S/17704 Pte. Angus John Mouat Wishart (1894 – 1917)
Angus John Mouat Wishart was born in the small hours of 21 July 1894 in North Stow, Eshaness in the parish of Northmavine, Shetland. He was the youngest child of James Wishart, a local crofter and fisherman, and his wife, Agnes Mouat. Six days after Angus was born tragedy struck the family when his mother died from complications following the birth. As was sometimes the case with widowed men, an unmarried female relative would move in with the family (in this case James’s sister Catherine), where they would act as surrogate mothers to his children.
By 1911 Angus had got his first job working on his father’s croft and enlisted in Lerwick shortly after war broke out in 1914. He was assigned to the 8th (Service) Battalion Seaforth Highlanders – a unit formed in September 1914 at Fort George and under the command of the 44th Brigade, 15th (Scottish) Division. The 8th Seaforths had landed in France during July 1915 and saw action at Loos later that year. During 1916 they were involved in the Battles of Albert, Bazentin, Delville Wood and Le Transloy. Unfortunately, his service papers have not survived; however, it is very likely Angus was with his unit during April 1917 when they saw action at Arras, and almost certainly at Ypres in July for the start of what would be known as the 3rd Battle of Ypres (Passchendaele.)
The assault commenced at 3:50 am on 31 July and having partaken in the customary cup of rum, the Seaforths (in support) advanced in the dark across No Man’s Land. The battalion war diary records in the appendixes that:
The early zero hour and the resulting darkness made the crossing of our front system more difficult than was anticipated and Coys lost formation but did not become mixed up with each other owing to the starting distances and intervals.
Two companies did, however, become ‘mixed up’ with the 9th Black Watch and 8th/10th Gordon Highlanders who had by this point engaged the enemy. The first objective was taken with little resistance, and after ‘mopping up’ the German front trenches, the battalion pressed on towards Frezenberg, with two companies taking part in the capture of Wilde Wood. The Seaforths then consolidated themselves at the Blue Line where they came under heavy shellfire, before advancing with the remainder of the battalion towards the Black Line during the evening. In addition to the Germans, the Seaforths faced another enemy in the form of the weather. The day itself was described as dull and misty with poor visibility, and during the night continuous heavy rain transformed the battlefield into a quagmire which stalled the whole attack. The battalion continued to hold their new position the following day but with constant heavy shellfire and sniper activity causing considerable (about 210) casualties.
Angus survived the first days of the battle and found himself back at Bivouac Camp in the early hours of 4 August, before marching to another camp at Winnezeele later that afternoon. The period out of the line was brief, and the Highlanders were soon back in the front trenches, with another attack on enemy positions near Frezenberg occurring on 22 August. Losses that day were heavy, with both attacking and supporting companies suffering machine gun fire within seconds of going over the top. One company assaulting on the right of the formation were ‘practically wiped out’ when they appeared to lose direction. The War Diary quietly describes the attack as ‘unsuccessful’ and based on casualty figures, the odds of his survival had been about 40%.
Tragically his luck ran out several days later when, only hours before being relieved from the line, he was killed by shellfire on 28 August.
Angus is buried in Aeroplane Cemetery (Grave Ref: I. B. 28.) near Ypres where his name was recorded as ‘A M Wishart’, and also commemorated on the Eshaness War Memorial in Shetland.
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