Capt. Andrew Brock Wishart (1893 – 1955)
Andrew Brock Wishart was born during the evening of 15 June 1893 at Smithston, a sandstone villa on Dargarvel Avenue in Govan. He was the eighth of ten children of George, a local Grain Merchant, and his wife, Williamina Charteris Smith. Like his older brother William, Andrew attended the prestigious Bellahouston Academy, and by 1911, Andrew had joined the family business and was working as a clerk. The following year he joined the Officer Training Corps at Glasgow University and served until August 1914, when almost immediately after war broke out, he retired from the OTC and enlisted in Glasgow on 2 September with the 1/9th Highland Light Infantry (Glasgow Highlanders.) Along with a draft of other new recruits, 2413 Pte. A. B. Wishart was posted to Dunfermline, where the 9th HLI were quartered in the new Carnegie Baths, and quickly found himself engaged in intensive training.
On 31 October orders were received that the battalion would be held in immediate readiness to proceed overseas, and consequently two days later, Andrew entrained at Dunfermline and travelled overnight to Southampton, arriving on 3 November. In his book ‘Shoulder to Shoulder’ – an account of the Glasgow Highlanders in the Great War, Colonel A. K. Reid recalled the talk amongst the men during the journey south:
During the journey conjecture was rife as to our destination. We knew that the situation at Ypres was critical. Were we being hurried to the assistance of our ‘contemptible’ little army, or were we going further afield? Would we be brigaded with regulars or with other Territorials? Rumour had it that a brigade was to be formed of the London Scottish, the Liverpool Scottish, a battalion of the Black Watch, and ourselves.
The following day Andrew boarded the S.S. Novia and sailed for France about eight o’clock that evening. The shop was part of an impressive convoy that was steaming in V formation across calm waters towards Le Havre. After disembarking on the 5th, the battalion, which was over 1000 strong, marched through the streets to the sound of the pipes and cheering crowds, eventually halting at a rest camp on high ground behind the town. For November it was said to have been an unusually warm day, and the temporary break was short-lived as the men now faced a long and arduous journey to the front. Just after midnight the Highlanders marched back down the hill to the Le Havre railway station and entrained at 8 am for St Omer where upon arrival they headed off on foot to billets at a tile and paper factory in Wardeques.
Andrew found himself edging closer to the line on the 23 November when he marched along a hard icy road to Bailleul where his battalion joined the 5th Infantry Brigade who had previously been one of the first British units sent overseas after the outbreak of war. They had seen action at Mons and the subsequent Great Retreat but more recently at Ypres and were now under-strength. Two days later the Brigade proceeded to Kemmel where they were to take over trenches occupied by the IInd Corps; Colonel Reid described this journey:
In the afternoon of the 25th November, the brigade marched out of Bailleul, the Glasgow Highlanders bringing up the rear. Before very long we were out of France and on Belgium soil — or rather on Belgium cobbles. After marching along a straight main road with great trees on each side, we took a series of by-roads, and, passing to the north of Kemmel Hill were descending a steepish gradient into the village just as the light was beginning to fail. Suddenly we heard “whiz-bang,” then another and another. We were under shellfire for the first time. Evidently, the enemy was shelling the road ‘on spec’, but although some came fairly close, none of the shells did us any damage. While this was going on a halt was called from the head of the column, which by this time had reached the village, and word was passed along for company- commanders. A conference was held at the village, where the Brigadier issued orders for taking over the trenches.
Private Carruthers, another man in Andrew’s battalion, wrote in his diary:
When about 2 miles away from our lines and when ascending a hill in bright moonlight, we were suddenly greeted by the roar of a shell which passed over to our right and burst some hundreds of yards away. This was followed by 5 or 6 more shells, none of which came any nearer. This was our first experience of artillery, but had no very marked effect on our spirits which were good.
Nearing the line Carruthers wrote:
As we came up behind this trench, we threw ourselves down on the ground as the bullets were whizzing around, and we had to wait until the Munsters vacated their positions in threes and fours.
A rather amusing incident occurred here. One of our men, Duvoisin, throwing himself down in the moonlight beside a form on the ground remarked: “It seems damned dangerous getting into the trenches in this way”. He received no reply, and after a few minutes remarked further “Do you notice an awful smell here?” Again receiving no reply, he looked closer at the form beside him, which turned out to be that of a dead French soldier, who had probably been there for some days.
Andrew’s first taste of trench life was something of a baptism of fire but only lasted 48 hours before the battalion was relieved and marched back to billets in Bailleul. By late-December winter had now gripped the Western Front and a few days before Christmas, Andrew’s unit left Bailleul for Locon, near Bethune. Private Carruthers described the journey in his diary entries for 22nd/23rd December:
We boarded a convoy of London motor omnibuses at 2.45am, and immediately set off in a long string, preceded by the 2nd HLI on a long journey, whether we knew not what with equipment and rifles, we had little room for comforts, and passed a restless night, cramped, cold and sleeping in every conceivable position.
About 9 am on the morning of the 24th we arrived at Bethune swarming with troops, amongst whom the Indians were very noticeable.
As we descended from the omnibuses in a snowstorm, long lines of transports were winding into Bethune from the firing line, amongst whom were the Black Watch along with three battalions of Indians in their brigade, the Orientals squatting behind their mules, shivering in the cold.
As dawn broke on Christmas day, the beauty of a hard frost lay in stark contrast to the distant sound of artillery and gun-fire several miles away. Andrew’s unit, who were billeted in several run-down barns, made the best of the situation, befriending locals so that they might procure enough provisions to create a Christmas dinner of sorts. During a parade that afternoon, cards were passed out from the King and Queen, while mail from home was distributed to the ranks the next day.
Four day’s later the battalion relieved the Oxfordshire Light Infantry in trenches at Richebourg St-Vaast, six miles northeast of Béthune. Despite being in the support, Andrew’s company were not entirely out of harm’s way. German snipers had concealed themselves amongst wheat stacks and other nearby derelict buildings, raining down bullets at every opportunity. One New Year’s Eve the company moved up to the front line, relieving their comrades who had taken over the trenches on the 29th. Progress was slow, and conditions poor,
Private Carruthers wrote:
This turned out to be the most disgusting trench which we had been in, a veritable river of liquid mud merging in parts from thick clay to dirty water. Before setting out, we removed our putties, rubbed Vaseline on our feet and legs, and went through the trench with boots and socks only, catching up our coats under our belts. Several men stuck together and had to have the clay dug away from their legs. Many who were wearing shoes had them sucked off and lost them in the mud.
Colonel Reid describes that night:
For a time it almost seemed that something really serious was coming, and we stood along the fire-step with fixed bayonets ready for eventualities, but the situation soon became normal again, and we were able to proceed to routine, having been treated to a very fine firework display at an enormous expense of German ammunition.
Fortunately, this particular bout of trench misery was to be short-lived, when Andrew’s unit, who by then were almost unrecognisable due to the mud, was relieved by the 2nd Highland Light Infantry and went into billets near Richebourg.
By late January Andrew was in front lines at Festubert, and after a relatively quiet month for the battalion, Colonel Reid recounted an enemy attack made on the 25th:
January 25th being the Kaiser’s birthday, we were warned that some liveliness might be expected on our front in honour of the occasion. This was a pity, as we were planning to honour a greater man with such resources as were at our disposal. However, the enemy started early in the morning to shell our position. This was not the usual exhibition of materialised hate, but a regular hot bombardment. Fortunately, he could not tell exactly where we were and had to spread his shrapnel and H.E. over a large area. Even as it was, the ordeal was trying for the flimsy houses afforded no real cover, and No.2 Company had several killed and wounded.
Private Carruthers recorded how the day ended:
Our artillery then turned on the fleeing Germans tearing gaps in their ranks, that were visible even from our lines. Quite suddenly the bombardment on both sides ceased, and the contrast from the continual roar was marvellous. That night we lay down to sleep with full equipment on and our rifles at our hands, ready to move forward in the event of any further attack.
After three months alternating between the line and the rear, the battalion eventually found themselves billeted at the tobacco factory in Bethuné at the end of April. On 9 May the British had taken part in a largely unsuccessful attack at Neuve Chapelle and consequently, the second round of attacks were planned around the village of Festubert. Andrew’s unit formed part of this new offensive, and at 8 o’clock in the evening of the 15th the battalion marched out of Richebourg crossed the Rue du Bois and entered the communication trenches.
During the attack, the Highlanders, in support the Worcesters and Inniskillings, followed behind the main attack and tasked with consolidating the line of the Festubert-la Tourelle Road. Andrew’s company, under Captain Menzies, was in support of the two attacking Highland units, and by 11:30 pm were bunched together in a narrow shelter trench waiting to move into the front breastworks. Shortly before zero hour, German flares tore into the night sky that was immediately followed by heavy shelling of the British positions. Evidently, the attack had not been a surprise, and it’s not known whether Andrew even made it out of the trenches into No Man’s Land, where those who had not been killed, took refuge in shell-holes. At some point before midnight, Andrew was hit by shrapnel in his left thigh but was able to make it to the regimental aid post, which was situated behind a house on the other side of the Rue du Bois.
Andrew was subsequently sent to No.1 Casualty Clearing Station at Chocques before being transported by train to a Canadian Stationary Hospital in Le Touquet. He arrived on 17 May but was sent back to Britain nine days later, where he recuperated in a Glasgow hospital. On discharge, Andrew was posted to the 3/9th Highland Light Infantry at which point he was recommended for a commission in the Territorial Force. A formal application was made on 3 September and confirmed with an appointment to the 3/6th Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders on 8 October.
Early in 1916, 2nd Lieutenant Andrew Brock Wishart crossed the English Channel for the second time and joined the 1/6th Battalion Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders. Regrettably, Andrew’s records detailing much of his service during the rest of the war were destroyed in 1960, and the battalion war diary does not make mention of him joining his unit. It seems likely that he had arrived with his new unit by early March when they were billeted at Beauval.
Later in the month, while the Argylls were holding a section of the line in the Labyrinth Sector, two German soldiers wearing spiked helmets and khaki covers were observed near one of the British saps where they launched a grenade attack. The men occupying the sap temporarily withdrew until an officer, and two other men armed with grenades held the Germans at bay. The Battalion War Diary then records that Andrew arrived with a small number of reinforcements and repeatedly ‘poured grenades’ onto the enemy position, effecting a great many casualties. During the action, Andrew was wounded in the right arm by a grenade and taken along the trench system to the nearest dressing station before being evacuated back to Britain, where he was transferred by train to Glasgow and admitted to the Yorkhill War Hospital on 2 April. At a medical board held ten days later, and with his wounds healing well, it was decided that Andrew would be unfit for active service for a further eight weeks and was sent to the Maryhill Military Hospital to recuperate. On 23 May he appeared before the board again and considered fit for home service, but unfit for general service for a further period of four weeks.
After being discharged from the hospital, Andrew proceeded to camp at Ripon where, on 26 June, he appeared before the board and was passed fit for “General Service”. As service papers relating to the remainder of his time in the military have not survived, the rest of Andrew’s war can be pieced together using announcements published in official Army Lists. The war diaries from Andrew’s old battalion make no further mention of him; however, it is known that in November 1916 he was attached to the 1/14th (County of London) Battalion (London Scottish.)
The battalion formed part of the part of the 56th (1st London) Division, and military historian Paul Reed has compiled an excellent summary of the Divisions movements and actions during the period that Andrew joined the London Scottish:
During the winter of 1916/17, the division remained in the Somme area until the Germans withdrew to the Hindenburg Line. They then moved up to Arras, and on 9th April 1917, the opening day of the Battle of Arras, the London Division attacked and captured Neuville Vitesse. Units then moved on to the Wancourt Line, which they reached after heavy fighting. Several battalions lost more than 300 men each. Back into the line in late April, the final advance at Arras began on 3rd May, the division assaulting the lines east of Monchy le Preux. Due to the failure of the divisions on either side, the attack was a costly failure with other 2,000 casualties.
In July 1917 the division moved to Ypres and fought in the Battle of Langemarck at Inverness Copse and Glencourse Wood on 16th/17th August. Objectives were reached, but a strong German counter-attack threw the London Division back to its original start line. Casualties were 111 officers and 2,794 men over a five day period in the line, most of them as a result of the attack on 16th August. Following these operations the division withdrew from the line, and moved south to the Cambrai area, taking over trenches at Lagnicourt in early September.
On the opening day of the Battle of Cambrai, 20th November 1917, the division was involved in diversionary operations opposite Moeuvres, and two days later attacked and captured Tadpole Copse and the Hindenburg Line near Moeuvres itself. Here they remained in reserve while the fighting for Bourlon Wood continued. During the German counter-attack, the positions held near Tadpole Copse were overrun and the division forced back towards the old British front line. Casualties at Cambrai were 211 killed, 1,046 wounded and 369 missing.
After Cambrai, the London Division moved to Arras and took over the line between the Oppy and Gavrelle sectors. The German Offensive began on 21st March 1918, the divisional front being bombarded but not attacked. However, this changed a week later when an attack was launched on the morning of 28th March. A terrific bombardment ‘blotted out’ many of the forward positions, and some five German divisions advanced on the Londoner, and 4th Division on their left. Although some ground was eventually given way, the Germans were stopped with minimal losses to the London battalions – 55 officers and 1,433 men.
Andrew’s involvement in the aforementioned is unknown, however, in this period he was promoted to lieutenant. In July 1918 he rejoined the Argylls and was attached to the 10th Battalion, who during August fought at the Battle of Amiens followed by the Battles of the Hindenburg Line and the Final Advance in Picardy. Whilst with the 10th, Andrew was mentioned in Despatches and assigned the rank of Temporary Captain. He saw out the final days of the war near Avesnes in northern France and was disembodied from service with effect from 4 April 1919.
After the war, Andrew returned to Glasgow and began selling standalone gas heaters for the Lawson Manufacturing Company and by 1922 had become the manager for the Scottish arm of the London business. According to his nephew, Crawford Wishart, Andrew met an ‘electrical genius’ during the war named Belling who noticed that he was something of a charmer and a natural salesman. The man in question may well have been Charles Reginald Belling, an electrical engineer who in 1912 started manufacturing electrical heaters in Enfield. Within a year the range extended to twelve models and in the early days of the war he had attracted the attention of the Admiralty who asked him to provide heating and cooking equipment for submarines, as well as supplying ovens for canteens. Whether the encounter between Andrew and ‘Mr Belling’ happened during or after the war is unknown; however, it seems plausible that their paths might have crossed while Andrew was a gas-heating salesman and he subsequently went to work for him.
On 11 September 1927, Andrew married Gladys May Adams, the daughter of a Dorset farmer, in Petersfield, Hampshire. Shortly afterwards Andrew left Belling’s employ and began working for the British Thompson-Houston Company (a subsidiary of the General Electric Company (GE) of Schenectady, New York) where his income soared. However, Belling brought him back in, and he eventually became general manager at Belling & Co. Ltd. The company was based on Southbury Road in Enfield and produced cookers, electric heaters and components for the burgeoning television market.
Andrew died in hospital on 24 May 1955 at 20 Devonshire Place, London of heart failure and chronic hepatitis following an appendectomy. At the time he had been living at the West Park Lodge hotel in Hadley Wood.
Article © Scott Wishart, 2017
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