Andrew Wishart was born on 29 April 1896 in Edenstown, Fife – a small hamlet near Ladybank in the parish of Collessie. He was the only son of David Andrew Thomas Wishart, a railway clerk from Ladybank, and Helen Buist Methven. In 1901 when Andrew was five he was living with his mother and two sisters, Robina and Helen, at Woodside in the parish of Collessie. Andrew’s father David, a sergeant in the Black Watch, was serving overseas in the Boer War at the time and wouldn’t return for another year. By 1911 the family (with the addition of another daughter, Tina) were living at 59 Somerville Street in Burntisland. Andrew’s father, now discharged from the Army, was working as a clerk for the North British Railway Company.
As soon as he was enough, Andrew enlisted for Boy Service with his father’s old regiment and having learnt the bugle and drums at Edinburgh Castle; subsequently joined the battalion pipe band. He had also found work as a clerk in the railway locomotive department, where he worked until shortly after his sixteenth birthday when he proceeded to Bareilly, India and joined the 2nd Battalion, Black Watch, who had been stationed there since 1902.
The 2nd Black Watch left India for France during the autumn of 1914, with Andrew being drafted home (possibly with the wives and families of the battalion) first, before being sent to France on 27 January 1915. On arrival, he was sent to join ‘D’ Coy, 1st Battalion Black Watch, who at the time were billeted in Bethune and had recently been involved in fighting at Givenchy and Cuinchy. The battalion was under-strength and drafts of men, including Andrew, arrived throughout February.
After spending much of March in the Brigade Reserve, and then various positions in the Rue de l’Epinette sector during April, Andrew’s unit found themselves based near the small town of Richebourg at the start of May.
Roughly six weeks earlier, and following a failed offensive at Neuve-Chapelle, French Commender-in-Chief Joffre asked Sir John French if the British would be ready to cooperate in an offensive north of Arras which was eventually planned for Sunday 9th May. The Black Watch formed part of the southern attack in an action that would become known as the Battle of Aubers.
Before the attack, the battalion’s fighting strength had been calculated as consisting of 22 officers and 807 other ranks. Artillery bombardments of the enemy lines commenced at 5:00 am with the Germans replying with a few high explosive shells which were recorded as wounding one Highlander. As the 2nd and 3rd Brigades began their advance at 5:40 am, the Black Watch (who were on the right of the 1st Brigade) occupied the vacated breastworks and by 6:15 am the battalion was in position along the front lines, prepared for a possible counter-attack by the Germans. The first wave of the assault was not successful and at 7:00 am another was attempted, but again failed to meet its objectives. The opposing lines in the area where the Highlanders assembled were heavily entrenched with a mixture of Bavarians and Prussians, who had proven themselves effective in repelling any advance on their position.
During early afternoon the British began another heavy bombardment of the enemy trenches and once again, about 2:45 pm, the Black Watch moved forward into the front line. ‘D’ Coy were positioned towards the centre and supported by ‘C’ Coy on their left. The air was described as ‘made hideous’ by artillery fire, and at 3:55 pm the order was received for the Battalion to commence their attack. As the men climbed over the parapets, it was reported that soldiers from the English corps patted them on their backs saying “Good Luck Jock” in the knowledge that they were “going out to face almost certain death”.
Bayonets fixed, the Highlanders yelled and dashed into the open where they immediately faced withering enemy fire. The German trenches were three hundred yards away and heavily protected by barbed wire. Andrew fearlessly strode out in front of his unit and along with the other pipers, struck up a rendition of ‘Highland Laddie’ (in double quick time) – an old charging tune of the regiment. The sound of the pipes was met with loud cheers from the advancing men, who, until that point in the war, had not experienced an assault accompanied by pipers.
Vanishing into the smoke, Andrew had crossed halfway between the two trenches when he received a shrapnel wound in the muscles of his right arm. Visibly injured, an officer (possibly Captain Murdoch as later recalled by Andrew) asked: “Andrew, are you down?” In reply Andrew informed him that “I’m going to play yet” and was assisted to his feet, his pipes being re-positioned under his arm.
Storming ahead, Andrew made it to within 10 yards of the German line before he was wounded again in his right thigh, this time by an explosive bullet. As he fell, other men in the battalion, who had been emboldened by the music, reputedly cried wild war whoops of “the piper’s down” while storming and then capturing the enemy trenches. Meanwhile, the Germans had retreated to their second line and commenced bombarding the captured trench with hand bombs and machine gun fire; however, the Black Watch held their position until nightfall, when they were forced to retreat in the face of a large German counter-attack. Reported casualties for the attack numbered 14 officers and 461 other ranks.
Fortunately for Andrew, he had fallen near a ‘Jack Johnson’ which were large artillery shell holes named after black heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson on account of the vast amount of black smoke given off by the explosions, where he miraculously managed to shelter for four days and nights without food or water. On the fifth day, he found the strength to crawl on his stomach back across No Man’s Land towards the British line (he had also temporarily lost the use of his other leg) though unfortunately passed out before he made it, and lay in the open for an undetermined amount of time. The next thing Andrew recalled was hearing the sound of voices shouting “Come on my boys; come on,” and he recognised two Inniskilling men who, under sniper fire and with the assistance of an officer, pulled him through the wire and into the trench. Courtesy of the officer, he was revived by a few drops of brandy, and subsequently evacuated to the nearest dressing station.
Andrew’s injuries were severe enough to warrant transportation back to England and then onwards by train to Stobhill Hospital in Glasgow, where he arrived on Monday 17th May. While Andrew was recovering from his wounds, King George V, who was visiting the hospital, made enquiries after ‘the boy piper’, though unfortunately, the famous ‘Highland Laddie’ was lying on the operating table on the day of the visit and therefore missed his chance of a Royal encounter. Fortunately this appears to have been a lesser concern to Andrew, who was more upset over the loss of his instrument; however, his grief was alleviated by the discovery in his baggage of a set of ivory-mounted pipes, which had been presented to him by his parents while he was in India.
Newspaper reports of Andrew’s bravery spread around the world, and after the war, he was pictured in the Kirkcaldy & District war album. The Fifeshire Advertiser of 29 May 1915 even printed the following poem composed by an ‘A. Pye’:
T’was in the great engagement on Sunday 9th of May
The Black Watch men charged wildly when they heard the bagpipes play,
Fife accents sounded through the cheers and voices from Kirkcaldy
As the pipes struck up the charging tune, the dear old “Highland Laddie.”
The Captain prayed, “Oh Lord,” he said, “be Thou our help and shield,
Help us to do our duty now upon this battlefield,”
They saw the flash of fire, but yet felt not its burning breath,
For, as the pipes struck up, they charged right into the face of death.
The piper, a Burntisland lad, whose name in glory shines,
Played through the whistling bullets right to the German lines.
Long shall the name of Wishart live, a piper of renown,
Who played his comrades in the charge until he was shot down.
Wounded and bleeding, there he lay four days and nights alone,
Suffering in silence, with no cry – no word, nor sigh, nor groan.
He lay with neither food nor drink in the hole a shell had made,
But when picked up he moved his lips as silently he prayed.
God Bless the fearsome Highland lads! Long may the bagpipes squeal,
For both to King and country they are heroes free as steel;
Brave soldiers and brave sailors, on land and on the sea,
Fighting for dear old Scotland, the country of the free.
Although based in the UK, Andrew remained in service until 25 April 1916 when he was honourably discharged from the Army and issued a Silver War Badge which was given to service personnel who were unable to serve any longer due to sickness or wounds.
After the war, Andrew lived at North End in Thornton and returned to working as a clerk for the railway company. On 1 June 1928, he married a local telephonist named Mary Penman Page and had a son and daughter with her. By the early 1950s, the family had moved to Glasgow where Andrew died in hospital on 10 December 1979.