267906 Pte. Albert Wishart (1898 – 1917)
By 1914 Albert had left school and was working as an apprentice fitter at Dens Iron Works and employed by Alexander Shanks & Son. He was living at 16 Panmure Street when war with Germany was declared, and like many young men, he rushed to enlist, not wanting to miss out on the ‘Great Adventure’. An advert published in the Arbroath Herald of 14 August called for:
5th Battalion Black Watch – Young men of good physique wanted immediately as recruits to fill vacancies in the above Battalion. For particulars apply Drill Hall, Marketgate or Sgt. Ballingall, 29 Abbot Street.
By the end of August Pte. A Wishart had been mobilised for service and sent for training. The recruits were said to have been so numerous that kitting out the men proved something of a challenge, with many carrying out their duties in civilian clothing. Being a Territorial Unit, the men were not obligated to serve overseas, however, almost the entire battalion volunteered for such duty if the call came.
Albert, who was only 16, formed part of the second or reserve battalion, which at just over 300 in number, was said to have consisted of many who obviously fell short of the required age to proceed overseas, and had probably lied on their attestation forms. The reserve was drafted to Forfar on 26 September and brigaded as a Home Defence unit.
In early December orders were received for a draft from the reserve to proceed to France and reinforce the first line of the battalion, who had proceeded overseas in November. Albert was among them and prepared to leave for France, where he arrived on 17 December. The draft, which by this point comprised of 3 officers and 191 men, eventually joined the main battalion on Christmas Day 1914.
As 1915 began the true age of some of the men in the trenches was discovered, and in early February, four sixteen-year-old lads who had travelled overseas with Albert were sent back to the UK. Albert himself appears to have remained under the radar and would almost certainly have kept up the pretence of being much older than he really was.
On 26 February 1915, the battalion was relieved in the line and proceeded to La Gorgue in order to rest and make preparations for an attack on Neuve Chapelle, which had been planned for 10 March. Four days before the assault Albert was shot in the right hand whilst carrying munitions to the trenches. He was taken to hospital in Boulogne, and then onwards to the General Hospital in Cambridge, where he remained for about five weeks. In a letter to the Arbroath Herald (2 April 1915) Albert’s mother reported her son’s injury but also took care to note that he was eighteen years of age when in fact he was just shy of his seventeenth birthday.
It is not currently known exactly when Albert returned to the front. He may have rejoined his old unit in France, or perhaps been immediately transferred to the 9th Battalion Black Watch, who he is known to have been serving with by the summer of 1916. The 9th (Service) Battalion had been formed in Perth during September 1914, and at the time Albert was recuperating in a Cambridge hospital, were based in Tidworth. They arrived in France on 8 July 1915 and later that year saw action at the Battle of Loos.
In early August 1916, the 9th Black Watch had appropriately arrived in Albert. It was around this time that Albert was wounded for the second time when he was hit in the chest by shrapnel and sent to a French hospital.
By the summer of 1917, Albert was back in action and based near Ypres. An attack, which became the Battle of Pilckem Ridge (an ‘opener’ in the Third Battle of Ypres), had been planned to drive the enemy from high ground northeast and east of Ypres.
At 3:50 am on 31 July, in the misty half-light of dawn, Albert advanced behind a creeping barrage across a battlefield dramatically illuminated by bursting shells and flares. Little enemy opposition was encountered until his unit reached the enemy reserve line, where, from that point onwards, hidden machine guns and snipers dealt stiff opposition. By 4:45 am the 9th had reached their first objective and having secured the second, reached the final (about 400 yards east of Frezenberg) around 6:30 am. The position held by the Highlanders was under the direct gaze of enemy guns situated on the ridges further to the east and north. The battalion war diary recorded that “the shelling was very heavy, worse than any of us remember having received on the Somme, and this continued all day.” It will probably never be known when Albert fell. His body was never recovered and he was reported as being among the 45 missing in action from the battalion.
Almost a full year would pass before Albert was officially recorded as having been killed and he was subsequently commemorated on the Menin Gate Memorial in Ypres.
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