After a while we were allowed to rest from the physical labour and those who weren’t on watch duty were encouraged to eat something and rest. I don’t think any of us were hungry, but a shared my tin of bully beef and some biscuit with Jack and Danny. Then I wandered up the trench – to the north- to see how others were making good their trench.

Sergeant Milne was there with about 30 other 4th. He told us to move further left, and led us up the trench. He said that we needed to hold Port Arthur. I had no idea what he meant, but he had a map in his hand, so we followed him. We made our way up the trench, passing  many more dead Germans and some dead Seaforths. I could no longer look at them, but just kept my eyes on the back of the man in front of me.

The trench came to an end. Ahead there was some low lying land, then about 100 yards away, more trench. Beyond that, there was the outskirts of a bombed out village – Neuve Chapelle. Milne looked at his map again and pointed ‘This is where we need to be lads’, he said. Carefully he climbed out of the end of the trench and moved forward, running low across the gap between the trenches. There was  some gunfire, but it didn’t seem to  be aimed at him. We followed on our bellies so that the enemy didn’t see us. Once we were in the trench and satisfied that it was clear, Milne sent some men back for ammunition. The remnants of a machine gun crew set up at one end of the trench. These men were superb. Usually a machine gun has a crew of a dozen. George had said that they could work with just six men, but here were three men. And they had lost their officer. Yet they worked tirelessly at their gun and saved the trench a number of times. The trench itself was very shallow. Milne ordered us to dig it deeper, where we could, and throw the sodden earth before us.

After a short period, a lieutenant came up and told Milne that we needed to move forward. More 4th followed him. We all grouped together. Suddenly our little trench was full! The lieutenant ordered us all to advance and stepped up and out of the trench. We followed climbing over the trench on to an open field. We were able to walk steadily. It was wet, but the grass still covered the land and there were no bodies or evidence of recent fighting. How that would soon change!  We made about forty yards before the firing began. Now we needed no telling – we started to run forwards towards the gunfire. For a moment I felt complete exhileration. I had my rifle and bayonet, bullets were flying past me, but my friends were all around me and this was our first opportunity to get to the Hun on our own terms. Then, quite suddenly, we seemed to hit a wall of bullets and fell and dived for cover. The lieutenant and several others bought it. I found myself in a ditch with two others. We dared not poke our heads out! The noise was different to the earlier loud rolling thunder. This time there were loud cracks of rifle fire and a constant rattle of machine guns. Another 4th, from C company, I think,  fell into our ditch and told us to move back.

I remember actually laughing. ‘I don’t know how we are to do that! ” I said.

“Well we can’t stay here!” he replied.

He moved to the back of the ditch and jumped a little over the edge and rolled flat, heading back to the trench. Then he crawled low and slowly. I followed. Gradually we worked our way back, keeping our heads down. We tended to work to a rhythm – move hands and feet once, stop, count 10, hands and feet stop….. From ditch to ditch. All the time, bullets raged above our heads. As I approached our trench, I passed the soldier who had told us to retreat. He was dead. I didn’t even know his name, yet if it wasn’t for him, I would probably have been dead too. Milne arrived back into the trench and told us to lie low and be alert. Shortly afterwards darkness fell. My first day of action!

Milne told us to get digging again. He counted us all and set a couple on watch duty. A few times we were ordered to stop and pause whilst Milne and his pal Shorty MacKay peered over the lip of the trench, listening intently. There was less gunfire during the night, which meant that we were at more risk of a trench raid. The machine gunners kept vigilant, taking turns to watch, the others sleeping next to their gun. I took my turn watching. It was very different to guarding the Tay Bridge! Milne advised us to keep very still and keep our eyes peeled. Except for occasional gunfire, the only thing I heard were the moans of the dying. It was heart breaking to hear people in such pain so close to us, but Milne wouldn’t let us leave our trench to help them. He said there were too few men left to defend it already. And so we lay, cold, extremely hungry and tired, in a muddy ditch that passed as a trench. Waiting and watching

I did my turn on watch and  was relieved after a couple of hours. I tried to rest. I was so tired, I fell asleep in the most uncomfortable position, Then suddenly I was wide awake. I looked around and everyone was awake, listening intently. The tension was unbearable and eventually, the machine gunner let go a few rounds in panic. Instantly more gunfire was heard from the trench on our right, which encouraged us all to stick our heads over the trench and take a pop at anything that seemed to be moving. Then a Very Flare was fired and the whole field was bathed in light, followed by even more firing, which took some time to subside. Of course there was nothing out there. It had all been a nasty case of nerves. Milne crawled up to the gunners and gave them such a grilling. I remember thinking that his whisper was as ferocious as a full dressing down from Cpl Quinn.

After a short time I fell asleep again and woke just before dawn, when there was an attack on the trench to our right. The enemy’s left flank advanced to the gap between trenches and our machine gunners redeemed themselves by covering the area and seemingly working with a gun from the other trench to make it a killing zone. I don’t know how many fell to them, but there must have been scores. Milne was behind us, moving along the trench, telling us to get ready. ” But don’t shoot until your are certain, he says. make every shot count.”

Shorty was up the other end of the trench, watching the ground between us and the village. They would help if they could, but it was up to us the defend this gap. The sheer numbers of enemy soldiers were defying the machine guns, and we saw the germans picking their way towards us with their long bayonets. Mile was positioned near the right end of the trench between two he had selected as his snipers. They were getting closer, but Milne had ordered us not to shoot until he gave the signal. Our machine gun was still taking a terrible toll, but there were far too many for a single gun. They were close enough for me to see their faces, their buttons. Then our snipers fired. two officers sank. That was our signal and we let them have it. They were so close I barely needed to look down my sight, but my Barry Buddon training made me follow my instructions to the letter. I looked down my sight, squeezed the trigger, felt the recoil, flicked the bolt to release the case and aimed again – all as cooly as if I had been at a Sunday fair.

It stopped them in their tracks. both machine guns pinned them down and we were able to shoot at anything we saw moving, until Milne came up to us and roared at us to “stop bloody firing!”. He was worried about ammunition and didn’t want us to waste any. I realised that I was down to just 6 clips. Gradually they seemed to work their way back. Their machine guns started – to cover their retreat – and so we kept our heads down. But from that attack, we lost one dead and one hit in the shoulder. The injured soldier, Donald, was in severe pain at first, but that seemed to subside and he became more calm. We did what we could and strapped him up. By this time we were all out of water and were terribly thirsty.

A little while later, when it all seemed to be quiet again, Milne sought volunteers to go to the main trench to get more ammunition. We all volunteered – the prospect of water and perhaps some food was so enticing. He chose Billy MacDonald and Robbie Maclean. and they left cautiously, crawling with their heads down. There was still occasional firing at Shorty’s end. There was a hollow in front of his part of the trench and some Germans were pinned down there. Milne demanded to know how much ammunition we all had. I had just  three clips and the others were similarly short. Suddenly, there was a roar to the left. The Huns were coming out of the hollow up the small incline towards Shorty and his men. Milne rushed across to help Shorty and we followed. The machine gun couldn’t swing around that far,  and we found ourselves firing at them at point blank. There were two explosions – grenades – and some of the Germans jumped into the trench. I caught one in his side with my bayonet. I remember pushing hard and twisting, just as we had been trained. There was a lot of  yelling from both sides. I fired at one German. He was so close his shoulder seemed to explode into a mass of blood. I swung my rifle butt round to his face as he fell. It was soon over. The remainder were sent scuttling back to their trench. I got 4 of them as they crawled back. They got more confident as they approached their own trenches and their heads got higher. I decided to remember that – so that I wouldn’t make the same mistake. Six dead huns in the trench. Four dead 4th. Two more wounded. They lay where they fell asking for water. We didn’t have any. I was down to my last clip. We heaved the dead germans over the top of the trench. The German machine gunners took shots at them, thinking they were British.

What seemed like only a few minutes later, Billy MacDonald dropped into the trench with more ammunition for us all. Robbie MacLean was dead: hit returning from the trench.

Wounded in a trench at Neuve Chapelle

Behind the main trench, things were a lot quieter….

The next day, I accompanied Billy to the main trench. He led and we worked our way behind the earthwork at the back of the trench and then slowly into the open. We weren’t armed – there was no point. We passed Robbie McLean about half way there. He had been shot in the head. It was a horrible wound, but Billy said that he hadn’t suffered. “Never knew what had hit him”, he said. Eventually we dropped into the main trench and we were met by Cpl Quinn and Tom Lewis.  Lt Stevenson was also there. He wanted to know how we were doing and said that we should be relieved soon, but there seemed to be a few problems further back.

Fortunately they had plenty of ammunition and plenty of  water!  But not much food. Lt Stevenson told us to tell  Milne to hold out. Just before we began our return,  Captain Boase dropped into the trench. He had been out and found two wounded men, one Indian and one German. He had tended their wounds and was looking for volunteers to help bring them in. Nearly all the men move forward, eager to help. It seemed odd – one of them probably shot the German not three hours before and yet now they were risking their lives to help him. Cpl Quinn gave us both a large swig of brandy and furnished us with two extra water bottles each and a bottle of brandy. We gulped down a few more mouthfuls of water, Tom gave me some chocolate he had kept, and we began our return to our trench. We had 150 clips and 2,000 rounds for the machine gun. Billy led the way.

And on the way back, I got shot! Of course it was a huge shock, and very painful, but now I am more embarrassed than anything else. As we approached our trench, having passed Robbie again, We must have lifted our heads a little higher because some bullets started whizzing in our direction. One clipped my thigh as I rolled into the trench. There was a fair amount of blood, but Milne poured some of the brandy onto my kilt and told me to hold it against the wound. He said that was my ration and If I hadn’t been so stupid i could have been drinking it. I couldn’t disagree!

Milne said I should make a full recovery, but I would’t be playing footie for a while. That took me back to the dressing down we all got from Sgt Maj Charles. It seemed unbelievable that it was only a few days before, yet so much had changed forever. For the rest of the day, we almost fell into a routine. we stood watch, well crouched, and rested as we could. The weather was a little drier and at one point, just before evening, as the sun was starting to sink, our little trench became a sun trap and we basked in its warmth. We had no food, little water, were being shot at a thousand miles from home, and yet for those few short minutes we could almost forget it all…..

The following morning, just after I had been relieved from watch and just before dawn (Sergeant Milne always changed watch just before dawn, because he wanted the sentry to be awake, he said), there was the most terrific noise. Suddenly we were being shelled all along the line. The noise and feeling from a few days ago, when wee shelled the Germans was nothing compared to this. We tucked ourselves up against the wall of the trench as best we could, but it was little protection. We were covered with mud and there was metal flying everywhere. We couldn’t think, just felt the ground shake as if the devil himself was rising from Hell. With our hands over our ears, our mouths were filled with dust and soil and we dared not open our eyes. It seemed to go on for ever and we were bounced in all directions.

Then It stopped. Unbelievably, some of us were still alive – unharmed even. Looking back, I don’t think we had a direct hit, but some of them were very close. Milne roused us and shook the two remaining machine gunners out of their stupor. My hand found my rifle and I fixed my bayonet. I checked my pockets for my clips and took a few out, placing them in a little hole I had dug into the trench wall for that purpose. Then I saw them, picking their way in the pale light. I remember thinking that they must have been fresh troops, not the ones from the day before because they seemed to advance quite carelessly without caution. Milne crouched beside me. His two previous snipers were dead. He identified the officers. and told me to count to twenty and then shoot them. Then he went to the machine gunners. They were old hands at this now.

I took two officers before the machine gun started. The soldiers next to them didn’t even seem to notice, just kept moving forward, picking their way between yesterdays dead. When the machine gun started, they seemed to wake up from their day dreams, starting to run towards us at first, then when it became obvious that we had their mark, dropping and diving for cover. The machine guns from both trenches worked constantly, a wide arc of deadly fire. It didn’t take long before they started to move back. Again I caught some poking their heads up as they were nearly home. Soon after that  it started to rain and we wrapped ourselves in our overcoats.

A few hours later, when we were convinced that it was all quiet, Milne sent back for more ammunition. I couldn’t go because of my leg, so Billy took John MacInnes. My leg wasn’t too bad, but I wasn’t sure I could put my full weight on it. As the trench was so shallow, I couldn’t really test it. I felt quite disappointed – I would have liked to have seen Tom again and taken another swig of brandy from Cpl Quinn.

They came back soon enough with the message from Lt Stevenson that we should expect to be relieved the following day.  They gave us a dozen clips each and more rounds for the machine gunners. How impressive they were, Angus Smith and Georgie Macbeth. They held their ground and did their duty magnificently. We also got a nip of brandy and some more chocolate. And water. How thirsty we all were…. Billy also brought back a periscope, with Lt Stevenson’s compliments, he said. It was wrapped in some old rags of canvas, in an effort to camouflage it. At least it meant we didn’t have to stick our heads up, though it did attract attention if we moved it too quickly.

I had been spending some time at Shorty’s end of the trench. He explained that the village  we were next to was called Neuve Chapelle and the building closest to us – if that was the right word – used to be the village brewery. I could see some of our lads behind the walls. One waved. their rifles poked through loopholes.

A man called Robertson had been hit in the jaw. It was a terrible mess yet he seemed remarkably chirpy. He was desperate for a smoke. MacInnes took his pipe out for him and lit it, but the poor man couldn’t hold it in his teeth, as his jaw had been largely shot away. The only way MacInnes could comfort him was by smoking it and blowing the smoke into his nose for him. He was very grateful.

Later, Milne pulled those of us who were fit together. He was very unsure of the hollow  in front of the left side of the trench and he had decided to clear it. I volunteered as fit and so six of us, led by Shorty, made our way out of our trench. Shorty had two hand grenades to drop down first. The rest of us took just our rifles and bayonets. We crawled out in complete silence –  Milne said if he heard us, he would shoot us himself. Shorty got to the lip of the hollow, head right down, listening. then he dropped the  grenades over the side. Immediately after the bang we all leapt into the hollow ready for anything. We found two dead Germans, both killed long before Shorty’s grenades had landed on them. However, the explosion had woken up the enemy and we found ourselves quite exposed to them. There was a mad scramble as we climbed up and crawled away from the hollow as fast as we could. I kept my head well down as bullets spattered the mud around us. Inexplicably I found myself laughing uncontrollably. We all got back into our trench safely.

Gurkhas at Neuve Chapelle

Gurkhas at Neuve Chapelle

 

 

The following morning, after an uneventful night, we were relieved by the Gurkhas. At a given time, the artillery threw a few dozen shells over and we used that cover to move troops all along the lines. There had been 28 of us. We left 10 dead and another 10, including me, were wounded. We had to leave our dead, and 4 of the wounded.  Angus and Georgie didn’t want to leave their gun, but the gurkhas Lt gave them a direct order to go without it. We collected Robbie on the way back, dragging him as we had the ammunition before.

 

 

British and Indian wounded at Neuve Chapelle

Some of my wounded comrades at the clearing station at Neuve Chapelle

Cpl Quinn and Tom were there to welcome us. Tom was ordered to lead us back down the trench towards the communication trench to go back behind the lines. We got caught in a line of German prisoners being taken back. Tom told us that Capt Gilroy of the 2nd had captured some Germans who had surrendered. Then they had grabbed their guns when the Captain was occupied and shot him and one other soldier. They Germans were all mown down immediately.  “Don’t trust them” Tom said.  Then he told me about Robbie. Shortly afterwards, I was sitting in a casualty clearing station waiting to be seen. There were hundreds of people there. Some of the wounds were horrific. Tom said Arthur Watson was there somewhere. He had received a head wound, but should be alright. Tom said he looked like a Seek, with his head bandaged! I was soon tucking into some bread and a cup of stew as I waited for the surgeon –  who threw a bandage on my wound and told me to go back to my platoon.

I returned to the trench where Tom and the others were only a few hours before we were all relieved and marched back to a village – called Paradis! And so here I am in Paradise. I have written to Mother and Father telling them about my wound, but that I am quite well. I know how Mother will worry. And I have also written to Lily. A shorter letter, but less formal than the one I wrote before the attack. It seems so silly now not to say how I feel. Had I been killed, I would never have had the opportunity. We  have been inspected by General Willcocks, the Corps Commander, who said we had all done a fine job.

Weekending 31st january 1915

 When will the 4th Battalion Black Watch get to France?

sunday post 31st january front small

black watch at the front january 31st 1915

 

When will this boredom end? We have been drilling and guarding all week again and frankly, we are all heartily sick of it. It does not help that the reports from the front in France and other places show that we are needed to fight the Kaiser. We have everything we need, we are trained and willing!  I saw a picture of the 5th battalion, Black Watch this week. They are already there!

 

 

world war one cutting

 

 

I read the other day that the Germans are being offered prize money to attack us. Do they need such persuasion? We would be over there like a shot if we had the means. Perhaps they are afraid of us. Well they should be!

 

 

 

My only consolation is that I am able to see Lily on Sundays and spend time with my family. I know that George misses home terribly and, of course, mother and father miss him. We all do. But a job needs to be done and the sooner we get out there and give the kaiser a bloody nose, the sooner we can all come home.

The mood in the barracks has changed recently to despondency. There isn’t even the frustration that led to harsh words and scuffles. Father says that we are having too much time to think and that we don’t have enough to do. We are kept busy, but we are not fighting! That is why we joined the Black Watch, not to clean our belt buckles for the hundredth time!

Weekending December 13th 1914

 Drill and more drill. little else to do…

spost 13th December 1914 front page small

 

Colonel harry Walker, the Black watch Back in Dundee this week. Drill aplenty. It is getting very boring now that we are good at it. We want ACTION by God! Restlessness is breeding resentment. Arguments are common and even scuffles as lads get fed up with each other. Colonel Walker addressed us all on the parade ground. He said we are training to be the best soldiers in the King’s army and we must keep our eyes and minds on the task in hand and to stand firm and be patient for we will be fighting soon. He said we will make him proud on the field of battle and we will show the Hun what Black Watch soldiers are made of. We felt cheered by his speech and hopefully he is right and we will be in France soon. Before Christmas I hope! I Told the lads more of George’s stories. They love to hear any news from the front, especially straight from soldiers who’ve been there.

On one occasion a German soldier delivering rations mistook a 1st Battalion trench for that held by his comrades during the night. He appeared silently out of the darkness and to repeated challenges from our men he answered only with “Shhh…” When he was just one yard away he was recognized by the Black Watch boys and “Bang!” he was shot dead.  It’s a reminder of how confusing the situation can be out there, when it is dark and foggy and everyone is on edge.

On Thursday Watson shows me a picture of his sweetheart, Isobel, during lunch. She is from Longforgan and is quite pretty. It made me think of Lily. I hope she will wait for me until the end of the war, whenever that may be. If I come home. I often think  of a life with her. A cottage in Abernethy, three children – two boys and a girl. A dog. We’d be so happy together. That fool Mann snatched the photo from Watson’s fingers. “Who’s this wee beauty?” he taunted. “I’d like to meet her.” Watson tried to grab the photograph back, but Mann is taller and stronger and held it out of his reach. Mann then made to kiss the picture of Isobel and Watson shouts at him to give it back. Mann’s still holding when it is plucked from him. Cpl Quinn was standing holding it silently. He stares at Mann, who seemed to shrink before him. Quinn handed the card back to Watson. Quinn was still giving Mann the ‘evil eye’. Mann mumbles “Sorry Arthur” to Watson and slinks back to his chair sheepishly.

The Saturday post calendar for 1915Robbie pinned up a 1915 calendar from last Saturday’s Post. Will the war last through all those months I wonder? It has a picture of Lord Kitchener at its centre, surrounded by images of soldiers, nurses and warships. Makes you proud!

 

Black watch in action 1914

 

 

I also spotted a great drawing of Black Watch routing Prussians. Maybe George is in it! He was certainly there.  

 

 

There was a light dusting of snow on Friday. Didn’t stop us being tested on the range. We practiced stripping rifles with freezing cold, numb fingers.

Weekending December 6th 1914

 

 I tell my Black Watch comrades of George’s exploits in France

 spost 6th Dec 1914 front small

George told me some lingo from the front that might come in handy. I’ve been sharing it with the lads. “Lie-factory” is what the troops call the German propaganda machine. The nonsense they spew out is all made up. “Iron rations” are a tin of bully beef very hard biscuits and a tin of tea and sugar. It’s also what the soldiers call enemy shellfire. “Whizz-bangs” are fired from high-velocity guns and give you no time to duck. Lads also use it for a hastily written official postcard. “Becoming a Landowner”, “Going Home”, “Being Buzzed” and “Drawing your Full Issue” are all lingo for being killed.

“Baby’s Head” is meat pudding, made with meat, flour, suet, onion, baking powder, pepper and salt. “Base Rat” is a soldier who stays near headquarters in comfort and safety. I’ll definitely not be one of those.  Lugs says we should learn as much lingo as we can so we will fit in when we finally get out there (hopefully soon).

We were back out at Barry Buddon  for the week doing more rifle training. My old lot, 2/4th were there when I left them. Now they’re at Broughty Ferry. Lots more rifle drill and musketry practice. I was always a decent shot, but am getting better. Still not a crack shot, though. Collins is the best shot I’ve ever seen. Dead on target every single time. He was a gamekeeper before the war.

I spent the evening playing harmonica while Orton sings and other lads join in. Reckon Orton will go far after the war. Everyone thinks he has a great voice, though nobody commends me for my playing…. It was freezing cold. I was wearing two pairs of socks and long johns to bed but still couldn’t feel my feet.

On the Wednesday, one of the lads from 3 Platoon – Walter Jack – was badly injured on the range. I am not sure how it happened but he was shot. The bullet went into his thigh. there was a lot of blood on the frosty ground and Jack was crying in agony. It was an awful scene. It seems another lad accidentally discharged his rifle. Williamson, the chap who did it, was in a bad way.  In floods of tears. Poor soul.

Black watch and snipersInteresting report in the paper from a Black Watch officer from 5th Battalion. Seems they’ve been getting it from snipers. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if Collins becomes a sniper when we get out there. He could shoot a penny off a gatepost 200 yards off! I  stayed  at the range for the  weekend. I was given general duties. Much cleaning and polishing. My kit looks in magnificent shape. I am jealous of the red hackle that George’s 1st Battalion men are allowed to wear. No such honour of us new boys. Harry, Robbie and I get a train to Dundee to go to theatre to see a variety show “Under the Patronage of 5th Battalion Black Watch”.  Very funny show. Jock McKay in particular had us rolling in the aisles. Apparently he’s even popular in America.

I spent much of the time we have off telling the lads about other things George related to me when he was home. On November 2nd the British line on the Menin Road was again broken by a German attack. A counter-attack was ordered. A, B and C Companies of 1st Battalion took part in a brilliant action that stopped the Hun in his tracks and restored the line. It was another fierce battle though. These companies were only 120 strong and were reduced to 75 during the attack. George felt a bullet whizz past his ear at one point and the chap right behind him took it in the side of his face, though he survived. The action took a heavy toll, but the Battalion machine gunners enfiladed enemy positions and many German bodies could be seen the next day.

Weekending 8th November 1914

More news from George and his Black Watch comrades in France

sunday post 8th november 1914

Q_005935PilckemRidge1August1917StretcherBearersBoesinghe

Pilckem Ridge

Another letter from George arrived just before I left on Monday morning.  I had just time for a quick read before I went to the train station. He said things had been very hot where they are. Tells of heavy fighting at Pilckem. 1st Battallion helped stem German advance. The Black Watch machine guns firing from a windmill on the Langemarcke-Bixschoote road inflicted heavy losses and kept the Hun at bay. Cpt Ruthven and Lt Hay were both wounded however. In a month’s fighting only 7 officers remain of all who left Aldershot.

I Arrive at drill hall and form up with other men on the parade ground. Sgt Maj Charles told us we will leave for Barry Buddon. We marched to the station and boarded the train to Carnoustie. From there we marched several miles to the training ranges. At last we were introduced to the tools of our trade. I have shot before, rabbits and pigeons, so hoped I would be  good with an army rifle. On the ranges we are given Lee Enfield rifles. We will not be taking them away – We shall probably be given old Martini-Henrys for drill.

Rifle_Pattern_1914_Enfield

Lee Enfield rifle

I took aim and breathed slowly. My hands were shaking. On command I let loose a round. Not good. On my next shot I tried to block out other men and concentrate. This time I hit the target. Not perfect but thank goodness I got it. I got better over course of the day. Some lads couldn’t shoot for toffee.  Hopefully the Germans stand perfectly still on the battlefield.

7rpMYOn Tuesday we were shown how to take apart a rifle, clean it and put it back together. Sgt Thomas, who was teaching us, said we must learn to do this in our sleep as it could save our lives and our comrades lives. We have been separated into companies, platoons and sections. Robbie is in my section but Stan is not, though he  is in my platoon. Also in my section are Jack Logan, Alf Mulligan, Jim Scott, Willie McKay, Peter Campbell and David Fraser. Willie McKay is proving the best shot in the company. Sgt Thomas calls him Eagle Eye McKay! We stayed at Barry Buddon in large tents. There is a lot of rivalry building already between the sections and platoons. Lots of lively talk before sleep.

Wednesday was cold with a  wind coming in off the sea in the morning and mist rolling up over the bleak grassland. I think I am getting used to this soldiering lark. Sgt Thomas told me I am a pretty good shot. As well as musketry we’re getting lectures on artillery and detonators. We are getting better at stripping down Lee Enfield. The NCOs we’re being trained by are keen advocates of this rifle. It has a ten-bullet magazine and high rate of fire once in trained hands.

Sgt Thomas says at Mons, Germans believed they were under fire from machine guns. In fact, it was infantry firing Lee Enfields. The only down side is the firing mechanism, which  is susceptible to dirt. So Sgt Thomas says keeping your rifle clean is of utmost importance.The butt of the rifle has a space inside it where cleaning material is kept. Robbie said Mulligan could do with a clean too. Mulligan didn’t take kindly to this and threw his cap at Robbie. Sgt Thomas spotted this and went through them saying there must be no horseplay or tomfoolery near guns – the Germans will be trying to do for us without us helping them along.

7tvSqI received a package from mother on Thursday. She has knitted me three pairs of socks. It was very cold so they were very useful. Some of the others don’t wear anything at all to bed. Not a pretty sight. They’re pretty rough and ready some of the boys. Father has also sent a book. The Field Service Pocket Book. Only officers have them. No idea how he came by it. I did not have time to read it then, but a quick flick through revealed it has information about everything from trenches to map reading. The 5th Battalion (Angus lads mainly) moved out a couple of days ago and  we have just heard they’ve shipped to France, into Le Havre. Apparently lot of the boys in 1/4th  are grumbling, asking why 5th are getting to go out while they’re stuck guarding Tay Bridge.

 7v5ULOn Friday morning we were told that when we have finished training at Barry Buddon we are to be posted to . . . Broughty Ferry. Tay Defences for us. Also , we heard that there has been an outbreak of yellow fever in 1/4th. A lot of the lads have been struck down. Not sure if Harry has it. I snatched a look at Field Service Book at lunchtime. Interesting section of field bivouacs. Diagrams of bivouac useful.  Instructions include: ‘When British and Indian troops camp together avoid putting slaughter places near Hindu troops’ Never met a Hindu.

I chose not to go home for the weekend. I stayed out at Barry Buddon. A few of us competed to see who can strip rifle fastest. Campbell won and I was second. Eagle Eye McKay is last. Crack shot but slow hands it seems.

Saturday post 1914-11-07Saturday Post says Brit troops bearing brunt of ferocious German assault. I sometimes wonder if war is going well.  Many thought this thing would be over by Christmas. Judging by worrying reports I very much doubt that.

 I read more of the Field Service Book. The page on building rafts and bridges made me wonder if I’ll need that in France.  It occurred to me that I might not end up in France at all. What if I am sent to China or other far-flung corner!

 

 

Another superb map in the Sunday post this week, showing the map of the new war zone!

map of the new war zone