Jump to content
The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

Black Watch Corner - Near Polygon Wood


Tom A McCluskey
 Share

Recommended Posts

Hi All,

Does anyone have a photograph, or a more detailed description, of the position known as Black Watch Corner, please? Especially circa: 1914/1915.

Below is a brief description of the fighting in this area, From Wauchope (History of The Black Watch in the Great War Vol I, pages 22-23). It also describes, very briefly, this strong point:

11 November 1914 - Ypres Sector, South West Corner of Polygon Wood:

Between 6.30 and 9 a.m. on the 11th of November, the heaviest bombardment so far experienced by the British forces broke out; as it ended, a Division of the Prussian Guard, with orders from their Emperor to break the line at all costs, attacked the front of the 1st and 2nd Divisions. Under the cover of the bombardment, a strong force drove back D Company and the two platoons of A Company entrenched at the south-west corner of Polygon Wood, and broke through the line. Second Lieutenant M McNeill, commanding this portion of A Company, was last seen on the parapet of his trench, revolver in hand, fighting right gallantly to the end with all his men.

The supporting point of C Company, under Lieutenant F Anderson, held out firmly, and split the attack into small parties of twenty or thirty men, many of whom were soon lost in the woods behind. It is interesting to note that Lieutenant Anderson's post was the first instance in the war of the "strong point," or wired-in locality, which later became a salient feature of defensive warfare. This particular post was sited and constructed by a great friend of the regiment, Major C. Russell-Brown, R.E., commanding the 23rd Field Company.

B Company and the two platoons of A Company, under Lieutenant Sprot, who were in reserve in the paddocks of Verbeek farm, were overwhelmed by the first onrush of the enemy; Lieutenant Sprot and most of his men were killed. A few men, amongst whom were Privates Jackson and Gardner, were taken prisoner; but when their captors took cover from a chance shell, they slipped away and escaped into the Nonne Boschen Wood.

Verbeek Farm, the joint Headquarters of The Black Watch and the Cameron Highlanders, was temporarily occupied by the enemy; the actual Headquarters dug-out, a primitive brushwood lean-to against the farmhouse was, however, kept safe by the spirited defence of the two commanding officers, Lieutenant Colonels C E Stewart and D McEwan, and of Sergeant D Redpath, The Black Watch signalling sergeant. Lieutenant Colonel Stewart was wounded in the head at point-blank range by a German who was, in his turn, despatched by Sergeant Redpath.

Lieutenant Rowan Hamilton and Captain Brodie of the Camerons, the two adjutants, had previously, when the attack commenced, gone to 1st Brigade Headquarters in Nonne Boschen Wood to report the situation. Lieutenant Rowan Hamilton, in returning to report to Colonel Stewart at Verbeek Farm, was wounded.

Meanwhile, Nonne Boschen Wood, in which the 1st Brigade Headquarters was situated, was held by 1st Brigade Signal Section, The Black Watch party that had been with the North Lancashire Regiment for the past three days and had reported at 1st Brigade Headquarters during the preliminary bombardment, and a few men who had got away from the the front line. Several small parties of the enemy had broken past Lieutenant Anderson's Post and Verbreek Farm and had attempted to enter the wood or passed along its eastern edge, but they were successfully dealt with. During this fighting Captain Brodie of the Cameron Highlanders and Lieutenant Lawson were killed. Lieutenant Lawson had recently been granted a commission having come out to France with the Battalion as Regimental Quartermaster Sergeant - a most gallant officer, who fell fighting, having served the Regiment loyally for nineteen years.

About 3.30 p.m. three companies of the 1st Northamptonshire Regiment, assisted by a party of The Black Watch and Camerons, advanced from Nonne Boschen Wood and regained the line Veerbeek farm-Lieutenant Anderson's Post, south-west corner of Polygon Wood, this corner being known on all later maps as "Black Watch Corner." Lieutenant Anderson was most severely wounded and his garrison suffered many losses; but they had accounted for a large number of the enemy - Lieutenant Anderson having himself shot several - and had broken up the main German attack in this area.

The net result of the German effort was to drive back the British line about five hundred yards on a front of a mile. Only one officer, Captain V M Fortune, remained unwounded at the end of the day. The casualties were: killed, Lieutenant Lawson and 18 other ranks; missing (nearly all ascertained to have been killed), Lieutenants Sprot and McNeil and 49 other ranks; wounded, Lieutenant Colonel Stewart, Captains West and Rowan-Hamilton, Lieutenant Anderson and 52 other ranks.

Any photos of this position, about this period, or other descriptions would be most appreciated.

In advance, many thanks.

Aye

Tom McC

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Dugout,

Many thanks for the link, there was some useful bits on there especially Paddy's post number 9, with the large trench map (Indien bruikbaar: Trench map, Polygoon Wood, 09/09/1917).

I noticed this bit about Black Watch Corner, on the 11th of November 1914 in: Military Operations France and Belgium Volume 2, page 426:

The line immediately north of the Menin road formed a re-entrant, first breaking back, then running parallel to the front and then forward again in two steps, which served to flank it. It was also partly flanked by Polygon Wood, but the depression in which the Reutelbeek runs was dead ground from that direction. In addition to a few isolated support trenches behind the front of the 1st Brigade, there were five so-called strong points, closed works with a few strands of barbed wire round them. These comprised a formal redoubt, built by the French 32nd Regiment some days before, on the edge of the Veldhoek woods north of the chateau; one near the chateau itself, another east of the chateau near the edge of the wood; one at Northampton Farm (the next farm east of Fitz-Clarences Farm; and the fifth in the gardens of a cottage about three hundred yards south-west of the south-western corner of Polygon Wood, henceforward known as "Black Watch Corner". All the brigade and battalion headquarters were also prepared for defence.*

* These strongpoints according to a senior staff officer (not an engineer) who rode all over the field during the fighting, "were the saving of the day. The attackers blundered on them after they had broken through our line, and were taken in enfilade and broken up and driven into the woods and hollows for shelter. They were a lesson in defensive tactics for all time". Domprediger Baumann, Chaplain of the 4th Guard Division (see his "Mit der Garde im Westen") says "there were heavy losses especially in the battalions and companies who charged unhindered through woods and houses and then got fire from all sides".

Aye

Tom McC

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hi All,

As an orientation to the ground, here is a contemporary map of the area (taken from the Belgian 1:20,000, Nationaal Geografisch Instituut, Zonnebeke - Moorslede 28, sheets 3-4)

You can see a re-entrant running south of Polygon Wood, through junction K17, slightly north-west towards Nonnebossen. Each grid square = 1 kilometre (1000 metres). 300 yards = 274.3 metres. On the north side of this re-entrant, '300 yards' south-west, of the south-west corner of the wood, should be the location of the position: Black Watch Corner.

Hope this is of interest.

Aye

Tom McC

post-10175-1232217120.jpg

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 2 weeks later...

Tom,

A decent marker is needed. I'll raise it an "Old and Bold" meeting. It is good to see Captain Victor Fortune mentioned, an officer of outstanding character and much respected by the Regiment.

Tom

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Tom,

It looks like the strongpoint would be located in the grounds of the farmhouse directly south west of the ride running through the centre of the 'kite-like' wood. Running almost due south of this would be the remainder of the redoubts

On some of the later trench maps, it looks like this area has become a network of mutually supporting trenches very similar to a German redoubt.

Aye

Tom McC

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 5 weeks later...
Tom,

A decent marker is needed. I'll raise it an "Old and Bold" meeting.

A worthy aim Tom; I hope something comes of it.

I'll bet by the time Victor Fortune stood on the quayside with that other Great War veteran Erwin Rommel, in 1940, he'd had more than enough of campaigning in France! As you say, a gallant and much respected officer who was handed a poisoned chalice in 1940. The character of the man is revealed by the fact that after suffering a stroke whilst in German captivity, he was offered the chance of being repatriated home. He refused, saying "I brought the men out, I'll come back with them."

Fortune.jpg

Best,

George

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 9 years later...

I am interested in the events that transpired on and around Verbeck Farm. As the farm owner may be a relative, it would be interested to know more about him and if he survived the war. Are there any stories around him or the farm itself?

 

Thank you.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
 Share

×
×
  • Create New...