As the sun sank below the horizon, and the dust settled on the evening of 12 July 1915, the scene in the half-light of a Gallipoli summer’s evening was recorded as being utter carnage. The ground was ‘strewn with corpses’; casualties of bad intelligence about the Turkish trench system and an eagerness to pursue the enemy that resulted in a catastrophic loss of life. Less than a month before, men of the 1/4th Battalion King’s Own Scottish Borderers had arrived on the peninsula. Now over half their number were either dead or wounded. Among those lost on the battlefield was Private No. 7247 Thomas Wishart, a young grocer from Crieff who had enlisted the previous November.
Thomas Wishart was born on 2 April 1893 in a small terraced house at 40 Comrie Street in Crieff, Perthshire – the fifth of eleven children of Thomas Wishart, a local housepainter and his wife, Margaret Brown.
By the time the war broke out in August 1914, Thomas had left Crieff and found work in Galashiels as a grocer working for Maypole & Co. (he had previously served an apprenticeship with Liptons Ltd.) On 16 November 1914, he enlisted with the King’s Own Scottish Borderers and was sent to join the 1/4th (Border) Battalion, who at the time were quartered near Stirling at Hayford Mill in Cambusbarron. At the time the weather was recorded as being ‘fine and brisk’ which was said to have greatly facilitated training around the district. Long marches through Stirlingshire, Roxburghshire and Berwickshire had been designed to stimulate recruiting, and Thomas must have been cheered by the warm response from the inhabitants of the villages and towns through which the battalion passed.
On 19 May 1915, the battalion received orders to move and marched through the crowded streets of Stirling for the station but was immediately sent back to the old mill for a further two days before finally entraining for Liverpool (via Carlisle.) The send-off at the station was described as being ‘enthusiastic and sincere’, and on arrival in Liverpool on the 23rd the battalion boarded the HMTS Empress of Britain and sailed for Gallipoli.
After almost two weeks at sea, the Borderers arrived in Egypt on 4 June and entrained for Aboukir where they encamped on the shore before returning to Alexandria. On 11 June the battalion left for Mudros Bay back on board the Empress of Britain, and while lying at anchor awaiting orders to disembark, they were bombed by a Turkish aeroplane. From Mudros two small steamers transported the battalion the final sixty miles to the peninsula, they arrived in the ‘grey dawn’ of 14 June. Almost immediately Thomas found himself in full view of the Turks, who were frequently shelling the British positions. Conditions for the new arrivals were harsh, Captain Stair Gillon writing in his history of the KSOB in the Great War noted that:
‘Dust and flies and contaminated food and stenches and heat undermined the stoutest constitutions. The young and the too-mature seemed to suffer most, and the exacting fatigues and constant strain owing to inability to avoid observation and fire except under the ground level accentuated the evil.’
On 11 July the battalion moved into the firing line in preparation for an attack the following day. The objective was to seize the three remaining foremost Turkish trenches along a 2000 yard front and distract attention away from Suvla and Anzac where landings were organised for mid-August.
Battalion histories all record a glorious start to the day on the 12th that was interrupted at first light by a bombardment of enemy lines. At 7:35 am Thomas, in B Company, cleared the parapet in the first wave of the attack and the battalion managed to take the first and second enemy lines with few casualties. The third line turned out to be a red herring. Scratches in the earth marked out what might have been a future trench, and so in the absence of this last objective, the men pressed forward towards the Achi Babi – a 600ft hill populated by Turkish machine guns and rifles. In doing so and ascending the bushy slopes, the KOSB had advanced right into their own artillery barrage. Sergeant W. Mack, who had been in the first wave with Thomas, later wrote: ‘The shell fire was awful, much of it seemed to have been our own shells’.
Another KOSB veteran, Nichol Robertson also found himself well forward during the assault of 12 July:
‘…and of course the Turks could concentrate everything they had on one small sector, course so could we, but you see the Turks were on the defensive and we just got everything they could possibly lay in to us. And then as far as we were concerned we were to take three lines of trenches, well, when we got over the first, there was another practically obliterated, and there was no such thing as the third line and when we got right out in the open, we were outflanked on either side and when we turned to come back, we came into our own artillery fire as well as the Turk’s. Some of us had pieces of biscuit tin on our backs and of course, when we turned that flashed in the direction of the Turks and we just got it.’
Thomas’s body was never found. It seems likely he had been either obliterated by the barrage or cut to pieces by flanking enemy rifle and machine-gun fire. The battalion losses on 12 July were 331 officers and men killed, 209 wounded. Of the 275 men reported missing that day only thirteen were taken prisoner.
Thomas was struck off strength from the battalion on 2 August and on the 6th his father received a letter from the Territorial Force Record Office, Hamilton, informing him:
‘…that his son, Private T. Wishart 1/4th K.O.S.B., was posted as missing after the engagement while serving with the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force on 12th July.’
Thomas Snr. Subsequently posted a notice in the ‘Missing Soldiers’ column of the Dundee Courier on 4 September 1915 asking for any information relating to his son. None was forthcoming, and Thomas must have surely feared the worst. Shortly after the attack on the 12th, the Dundee Courier had printed that ‘in Gallipoli “missing” means either dead or captured, for there is no room for stragglers on that narrow terrain.’
On 8 June 1916 Thomas Snr. Received intimation from the war office that his son was now presumed dead. In a newspaper obituary, he was described as being a bright and cheery lad and is commemorated on the Helles Memorial in Turkey as well as the War Memorial in Crieff.