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Today 98 Years Ago

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  • Today 98 Years Ago

    Ninety-eight years ago today, on 26th September 1915, my Great Uncle David Elder Robertson wrote the letter below to his parents back in Musselburgh.




    He was penning this neat letter from his training camp in England. On 2nd June 1915, David volunteered at Musselburgh Town Hall, aged 25 years and 10 days. Unlike his brother –in-law (my maternal Grandfather), who had joined the local Royal Scots territorial battalion in December 1914, David joined a Kitchener volunteer battalion, the 8th Btn Royal Highlanders (Black Watch), becoming S/9365, Private Robertson D.E. The 8th BW were part of K1, Kitchener’s “first hundred-thousand” of six volunteer divisions raised in August 1914 for war-service. The 8th BW was the senior battalion and regiment in 9th (Scottish) Division of K1, which also made it the senior battalion in all of Kitchener’s 30 divisions. The 9th Scottish was based around Aldershot for training, with 8th BW based in St Lucia Barracks, Bordon Camp. On 10th May 1915, 9th Scottish Division was the first Kitchener division to leave the UK for the Western Front, to take its place in the British line and get used to trench conditions. The battalions of 9th Scottish each left behind a detachment to form a training company for incoming recruits as replacements for casualties. When David joined up on 2nd June 1915, he was soon on his way to the 8th BW training company at Bordon.

    David at Bordon Camp, June/July -1915. Some family member put an 'X' above his head.

    This letter, which seems to have the last page missing, was written just after a large scale manoeuvre of the various training companies. David was sick with a cold and 20 days and nights in the open without cover in constant bad weather, together with lack of sleep and cancellation of the company’s promised leave, due to the fault of another previous training company, all contributed to a rather depressed looking letter. You will note that David was a Lance-Corporal, which the manoeuvres had shown him to be a bad choice ! In the Army’s levels of delegation, L/Cpl was the lowest level of command above private all the unpleasant jobs were unloaded onto them by Corporals and above, hence the lack of sleep, constant rounds of checks on the men and general desire to hand back the stripe at the earliest opportunity.

    David was wheeled in front of the training company commander Captain Hamilton-Johnston who tried to put him off handing in his stripe, but when David insisted, the captain said he would see what he could do and come back to him. As of 1917, David was still a lance-Corporal !

    David was further peeved that it looked like he was being selected for a future training role based at Aldershot, rather than being on active service with the battalion. At the end of the existing letter he made it clear he would apply for apply for active service in the trenches as soon as his leave was over. It worked. By mid-October 1915, David was in a trench near Hill 60, Zillebeke, Ypres Salient sector. He was in his new home, No 5 Platoon, B Coy, 8th Batt Black Watch.

    The date of this letter is significant as, unknown to David and his chums in Bordon, one day before, on 25th September 1915, 9th Scottish Division and other Kitchener divisions had their major baptism of fire in an offensive launched against Loos and environs in the Artois mining region. The 9th Scottish Division was tasked with capturing the formidable Hohenzollern Redoubt and supporting trench systems and features such as the Dump and The Quarry. Though successful initially, over the next five days, they suffered horrendous casualties and were eventually replaced by another fresh division. The 9th Division lost its commander Gen Thesiger and the 8th BW lost many officers and men, including Captain Fergus Bowes-Lyon, brother of the (now deceased) Queen Mother. The remnants were withdrawn and sent to the relatively quiet Ypres sector (near Zillebeke) to re-build. That’s when David joined them from the UK.

    As for Captain Hamilton-Johnston, he had joined the 2nd Black Watch (Regular Army)as a 2nd Lieutenant from Sandhurst in 1909. The battalion was stationed in India until Autumn 1914 when as part of an Indian division, it was sent to the Western Front as part of the beleaguered BEF. During the fighting of late 1914, he was wounded but not seriously. Promoted to 1st Lieutenant, was wounded at the Battle of Neuve Chapelle in March 1915 and sent back to the UK to recover. When fit enough, as Captain, he took command of the 8th Battalion BW’s training company at Bordon. Like Great Uncle David, he left the training company in October 1915, in the Captain’s case, back to the 2nd Battalion in France. That winter the 2nd Battalion and its Indian Division left France for Mesopotamia (Iraq) to join the British relief force trying to reach Townsend’s surrounded force . On 23rd January 1916, Captain Hamilton-Johnston was killed in battle.

    David stayed with 8th BW in the Flanders mud, then by early Summer 1916 the 9th Scottish Division moved to the Somme sector to prepare for the coming offensive. After the division captured Longueval and Delville Wood which left 8th BW with 171 survivors out of 739 who started the week-long attack, the battalion received replacements in time to attack the Butte de Warlincourt in October. In winter 1916-17, strengthened with replacements again, the division moved to the Arras sector where in April it took part in the initially successful spring offensive. On 3rd May 1917, David was killed during a disastrous pre-dawn divisional attack on Greenland Hill, Roeux. He is remembered on Panel 6 of the Arras Memorial, one of 37,000 of those who died in the Arras Offensive with no grave.
    Last edited by Lachlan09; 26th September 2013, 12:28.

  • #2
    What a wonderful post Lachlan, although quite sad too. Thank you for sharing it with everyone. God bless your Great Uncle and may he rest in peace.

    In my research into my family, I have found many cousins albeit several times removed, who fought and died in both wars. My uncle died in WW2. Many others fought and survived, but I found it amazing how greatly just my family was effected by the wars in terms of loss and suffering. Just a drop in the ocean considering the thousands upon thousands of other families who went through the same. I'd like to share some of what I found and what I already knew. You may or may not be interested, but I'd like to post it anyway.

    Lance Corporal William Anderson, Born Elgin, Moray.
    Service Number 201816, "A" Coy. 4th Bn., Seaforth Highlanders. Died on 21 September 1917 age 31. France & Flanders
    Remembered with Honour at Tyne Cot Memorial Panel 132 to 135 and 162A.

    Acting Corporal William Anderson, VC. Born 1884, Dallas, Elgin, Moray.


    William is standing.

    Service number-8191, Alexandra, Princess of Wales's Own (Yorkshire Regiment) 2nd Battalion
    Killed in action 13 Mar 1915, battle of Neuve Chappelle.

    Rembered with honor at Le Touret Memorial, Panel 12: “Corporal Anderson's name appears on the Le Touret 'Memorial to the Missing' at Pas-de-Calais, some four miles to the north east of Bethune in France. It is carved with those of 234 other members of the Yorkshire Regiment who have no known graves. For conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty at Neuve Chapelle on the 15th March I9I5, when he led three men with bombs against a large party of the enemy who had entered our trenches, and by his prompt and determined action saved what might have otherwise become a serious situation. Corporal Anderson first threw his own bombs, then those in possession of his three men (who had been wounded) among the Germans; after which he opened rapid fire upon them with great effect, notwithstanding that he was at the time quite alone.”

    Sergeant Henry Nicol, Born 1881, Craigillachie, Banffshire.
    Service Number-7133 Queen’s own Cameron Highlanders 5th Batallion
    Enlisted in Pretoria
    Killed in Action 12/10/1917 Western European Theatre
    Remembered with Honor Tyne Cot Memorial Panel 136 to 138

    Sergeant David Denoon. Born 1892, Mosstowie, Elgin, Moray.


    Service Number-S/40914, Gordon Highlanders 1st, 4th Battallion
    Awarded Military Medal for bravery in land battle.
    Died 2/6/1919 of pneumonia, Duren, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany.
    Remembered with Honor at Cologne Southern Cemetery. Grave Reference IX.E. 4

    Private David Denoon. Born 1893, Duffus, Elginshire.
    Service Number-3685 Seaforth Highlanders 1st, 6th Battlion
    Killed in action 13/6/1916, France and Flanders
    Remembered with Honor at Maroeuil British Cemetery, Grave Reverence I.H.2

    Company Sergeant Major William B Innes. Born 1887, Urquhart, Morayshire.


    Service Number-9365, Seaforth Highlanders 1st Battlion. (Ross-shire Buffs, The Duke of Albany’s)
    Killed in Action 22/2/1917, Basra, Persian Gulf.
    Remembered with Honor at Basra Memorial Panel 37 and 64.

    Petty officer William Albert Goodfellow. Born 1890, Plymouth, Devon.
    Service Number-233231, Royal Navy, HMS Monmouth.
    Killed 1/11/1914.
    Remembered with Honor, Plymouth Naval memorial.

    Lance Sergeant Leonard Herbert John Goodfellow. Born 1909, West Ealing, Middlesex.



    Service Number-2571861, Royal Corps of Signals, 44th Div. Signals.
    Died 19/4/1945, Germany, as POW.
    POW Number-11938
    Camp Type-Stalag
    Camp Number-357
    Camp Location-Oerbke, Lower Saxony.
    Remembered with Honor at Berlin 1939-1945 War Cemetery.
    Grave Reference 11.E.16


    Company Sergeant Major William Goodfellow. Born 1887 Edinburgh.
    Service Number-350439, 2141 Royal Scots, “D” Coy. 9th Battlion.
    Killed in Action 23/4/1917 France.
    Remembered with Honor at Level Crossing Cemetery, Fampoux.
    Grave Reference-I.B.62

    Lance Corporal William Goodfellow. Born 1888.
    Service Number-11952. Coldstream Guards 2nd Battalion.
    Killed in Action 30/11/1917, France.
    Remembered with Honor at Gouzeaucourt New British Cemetery, Nord, France.
    Grave Reference III. A. 16.

    Flight Sergeant Ronald Alexander John Anderson. Born 1913, London, England.


    Service Number-36139, Battalion 75 (NZ) Bomber Squadron, RAF, Feltwell, Norfolk 3 Group
    Killed in Action 21/7/1940, during raid on Horst, near Gelsenkirchen, Germany.
    This was the first occasion on which a combination of RNZAF airmen and New Zealander members of the RAF had lost their lives on the same flight.

    Wellington IC R3165 - brought down at Weseke, about 40km NNW of the target. All five crew were buried in a communal grave nearby, but later reinterred at Reichswald Forest, 5km SW of Kleve.
    Captain: 77026 Fg Off Samuel Miles Mackenzie WATSON, mid, RAFVR - Age 27.
    2nd Pilot: 36237 Plt Off Edward Colin Joseph CAMERON, RAF - Age 19.
    Acting Wireless Operator: 36139 Flt Sgt Ronald Alexander John ANDERSON, RNZAF - Age 26.
    Rear Gunner: A391332 Sgt John Lewis OWEN, RNZAF - Age 24. 46hrs. 7th op.

    Wellington IC R3165 was brought down by German ‘Ace’ pilot Siegfried Wandam. Wandam served with several units in NJG1 and with NJG5, achieved 13 confirmed victories and was KIA 3/4 July 1943 in a crash at Hoepertingen on landing at St. Trond airfield due to a combination of combat damage & engine failure on finals.


    Remembered with Honor at Reichswald Forest War Cemetery, Coll. Grave 21. F.1, Auckland Museum Cenotaph, Feltwell Memorial.

    A Poem by Ken Moore, Waterlooville. 2.3.80

    New Zealand gave a Squadron of Planes
    When Britain’s need was dire
    Both countries sons made up the crews
    And they flew through hell and fire.
    To the Pommy lads the Kiwi's made
    A gesture that was grand
    They gave them honorary citizenship
    Of their own beloved land.
    Under New Zealand's flag, they proudly flew
    Comrades of the air
    They lived and died, as side by side
    Fate's lot they chose to share.
    In Wellingtons, Stirlings, then Lancasters
    To the foe, they took the flight
    On wings they soared through Europe's skies
    In the darkness and the light.

    But a heavy price, the Squadron paid
    In five long years of strife
    Of those who flew with "75"
    One in three, laid down their life.
    On the East Coast of Old England
    The crumbling airfields stand
    Where aircraft once left mother earth
    Tractors till the land
    The era of the Bomber war
    Came, paused, then passed away
    But the bond between two nations sons
    Unchanged, will ever stay
    Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.
    MLK Jr.


    • #3
      What a fascinating post ! Thanks for sharing - you had quite a few family sacrificed in both wars RIP. I was lucky, I'm only aware of one family member who died in either war.


      • #4
        Originally posted by Lachlan09 View Post
        What a fascinating post ! Thanks for sharing - you had quite a few family sacrificed in both wars RIP. I was lucky, I'm only aware of one family member who died in either war.
        Even one lost is too much. I never knew these men of course, they were born before my time, although if my uncle had survived there is every chance I would have got to know him. I feel cheated in a way.

        I also feel fortunate that my two sons have not been involved in the war in Afghanistan, selfish as that sounds. My older son became an American citizen some years back and did enlist in the US Army. His MOS was combat medic so he would have been with the front-line troops at a time when fighting was the fiercest in the Helmand Province. But, while in boot camp doctors discovered he had a rare bone disease which prevented him from continuing on. He was medically discharged, and it broke his heart. I could understand his pain, but I breathed a sigh of relief.
        Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.
        MLK Jr.