The following weeks of August, September and October were marked with much moving about with various spells of that sort of uneventful trench warfare which is perhaps in some respects more trying on the nerves and strength of a unit than actual operations. On August 23rd they were in the Hulluch Section. In this Section there was a good deal of mining going on and there were two big craters which required special watching, but the Battalion soon set to and trained in grappling hook work to be ready for any kind of crater fighting that might be demanded of them. On August 31st a move was made to Annequin via Beuvry and Bethune, and ultimately by bus journey to the trenches at Guinchy left sub-section, and in this area the unit remained during September. On the 11th of the month a night raid was attempted, but was frustrated owing to the Germans bombing the party as it was on the point of entering their trenches. Unfortunately the two N.C.O.s who fired the torpedo were missing, and it is presumed that they were blown to bits by the explosion.
On October 4th the Battalion took over "Village Trench" in the Cambrin Sector (Maison Rouge), taking over the front line from the 11th Border Regiment. The next move saw the 17th leave Beuvry and proceeding to Labeauvriere on October 16th; to Hardinval, on the 19th; to Rubempre, on the 21st; to Bouzincourt, on the 23rd; back by Rubempre and on to Canaples on the 31st via Talmas and Navurs. This treking was done in weather that was oftener wet than dry, exceedingly cold at night, and the living was under canvas. At Val-de-Maison on November 1st, the unit moved to Vadencourt after a fortnight, and then into the Martinsart Valley on the 15th, where they were ordered to go into action at Beaumont-Hamel, for by this time several drafts had brought up the strength of the Battalion.
The attack—weather conditions—failure of artillery support—forlorn hope—break-down of assault—gallantry and sacrifice—casualties—Mailly-Maillet—Franqueville and Rubempre—Xmas 1916 and New Year—football and high spirits.
The attack which commenced at ten minutes past six on the morning on November 18th—a day of ice-covered slushiness—was held up owing to the insufficiency of the artillery barrage and the heavy enemy machine gun fire. At 7.42 a.m. the message came in to the Battalion from the right hand Company that the Company Commander was wounded and that a Sergeant and about ten men were holding the right flank. The jumping off trench known as New Munich Trench, was manned by the Battalion machine gunners with a view to concentrating some of the Companies in it back across "no man's land" to form a rallying point. At 8.30 a.m. the following message was received from 2nd Lieut. Macbeth of the right Company, "Am holding old front line with remainder of Battalion, and have established a bombing post on the right. There are only Lieut. Martin and myself in the trench." The left Company was also being hard pressed. It was reported by one of the Battalion officers that when the barrage opened a great number of shells fell just in front of New Munich Trench where the attacking companies were lying out, killing and wounding a large number of the Battalion. When the barrage lifted on to Munich Trench for the last four minutes, it was still short, and when the leading waves came up to about 50 or 60 yards from Munich Trench followed by the barrage, the Germans could be seen lying in the trench in force. When the barrage was on the Munich Trench, the enemy machine guns played on the attackers from both flanks all the time. The failure of the attack was due to the inefficiency of the British supporting barrage, together with the condition of the ground—thaw having set in and rain falling on the snow, making it exceedingly slippery—the targets the men formed against the snowy background, and the intense cold.
Describing the attack one of the members of the Battalion writes:—"The preliminary bombardment opened with its awful messages of destruction, and the rapid reply of the enemy's artillery indicated ominously that our intentions were not unknown to him. When our barrage lifted, and the first wave of our men attempted to go forward, their dark forms showed up against the snow. They were met by machine gun fire, by rapid fire from the enemy trenches, and by snipers in skilfully chosen holes. Our bombardment had failed. It was impossible to get to close quarters with the enemy—hopeless to advance—dangerous to retire. Many of our men were killed in the attack, others in the attempt to carry in the wounded. Many remained all day in exposed positions, beside their wounded comrades, in hope of rescuing them when darkness fell. Beaumont Hamel will not be remembered by us as bearing any resemblance to the official description. We look back upon it now, from the personal point of view, as a touchstone of the individual soul, as a prominent landmark in the vast monotony of death and horror—a chapter of inspiring deeds. It represents to us the heroism of a forlorn hope, the glory of unselfish sacrifice, the success of failure." 'Tis too easy to despond "while the tired waves" visibly gain no "painful inch," hard to believe that "far back through creeks and inlets making, comes silent, flooding in, the main."
On the 19th the Battalion was relieved and returned to Mailly-Maillet where billets were taken over, and when the 17th rested and licked its wounds—well over 300 of "Glasgow's Own" had either been killed or wounded in that day's fighting. On the 21st of November General Gough, G.O.C. Fifth Army, inspected and congratulated the Battalion, and spoke to many of the N.C.O.s and men individually. During December the unit carried on training at Franqueville and Rubempre, and that the spirit of the men was not broken by the severity of their recent experiences is shown by the number of football matches played during the period. On Christmas Day, 1916, the officers beat the sergeants at Rugby by 11 points to 0; in the afternoon "B" Company beat Headquarters at Association by 4 goals to 0; and in the evening the Battalion held a cheery concert. The Christmas Dinners were reserved for the 30th, and on Hogmanay the New Year was welcomed with a concert. General Gough attended Battalion Church Parade on the first Sunday of the New Year.
THE NEW YEAR, 1917.
Bad weather—Courcelles—trench labours—varied moves—beginning of Spring Offensive—attack by the French—the advance—Nesle—condition of inhabitants—great digging work at Germaine.
The opening months of the New Year were months of battling not only against a human enemy, but against the elements and the bad conditions which they created. The winter of 1916 had been a severe one, and in passing into 1917 it continued its course with unabated severity. The Battalion left Rubempre on January 6th and partly by motor lorry and partly in column of route proceeded to Courcelles where, on the following day, they relieved the troops of the 3rd Division in the trenches opposite Serre. The weather was bad, the enemy kept up brisk attentions and the trenches were the worst which the Battalion had ever been in. Most of them were absolutely impassable, being full of water to a height of five feet, with the result that reliefs had for the most part to be made outside the trenches. Owing to this condition of matters, strict orders were issued for the prevention of "trench feet," but notwithstanding every precaution, several cases occurred.
Heavy and continuous work was put in mending and bettering the trenches, training the drafts which were arriving, performing tactical exercises and battalion routine affairs. By this time several ceremonies had taken place at which decorations were bestowed upon N.C.O.s and men for bravery in the Field and gallantry in action. Esprit de corps was stronger than ever, and the tediousness of trench labours was relieved by the establishment of special strong posts, by minor raids on the Bosche, and when out of the line by football and such recreations as the circumstances permitted. This type of campaigning was experienced during January and February at Courcelles, Beaumont Hamel, Lyntham Camp, Mailly-Maillet, Bolton Camp, Molliens-au-Bois (where on February 19th, 1917, Major F.R.F. Sworder, Gordon Highlanders, assumed temporary command—Colonel Paul, after being in hospital in France, having been sent to England where he was appointed to a home unit), Camon, Wiencourt, Le Quesnel. And in March, the approach of spring seemed to bring with it nothing but additional storms of rain and snow, and the names of such points in the line as Key Post and Kuropatkin will bring back memories of buttressing up collapsed trenches and mending wire entanglements.
But the opening of the 1917 Spring Offensive soon gave a great fillip to activities. The French attacked on March 16th and the 96th Brigade attacked with it. The enemy was forced back so rapidly that by 2 o'clock on the day following the Allied artillery was out of range, and the day after that again saw the whole Battalion hard at it clearing wire from the road running through the enemy's old front system, and setting out on the march, complete with transport, at 5 in the morning. Arriving at Nesle on March 19th, the troops were given a tremendous welcome by the French populace. It was discovered there that the people were literally starving, because the Germans had taken their rations for some days previously. A dam on the Somme burst its banks and no advance was possible until this was repaired and new roads made across the floods, but it was only a few days until once more the troops were pushing on and the Commanding Officer and Company Commanders of the 17th were making a reconnaissance of the new main position at Germaine. The digging at Germaine on March 28th was one of the heaviest day's work ever done by the Battalion. The job commenced at night, after an 18 mile march in rain and finished in snow. The digging was covered by the 16th H.L.I., who held the outpost line. The newly dug trenches were shelled on the following forenoon.
ON THE HEELS OF THE ENEMY.
The taking of Savy—casualties—patrolling—capture of Fayet—congratulatory messages—strenuous days—Canizy—competitions with the French—work and sport—Hangard—leaving the Fourth Army—Farewell message from General Rawlinson.
The Battalion moved off from Germaine at midnight on April 1st, 1917, and proceeded by Companies at 200 yard intervals cross country to Fluquieres. Arriving there they passed through the village, a pile of smouldering ruins, and on the main St. Quentin road and about half a mile along it they reached Roupy with its destroyed cross-roads and proceeded towards a point near Savy where the Battalion deployed, and attacking at 5 a.m. moved forward, overcame the opposition and took Savy. In the village the Bosche put up a desperate stand and some fierce fighting took place before they were pushed beyond the railway bank north of the village. Most of the fighting took place in the neighbourhood of an orchard at the southern end of the village, and here the 11th Border Regiment joined forces in helping to drive out the stubborn enemy. Once through the village serious destruction was caused by heavy machine gun fire from an enemy strong point in a mine crater. With the aid of two Lewis guns, the crater was soon in the hands of the 17th and a heavy fire directed on the retreating enemy. Thereafter the Battalion started to dig in (about 6.30 a.m.), and soon consolidated their gains, although subject to strong artillery, machine gun and sniping fire. In the afternoon a further attack was made by the 96th Brigade, and before evening Bois-de-Savy was in their hands. The Battalion was relieved in the evening and moved off to take up quarters in dug-outs on the Fluquieres-Douchy Road, but the place had been so badly knocked about that a large portion of the unit bivouacked.
The total casualties in this day's fighting was 103, 31 of whom were killed. During the following week the Battalion suffered from the severe winter conditions, coupled with incessant shelling and had much to do strengthening their positions. On the 9th some magnificent patrolling was done, for which the Battalion was deservedly congratulated. In the afternoon of that day four patrols set out to gain information of Fayet and the ground between Francilly and St. Quentin. One patrol went to the ridge overlooking St. Quentin, one went into a German trench near Fayet, one went within 300 yards of Fayet, and the fourth reconnoitred the southern approaches of the village—and much valuable information was accordingly gained.
On the 12th April, Major Lumsden, V.C., D.S.O., who was in temporary command of the Battalion, relinquished that post, to take up duty as Brigadier-General of the 14th Infantry Brigade—which this very distinguished officer commanded until he was killed—and Captain Morton assumed command of the Battalion, with Captain Paterson, M.C., as second in command.
While at Holnon on the 13th, "C" and "D" Companies were sent forward in support of the 2nd K.O.Y.L.I., who were attacking Fayet. This attack was carried out in conjunction with one being made by the French, who were endeavouring to take St. Quentin. "B" Company joined the others in the front line, and later the Battalion took over a sector of the front line. After consolidating here, congratulatory messages were received from Brigadier-General Blacklock, General Shute and General Rawlinson.
The road from Nesle to St. Quentin is a long and cruel one, but in these early days of 1917, it was to the 17th H.L.I. the pathway to glory. They were sweeping onwards in the track of the retreating enemy, with the glow of victory to strengthen their hearts and the blessings of a delivered people in their ears. The echoing trumpets of romance called to them from the Cathedral City, and their blood stirred to the call. These were the impressions that led them, in common with the rest of the Division, to surmount appalling obstacles, natural and devilish. They soaked in the snow, and froze in the keen blast; they starved and toiled on the way, but "stuck it," and their reward was the fall of Savy village. There was fighting all along the 50 mile front just then, and Savy did not loom very large in the chronicles of the time, but those who took part in its capture, and in the taking of the wood a mile beyond, knew that they had achieved the heroic. There was no resting; Francilly and Holnon were the next to fall, and the men were within sight of the spires of St. Quentin. They lived for some days in earth holes, and the weather flayed them unmercifully. Then one dark morning, the 13th of April, they assembled silently and lay down in the field, whilst dawn broke with singing of birds, and the shriek and whistle of the barrage. The Division was attacking Fayet, the enemy's last stronghold beyond the city. Before they went over, grey and green coated figures were being brought down. There were many other grey and green figures grotesquely contorted in the brown ribbed fields, and those of them who had escaped from the inferno fought it out intermittently, in the woods beyond the village. But their sniping was braved for a few days more, and then one night they staggered weakly back through nightmare villages to Germaine for rest.
After resting at Germaine the Battalion set off on the 19th for Canizy which was reached by evening. They found this village emptied of the native populace and saw that the Germans had been carrying out their usual work of destruction in the same wanton and deliberate scale as in nearly every village in the regained area. A more cheerful memory of this devastated village is that while here the Battalion got its new bugle band. While stationed there the Battalion marched over to Ham where a football match was to be played. Their march into the town caused great interest, and they passed through a long line of French soldiers and civilians who lined the roads. On their approach along the main street, the square seemed totally blocked with a mass of French soldiers, and a company of infantry stood at the "present" as a Guard of Honour as they marched past the Town Hall, while the French band rendered our National Anthem. After the Battalion team had won their match by 6 goals to 1 against the 121st Infantry Regiment and a scratch team had played a drawn game against the 408th Regiment, the French band played the men out of the village. But the French were not allowed to have all their own way of it with the music, for the Battalion Pipe Band played to them and was received with much favour.
The regiment was in highest spirits, battle scarred and with a glorious record of great achievements established. The Battalion remained at rest in the village of Canizy until May 15th—that is, they trained hard and played hard, went marches and were inspected, performed innumerable fatigues and parades and carried out generally that never ending programme of activities which always makes a soldier smile at the mention of the word "rest!" The men played some of their keenest and most memorable games of soccer here, and one of the principle pastimes engaged in by the officers was hunting, until this was forbidden by G.H.Q. The country, being entirely uncultivated made ideal going. Major Campbell, in charge of Physical Training, G.H.Q., was with the 17th for some time, and put extra life into sport and training.
On the 15th the Battalion moved off to Curchy, via Voyennes and Nesle, and on the succeeding day to Rosieres and so on to Hangard on the 18th, where the "resting" was carried on until the end of the month, when they proceeded to Villers-Bretonneux. Of the villages in the regained area little or no description in the normal sense is possible beyond the fact that while some semblance of streets could be traced in some of them, the majority of them were simply masses of masonry debris literally peppered with shell craters. But it was noticeable in such villages as Nesle that the civilians showed a very marked physical improvement as the result of better feeding and life under British occupation. While at Hangard, Battalion Headquarters occupied Hangard Chateau—one of the finest chateaux in France. (It was demolished during the 1918 German offensive.) The Brigade concentrated at Villers-Bretonneux prior to entraining for the Second Army.
But before leaving the Fourth Army, to which the 17th had given such brilliant service, the following message was transmitted to the Battalion as one of the Divisional units concerned:—
"FOURTH ARMY, NO. G.S.702.
"As the Division will shortly be leaving the Fourth Army I desire to express to all ranks my warm thanks for the excellent services they have performed whilst under my command. The gallantry and dash displayed by the Division during the advance in March and April, especially in the actions resulting in the capture of Savy, Bois de Savy, Francilly, Holnon, Selency, Fayet and Cepy Farm, reflect the highest credit on all concerned.
"The skilful leadership of all ranks, coupled with the close co-operation between Artillery, Infantry and Aircraft, was a feature in these operations deserving the highest praise, and I heartily congratulate the Division on the successes they have achieved.
"I much regret that the Division is now leaving the Fourth Army, but I shall hope that at some future date I may again have the good fortune to find them under my command.
"(Signed) H. RAWLINSON, General, Commanding Fourth Army.
"H.Q., FOURTH ARMY, "22nd May, 1917."
En route to Steenbecque—R.T.O.—the 14th Corps—reconnaissance of Messines Sector—heavy marches—Coxyde and Kuhn—amenities of Nieuport area.
The Battalion on 1st June, 1917, left the Fourth Army and the Somme area. The 17th never again served in that area though it served again with the Fourth Army on the sea coast. Entraining at Villers-Bretonneux the unit journeyed to Amiens and by way of Abbeville, Etaples, Boulogne, Calais, St. Omer, Hazebrouck to Steenbecque.
Owing to a mistake of the Railway Transport Officer an incident, upsetting but not without its amusing side, occurred at Abbeville, where the train moved off without warning while the Battalion was parading in the station for tea, with only 100 all ranks on board. The train calmly continued its journey and in due course arrived at Steenbecque, the men who were left following on in the overcrowded trucks of the 2nd Manchesters. Leaving the train at Hazebrouck, the stranded party marched to Steenbecque, their appearance, owing to deficiencies of equipment and in some cases even of uniform, causing much interested amusement. At the latter station the first party were picked up, packs and equipment donned, and then, in the afternoon the Battalion accomplished a very interesting, though long and heavy march to a small hamlet in the Donlieu area, where they billeted for ten days or so.
The 32nd Division came into the 14th Corps, commanded by the Earl of Cavan, in G.H.Q. Reserve. The 14th Corps was composed of the Guards Division, 1st, 8th and 32nd Divisions.
On 5th June the Commanding Officer, with his officers and N.C.O.s reconnoitred the Messines Sector with a view to supporting the attack to be carried out on the Messines-Wytschaete Ridge by the Second Army. The 17th at Donlieu "stood to" ready to move off in support of this offensive, though happily the success of the attack did not necessitate the Battalion being called on. Major Inglis of the 1st H.L.I.—who had been cross-posted to the 2nd Manchesters, which Battalion he commanded until re-posted to command the 17th H.L.I. on the 20th of July—joined the Battalion on the 8th of June.
Donlieu was left on 14th June and the Battalion went in column of route to Steenvoorde, in which area they were billeted. This was one of the most trying marches they had experienced, and a large number of men fell out. In 6 hours the unit had covered 24 kilometres which, in full marching order, was a most difficult and wearisome performance. On the 16th the Battalion embussed outside Steenvoorde, and after leaving the charabancs at Petite Synthe, they marched to billets at Mardyck. Hereabouts was pleasant country with excellent sea bathing. Petite Synthe was left on the 19th for Dunkirk where they entrained and proceeded east along the sand dunes to Coxyde and, on the following day, into the coastal camp of Kuhn. Coxyde and Kuhn were French built camps and very good, with vegetable gardens attached to them.
Until 10th July the Battalion stayed in this vicinity, and despite spells of shelling, trench mortar and aerial bombardments, considerable patrolling and wiring work, the stay on the sand dunes about Nieuport was heaven after the endless mud and horror of the winter on the Somme. The very mention of Nieuport to a man who was there in the first week of July, 1917, makes a marked impression on his countenance. Since detraining at Coxyde on 20th June, things had been comparatively quiet and the weather ideal. Working parties were supplied for the roads during the day and smaller parties were engaged on the breastworks in the front line at night. The quietness was absolutely awful. But the presence of civilians in Oost Dunkirk and Les Bains gave an air of security and quietude to the place which was very soothing to the heart of the soldier. It is true that aerial activity was disquieting at times, but several successful attacks on the "Vultures of the Kaiser" made these items of interest, rather than causes of alarm. The Germans seemed to pay greater attention to something well on the left of the Battalion and towards the sea, than to anything that concerned them particularly. The appearance of the roads from Oost Dunkirk to Nieuport was most assuring and their great beauty and undisturbed tranquillity were all that could be desired.
A large amount of work was attempted during this period on the Brigade Front, in order to obtain sufficient cover for protection against retaliation after our artillery bombardments began, prior to an intended attack on the sea-coast by the 4th Army, in conjunction with the 5th and 2nd Armies from Ypres. The enemy, before our artillery came in, greatly increased his artillery force, and daily destroyed any work done by night. These destructive shoots were afterwards found to be part of his barrage programme for the attack on the 10th July.
OPERATIONS ON THE COAST.
Enemy hurricane bombardment—enemy attempt frustrated—attack abandoned—visit to H.L.I.—sports—visit of Dr. Kelman—patrol work by Corpl. Wilson—listening post raided—departure for Adinkerke.
The Battalion continued to carry out its duties on the Belgian Coast until relieved from that Sector on October 5th, 1917. In the previous chapter some idea of the general conditions has been given. And the period which followed was of somewhat like nature with intermittent outstanding excursions and alarms and with memorable pleasant episodes to intermix with those more combative, and in this chapter the outstanding features will be recorded without following the movements of the Battalion to the various points in this sand-dune sector.
The comparatively routine behaviour of the daily aerial and artillery "strafe" broke into a brisk and heavy bombardment on the Division to the left on the night of July 9th, but on the 10th about five o'clock in the morning this heavy fire switched on to the trenches from the border of the sea to Nieuport. The bombardment crashed on to all lines, firing, reserve, and rear. It got heavier and heavier and soon reached an unprecedented violence and extended to the flanking Divisions as well. The British guns replied, but could not force the hostile fire to slacken, and in the evening the enemy came on in attack. They carried the trenches of the units on the left and patrols were put out and the flank strengthened. This was the severest bombardment the Battalion had ever been in. It was a hurricane onslaught. The 17th knew that sort. They had been through it. Positions were taken and held, where no trench afforded cover, and where breastworks were blown away.
The 17th were ordered to send three Companies in support of the Border Regiment who were being hard pressed east of the Yser. "A," "B" and "C" Companies were despatched on this mission. These Companies experienced very stiff fighting throughout the night of the 10-11th, until relieved early in the morning of the 11th by the Northumberland Fusiliers.
On the following day the bombardment slackened a little, though during the night hurricane fire broke out, and over the period of this attack the Hun used a very large number of tear gas shells—which at that time was a new horror introduced to the sufferings of the British armies. Who will forget the Redans, Le Grand and Le Petit, the Bridges Putney and Pelican? The last named was renewed or rebuilt on the average three times every twenty-four hours. No words can describe what took place between the 10th and 13th of that awful month. The Germans, expecting an attack, made one. After these terrible three days, the Battalion, whose luck it was on this occasion to be spared the brunt of the action, after being relieved by the Borderers, struggled back through a mixed barrage of shells of all calibres, sprinkled with those of gas. There was a fog of gas and dust for miles behind the lines.
The enemy attempt had broken down; the Battalion returned to Ghyvelde of pleasant recollection, and on the 13th the Division was congratulated on its successful efforts.
On July 20th Major J. Inglis joined the Battalion and took over command at Bray Dunes Plage. On the 23rd the Brigade was inspected by the Divisional General, Major-General Shute. After his inspection he gave an address congratulating the Brigade on its part against the enemy attack on the 10th inst. at Nieuport, and on the same day the Corps Commander also inspected the Brigade, complimenting the men on their clean and smart appearance, and paying a high tribute to their fighting qualities.
August opened with the prospect of making an attack on the enemy and exercises were practised accordingly. On 6th August a Battalion reconnaissance was made which included reporting on all tracks to the front line, arranging an assembling position in "no man's land," and learning the condition of the existing wire in front of both our own and the enemy's line. The weather for some little time had been very wet, the night selected for the reconnaissance was very bright and none too suitable, and the condition of the ground was extremely muddy, making movement slow and difficult. After examining the whole situation it was recognised that any possibility of successfully attacking upon this position was out of the question. Indeed, the bad weather throughout August delayed whatever action had been contemplated by either side.
The 9th H.L.I. (The Glasgow Highlanders) were lying at Ghyvelde, and on 11th August, the 17th paid them a visit, while the Battalion football teams played a match. Another convivial day was spent on the 24th when the Battalion sports were held. The day cleared up to one of bright sunshine, and a large number of spectators enjoyed the sport. The events were continued on the following day when even a larger number of guests and spectators attended, including many Colonial soldiers, and the various events were keenly contested, both by the men of the home Battalion and those from others in the area. A good turn out of British and Belgian nurses from La Panne Hospital brightened the gathering, and at the conclusion of the sports the prizes were presented by two of the lady guests. On the Saturday following Brigade Sports were held under ideal conditions, the Battalion representatives winning numerous prizes.
At Church Parade on the 26th, the Presbyterian Service was conducted in camp by the Rev. Dr. Kelman, of Free St. George's, Edinburgh, who delivered a very impressive address which was listened to with the closest attention by the men. Dr. Kelman then left to preach to another Battalion and the 17th prepared to go back to the line.
The Battalion kept up its old record of keen patrolling, and during their front line spell at the beginning of September some reconnaissance work was well carried out under conditions unusually difficult. On the night of 3rd September, 1917, 2nd Lieut. Forbes and Corpl. J. Wilson of "C" Company waded across a swamped portion which lay between the Battalion positions and a point known as Roode Poorte Farm. Coming to a point where the water was too deep for wading, Corpl. Wilson swam across and on reaching ground crawled in the direction of the enemy lines. Finding this line of approach of no use for operations, he swam back to the point where the patrol was covering his movements, and selecting another point, swam across the canal which lay to the east, opposite the farm buildings, and carried out his reconnaissance.
On the 8th, while at Wulpen, a gas attack was successfully carried through on to the enemy's lines, and on the 13th, the third anniversary of the forming of the Battalion was spent in the trenches. A telegram congratulating the Battalion on its anniversary was received from the Brigadier, and a reply sent reciprocating the General's good wishes.
The enemy perpetrated a novel surprise raid, which had some of the elements of picture-house humour in it, on one of the Battalion advanced Listening Posts, and by their new device gained temporary footing in it. A strong stream of water, apparently from a hose was directed suddenly upon the men in the Listening Post from the enemy position. While the men were baffled and blinded by the rush of water, the post was bombed and the two listeners retired on the main post for support. Immediately a counter-attack was organised and led by Company Sergeant-Major Miller of "A" Company, and the post was re-established.
Orders were received on October 5th, 1917, for the relief of the 97th Infantry Brigade by the 125th Infantry Brigade. The Battalion accordingly withdrew to Coxyde that night, and on the following morning left for Adinkerke on the way to fresh fields and battles new.
THE YPRES SALIENT.
Passchendaele—gallantry of attack—casualties—Hilltop Farm—move to Landethun and Yeuse—Serre Sector—close of 1917.
At Adinkerke, on their way to the Ypres Salient, the men were embarked on barges on October 6th, 1917, and journeyed by canal to near Rosendael where they billeted and where Lieut. Colonel J. Inglis rejoined the Battalion from leave and resumed command. They then underwent intensive training at Uxem until the 24th, when they left en route for the Eringham area in accordance with the forward move of the Brigade Group. The next day saw them at Rubrouck and on the next again they arrived at Broxcele where training was again entered upon and continued until November 9th.
About this period Lieut. Colonel Inglis and the Adjutant, Captain F.E. Dunsmuir, were away from the Battalion making a preliminary tour of inspection of the line on the Ypres front.
On the 10th, the Battalion was once more in column of route on their way to Wormhoudt, and on the following day, to Watou to "Road Camp" in the St. Jan Ter Biezen area, where training was resumed, and this time once more within sound of the rumble of the guns. But that didn't upset the H.L.I., whose 16th and 17th Battalions met in the final of the Brigade Football Tournament, which was won in easy style, 5 goals to nil, by the Chamber of Commerce boys. Four days later they defeated the 32nd Divisional Supply Column in the semi-final of the Divisional Tournament, and then two days after that, meeting the 2nd Royal Inniskillen Fusiliers in the final, the 17th H.L.I. carried off the Championship, repeating their performance of the previous year against the same finalists.
On the following day the Divisional Commander addressed the Brigade, which was drawn up on the football field, and reminded the men of the sterner duties that now lay before them, and expressed the hope that they would maintain the honourable traditions associated with the name of the 97th Infantry Brigade—which, indeed, they more than maintained.
The Battalion left the camp on November 22nd for Poperinghe where they entrained to continue the journey up the line, and arriving at St. Jean Station, detrained and marched to "Irish Camp."
On the afternoon of the 23rd a start was made for the Passchendaele front line system, the route taken by the Battalion being for the greater part over the duck board walks "Mouse Trap Track," which covered ground won in the recent big push at Passchendaele. The take-over was not completed without casualties, but these were comparatively few considering the dangerous nature of the going, which was in the open over shell-pitted ground. The Battalion relieved by the 17th was the 1st Northamptonshire Battalion. During the night the 17th captured its first prisoner in this area—a corporal of the 315th Regiment. According to his statement he had been out on patrol when he lost one of his boots in the mud and in trying to find it he had strayed into our lines and been taken. During their initial tour of the Passchendaele system much heavy work was done in converting the shell-hole defence line into trenches, and patrolling. Several casualties were reported each day and the mud was thick and sticky. On the 26th the Battalion was relieved and proceeded to Dambre Camp in the Vlamertinghe area where everybody rested and completed the preparations for the forthcoming offensive at Passchendaele.
It may be said at the outset that the element of surprise intended in the Passchendaele attack failed entirely, as the enemy were aware of the British intentions and fully prepared. In addition, the fact that the artillery barrage proper did not open until zero plus eight minutes, allowed the enemy entire freedom of action in his front posts with rifles and machine guns.
The Battalion moved into the line on the evening of December 1st in conjunction with the other Battalions of the Brigade—2nd K.O.Y.L.I.; 16th H.L.I.; 11th Border Regiment; and the 15th Lancashire Fusiliers (attached). The 16th Northumberland Fusiliers of the 96th Infantry Brigade were attached to the 97th Infantry Brigade as counter-attacking troops to be used in the event of a strong hostile counter-attack on the Brigade front. The frontage taken over by the Brigade was one of 1,850 yards approximately along the Passchendaele Ridge. There were two objectives to be taken, of which sections were detailed as the job of the 17th—a slice which included two formidable "pill-boxes" known as the "Vat and Veal Cottages."
The Battalion assembled on a frontage of 400 yards and at Zero Hour (1.55 a.m.) moved forward to the attack. Companies deployed from a two platoon frontage in snake formation—this method having been adopted owing to the shell torn nature of the ground—and advanced in four waves. "A" and "B" Companies were to capture the first objective, mopping up all occupied points in the way, including the two pill boxes, while "C" and "D" were to "leap-frog" through them, carry the next objective and consolidate.
The initial stages of the attack were successfully carried through, but the enemy—as was afterwards learned—knowing of what was on foot, waited in readiness. Suddenly he opened heavy machine gun fire upon the advancing Companies, inflicting heavy casualties which, in the dark and over the difficult ground, had the effect of splitting up the sections and creating some confusion. The officers and men of the Battalion gallantly pressed on against these odds, however, and succeeded in reaching their objective; but the enemy machine gun and rifle fire became so intense that their advanced positions were rendered humanly untenable. Our men, though forced to retire in places, established themselves in shell-hole posts, where an attempt was made to consolidate.
The artillery and machine gun barrage, though intense, had failed, owing to the enemy's fore-knowledge of the attack, to effect its purpose. His strong points were heavily garrisoned and wired and he was also found to be established in strong lines of trenches also effectively wired. The Battalion hung on all through that awful night in its isolated positions, for orders were received that the attack would be renewed in the morning, but these orders were afterwards cancelled.
From dawn onwards artillery fire slackened somewhat, but the enemy machine gunners and snipers kept up harassing fire from their well established posts against the men in their exposed and isolated posts.
It was obvious that a hostile counter-attack might be expected, and this took place about 4 p.m. on the afternoon of the 2nd, preceded by an intense artillery barrage. Owing to the terrible difficulties of their position, and the sweeping casualties inflicted, the line was forced back, but the actual enemy attack which followed his barrage was met by the rifle fire of the shattered 17th, and after the Bosches had approached within a certain distance of the posts, they broke and turned back in retreat.
Though the withdrawal of the Divisional line had been almost general, some of the Battalion posts were still hanging on to the advanced positions on the 3rd. Many wounded were lying out, suffering the most appalling rigours of war and the Battalion stretcher-bearers displayed great devotion to duty in ignoring the heavy fire while bringing them in to comparative shelter. The work at first was extremely dangerous, but later on in the day a lull occurred when it was possible to carry on this labour of mercy under less trying conditions. And it must be recorded, as far as this battle is concerned, that from this point onward the German reversed his frequent policy and shewed respect for the Red Cross Flag, only one instance of sniping taking place when one of the Battalion stretcher-bearers was shot dead while bending over a wounded comrade. Enemy stretcher-bearers were also at work and in some instances they reciprocated attentions given to their wounded, by dressing and carrying our casualties. In this way all the wounded were got in before the Brigade was relieved that night. The Battalion frontage was taken over by the 5/6th Royal Scots. The relief was successfully completed and the remnants of the Battalion reached "Hilltop Farm" in the early morning, entraining later for Hospital Camp in the Vlamertinghe area. The casualties were particularly heavy among Officers and N.C.O.s, and gives trenchant evidence of their self-sacrificing gallantry in seeking by utter disregard for danger to turn a forlorn hope into victory, and by personal example and incentive to make still richer the honourable traditions of the 17th in the face of such overwhelming odds, and amidst such overaweing devastation. In this action seven officers were killed and five wounded. Of other ranks 41 were killed, 130 wounded and 13 missing.
The Battalion was organised as far as possible in its depleted condition and work and training carried on until December 10th, when once more the unit moved up the line to Hilltop Farm, N.E. of Ypres. During their stay here, Mr. Fred A. Farrell, the well-known Scottish artist, visited the 17th on a commission from the Corporation of Glasgow to execute drawings of the Glasgow Battalions and the places in which they were operating.
On December 13th they were back in the trenches. Hard winter weather had now set in, with fog, frost and water sogged ground. On the 20th the Battalion was relieved and, as far as weather is concerned, spent a typical Christmas Day when it came round, in Dambre Camp. Being in Corps Reserve, nothing in the nature of Christmas festivities could be permitted, but the gifts supplied by the Chamber of Commerce provided seasonable fare and brought a measure of good cheer.
After a series of alarms and stand-to's, a Divisional Relief was carried through, and on December 30th the Battalion trained to Audruicq and set out on an arduous route march for the villages of Landrethun and Yeuse, where the men were happily enabled to spend a night's rest in comfortable billets, "A," "B," "C," and Headquarters in the former village, and "D" in the latter.
The last day of the year which had probably been the hardest and, as far as campaigning is concerned, the most eventful in the history of the Battalion, was passed amidst the peaceful surroundings of these villages untouched by war. The beginning of the year had seen the Battalion in the line in the Serre Sector, then had followed the memorable days of Beaumont Hamel, Honoroye, the battle of Savy and the taking of Fayet in the St. Quentin area, a well deserved period of rest at Canizy and thence by train and road into Belgium, being held in reserve for the Battle of Messines, three hard months spent in the line in the Nieuport Sector and the St. George's Sector, and then after a spell of rest—forward into Passchendaele.
Hogmanay—with the II. Corps—the blow—new army establishment—Hospital Camp—disbandment—the passing of the "17th."
For some time rumours had been flitting about that certain Battalions were going to be disbanded in accordance with a programme of reorganised military establishments. Every New Army unit in the B.E.F. had about this time qualms of fear that if rumours proved true the selection might fall on them. Esprit de corps was never stronger and the very thought of possible separations from brothers-in-arms, fell as a vague shadowy fear over the 17th because it looked very likely that the 17th, being the junior H.L.I. Battalion of the Division, would be the Divisional victim in any re-arrangement that might be carried out. But nothing definite was known, and the advent of New Year, 1918, brought with it a feeling of hope for the future.
The Battalion was still billeted in the peaceful villages of Landrethun and Yeuse. On the opening day of the year the ground was snow covered, rendering parades well nigh impossible, and so the men were at liberty. Preparations were eagerly pushed forward for a New Year Feast, and on the 3rd, in spite of provisioning difficulties, very complete arrangements had been successfully made considering the length of time available for providing the men with a seasonable repast on that evening. The Companies sat down to a feast of roast pork—which only a few hours before had been a live pig. There was soup, haggis, plum pudding, apple dumpling, cake, cigarettes, and copious supplies of beer. The Commanding Officer, accompanied by Major G.R.S. Paterson, and the Adjutant, visited each Company in turn to wish them the Compliments of the Season, and the night finished with song and story.
Work and training was resumed again in earnest the next day as far as the weather conditions would permit. On the 9th of January the Battalion moved off, embussing for the forward area to operate on the II. Corps Line. After a cold journey in a heavy snowstorm, they arrived at Murat Camp late at night and came under the command of the 35th Division. They found the camp in very bad order and set about putting it right, meanwhile working parties were carrying on under the C.R.E. of the Division. Splendid work was carried out by the Battalion during this period, despite snowstorms and blizzards, and high praise was given to the unit by the Corps Commander. All the Royal Engineer Officers connected with the work declared they had never had better nor keener infantry parties.
On the 16th Major Morton assumed command of the Battalion during the absence of Lieut.-Colonel Inglis on leave; and on the 18th Major Morton was ordered to hospital and Major Paterson took over.
The Battalion Intelligence News Sheet, inaugurated to keep all ranks fully informed of the principal events of the day as regards the war, was circulated, but it could not hope to oust The Outpost as the real news vehicle of the 17th.
On the 25th of January the Battalion left Murat Camp for a camp near Woeston and came under the command of the 1st Division, and on the 27th the Battalion relieved the 10th Gloucesters in reserve in the Het Sas Sector, and carried on improving the line until the 31st of January—when the blow fell and hopes were dashed to the ground. While in Brigade Support at Houthust Forest Sector, Major Paterson was sent for by Brigadier-General C.A. Blacklock, who informed him that the re-organisation of the Army necessitated the disbanding of an H.L.I. Battalion in the 32nd Division. The Battalion selected was the junior one, the 17th. General Blacklock expressed in very generous terms his admiration for the Battalion, and for all that it had done, and expressed his sorrow and regret that so fine a unit had to be broken up, and the officers, non-com. officers and men serving in it would be drafted to other H.L.I. Battalions, which would necessitate, in many cases, the breaking up of what had been very long friendships.
Early in January, 1918, it had been decided by the War Office to adopt the three Battalion per Brigade system throughout the British Army, and this resulted in the disbandment of many Battalions which had seen much service abroad, and had won a name for themselves in France. Perhaps the chief Battalion in the whole army to be disbanded was the 17th Service Battalion of the Highland Light Infantry, and the disbandment of this Battalion came as a bitter blow, not only to those who were serving in the Battalion at that time, but also to those who had served in it at some time or other in the past and possibly to those who were looking forward to serving with it in the future.
Needless to say all ranks of the Battalion were deeply disappointed at the Commander-in-Chief's decision, which was received as a calamity. The highest traditions of the Battalion had been maintained throughout, and the esprit de corps and good comradeship of all ranks made the news almost unbearable.
As soon as the official notification arrived the Battalion was relieved by the First Battalion, the Dorset Regiment, and was withdrawn to Hospital Camp near Woesten where the disbanding was to be carried out. From then onwards an enormous amount of work fell on everybody, especially on the Adjutant, Captain Dunsmuir, M.C., who was responsible for compiling the rolls of the different drafts, which were to proceed to the various H.L.I. Battalions in France, comprising the 10/11th, 12th, 14th, 15th, 16th, and 18th Battalions.
On the 11th of February the first draft, consisting of about seven officers and 200 other ranks marched out of camp to the tune of the pipes en route for the railway station at Boesinghe, where it entrained and proceeded to join the 10/11th Battalion H.L.I. Although there was much cheering as the train steamed away, yet there were many men with sad hearts at leaving the Battalion they had served in from the beginning, which had become their home in the Army.
For the next few days that followed, similar drafts were sent off until the strength of the Battalion was reduced to the establishment for Headquarters with Transport. For about a week this small unit carried on, until the Transport section, under the Transport Officer, Lieut. Smith, was detached, and was attached to the Division where it remained for some time until it was sent to the base for drafting. All that remained now was the Headquarters establishment, commanded by Lieut.-Colonel Inglis, D.S.O., who had returned from leave, and this establishment was sent to take over another camp which was to be run as a Divisional Reception Camp for men returning to their units from leave. About a week later orders were received that some of the H.Q. personnel were to be drafted away, and on the next day a draft of about thirty men under R.S.M. Burns proceeded to join the 13th Entrenching Battalion. A few days later all that was left of the Battalion under Captain Dunsmuir, M.C., was drafted to the same Battalion, and Lieut.-Colonel Inglis, D.S.O., and Major Morton, who was again with the Battalion, were ordered to report to Divisional Headquarters.
All that remained now of the 17th Battalion Highland Light Infantry was the name, but that name will always remain in the minds of those who served in the Battalion, and the mere mention of it brings back happy memories of days spent both at home and abroad to those who knew it.
As William Glennie of "A" Company, writes:—"That the good old Battalion would end, we all expected, as the happy sequence of completed duty, and somehow we all imagined we would be there. In our ideal picture of the scene, George Square was clearly outlined; somehow we fancied old Hughie would order 'Officers, fall out please,' and while the ranks took the rhythmical right turn, the 'Faither' would step forward from the right of 'C' Company, give his characteristic red army salute, shake his cane and rap out 'Quick time off the parade ground' in his best Troon parade style. But we forgot the war, as too often in our ideal outlook we did.
* * * * *
"'Fall out ... the 17th Highland Light Infantry....' That was at No. 6 Camp, Calais, in the chill dusk of 6th February, 1918. Back from Blighty leave, as the news spread, we took it philosophically—the old Battalion had been disbanded, and scattered to various sister battalions. Here we were, practically all the originals to the number of about 50, the sole remnants of 26 months of war, welcomed back to France for the second time, but not to the Seventeenth; orphans to be adopted by strange parents.
* * * * *
"'Quick march.' The party swung slowly down the rough track between the huts. It was one of those innumerable hutted campments behind Poperinghe. At the junction of the road stood Colonel Inglis, Majors Morton and Paterson, Captain Dunsmuir and R.S.M. Kelly. It all seemed so usual, save that there was more handshaking and waving of bonnets. 'Cheerio, old chap—best of luck.' Gone, those pals of three years in camp, trench, billet and shell hole; but we never knew how great a part of our life they had become. Then in the look in each other's eyes, in the huskiness of the voice, rather than in the ill-concealed tear, came the full realisation of the undying spirit of our old Chamber of Commerce Battalion, and the certainty that the death of the Battalion had bequeathed to us the LIVING SOUL OF THE SEVENTEENTH."
III.—AN ODD MUSTER.
THE SPIRIT OF THE BATTALION.
A corporate body is always a great mystery. Before very long it always develops a spirit which is something more than the sum of the individual spirits which compose it. And no man can quite say how it comes into existence. It may be a greater spirit than that of any individual. Sometimes it is not so great as that of its members.
And Battalions are no exception to this rule. Each brings forth a spirit, and by that spirit the members are henceforth profoundly influenced. It is not the spirit of the Colonel, or of any particular member. It is the spirit of the Battalion, something compounded by the subtle alchemies of the spiritual world out of the individual souls of officers and privates alike.
Of the spirit of the 17th H.L.I. it may at once be said that the outstanding characteristic was high-hearted youth. Most of the members of the Battalion were young, but the Battalion itself had the qualities of youth more truly than any of them. It was essentially gay. It did its work to the accompaniment of a fine hilarity. It could laugh even on the eve of battle. It could even be uproarious and exuberant as only the really young can.
And yet it was very efficient youth. To a man these soldiers took their work seriously, and because they brought to it a fine quality of intelligence, the Battalion rose to efficiency with astonishing rapidity. Many men read eagerly in text books about training and tactics and so forth, and the Battalion from end to end was intolerant of slovenliness. If it resembled a young man, it was a young man who meant business.
It was also very gifted youth. Its athletic record speaks for itself, as does also its military record. But other gifts were lavished upon it. It knew and loved good literature. It had numbers of trained singers and musicians. It had dramatic possibilities in it. It knew much of science and mechanics. That young thing which we call the 17th H.L.I. in fact loved life, and every side of life. It throbbed with energy of body, mind, and spirit. It tingled with many sided vitality.
But above all, it was loveable youth. Few bodies of soldiers have ever so fully won the affections of towns and country districts. It has left a mark of its own on Troon, Prees Heath, Wensley, Sheffield, and Codford. People hurried out to see the column go by, and after it was gone the hearts of men and women were happier because of it. It came to have a place in the lives of thousands, and they all thought of it with affection. As we look back on it now it lives with us as a silver memory,—something belonging to the world of sunshine and laughter, of beauty and of courage. The West of Scotland gave of its best to make up that whole, and while it lived it made a place for itself in the hearts of the West, which is secure for all time.
Its career was short, but its immortality is safe.
It is good to have known it. And though tragedy unspeakable dogged its footsteps, and broke its life in this world, it lives and will always live gloriously in the hearts and memories of uncounted men and women who believe more in humanity, and perhaps even believe more in God because of the "Seventeenth."
One of the most outstanding and important things taught in military text books is the value of striving to obtain "co-operation of all arms." That is to say, the more sympathy, good comradeship and understanding that exists between Infantry and Artillery and Cavalry and Tanks and Air Force people and so on, the more efficient each of these various arms becomes to carry out its respective duties. Knowledge of the general tactical principles under which each arm operates, and personal acquaintanceship with the various officers and men of such other units, all tend to cement combined operations into one smooth working whole for the pleasant efficiency of the combinations concerned and for the better (or worse!) confusion of the enemy.
Such co-operation was an ideal often aimed at, but only too seldom actually accomplished. It required the best of officers and men to attain that perfect co-operation through understanding, which does not either fall short of or over reach the mark.
The following notes written by Major C.E. Lawder, late commanding "A" Battery of the 168th Brigade, 32nd Division, Royal Field Artillery, reveals how smoothly things ran in that all important section of co-operation—that between Infantry and Artillery. In the eyes of those accustomed to military affairs the following statements will likely be recognised as perhaps the finest tribute that could be paid to the 17th H.L.I., for it is not so much an item of direct praise, as a sure indication of the high quality of efficiency attained by all ranks of the Battalion, not to mention the pleasant reflection given of "good humoured gentlemen." The 17th was ever proud to serve with the gunners of the 168th Brigade, whose fine shooting inspired confidence and courage:—
"We first met the famous 17th H.L.I. about New Year, 1916, in the La Boiselle Sector and much concern as to the pronunciation of the Scottish names given to the trenches was felt by my Yorkshire gunners—Sauchiehall Street in particular defeated them. They wished the Jocks would use Christian Huddersfield names! All my officers were much impressed by the great kindness and hospitality shown them by the 17th H.L.I. Messes when liaison Officer with the Infantry or when going round the front line, which we did constantly, myself as Battery Commander every third day, and the subalterns daily—all to try and get suggestions to better strafe the Boche and to show the Jocks that the gunners wanted to share the pleasures of the front line with our splendid Infantry.
"The 17th were commonly known as the Raiders, and most excellent they were at the job—the Hun had a holy horror of the men from Glasgow. I well remember a chat after a good raid with the big drummer and a little corporal of the H.L.I. Both had greatly distinguished themselves and they asked me not to question them as to details of the raid, as some very dirty work took place across the way! I expect it did from the look in their eye and the happy way they handled their clubs.
"A great entente cordiale existed between my Battery and the Regiment and this was referred to by Major-General Budworth, C.R.A., 4th Army, at the Conference at Flixecourt before July 1st, 1916. All the gunners at the gun position, then in the Orchard of Martinsart, sent in a signed petition to be allowed to have the honour of going over the top with the 17th in their next raid. The 17th returned the compliment by Major W. Paul and about 20 raiders coming up to the guns from Rest billets and carrying ammunition for us all night while we were covering another regiment's raid. I got Major Paul on the firing seat of one of the guns and some of the men at other guns. They did a lot of firing but did not enjoy it. They all preferred the Infantry!
"The 17th were badly cut up on 1st July, 1916, and my men were much concerned about them. We were all greatly relieved to hear that both Col. Morton and Major Paul were not among the casualties. Some of the Officers will doubtless remember a cheery Entente Dinner at Bouzincourt—Cocktails by our Adjutant, Lobsters and Rouen Ducks are still fresh in my memory. The Division moved up north to the Hulluch Sector after the Somme July Battle. We were put to another Division for a short time, and then our own Infantry turned up. It was cheery meeting our old friends again, but many familiar names and faces were, sad to say, missing.
"We had a very safe and nice gun position on a peninsula in a marsh at Annieguin. This we made into a very smart and show position—lots of "spit and polish." We had many visitors from the 17th and a lot of their men used to come and bathe with ours. We fixed up a regular bathing pool with springboard complete. All this was under cover of trees and shrubs and quite out of sight of the Hun. I remember two of the H.L.I. being pulled from or being stabbed in, a sap in No Man's Land near the famous Brickstacks. We all wanted to have a Raid at once in revenge. I forget whether it came off. Shooting here was difficult, as the trenches were so close together, and very difficult to observe fire. Very different was the supply of ammunition in mid and late 1916 to early in the year. It was a horrible feeling for a Battery when asked to shoot and help the poor old Infantry, to have to refuse for lack of shells. At the Brickstacks we used to often fire—almost daily—from 150 to 350 rounds Agressive Action on Hun Tender Spots. It was then that we could retaliate about 50 to 1 if they were sufficiently "agressed" to fire back. That kept the line—our side (!)—quiet.
"We all moved down in October, 1916, to the Ancre show, and a horrible wet march it was. We separated for a bit, the Battery going to the Scottish 51st Division. We were then rejoined by our own Infantry at Beaumont Hamel. I got smashed up and was evacuated home, and just after, my best Officer, Lieut. H.W. Ainley was burned to death at the Wagon Line. He was a splendid fellow and very well known to the 17th.
"Officers and men of both Units were always together and better feeling between them could not exist. It was a great honour to know the 17th and we gloried in being the Battery to cover them at the P. of E. in a raid." [The P. of E. is the Point of Entry, necessitating very accurate gunlaying, timing, and strict adherence to the barrage programme.]
One of the most outstanding activities of the Battalion was the production of a periodical which combined a considerable high level of artistic and literary excellence with a racy narrative of Battalion news and personalia. This regimental magazine of the 17th H.L.I. was conceived in 1914, though actually founded early in 1915, and from that time, throughout all the rigours of work at home—and the extraordinary difficulties of operations in the Field, The Outpost was produced, and well produced. Perhaps more than anything, the standard and record of this production, and its acceptance and success, both within the unit and with an ever growing general public, reflects the intellectual level of those who composed the Battalion. In an appreciation which appeared in The Glasgow News in June, 1919, on the occasion of the completion of the seventh volume, it is remarked—"Nursed in its early youth by an editorial staff that was not without experience, it proved a lusty infant, and as the years went on it gained in strength.
"In a sort of valedictory—for the magazine will still be published annually by the Seventeen Club—the editor sings its praises. He has every right to pitch them on a high key. He points out that the paper has always been welcomed and appreciated in many homes (yes, even in Buckingham Palace), and in training camps, hospitals, rest camps, lonely dug-outs, and soaking trenches, as well as in the scorching East and amid Arctic snows. Wherever old members have gone at duty's call, their magazine has followed, and has interested and cheered with its articles and illustrations of the lighter side of Army life.
"Lately a noted writer on military topics, an English officer of high rank, in giving a most appreciative criticism of The Outpost, said—'It is only your dour, determined Scotsmen who could manage to 'carry-on' such a paper under the tremendous handicaps of active service, and the result has been unquestionably the finest literary and artistic venture in battalion magazines that the war has produced.'"
In a note concerning those who originated and inspired this war publication—unique in its continued success—Mr. J. M'Kechnie, whose name is intimately associated with its success, says—"The credit of the original idea of publishing a Battalion Magazine belongs to Lieut. J. Kelly—our first R.S.M. Early in January, 1915, he called a meeting at which the journalistic machinery was set in motion. The appointment of the late Mr. Steven D. Reith as Editor assured the success of the venture, for under his able and enthusiastic direction, The Outpost from the first number reached a standard hitherto unapproached in British military publications. From month to month it supplied a bright literary and artistic reflection of the chief events in the life of the Battalion, and the editorial aimed at giving a lead to the more serious thought of its readers.
"Throughout its active service career The Outpost was edited by the following:—The late Mr. Steven D. Reith, Mr. J.L. Hardie, Mr. J. M'Kechnie, and Mr. W. Glennie. Mr. W. J.F. Hutcheson performed the duties of Home Editor until November, 1917, when he handed on the torch to Mr. Frank K. Pickles, who acted as Editor during the last year."
Copies and Volumes of The Outpost will remain among the most cherished keepsakes of all members of the Battalion, and a complete set of all numbers of the production is being carefully and jealously preserved in the archives of the Glasgow Chamber of Commerce. There its pages will rank with the greatest achievements of industrial and commercial affairs as evidence of the judgment, humour, poetry, and doggedness of a Battalion so intimately bound up in the traditions of a great house, and indeed, also reflective of the traditions of Scottish industrialism, whose eminence is the manifestation of those very elements of balanced judgment and perseverance, coupled with that saving humour and imagination which has marked alike its progress in the markets of the world no less than in the fields of war.
SPORT OF THE BATTALION.
The achievements of the Seventeenth in the field of fire cannot be dissociated from their experiences in the field of sport. The exploits of the Battalion in Football, Cross-country Running, and Boxing—revealing as they did the elements of challenge, perseverance, cheerfulness in defeat, and also the power to win honours to their name—have their grand reflex in the more grim and arduous experiences through which the Battalion was called to pass.
In October, 1915, the Battalion won Divisional honours in Cross-country Running. The winning of the Cup and medals in an event in which a thousand runners took part was no small feat.
In the world of "Rugger" the Battalion's career was one triumphal march, but the end accomplished cannot be summed up in figures, adverse or the reverse. As for "Soccer" the successive achievements of the Battalion are recorded in every number of The Outpost. Minor struggles and conquests are recalled and rejoiced in, but the glory of carrying off another Divisional Cup will never be forgotten by those who witnessed the fray. Progress to the final of the event was not easy, and the final was a particularly hard fought game, and though the Battalion won, it was felt that equal honours were due to the vanquished for their good play and sportsmanship.
In the Boxing World, the name of Corporal George Barrie, will be ever green in the memory of all Seventeenth men; and the honour brought to the Battalion by his pupil, Pte. Cushley, in winning two Divisional Cups for Boxing, can be looked upon as a fitting tribute to Barrie, the man who played the game even unto death.
Altogether the Seventeenth has much to be proud of in its athletic record, and in future days when those of the Battalion sit round and tell of the things which are theirs, which they won also at great cost, their prowess in the field will not be among the least; for it played no insignificant part in the making of the Battalion which, although disbanded, has remained, both in name and in comradeship, still the Seventeenth.
Any history of the "Seventeenth" would be incomplete without a passing reference to James Kelly.
Chosen at the inception of the Battalion out of a large number of applicants, and appointed Regimental Sergeant Major, his selection was amply justified by results. He had seen much service in The Royal Scots, and active service in South Africa, where he was Colour-Sergeant of his Company and where he gained the D.C.M.
A man of commanding appearance, always very smartly turned out, he set a fine example to all ranks and speedily infused the real military spirit into the rank and file. During training at home and on service in France he did splendid work, and to him is due in no small measure the high standard of efficiency and discipline maintained in the Battalion. In manner somewhat brusque, but of a tender heart withal, he was the friend and confidant of nearly all the Officers, N.C.O.s and men, and when off parade the best of good fellows.
DAVID S. MORTON, Lieut.-Colonel.
Do you hear it, all of you, and remember. Listen!
"Markers outwards turn. Quick march."
"Up, number four. Look sharp. That'll do."
"Fall in." And then the final great roar of—
"Stop all that yammering." And how quickly it stopped, too.
Do you remember it, and who said it? Of course you do, just as clearly as I myself do. You remember those early mornings, too. The sleepy chatter stilled in an instant to silence. And all those other days, too, when custom had made it imperative on all parades, it was part of us and our ceremonial.
The repeating of it to ourselves conjures up the history of those never-to-be-forgotten days and carries back our spirits to commune with all those gone before us.
I say it to myself often now just to bring before me those wonderful memories. I have heard it on the sea front at Troon; on the Hills of Dundonald; at Prees Heath, in the lovely woodlands and parks of England; on the moors of Yorkshire; at Sheffield. It has sounded over the vast spaces of Salisbury Plain, and in France and Flanders, where all it stands for was so wonderfully justified and upheld, calling up that wonderful spirit and special discipline. That was the dear old Seventeenth.
THE COMFORTS COMMITTEE.
On the Battalion embarking for active service, the Battalion Committee suggested that a Ladies' Committee be formed to carry out the supply of Comforts which would tend to alleviate the hardships of the battle line. The members of the Chamber provided funds in a most generous manner, and the following ladies consented to form a Ladies' Committee:—Mrs. D.S. Morton (Convener), Lady M'Innes Shaw, Mrs. J.M. Mitchell, Mrs. R.A. Murray, Mrs. W.J. Paul, Mrs. W.F. Russell, Mrs. John Reid, Mrs. Albert A. Smith, and Miss G.D. Young.
Miss G.D. Young acted as Secretary and at a later stage she was succeeded by Miss M.E. M'Clymont of the staff of the Chamber. The relatives of the men of the Battalion were notified of the formation of the Comforts Committee, and were invited to assist in knitting articles, the wool for which in most cases, was supplied by the Committee. With this help, and by the industry of the Ladies' Committee, a very large quantity of shirts, socks, helmets, scarfs, gloves, etc., was sent abroad.
The conditions under which the men were fighting was always wisely considered, and for trench dug-outs and cellar billets, a regular supply of candles was forwarded by the Committee. Christmas presents were also sent overseas for each man. Provision was made for the time when the Battalion was out of line for rest, and a supply of weekly and monthly periodicals was regularly despatched. Needless to say, all these were very acceptable.
While thanks are due to all the members of the Ladies' Committee, it must be placed on record that Mrs. Morton, as Convener, rendered invaluable services and it is universally recognised that to her indefatigable labours the men in France owed much.
MEMORIAL SERVICE IN GLASGOW.
A Memorial Service in honour of the officers, non-commissioned officers and men of the 17th Highland Light Infantry, who fell in the battle of the Somme and elsewhere was held at Glasgow Cathedral, on July 8th, 1917. Fully 1,200 people were present, and many soldiers of all ranks were among the congregation, including a number of wounded men belonging to the Battalion. The "Dead March in Saul" was played at the commencement, and the service was most impressive throughout. The preacher was the Rev. A. Herbert Gray, one time Chaplain of the Battalion, and the service included the anthem, "What are these?" sung by the choir.
Preaching from the text—"We also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses," Mr. Gray said: "It must not be to mere mourning that we give ourselves this afternoon. We are met to recall a very great page in the history of our city and district. In the year 1916, the hundreds of young men of whom we are thinking dared to die in a great cause. Young, strong, and free, full of high hopes and great purpose, in love with life, and in a hundred ways fitted for mastery in it, they yet consented to deal with death. A hundred other ambitions had flushed their hearts, but because humanity called they laid them all aside and went to the great war. No such life was their choice, but because it was their destiny they accepted it with a smile. No compulsion save that of honour constrained them. They were recruited simply by conscience and the claims of humanity. They made one of the finest Battalions that ever left these shores, for some of the very best of the rising generation were in their ranks. And though they were not soldiers by profession they proved themselves worthy of a regiment that has traditions of honour as old as the British Army.
"Wherefore, here in God's House, we may well first of all rejoice concerning them, and give thanks to God who has put so great a spirit into man. Though tears be in our hearts we must not fail to be proud and thankful—proud because they were our brothers, and thankful because they finished their course in faith."
After mentioning the subject of a suitable memorial, and suggesting that there could be nothing more worthy than the monument of a Britain turned to God, the preacher concluded with the following impressive words:—
"From a hundred lonely graves in that foreign land—from the spots where they fell, and which now are sacred spots for us—our dead are asking us when we mean to erect that monument. From trench and shell hole where death found them, their voices call—young, musical voices, the voices of boys still in their teens, the voices of martyrs on life's threshold. Scarce a wind can blow that will not waft to you these voices. And they ask a better Britain as their monument. They ask it of you and me. Shall we not go from this place resolved to build it?"
Much has been written, and many discussions have arisen concerning the good-fellowship and camaraderie which exists among the survivors of the 17th H.L.I., and able pens will express the high ideals aimed at, and the strong determination in the minds of those remnants to establish "The Club" on a basis good and sound. Since the inauguration of the Battalion in September, 1914, there has been a predominating feeling that such an institution should be made.
Since the first batch of men arrived in Glasgow from France arrangements were made which facilitated meeting daily in Craig's Smoke Room in Gordon Street—the arrangement still holds good. Any forenoon the boys may be found over their coffee and incidentally discussing the chance of one day, in the near future, having a "nook" of their own. The object of having such a place is to afford such privacy as premises of their own would give, in order to have uninterrupted meetings, business or pleasure, as the occasion demanded.
One great object of the Club is to establish the Benevolent Fund of the Battalion on a sound financial basis, so as to be in a position to deal with necessitous cases connected with the 17th Battalion, and it is thought that this is the only way. It is intended that the Club should be self-supporting, and assistance is hoped for, morally and financially, of all those who are interested in the affairs appertaining to the old Battalion.
A Committee to carry on the good work has been formed, and includes Colonel Morton, Major Young, with Messrs. Ritchie, Tilley, Corbett and M'Andrew from the various Companies, along with Mr. J.W. Arthur on the Benevolent Fund Committee, as representing the Chamber of Commerce. This Committee will report progress to a General Meeting, at which it is hoped to decide what steps may be taken to acquire a Working Capital. It is possible that a Voluntary Subscription List may be opened, and it is hoped that the opportunity may be given to help the worthy project of thus forming a Memorial to those who have fallen in the great cause.
No better monument of love and good-fellowship could be thought of than to give a helping hand in the hour of need, and, to provide towards a comfortable home for those who are left to enjoy it.
At the beginning of January, 1915, the 17th H.L.I. had recruited its full war strength, and the authorities decreed that a Reserve Company should be formed. This became "E" Company, and was trained as a unit of the Battalion at Troon, until the 17th left for England. On May 13th, 1915, it was transferred to Gailes, and became a unit of the 19th Reserve Battalion, Lieut.-Colonel Auld being in command. Under his training, the Company, as well as the Battalion, reached a high standard of efficiency. After being inspected by Brigadier-General Cockburn on the 28th September, 1916, a draft of 101 N.C.O.s and men was sent to join the 17th H.L.I. at Codford. What was left of "E" Coy. entrained on 26th October, 1915, at Gailes for Ripon. The men were billeted in excellent huts in the South Camp of that quaint old cathedral town, where route marches took place and many excursions were made to many of the interesting towns and places of interest.
When the 17th embarked for France, some details left behind arrived from Codford on 15th December, 1915, and brought back many old friends and highly efficient instructors. Later on Viscount French paid a visit of inspection to the Ripon area, and the 19th H.L.I. formed part of the Guard of Honour on that occasion.
After Ripon came Montrose, and although connected with the Battalion's history only in a small way, the period from 25th April, 1916, to 12th June, 1917, is nevertheless well worthy of mention. Montrose with its lovely beaches and pleasant surroundings, forms one of the happiest memories of those who found themselves part of the 19th H.L.I. during its sojourn there.
1916-17 was a trying time in the life of the Reserve Battalion. Training was concentrated to an unheard-of degree—a recruit being allowed nine short weeks before he found himself on Embarkation Leave. Drafts were required by the dozen, both for the Western Front (for which the Somme and Beaumont Hamel Offensives were chiefly responsible) and for the Eastern Front. Then there was the trying coastguard work with its trench-digging excursions to Lunan Bay—work which probably helped to avert a danger not so remote as we then imagined.
"E" Company had a fair share of all these worries, and its able Commander, Captain F.D. Morton, was kept busy choosing drafts, arranging programmes, and working out tactical schemes.
Major W.H. Anderson, who afterwards became Lieut.-Colonel, and was awarded the V.C. after his lamented death, did much for the good of the Battalion; and the Soldiers' Home, run by Mrs. Anderson, and Mrs. Auld, proved of great advantage to the men. This period marked the extinction of "E" Company, as representing the 17th. Draft after draft had robbed it of its original appearance, and when on 1st September, 1916, the 19th became the 78th Training Reserve Battalion, it lost all semblance of its former self, and may be said to have had an inglorious end to a short but useful life.
IV.—HONOURS AND AWARDS.
Extract from The London Gazette, dated 26/5/16.
The following is extracted from Sir Douglas Haig's Despatch, dated 19/5/16:—
"8.—While many other units have done excellent work during the period under review, the following have been brought to my notice for good work in carrying out or repelling local attacks and raids—
"17th (Service) Battalion Highland Light Infantry."
+Lieut.-Colonel W.H. Anderson, formerly Captain "C" Company. Gained while serving with 12th Battalion H.L.I.
+15888 Sergeant J.Y. TURNBULL. Gazette dated 25/12/16.
+ Since deceased.
The following is the extract from The London Gazette of 3rd May, 1918, intimating the award of the Victoria Cross:—
"T. Maj. (A. Lt.-Col.) WILLIAM HERBERT ANDERSON, late H.L.I.
"For most conspicuous bravery, determination, and gallant leading of his command. The enemy attacked on the right of the Battalion frontage, and succeeded in penetrating the wood held by our men. Owing to successive lines of the enemy following on closely there was the gravest danger that the flank of the whole position would be turned. Grasping the seriousness of the situation, Colonel Anderson made his way across the open in full view of the enemy now holding the wood on the right, and after much effort succeeded in gathering the remainder of the two right companies. He personally led the counter attack, and drove the enemy from the wood, capturing 12 machine guns and 70 prisoners, and restoring the original line. His conduct in leading the charge was quite fearless, and his most splendid example was the means of rallying and inspiring the men during a most critical hour.
"Later on in the same day the enemy had penetrated to within 300 yards of the village, and were holding a timber yard in force. Colonel Anderson re-organised his men after they had been driven in, and brought them forward to a position of readiness for a counter-attack. He led the attack in person, and throughout showed the utmost disregard for his own safety. The counter-attack drove the enemy from his position, but resulted in this very gallant officer losing his life. He died fighting within the enemy's lines, setting a magnificent example to all who were privileged to serve under him."
Among the first to join the 17th H.L.I. was Captain W.H. Anderson, a man widely known and highly respected in Glasgow social and business circles. He was with the Battalion during most of its training at Gailes and Troon, and before embarking for Service in France was gazetted as Major in the 19th H.L.I. He served with the same rank in the East Surreys till invalided home in March, 1917. On his return to France he was transferred to an H.L.I. Battalion, becoming Lieut.-Colonel, and shortly afterwards was killed in an attack at the head of his men of the 12th H.L.I. as recorded above.
Sergeant JAMES Y. TURNBULL, V.C.
It has been said of James Turnbull that he began to win his V.C. at Troon. He was a born leader, and always a fearless champion of fairplay. He towered above the average man in strength of character as he did in stature, and he was always the same unassuming and genial "Jimmy." He was a fitting embodiment of the ideals of the Seventeenth. A big man for a big occasion—and the big occasion came along on the 1st of July, 1916.
The position of the Battalion was that of a wedge driven against the iron of impregnability, and the driving force suddenly withdrawn. At the thin end of the wedge Sergeant Turnbull, with a handful of men, performed prodigies of valour. From three sides enemy machine guns swept the position, snipers took deadly toll, and bombing attacks were constantly launched. Exposure meant almost certain death. The position was not only desperate; it was hopeless. Yet it was necessary to hold on till nightfall. It was a man's job, and Turnbull filled the bill. He shouldered the responsibility as only a strong man could; and he organised the defence. He had to take countless risks, and was always where the fighting was fiercest. He was the indomitable leader and inspiring example. Wounded, he carried on till his last risk was taken, and he met a soldier's death towards the end of that fateful summer day.
Of a band of heroes he was the beloved leader and super-hero.
Honours Gained by Officers and others while Serving with the Battalion.
Extract from The London Gazette, dated 3/6/16.
"To be additional member of the Third Class or Companion of the Most Distinguished Order of Saint Michael and Saint George.
"Lieut.-Colonel D.S. Morton, V.D."
Date of Gazette +Lieut. A.J. BEGG, 30/ 5/16 2nd Lieut. J.L. BRODIE, 26/ 5/17 +2nd Lieut. J.N. CARPENTER, 30/ 5/16 Lieut. A.N. DRYSDALE, 13/ 2/17 Capt. F.E. DUNSMUIR, 1/ 1/18 Lieut. J.L. M'CONNELL, 17/ 9/17 2nd Lieut. W.M. MARTIN, 26/ 5/17 Major G. R.S. PATERSON, 26/ 9/16 +Capt. JAS. RUSSELL, 1/ 1/17 Capt. J.D. RUSSELL, 26/ 5/17 2nd Lieut. D.G. THORBURN, 18/ 6/17 15214 R.Q.-M.S. W. DUNSMORE, 1/ 1/17 15394 C.S.M. A. MILLAR, 6/ 4/18
+ Since deceased.
Mentioned in Despatches.
The London Gazette, dated 15/6/16. Lieut.-Colonel D.S. MORTON, V.D. 15205 Regt. S.M. J. KELLY.
The London Gazette, dated 4/1/17. +Capt. J.S. MARR.
The London Gazette, dated 25/5/17 2nd Lieut. F.E. DUNSMUIR. 16109 Sergt. W. WALLACE.
The London Gazette, dated 21/12/17. Major G.R.S. PATERSON, M.C. 15510 Sergt. J.C. BRUCE. 16084 Sergt. Y. GILBERT. 16085 Pte. W. PARKER.
Distinguished Conduct Medal.
15849 Sergt. W. FRASER, 1/ 1/18 2797 Sergt. F. LEIPER, 13/ 2/17 15866 C.S.M. W. MATHER, 1/ 1/17 +15507 C.S.M. S.D. REITH, 30/ 5/16
+ Since deceased.
Bar to Military Medal.
+2997 Sergt. N. CONNOR, M.M.
+ Since deceased.
Date of Gazette.
+23053 Pte. G.S. ANDERSON, 26/ 5/17 15255 Cpl. J. CHAPMAN, 10/11/16 + 2997 Sergt. N. CONNOR, 16/ 2/17 16004 Pte. J.K. DEANS, 16/ 2/17 15973 L.-Sergt. W. DICKSON, 17/ 9/17 15937 Cpl. F. FARNELL, 17/ 9/17 15582 L.-Cpl. A.V. FOLLETT, 17/ 9/17 40899 Pte. A.B. FORREST, 17/ 9/17 15581 Pte. C.N. FRASER, 16/ 2/17 16084 Sergt. Y. GILBERT, 16/ 2/17 2727 L.-Cpl. W. GLENNIE, 26/ 5/17 41046 Pte. J. HOGG, 26/ 5/17 2744 Pte. J.C. HUNTER, 20/10/16 9808 Sergt. J. JOHNSTONE, 26/ 5/17 2797 Pte. F. LEIPER, 3/ 6/16 15748 Sergt. F.M. M'GREGOR, 16/ 2/17 +15720 Pte. D. MACINTOSH, 3/ 6/16 15363 Pte. A.G. M'NAIR, 10/11/16 +15677 Sergt. J. MAXWELL, 16/ 2/17 +16146 Sergt. R. MILLIGAN, 29/ 8/17 +15964 Sergt. J. OSBORNE, 16/ 2/17 27267 L.-Cpl. J. PEARSON, 26/ 5/17 2725 L.-Sergt. J. RAMAGE, 26/ 5/17 41198 Pte. E. REDDINGTON, 26/ 5/17 15415 Sergt. T. RITCHIE, 20/10/16 15775 Sergt. J. ROBERTS, 16/ 2/17 28057 L.-Cpl. P. ROBERTSON, 26/ 5/17 43268 Pte. T. SCOTT, 16/ 2/17 13688 Pte. R.J. SLOWEY, 16/ 2/17 42378 Pte. P. SMITH, 26/ 5/17 15956 C.Q.M.S. W. STEWART, 16/ 2/17 +15458 Sergt. H.G. TAYLOR, 3/ 6/16 16149 Cpl. H. THORBURN, 26/ 5/17 41607 Pte. D. TURNBULL, 18/ 6/17 15938 Sergt. A.G. WATSON, 16/ 2/17 15818 Pte. R.M. WATSON, 16/ 2/17 40530 Pte. J. WATT, 26/ 4/17 353079 Pte. F.S. WILLDER, 17/ 9/17
+ Since deceased.
Meritorious Service Medal.
15544 Sergt. M. CULLEN. 16064 L.-Cpl. J. HUTTON, att. IV. Corps. 15710 L.-Cpl. J.A. M'DOUGALL, 32nd Division. 16169 Sergt. J.F. SINCLAIR, 97th Brigade.
Belgian Croix de Guerre.
15310 C.S.M. G. HIRST. 16109 C.Q.M.S. W. WALLACE.
Honours Gained by Original Members of the Battalion after being Transferred to other Units.
Distinguished Service Order.
Major G.R.S. PATERSON, 5th K.O.S.B., formerly Major 17th H.L.I.
Capt. J.D. YOUNG, 10th A. & S. Highlanders, formerly 2916 Pte. "B" Coy.
Bar to Military Cross.
Lieut. J. CALLAN, M.C., 12th H.L.I., formerly 15527 L.-Cpl., "A" Coy.
Capt. A.W. DONALD, M.C., 252 Coy. R.E., formerly 15200 L.-Cpl. "B" Coy.
+2nd Lieut. C.B. MEADOWS, M.C, King's Own Royal Lancashire Regiment, formerly 23015 Pte. "C" Coy.
+ Since deceased.
Lieut. R. ANDERSON, 13th Battalion Tank Corps, formerly 15832 Sergeant "A" Coy.
Lieut. H.T. BAIRD, 447th Coy. R.E., formerly 15509 Pte. "A" Coy.
2nd LIEUT. A. BROWN, A. & S. Highlanders, formerly 16187 Pte. "C" Coy.
Lieut. J. CALLAN, 12th H.L.I., formerly 15527 L.-Cpl. "A" Coy.
Lieut. S. CAMPBELL, 12th H.L.I., formerly 15982 Pte. "C" Coy.
Lieut. J.H. CARSWELL, 1st Northumberland Fusiliers, formerly 2708 L.-Cpl. "B" Coy.
Captain A.W. DONALD, 252nd Coy. R.E., formerly 15200 L.-Cpl. "B" Coy.
2nd Lieut. A.G. DRUMMOND, 6th Black Watch, formerly 23011 Pte. "A" Coy.