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The Personal Diary of 9755 L/Cpl William Trueland of the 1st Black Watch in 1914


Derek Black

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William Trueland was Born in Edinburgh in 1885 and joined the Black Watch about the 24th of January, 1904. He was recalled as a reservist on the outbreak of war and went out in the first reinforcement draft to France in late August, 1914.
After receiving a head wound from shrapnel, he underwent an operation at Edinburgh Castle Military hospital in mid December, 1914. Probably due to this injury he was transferred to the 1st Garrison battalion of the HLI in January, 1916, then later the 1st Garrison battalion of the Royal Scots Fusiliers.
When discharged in July, 1919 he was a Sgt. and returned to his wife in Bo'ness. He died in 1961 aged 76 in Dundee.

All place name spellings have been left as written.


11th December 1914 Linlithgowshire Gazette

BO'NESS LANCE CORPORAL

AS SCOUT.

How he “bagged” a German

Narrow Escape at Ypres.

Extract from a Soldiers Diary.

 

Lance-Corporal William Trueland, a reservist in the Black Watch, who was wounded at Ypres on 10th November, returned to his home at Miller Pit, Bo'Ness, on Tuesday morning on ten days' furlough. Trueland participated in some very heavy fighting, beginning with the memorable rearguard action at Mons, and finishing with the gallant stand of the British troops on the road to Calais. He was wounded in the trenches, receiving no fewer than eight distinct injuries to the head and one to the left side, as a result of the German heavy automatic gun fire. After treatment at the base hospital at Boulogne, he crossed the Channel to Southampton, thence by ambulance train to the military hospital at Camberwell. He is now under the care of Dr Shafto, and we are pleased to say is making an excellent recovery.

 

The Lance-Corporal belongs to Edinburgh. He enlisted at Dundee, and spent three years with his regiment in India. Trueland is a fine type of the British soldier – fearless, intelligent, and indomitable. During his residence latterly in Bo'Ness he acted as one of the scoutmasters to St Catherine's Troop of Boy Scouts. This splendid organisation, he says, taught him how to use his eyes, hence that it is in his three months' campaign in Belgium and France he was selected by his superior officers for the hazardous duty of scouting. In the course of these duties he had many thrilling experiences, which he recounted with great enthusiasm to our representative, who called upon him on the day of his arrival.

 

A WARRIOR'S TROPHY

 

Clad in Khaki, and with his head swathed in bandages, the wounded warrior rested by the fireside, and appeared in the best of health and spirits. On our representative entering his cosy kitchen, he proudly pointed to his trophies of war, consisting of powerful field-glasses in case, and bearing the name of the makers in Berlin; also to a scout belt belonging to a German soldier, on the buckle of such appears the German crown, surmounted on the motto, “Gott Mit Uns” (God with us). The Lance-corporal possesses other interesting souvenirs.

 

THE MEMORABLE RETREAT FROM

MONS

 

Quoting from a diary which the lance-corporal kept during the campaign, he said:-”We landed in France on 14th August with a force of between eleven and twelve hundred men. Under Colonel Grant, D.S.O.”, who the lance-corporal incidentally remarked, was killed at Aisne while leading the battalion. “General Haig was our divisional commander, and we supported the French on the right flank, under the supreme command of Major-General Maxse. By forced night marches we got to within seven miles on Mons at three o'clock on Sunday morning, the 16th August. The country was thickly wooded, and the next thing we did was to go out and dig trenches. The Germans had their batteries concealed in the woods, but our division did not see much of the enemy, although we heard the infernal 'symphony' of the German artillery. We were off the dangerous route. We left the trenches at eight o'clock the next morning, and retired about a mile or so past Grandang, where we took ground on the face of a hill commanding the German defence. It was a lovely little village, with a church, one half of which stood in Belgium and the other half in France. We left that part at two o'clock in the afternoon, marched about 14 miles, and billeted in a farm house for the night. The following day we started out at 5.15, and marched to Dompierre. Under a hot sun these marches were very trying. There was nothing for it, however, but retirement in order to meet our reinforcements coming from Grandrang. So far, our company had no serious fighting. The Germans came on xxxxxxxx, but never showed much stamina in their fighting. On 26h August we retired over seven miles from Dompierre and took up a position where we held the enemy in check. It was in a small village known as Boue that matters got hot. Here the Munsters got cut up badly, losing 850 men. We billeted two miles from Boue at four o'clock in the morning, and awoke to the sound of gun and rifle fire. While at dinner we got the order to retire again, this time to Oisey. Here I was sent out scouting on the left flank, and reported finding two riderless horses. The officer attached no importance to the discovery, and we had just closed in on the right when the German artillery opened fire upon us. We lay down, and replied, so as to allow our batteries to find the range, and soon they silenced the enemy's guns. That was on the 27th August, and we lost only one man killed and four wounded. By this time the German hordes must have been pretty well tired out, and we got our first days rest on the 29th. Very early on the Sunday morning we marched through Soissons, where our engineers blew up the bridge crossing the Aisne, to check the enemy's advance. Still we trudged the bitter road to Paris, halting on the way at Manx, Jourre, Collanera, and fighting a rearguard action the whole way. Still, our brigade, so far, had suffered few losses. We rested the most of the day at Collaniens, where we dug trenches on a ridge overlooking that town. I was sent out to do some scouting, and I saw a patrol of Uhlans. An officer was sent out with “A” Company, who were guarding the road, and they succeeded in capturing the Germans. Our final piece of retirement was at Nesles, “Thus far, but no further,” was the British cry, Germany had over-reached herself, and she had now to be chased back across the Marne and the Aisne.

 

THE TURN OF THE TIDE – BATTLE OF

THE RIVERS

 

“In our advance we acted as reserve to the Coldstream Guards. On Sunday 5th September, we had just got seated to dinner when the Germans opened fire upon us, and we had to run with our food in the one hand and our rifle in the other. The following day we left camp at 6am and marched eight miles, when we came upon the enemy entrenched. The enemy's artillery opened fire at a distance of 8,000 yards, but their guns were soon silenced. We advanced to take a hill on the right near the banks of the Marne. We cleared the enemy out at the point of the bayonet, and took 39 prisoners. Truly the tide had turned, and the battle of the Marne had commenced. About the river banks the battle raged with great ferocity. There was heavy artillery and infantry fire on our left, and we swung round to make an attack on the enemy's flank, but they did not give us a chance, as they cleared out. We continued our flank movement, but not until the 11th did two of our divisions get into close quarters with the enemy, and after some hard fighting we put them to flight. They lost 600 killed, and there were 2,000 prisoners captured, one battery field artillery and one battery machine guns. Our regiment suffered no loss.

 

GERMAN OFFICERS “ON THE SPREE”

 

“We marched 18 miles the next day, to find that the enemy had given us the slip and fled. At Paissy we had to fight for possession of the village, which we eventually took. At this stage we were informed that forty German officers had been captured in a hotel under the influence of drink. The Marne had been crossed and we were now working up to the Aisne, the entire British line going forward.

 

BLACK WATCH IN A TIGHT CORNER

 

“On the 13th September we reached the valley of Vendresse. We advanced in a heavy mist to take a German position. My company and a company of the Camerons advanced to the left to seize and hold a ridge. The enemy offered a stubborn resistance, and subjected us to four and a half hours' rapid fire. Then we ran short of ammunition, which could not be brought up, as the valley was being swept with both rifle and shell fire. We were compelled to retire, and lost heavily. Three fellows were left wounded on the field, and I was asked to bring them in. Fortunately two of them were able to walk, but the third, who had been shot in the hip, had to be carried. He was a Dundee chap named Houston, and I handed him over to the doctor. For this service I received the thanks of Lieut. Macrae. I don't know how I got safely back, as bullets were whizzing all around me. Indeed the surprise was that any of the two companies of about 400 men each got clear that day, as we were left with nothing but the bayonet with which to defend ourselves. It was the artillery that saved us eventually, and the ignorance of the Germans of our precarious position was also in our favour.

 

GERMANS FIRE ON THEIR OWN

ENGINEERS

 

“In passing through a wood at Vendresse we came upon a party of 60 German prisoners under armed escort. They were engineers who had been captured while digging trenches. The German artillery opened fire. The escort sought shelter, and what astonished me was that instead of making a dash for liberty these prisoners followed the escort as fast as they could run. We had a hearty laugh at their conduct.

 

OFFICER SHOT THOUGH THE EYE

 

“We took up outpost duty during the night, and C Company, which were on our left, engaged the enemy at a distance of 500 yards. One of the officers was hit, and retired, and the other officer sent down to our company for reinforcements. In response, the 14th and 15th platoons, under Lieutenant Polson, advanced to the firing line. Unfortunately, the lieutenant was killed in action. He gave the order to retire when he was hit in the leg. It was when bending to bind up his wound that he was shot through the eye. He was a popular and brave officer, and had been recommended some time before his death for the French medal of merit for gallantry.

 

A BRAVE ACTION

 

”The day before this tragic event we had Captain Amery and Lieutenant Anstruther, Balcaskie, wounded. I was in the 14th platoon, which consists of 50 men, and after the engagement we returned to our trenches. In scanning the field in front of us I noticed a man moving, and informed the officer in command. There and then I volunteered to go with a comrade and bring the man in. Soon after setting out we were compelled to retire owing to the heavy artillery and shell fire. We made another effort, and succeeded in bringing in the wounded man, and the body of Lieutenant Polson as well. For that action I was heartily commended by Lieutenant R.C. Anderson and Lieutenant Macrae.

 

WAIST DEEP IN THE TRENCHES

 

“From the 15th to the 19th September we had remained entrenched, subjected all the time to heavy gunfire. On the latter date we were relieved and marched back to billet. Two days later we took over trenches from the H.L.I at a place, which we christened “Shrapnel Hill,” that was to the left of our original position. After remaining there for four days we were relieved by the Cameron Highlanders. We sought rest, but the Germans kept peppering away at our resting quarters, with the result that we had to entrench ourselves again. Towards the end of September the weather got very bad, and we were standing up to the waist in water in the trenches. The enemy meantime were dug in about 400 yards over the ridge. I saw them, and could hear them talk. For seventeen days at a stretch we were in the trenches, and slept when we got a chance, and these chances were rare. The enemy attacked frequently, but were repulsed every time. Our battalion advanced on 14th October, and we lost our commanding officer, Colonel Duff Grant, who was a splendid leader. All our officers were indeed magnificent, showing not the least sign of fear.

 

TRANSFERRED TO YPRES

 

“It was on the 14th October that we got served out with a blanket each for use in the trenches, as the weather was now extremely cold. On the 17th we were relieved by the French, and ordered to Fismes. We had seen the last of the battle of the Aisne, and the siege was still going on at that part when we entrained to Ypres, in order to assist in holding the road to Calais. We spent a night and a day in the train, and had to take a roundabout road to keep clear of the German lines. As the crow flies, the distance between Fismes and Ypres is about 100 miles. We were there told off as reserve to the Coldstreams and Camerons, who were being pushed back and required reinforcement.

 

ENCOUNTER WITH A GERMAN

 

“At Ypres we advanced about two miles at daybreak, and entrenched in a beet-field. Lieut. Bowes-Lyon instructed me to endeavour to locate the machine gun which was enfilading our ranks on the left. After some daring scouting, I located the gun, and was returning to the trenches when I found myself cut off by a German. It was him or me for it, and I managed to get in the first shot, and settled his account. I was surprised to find the German had been equipped with a pair of powerful field-glasses, of which I relieved him. I also took away his papers and identification disc, which I duly handed over to my officer. The latter told me to keep the field-glasses, which he said would prove useful to me as a scout. They were just what I needed.

 

BLACK WATCH'S HEAVY LOSSES

 

The next day the Germans advanced on our left front. I reported this to the officer, who went out to see for himself. In doing so, he exposed himself too much, and was mortally wounded. The command was now taken over by Lieutenants Graham and McNaughten, the latter of whom was eventually taken prisoner. Later on we returned to a village five miles from Ypres. One of our companies dug trenches, but were severely shelled during the whole of the following day, and the losses were considerable. In the evening we were relieved by the 4th Guards Brigade. The opening days of November were very trying for us, as our lines were now very weak. By way of recognition of my services, I was on 3rd November promoted lance-corporal.

 

LANCE-CORPORAL WOUNDED

 

“On 10th November my chum, Sergeant Lawson, was killed outright by the bursting of a shell. We were then at the left front, about five miles in advance of Ypres. The Germans were entrenched about 150 yards off, and the section of which I was in charge got orders to fire a volley, which we did several times. The Germans replied by heavy automatic gun fire, which created great havoc in our trenches. It was at this time I was wounded, and the wonder is I was not killed.

 

Summing up the lance-corporal said his most trying experiences were his terrible night march from Mons, his 4 ½ hours engagement on the Aisne, and the fierce fighting around Ypres in open country, and in cold, wet weather. The strain was dreadful, and it was beginning to tell on him. It was impossible to see a dozen yards in front owing to the mist, and one had to depend a great deal on one's hearing, which made the strain all the more severe. The food was pretty good. To begin with, there was a lack of matches, and the want of a smoke was harder to bear than anything. They were allowed to smoke during the day only. The want of water was felt in the trenches for a time, and a bottle of water had to serve a man three days. This was due to the Germans destroying the water mains at Vendresse with a “coal box”.

 

The lance-corporal has to report himself at headquarters in a week's time, but it is feared he will not be fit for some time yet.

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