Enlisted Glasgow. The 9th HLI attacked Boritska Trench and Hazy Trench on this day
1 November 1916: attack at Lesboeufs
100th Bde Order No 153 of 31st received 6am for attack on BORITSKA TRENCH. CO (Lt-Col JC STORMONTH DARLING DSO) visited Coys leaving BN Hd Qrs 5.30am but on reaching No.4 Coy was shot by a sniper. CAPTAIN WHITSON reported BN Hd Qrs as CO 9am. WROTE LETTER to Bde. ATTACK starts at ZERO, 3.30pm. No.1 & No.4 attack but held up by ACCURATE RIFLE and MG FIRE and forced to withdraw. FRENCH obtain objective on RIGHT. CASUALTIES HEAVY. OFFICERS: KILLED (during attack) 2nd Lt EJH MACILDOWIE (No.1). 2nd Lt JM WHYTE (No.3 attacked with 1 Platoon). WOUNDED: 2nd Lt GH WARREN (No.1) 2nd Lt DK SIMPSON (No.1). (DURING DAY) CO KILLED. 2nd Lt JG WIGHT: WOUNDED. Lt AM DUNCAN: WOUNDED. MAJOR J MENZIES reports as CO 2pm.
from Shoulder to Shoulder, by Colonel A K Reid DSO MC:
The Glasgow Highlanders spent two nights at Corbie, moved to Meaulte on October 21st and on to Mansel Camp, Mametz, the next day. The weather was cold and wet and altogether unsuitable for living under canvas in a quagmire. After three days the battalion advanced another stage to Carnoy Huts. Here it remained for three more days during which large parties were engaged in road-making, one man being killed and three wounded while on this duty. On the 28th it marched in a downpour of rain to its last halting place short of the trenches at Trones Wood, where, as there were no ready-made shelters, bivouacs had to be constructed.
The following afternoon at four o’clock the battalion moved off and marched to the trenches south-east of Lesboeufs, a distance or about five miles. Rain still fell in torrents. The take-over could not be carried out till after dark; most of the guides detailed by the out-going battalion lost their way, with the result that the relief was not completed till two o’clock in the morning. The trenches were in an indescribable condition with mud and water, and were hourly getting worse, as the rain continued all night and most of the next two days.
The conditions under which the Highlanders were now living were worse than they had ever before been called upon to endure: cold, wet, and exhausted, they could scarcely drag their feet through the mud. Some of the mules bringing up supplies were lost in the mud.
That night Colonel Stormonth Darling, on his return to battalion headquarters after a round of the trenches which had taken him hours to accomplish, found orders waiting him for an attack the follow¬ing afternoon. At half-past five in the morning of 1st November the Colonel, having already issued his orders for the attack, left his headquarters to visit his company commanders again. He did not get very far; just. as he reached D Company he was shot by a sniper and killed. The loss the battal¬ion suffered in his death simply cannot be exaggerated. He had now commanded the Glasgow Highlanders for a year. From the first he had won our hearts by his quiet humour and kindliness, our respect by his efficiency, and our admiration by his courage. As a commanding officer he inspired absolute trust. The officers knew that they could not hope to keep him much longer, for now that the battalion was back in the fighting line he must have been marked for early promotion — now he was lost, not only to us but to the Service and the Country. Coming when it did his death was a calamity; in a few hours the battalion was to attack and his steady leadership had never been more required than now.
Major John Menzies being with the battle reserve, the command of the battalion devolved on Captain Wilfred Whitson, who came back to headquarters and completed the arrangements for the attack.
The Glasgow Highlanders were on the extreme right of the Fourth Army, Morvar having been hand¬ed over to French, and the latter were co-operat¬ing in the proposed advance. The intention was to secure the low ridge in front of le Transloy and thereby to get better observation. From its pres¬ent position in the hollow south-east of Lesboeufs amidst a maze of waterlogged trenches and shell-holes, the battalion was to attack over a sea of mud with the French on higher ground on the right, and the 2nd Worcestershires on the left.
Conditions had been getting steadily worse since the battalion had taken over the trenches. The men had had little opportunity for sleep during, the last two — if not three — nights, they were cover¬ed with mud, soaked to the skin, and chilled to the bone. Many were already down with trench feet and all were approaching a state of physical ex¬haustion. What Colonel Darling thought of the pro¬posed attack in not on record. There is no doubt however that if he had lived, and if he had formed the opinion that it could only result in useless waste of life with no chance of success, his report to higher authority would have carried a great deal of weight.
Captain Whitson reported to General Baird how seriously the fighting efficiency of the battalion was impaired, and how the exhaustion of the men was such that there was little prospect of them being able to assault successfully with the ground in its present condition.
The Brigadier’s reply:
I have received representations as to the condition of your battalion. I am fully aware of the great strain that has been placed on the endurance of all ranks during the last few days but it is not in my power to do more than to ask the men to remember the name of their regiment, and especially on a day like this, when it has suffered the irreparable loss of the best commanding officer a unit ever had, to be animated by only one thought, the determination to win through.
I hope you will make a point of encouraging, the men in the above sense. Yours sincerely,
(Sgd.) Walter Baird.
It is probable that the operations would have been postponed had it not been that they were in co-operation with the French, whose trenches being on higher ground were in much better condition than ours, and their troops may well have been in better condition also.
Zero had been fixed for half-past three in the afternoon. The advance was to be made in three waves with A and D Companies in front, The first wave was to capture the German front line system, the second to go through and cover the consolidation of the position, and the third carrying tools was to do the work. In addition to his usual equipment, each man carried an extra bandolier of S.A.A., two bombs and two sandbags. During the day our eighteen-pounders and light howitzers and the French seventy-fives kept up a steady fire on the objectives Boritzka and Hazy Trenches with occasional bursts of rapid. A mist hung over the scene making observations difficult; the bombardment therefore was not as satisfactory as it might have been, and it was difficult to form a clear idea of where exactly the objectives were. There was even uncertainty as to the actual position of our own infantry, and in consequence the fire of the heavies was confined to the enemy’s back areas.
Shortly before zero an intense barrage was dir¬ected on and in front of the supposed German pos¬itions. Our guns also kept the ground to the north under fire, and here the 98th Brigade, which was not attacking, co-operated with rifles and machine guns as a protection for the left flank of the Worcestershires. At half-past three the barrage began to move forward and the first wave climbed out of the trenches.
Steps had been cut in the parapet to supplement the trench ladders of which there was an insufficient supply. These steps in the slippery mud were difficult to negotiate and in many cases broke away as soon as any weight was put upon them.. By helping each other out, the men got on the top and started to go forward, but from the first the line was ragged.
As the barrage crept forward the Highlanders struggled after it, splashing through shell holes and stumbling in the mud. The intention had been to keep as close as possible to the barrage, but before our men were able to near the enemy’s trenches it had passed beyond, and the Germans were able to pour in a heavy fire. The difficult¬ies of the ground, the condition of the men, and the heavy losses, had broken the attack into fragments.
In A Company, 2nd Lieutenants E.J.H. MacIldowie and J.M. Whyte were killed, and G. K. Warren and D.K. Simpson were wounded. What momentum the attack ever had was lost, individual effort alone was left, and the survivors, too few to carry the position — if they were able to reach it — could do no more than sink into shell-holes or any other meagre cover that they could find.
The attack had failed; it would have been folly to make a second attempt, and none was ordered. The Worcestershires’ attack had met with the same fate, but on the right the French secured part of their objective.
In the evening Major John Menzies reached the battalion and took over command. The night was spent in rescuing the wounded and reorganizing the battalion. The Highlanders continued to hold their miserable trenches for another twenty-four hours, during which the weather improved. At 9 p.m. on the 2nd the Queens started to take over the trenches, and by two o’clock next morning the Highlanders were back at Guillemont busily engaged constructing bivouacs. Some gunners from a battery nearby kindly supplied our famishing men with hot soup and tea. A party of volunteers re¬mained behind to bring back Colonel Darling’s body.
On the 3rd the Queens attacked over the same ground, but without success, and a third attempt was ordered to be made on the 5th. A few days dry weather made this a more practical proposition,and an equally important factor was the adoption of General Baird’s plan for a flank attack from the more advanced French position on the right. The 2ndWorcestershires were given this part of the operations while the frontal attack was in the hands of the 1st Queens and 16th King’s Royal Rifles. The Glasgow Highlanders were to be in reserve.
In the evening the battalion moved up from Guillemont to Lesboeufs, taking up a position at midnight in a sunken road north of what remained of the village. All night. the guns thundered. In the morning the fire became more intense, culminating at eleven o’clock when the infantry went forward. All the objectives were quickly taken the flank attack of the Worcesters being a conspicuous success, and about mid-day B Company went up to assist in the consolidation of the new front line. A and D Companies also moved forward to constrict and hold strong points while C remained in reserve. The enemy did not counter-attack and the new line was strongly established. A number of men who had been wounded in the previous attacks and had been lying out in no-man's land ever since, were rescued. That night the 19th Brigade relieved the 100th,the 5th Cameronians taking over from the G.H., who moved back to a reserve position with the appetising name of Bovril Trench. Next day a long march took the battalion right back to Citadel Camp, Fricourt, halts being made at Guillemont for soup and at Carnoy for tea. The camp was a sea of mud, there were very few huts available and part of the reduced battalion had to make the best of it under canvas.
However, the accumulated parcels of nine days mail helped to make life worth living once more. A draft of fifty men arrived, and three days later the Glasgow Highlanders, now no longer covered with Somme mud, entrained for Airaines whence they marched to the villages of Sorel and Wanel.
The battle of the Somme was nearly over On the morning of 13th November a great attack was made astride the River Ancre, resulting in the taking of Beaucourt and Beaumont-Hamel, the 2nd and 51st Divisions distinguishing themselves particularly. This success brought to a close the greatest battle that had ever been fought.