James Wishart was born during the night of 3 December 1892 in tenement housing on Castlebank Street in Partick, Glasgow. He was the second of eight children of James Wishart, a hammerman from Govan, and his wife, Jane Reid.
By 1901 James had taken his family back to Govan and lived at 33 Water Row. When old enough, James followed his father into the shipyards, and at the time of the 1911 census, he was enumerated as boarding at 17 Harmony Row and serving his apprenticeship as a plater which was a skilled job that involved laying plates of steel to form a ship’s hull.
After war broke out in 1914 James was among those who rushed to enlist and joined the Royal Scots Fusiliers on 19 August. He was posted to the 6th (Service) Battalion, which was a Kitchener unit raised in Ayr and would form part of the 27th Brigade in the 9th (Scottish) Division. He underwent military training in Bramshott, a temporary army camp erected on the Common and left Folkestone for France on 11 May, when his unit boarded a troopship for Boulogne which arrived the next day.
A long and tiring march in wet weather awaited the Fusiliers, who eventually reached billets near Steenwerke a week later. James’ first experience of the trenches came during early July when the battalion were posted south of Locon and spent the remainder of the summer rotating between the line and billets. Unknown to James, a ‘great battle’ in Loos was being planned for the end of September that would prematurely end both his war and his life.
The day before the attack began, the battalion were billeted in Bethune, and moved forward to the Grenay Lines on 24 September. An officious typed account of the operations over the following two days by Major D. H. Dutton, Commander of the 6th Royal Scots Fusiliers read as follows:
The Battalion after being held in support all day on Saturday 25th Sept. 1915, advanced at 5 p.m. from our front trench at point L in line of half companies with the 10th. A. & S. Hlrs. immediately to our front. We advanced until arriving at FOSSE TRENCH about 6 p.m., which we occupied. At 7 p.m. two companies were forward to support the 11th. and 12th. Royal Scots, in PEKIN TRENCH, on their left. Between 9 and 10, German bombers forced us to withdraw from PEKIN TRENCH to FOSSE TRENCH. Shortly afterwards the Battalion withdrew from this trench and 3 companies returned to our old support line, the remaining company taking up position in HOHENZOLLERN REDOUBT. Early on the morning of the 26th the MIDDLESEX relieved this company, who rejoined the remainder of the Battaln (sic) The Battalion was then reformed in the QUARRY and remained there until the afternoon of the 26th., when 2 coys were sent forward to HOHENZOLLERN and at 5.30 p.m. the remaing 2 coys. And machine gunners were also sent to HOHENZOLLERN where the Battalion took up position and held until midnight when it was ordered forward to hold FOSSE TRENCH, reaching this position about 7.30 a.m. with the A. & S. Hrs. on our left but no touch could be obtained with our own troops on the right. We remained in these trenches until the afternoon of the 27th. Inst.
This is all that I can gather of these operations. Lt. Col. Northey was in command on the 26th.
Lt. Col. Northey, who was very much in the thick of it, recorded the following in his private diary, which was written at the time and gives a good overall idea as to where James and his comrades were during the battle:
THE 6TH R. SCOTS FUSILIERS AT THE BATTLE OF LOOS
24th Sept. The 9th Division consisting of the 26th, 27th, and 28th Infantry Brigades, received orders to attack the German lines between certain points north and south of the Hohenzollern Redoubt. The Division was ordered to attack with the 26th and 28th Brigades. The 27th Brigade formed the divisional reserve. The 27th Brigade consisted of the 11/Royal Scots, the 12/Royal Scots, 6/R. Scots Fusiliers and 10/Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders.
25th Sept. On the morning of the 25th September the 25th and the 28th Brigades occupied our front line trenches immediately west of Hohenzollern Redoubt – the 26th Brigade on the right and the 28th on the left. The 27th Brigade were in reserve trenches east of Annequin about two miles from the Hohenzollern Redoubt. The 7th Division was on our right.
The 6th R.S.F. left Bethune at 8 p.m. on the 24th for the reserve trenches at Annequin – these trenches were very wet and uncomfortable and none of us got much sleep. Our bombardment of the German trenches, which had gone on for the last four days was continued intermittently during the night. Orders to attack arrived at about 2 a.m. Towards dawn the bombardment became intense and we could see the launching of the British gas attack from the front line trenches. We feared the wind was rather light to make the attack effectual. At 4 a.m. our leading company (D) commanded by Capt. Robertson, moved on to the tail of the 11/R. Scots, who were advancing up to the front line trenches vacated by the assaulting columns. We had to advance for four hours, through communication trenches and under heavy fire, before we arrived at the front line trenches – a distance, as the crow flies, of about one and a half miles. These trenches we found absolutely choked with dead and wounded, so I immediately took over the portion of the front line I was in and held the same giving what assistance I could clear away the dead and wounded. About 1 p.m. Capt. Lumsden – Staff Captain of the Brigade – brought me an urgent message from General Bruce, commanding the Brigade to come and see him immediately. It had now been pouring with rain for some time, and it was a case of wading through the trenches. When I reached the General he told me that part of the Brigade had nearly got into Haisnes, and he had had orders to organize an attack on that place. I thereupon sent my adjutant, Capt. Purves, back to bring along the battalion. I myself went on with the General in the direction of Haisnes. Half-way there we saw to our disgust that a battalion had broken and was streaming back. We did our best to stop them, and I was ordered to go back myself to bring up my own battalion at the double and save the situation. This I succeeded in doing, and the regiment eventually carried on and occupied the trench called Fosse Alley, where I found Colonel Mackenzie, commanding the 10/A & S. Hldrs, and Colonel Locke, commanding the 12/R. Scots, with portions of their battalions.
In front of Fosse Alley some 500 yards in the direction of Haisnes, Colonel Wright, Gordon Highlanders, and Colonel Dunda, 11/R. Scots, with small portions of their battalions were holding what is known as the Pekin Trench. By this time the different battalions were very much mixed up. This Pekin trench was in a very far advanced position, but the General determined to hold on to it, and he ordered me to send up two companies in support. The two companies I sent up were “A” Coy. Under Capt. Roxburgh, and “D” Coy. Under Capt. Robertson. During the earlier part of the evening, about a couple of hours after my arrival there, this trench was found to be untenable and was evacuated by order of the C.O. of the Gordons. The trench was untenable mainly on account of the German bombers who worked down the communication trenches from the direction of Haisnes. Capt. Roxburgh, on rejoining the battalion in Fosse Alley, after evacuating the Pekin trench, reported, I regret to say that Capt. Robertson and Lord Stuart had been killed, and Lieuts. Dingwall and Fowkes were able to walk, but he could not recover the bodies of Capts. Robertson and Lord Stuart on account of the pressure of the German bombing parties.
All this time our right flank in Fosse Alley was absolutely in the air, and under machine-gun fire from the direction of St. Elie. I did not at all like the situation (about 11 p.m.), so I went off with Colonel Locke and Capt. Purves to find the brigadier, who had made his headquarters in the Quarry. Before we go there we heard fighting and bombing going on to our right rear. This appears to have been a German counter-attack on part of the line held by the 7th Division. Some steps had now to be taken immediately as we seemed to have the Germans on three sides of us, so, as the brigadier could not be found, after consulting with the other C. O’s of the brigade, it was determined to fall back, as we were losing heavily and were not supported on either side or behind. The Brigade then retired to our original front lines. Major Turnbull and two other companies 6/R.S.F. still holding German trenches south of Hohenzollern. This party was relieved about 6.30 a.m. on the 26th. Headquarters of the 6/R.S.F. then went into the Quarry just behind our front line to reorganise. Our lines were shelled unceasingly during this whole period.
26th Sept. About 10 a.m. I was sent for by Br. General Ritchie, 26th Brigade, who told me my battalion had been lent to the 7th Division to co-operate in an attack on the quarries west of St. Elie. These were the Quarries in which General Bruce had made his headquarters the day before and since when he had not been heard of. I was to co-operate in the above attack by sending bombing parties up Fosse Alley, and also by covering fire from any available position. The time this attack was to be delivered was not given to me at the time, but was eventually settled at 3.30 p.m. but I was not informed of it till too late to be much good, and I never actually heard the result of the attack. About 5 p.m. – not having any orders from higher authority, I took my battalion to a position in reserve in the Hohenzollern Redoubt.
At 10.30 p.m. after having just settled down, I got a message to re-occupy Fosse Alley, taking particular care to keep well in touch with the brigades on my right and left. I did not like the job as I did not known who was on my front or right or left. However we went out cautiously and eventually got into position in touch with the 10/A & S Hldrs on the left, by my right still in the air. We spent the night improving the trench as far as possible, in spite of a terrific bombardment on our left rear with high explosive shells.
At some point during the 26th James was wounded and officially listed as such in the British newspapers a month later, however by this point he was almost certainly dead. His body was either not identified, or recovered for burial, and he is commemorated on the Loos Memorial.