S/17571 Pte. Joseph Watson Wishart (1891 – 1917)
Joseph Watson Wishart was born on 11 February 1891 in the Feus of Caldhame near Luthermuir, Kincardineshire. He was the fourth of eleven children of John Wishart, a local slater, and his wife, Margaret Watson. In 1901 Joseph lived with his family at Waterside of Caldhame – a farm south of Caldhame Mill and by 1911 “Joe” had left school and was working with his father as a slater.
In an obituary published after his death, Joseph was described as being very cheery, with a likeable disposition and well-known in the surrounding district. He had developed an interest in gardening and made many friends in horticultural circles around Laurencekirk. He was also a keen curler and was a member the Inglismaldie Club.
Joseph enlisted at Luthermuir in March 1917 and joined the Gordon Highlanders. Around three months later he was sent to France and posted to the 1/4th Battalion, who were part of the 154th Brigade, 51st Highland Division. It seems probable that Joe’s first taste of action came during the Battle of Poelcappelle and by late November he was involved in the Battle of Cambrai. In a history of the 51st (Highland) Division written by Major F. W. Bewsher, the 4th Gordons are mentioned several times during his account of Cambrai:
On the evening of the 20th (November), it was decided that should the Red dotted line be captured during the night, the 154th Brigade should pass through the 152nd and 153rd Brigades, capture the Cantaing Line and Cantaing, and advance on the village of Fontaine Notre Dame.
Of these objectives Cantaing and the Cantaing Line proved themselves to be formidable obstacles. The latter, though the trenches were for the most part only traced out, contained numerous completed dug-outs and machine-gun emplacements, and was for the greater portion of its length protected by a double belt of wire some fifteen yards in depth. The defences of the village of Cantaing were also considerably strengthened by a well-traversed trench encircling its south-western corner.
The 154th Brigade began its advance with the 4th Gordon Highlanders covering the front of the 152nd Infantry Brigade, and the 7th Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders covering the 153rd. In rear were the 9th Boyal Scots on the right, and the 4th Seaforth Highlanders on the left. The 4th Gordon Highlanders passed through the Red dotted line at 10.30 a.m., and continued their advance at first uneventfully. As, however, they began to approach Cantaing Trench, machine guns from the trenches and from buildings in the village, as well as light trench mortars, opened on them in sufficient volume to hold up the advance until shortly after noon. At that hour ten tanks arrived from Fremy Chapel, and made towards the village, followed by “B” Company of the 4th Gordon Highlanders. Cantaing was entered, and after a little street fighting 300 prisoners were taken from it.
Meanwhile about the south-western end of the village, in the trenches in that vicinity and in the sunken road running to Cantaing Mill, bodies of the enemy continued to offer a magnificent resistance. “D” Company of the 4th Gordon Highlanders managed to force their way through the wire into a position on the Cantaing-Flesquieres road, but could make no farther progress. Two Stokes guns were then brought into action, but even these failed to dislodge the enemy. Indeed, it was not until 3 p.m., when one of the tanks en route for Fontaine arrived, that the pocket was finally cleared. This gallant stand made by the enemy had disorganised this attack, which came to a standstill With “B” and “D” Companies of the 4th Gordon Highlanders consolidating the line north and northeast of the village, and with “A” and “C” Companies connecting them on the right flank with the 29th Division, who were by this time in Nine Wood. Subsequently, three squadrons of the Queen’s Bays and the 9th Cavalry Brigade M.G. Squadron arrived, and took up defensive positions around the perimeter of the village in conjunction with the 4th Gordon Highlanders.
After the battle, the Germans counter-attacked:
The situation was a precarious one. Our troops occupied the Hindenburg front line as far as Tadpole Copse inclusive, a trench had thence been hastily dug across No Man’s Land to protect the left flank. This flank was thus highly vulnerable and liable to be heavily counter-attacked. Indeed, the Germans maintained constant pressure against our troops in that part of the field by means of bombing parties, and in this respect could only be kept in check by a systematic use of rifle grenades.
It was during this period that Joseph was wounded by a shell and evacuated to the 29th Casualty Clearing Station at Grevillers, where he died on 4 December. The day before his cousin Robert died from the effects of gas poisoning further north in Flanders.
Joseph became the first of three brothers who died in the war and buried in the Grevillers British Cemetery, Pas de Calais, France.
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