635728 Bdr. Andrew Johnston Wishart (1892 – 1980)
Andrew was born on 29 May 1892 in Lower Largo, Fife and the fourth of twelve children of Peter Wishart, a local fisherman, and his wife, Margaret Johnstone. At the time the family were living at 7 Defoe Place, however, by 1901 they had moved to 3 Station Cottage. Before the war, Andrew worked as a coal miner in one of the local mines and enlisted in Leven on 21 October 1914. He was immediately embodied for active service and joined the 2nd Highland Brigade, Royal Field Artillery. Andrew was attached to the Fifeshire Battery and stationed in Leven before leaving for France on 3 May 1915. The Brigade formed part of the 51st Highland Division who, during 1915, saw action at Festubert and Givenchy.
In early January 1916, the Brigade went into billets in Argoeuves and engaged in a period of training. Whilst there Andrew was admitted to the 2nd Canadian General Hospital in Le Treport and remained away from the Front until 24 July when he returned to his unit, which by then had been renamed ‘B’ Battery, and the Brigade redesignated as 256th (Highland) Brigade.
At the time Andrew rejoined, the battery was based on the Somme, about 250 yards northeast of the east corner of Mametz Wood and covering the divisional attack on High Wood. After the war, Andrew recounted a story about his time at the Front to his grandson in which he was in charge of an 18-pounder field gun. When in action a team of nine men operated the weapon with the gunner in position 2 sitting astride on the seat on the right side, and 3 sitting on the seat on the left side. Andrew was in one of these two positions, and after a cigarette break during a battle, he and a comrade swapped seats. He told that it was something of an unwritten rule that artillerymen did not do this, and after the switch, the other man (also from Largo) was then killed by a shell, which exploded nearby.
The 51st Division remained on the Somme for the rest of 1916 and at the start of 1917 had begun preparations for the Arras offensive, which started in early April. Andrew had been promoted to acting bombardier on 2 January 1917, and following Arras, next saw action at the pre-attack bombardment of Ypres during July 1917. However, on 28 July, he was sent to the 63rd Casualty Clearing Station suffering from ICT (Inflammation of the Connective Tissue) of his right hand.
After a period of rest and recuperation at the Artillery Base Depot, Andrew was classed fit for service on 3 November and given fifteen days leave before being required to rejoin the Brigade. He may have been involved in the action at Cambrai during late-November and was definitely at the Front in the spring of 1918 when the Germans launched a massive and overwhelming assault on the Third and Fifth armies.
Three days before the attack, which started on 21 March, Andrew was reprimanded for:
1. Allowing six horses attached to a gun lumber to trot on the paved road when returning from the line in the forward area
2. Stating a falsehood to the military police, and,
3. being without means of identification.
A history of the 51st Division written after the war mentions the 256th numerous times, and offers up some idea as to what Andrew may have experienced during this period:
During this day (22 March) 256th Brigade, R.F.A., played a memorable part. During the morning its batteries brought effective observed fire to bear on the enemy east of the Beau-Metz-Morchies line, doing considerable damage to his attacking troops. In the afternoon they ran their guns out of the pits, and engaged over open sights masses of the enemy on the left flank of the Division, particularly near Maricourt Wood, where several big concentrations were broken up. Later, when a counter-attack accompanied by tanks took place in this area ‘B’ 256 covered their advance with smoke, upon which large numbers of the enemy were thrown into confusion, and were subsequently heavily engaged by the concentrated fire of the whole artillery brigade. This battery, commanded by Major E. Will, about the same time completely neutralised an enemy battery that was endeavouring to come into action near Maricourt Wood. For four hours on the afternoon of the 22nd the 256th Brigade, R.F.A., fired continuously over open sights, the howitzers using instantaneous fuzes, and caused very considerable casualties to the enemy.
Over the first two days of the attack, Andrew’s battery fired a total of 10,600 rounds (the Brigade total was 36,700.) The fighting over the next week was relentless, and by the end of the month, the 256th had been forced to withdraw several miles from their original position. In early April Andrew’s unit had moved to the Bethune area, where it was hoped things would be quieter. However, within days, the Germans opened the second phase of their offensive, and the brigade was brought back into action north of the Cornet Malo – Marmuse Road. At what would be known as the Battle of the Lys, the 256th expended 37,580 rounds from their 18-pound guns, 9179 from the 4.5-inch howitzers and 300 gas shells between 9 – 30 April. May saw similar numbers fired (though gas increased to 1127 shells) however during June the numbers dropped quite considerably.
In July Andrew saw action at The Battle of the Tardenois (one of the Battles of the Marne) when the 51st Division fought for the Ardre Valley. Brigade casualties were consistent throughout the month, with the majority of those suffering the effects of gas poisoning. Andrew appears to have made it through physically unscathed, and continued to fight with the 256th until the end of the war; participating in the Battle of the Scarpe and then the pursuit to, and Battle of the Selle – both of which were part of the Hundred Days Offensive. The Brigade War Diary provides further insight into how intense the fighting during the last month of the war was, with figures for amunition expended during October being 43,919 18-pounder shells and 10,476 from the howitzers.
On 1 November 1918 Andrew’s battery covered an attack made by the 49th Division on the Preseau-Valenciennes Road at which over 800 enemy prisoners were taken. Less than a week later, on the 6th, he found himself based along the Annelle River and would continue to see action right up until the day before the Armistice. At 11 am on 11 November all men were ordered to stand fast in the line wherever they had reached, which in Andrew’s case was southeast of Harmignies – a village near the Belgian town of Mons. Orders were also received that there would be no ‘parleying’ with the enemy, and that should they attempt to come over, they would be immediately sent back.
By the end of the November, the Brigade had moved to a new base at Rouelx from where on 4 December Andrew was granted two weeks leave back to the UK which he overstayed by four days and forfeited pay as a result. On 18 January 1919, Andrew (by now a bombardier) left France for the final time and sailed from Dieppe for the UK, where he proceeded for demobilisation at Duddingston in February.
After the war, Andrew returned to Lower Largo and got his old job back in the mine. On 26 December 1919, he married Jessie Simpson in Methil, and five children were born of the marriage. They lived at Defoe Place, and on receiving his war medals, Andrew reputedly marched down to the harbour pier and threw them into the sea.
On 28 November 1922 Andrew re-enlisted in the military for eight years and joined the 302nd (Fife) Battery, RFA – a territorial unit headquartered in Leven. Army life would have consisted of the annual summer training camps and perhaps a requirement to participate in ceremonial events. He eventually left the Territorials on 27 November 1930 and lived until the age of 87, when he died at 13 Station Park in Lower Largo.
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