Tag Archives: Lily Galbraith

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 12th September 1915


We are off the France! And I am to rejoin my regiment

12th september 1915 sunday post front

Of course I soon felt dreadful about the way I had created Lily and her parents. They had done their best to be pleasant and I had behaved horridly. I wrote to Lily on the train down apologising, trying to explain that Arthur’s death and the experience I had had with his family had left me completely out of sorts. I begged her to forgive me and to explain to her parents.  It was lucky that I did, because it has been all action since.

I could not have felt more depressed when I arrived back at Ormskirk. Sergeant Harris soon snapped me out of that dark mood by announcing that we were to be in France in a week. I am to accompany our prepared horses to a remount depot in Pas de Calais and then I am to proceed to my battalion. The Sergeant thinks something big is going to happen, because they have been told to supply as many horses as they can as quickly as possible. He thinks this is going to be the big push. I shall be with the cavalry mounts, and so we have been working all daylight hours trying to get them ready. There is a lot of tackle to get ready and each horse has had an appointment with the vet and the blacksmith. They are no fools, they feel the excitement, and they have been quite difficult to handle.

ormskirk remount depot

 

At last the day arrived when they were taken and cajoled onto the trains for the south coast. many of them resisted, no doubt remembering their last experiences, and I don’t blame them. Some needed to be blindfolded. We accompanied them in a carriage at the back, little better then the open carriages the horse were in. No seats, just straw on the floor. Many of the men – ‘volunteered’ into the army a few months before, remember, did nothing but complain. But I just looked forward to seeing my friends. I received a letter from Lily the day before and was relieved to know that no lasting damage had been done. She had sensed that I was out of sorts and that I had found the evening with her parents uncomfortable. Mr and Mrs Galbraith had noticed, but when they heard that I had been to see the Watsons just before, I was completely forgiven.

william shaw, Black Watch on a horse at Ormskirk Remount depotAnd so again I arrived in Southampton, destined for France. We had a couple of hours after loading the horses, and so we went for a final drink on British soil. Our journey across the channel was completed in darkness and at dawn we started to unload the horses. When they were all off they spent the day in a local pasture and the next day, they were taken closer to the front. There I was relieved and told to make my way to Vermelles, the HQ of my battalion. So I said goodbye to my remount colleagues – and to Billy, my favourite – and set about getting a lift east.

scottish soldiers training for France

I saw this cutting in the Post this week. They all look very eager don’t they?  I wonder if they will get here in time. If this is going to be the big push, we could be in Berlin before we know it!

Weekending 5th September 1915

 

 A visit home, Beer, Ice-cream, sadness and remorse.

Sunday Post 5th September 1915I can not tell you how excited I was to get a four day pass and head for home. The train from Liverpool simply couldn’t go fast enough and the change at Glasgow, even though it was only an hour to wait, seemed to draw endlessly. I finally got home in the early evening, before everyone was home, and found my gran in a chair by the range, her head to one side, asleep. My entry hadn’t disturbed her and so I stepped back outside and knocked loudly on the door, entering when she shouted that the door was open. Well, I knew that!

Chrissy working in a munitions factory in Dundee. On the home frontOf course she was delighted to see me as were the others when they arrives, first Janet, then Chrissy, Mother and finally Father. Mother is working in one of the jute mills making sandbags and Chrissy is working somewhere top secret – she later told me a small munitions factory in Mains Road, in Dundee. She started a few weeks ago and she proudly told me that they have just sent their first few deliveries of 2.75 inch shells. Chrissy says that they have been told that they might turn yellow because of the chemicals they use! She seems so different, more confident – even a little forward. She was so much quieter only a few months ago. but now she earns her own money – good money too, I am told, and after housekeeping has some to spend in town. She often goes with her friends to the pictures and when I ask her if that is appropriate, she says that there is no point waiting for a man to ask her, as there aren’t any. I could see mother tutting and shaking her head as she heard this, but I suppose Chrissy is right.

After dinner, father and I went down to the pub. We took a circuitous route and father took the opportunity to ask me how I was and to tell me how dreadfully worried Mother and the girls had been when they had received the telegram from the War Office, and how relieved they had all been when they received my first letter reassuring them that I was safe. He said that George had arrived a few days later, tired and drained. He had stayed for three days and father said they had some long conversations about how it is out there. He said that George could barely look at his corporal’s stripes and felt no satisfaction from his promotion. Father said that he had suddenly realised how horrid it must be out there, seeing every day what he himself had only witnessed a few times in battle. He put his arm around me and told me that he and Mother are very proud of us and what we are doing. Well, I was ready for a drink after all that!  A few of father’s friends were already there and he made a great show of buying me my first drink. My hand was shaken several times and I was asked what regiment I was in now that I was wearing a strange field jacket and trousers! I had to tell that that I had been sent home from gas and was working in England, but felt I was now fit enough to get back to the front. I don’t think I bought a drink that night, but I had a headache in the morning!

I rose early, but Chrissy and mother had already left for the train to Dundee and Father was just just going. I had some bread and tea (that actually tasted like tea!) and decided to sort out a new uniform. After all, I was hoping to see Lily later and I wanted to be properly dressed. I headed over to the barracks, to present myself to the Supply Officer. When I arrived I hardly knew the place! What had once been quietly busy and organised, was now a roaring bustle and seemingly quite chaotic. What is more, there seemed to be soldiers from all different battalions, not just the BW. I found the Supply Officer’s office, but he refused to give me anything as, he said, he didn’t know me from Adam and I obviously had a uniform already. Finally I managed to track down Sgt Maj McNab. He didn’t recognise me at first, but after I had started to explain my plight, He gave me a broad smile and clapped his arm around my shoulder and promised to sort it out for me. But even he could only do so much. I was grudgingly presented with Glengarry and jacket, but the S.O. swore that he had not a kilt in the world, and in the end, Sgt Maj McNab had to admit defeat. I was mortified!

Then much worse news. He asked me if I knew Arthur Watson. Well Of course! He is in my platoon and we trained here together only months ago. Well, said Sgt Maj McNab,he had just received notice that he had been killed. The family had been informed the day before. He had been shot by a sniper, though the family hadn’t been told that. I was deeply shocked. My legs turned to jelly. Arthur was such a gentle man – not really fitted to the violence of war. For him to die in the trenches was a real tragedy. Suddenly, the trenches came back to me – the noise, the smell. the fear….McNab took me into his office and forced an nip of whisky on me – the last thing a wanted after the night before – but it steadied me. I asked for the family’s address, so that I might offer my condolences. He said that I should think it over as I may not be welcome, but I insisted, saying that in the trenches, he was part of my family and the lads would expect it of me, as I had the opportunity. Reluctantly, he wrote it down, but suggested that I leave it until the following day.

Black watch in training

This is how they think trenches look, when training! Ha!

Half dressed, with my other jacket in a jute bag, I returned to Abernethy and paid a visit to Mr McLaren. The farm was very quiet. The harvest of oats had been taken in and there seemed very little else to do. Mr McLaren was down to two small horses – Kitchener’s ponies he called them – horses shorter than 15 hands, which were deemed to small for the army. Well, they weren’t much use on a farm either, but the local farmers all got together and shared the resources they had, and some local women came to help as best they could. Mr McLaren said they were alright for leading the horses to the fields, but couldn’t handle the heavy machinery. It was all the local farmers could do to take in the harvest between them on each other’s land. Now they were waiting for guidance from the ministry before deciding what to plant for next year . Alan was pleased to see me. He looked well and his sleeve had been specially shortened and stitched together so that his arm was hidden. He is surprisingly dexterous with just his right hand.

Lily Galbraith 1914 at homeFinally, I reached Lily’s house. As I placed my hand on the gate, I almost trembled with the sudden thought of how much had happened since we had seen each other. Our letters had been warm, even affectionate, but How would she react when she saw me? I needn’t have worried. I had barely knocked when Lily burst passed the poor housekeeper who was opening the door and took my hands. I have never seen her smile so brightly! My mood lightened instantly as she led me into the front parlour. I had barely sat down when Mrs Galbraith came rushing in and embraced me! she insisted I stay for tea and the housekeeper brought in a tray and some shortbread. It was all such a jolly affair, with Mr Galbraith joining us a little later after ha had returned from work. I found their enthusiasm and delight in seeing me so refreshing. It is as if the war does not affect them at all, save my absence, and with me home, they do not even consider it. I found that I could speak to them about all the things that I found interesting or important before I joined up.  Mrs Galbraith ensured that there were no lapses into pensive silence, with a ready comment about fashions or some local gossip. I stepped out with Lily for a walk in the garden most refreshed, without a thought for the war. I had even forgotten about Arthur. Together, we seemed to enjoy the touch of our hands and the quiet of the countryside. We strolled down to the bench so distance from the house. Our eyes met frequently followed by easy smiles. I told her how I had missed her and how I looked forward to her letters. And how so very pretty she is. She blushed and laughed, teasing me about my trousers and odd uniform. When we returned to the house, I was invited for dinner the following day. I kissed her hand and bade my fair wells.

Kidds soldier supplies, DundeeWhen I got home, Chrissy and Mother were making some dinner – sausages and potatoes – and father was sitting in his chair with a pipe. When he saw my trousers, he asked me what on earth was happening. I explained that the barracks had no kilts at all and that I might have to return to Liverpool – and possibly France- wearing trousers. he was up in flash and came out of the bedroom with the brown paper parcel that was his old kilt. He would hear no argument, but insisted that i take it. ” You will not go to war in breeks!” he cried and the girls burst out laughing. I didn’t know what to say. I remembered I had taken the kilt to the barrack on the day I had joined up – how long ago that all seemed – and was told it was not required. Well, now it was needed. My mother took hold of it and examined it closely, declaring that it was in good condition and saying that she would need to take of the NCO ribbons for the morning ” Aye,” said Father, ” it might seem presumptuous to arrive back in a sergeant’s kilt. You will need a practical sporan too.’ Father tore an advert out of the paper and handed it to me, saying I should try to get one here before I left.

 

The next morning I found the kilt waiting for me on the chair by the range. It was pure delight to put it on and a relief too, because I was due to head to Perth to see Arthur’s family. I had been thinking about him through the night, trying to recall the happy times we had together, and the good things about his character. I remembered that he had a younger sister, Ethel and that his father was a school teacher. I bought the train to Perth and set out for Craigie Hill the weather was quite pleasant and I began to enjoy my walk through the fields. I fell in with some lads who had some days free in Perth before heading south to join their regiments. What Seaforths and Cameronians were doing in Perth, they could not say, but whilst they were awaiting their orders, they had decided to take a walk. I remembered fighting with the Seaforths at Aubers Ridge and, strangely became the hero, as they asked me for details of the action. I told them what I remembered, which was that we didn’t achieve a great deal and lost a lot of men, but they we impressed all the same. When I told them I had been wounded twice and gassed they gasped and when I confirmed to a short cameronian that I had killed Germans in their own trenches, they stood in awe. It was quite uncomfortable. A bicycle bell broke the spell and an ice-cream seller came down the road. They insisted on buying me an ice and the seller, Mr janetta, when he heard I had been wounded twice, gave it to me free!

Jannettas Ice cream parlour, St Andrews. supplied picture june 2015

Signor Janetta giving out the Ice-creams. I am just behind him, third from left

So I was in a strangely bouyant mood when I approached Arthur Watson’s house. I steadied myself and knocked on the door. A pretty girl answered. She wore a black mourning dress and her hair was tied with a black ribbon. She has bright blue eyes. She confirmed that this was the Watson residence and when I told her who I was, she turned to lead me into the parlour and asked me to wait. A Lady came in, dressed also in black and introduced herself as Arthur’s mother. She asked Arthur’s sister, Ethel,  to arrange for some tea and invited me to sit. I began to offer my condolences, telling how we had joined at the same time, built a friendship through our training and were in the same platoon in France. Ethel returned with tea and short bread and i proceeded to tell them the things I had remembered about Arthur the previous night. At first Mrs watson had appeared somewhat distant, but as I talked, she became more upset. Not knowing what to do, I raked my mind for more things to say about Arthur. Suddenly, she asked why I was home in Scotland. i replied that I had been gassed and was convalescing, working with horses in Liverpool. She stood up, holding the handkerchief to her face, and said that she wished Arthur had been gassed and was safe at home. She rushed out of the parlour and I heard her sobbing up the stairs, followed by a worried housekeeper. Ethel just looked at me with her bright blue eyes. ” They had high hopes for Arthur.” she said. “He was at University, you know.” I was quite shaken, and said that he had mentioned it. ” Tell me,” she said “what does your mother think about you being in the army?” I said that she thought we should all fight for the King and country and she was proud that she had two sons fighting in France, even though she did worry about not knowing where or how we are. ” Well,” she replied ” At least those worries are now behind us.” She said it as a matter of fact and continued to drink her tea. I made my excuses and left. As she led me to the door, she thanked me for coming and said she hoped my mother wouldn’t suffer the way Arthur’s had. As the door closed, I could still hear the sound of sobbing coming from upstairs. Rattled, I had just closed the garden gate when I was accosted by a man walking up the street, who I assume must have been Mr Watson. He shouted loudly, asking what I thought I was doing and hadn’t I caused enough misery? I tried to explain myself, but he just shooed me away and told me never to return.

I walked back into Perth in a daze and found myself in a pub. After a couple of drinks I felt a little better and I managed to to the Watsons from my mind. I took the train to Dundee and went to buy a purse from Kidds and then came home. Only Gran was there, sitting by the range. we made some tea and sat a while together. Suddenly she started talking to me about Archie, my dog, and how much he had missed me when I joined up. She told me he would hide in my cupboard and sleep on my clothes. After all I have seen recently, looking to my cupboard across the room and thinking of my dog pining for my company very nearly brought a tear to my eye. I suddenly missed being home and my old life very much.

Later I went to see the Galbraith’s for dinner. But I was not good company. Their gay conversation was at odds with my mood and I found their light heartedness very wearing. Lily was most disappointed at my remoteness, but I couldn’t tell her why I felt so morose because I didn’t really know myself. I could hardly have told them about my experiences that morning. In fact, I realised, I could hardly tell them about my experiences from the last few months. Their world was so different to mine. And I didn’t want to sully Lily’s life with the horrors of my life at the front. I suddenly felt like a fish out of water.  Our stroll around the garden was brief. I tried to apologise, to explain that my mind was elsewhere, but the words seemed laboured and false. She showed a brave face and told me that she understood. But how could she?

When I returned home, my father took me down to the pub, for a send off drink. Again there was much clapping on the back and forced jollity. They all wished me well and hoped that I would soon have my chance to kill the Hun. Old soldiers! How they must have have enjoyed their wars. How little they understand of this one.

I awoke early the next morning and said goodbye to everyone before they left for work. There was sadness and a few tears from my mother., But as I carried my bag down towards the railway station, my over-riding emotion was relief.

 

 

 

Weekending 22nd August 1915

Getting into the swing of it all at Ormskirk Remount Depot

sunday post 22 august 1915

Ormskirk Remount Depot is quite self contained, with each squadron having its own blacksmith and forge, leather workers  and canteen. There is even a barber who has managed to get himself two assistants and  has a sign outside his tent “ Hair cutting and shampoo rooms”.

George Felton, Barber at Ormskirk remount depot

 

 

 

I think the authorities would quite like us not to leave the park, but the call of the local pubs is too great for many of the lads, though they must be back for 10pm.

 

 

 

 

cavalry inspection at ormskirk Remount depot

As well as sorting the horses when they arrive, I have had the chance to help the cavalrymen, just riding their horses for an hour or so every day. It is important that they get used to having other horses around them and don’t start fighting, or scaring each other, so we spend our time walking and trotting in line and column. At the end of the session we line up to be inspected. It is very similar to what I had to learn as a new recruit in the Black Watch, but I enjoy it much more on horseback.

 

I have been told by the doctor here that I should be fit for service soon and I can’t wait to get back to the lads. My arm was stiff for a couple of days at first, but I have had no trouble with my breathing at all. Obviously those walks along the esplanade did the trick!

Lily Galbraith 1914

 

I am due some leave, which I intend to take next week. I can hardly wait to see my family and, of course, Lily! I know that I shall be heading to front again soon, I feel it in my bones but, strangely, I am less afraid than I was even before I had left the country. I now know what the Hun can throw at me and so far I have survived. I am more able and experienced than before. I trust in God that I will live through what ever they can throw at me.

 

I know that a shipment of horses will leave for France soon and I hope to go with them so that I can catch up with the fourth.

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 21st February 1915

Frantic activity and sudden leave suggests we shall be leaving for war soon!

9kbmsp_WW1_william _and _mumEVERYTHING has changed in the last week. From endless months of boredom, 4th Battalion is now a whirlwind of activity. First Sgt Mjr Charles gave the whole section two days leave at short notice and not at the weekend. Unheard of! In fact he told us that if we weren’t “off the premises within the hour” we would spend the two days doing pack drill The NCOs have been getting short tempered and very demanding and the Quartermaster has been getting more deliveries than is usual.

I went home and when father heard what has been going on he took me for a drink at the Tavern and called me a man. He says that I shall be leaving for the war very soon and that he is very proud of me.  He also said not to worry mother – to keep it to ourselves, but she is too clever for that! When we got home, she had placed on the kitchen table woollen gloves, socks and a hat.

The following day I had nothing to do and all the family were working, so I went to see Mr McLaren. His son Alan is home now, though without his left arm. We chatted and he told me how it had been for him. He  is not the happy young man I remember. He has lost weight and looks very tired. He says he is getting better, but slowly. Mrs McLaren insisted that I stay for some lunch and then they wished me well, Mr McLaren shaking me very firmly by the hand.

Then I went to see Lily. Mrs Galbraith opened the door and I heard Lily rushing down the stairs to see who it was. I was invited in and Lily and I were allowed to spent some time in the front parlour, with tea. I told her that we might be leaving for France very soon. She was shocked and reached out for my hand. However, she recovered and said that I would make her very proud. We agreed to write to each other. I wanted to tell her what I feel about her, but all I could do was squeeze her hand and look into her eyes. I think she knows. I was invited to stay for dinner, but if I am leaving soon, I felt I should go home and spend time with my family. As I left, Lily gave me a kiss on the cheek and asked god to protect me.

Dinner was a strange affair that evening. Mother made her best mince and tatties and father brought home some bottles of beer. Gran made a plum duff. It could have been a celebration, but nobody seemed very happy. Father said how good it was to have most of the family together, Chrissie was almost in tears. As I looked around me, I suddenly realised that this could be the last time I sat down with them for a very long time. I tried to treasure those moments and hold onto them. I went to bed feeling quite maudlin.

I felt much better the next morning, l remembered that I joined the Black Watch to fight for my King and country, and to make my family proud. Mother and I went into Dundee so that we could be photographed together. I bought two. One for mother and one for Lily.

I returned to the Barracks on Sunday evening. We are now certain that the order to go is imminent. We have been issued with new Lee Enfield rifles.

My war is about to begin properly at last. Wish me luck.

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 January 3rd 1915

At last I am back with my Black Watch comrades, but I spend Hogmanay guarding a bridge!

sunday post 3rd january 1915 front page small

Dr Kay came on his visit first thing on Monday morning and after taking my temperature passed me fit to rejoin my section.  At last! I got washed and dressed in a jiffy. It felt good to be in my Black Watch uniform and ready for action again. I returned to the drill hall just as the lads were finishing breakfast. I got a cheer and a round of applause from 2 Section. Even Sgt Maj Charles said it was good to have me back, but I’ll need to get a lot more food down me to get my strength up. He said: “You look the colour of porridge laddie! A few good route marches will put some colour in your cheeks though.” Fortunately he was joking – at least on Monday. I reckon a 12-miler would put paid to me better than any Bosch could.

I was put on light duties for a few days, until I get back to full fitness. ‘Moaner’ Mann grumbled that I lucky to have had flu. Robbie and Harry came up and clapped me on the back. I almost fell over!

bayonetsWe had lectures for the next couple of days so there was not too much physical stuff. I started to feel my old self again quite quickly. One lunchtime Robbie read out a story from the paper which was very dramatic. A taste of the rough stuff at the front. A captain revealed how every night they rush the enemy trenches opposite and see off as many as they can with bayonets. He said that one night the Hun rushed them before they got out of the trench and it took much “manual labour with bayonets” to out them. He said  he pulled out his revolver but it got stuck and a German came at him. He had to rugby tackle him round the knees and then got him by the throat and returned some of the “unparliamentary” language the Bosch had used until he was bayonetted. There was much “Ahh-ing” and cheering as Robbie read out the account. I think we were all imagining doing this ourselves. Our basic training is almost at an end and soon we will be able to call ourselves trained soldiers. What then, I wonder – and where?

Worst luck. We were posted on guard duty at the Tay Bridge again. I suppose someone has to do it. So much for Hogmanay! I felt really upset, especially as I had been ill over Christmas. But then I thought about all the chaps out in France – so far away from their loved ones and in danger all the time. It may be me this time next year. That made me grateful that I could still see my family regularly, if not always when I would like. It also made me realise how much I shall miss Lily when we go to France. It can’t be long now, surely…

foil spies

 

Tension has been quite high after the German Navy bombarded Scarborough and the like. Could Dundee be next? we are determined to be extra vigilant. whilst the Black Watch may not be able to fend off battleships, we should be alert to spies and saboteurs. I found this cutting in the paper. It is quite dark at the bridge when we face out to sea, but there are lots of lights on in Dundee. I think people should be told to switch them off. If a spy is signalling to a ship, we would have no chance of seeing the message.

 

 

fortune teller

 

 

I also saw this. Might it be true? The gentleman seems to have been right before. Will I get in time to fight? I do hope so, I would be devastated if we trained to be fighting fit, only to miss out. Mind you, they said the war would be over by this Christmas!

 

 

And so I saw the new year in on guard duty at the bridge. What a dull start to 1915! I imagined my family celebrating, my father first footing, with a piece of coal and a shilling, which he would place over the front door for good fortune and all the good wishes and merriment that accompanies welcoming in the new year. Then I thought of George. Perhaps he too is standing still, on guard duty searching into the darkness for a sign of the enemy, perhaps he too is imagining his family celebrating at their fireside. I suddenly felt quite proud that my brother and I were doing our bit for king and country. I know that George – and many others in the Black Watch – have done much more than I, but in a few months , or maybe weeks, I too shall be in France fighting the Bosch. Shoulder to shoulder with George or with my brothers in arms from my section and battalion. Then we shall show them something! Roll on end of training and start of fighting.

kirkcaldy soldier

 

We examined a map of the front, that was in the paper. “Violent battle”! “German attacks repulsed”! That will be us soon. i think I shall start to examine these maps more closely. there is one in the Post nearly every week. It would be good to have an idea where we are going, when we cross the channel.

Weekending December 27th 1914

 

Brought down by illness, I spend Christmas in bed!

Sunday post 27th December 1914 front small

What a week! I have been really sick, and in the hospital. What rotten luck for Christmas week. At first I felt a little unwell – hot and feverish. Then I started to feel better, though a bit weak. Suddenly, I slipped back again. Aching all over and hotter than a blacksmith’s furnace. I had terrible nightmares about George being chased by flying bayonets. When I awake I see him standing at the foot of the bed. I must have shouted out for a medical orderly ket coming to my side. My burning brow was mopped with cold water and I slipped in and out of sleep.

Sunday post 27th December 1914

I was feeling a little better after a couple of days but still very weak. I hadn’t eaten much for the past few days and I think I had lost my strength. The doctor came round and told me there was no hope of me being up and out in time for Christmas.  I wrote a letter to mother to explain everything. They were very busy, as parents and Chrissie and Janet were coming to stay with my father’s cousin Jenny in Dundee on Christmas Eve.

I remember seeing a light dusting of snow on the windows on Christmas Eve.  I was definitely on the mend by then. A Christmas card