24767 Pte. Robert Wishart (1887 – 1917)
Robert Wishart was born on 2 April 1887 in Brechin, Forfarshire. He was the sixth of eight children of Alexander Wishart, a joiner from Logie Pert, and his wife, Christina Beattie. In 1891 the family were living at 18 Trinity Road in Brechin however between 1896 and 1901, they moved to Glasgow and lived at 38 Vernon Street in the Maryhill district. After leaving school, Robert gained employment as a baker’s vanman and moved to Brae Farm in Lamlash on the Isle of Arran.
On 24 April 1915, Robert married Marion McFarlane, a domestic servant from Whiting Bay, at 21 Hope Street in Glasgow and later that year, on 7 December, he visited the recruiting office in Lamlash and enlisted in the Army. In a medical examination, he was recorded as being 5ft 6″ in height with scars on both his forearms and a brown mole on his left knee. He was passed fit for active duty and sent to the Army Reserve until his services were required.
On 10 July 1916 Robert was mobilised was posted to the 9th (Reserve) Battalion Royal Scots Fusiliers and sent for training at the battalion base in Inverkeithing. On 1 September 1916, he was temporarily transferred to the 3rd (Reserve) Battalion before going overseas and left for France on 12 October on board the Matilda. Upon arrival, he was sent to 20 Infantry Base Depot at Etaples before being sent with a draft of 42 other men to the 6/7th Battalion Royal Scots Fusiliers. At the time the recruits arrived on 30 October, the battalion was based just south of Contalmaison on the Somme, and within days Robert would have experienced his first taste of life in the trenches.
Robert spent much of November south-west of Albert in Franvillers with the battalion war diary recording a ‘usual day’ consisting of route marches, drilling, bayonet and bomb practice, inspections and labouring in working parties. On 19 November Robert was sent to hospital on for an unspecified ailment and rejoined his unit nine days later. The battalion left Franvillers on 30 November, it was a cold, wet and misty evening and they marched through the night to a camp at Mametz Wood. By mid-December, they were based in the Le Sars Sector facing the famous Butte de Warlencourt. In his history of the Royal Scots Fusiliers, John Buchan noted that the front in this sector was ‘no more than a string of shell holes linked up by shallow trenches.’
In March 1917 Robert was near Arras and participated in the battle that began on 9 April. The war diary suggests that the Germans had advance warning of the attack, having sent up a large number of signals a few minutes before zero hour, however despite this, the battle was deemed a tactical success for the British army, with the fusiliers reaching their objectives by early afternoon. The success of course came at a cost, with the battalion losses over the three days between 9-11 April recorded as being 29 officers and men killed, 249 wounded and 33 missing. Casualties were particularly heavy on the 11th when the battalion made an attack on Monchy in heavy snow, and came under heavy machine-gun fire from the village.
Robert was back in action again on the 23rd when an assault was made on Guemappe. The Fusiliers were in support of the 11th Argylls and 13th Royal Scots with three companies of the 6/7th eventually being sent forward, and of those, ‘C’ Company managing to take an enemy trench that ensured a hold on the line. The battalion was relieved five days later with losses for the period following this particular action numbering a further 23 men killed, four officers and 99 other ranks wounded, and 26 missing.
In mid-July, the battalion was occupying trenches west of Ypres. Sir Douglas Haig’s long-contemplated attack in the Ypres Salient on 31 July was two weeks away, and unbeknown to Robert, he was living out the last days of his life.
Zero hour was at 3.50 am. The 6/7th (who formed part of the 45th Brigade) began their advance towards Frezenberg shortly after 10 am. On their left and right, the battalions in the attacking brigades had reached the first and second objectives. The Fusiliers were in the second wave (along with the 11th Argylls, 6th Cameron Highlanders and 13th Royal Scots) and pushed on through to the third objective, which was a defensive position about 1500 yards east of the German second line. Upon reaching this objective it became clear that the area had not been made wholly secure, and Robert’s battalion came under heavy machine-gun fire, suffering heavy losses. Forging ahead, and by the time they reached the wire in front of Bremen Redoubt (northeast of Potsdam), the majority of the battalion officers had become casualties. At 2 pm a German counter-attack caused the brigade to fall back and establish a front along the enemies second line, which had been taken earlier in the day.
The surviving Fusiliers were eventually relieved during the small hours of the following morning, however, with the line still looking uneasy, a gap was observed at Beck House (NNE of Frezenberg) and the decision made to make a new assault, and plug the hole. The attack failed and the battalion was forced to dig themselves in and hold out until they could be relieved. It was during this period on 2 August that Robert was killed. The weather had turned with heavy rain falling solidly for four days. It will probably never be known how he died. His final hours must have been miserable, perhaps huddled together with his comrades in an improvised trench or sheltering in the squalor of a boggy shell hole.
Three years later a body identified as Robert by his identity discs was exhumed just outside Frezenberg and reburied in Tynecot British Cemetery on 19 November 1920. The shock of her husband’s death had caused a serious breakdown in Marion’s health, and she was forced to live with friends as a result. In February 1921 she received the news that Robert’s remains had been found and was offered his ID discs, however, she asked that they be destroyed.
Robert’s life is commemorated on the Whiting Bay war memorial.
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