18196 Pte. Gordon Tarbat Wishart (1899 – 1918)
Gordon Tarbat Wishart was born on 17 February 1899 in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. He was the son of James Wishart, a clerk from Arbroath, and his wife, Isabella Buchan Walker. Before the war, Gordon worked as an apprentice electrician in the township of Springs, Transvaal and enlisted in Boksburg on 23 February 1918. According to his service papers, his teeth were in a rather poor state, and his acceptance into the military was conditional on getting them fixed within six weeks. Fourteen days later he was passed ‘dentally fit’ for overseas service.
Gordon embarked in Cape Town on the transport ship Durham Castle for Europe on 2 May 1918 and arrived at Tilbury docks on 5 June. He was sent for training in Woking and taken on strength of ‘H’ Company, 2nd (Reserve) Battalion, South African Infantry. On 25 August he sailed for France from Southampton, and after four days being processed at the Infantry Base Depot in Rouen, he was posted to ‘A’ Company of the 4th Regiment, South African Infantry. During 1918 the regiment had been decimated in the German Spring Offensive and had recently been involved in the capture of Meteren as part of a composite brigade.
Within two weeks of arriving at the front, Gordon was sent to the South African Field Ambulance suffering from rubella and spent the next month recovering at the New Zealand Stationary Hospital in Wisques. He was discharged back to duty on 7 October and returned to the regiment in time to take part in the recapture of Le Cateau. In the attack, which took place on 17 October, the South Africans were tasked with crossing the River Selle north of the town, seizing the railway and linking up with the 50th Division north of the railway triangle before establishing themselves on a spur east of Le Cateau.
At 8 pm on 16 October Gordon’s unit began to move forwards towards the river, the crossing of which was said to be slow work on account of the slender footbridges and narrow gaps in the wire. Upon reaching the east bank, the South Africans found themselves in places not fifty yards from the Germans, who were holding the railway embankment. By 4:30 am the next morning the assembly for the attack was complete. A heavy mist rose from the valley, which shielded the South African’s position from the enemy, and allowed them to advance at close range when zero-hour arrived at 8:05 am.
With visibility at about fifty yards, the first wave of the attack quickly disappeared into the gloom. A hundred yards beyond the South African line the regiment stalled when they came upon a sunken road that had been protected by a palisade. Many men from the 4th were killed by machine-gun fire at this position, while those who eventually made it through encountered another more formidable obstacle near the railway. A belt of wire-entanglements about sixty yards deep stood between them and their next objective; however, luck was on their side, and a way through was discovered in the form of a shallow trench used by the Germans to access an outpost. Slowly they worked their way through into the railway, where furious close combat fighting took place.
It seems very likely that Gordon had been killed at some point during the initial stages of the attack, however, if not he would have almost certainly lost his life in the advance towards the next objective, which was hampered by enemy field guns that had accurately registered the regiment’s position.
18196 Pte. G T Wishart was eventually buried in Ors British Cemetery (grave: A. 15.)
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