The On-line Home of Anna Welti
WAR DIARY 1917-1919 WRITTEN FOR HIS GRANDCHILDREN ALISON AND KATHRYN BY ARCHIBALD GORDON MACGREGOR
LETTER TO GRANDCHILDREN
"House of Thorburn"
21 April 1968
My dear Grandchildren,
Fifty years ago this month - in April 1918 - I was involved, south of Ypres in Flanders, in battles in which Scottish and South African infantry regiments helped to stem a furious German onslaught and so to save the Channel ports. So I thought it an appropriate time to set out for you my own experiences in these April battles. Then it occurred to me that it might be of interest to you, when you are grown up, to read a first hand account of some of the doings of the once-famous 9th (Scottish) Division in the 21 months during which I had the honour of serving in it in the Great War of 1914-1918. The letters I wrote home at the time (to my mother and sister) have been preserved. However they give practically no information about my experiences, because we were not allowed to describe the war, or even to say where we were at any particular time. My account deals with "old unhappy far-off things and battles long ago", so it may well seem pretty 'old hat', and even antediluvian, to you. If these pages survive for 50 years and you turn them over then, the events described will be as far back for you as the battle of Waterloo was for me in 1915!
My account is documented and illustrated by maps - but if you don't want to follow events in detail you can simply read through the manuscript foolscap sheets.
You may well ask: Why was this "Great War" so important? What was it all about? Why was there such a tremendous voluntary response to recruiting for the Armed Forces, not only in Great Britain but in the Dominions and in Ireland?
As a war, it was historically important because it was the first 'total war', that is to say the first major conflict in which the whole of the populations of the opposing powers became involved either as combatants or as workers in nationally controlled industries supplying the sinews of War.
Britain, quite unprepared for a land war on a large scale, declared war on Germany because the Germans violated the neutrality of Belgium, which they and Britain had both guaranteed. The Germans referred to the treaty of guarantee as "a scrap of paper", and thought that its existence should not for a moment be allowed to stand in the way of German ambitions to crush and humiliate France. Moreover, in over-running Belgium the Germans adopted ruthless and brutal measures against any civilians who attempted to oppose their arrogant demands. All this horrified the people of Britain and the Dominions, for in 1914 there was a general idea that barbarous aggressive warfare was a thing of the past, and that with the help of modern science and democratic enlightenment, the world was entering a period of peace and social betterment.
G.S.Duncan, Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig's personal Chaplain, writing in 1966 (Douglas Haig as I Knew Him, p.13) sums up the matter well; he says
"We had imagined ourselves then [in 1914] to be living in an age of enlightenment; and that a civilized nation like Germany should wantonly provoke a war with her European neighbours came as a shock both to the intelligence and to the conscience. The nation sprang at once to arms; so too did the peoples of the British Empire. There is no adequate parallel in history, before or since, to the upsurge of stern resolution that the need aroused. The response came from every section of the community. And it was for long an entirely voluntary response: despite the desperate character of the struggle, conscription was not introduced till two years later. Above all there was an idealistic ardour, a sense of unity, and a comradeship which a later generation has found it hard to understand."
Kipling, writing over 50 years before Duncan, in 1914, forcefully expressed the nation's mood – (although he spoke for England!)
"For all we have and are,
Duncan also says (pp.13-14) "Some thing of the original elation was lost in the awful conditions of the fighting around Ypres and in the Somme valley; but the idealism remained. This was a war to end war forever". And again (pp.46-47) "Such idealism is not readily appreciated by a generation that has grown weary of war, and recoils from the very thought of it. If it was war-fever, it was the war-fever of peace-loving men: fighting and dying, as they dared to believe, so as to end war forever. Rightly or wrongly German militarism was seen, not merely as a threat to British national interests, but as an offence to the conscience of all who cared greatly for the basis of Christian civilisation."
Duncan is correct in saying that, as the war went on and the terrible death-roll grew and grew, there was some disillusionment, discouragement, and even defeatism. But I believe these reactions were confined to a minority - those of brittle moral fibre - and that the great majority of those at home and in the armed forces still felt that, whatever the cost, there could be no compromise in dealing with the German menace.
I like to think that Will Y Darling's reaction (you will hear more about him in my narrative) represents that of the average man. Darling was a pretty tough character who had knocked about in many parts of the world. He had served in the infantry in the abortive Gallipoli campaign, in which he was seriously injured, and after long spells in hospitals had fought in France and Belgium in 1917 (including the Passchandaele offensive); but he was not dismayed. I well remember that one morning in 1918, on meeting me, he took off his tin hat [steel helmet], extracted a scrap of paper from its lining, and said "Listen to this": he then read John McCrae's moving poem "In Flanders' Fields". Here it is :-
In Flanders' fields the poppies blow
John McCrae was a Canadian Medical Officer.
After the Great War was won there was indeed widespread disillusionment. It soon became clear that war had not been outlawed. The soldiers had kept faith but, the politicians - in particular the American politicians, who repudiated the League of Nations - did not. The bombastic Mussolini led Italy unchecked to war and an unrepentant and arrogant Germany, under Hitler, was allowed to rise again and launch another attack on humanity - an attack in which their bestial brutality knew no bounds. As Kipling has said, the Germans "Because they feared no reckoning, would set no bounds to wrong."
My dears, I hope neither you nor your children will have to fight another war to defend the basis of Christian civilisation - but if you do, hold high the torch that was passed on in Flanders' fields so long ago!
God bless you:
This account has been compiled from my own recollections, often very vivid even after 50 years, supplemented by information given in Major John Ewing's "History of the 9th (Scottish) Division 1914 -1919" (London: John Murray, 1921) and Lt. Col. W.D. Croft's "Three years with the 9th (Scottish) Division" (London: John Murray, 1919), particularly with reference to the general time-sequence of events, the development of battles and the fluctuating positions of front lines. Notes which I wrote in the margins of Croft's book in 1919 have supplemented my memories of the past.
Other books which deal in small part with certain operations involving the 27th Infantry Brigade are:
Ian Hay's book mentioned above deals in part with life at 27 Inf. Bde. H.Q. before my time. Ian Hay Beith was 27 Bde. Machine-gun Officer, but had left the Division before I joined it.
The topographical maps of which I have made use are cut from popular contemporary War Maps, which I kept for 50 years! They are as follows:
The topography of the two special Battle Maps (III/M2 and VI/M1) has been traced from an Army Map: Belgium and part of France: Sheet 28: Edition 3 - Scale 1:40,000
NOTE REGARDING MAPS & DOCUMENTS
(NB This "Note" refers to the handwritten Master Copy, and to the photocopies made by AGM for the family in 1970. The newly edited and typed version which you are reading is one of a limited "edition" of four manuscripts which contain copies of all maps and documents, and two from which photocopies taken from books mentioned in the Forward are omitted. I have retained the "Note" in this new version as it clarifies the numbering of the maps. AW 2003)
Other copies of my war diary (prepared originally in April 1968) do not incorporate any of the Documents mentioned in the Table of Contents [with the exception of III/D6' which explains Passchendaele and gives an excellent summary of the general sequence of events on the Western Front in 1917 and 1918] and omit the following original maps: General Map of Western Front maps I/M1, II/M1, IV/M1, V/M1, VIII/M1, IX/M1 and X/M1. These are maps drawn on parts of published topographical maps.
Copies of the original manuscript maps III/M1 (Ypres 1917) and VI/M1 (Ypres 1918) have however been made; they are included here along with copies of a new general map and of four newly-drawn local maps. These seven manuscript maps cover all the battle-areas in which I served. (Copies of text and maps were made by Xerox, George St., Edinburgh. All colour was added by hand.)
The new maps are, I think, clearer than the originals, and indicate more readily the geographical relationships of the various battle areas.
The new maps (other than the General Map of the Western Front) have been numbered I/M11, III/M11, V/M11, VI/M11, VIII/M11 and IX/M11, in order to show their correspondence to the ones they replace (and to the Table of Contents).
For areas covered by original map II/M1 and IV/M1 the new General Map and map V/M11 may also be consulted.
There are no copies of the original map X/M1> covering the line of march through Belgium to Cologne after the armistice, (filed in this copy).
1n 1978 maps were added to illustrate the broader aspects of the Battle of Arras in 1917 and of the Somme retreat and Ypres/Kemmel in 1918.
NOTE The original copy ("master copy") of the Diary contains all the original maps except III/M2 and VI/M1; ie Ypres 1917 and 1918) as well as the copies numbered 1/M11, etc (which were made later) and all documents. Copies without original maps (but with copies of most of them) and without documents have been made for Anna, Caroline, Alison and Kathryn. There is an additional 'loan copy' (which you are reading now).
ADDENDUM (written in 1977)
Lost Days in England
After final (embarkation) leave and inoculation I was at Wrest Park, Silsoe, Beds. from 5th to 11th April 1917. Wrest Park was a large English country seat which had belonged to Lord Lucas. He seems to have been a very fine chap, for after he was killed in the Royal Flying Corps in 1916, a long poem was written about him by Maurice Baring ("In Memorium A. H." - Auberon Herbert, Captain Lord Lucas).
The house, of which the army occupied one wing, was in extensive grounds, with many magnificent trees, statues, monuments, a horse-shoe shaped lake and a swimming pool surrounded by high yew hedges.
At Wrest Park reinforcement drafts for R.E. Signals of the British Expeditionary Force were assembled. The men and most of the officers were under canvas. I was in the house for most of the time. The weather was frightful - constant showers of rain, sleet and snow, and the ground in the camp area was ankle-deep in mud and slush when we left to entrain at Flitwick.
We were in an Embarkation Rest Camp at Southampton, in very comfortable huts, for the night of 12/13 April, and on the 13th we marched through Southampton and embarked on the Clyde turbine steamer "Duchess of Argyll". But just as we were beginning to settle in, there was a German submarine scare in the channel and we were ordered off again. On returning to the camp we found that the mens' and officers' quarters previously occupied had been assigned to others. We had to draw tents, blankets etc from the Q. M. Stores and pitch tents (in the dark, as far as I remember). The officers slept at the Gt. Western Hotel.
In due course (on 15 April) we got away on the "Duchess of Argyll", having been issued with rations (for 2 days, I think) in bulk (simply dumped on the deck) with no implements or containers to divide them and to contain them if separated. (Bread, butter, jam, cheese, tea, sugar and probably bacon and quot;bullybeef"). The voyage was by night. We spent most of the night dividing things up as best as we could among groups of the men. It was, fortunately, a calm night. Had it been rough, or with heavy rain or snow, we could not have distributed the rations. We thought that, after two years of war, the army could have arranged things rather more efficiently!
There were no signs of submarines, and we landed at Le Havre without incident on the morning of 16th April.
I ARRAS: 1917
(I/M11) and 1/M1; 1/D1-D5
9th Div. attacked at Arras, the attack was a great success - an advance of 21/2 km to Le Point du Jour and Athies. After the war a 9 Div. memorial cairn was erected at Le Point du Jour.
Second attack by 9 Div. at Arras - attack was a costly failure. Staff planning at Corps was bad. The troops never had a chance.
I landed in France at Le Havre, having crossed by night from Southampton in "Duchess of Argyll" - a Clyde pleasure steamer (turbine) that I knew well. What a thrill - in France at last!
I was in charge of a large draft. Other officers with me were Jerome (Rifle Bde), Dallison (RE) and Featherstonehaugh (RE).
Went forward by easy stages. At Rouen I called on Hugh Thomson, who was then a 'dresser' at a Base Hospital. I think it was at Rouen that we were issued with tin hats and gas masks and were put through a gas chamber.
Featherstonehaugh and I joined Divisional Signal Co. RE 9th (Scottish) Division - what luck to be with a Scottish Division! - and the second in command. Capt. A.G. McIntosh ("Mousie" McIntosh), was an Academical, whom I knew slightly at school - he was a Regular RE. The C.O. was Capt. A.C. Cameron (Yorks and Lancs; v. shortly promoted Major); other officers I remember were Hedderwick (from Edinburgh) and Rorke.
The Div. was out of the line. The first night I slept in my Wolseley valise on a stone floor, in the room of a cottage or farm in Hermaville, with McIntosh. (About 10 miles WNW of Arras).
Div. still out of line. The Div. (Infantry) consisted of 26th (Highland) Bde, 27th (Lowland) Bde and 28th (South African) Bde. A replacement was wanted for Dixon, Brigade Signal Officer of 27 Bde, who had gone to hospital with appendicitis. Cameron asked me if I wanted to go. At this time I had not yet been under fire, or seen a shell burst. So I said I didn't want to go until I had acquired a little war experience. I thought this was particularly necessary because the commander of the 27 Bde was Brigadier General Frank Maxwell - a V.C. - about whom lurid tales were told in the Div. Signal Co. So Cameron sent Featherstonehaugh, who had been in France before.
One of my first experiences of shell fire was on a B.S.A. motor cycle going somewhere. A shell burst by the road side and spattered me with dirt. No B.S.A. has ever accelerated so rapidly!
Between 28th and 30th Apr the 26 and 27 Bdes went into the line again at Arras and on 3 May the third attack by the 9th Div. at Arras began.
29 Apr-3 May
During this period I went round a bit with McIntosh. It was hot weather and I saw the dusty traffic - all horse- or mule- drawn except ambulances - of guns, ammunition wagons, G. S. limbers (G. S. = General Service) and motor ambulances in the vicinity of St Laurent Blangy. (St Laurent on the map). I remember too the red brick dust rising from Garrelle which was being shelled. I had my first experience of "walking wounded" and of guns firing unexpectedly close at hand. I felt I was "in it" at last!
On the 3rd of May before dawn (a last minute change of plan) the third 9 Div. Attack east of Arras began. Again it was a costly failure and again largely due to hurried Corps planning. But Ewing says there was also lack of initiative in the attacking troops.
I was with 9 Div. Signals in the Railway Cutting WNW of Athies. It was a very deep gash. My quarters were in an 'elephant shelter' (massive corrugated iron 1/2 cylinder) in the E side, and thus advantageously situated as regards shelling. Quite a number of shell came into the cutting, and a man was wounded near my shelter. I remember giving him some brandy from a flask I had. I never used the flask again during the whole war! I was also sent out with one of the Div. linesmen to repair a broken telephone line. I was rather shocked at the tangled mass of variously coloured telephone cables that came out of the signal office - so different from the orderly array we had been taught to deal with at Training Depots in England! One shell landed quite close to us right in front of a couple of mules drawing a waggon. I did not have any responsibilities that day. I was merely being blooded.
Then came the news that Featherstonehaugh had been rather badly wounded. I don't remember whether this was during the battle, or the day before. I heard later that Feathers had been going along a C.T. (communication trench) with Gen. Maxwell and the C.R.E. (Col commanding REs - ie field co. engineers - of the 9 Div) when the General got tired of walking in the trench and jumped out on top. The others had to follow. Feathers was shot through the lungs, & the C.R.E. had a bullet through his pocket, but Maxwell was untouched.
By this time I had been rather regretting that I had missed the chance of a Bde. Signal Section and had gained the impression that Div. Sigs work was all rather further away from the front than I wanted. Having got to France so late, owing to my Mother's early opposition to active service, I was anxious to see as much of war as was possible for one in R.E. Signals. So I went to the C.O. (Capt. Cameron), said I thought I had now been "blooded", and asked to be sent to 27 Bde to replace Feathers.
So, on 4 May, I was conducted by McIntosh to 27 Bde-HQ, in a captured German trench somewhere near Athies, and became B.S.O. (Brigade Signal Officer). It was a bit of a gamble, as I had had only rather perfunctory training in practical Bde. Section work - what I did know very thoroughly was Cable Section work, ie, laying cable from a cable waggon drawn by a 6 horse team: but this was never possible in forward areas in France and Belgium except during the Somme retreat, and the last days of the war in Oct 1918.
At Bde H.Q. was Brig Gen F.A.Maxwell, V.C., C.S.I., D.S.O., Captain R.K. Ross (Bde Major), Capt. R.N. Duke (Staff Captain), Capt J.P. Cuthbert (Staff learner), Capt. W. Christie (Intelligence Officer) and the Rev. P.F. Oddie (Roman Catholic Chaplain). Only the General, Bde Major and Staff Captain ranked as "Staff Officers" and had red tabs on the collars of their tunics and (when out of the line) a red band round the hat.
From the first everyone was nice to the "new boy". To begin with I think Maxwell was a bit suspicious of me - so late in getting to France. I think to try me out, he took me up to the trenches somewhere (I was introduced to Lt. Col. W.D. Croft, commanding II R. Scots, who succeeded Maxwell as Brig Gen. in Sept 1917 after the latter was killed; Croft was not at all affable - but I learned later on that he seldom was!) On the way back we went over to an abandoned 'tank' and examined it while a few shells fell in the vicinity. Maxwell explained the working of the tank, and I think I managed to appear more interested in his exposition than in the proximity of the shell-blasts. The shelling was only sporadic, but quite enough for a tyro*.
* means novice
I don't remember much else about the period 5-9 May except that a C of E padre called Sexty appeared at BHQ. Before reaching our trench 'home' he put a khaki handkerchief over his white dog-collar "in case it attracted enemy attention". As we were between one and two miles from the front line, this did not appeal much to a V.C. and Sexty soon left us!
Nights 9/10 &10/11 May
Between the 9th and 10th May the 9 Div. was relieved and went back to the Ruellecourt area, 3 miles WNW of Arras. When entraining in Arras I met Ernest Pringle - Pattison, a son of the Prof. of Logic and Metaphysics in Edinburgh, and a nephew of John Seth. Capt. E.P.P. was M.O. (Medical Officer) with the II Royal Scots. Bde. H.Q. was in a chateau at Villers Brulin and/or Foufflin-Ricametz (What a name!)
From 11 to 30 May we were out of the line re-organising and training. I was most flattered at being addressed as 'Sir' one day by two Battalion Signal Officers! From Bn. forward, signals (communications) were in charge of regimental signallers - not R./E.s, but the B.S.O. exercised general supervision and arranged for special training of Bn signallers, when desirable (eg in relation to new instruments for telephonic or telegraphic communication). Regimental casualties not infrequently resulted in the Bn Signal Officer being employed on other duties.
I rather think it was at Foufflin-Ricametz or at Villers Brulin that the incident of the kitchen clock took place. One of the duties of Signals (RE signals) was to be responsible for obtaining and disseminating the correct time. For this purpose there was an accurate chronometer at Bde H.Q. One Sunday, while Gen. Maxwell was away, or on leave, & Croft was at B.H.Q. for a short period as acting Brig. Gen, he ordered a Church Parade. Only his own Bn., the II R. Scots, failed to show up punctually! So he sent for the B.S.O., told him his Bn. had got the time the day before from Bde Signals, and what about it. B.S.O. said he would investigate. Later he reported back to the irate colonel. He said, "Yes sir, you are quite correct. One of your Bn signallers got the time from the Bde Signal Office - pause - but the Signal Office is in the farm kitchen and the signaller took the time from the kitchen clock, without approaching the Signal Clerk on duty". This incident gave me considerable satisfaction as Croft was far from being a popular character. No doubt it did not endear me to the colonel.
31 May/1 June
9 Div relieved 51st Highland Div. in the line at Fampoux at the end of May. 27 Bde went back to the same (or more probably another) captured German trench WNW of Fampoux.
To my perturbation I found that on my first full tour in the line the 27 Bde were to be involved in an attack - the fourth 9 Div. attack east of Arras. To make matters more disturbing the experienced lines' Sgt of Bde Signals had gone home on a Cadet course (with a view to a commission) while we had been out of the line. (The Bde Section had 2 Sgts - one was mainly concerned with work in the open - line-laying and maintenance, visual signalling etc. - while the other supervised the running of the Bde HQ Signal Office. Sgt Hall, who was with me to the end of the war, was the office Sgt, while Sgt Cartwright replaced Sgt Leavey who had gone to England.)
I had to prepare a scheme of communications for the coming attack and submit it to the General - and the attacking Bns. got copies. BHQ had office personnel to do typing and duplicating.
In going along one of the telephone cables near the River Scarpe I made a sad discovery - wooden crosses marking the graves of two Academicals, who had been killed in the action (which took place when we were out of the line) during which the 51st Div had carried the front line forward considerably and had captured the Chemical Works NW of Roeux. The two dead friends were R.G. ("Cheeso") Hunter who played rugby with me in Accies 'B' in 1912/13, and T.I.T. Sloan who was a piper in the school band when I was leading drummer in 1911/12. (They were both killed on 23 April (E.A. War Suppt))
It was at this time that I had occasion to go through the Chemical Works area in a newly made communication trench, to the H.Q. of one of the Bns. There had been a lot of talk at B. H.Q. about this C.T., and about the constant shelling of the Chemical Works area. It was said by the Bde Major that it was the only place where Gen Maxwell had ever been known to run rather than walk! So I had quite vertical wind-up. However, in the event I got through both going and coming back, without being shelled. But on the outward journey, not particularly cheered by various arms and legs of dead Germans sticking out of the sides of the C.T., I experienced what a cold sweat of fear is. However, familiarity breeds contempt, and I was never quite so frightened as that again.#
(See note on back of Map 1/M1: NOTE CONCERNING RELIEF MODELS Addendum in 1978 in AGM's handwriting describes making relief model for Greenland Hill attack.)
Night 4/5 June
The object of the attack, with a limited local objective, was to advance our front line on to higher ground known as Greenland Hill. The attacking troops, the 11 and 12 Royal Scots, were brought into the trenches on the night of 4/5 June, and remained there, well camouflaged, until 8 pm on 5 June, when the attack was launched. The advanced Bde Report Centre was in a dugout (or culvert) in the railway embankment, where I was in charge. Lt. Cripps, Signal Officer of the 6 KOSB (King's Own Scottish Borderers), and at that time acting adjutant, was there (KOSB were presumably in reserve) and 'Mousie' McIntosh of Div. Sigs. paid me a visit to see how things were going. The Report Centre was, I would now guess, about 1/3 km WSW of the Chemical Works. I had my first experience of an opening barrage and counter-barrage, and very stunning it was, but we were pretty safe in the dugout. I remember we had a funny French signalling lamp to communicate with Bde. HQ if the lines were all broken. I interrogated some German prisoners in German. The attack was a complete success - heavy German casualties and few British.
The 9 Div remained in the line until 12 June, the 27 Bde remaining in the same sector. During this period Gen Maxwell called for a report on signals during the battle, which I prepared. The General was pleased with the report, sent a written reply, with some critical comments, and asked me to convey to Bde Signals his great appreciation of excellent work. (I got some praise myself; see 1/D5) At the end of Maxwell's comments, he said: "As regards yourself, you made your debut under trying conditions and came through them admirably". Recommendations by me for M.M.s (Military Medals) for two of the linesmen (Sapper Monaghan and Sapper Joyce) were successful. My report and Gen Maxwell's comments and a Bde communications diagram prepared by Sgt Leavey on 5 May (just after I took over Bde Signals) etc are filed in the 'master copy', along with my signal orders for 5 June and a map illustrating the 9 Div. operations at Arras (I/M11)*
* copies are reproduced in this version
Somewhere about 10 June I was at II R. Scots Bn HQ in a captured German trench on Signals business with Sgt Hunter. The Bn HQ was a small inclined shaft in the W wall of the trench, and thus vulnerable to German shelling. About a quarter of an hour after I left a shell landed at the dugout entrance, killing Sgt Hunter and eleven Bn Signallers of the II R.Scots, and I think Lt Ramsay of the 9th Scottish Rifles (Signal Officer) who had been taking over. Lt Col. Croft and his adjutant Capt Radford, were buried in the shaft and just managed to dig themselves out before they were suffocated. Croft gives all the gory details in "Three years with the 9 Div."
To read more, you can find the full text of Archie's memoirs in the book Signals From The Great War.
When demobilised I had been in the army 3 years and 48 weeks (from 24 Feb 1915 to 26 Jan 1919). Before that I had been in the Junior O.T.C. (Officers' Training Corps) at school for two years (1910-12: drummer) and in the Senior O.T.C.(R.E.Unit, Edinburgh University: Oct 1913-Feb 1915: lance corporal). I was commissioned as 2/Lt. RE (TF) on 24 Feb 1915, promoted to Temp. Lt on 5 Oct 1915 and made a substantive Lt on 1 June 1916. Just before I left Germany I was offered a Captaincy, but of course preferred demobilisation. In a testimonial provided by Major Alexander when I was applying for a post on the Geological Survey of Great Britain, in 1921, Sir Lionel said I had been strongly recommended for a Captaincy and would undoubtedly have received such an appointment but for the sudden cessation of hostilities.
I was, however, never keen on promotion to a Captaincy, because it would have meant (1) going further from the front - to a Divisional or a Corps H.Q. and (2) almost certainly leaving the 9th Division. Like everyone else, I had tremendous loyalty to the Division; also I felt I had become, like Oddie and Duke, almost an Institution at 27 Bde H.Q.! When I left Germany I had been almost 21 months as B.S.O. 27 Bde. (May '17 - Jan '19) Apart from Croft, we were always a happy, close-knit and united little group. We all messed together. Croft's idiosyncracies did not worry us but provided unlimited material for comment and amusement. I found B.S.O. work most satisfying. A B.S.O. attached to, and co-operating with, the B.H.Q.staff, ran his own Signals show forward of Bde. H.Q. without advice from his C.O. of the Divisional Signal Coy. When, after the war, the Royal Corps of Signals replaced R.E. Signals, Bde. Signal officer became a Captains' Appointment.
In relation to my desire not to be further from the front than B.H.Q., let me emphasise that any risks and discomforts I experienced as a B.S.O. were (as Croft well knew) in no way comparable to the constant dangers and hardships endured by officers and men of infantry battalions.
To end my account of my doings in the Great War I now append some comments on my main associates.
Brig. Gen. F.A. Maxwell, V.C., C.S.I., D.S.O.(& bar) of the 18th Bengal Lancers. Maxwell, 46 years old, was a smallish man of slight build but of tremendous personality, and utterly fearless. He had been A.D.C. to Kitchener in South Africa and Military Secretary to a Viceroy of India (Lord Hardinge). Not infrequently he did not hesitate to challenge or even disobey orders from superiors, if he thought such orders were ill-advised. ("Frank Maxwell V.C.", 1921, pp149,155,166,169,170,,177,193-4 "I am Ready", 1955, p189) Before coming to 27 Bde. he had commanded the 12th Bn, of the Middlesex Regiment during the Somme battle of 1916. Some of his letters give an idea of his character and drive in the terrible slaughter of the 1916 Somme battle (Frank Maxwell, V.C., 1921, pp 138-185); others indicate his inspiring leadership as Brig. Gen. Commanding 27 Inf. Bde. (op. cit. pp185-220).
Maxwell's death at Ypres in Sept. 1917 (op. cit. p220) was due to a disregard of danger that amounted to foolhardiness. He was killed in no-mans-land after exposing himself to a German sniper who had missed him with his first shot. But had he not constantly risked his life he would not have been thewonderful leader of men that he was. He took these risks because he believed that, in the dreadful conditions of terrain and shelling that characterised the Somme 1916 and Ypres 1917 battles, the training and experience of the New Army infantry was not sufficient to guarantee effective action after an 'objective' had been attained, or sometimes even during an attack (op. cit. pp218-219; 154-57). Maxwell was a Regular Soldier - war was his trade. He was a V.C. of South Africa and had before that been recommended for a V.C.(which was not awarded) on the N.W. Frontier of India. It may well be, also, that he looked on his V.C. in the same way as style="color:green">Darling regarded his (first) M.C. - as setting a standard below which he dare not fall ("So it looks to me", p172).
One thing has always puzzled me about Maxwell's "Revised Preliminary Instructions" regarding communications in the attack of 20 Sept. 1917 (III/D4); also incorporated in (III/D2) he forbade the repair of telephone lines in the forward area (from Railway Wood to Lake Farm and on to Kit & Kat and Sans Souci). The scheme of communications was prepared by Maxwell after consultation with me (I remember him asking "where do you propose to be yourself?") but the ban on all attempts to repair lines broken by shell-fire was entirely his own idea. This instruction disconcerted me very considerably - it seemed so unlike Maxwell and I thought Signals responsibility was to get lines repaired if it was in any way practicable. It may have been this ban that led me to 'ladder' the line we laid before Zero from Kit & Kat to Sans Souci (technically a difficult operation under the local conditions of darkness and mud) - I don't remember. Under Croft, who left the drafting of Signals battle instructions almost entirely to my own discretion, I did not ban wire-repairing - but it was not attempted regardless of local circumstances. See also pp 8,9,10,12,14,15,17
After the war a Memorial Tablet to Maxwell ("A tribute from the officers, N.C.O.s and men 27th Inf. Bde. 9th (Scottish) Division to a gallant soldier and very perfect gentleman beloved by all his men") was erected in St. Giles' Cathedral, Edinburgh. It was unveiled on 11 Sept 1921. My invitation to be present was sent out by Mrs Maxwell from an address in St Fillans, and was received by me while on holiday in Comrie. So I cycled over to St. Fillans and introduced myself to Mrs Maxwell and her two little daughters, Rachel and Violet. I kept in touch with Mrs Maxwell until her death (?1956 or a little later) and afterwards with Rachel (Mrs Lambert). The photograph of the St. Giles' Memorial that is reproduced in "I am Ready" was taken by me at Mrs Maxwell's request (I was perched on a step-ladder with a Leica camera).
Brig. Gen. W.D. Croft, C.M.G., D.S.O. & 3 bars, Legion d'Honneur. Croft was a regular soldier - a Cameronian (Scottish Rifles). Like Maxwell he was a small man, but more thick-set. In age I would guess he was around 40. He had been a courageous Bn. Commander (11 Roy Scots) and was an energetic and efficient Brig. General, but he never inspired devotion among his subordinates as Maxwell did. I served under him for 16 months but cannot recall that the Signal Section or I - or indeed anyone at Bde. H.Q., except perhaps Oddie - received a word of encouragement or praise during that period. What a contrast to Maxwell, in relation, for instance, to Signals in the attack on Greenland Hill at Arras (I/D5). In his book, "Three Years with the 9th (Scottish) Division", he does not even mention the existence of a B.S.O. I was therefore astounded to receive the following eulogy, contained in a letter, dated 15 March 1919, written in reply to one of mine:-
"I was very glad to hear from you and take this opportunity of thanking you for all your splendid work. Believe me I fully appreciated all you did especially in a show [battle]. I think we ought to keep in touch......I am bringing out a book shortly "Three years with the 9th Division". God bless you, yours ever, William Croft."
[I stuck this letter into Croft's book, at the back]
[See also pp9,11,17,19,20,21,22,26,27,30,35,36,37,38,40,42,43,56,57]
Croft also gave me a good testimonial when I applied for a post on the Geological Survey, and another when I made an application (which fortunately proved unsuccessful) for the Professorship of Geology in Edinburgh in 1942. The letter was so obviously overdrawn that I hesitated to use it. Well, strange are the ways of human nature.
I don't know about Croft's post-war army career. In 1942 he was farming in the south of England and "responsible for training 10,000 men" (?Home Guard). See also addendum on Croft. pp56,57
It is remarkable that no less than five of my associates in 27 Inf. Bde. had exceptionally distinguished post-war careers and were knighted. They are Duke, Hall, Christie, Darling and Drummond Shiels. This seems to bear out Croft's dictum that "war soon distinguishes between the men and the monkeys"! I shall deal with the Knights first and then comment on other old comrades in alphabetical order.
Capt. R.N. Duke, D.S.O., M.C. Duke, a Merchistonian and a keen cricketer, had been commissioned in the Black Watch. He had somewhat reddish hair, was spare of figure, and rather "buttoned up" and reserved (Darling once referred to him as "the fish-like Duke"). He was quite unflappable and very efficient as Staff Capt. and later as Brigade Major. We got on very well indeed, and opposed each other at chess from time to time. I liked and admired him. After the war he distinguished himself in the Home Civil Service, got a C.B. and was knighted. I kept in touch with him in London and later in Edinburgh where he now lives. [Died March 1969 (coronary).]
Capt. J. Hathorn Hall, D.S.O., M.C. Hall, fair-haired and somewhat burly, had been in the Sudan Civil (?or Colonial see also pp29,56,57) Service and looked a little older than most of us. Like Duke he was a most efficient Staff Officer, but in temperament he was gay to exuberant - I liked him. After the war, in the Colonial Service, his posts included Governor & C. in C. Aden and Governor of Uganda. I forget what kind of a knighthood he got. I got in touch with him, by letter, a year or two ago, when I discovered (in Who's Who) that he was living in London in the same block of flats as my old Chief Sir Wm Pugh (former Director of Geol. Survey).
Capt. W. Christie, M.C. Wullie Christie was a son of the Manse (Bridge of Allan) and a Royal Scot. He was a good sort and an able I.0. In the Indian Civil Service, after the war, he rose to high rank and was knighted. I kept in touch with him until after his first leave from India. While I was on leave from France in the winter of 1917/18 I bought stockings for him to present to his fiancee! He had much to do with organising the Memorial to Maxwell in St. Giles'. [see also pp22,57]
Capt. Will Y. Darling M.C. and bar. "Will Y." was a flamboyant character. As he tells us in his autobiography, he had made nothing of his life (in spite of spells in Ceylon and Australia) until he enlisted in Kitchener's Army in 1914 at the age of 29. He had been badly injured in Gallipoli before coming to France, where he served under Croft in the 11 R. Scots. He was credited by Croft (in his book) with having Character, Personality and Drive, a big ugly, mobile, cheese-like face, and the best company in the battalion! We always got on well when I got to know him during his period at 27 B.H.Q. I remember him saying, when we happened to meet outside the Spoil Bank dugout during the German barrage, that for one so young I seemed to take little interest in reaching maturity. He had a great sense of humour. Once when we were leaving somewhere (?Sailly Lanvette) on 28 Feb 1918, he sent me a typewritten chit, on behalf of the Staff Captain, which was intended to instruct me to see that B.H.Q. personnel paraded at a certain hour with blankets rolled in bundles of ten. Unfortunately the typist omitted one line, and I was, in fact, instructed to see that B.H.Q. personnel paraded at a certain hour rolled in bundles of ten! I at once sent Darling a chit saying that I had no experience of this exercise, and asking him to be present to superintend. In his reply he said he was aware of my inexperience, as well as incapacity, and that it was only through experience that young officers learnt their duties!
After the war his uncle (whose son had been killed) took him into the Princes St. drapery business ('Darling's'). He used to parade up and down Princes St. wearing a black 'Stock', and with a glossy top hat tilted back on his head. In due course he became City Treasurer, was knighted as Lord Provost of Edinburgh (during the 1939-45 war) and was elected to Parliament. He had no post-school education, but was widely read and liked poetry (see introductory letter). He bought up two book shops in Edinburgh and wrote a number of books in addition to his autobiography. Towards the end of the road he suffered a severe stroke, and lingered on for some years a helpless invalid.See also pp15,26,27,30,37,52]
Capt. T Drummond Shields M.C. was not one of us at 27 Bde H.Q., but he commanded 27 Bde Trench Mortar Battery, and was well known to us. He was a delightful chap, probably about Darling's age, who organised an anti-swearing league (which had very few adherents). He was the son of a photographer in Lauriston Pl., had been a Fabian, and after taking M.A. and M.B. at Edinburgh University, was elected to Parliament. He served in Attlee's first Labour Government as Under-Secretary for India and was knighted. He did not live long afterwards. He intrigued me by being M.A, M.B., M.C., M.P.! [see p30]
Capt. R.K.Ross, D.S.O, M.C. Bobby Ross (of The Queens) was a Regular Soldier and one of the few survivors among the junior infantry officers of the 7th Division of the "Old Contemptibles". (The Kaiser called the British Expeditionary Force of 1914 a "contemptible little army".) Ross was a good sort. He left us, for Egypt, just before the Somme Retreat. I believe he was a General in World War II.
Capt. J.P. Cuthbert M.C. Cuthbert was a Glasgow businessman connected with shipping - he was probably in his thirties. His regiment was Scottish Rifles. He was quiet and efficient and, like most Glaswegians, a delightful chap. He got his M.C. after leaving us - was taken prisoner in the Somme Retreat while a Staff Capt. in the 14th Div. Pringle and I called on him once in his office in Glasgow. Now dead I think.
Lieut. R.S. Dorward. Stewart Dorward had no connection with 27 Bde, but came to see me several times in France and is one of my oldest friends. He was my pal in the R.E Unit of Edinburgh University O.T.C.; we were promoted L/Cpl; 2/Lt, and Lt on the same successive dates. We were together at Hitchin and Biggleswade in 1915 and I saw him quite a lot later on in Norwich. In France he was in charge of a large mechanical digger - for making trenches to bury cable in - it was based on Corps H.Q. After the war he graduated at Edinburgh University as a B.Sc. in Engineering, learned to fly and was in a tweed mill in Galashields that went under in the slump of the thirties. In World War II he was in the Royal Corps of Signals, was in the Dunkirk evacuation, and later was in the Sudan and the Abyssinian Campaign. After World War II he was connected with tweed mills in Baghdad and (later) in South Harris. He lives at the moment in Perth (W. Australia) near his brother's widow, Cecile.
Major John Ewing, M.C. John Ewing was Adjt. and later 2nd in Command of the 6 K.O.S.B. After the war, while a lecturer in History at Edinburgh University, he wrote "History of the 9th (Scottish) Division". Before long he went as a History Professor to Grahamstown, S. Africa and died there not long afterwards. He was a delightful chap.
Sgt. A. Hall, M.M. Hall returned to Post Office work after the war. He was a "sorting-clerk and telegraphist" and could carry on a conversation while sending a message on a Morse Key. We have exchanged Christmas cards for some 50 years. I went to see him at Blackrod. Lancs., when I was staying with Anna a year or so ago (?1964) and got a great welcome. [See also p 41]
Lt. Col. Roy Ker, D.S.O. M.C. Commanded 6 K.O.S.B. at the end of the war. I knew him well. He did not go back to banking but, after the war, ran a small business in Edinburgh. He was my C.O. when I was a Private in the Signal Section of the 3rd. Bn of the Home Guard during World War II. This was before I was commissioned in the Home Guard and eventually became a Captain and Sector Signal Officer. As a Private I won a very handsome medal in a Signal Competition - largely because I knew all about the D III field telephone and the other competitors had hardly seen one!
Capt. A.C. McIntosh M.C. 'Mousie' McIntosh (of school days) left 9 Div. Sigs for some job at a Corps H.Q. When he got there his first job was to answer a rather insubordinate letter sent by himself from 9 Div. Signals before his departure! He abandoned the Regular Army after the war and went farming in Rhodesia. Eventually I lost touch with him. He was in Tasmania a year or so ago. I wrote to him there in 1968 and got an enthusiastic reply. Said he had not heard from a 9 Div. Signals man for 47 years! He became a Lt. Col. in World War II. I saw him in Edinburgh in March 1971.
Lt. C.B.Mein. Charlie was 4 years my junior - he was known as 'Baby' Mein in the 12 R. Scots at Arras. He was first in action, as a cadet, with Trinity College Dublin O.T.C. in the Easter Rebellion in Ireland in 1916! He was with the 12 R. Scots from Arras to Kemmel. The bullet that knocked him out in the final advance from Ypres in 1918 was in one way a lucky one, for it did no serious damage; but it may well have deprived him of a Belgian Croix de Guerre ("Out of sight, out of mind"). A great pal from Meteren onwards. I saw much of him in Edinburgh after the war. I would have been his "best man", had I not just been sent to a remote part of the Highlands, for my first spell of field work there, at the time he asked me to support him. After the war he became a F.F.A. (Fellow of the Faculty of Actuaries) and for a time lectured on actuarial mathematics at Edinburgh University. In his spare time he became Scottish 'half-mile' champion. Unfortunately he went to York before long, where he was in the Yorkshire Insurance Co. From time to time he and his wife Peg came to see us in Edinburgh. He died in 1967 after courageously facing abdominal trouble and serious operations.
The Rev P.F. Oddie, M.C. Oddie was almost as great a 'character' as Darling, and universally popular. He came from the Brompton Oratory, in London, and alleged that he had been given a dispensation allowing him to drink alcohol and swear during the war! He was the best Chaplain to the Forces whom I encountered, and had been with 27 Bde from the beginning, I think. We used to argue about religion and play chess from time to time.
After the war he went back to Brompton Oratory. I once lunched with him there, along with all the other 'monks'. The ex-B.S.O., with his Roman Catholic hosts, sat in silence at little individual tables ranged round the walls of a hall with a lofty roof, while one 'monk' perched on a little enclosed platform high up on one wall read something in Latin. I was provided with a bottle of wine and Oddie, seated by a wall at right angles to mine, tried to make me laugh (or so it seemed to me). Afterwards we all gathered in another room and conversed. In his own quarters Oddie showed me an enormous box of chocolates which he said had been given to him by a lady parishioner!
Duke tells a good story of a visit he paid to Oddie at the oratory. He was ushered along various passages and eventually Oddie was pointed out to him in a small alcove, apparently shriving the soul of a female parishioner. Oddie looked up, exclaimed "Good God, it's old Duke!" and left the lady to her fate! [See also pp15,36,41,57]
Capt. R.H. Pringle, M.C. Another 'character' and another great pal. A great cadger of cigarettes. He had been with the 29 Div in Gallipoli before I knew him. Shortly after the war he arrived unannounced at 24 Dalrymple Crescent (at a most inconvenient moment) and said he had come to stay for a bit! Then he asked me to lunch 'at his club'. This turned out to be the Conservative Club in Princes St. On entering, Pringle was told politely that officers were no longer honorary members! He was quite unabashed and we had a good laugh. Pringle visited me once while I was working in Ayrshire (at Patna) and I saw him from time to time in Edinburgh when he was home from growing things (?coffee) in Kenya. He had been in Africa before the war and I used to ridicule his stories of adventures with buffalos and demonstrations by natives outside his verandah. I have lost touch with him for some time - but Duke says he got married and now lives in Ireland. Duke tells me also that in World War II he managed to get a commission in the Labour Corps and while in it got a bar to his M.C. at Dunkirk! (Died in Ireland 1975) [See also pp 20,34,36,50.]
Lt-Col. J.A.S.Ritson D.S.O., M.C. Ritson commanded the 12 R Scots from April 1917 to June 1918. I did not know him very well. I believe he had been an English rugby international forward [yes, he had been]; he certainly had the physique for it. After the war he was H.M. Chief Inspector of Mines and later Professor of Mining at Imperial College. I met him in World War II in relation to the search for minerals in Scotland.
Capt. C.C. Winchester, M.C. Charlie Winchester ('Winkle' to the 27th Bde) was a Coy. Commander in the 11 R. Scots when I first met him in France. He was an Edinburgh Academical, but at school I hardly knew him. We became firm friends from Meteren onwards (after he came to 27 Bde. H.Q.). Croft described him (in his book) as a "splendid, quarrelsome, dare-devil Scot". Both Croft and Ewing mention his gallantry in the Somme battle of 1916, at a late stage of which he was badly wounded. Winkle stayed on in the R.Scots after the War. I was once his guest at dinner at the R. Scots depot at Glencorse. I remember also playing fives with him at the Edinburgh Academy courts. I have already mentioned that we came out of action for the last time together, and that he was killed early in World War II. [p35,44]
Brig. Gen W.D. Croft (addendum) Early in 1969 I read a book by Lord Reith (1st Director Gen. of the BBC) called "Wearing Spurs". It gave an account of his life in the early days of World War I, when he went out to France with a Glasgow Territorial Battalion of the Scottish Rifles. He was Transport Officer and so wore spurs (of which, like me, he was very proud). He devoted a lot of space in the book to running down the Battalion Adjutant ("a little man") who was a Regular. The two fought like cat and dog and the Adjutant eventually got Reith removed from his job as Transport Officer. Reith hated him like poison. Now I knew Croft had gone to France as adjutant of a Glasgow Territorial Bn., and felt sure that Reith's bête noir was our little Brigadier!
In May '69 Dan MacKenzie (Ed. Acad. drummer) was on duty as an Archer at a Knight of the Thistle installation ceremony at St. Giles's Cathedral and stayed with us. I persuaded him to ask Reith (being installed as a Knight of the Thistle) if the name of the Adjutant he went to France with was Croft. IT WAS! I think Dan mentioned that Croft ended the war with a D.S.O. and three bars, etc. Reith said "I think most of them must have come up with the rations"! Reith was also an Archer and Dan had met him. Also, a son of Reith's was Dan's near neighbour at Almondbank.
I wrote to Hathorn Hall and told him of my discovery. He was most interested as he had served on a board of the Colonial Development Corporation under Reith as a very arrogant Chairman. He had read "Wearing Spurs" and had always felt sorry for the Adjutant who had to deal with Reith, and was very intrigued to learn that the Adjutant in question was little Croft.
Additional Notes on Careers
Brig. Gen Croft Brigadier Commanding Royal Tank Corps 1924-31. N.W. Frontier of India 1931-34. Raised Home Guard in Cornwall 1940. Hon. County Commissioner Cornwall Boy Scouts. C.B. 1935. Son of Sir Herbert Croft (Baronet) of Croft Castle, Hereford. Born 1879, died 1969 aged 90.
Capt. J. Hathorn Hall Born 1894. Chief Secretary to Governor (or ?Government) of Palestine 1933-37. Governor and C in C Aden 1940-41. Governor & C in C Uganda 1942-51. O.B.E. 1931. C.M.G. 1935. G.C.M.G. 1950
Capt. W. Christie Chief Secretary United Provinces, India 1944-45. Chief Commissioner, Delhi 1945-47. K.C.I.E. 1947. Christie was born 2 Feb 1896 and so was 15 1/2 months younger than I.
Rev. P.F. Oddie In 1973 we got in touch, through Donald Cole, the Rector of the Scottish Episcopal Church in Colinton, with Oddie's younger (and only surviving) brother Air-Commodore G.S.Oddie, who was retired and living in Balerno. He told us that Oddie left Brompton Oratory and went to a working-class parish (I think in the Isle of Dogs) and worked a lot with boys - but became disillusioned. He died of lung-cancer in 1947 or 1948. Croft, in his book (p. 25), described him as a "walking cigarette case". Besides distributing "fags" to the troops he visited, he smoked many cigarettes himself. I wrote to John Hathorn Hall to tell him about Oddies's death and our encounter with the Air-Commodore. In his reply he said he was "a splendid Chaplain, a very brave man and a delightful companion". I fully agree.
Note. The Croft, Hall and Christie data were mainly taken from a "Who's Who" several years old, in 1972. I am not sure if all the dates are correct, as the notes I took are not too legible!
XIII CASUALTIES AND MEDAL AWARDS
|2/Lt. Fetherstonehaugh (B.S.O.)
Lt. Pringle (B.I.O.)
2/Lt. Mein (B.I.O.)
2/Lt. Ryan (Staff learner) or I.O.?
Spr. Stevenson (gassed)
Spr. Hollis (shell-shock)
|Capt. Christie (?pre-1917)
Capt. Darling (bar)
|CROIX DU GUERRE (BELGE)||M.M. (MILITARY MEDAL)|
Spr. Monaghan (& bar)
Pte. Wall (& bar)
|RECOMMENDED FOR M.M. BUT AWARDED PARCHMENT|