It was 4:30 am on 6 August 1917 at Gillemont Farm in the Lempire sector. A German raiding party had crossed No Man’s Land and leapt into the British trenches. After a frantic skirmish, the enemy was repelled. Battalion casualties included sixteen men wounded; two reported missing (presumed taken prisoner) and one killed. Of those, the unfortunate who did not see the sunrise that morning was 40669 L/Sgt J. Wishart, a Glaswegian who had enlisted in 1901 and been on the Western Front since December 1914.
John Russell Wishart was born in the evening of 26 September 1882 at 11 Kelvindale Street in Glasgow. He was the eldest son of Thomas Wishart, a railway carter from Neilston in Renfrewshire, and his wife, Mary Russell. Shortly after John was born, his father took the family to live in Paisley, and in 1891 they were enumerated in the census living on Stock Street.
By the turn of the century, John had left school and was working as a carter. On 12 February 1901 he visited the recruiting office in Glasgow and made it known he would like to enlist with the 13 Hussars, a unit made famous by their part in the Charge of the Light Brigade, and currently serving in the Second Boer War. John was recorded in an army medical examination as being 5ft 6 1/8″ tall, having a fresh complexion, hazel eyes, brown hair and marked by a scar on his right knee. The officer in charge commented that John was ‘an excellent recruit’ but informed him that he would not be required for the Hussars, and suggested he joined the Dragoons of the Line instead. John agreed, stating that: ‘I desire to be transferred from Hussars of the Line to the Dragoons of the Line’ and was subsequently posted to the 2nd Dragoons (Royal Scots Greys) in Edinburgh on 15 February.
Although the Boer War ended in 1902, the Dragoons were required to remain in South Africa, helping to garrison the colony and operating out of Stellenbosch. John joined them between 25 March 1903 and 9 June 1904, during which time he extended his service for a further eight years. On 11 February 1909, he went into the Army Reserve and was eventually discharged from service four years later on 11 February 1913.
Shortly afterwards John moved to 1 Stirling Street in Paisley and returned to his old job as a carter working for William Cumming, a contractor on Well Street. During this period he began a relationship with a local millworker named Henrietta Donaldson McKellar, which eventually led to a wedding in Paisley on 31 December 1910. The newlyweds moved into a tenement flat at 2 Blythswood Drive, and by 1915 had moved again to a similar property at 8 Stevenson Street, where they paid an annual rent of £5 9s.
John was mobilised shortly after war broke out and rejoined his old unit, who were part of the 5th Cavalry Brigade and landed in France during mid-August 1914 although he didn’t proceed overseas until 12 December. The Scots Greys, who by this stage were operating primarily as an infantry unit in the 2nd Cavalry Division, had recently seen action in Ypres and were based at La Creche when John arrived.
The regiment rotated back into the trenches in 1915 and due to shortages of infantry, continued to fill the gaps in the line, fighting in a dismounted role. They were in action throughout much of the Second Battle of Ypres; however, losses were large enough to force the Scots Greys into the Reserve for the rest of the year.
In January 1916, the regiment was back in action, albeit in a piecemeal fashion. With the Kitchener Armies still not fully ready, men were still needed for the front, and similar to the other cavalry regiments, the Scots Greys contributed a troop to the front. During two months of action, this troop was active in raids and countering raids by the German army.
When the New Armies began to arrive at the front, the regiment was concentrated again in preparation for the forthcoming summer offensive on the Somme. The 2nd Cavalry Division became the reserve for General Plumer’s Second Army, and again as a mounted division was held in readiness to exploit a breakthrough that would never come during the battle.
As the war continued, it became apparent that more mobile firepower was needed at all levels of the British Army. Accordingly, the Scots Greys were expanded to include a machine gun squadron. In the absence of any service records, piecing together John’s exact movements during this period would be entirely speculative, however, based on a newspaper obituary published after his death, John was known to have been wounded in July 1916, perhaps while part of a machine gun unit.
John returned to France in October 1916, probably with a draft of men from the Reserve Cavalry Depot in York, and was sent to the 20th Infantry Base Depot at Etaples, where he was transferred to the 17th (Service) Battalion Royal Scots. John arrived with his new unit on 18 December while they were billeted in Ternas, and by the year’s end found himself based at Arras. The first months of 1917 were relatively quiet for the battalion, and although it’s likely John was with the Royal Scots throughout much of the year it’s not until shortly before his death in August that we can say with some certainty where he was based.
On 14 July the battalion entered front line trenches in the Lempire sector near Gillemont Farm, and within days found themselves repelling enemy raids on their position. A brief spell back in camp at the end of the month preceded John’s final tour in the trenches which began on 1 August. The enemy raid on the 6th that cost John his life was the first of several attacks by both sides that month, with a Military Cross, Distinguished Conduct Medal and three Military Medals being awarded to members of the battalion by its end. John was not amongst those receiving such an accolade and following his death was buried in the Villers-Faucon Communal Cemetery.