We approach, with mounting sentimental preoccupation, the 100th anniversary of 1 July 1916, a day that has come to represent the the weight of death suffered by the nation in the Great War. As many historians have pointed out, there were four more months of fighting on the Somme beyond that day during which the British Army laid the groundwork for many of the techniques that would bring victory in 1918. But the British Army did not begin fighting that year on 1 July. The largely unknown first six months of 1916 hide their own tragedies and minor triumphs.
At 08.30 on 11 May the 13th Royal Scots took over the trenches of a salient opposite the Hohenzollern Redoubt at Loos. The fighting of September-October 1915 had left the British in possession of part of the west of the redoubt, and between 2-18 March 1916 mining and further fighting had left a small outcrop in the German lines (Bill’s Bluff) around the edge of craters opposite two small outcrops in the opposing British salient, with a slight re-entrant between. The lefthand outcrop was Hussar’s Horn, the righthand The Kink.
At 16.15 that day the enemy opened a very heavy bombardment, and at 17.00 a shell entered the battalion HQ dug-out, killing or wounding the entire battalion HQ.
Those killed included:
- Lieutenant-Colonel Richard Bassett Cockburn Raban. Aged 35, Raban had been born at Clifton in 1881 and was the elder son of the late Reverend R.C.W. Raban, vicar of Bishop’s Hull, Taunton (formerly Army chaplain in India), and grandson of Captain Richard Raban of the 48th Native Regiment, who was killed in the Afghan War, and great-grandson of Lord Cockburn, author of “Memorials of My Time”. Raban was educated at Temple Grove, Malvern College, and Sandhurst. He passed out fourth, and was commissioned to the Somerset Light Infantry in 1900. Three years later he joined the Indian Army and was appointed to the 1st Duke of York’s Own Lancers. In 1914 he qualified psc from the Indian Staff College, Quetta. Shortly after the outbreak of the war Captain Raban was selected to accompany a squadron of native troops to the front. In November 1915 he was appointed second-in-command to the 7th Battalion Cameron Highlanders, with the rank of major. On 1 April 1916 he was made temporary Lieutenant-Colonel commanding 13th Royal Scots. (Obituary, The Times 26 May 1916).
Raban’s grave at Vermelles British Cemetery (www.findagrave.com)
- Major Hugh Ferdinand Mansfield Worthington-Wilmer, the 27 year-old second-in-command, was commissioned into the 2nd Royal Scots from the 4th Battalion on 26 May 1908, promoted Lieutenant in February 1912 and was seconded to the Royal Flying Corps in April 1914. Appointed second-in-command to the 13th he had commanded the battalion between 16 March and 1 April 1916 after the death of Lieutenant-Colonel Harry McClear.
Major H.F.M. Worthington-Wilmer (photo iwm.org)
- Captain Ian Alexander Grant Ferguson, aged 18, had been commissioned on 2 September 1914. He was the battalion machine gun officer.
- Captain Arthur Cyril Albert Jekyll MB RAMC, commissioned on 15 March 1915, was a 27 year-old Australian born at Emmaville, New South Wales, son of George Jekyll, a farmer. He had studied at Newington College and obtained his degree in medicine at the University of Sydney in 1914.
- Captain Charles Whitehead Yule, was an ex-OTC cadet commissioned on 14 November 1914 from private 17276 of the ‘Edinburgh Battalion’ of the Royal Scots. He was born in 1888, son of James Yule, a builder in Kinghorn, Fife, who had died when he was two.He was educated at Clifton Hall school in St Andrews and Kirkcaldy High School. He gained a first class MA degree in classics in 1910 from St Andrews University , and in 1911 a first class degree in economic science. In 1912 he received a B.Litt degree. In 1914 he was working in the Historical Department of Register House, Edinburgh, as an Assistant Curator.
Captain C.W. Yule (From University of St. Andrews Roll of Honour)
The wounded included:
- The adjutant, Captain Christopher Thomas Francis (B.Sc London School of Economics), commissioned from private in the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, who would die of wounds in hospital at Calais on 26 May.
- The signalling and intelligence officer, Second-Lieutenant Alexander Linton, (commissioned on 5 January 1915). Linton had won the MC at Loos: ‘For conspicuous gallantry and determination on “Hill 70 ” on 26th September, 1915. He repeatedly rallied his men and held on to his position with a few men till midnight, 26th-27th September, when practically everyone else had withdrawn’. (Edinburgh Gazette, 6 November 1916). Linton would survive the war.
The bombardment slackened off at 17.15 and the enemy could be seen crawling into the craters of The Kink. The bombardment resumed and at 18.10 the attack began. The Germans advanced in ‘lines and waves’, the first line throwing bombs, behind them ‘thick lines of infantry’ 20-50 yards apart. Despite repelling some of the enemy with rifle, Lewis Gun and artillery fire, Major David Mitchell Tomlinson, now commanding, withdrew his men into Sackville Steet, two trenches behind the front line which had been obliterated. A vicious bombing fight ensued, continuing to midnight, at which point it was noted ‘it appeared certain that the lost ground could not be regained by bombing alone’.
Between 19.00 and 20.00 the second command disaster occurred. Major Tomlinson, going forward to reconnoitre, was mortally wounded, dying the following day. A 38 year-old New Zealand mining engineer, Tomlinson had graduated from the University of Otago in 1904 with B.Sc in metallugical engineering. He was commissioned from lance-corporal in the Royal Engineers in May 1915.
The battalion was now under the command of Captain Harry Samuel Eaton Stevens of D Company . At 01.25 on the 12th, a five minute artillery bombardment opened and an attack went forward to heavy losses, failing on the right in the direction of The Kink but being more successful on the left. By 02.00, the existing line was consolidated, but The Kink was lost.
In addition to losing battalion HQ and two commanding officers, the war diary (TNA WO95/1946) noted on the 12th that casualties amongst the other ranks were 14 killed, 60 wounded and 152 missing, mostly buried by shellfire. By the end of that day the total casualty list was reckoned to be an estimated 300.
In adddition to those officers already listed, Captain Malcolm Halcrow MC (commissioned September 1914) and Second-Lieutenant Andrew Wemyss MC (commissioned from sergeant in December 1915) had been wounded, both of whom survived the war; Second-Lieutenant Lionel Drummond Kyrle Collins was missing (commissioned in May 1915 he had been killed on the 11th); and Captain Andrew Moffat Macdonald (commissioned October 1914) was dead.
On 14 May 7/8th King’s Own Scottish Borderers unsuccessfully tried again to regain The KInk, and at that point it was accepted by First Army that Sackville Street should remain the front line, as it was less exposed. The Germans had captured an area of 600 by 400 yards, whilst 15th Division suffered 935 casualties from 11–15 May of which the Germans claimed to have taken 135 prisoners.
On 19 May Lieutenant-Colonel George Martin Hannay, a 45 year-old officer of the King’s Own Scottish Borderers, took over command of the battalion from Captain Stevens, and he would command until 15 April 1918, Stevens commanding as Lieutenant-Colonel from 26 July until the Armistice. On 24 May seven officers joined for duty, and on 4 June Captain J.T.R. Mitchell joined as second-in-command. Command was being rebuilt. On 20 May Brigadier-General Allgood commanding 45 Brigade ‘expressed himself highly pleased with the behaviour of the battalion’ during the operations. On 5 June the battalion was notified that Captain H.S.E. Stevens, Second-Lieutenant W.A. Henderson and Second-Lieutenant J.R. McLennard had been awarded the MC for their actions on the 11th/12th, and Lance-Corporals McKinley and Parker had been awarded the MM.
On 1 July 2016, remember too the courage and sacrifice of these men.
(Thanks to Dr Trevor Harvey of Heart of England WFA for drawing my attention to these events).