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Dispatch/Despatch riders in France 1914- 1918


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My grandfather Donald MacLaren served as a Despatch Rider during The Great War and I would welcome any information about this group of men.  I am currently researching the 1914-1918 War as I am writing a novel in which one of the characters was a Despatch Rider and I want my writing and portrayal to be accurate.

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Some online books, copied from the FIBIS Fibiwiki page Western Front https://wiki.fibis.org/w/Western_Front

Captain WHL Watson was also the author of Tales of a Gaspipe Officer by Despatch Rider. ‘Military cyclists are popularly known as Gaspipe Cavalry’ Blackwood’s Magazine Nos 198, 199 and 201, December 1915-March 1916, and January 1917 Archive.org. Page 795page 76page 246page 360page 45.

Cheers

Maureen

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There are plenty of threads regarding despatch riders on this forum worth searching.

 

Scott

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  • 9 months later...

My brother and I published Two Wheels to War last year (Helion Press) which included the full text of WHL Watson's Adventures of a Despatch Rider (1915) as well as biographical details about the men mentioned in that book, together with photographs, letters and diaries written by 5th Signals Despatch riders which have not previously been published. There are appendices about all the 1914 despatch riders and their equipment and a detailed bibliography to get you started on further reading.

 

You don't describe when he served or where, and it would be helpful if you would share details about his service and about his background. We would be very pleased to hear more, and would be happy to help if we can fill in any more details

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  • 1 year later...

Hello,

 

My Great Uncle James Greig was in the 5th (Service Battalion) Queens Own Cameron Highlanders in World War One. According to the family history he hit a mine in the vicinity ofPeronne, France while in a dispatch rider position. He died of his wounds on 12 Jan 1918 and is buried in Fins NewBritish Cemetery in Sorel-le-Grand, Somme, France.

 

Assumptions: 

 

1. He was hit within four weeks of dying.

2. He was dispatch riding mainly back and forth between the Cameroons Bn HQ and 26th Bde HQ. 

 

I have been researching this since last year, inc reviewing the War Dairies of the Camerons and their superior formations (26th Brigade and 9th Scottish Division) and the nearest Casualty Clearing Station to Peronne. None of these have names of those wounded, just names of those killed while in the bn’s area.

 

This is a bit of a lost connection as my grandfather (his brother immigrated to Canada right as the war started, joined the Canadian Army, and went back to Europe. According to my Mother he never talked about his brother or the war. My son keeps the legacy as he is in the Cameron Highlanders of Ottawa, a Primary Reserve unit (TA equivalent).

 

I would appreciate any information on this area, or in general.

 

Thank you.  

 

Wayne Yeomans

20 Feb 20

 

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Hi Wayne,

 

The land mine story doesn't sound right. Anti-personnel mines were not in use. I suspect he was probably shelled.

 

Do his service records exist?

 

It would be worth making a separate post in the soldiers section of the forum for James Greig. It would attract more attention.

 

Scott

Edited by Waddell
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Hi 

I read this a while ago and it’s predominantly from his diary 

Despatch rider on the western front 1915-18

Diary of Sgt Albert Simpson MM

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Hi Wayne,

 

Welcome to the forum.

 

His Soldiers' Effects record (Ancestry link) shows that his mother was his sole legatee.

image.png.3837ec33847d3cfe9580131e836a5a32.png

Image sourced from Ancestry.co.uk

 

The associated 'will' is held by the National Library of Scotland.

image.png.79d99471582f7cac5378baa546ba0617.png

 

 

Findmypast (link) have a couple of pages from his service record. They should also be available on Ancestry.

 

If you would like one, it looks like the good folk at British War Graves (link) would be able to send you an image of his grave stone, on a free of charge basis.

 

On Ancestry his medal roll records are here. His medal index card shows:

image.png.a8ebf30dfd8b71b3f35b11540845a7c2.png

Image sourced from Ancestry

 

On 21/02/2020 at 03:10, Wayne Yeomans said:

Assumptions: 

 

1. He was hit within four weeks of dying.

 

Given that his Soldiers' Effects record (above) and his Soldiers Died record both show him as 'Killed in Action' rather than 'Died of Wounds', I don't think that there was a time lapse.

 

image.png.a6db4ed501efd7b991952739fe819708.png

Image sourced from Ancestry

 

He appears on a War Office Casualty List - here. As he appears under a heading of 'killed', rather than '...previously reported as...', that would tend to add weight to a case that he wasn't wounded, and subsequently died a few weeks later. NB - the date of the list is the date of the publication of the list, rather than the date of the actual event itself. It was very common for there to be a delay of several weeks between the date of the event, and the publication date.

 

Regards

Chris

Edited by clk
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On 21/02/2020 at 00:16, Waddell said:

Hi Wayne,

 

The land mine story doesn't sound right. Anti-personnel mines were not in use. I suspect he was probably shelled.

 

Do his service records exist?

 

It would be worth making a separate post in the soldiers section of the forum for James Greig. It would attract more attention.

 

Scott

Good afrernoon Scott,

 

Thank you for this, I was unaware that they were not used in the Great War. The mine theory came from a family history probably from the 1980s or 90s. The other aspect of it was that it stated the blast occurred “Peronum”, Belgium. However, there is no such place (I believe they meant “Peronne”, France, which was in the Camerons AO. 

Assumption then is that he was hit by artillery fire near the frontline and died of his wounds o 12 Jan 18, days or weeks later. I have downloaded the War Diaries of the 5th Ban (Service) Cameron Highlanders, their superior formation (26 Bde) and the closest Casualty Clearing Stations to Peronne, France

Camerons War Dairy: there is identification by name of soldiers killed (I looked at 01 Dec to the day he died, but his name was not there).

 

CCS 34: no names at all of the casualties they treated.

 

26th Bde War Dairy: I just downloaded this and still have to go through it; however, I do not think there will be any names of individual soldiers from one of their bns.

I have developed a good timeline of the bns’s positions from 01 Dev to mid-Jan, and overlayed it Goggle Earth and map in PowerPoint. As you suggested, I am going to pose the question to the wider group audience. The irony is that when I was in the Canadian Army, and stationed n Germany 1989-93 I was in that area a few times, inc our regiment doing Remembrance Day ceremony at Vimy Ridge one year, and probably drove by the cemetery where he lies.

 

Thanks again for the assistance.

 

Regards,

Wayne

22 Feb 20

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22 hours ago, clk said:

Hi Wayne,

 

Welcome to the forum.

 

His Soldiers' Effects record (Ancestry link) shows that his mother was his sole legatee.

image.png.3837ec33847d3cfe9580131e836a5a32.png

Image sourced from Ancestry.co.uk

 

The associated 'will' is held by the National Library of Scotland.

image.png.79d99471582f7cac5378baa546ba0617.png

 

 

Findmypast (link) have a couple of pages from his service record. They should also be available on Ancestry.

 

If you would like one, it looks like the good folk at British War Graves (link) would be able to send you an image of his grave stone, on a free of charge basis.

 

On Ancestry his medal roll records are here. His medal index card shows:

image.png.a8ebf30dfd8b71b3f35b11540845a7c2.png

Image sourced from Ancestry

 

 

Given that his Soldiers' Effects record (above) and his Soldiers Died record both show him as 'Killed in Action' rather than 'Died of Wounds', I don't think that there was a time lapse.

 

image.png.a6db4ed501efd7b991952739fe819708.png

Image sourced from Ancestry

 

He appears on a War Office Casualty List - here. As he appears under a heading of 'killed', rather than '...previously reported as...', that would tend to add weight to a case that he wasn't wounded, and subsequently died a few weeks later. NB - the date of the list is the date of the publication of the list, rather than the date of the actual event itself. It was very common for there to be a delay of several weeks between the date of the event, and the publication date.

 

Regards

Chris

Good afternoon Chris,

 

Thanks so much for this. I really appreciate it. I have always had an interest in the two world wars’ histories—mainly from the Canadian Army perceptive (inc the two regiments I served in).

 

Question: if he was killed, is there a reason that it is not noted in the War Dairy? There are other soldiers that were killed and identified by name.

However, what I have been discovering since last fall, and the assistance of people like you, has increased my interest and enabled a new depthless of knowledge. The Canadian government's Library & Archive Canada finished digitalizing the Canadian records from World War One, approx. 4-5 years ago, and is now doing the World War Two records. I was able to find the War Diary on the original Engr bn my Grandfather joined in Toronto, and then the one for the Pioneer Bn he got transferred to in 1917. Our CanadianWarMuseum also has a good archive research capability (and a vehicle gallery of armoured vehicles served on lol). 

I had a former colleague tell me late last year that the Concentration of Graves/Burial Return (COG-BR), located at the CWGC in Maidenhead could pinpoint where his remains were recovered, which—when cross-referenced with the War Diary—would identify and probably confirm everything. Do you have any opinion on this?

Unfortunately, the other two counter factors are the destruction of the majority of files during the Luftwaffe Blitz and my Mother’s first cousin in Falkirk who mistakenly threw a box of photos and papers out years ago.

 

I am going to convince my wife to let me go to France in Sep for a week, and do a detailed tour of the area, where, being older now, I can appreciate it more.

 

Regards

 

Wayne

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Quote

I had a former colleague tell me late last year that the Concentration of Graves/Burial Return (COG-BR), located at the CWGC in Maidenhead could pinpoint where his remains were recovered, which—when cross-referenced with the War Diary—would identify and probably confirm everything. Do you have any opinion on this?

 

His CWGC info shows his burial at Fins New BC. The GRRF form suggests that this is were he was ori.ginally buried and there has been no recovery from elsewhere. CWGC history for Fins New BC says the cemetery was used by field ambulances of the 9th (Scottish Division) until March 1918, specifically Plots I-IV. Grieg is buried in Plot III.

 

My take on this so far is that he died while with a field ambulance of the 9th Division, that would be 27th, 28th or South African field ambulances. Therefore he never made it to a CCS. One of those was probably running a Main or Advanced Dressing Station there for wounded.

 

CWGC shows 19 deaths of 5th Cameron Highlanders between 7/12/17 and 24/3/18 all buried at Fins New BC.

 

Diaries for the Field Ambulances are available but are unlikely to give any names.

 

The list of deaths for the 5th Cameron Highlanders in the diary could easily have mistakes and miss people out, if he was despatch riding at the time I'm not sure he would be 'on the strength' of the battalion anyway.

 

There are other diaries available EG

SIGNAL COMPANY

 

I can't say I'm that clued up on Despatch Riding, had assumed they were more or less all Royal Engineers and worked at Divisional level in which case the Division may send him to any unit of the Division with a despatch rather than rather than just working between battalion, 26th Brigade and Division.

TEW

 

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Wayne,

For 12/1/1918 I have established that 27 Field Ambulance of 9th Division were running a Main Dressing Station in Square V.18.c which is to the west of Sorel-le-Grand.

 

They were no doubt using the cemetery a few hundred metres to the north IE Fins New BC.

As expected they don't mention wounded.

 

More than likely this means he was wounded on the 12th Jan, evacuated to the MDS and then died there the same day.

 

I also checked the 9th Division Signals Coy. diary and it has nothing of relevance.

 

The 5th Cameron's diary is quite sparse for details of wounded etc. Only infrequent mentions of 'two men wounded' etc which can't be the full picture. I see no mentions of any names for Dec-Jan. For 12/1/1918 they mention enemy artillery very active during the morning and later enemy aircraft were very active over our sector and then 4pm the enemy shelled FLAG AVENUE etc, in the evening his MG were very active.

 

26th Infantry Brigade Diary mentions one OR wounded for 12/1/18, could this be him?

 

So quite a full day for the Camerons! and plenty of scope for an injury. However, this is the situation in the front line but you say he was despatch riding at the time he was wounded which changes the picture somewhat.

 

TEW

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Wayne,

 

With no service records existing it will be difficult to confirm that he was possibly a despatch rider, as TEW says they were normally attached for such duties from other units. Another possible source of information would be local newspapers that commonly published casualty lists and the occasional short story of local soldiers who had fallen. You could get lucky.

 

Scott

Edited by Waddell
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On 25/02/2020 at 08:01, TEW said:

Wayne,

For 12/1/1918 I have established that 27 Field Ambulance of 9th Division were running a Main Dressing Station in Square V.18.c which is to the west of Sorel-le-Grand.

 

They were no doubt using the cemetery a few hundred metres to the north IE Fins New BC.

As expected they don't mention wounded.

 

More than likely this means he was wounded on the 12th Jan, evacuated to the MDS and then died there the same day.

 

I also checked the 9th Division Signals Coy. diary and it has nothing of relevance.

 

The 5th Cameron's diary is quite sparse for details of wounded etc. Only infrequent mentions of 'two men wounded' etc which can't be the full picture. I see no mentions of any names for Dec-Jan. For 12/1/1918 they mention enemy artillery very active during the morning and later enemy aircraft were very active over our sector and then 4pm the enemy shelled FLAG AVENUE etc, in the evening his MG were very active.

 

26th Infantry Brigade Diary mentions one OR wounded for 12/1/18, could this be him?

 

So quite a full day for the Camerons! and plenty of scope for an injury. However, this is the situation in the front line but you say he was despatch riding at the time he was wounded which changes the picture somewhat.

 

TEW

MGen Tew,

 

Thanks so much for the information, it very informative and highly likely I would not have found it conducting normal Internet research. I just downloaded the 26th Brigade War Diary on the weekend. I can see some of the influence from their staff planning orders in today’s Operational Planning Process that the Canadian Army adopted from the British Army and “Canadianizied”.

 

Another stream I am researching is if my Great Uncle James Greig met his brother (my grandfather) in 1917. My Grandfather was in 2nd Pioneer Bn of the 3rd Canadian Division. Both 9th Scottish Div and 3rd Can Div were in the Arras area pre-Vimy Ridge and battle of Arras. There is a picture of my grandfather with another soldier wearing a Glengarry, and second picture where they switched headdress. It is hard to tell if there are any differences between the two battledresses (Canadian or British) each are wearing (see attached).  I had the honour of doing Remembrance Day at Vimy Ridge with my regiment when posted in Germany.

 

My next bound is hopefully to go back to France this fall and trace the area.

 

Regards,

 

Wayne

Picture1.jpg

1991-Fall-Remembrance Day parade at Vimy Ridge.jpg

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What an incredible story and what challenges lie ahead but with the help of the fellas on here , hopefully you can slowly begin to find the relevant pieces of this  jigsaw puzzle. 

Who knows, you may even end up writing His story

I wish you great success. 

Steve 

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