David Hay Wishart was born at 16 High Street in Leslie, Fife on 14 September 1888. He was the seventh of nine children of William Wishart, a nurseryman from Springfield near Cupar, and his wife, Isabella Gray. David lived in Fife until 1914 when, on 16 May, he left from Southampton on the Braemar Castle, bound for Cape Town. He had been working as a blacksmith and emigrated to join two of his brothers, who had settled in South Africa several years before.
On arrival, David found work in Jeppestown, a suburb of Johannesburg, and was living at 22 Adderley Street when he enlisted at Potchefstroom on 7 December 1915. On his attestation forms, David informed the recruiting officer that he had previously served four years as a Territorial with the Black Watch and gave his father’s name and address in Leslie as his next-of-kin. He joined the South African Scottish and following a spell training with the 2nd (Reserve) Battalion he was drafted to the 4th Regiment and left for Cape Town on 26 February 1916 and sailed for England.
Several months later, on 11 July, David embarked in Southampton for France and was sent to the base depot at Rouen where he was processed and sent to join his unit in the field a week later. At that time the South African Brigade was at the Somme and saw heavy fighting at Delville Wood reducing it to around a quarter of its original strength. David formed part of a draft of 2826 reinforcements and would have been required to complete a final period of training before he was absorbed into his unit.
David’s first taste of life in the trenches probably came while the regiment was holding a section of the line in the relatively quiet Vimy area; however, the South Africans would soon return to the Somme where David experienced his first battle during October at the Butte de Warlencourt. Despite high casualties, David survived and would not see action again until April 1917 at Arras.
At 5:30 am on 9 April the 4th South Africans went over the top. David, in ‘A’ Company, was under the command of Captain Grady and on the left of the brigade line. A preceding smoke barrage concealed the advance, and despite some losses, the 4th reached their first objective and having cleared the enemy dug-outs, were able to take a sizeable number of prisoners without encountering much resistance. By 10 am the whole Brigade had reached its second objective and then in the early afternoon, their third ( and last.) From the South Africans position, the attack was considered a success although this still came at a cost with the 4th suffering casualties of 57 killed and 186 wounded or missing. David was not among them, and three days later the regiment took up a position running north-west from Fampoux. The enemy occupied a line running from Rouex through the Chemical Works and the railway station along the Gavrelle Road. The South Africans were ordered to attack this position the following day.
Unlike the previous assault, on this occasion, the Germans were prepared, and with the South Africans tired by the stress of three days exposure to enemy shelling coupled with heavy snowfall, things were not looking as positive. An artillery barrage began at 5 pm; however, this missed its target and fell behind the enemy’s first line of defence. Consequently, the advancing South Africans faced crossing a large stretch of ground exposed to machine gun and rifle fire from the front and on both flanks. During the day, the regiment lost two officers (including Captain Grady) and 200 men. David was among the 200, and an obituary published in the Fifeshire Advertiser on 28 April printed a letter David wrote to his father that was to be posted home in the eventuality of his death:
My Dear Father, – If you receive this you will be sure I am finished and gone under, but you may also be sure that I fought well and di my best. I feel O.K. and quite ready for it. I am in the best of spirits and having a good time. Good-bye. – Your loving son, Dave. France, 7-4-17.
In a letter to William, Lieutenant Marshall wrote that ‘your son died gallantly while performing his duty, and I trust that in time you will become reconciled to your great loss.’
The newspaper described David as being an excellent workman, kind, helpful and obliging and reported that his death had ‘cast a gloom’ over his native community. His body was eventually identified and buried at Brown’s Copse Cemetery in Rouex. He is also commemorated on the Arras Memorial and back home in Leslie.