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Derek Robertson

8th Bn. Seaforths on 23/4/17

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Derek Robertson

Guemappe Cemetery contains over 200 graves relating to the 8th Battalion Seaforth Highlanders.

Does anyone know a source of information for what happened to this battalion on the 23rd April, 1917?

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brownag

You could try a 15th Division history. The Battalion suffered over 300 casualties in the attack on Guemappe on that day but I'm afraid I don't know any other details.

Cheers

Adam

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Derek Robertson

Thanks Adam

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9th Black Watch

Hi Derek,

The following is taken from the 9th Black Watch War Diary. It should provide you with a little more information on the fate of the 8th Seaforths.

PRO WO 95/1937 – War Diary, 9th (Service) Battalion, The Black Watch.

MARLIERE, 23 April 1917, 3.30 a.m.

Battalion started at 2.30 a.m. to move into jumping off trenches and Headquarters moved forward to MARLIERE. All were in position by 4.30 a.m. Zero hour was 4.45 a.m.

MARLIERE, 23 April 1917, 4.45 a.m.

The Battalion was to attack the Right Front, moving off however in spport only, until 8th SEAFORTHS should take GUEMAPPE. The 7th Camerons were on Left and 8/10th Gordons in reserve. The attack was held up soon after the start by Machine Gun fire from both flanks, and as the advance of the Brigade up the River Cojeul was entirely dependent on our flanks being secure, whenever 50th Division on Right or 45th Infantry Brigade on Left ceased to make progress, so did 44th Infantry Brigade do likewise.

The Seaforths were unable to get through GUEMAPPE or even into it until about 11.00 a.m. when the Machine Gun which had been causing the trouble was knocked out by the Stokes, an advance of about 500 yards was then made when the Machine Gun trouble again developed, and the attackers were compelled to evacuate GUEMAPPE. A mixed party of about 70, chiefly Black Watch under CAPT. MORRISON however remained in their trenches [Hammer Trench and Dragoon Lane] to North of village, and though their flanks were quite open, they managed to maintain themselves there for 4 hours, until ordered to withdraw to O. G. 1 and straighten the line. The shelling was heavy on these particular trenches, as our own artillery not knowing the whole line had not returned to O. G. 1 put a barrage upon them. During the next 4 hours the situation remained much the same save for the shelling which was intense. At 6.00 p.m. a second attack was organised by CAPT. MORRISON with all the troops he could muster in the immediate vicinity, viz some 70 men of 3 battalions, Black watch, Seaforths and Camerons. The leader and organisr was killed in the first few yards but the attack succeeded in in recovering all ground lost and a little more besides. The 46 Infantry Brigade came through and got within 300 yards of first objective, which they could ave easily reached had the barrage not [re...] according to original orders.

N. 15 a, 24 April 1917, 2.30 a.m.

The 9th Black Watch consolidated and about midnight were withdrawn to [bivouac] at N – 15 a, where they arrived about 2.30 a.m. The officers killed were 4, CAPT. L. G. MORRISON, LIEUT. O. L. BEARN, 2nd Lieuts. A. F. WATSON and J. WILSON. 1 died of wounds 2nd Lieut W. ANDERSON, six wounded Second Lieutenants C. K. YOUNG, J. N. HUMBLE, J. B. THIRD, G. C. LESLIE, R. A. M. HASTINGS, J. L. BURTON (at duty). O.R. – killed 5, wounded 155, missing 12.

In his ‘History of the Black Watch in the Great War’, A. G. Wauchope observed that Guemappe ‘was an ackward position, overlooked from the high ground south of the Cojeul, and it appeared very unlikely that, even if the village was captured, it could be held until the high ground round Wancourt Tower had been taken by the 50th Division. This proved correct’. For a fortnight before the attack the Germans had heavily fortified the front line with men and machine guns. On the 23 April the position was held by the 3rd Bavarian Division. This almost certainly explains the heavy casualties suffered by the 8th Seaforths.

He also mentioned that the initial advance of Captain Leonard Graeme Morrison’s party was greatly assisted by the gallant conduct of No. 240046 Sergeant J. Gibb, 9th Black Watch, who ‘single handed, worked his way round the end of the trench and destroyed an enemy machine gun and its crew who were holding up the advance’. A. G. Wauchope, A History of the Black Watch in the Great War, Vol. III, 149. For his bravery Sgt. Gibb was awarded the Military Medal – an award that takes pride of place in my collection.

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Derek Robertson

That's tremendous, thanks Derek

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Adam Harland

It is clear from the 15th div history that 23/4/17 was not a great day for the division. The Seaforths had been given Guemappe to capture, but due to mistakes at 'jumping off', direction was lost and the attack heavily machine gunned. There were also a series of german counter attacks in the afternoon that did little to stabilise the situation. The deployment of the divisional reserve to attack in the late afternoon also ran into difficulties ( and their own barrage) causing heavy casualties. In the end the 'Jocks' stuck it out, but it wasn't pretty.

The history even quotes a Gordon diary that a company of a battalion from the London Division numbered more than the remains of the Gordon battalion ' It was not an enormously successful battle, considering that we lost nearly half the division: our own battalion came out with only about 98 men and 5 officers' p141.

On 9th april 15th Div was 433 officers and 11,499 ORs. In April the casualties were 293 Officers and 6313 ORs..with approx 2,700 in the first phase at Arras, and 3,000 (inc 144 officers) in the attack on Guemappe.

Hence all the Seaforths in the cemetery.

Adam ( another one)

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Derek Robertson

Thanks Adam (the other one!)

I'm off to Guemappe Cemetery in early April. We're a piper with us and he's going to play "Sergeant MacKenzies Lament" in honour of the fallen there.

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PhilB

Just a few more figures from my notes on 2/Lt J.H.Ross 8SH, KIA 23/4/17. 2nd Battle of the Scarpe, Assault on Guemappe. Heavy losses due to enfilade machine guns from high ground south of Cojeul. Bn losses, 21-28 Apr were officers 5K, 9w, men 85k, 203w, 16 missing. 318 total. I counted 86 of 8SH killed on the day and buried in Guemappe British Cemetery. Phil B

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Derek Robertson

Phil,

Yes, my initial info was wrong on the number of Seaforths interred at Guemappe.

Thanks for the correction, I went to the CWGC website tonight and got a list of the graves there.

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