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The Personal Account of 9652 Sgt James Honeyman of the 2nd Black Watch in 1914


Derek Black

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James Campbell Honeyman, from Leven in Fife, enlisted into the Black Watch on the 11th of November, 1903 at the age of 18. By the time the war broke out he was a Sergeant and stationed in India with the 2nd battalion.

He lost his life on the 8th of October 1915, leaving behind his wife Catherine Ann and their three children who were living in Glasgow. Tragically Catherine Ann was to die the next year, her brother John McDonald and wife Kate took in her orphaned children.

 

Sunday Post 29th November 1914

 

My Adventures in the Firing Line

 

Big Surprise for Men on Indian Transports

 

Says Highlander in Remarkable Diary of the War

 

“It was a wonderful sight to see those Indian transports on the ocean – 52 in all, including the naval escort – and likewise a remarkable manifestation of Britain's command of the sea.”

 

So writes Pioneer-Sergeant J.C. Honeyman, of the 2nd Black Watch, one of the wounded soldiers in Dundee Eastern Hospital. Sergeant Honeyman is a native of Leven, and for eight years had been with his regiment in India ere going to the front.

 

His diary of the war, written in the trenches, with shells and bombs bursting all around, is a document of considerable interest, and the following extracts which we have been permitted to make form a thrilling narrative of recent fighting, and furnish many interesting sidelights on matters which do not readily come to the ears of the public.

 

Sergeant Honeyman's voyage from India lasted twenty-six days. The men on two of the transports, he writes, got a big surprise, for when they were several days out these ships left the others to proceed apparently to German East Africa. Of course no on knew where we were going except some of the head ones.

 

The voyage to Marseilles was a fairly pleasant one. While in this beautiful French city one of our men died in hospital, so my company had to parade to the funeral. The French women came up to the graveside and placed about twenty wreaths theron. The service was a very solemn one, and the French women wept as they heard the pipers play “”Lochaber No More”.

 

Within Sound of the Guns

 

When we first came within sound of the guns we were at a village called Robeck, billeted in a school. We could hear the cannonading going on around Lille, and we saw lots of aeroplanes flying about. There is a scarcity of people about here; everybody seems to have shifted down the country.

 

About eleven o'clock in the night of the 28th October we received orders that we were to move off the next morning early. At about 5.30 am we moved off from Robeck, and marched along the canal to Bethune, and then from Bethune to Gorre, where a big battle was raging. The shells were bursting over our heads. I never heard the like before.

 

In the evening we moved off to the trenches, a distance of three miles. Everyone was excited at the idea of getting to the trenches. We were to relieve the West Ridings, who had been in the trenches for fifteen days, and wanted a rest badly. We had to wait until it was dark, for we had some open ground to go over, and to make things worse the ran was coming down very heavily.

 

As soon as we got into the village the Germans seemed to know that we were sending more troops to the trenches, for they started to fire on u, and our troops, who were covering our advance, and our artillery were firing for all they were worth. We managed to get into the trenches about 11 pm, and we found we had only three men wounded. It was bad luck for them, for they had never fired a shot nor even seen a German before they were carried off the field.

 

While the battle was raging our troops took things quite easily. You would think it was a sham fight to see them.

 

In the Wake of the Vandals

 

The headquarters of the signallers and pioneers is a village called Le Pont de Pier, just 700 yards behind the firing line, and I may say we are being shelled. The houses are all in ruins. We are staying in a shop. There are big gardens here with all kinds of vegetables growing, and we are taking them to make our dinner. When the inhabitants come back to their village after the war they will weep when they see their homes ruined and all their belongings destroyed. The Germans had this village destroyed when they took it, but our troops have driven them back, and we are occupying the houses and shops that are left.

 

My pioneers have a very dangerous job to do here. We have to carry the ammunition to the firing line whenever it gets dark, but the moon is shining now, and last night we had a terrible time, the enemy opening a tremendous fire upon us. One may be walking on the road here when he may get shot down, for the Germans have sharp-shooters up all the trees.

 

The Ghurkas lost heavily to-day. The enemy got through the French lines, and the Ghurkas and the Sikhs rushed at them with their knives and cut them down, preventing the French trenches being taken, but they lost nearly 200 men. It was pitiful to see them running about with their knives in their hands wanting to get at the enemy.

 

The Chief War Lord at the Front

 

The Kaiser is coming out to-day (2d Nov.) to encourage his army, so we shall see what improvements he will make. The Germans seem to be retiring a bit, but we can't tell whether they have many casualties or not, and we still hold our own trenches.

 

The German guns are doing little or no damage. We are still bust entrenching around this village. The snipers are a bit of a nuisance. They are all around the place, and it is difficult to locate them. They tie themselves up in trees for fear of falling when they go to sleep, but where they get their supplies from we cannot find out.

 

We were sent along to reinforce the 58th Rifles, and arrived at a village called Festubert. It was a shameful sight. Every house was in ruins, a bug church had been burned down, and the goods from all kinds of shops were scattered all over the place. Our companies moved off to the trenches, where a big battle was raging, but the Pioneers were left behind with the reserve ammunition and rations.

 

Our troops have been some six days in the trenches, and never have had much of a rest. The enemy are throwing grenades, a very dangerous bomb, and our lads had no chance with them. They burst in the trenches and cause some damage, but I believe we are getting the same kind of bombs sent to us, so we can play the Germans at their own game.

 

A Gallant Charge

 

This is an awful time to be so long in the trenches, unable to get out and have a stand up fight. The Leicesters have captured three machine guns to-day. Captain Forrester left here at midnight with 20 men to charge a small advanced trench of the Germans. They crawled on their stomachs to within five yards of the Germans' trench and made a charge. Captain Forrester was shot straight away, but his wound is not too bad, and he will be back in two months' time. The sergeant also got a slight wound, but the remainder of the bayonet charge, and they lost nearly 20 men in the rush to get out.

 

On the morning of 10th November I was sent out to make a small hut for our C.O. And adjutant, as we were to retire from the front trenches, which were nothing but a death-trap for our troops, for the German bombs come right into the trenches, and sometimes do a lot of damage.

 

Our adjutant was wounded to-night by jumping into a trench on to the top of a bayonet, but it was a clean wound. This is a very unfortunate, as he is the fourth captain we have lost by wounds, and they are not likely to join again for a month or two.

 

When I completed my work on the hut I returned to the village of Festubert, where with other Pioneers I arranged to sen..... , out to the troops. This work was being carried out about 4 pm in the afternoon (11th November), when I looked up the street and saw two of my pioneers being led down covered with blood.

 

Havoc Wrought by Shells

 

They had been filling water cans at the well when a shell came over and burst right above them, I ran up the street to assist one of them, and led him into the house where we could get him dressed. I handed him over to the doctor who happened to be there at the time, and I walked out again to continue the filling of the bottles. I heard a horrible noise just behind me, and then I felt a terrible pain in my right leg.

 

I looked round, and what met my eyes was awful to describe. Eight or nine men were lying all over the place, but my own leg was paining me so much that I could hardly tell what was happening. I hopped into the house again and emerged from it on a stretcher. Of our staff one man was killed and six wounded with that same shell.

 

Sergeant Honeyman from the base hospitals was sent to Boulogne, where he chafed exceedingly at the thought that he was so near Scotland, and yet could not cross the water like the other wounded lads who were leaving every other day. “I never felt so home-sick in all my eight years in India.” he confesses. “I suppose it was because I was so far away and I knew that I could not get home easily.” But everything comes to him who waits, and it was joyful day in the gallant sergeant's experience when he went aboard the hospital ship bound for “the old countree.”

Edited by Derek Black

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