Peace and War
Weeks of golden sunshine, and of cloudless skies
It was probably with no more than an apathetic interest that anyone in Lochbroom had read, in these wondrous summer days, of the unrest in some of the States of Central Europe, which had been accentuated on June 28th, 1914, by the assassination, at Sarajevo, of the heir-apparent to the throne of Austria, and of his wife.
Certainly it was with an almost amazed incredulity that I received from my eldest son (at the time Adjutant of the County Territorial Battalion, 4th Seaforths) the confidential information that a European war was believed to be imminent, and that every preparation was being made for the war organisation in Ross-shire to spring into activity on the first word of intimation received from Headquarters.
My son was at that time sleeping by the telephone in his office at Dingwall, so as not to miss the first word of instruction.
In a few days it became apparent to the whole country that the question of “war versus peace” was an acute one, and that almost any moment might bring the grave proclamation.
But for a while no message came to relieve the suspense.
A whisper reached us, “The Government have begun to buy horses.” Words of grave portent, as always indicating the imminence of war.
Then came the information, “An order has been received in Dingwall from the Government for fifty miles of barbed wire.”
And, finally, about half-past nine on the evening of August 4th (when we were gathered in the drawing room at Inverbroom with windows open and blinds up, watching the last glow fading in the western sky, and the shadows of night were beginning to fall around us), my daughter sprang to her feet, exclaiming that she had caught the glimpse in the garden of a man in motor-cyclist’s dress. A few moments later he was delivering to her the expected message from her brother, and quickly were the necessary papers filled in, acknowledged receipt of the order to “Mobilise,” and entries in mobilisation forms were rapidly completed, in accordance with instructions previously given by my son.
The Motor-Cyclist Despatch Rider, Councillor John Mackay, at once continued his forty-seven miles’ ride from Dingwall to Ullapool (not pausing to accept proffered hospitality), and our young relative, Daniel Bayley (later a gallant officer in the Royal Artillery), mounted his bicycle and vanished into darkness, to deliver the necessary intimations of mobilisation to the various lads of the Territorial Force resident on the estate of Braemore.
Thus did the Fiery Cross come to Lochbroom.
In the county town of Dingwall, at 6.30 p.m. on the 4th August, 1914, the proclamation of war was made (by order of the Adjutant) at three different points in the town, namely, at the Mercat Cross, in front of the Municipal buildings; in front of the National Hotel, on the eastern side of the town; and again on the western side of the town of Dingwall.
The proclamation of war necessary for “Mobilisation” was thus made by the sounding by Drum-Major Hugh Fraser of the bugle call:
followed immediately after, by the “Fall In,” at the double.
As a matter of future interest it seems well to record here the actual notes of these bugle calls:
Following immediately on the proclamation of war by bugle call in the streets of Dingwall, the country town because a scene of much activity.
The Rev. Ranald Macdonald recalls those days in these words:
“Suddenly our streets became alive with men in khaki, and the humdrum sounds of civil life were drowned in the rousing strains of the pipes. Boys, with new fire in their eyes, cast away their school books. The farmer left his hay, the clerk his desk, the mason and carpenter his tools. The crofters from the seaboards and the lone isles left their unfinished breakfast to don the tartan of the navy blue.”
There was no panic or alarm, no fears expressed for the present or the future; the lads wore smiling faces, proud that their military training in the camp and field had prepared them for this hour.
On the western seaboard of Ross-shire there followed some days of quiet awe and breathless silence.
Not a leaf stirred the trees on the hillside for many a mile.
To quote again the words of the Rev. Ranald Macdonald:
“Nature itself seemed to sympathize with our mood; the wind was still, the hush of a terrible expectation was on every tree and blade of grass.”
From the motionless branches of the rowan trees hung clusters of berries glowing with a more brilliant scarlet than had ever been noted before.
The constant sound of motor horns and passing motors had ceased, hardly a vehicle was seen upon the roads. No sound of gun or rifle rang upon the air, as was usual in former years.
The sunshine blazed on a country tense with expectation but which as yet no sign of a coming struggle. It was in these early days of the War that Mr. Duncan Davidson of Tulloch (whose family had owned extensive property in Lochbroom Parish between the years 1777 and 1880) raised within a fortnight, a sum of between £700 and £800 by subscription from country gentlemen and private friends for the better equipment of the County Territorial Battalion in the matter of field guns.
Among the residents in Lochbroom district the first to take immediate steps to place himself at his country’s disposal was Major Fraser of Leckmelm, and his friend, Captain H. Hewat, who cycled to the military centres in the north to ascertain where help was most needed, with the result that on the 2nd of August both Major Fraser and his scholarly son, Andrew had linked their fate with that of the County Territorial Battalions (4th Seaforths), in which Major Fraser’s previous experience of military service, and his own and his son’s knowledge of the Gaelic language, proved of the greatest value.
It was during this week, and on the 5th of August, that the honour of firing the first shot in the Great War on behalf of Great Britain fell to the lot of Lt. John Fraser, R.N. (nineteen years of age), second son of Major Fraser of Leckmelm.
It was from his ship, H.M.S. “Lance”, that the first of the six shots was fired that sank the German mine-sweeper (the “Königin Luise”) in four minutes in the North Sea.
Immediately too, on the outbreak of war, Colonel Blunt-Mackenzie (husband of the Countess of Cromartie, proprietrix of the Coigeach district of Lochbroom) rejoined the Army, serving with distinction in Gallipoli and other areas of the war till the signing of peace. Captain D. Lawson, from Achnahaird, Coigeach, also took a very active part in military operations both at home and abroad.
Major Charles Blunt, brother of Colonel Blunt-Mackenzie, also rejoined the 4th Seaforths immediately upon mobilisation.
It will be remembered that for several years, while he was living at Badantarbert, Coigeach, he commanded the Ullapool Company of the Volunteer Battalion of Seaforths in Ross-shire.
He took a special interest in the Rifle Shooting of the Company, with the result that on several occasions they carried off the Seaforth Challenge Shield at the County Competition.
Major Charles Blunt served in 1914, 1915, with the 4th Seaforths in France, but was later invalided home.
Dundonnell, also, was represented in the Great War by many lads native to the district, and by one of the sons of Mr. Hugh Mackenzie (the Laird of Dundonnell), who, as is noted in the pages of this book, travelled with the Australian troops to Egypt, and, after some months of training, took an active part in September, 1916, in the important battle of Romani, and, with many of his compatriots, fell in the subsequent pursuit of the Turks, who put up a stubborn resistance, but were entirely defeated and driven back out of Egypt, where they had twice endeavoured to seize the Suez Canal.
Captain Alan Fowler, 79th Regiment Cameron Highlanders, was with his regiment in India on the outbreak of war. His battalion, 2nd Camerons, together with many other battalions of British troops, left Bombay during days of intense tropical heat, in “a huge convoy of some 60 troopships” (see From Dartmouth to the Dardanelles, Heinemann, page 97) with an escort of men-of-war; the wives of some of the officers, and their infant children, accompanying the troops. The voyage was one of great hardship accentuated by the extreme heat and scarcity of good food and water.
The 2nd Camerons reached Davenport from India in November, 1914, and after being encamped for a month in tents, on the hills above Winchester, departed for Flanders on 19th December, 1914, forming part of the 27th Division.
Except for a hurried visit of three days to introduce his young wife to his old friends at home at Braemore, early in December 1914, Captain Alan Fowler never again returned to his native land.
He and many of his comrades laid down their lives in the successful defence of Hill 60 during the second battle of Ypres.
Hill 60 (since partly levelled to the ground by bomb and mine explosion) at that time marked the outer southern edge of the Ypres salient, of which it has been written – “The salient of Ypres will be for all time the classic battle ground of Britain.” (See Nelson’s History of the War, vol. 7, page 29).
It will interest many readers of this Memorial Book to know that among those who were intimately associated with Lochbroom in the past, and who volunteered for service at the earliest opportunity, were the grandsons of Rev. Wm. Cameron, who was for fifty years, up to 1895, the much respected Parish Minister of Lochbroom.
The Rev. Wm. Cameron’s sons, who were born and brought up at the Manse of Lochbroom, were the Rev. Alexander Cameron, Minister of Sleat, Skye, residing later at Dolphinstone, Fort-William, and Mr. William Cameron of Guisachan Farm, British Columbia.
The Rev. Alexander Cameron’s only son, Lieut. William Cameron, had just completed a fine University career, when, on the outbreak of war, he accompanied his regiment (1st Cameron Highlanders) from Edinburgh Castle to France, serving with this battalion continuously till, on the 25th of September, 1915, during the fierce battle at Loos, he sustained wounds of so severe a nature that he shortly afterwards succumbed to the necessary treatment in hospital.
His cousins from Canada, Douglas and Iain, sons of the late Mr. William Cameron, took a full share in the campaign in France, the elder brother returning after the signing of peace to Canada. The twenty-three years of the life of the younger brother, Iain, were gloriously ended during the attack in April 1917, by his regiment, the Canadian Gordon Highlanders, on the position known as the “Vimy Ridge,” where, in the face of a blinding blizzard of snow, the Canadians showed the most magnificent bravery in their attack on the German position.
Major and Mrs. Fraser of Leckmelm, who visited the battlefields of France in 1919, thought that no Memorial could surpass in dignity that which at present crowns the shell-scarred summit of “Vimy Ridge,” namely, a great white cross, on which is inscribed one single word “CANADA.”
It should also be noted that, among those whose memorial records appear in this book, are the sons of two fathers, who, in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, left an indelible impression for good on the hearts of the rising generation of that day.
These parents were respectively the late Rev. John Macmillan, Free Church Manse, Ullapool, and Mr. John Cameron, Headmaster of Ullapool School.
The Rev. John Macmillan was not only a constant visitor to, and minister among, his flock, but was gifted with such power as a preacher that he drew to his church a regular and large congregation, which, at the summer sacrament services, was numbered, not by hundreds, but by thousands, who attended the open-air services, from districts far and near.
His distinguished son, the Rev. Robert Macmillan, D.D., not content with the work of a chaplain to the troops, laid down his life as an officer of the Seaforth Highlanders at Arras in France.
He and his friend, Roderick Cameron (Mr. John Cameron’s son), were educated at the Ullapool Board School, noted as one of the best secondary schools in the north.
The musical training there was a very good one, and the Free Church choir, trained by Mr. J. Cameron, has for half a century been re-eminent in the Lochbroom district.
It is no exaggeration to say that from that congregation and school went forth a band of young men and women whose lives were an example and influence for good wherever their lot in life was cast.
It was on the 5th of August, 1914, that Major Angus M’Neil (late 78th Highlanders), commanding the West Coast Squadron of Lovat Scouts, arrived in Lochbroom to buy up horses, and to give his men, who had assembled to meet him, their instructions for mobilisation.
The Lochbroom troop of the Lovat Scouts was recruited from Inverbroom House by circulars and letters in 1903. The recruits were sworn in there, and for several years the troop attended the annual training in the fields in front of Inverbroom House. Later the Scouts received their training in camp at Beaufort, Brodie, etc.
A few days after Major M’Neil’s visit to Lochbroom, a group of ponies belonging to the Lovat Scouts (chiefly from the Dundonnell district) were taken by road across Scotland to the Lovat Scout Camp at Beaufort, some seventy miles distant.
Several of these ponies had the distinctive “Eel mark” along the back, which bespeaks the pure bred Highland pony.
The eminent zoologist, Professor Cossar Ewart (Regius Professor of Natural History in the Edinburgh University), has placed on record his opinion that the true type of this native breed existed in Dundonnell, Lochbroom, up to the beginning of the twentieth century, in an absolutely pure and unmixed form dating back from the most remote ages. It is a matter for congratulation that the lives of these fine ponies were not sacrificed in any of the areas of war.
LOVAT SCOUTS – E SQUADRON
OFFICERS AND SERGEANTS.
Photograph taken at Skegness in Lincolnshire on April 16th. 1915.
When the Lovat Scouts were sent to the Gallipoli Peninsula in 1915 they were not accompanied by their horses; nor did they require them later in France, when picked men from the Lovat Scouts were sent to the front lines as Snipers and Observers. These specially picked men underwent a course of several weeks’ training at Beaufort first, under Colonel Ewen Grant, and when he accompanied his Snipers to France, Lt.-Col. C. Pelham Burn took over the training of the Snipers and Observers.
Writing of the special qualifications of the Lovat Scouts for observation and sniping, Major Hesketh Pritchard says, “For long distance work, and the higher art of observation, the Germans had nothing to touch our Lovat Scouts. It was the telescope against the field glass, and the telescope won every time. The ‘Lovats’ were found to be so invaluable with the telescope, that they were in many cases forbidden to use the rifle. The man who has spent twenty years on the hill, and who has counted the points of a thousand stags, who knows the difference between every stag that he sees in a corrie (and who is never far from a telescope), when he goes to war, simply carries into another sphere the normal activities of his life. Certainly the men who follow the red deer of Scotland proved themselves once again in this war to possess qualities, which, let us hope, will never pass from the British race.”
The first move of this Battalion (immediately upon mobilisation in the first week of August) was to camp on the north-eastern seaboard of Ross-shire.
Here good work was done in the forming of the first coast defences in Ross-shire. Not a pick, shovel or spade in the county town or its neighbourhood but was requisitioned for the emergency. The barbed wire previously referred to was called into use.
A week or ten days later came a sudden call to friends in Lochbroom to bid the Battalion, now transferred to Inverness, farewell.
GROUP OF THE OFFICERS OF THE 4TH BN. THE SEAFORTH HIGHLANDERS
Taken at Belford, Nov. 5th, 1914, just before they left for France.
No motors or motor drivers were now available, all having been requisitioned by the Government, and the sixty-mile drive was accomplished in a large old-fashioned horse-driven brake.
At the same time Government vehicles carried away from Lochbroom fresh contingents of smart uniformed lads in kilts, khaki tunics and glengarries to the final muster of the Battalion in Inverness.
The greatest secrecy in all military matters was the order of the day, and we had no intimation as to what was to be the immediate destination of the 4th Seaforths.
It was almost in silence that we drove along under a blazing sun, clouds of dust such as had never before been seen on our Highland roads, drifting past and over us. After a drive of some forty miles we paused to rest ourselves and the horses at Coul House, where Sir Arthur Mackenzie and his sister kindly entertained us. There, for the first time, we heard that some of our British troops had already crossed over to France. In whispered tones we were told, “The 12th Lancers have gone!”
Then on reaching Inverness we heard that the 2nd Battalion of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders (93rd Regiment), recently stationed at Fort George, had vanished in the night! Gone – under sealed orders – no one knew whither!
Engine drivers and guards of the train left in absolute ignorance of the their destination. Also, the first new received of the Argyll and Sutherlands, a week or two later, told of their herioc but hopeless resistance on August 26th against the overwhelming numbers of the German foe at Le Cateau, a battlefield near the eastern borders of France.
These facts brought home to us the urgency and the gravity of the present crisis, and it was the feelings of relief that we gathered that the destination of the 4th Seaforths was, for the time being, to be the town of Bedford. About 3000 troops were now quartered in Inverness. It may here be mentioned that the mounted officers of the 4th Seaforths wore Seaforth tartan riding breaches instead of kilts. The wore the same glengarries and khaki tunics as the men. Their swords were returned from France as proving an encumbrance in trench warfare. The glengarry cap was superseded later by a flat khaki-covered bonnet, and khaki riding breeches took the place of the tartan.
The Headquarters of the 4th Seaforths was in the College buildings, on the north side of the River Ness.
We had an opportunity of seeing the Battalion on a “route march,” Col. Mason Macfarlane in command, our Lochbroom lads holding themselves bravely.
The most brilliant sunshine still prevailed, and, while every one realised the gravity of the situation, a spirit of hope and confidence pervaded the Battalion.
An advance party, under Major Charles Blunt, having now left for Bedford, and there being an immense amount of work for the officer and Adjutant to attend to, we deemed it wiser not to wait for the actual departure of the Battalion from Inverness (on the 14th August), to return to our own homes in Lochbroom.
It was not till the first days of November, 1914, that we travelled to Bedford, where many Highland troops were in training, to see the Battalion depart for France.
Previous to their departure the 4th Seaforths were drawn up for inspection in the grounds of Bedford Grammar School, and close to its ivy-clad buildings, Brigadier-General Duncan Macfarlane, C.B., inspected, and then addressed the Battalion. After the inspection was over, small pocket Testaments (the gift of Col. Stewart Mackenzie of Seaforth) were presented to the men, and we spoke a word of “Good-bye” to many of the lads.
Warm congratulations from the Brigade Major were privately received as follows:
“The transformation of this Battalion is most remarkable. In June last, at camp at Kingussie, one seldom saw a more raw body of recruits. Now they are well-disciplined men, almost up to the standard of regular troops, and a very few weeks more training will make them entirely so.”
That the above testimony of efficiency was in no way overstated is proved by the fact that the 4th Seaforths were the first Battalion of the Highland Territorial Brigade selected for active service in France, and that in consequence of this fact they became entitled to the so-called “Mons Medal,” only issued to those troops which reached France before the middle of November, during the first stage of the war usually described as “the first Battle of Ypres.”
Later on the Battalion formed part of the famed 51st Division composed entirely of Territorial troops, than whom the Germans were said to have stated they had no more formidable opponents.
The Rev. D. Strang (8th Seaforth Highlanders) states in a lecture printed by the Seaforth Highlanders’ Regimental Association, in 1920, that:
“In June, 1915, the 51st Highland Territorial Division (which comprises among other units the 5th and 6th Battalions of the Seaforth Highlanders) came into action for the first time at La Couture. Curiously enough, these two Battalions found themselves alongside the 1st and 4th Battalions of the Regiment on their first tour of duty in the trenches.”
On the occasion of the installation of M. Raymond Poincaré, President of the French Republic, as Lord Rector of Glasgow University on November 13th 1919, the President, in the course of his address, sums up the career in the Great War of the 51st Division in the following words:
“The three Divisions which were entirely formed of Scottish troops, namely the 9th, the 15th and 51st, have performed splendid achievements.”
After recording the numerous engagements of the 9th and 15th Divisions, Mr. Poincaré adds as follows:
“The 51st Division, that also deserved everywhere the admiration of the Allies, signalised itself in 1915 at Festubert, where it lost 1500 men; in 196 on the Somme, where it lost 8500 men and on the Ancre, where it lost 2500 men, round Cambrai where it took Havrincourt, Flesquières, Fontaine Notre Dame, and lost 2500 men; in 1918 in the sector of Marchies Bapaume, where it lost 500 men and was honourably mentioned in the despatches of the Commander-in-Chief, and lately, in the month of July, 1918, amidst the French armies of Champagne, where it bravely attacked the Huns before Rheims, and lost again 2000 men.
“How many valiant Scots are thus lying on the soil of France after fighting for the common ideal of both our nations! To the mothers and widows of these heroes I give the assurance that their image will ever be engraved in the memory and the heart of my country, and that the French women will take care of their graves as if they were those where their husbands and children are sleeping.”
Thursday, 5th November, 1914. Then came the day of the departure of the 4th Seaforths for France, mercifully one of bright autumnal sunshine.
Many a parent and relative had travelled 600 miles from the north of Scotland to bid their dear ones farewell. Some of the lads were but bright faced boys still in their teens.
They marched past, fully equipped with haversacks, waterbottles, over-coat, rifle and entrenching tool.
It was easy to distinguish the Highland lads from the small percentage of Scotsmen who had joined the 4th Seaforths from London (not having been able to fulfil their wish to enrol themselves in the ranks of the London Scottish).
These recruits from London were, many of them, men of trained and cultured mines – stockbrokers, actors and clerks. Their presence in the Battalion was a great asset, and, being nearly all of one nationality, they fraternised thoroughly at all times with the rest of the Battalion.
The mounted officers were, of course, Colonel Mason M’Farlane, Major Robertson, Major Cuthbert and Captain Sir John Fowler, the Adjutant.
Never had departing troops (the first to leave Bedford for the battlefields of France) a more enthusiastic send-off. Dense crowds of onlookers, friends and relatives, lined the streets.
Many people were waving last farewells, and some were uttering blessings on the passing troops, and through the then popular marching song – “It’s a long, long way to Tipperary”- was sung by the lads as they marched along, the music of their voices could hardly be heard about the cheers of the crowd. Surely this was but a fulfilment of the prophetic words written down 350 years previously by John Bunyan during his sojourn (for conscience sake) in Bedford Goal:
“Then they set forward on their way, - and their friends accompanying them so far as was convenient, they again committed each other to the protection of their Kind, - and parted.”