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France & Flanders – The Battle of Aubers Ridge

[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text text_align=”left”]Three Wisharts are known to have been involved in the battle, two were killed and one seriously injured. They are:

Piper Andrew Wishart, 1st Battalion Royal Highlanders (Black Watch)

Andrew Wishart (1896 - 1979)Our first Wishart involved in the attack was 2338 Piper Andrew Wishart of ‘D’ Coy 1st Btn. Royal Highlanders (Black Watch.) He had been in France since late January and his unit were situated towards the centre of the line on the day of the assault. At 3:55 pm the order was received for Andrew’s company to go ‘over the top’, and at 3:57 pm as the men mounted the parapets, it was reported that soldiers from the English corps patted them on the back saying “Good Luck Jock” in the knowledge that they were “going out to face almost certain death”.
Bayonets fixed, the men yelled and dashed into the open to face withering enemy fire. The German trenches were three hundred yards away across the torn landscape, and heavily protected by barbed wire.  Andrew strode out in front of his company and along with the other pipers, struck up a tune of Highland Laddie – an old charging tune of the regiment. This was met with loud cheers from the advancing Highlanders who until that point in the war, had not experienced an assault accompanied by pipes.

Vanishing into the smoke, Andrew had crossed halfway between the two trenches when he received a shrapnel wound in the muscles of his right arm. Visibly injured, an officer (possibly a Captain Murdoch as recalled by Andrew) was reported as asking, “Andrew, are you down?” In reply Andrew informed him that “I’m going to play yet” and was assisted to his feet, his pipes being put back under his arm. Storming ahead, Andrew made it to within 10 yards of the German line before he was wounded again in his right thigh by an explosive bullet. As he fell other men in the battalion reputedly cried wild war whoops of  “the piper’s down” and stormed the enemy trenches, immediately capturing them. The German’s retreated to their second line and commenced bombarding the captured trenches with hand bombs and machine gun fire.  The Black Watch held their position until nightfall when they were forced to retreat in the face of a large German attack.  Casualties for the assault were reported as 14 officers and 461 other ranks.

Fortunately for Andrew, he had fallen near a ‘Jack Johnson’ (large artillery shell holes named after black heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson on account of the vast amount of black smoke given off by the explosions) where he managed to shelter for four days and nights without food or water.

On the fifth day Andrew began to crawl on his stomach across no man’s land towards the British trenches (he had also temporarily lost the use of his other leg.) He passed out before he made it back and lay in the open for an undetermined amount of time. The next thing he recalled was the sound of voices calling out “Come on my boys; come on,” and recognized two Inniskilling men who, under sniper fire and with the assistance of an officer, managed to pull Andrew through the wire and into the trench. Revived by a few drops of brandy courtesy of the officer, he was subsequently taken back to the dressing station.

Andrew was transported back to the UK, arriving by train in Glasgow on Monday 17th May and immediately taken to Stobhill Hospital where he was treated for his injuries. In addition to his parents, another more ‘high-profile’ visitor to the hospital had enquired after ‘the boy piper’. Unfortunately on the day King George V visited Stobhill, the now famous ‘Highland Laddie’ was lying on the operating table, missing his chance of a royal encounter.

Initially upset over the loss of his instrument, his grief was lifted by the discovery in his baggage of a set of ivory-mounted pipes, which had been presented to him by his parents whilst he was in India. News of Andrew’s bravery was printed in newspapers across the world and he was subsequently recorded in the Kirkcaldy & District war album.

Andrew was discharged from service with a Silver War Badge nearly a year later on 25 April 1916. He was also awarded the Victory, British War and 1915 Star medals.

The Fifeshire Advertiser of 29 May 1915 printed the following poem about Andrew composed by an A. Pye:

Burntisland’s Hero

T’was in the great engagement on Sunday 9th of May

The Black Watch men charged wildly when they heard the bagpipes play,

Fife accents sounded through the cheers and voices from Kirkcaldy

As the pipes struck up the charging tune, the dear old “Highland Laddie.”

The Captain prayed, “Oh Lord,” he said, “be Thou our help and shield,

Help us to do our duty now upon this battlefield,”

They saw the flash of fire, but yet felt not its burning breath,

For, as the pipes struck up, they charged right into the face of death.

The piper, a Burntisland lad, whose name in glory shines,

Played through the whistling bullets right to the German lines.

Long shall the name of Wishart live, a piper of renown,

Who played his comrades in the charge until he was shot down.

Wounded and bleeding, there he lay four days and nights alone,

Suffering in silence, with no cry – no word, nor sigh, nor groan.

He lay with neither food nor drink in the hole a shell had made,

But when picked up he moved his lips as silently he prayed.

God Bless the fearsome Highland lads! Long may the bagpipes squeal,

For both to King and country they are heroes free as steel;

Brave soldiers and brave sailors, on land and on the sea,

Fighting for dear old Scotland, the country of the free.

Private Robert Wishart, 1st Battalion Royal Highlanders (Black Watch)

Our second Wishart, also in ‘D’ Coy, 1st Btn. Black Watch is 3/4067 Pte. Robert Wishart who had arrived in France during January. Two days prior to the attack wrote to his mother:

Dear Mother,

I feel I had better write you today. I have never got that “Harrison’s pomade” from you yet. You don’t need to trouble about the handkerchiefs now as I have got some. I am as fit as ever but don’t write till you hear from me again as we expect to be in another big affair soon and who knows this may be the last letter, however we are here to take the chance and I have escaped so far. It is terrible now I think that everything that can be invented for taking life is in use. In the event of anything happening you will share with Mrs. Kidd as I leave her to pay off a suit of clothes which I got. I paid them always as the account was sent in I got all my clothes made at G. Brace’s Leven. I will close with best wishes to you all and hope that God willing I may come through it all.

Your Loving Son,

Bob

Robert was killed in action during the day and is commemorated on the Le Touret Memorial.

Private Henry Gray Wishart, 1st Battalion Seaforth Highlanders

677 Pte. Henry Gray Wishart, who had been in France since October 1914, was also killed at Aubers Ridge. Like Robert Wishart, his body was never recovered and he is commemorated on the Le Touret Memorial.

Of the day’s events, H. H. E. Craster wrote of the challenges facing the Seaforths:

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.

Gallipoli

Arriving today on the peninsula is 358 Tpr. John Charles Wishart, 3rd Light Horse AIF.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]