Monday, 9 April 2012

The First Battle of the Scarpe - On this day in Scottish Military History - 1917

The attack and capture of Vimy Ridge by the Canadian Corps ninety-five years ago will be in the news today. Five thousand Canadian students and the Governor-General will be among the many paying their respects at the magnificent memorial which stands on the ridge and commemorates the eleven thousand men of the C.E.F. who died on the Western Front and have no known grave.

Vimy Ridge was just one part of a larger offensive which started on 9th April 1917 and would last until 16th May. It would also involve thousands of soldiers from Britain, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Newfoundland (this island colony was not actually part of Canada until 1949).

On the same day the four Canadian divisions attacked Vimy Ridge the three Scottish Divisions on the Western Front were also in action around Arras as part of Third Army, in what is officially known as The First Battle of the Scarpe (after the River Scarpe which runs through the centre of the battlefield). 

15th (Scottish) Division was in VI Corps, while 9th (Scottish) Division and 51st (Highland) Division were in XVII Corps. In total fifty-two Scottish infantry battalions across several divisions, including the three Scottish divisions and 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 7th, 30th, 33rd and 34th Divisions, fought at Arras during the offensive* 

In fact since thousands of Scotsmen enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force there were probably more Scots in action around Arras on this day ninety-five years ago than Canadians. 

One particular Scottish regiment paid a heavy price in the Arras Offensive. All the battalions of the Seaforth Highlanders on the Western Front were in the front-line on the first day. The three Territorial Force battalions - 1/4th (Ross-shire); 1/5th (Sutherland and Caithness) and 1/6th (Morayshire) all served in the 51st (Highland) Division. The 1/4th suffered two hundred casualties, the 1/5th three hundred. 

The 7th (Service) and 9th (Pioneers) Battalions served in the 9th (Scottish) Division and the 8th (Service) Battalion was in the reserve in 15th (Scottish) Division.

The regular 2nd Battalion was in the 4th Division and on 9th April it advanced four and a half miles inside German lines. It was too good to last and two days later at Fampoux the German counter-attack cost the 2nd Seaforths five hundred and twenty six casualties or ninety-three percent of their strength. One of the casualties was Lieutenant Donald Mackintosh whose bravery on that day would earn him a posthumous Victoria Cross. 

When it came to picking a spot on the Western Front after the war to erect the Celtic Cross war memorial to the eight thousand four hundred and thirty two Seaforth Highlanders who died in the First World War it was the site of the 2nd Battalion's heavy casualties at Fampoux which was chosen  - at the heart of the Battle of The Scarpe where seven of the eight front-line battalions of the regiment were in action on the same day**. 
Seaforth Highlanders
War Memorial, Fampoux

Not far away from the Seaforth's Celtic Cross at Fampoux is a massive and very Scottish Cairn***. It is the First World War memorial to the 9th (Scottish) Division. Like the Seaforths the sacrifices of the Division at places like the Roeux Chemical Works made Arras the choice of location out of all the battles the Division had been in; from Loos in 1915 to the final offensives of 1918. Its inscription commemorates one Scottish division but its sentiment could be applied to the tens of thousands of Scots who served near Arras on 9th April 1917 and the bloody days which followed. 

When you hear about the Canadians on Vimy Ridge today then also...

Remember with honour
The 9th
Scottish Division
Who on the fields
Of France
And Flanders
Served well

Unveiling of the 9th (Scottish)
Division War Memorial

* Not included are 2nd Dragoons, Royal Scots Greys in 2nd Cavalry Division; 4th Regt South African Scottish in 9th Division; the four Tyneside Scottish battalions in 34th Division; London Scottish in 56th Division and the men serving in the artillery, engineers and other corps recruited in Scotland and attached to the Scottish divisions.
**The other battalion - 1st Bn Seaforth Highlanders was on the front-line in Mespotamia on 9th April 1917
*** In 2006 the 9th (Scottish) Division memorial was moved a short distance from its battlefield location at Athies to a location next to Point du Jour British Military Cemetery to accommodate road improvements.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Who was Captain Morley, late of the Light Brigade, U.S. Army and Ayrshire Yeomanry?

A poster found in the archives of the Ayrshire Yeomanry was printed as an appendix in their 1964 history "Proud Trooper". Can anyone shed any light on it nearly fifty years after being printed in the book? I wonder if the original poster is still in existence?


One of the strangest relics in possession of the Regiment is a large print poster which research has failed to explain. It reads as follows: 

in the 

Capt. Morley, late U.S. Army, and late Regimental Sergeant Major, Ayrshire Yeomanry Cavalry, will explain to the members of the Corps and the public of Ayr why he has been compelled to leave the British service, and the gross injustice he has suffered, in the Corn Exchange Hall on Monday evening, 18th June, at half-past seven o’clock.

N.B. Mr Morley was one of the ‘Noble Six Hundred’, and brought the last remnants of the Light Brigade out of that terrible charge, forming the few survivors, and charging with them through the Polish Lancers, while the Earl of Cardigan, who had command of the Brigade only succeeded in bringing out himself and his horse.
Adnussion by Ticket

It is calculated that 18th June fell on a Monday in 1860, 1866, 1877, 1883, 1888, 1894, 1900 and 1906. The poster itself is stuck in the scrap-book opposite printed orders dated 1908, 1909 and thereabouts, but it may of course have been old by then. The Charge of the Light Brigade was in 1854.

If Mr Morley was a Light Brigade veteran then he was also late of one of the following regiments -  4th or 13th Light Dragoons, 17th Lancers, or the 8th or 11th Hussars

Friday, 6 April 2012

2nd RM Commando unit based in Scotland. 43 Commando

HM Government website reports the formation of a new Royal Marine Commando which will be based at Faslane. It mentions Royal Marines Corporal Thomas Hunter V.C. from Edinburgh. Hunter V.C. is commemorated outside Ocean Terminal in Edinburgh.

300 Clyde-based Royal Marines were joined by family members and friends yesterday, 3 April, to mark the official formation of 43 Commando.
Royal Marines on parade
Royal Marines mark the official formation of 43 Commando at HM Naval Base Clyde [Picture: Leading Airman (Photographer) Paul Halliwell, Crown Copyright/MOD 2012]

The second Royal Marines unit to be based in Scotland, 43 Commando is the largest in the UK, with 790 men.

The last unit to hold the name was disbanded in the aftermath of the Second World War after fighting with distinction in the Mediterranean, Italy and the Adriatic.
During a parade at the unit’s home base of HM Naval Base Clyde, medals were also presented to 15 commandos and sailors, some of whom had taken part in counter-piracy operations.

Among the decorations awarded were the Long Service and Good Conduct medal, awarded to members of the Armed Forces with 15 years of reckonable service; the Iraq medal; and the NATO African medal.
The day was made all the more poignant for the Marines as it also commemorated the 67th anniversary of the battle of Lake Comacchio, one the Second World War’s fiercest fought battles, and an encounter which saw Thomas Hunter - a Royal Marine from Edinburgh - awarded a Victoria Cross.
Royal Marines Corporal Thomas Hunter (library image)
Royal Marines Corporal Thomas Hunter, from Edinburgh, who was awarded a Victoria Cross following his heroic actions during the battle of Lake Comacchio in 1945 (library image) [Picture: via MOD]
Travelling from Edinburgh to witness the parade and the resurrection of her brother’s old unit, was Agnes Swinney, the sister of Corporal Thomas Hunter.

During the parade there was a short religious service followed by an address by the Royal Navy’s Commander Operations, Rear Admiral Ian Corder.

The Rear Admiral praised the valuable contribution of the Royal Marines in support of operations at home and worldwide.

Afterwards, the Royal Marines held a families’ day at HM Naval Base Clyde, where visitors were given a chance to see some of the equipment which the commandos have used in operations around the globe.

Operation Joint Warrior in Scotland

Large numbers of UK and allied armed forces will be training on land, at sea and in the air in and around Scotland later this month. It has been mentioned in a couple of newspapers...

From Glasgow's Evening Times

Faslane Naval base will be at the centre of one of the largest training exercises in Europe later this month.
HM Naval Base Clyde will play host to Exercise Joint Warrior – a tri-service, multinational exercise designed to train troops for anti- terror, anti-drug and anti-piracy operations.

Conducted in the spring and autumn every year, the exercise provides high quality training for all three armed services and visiting forces from allied nations, including the USA, Germany, Holland and France.

A variety of UK and Allied land forces will also be involved, conducting basic and mission specific training on training ranges across Scotland.

Some of the exercise areas overlap with environmentally sensitive conservation zones, but the MoD has said environmental considerations will be taken into account when planning exercises.

During the planning, close relationships have been fostered with land owners, as well as local communities, to minimise any impact on the natural environment.

From the Stornoway Gazette

Largest military exercise in Europe heads to Hebrides

The largest tactically focused military exercise in Europe will be heading to the Hebrides from April 16-26 when Exercise Joint Warrior begins.

The tri-service and multinational exercise is conducted in the spring and autumn of each year with HM Naval Base Clyde on the west coast of Scotland hosting the Royal Navy and RAF personnel from the Joint Tactical Exercise Planning Staff (JTEPS) who manage and coordinate events.

The upcoming Joint Warrior is set to be bigger than ever with 32 separate naval units from eight different countries taking part, as well as a considerable military air presence and multiple land forces.

Many of the naval and air units will be operating in the seas and skies around the Hebrides with the UK, USA, Germany, Holland, France, Norway, Denmark and Canada all contributing.

Royal Navy Flagship, HMS Bulwark, is hosting The Commander United Kingdom Task Group and Commander Standing NATO Maritime Group 1.

Meanwhile the UK’s Joint Force HQ will deploy to practice its command function afloat on the High Readiness Helicopter and Commando Carrier, HMS Illustrious.

The aim of the exercise is to provide the highest quality training for all three Armed Services and the numerous visiting forces from allied nations.

Some of the exercise areas overlap with environmentally sensitive conservation zones and the MOD has said that environmental considerations will always be taken into account as a primary consideration when planning exercises.

During the planning of Joint Warrior environmental impact assessments have been produced where required, such as for the use of Active Sonar and live weapons.

Exercise planners have also forged a close working relationship with landowners and key national stakeholders, as well as engaging with local communities to ensure that environmental mitigation procedures are put in place and adhered to. 

From RAF Lossiemouth's webpage

16th – 26th April - Exercise Joint Warrior
‘Joint Warrior’ is the largest international defence exercise held in the UK. The exercise – which takes place in locations ranging from Faslane to the north west tip of Scotland at Cape Wrath - is intended to test NATO forces across the full spectrum of 21st century conflict, from fending off air attacks and hunting mines and submarines to putting - and, crucially, supporting - troops ashore
The following aircraft are expected to operate from RAF Lossiemouth for the duration of the exercise:
6 x P3
1 x P8
2 x Atlantique
4 x Hawk
3 x Sea Hawk 60
7 x DA200

During the exercise flying will take place throughout the day and night.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Re-opening of Cameronians display at Low Parks

From Visit Lanarkshire's website. Exciting news about the re-opening of a revamped Scottish regimental museum:

Exciting new exhibition at Low Parks Museum

Over the past eighteen months South Lanarkshire Leisure & Culture’s Museums staff, Museums Galleries Scotland and representatives of The Cameronians have worked together to gain funding of £50,000 from The Cameronians (Scottish Rifles) Regimental Trustees and £30,000 from Museums Galleries Scotland and this has resulted in a state of the art new £80,000 multi media gallery. 

The Cameronians (Scottish Rifles) fought many famous battles but the personal stories of individual soldiers and accounts of life off the battlefield are all set to feature in the newly refurbished Exhibition opening to the public on Thursday 5th April at Low Parks Museum.

In addition to increasing the number of outstanding objects on display at Low Parks Museum, hundreds of photographs and video footage will help to tell the Cameronians story and researchers can now have free unlimited access to collections and previously unseen archive material from a new digital research station. The new exhibition has something of interest for all including interactive displays and replica uniforms for both young and old alike to have fun trying on.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

The History Press - Exclusive Discount Offer

We've received notice of several books from The History Press in the past, and two in particular we've mentioned on this blog before.

The first is Scotland on the Frontline: A Photographic History of Scottish Forces 1939-45

Traditionally Scotland has made a contribution to Britain’s wars well out of proportion to her population and her military achievements are recognised throughout the world. During the Second World War 40,000 Scottish men and women lost their lives and many more were wounded, both physically and emotionally. They served in every Corps and Department in the British Army, and with the Royal Navy, the Royal Marines and the Royal Air Force.

Scotland on the Frontline provides an outline of Scotland’s war effort drawing on extensive photographic evidence from commercial, state and personal collections, looking beyond the experience of individual regiments to provide a wider picture of the experience of the Scottish soldier, sailor and airman in the struggles against Germany, Japan and Italy. 

This book will provide any teacher or student of military history an insight into what it was really like at the Front.

We'll shortly be publishing a review of this book, but on first impressions it looks very interesting.

The second book is Steel and Tartan: The 4th Cameron Highlanders in the Great War

During the First World War, The Cameron Highlanders was expanded to thirteen battalions, of which nine were in battle. The 1st, 2nd, 4th (TF), 5th, 6th, 7th, 9th and 11th Battalions all fought on the Western Front. Ten representative  battle honours were chosen to be displayed on the King's colour, amongst them Neuve Chapelle and Loos, where the 4th Battalion suffered terrible losses. Note the (TF) after their designation – these were territorials, not professional soldiers, yet they did nothing to undermine the honour and the fearsome reputation of the Highland divisions.

Using unpublished diaries, letters and memoirs together with original photographs and newspaper accounts, this book focuses on the stories of the men of the 4th Camerons who went so eagerly to war in August 1914. It charts the progress of these ‘Saturday night soldiers’ through their training in Bedford with the Highland Division to their participation through all the major battles of 1915 and their disbandment in February 1916. What makes this book unique is the close focus on a single battalion, something that makes the narrative so much more immediate than sweeping strategic descriptions at army or even divisional level.

We hope to feature a review of this book soon.

In the meantime, we've arranged with The History Press that readers of this blog can order both these books for a combined price of £25 delivered (free postage and packing).

Simply visit the History Press website and use the discount code HPScot12  

But hurry, this code is only valid until 1st July. Please also note that this offer applies to UK orders only.