677 Pte Henry Gray Wishart (1890 – 1915)
Henry Gray Wishart was born at 6 am on 3 April 1890 at 6 Victoria Place in Clydebank. He was the fourth of five children of David Wishart, an iron driller from Perth, and his wife, Elizabeth Aslett. Before his birth, Henry’s father had served twenty-one years as a gunner with the Royal Marines Artillery and stationed on various ships during his military career, including the Rodney, Invincible and Bullfinch. He saw action during the Anglo-Egyptian war of 1882 and is likely to have met his wife Elizabeth while based in Portsmouth.
In 1891 Henry was living with his family at 6 Kilbowie Road in Clydebank, however; tragically three years later, shortly after Henry’s fourth birthday, his father died of pneumonia. As a result, Elizabeth decided to move the whole family back to Hampshire, and by 1901 they were living in a terraced house at 11 Londesborough Road in Portsmouth. Henry and his brother George were still at school while his mother took in laundry and brother David contributed to the household income working in a shipyard as a fitter.
Possibly inspired by his late father’s Scottish roots and solid military career, Henry enlisted in Portsmouth during 1910 and joined the 2nd Battalion Seaforth Highlanders, who were garrisoned at the Regimental Depot in Fort George, near Inverness.
At some point during the next three years, Henry was transferred to the 1st Battalion and sent overseas to India. At the outbreak of war in August 1914, the battalion was based at Agra and formed part of the Dehra Dun Brigade (later 19th Indian Brigade), 7th Meerut Division, Indian Army. A month later the brigade mobilised for war and embarked for France, arriving in Marseilles on 12 October.
Henry’s first taste of life in the trenches came almost three weeks later when his battalion took over the line (which at that point was just a roadside ditch) on the Estaires-La Bassee road near Richebourg-St-Vaast and Neuve Chapelle.
H. H. E. Craster wrote in the Scottish Historical Review during 1919:
Here for a fortnight on end they lay exposed, day in, day out, to heavy shelling from enemy field guns and mortars and to enfilading rifle fire at close range from houses in Neuve Chapelle on their right. The enemy were entrenching and sapping up to 400 yards of their line, and made occasional infantry attacks without success. What with accurate sniping and shell-fire, the 1st Seaforths lost very heavily during this their first tour in the trenches.
Henry gained his first experience of battle on 19 December when the Seaforths attacked at Givenchy. After initial successes, they were eventually driven back by a counter-attack and suffered badly in the action, at one point becoming dangerously exposed on their flank and forced to take two successive stands against German bombers, who stormed down the British firing line under cover of smoke-balls.
After several days of fighting the battalion was eventually relieved and settled down into winter in the trenches but gradually brought back up to strength in preparation for further campaigns in the spring.
On 10 March 1915, Henry was involved in the Battle of Neuve Chapelle, which was the first ‘planned’ British offensive of the war. Henry’s battalion fought with distinction, capturing their objectives, although again, with a heavy cost. Craster wrote of the battle on 12 March:
All that day the 1st Seaforths and the Garhwal Brigade had continued to hold their line at Neuve Chapelle and assisted in repelling with concentrated machine-gun fire massed German attacks made against them on the morning of the 12th. Throughout that day they were subjected to a continuous heavy bombardment, their losses during the three days being somewhat heavier than those of the 1/4th (Seaforths).
Having survived Neuve Chapelle, Henry was in action again less than two months later when the Seaforths took part in the offensive at Festubert. Their objective was to drive the enemy from the Aubers Ridge and having been postponed by two days due to poor weather conditions; the attack was eventually made at twenty minutes to six on the morning of 9 May. The Seaforths and the remainder of the Brigade were in support and made three gallant attempts to breach enemy positions.
H. H. E. Craster:
Each attempt was checked after a few yards of ground had been gained. The task imposed upon them was absolutely impossible. So at nine o’clock orders were issued that all men who could, should crawl back. Few could do so, for the slightest movement drew a terrific fire from the enemy. More managed to regain their trenches when the Bareilly Brigade attacked in the afternoon, but the majority had to lie out under fire until darkness set in.
Henry was killed in action that day. His body was either never recovered or identified, and he is commemorated on the Le Touret Memorial (Panel 39) in France.
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