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RLM War Diary - Soissons 1918


30th. Visit to hospital by Duke of Connaught. I was sitting outside the tent reading when he came up and spoke to me. The last time I saw him was in 1908 or 1909, when, on the occasion of his unveiling a South African War Memorial to the Scottish Rifles, in Kelvingrove Park, I ran away from school, and climbed a lamp-post in order to see over the heads of the soldiers on parade.

I sent for my batman (Wright) and told him to get my valise and meet me at a certain road junction nearby. I then discharged myself quietly from the C.C.S. We rejoined the Battalion 'details' at Verdun Camp, Agnez. Glad to get back, but am certainly not fit. Was warmly welcomed. However, this place is better than the C.C.S. Glorious weather.

lst - 3rd. July 1918. Quiet life at 'details'. Bn. came out of the line about 3 a.m. on night of 3/4th.


6th. Rose early, like Job, and proceeded to Tincques with our pipe band, to take part in the sports of the Canadian Highland Brigade. A great show and a grand day. Saw Currie, the G.O.C. Canadian Corps, with a little French girl. Spoke for 5 minutes with Gen. MacDonnell, the G.O.C. 1st. Canadian Division, who was disappointed that I hadn't the Gaelic. He advised me to get up enough of the tongue to pass St. Peter at the Gate. He seemed a good fellow.

Our band came out second. Usual events, dancing, tug-of-war, etc. Tossing the caber - this was brought on to the field by four men! There was a funny mule race. The staff were well represented. Met A.G.Cameron. Met lots of 16th. Canadian Bn. whom we relieved some six weeks ago. They gave us of their hospitality - they had engaged a special 'estaminet' for this show. Aubigny for dinner. A merry party. Cangicks were there. Orr, McAinsh, Forrester, McElwee, Elliott. Difficulty in getting some of them home. A really good day. Major Moir (Bobby) is leaving us to command 5th. Seaforths.

7th. Very hot. Church. Played "Vingt et un" at night. Won 16 francs.


8th. Out with my signallers. Contact aeroplane work. The machine acknowledged all our signals, but got into an awful mess with them, and dropped an indecipherable message at Brigade H.Q. This, by some error, was sent on to Division, who at once got the wind up and wired to us.

10th. Very nice quiet life so far as the war is concerned. Boche shells the road on which we live, but fortunately his shells land a little to our north.

12th. Left Wakefield Camp at 9 p.m., and got, after a rather tiring march, to Marqueffles Farm Camp, near Bouvigny, about 3 a.m. on the 13th. Men in fine spirits. Slept till noon.

14th. Church. In afternoon rode with McIntosh through Noulette and over the Ridge at Notre Dame de Lorette. The old French trenches still exist there, and we had considerable difficulty in getting the ponies over them. Glorious view from the top. Could see the Tower of Wingles, near Loos. Conference at Bde. H.Q. Chateau de la Haie, for sports for the men.


15th. The maps issued yesterday were suddenly withdrawn today. Sure sign of a shift. Confirmed later. Frantic preparations at night for a move to the South. Thousands of orders coming in, accompanying or followed by thousands of cancellations. Hopeless situation. Shows up the staff in a bad light. All preparations show that we will soon be in action - with the French Army - and perhaps at VERDUN! Men in glorious trim. I'm sure we will do well there, and I am glad it is out of the British line - if only for a change of venue.

14th. Very warm night. Rain, thunder and lightning. More orders and counter orders. We leave at 4.45 p.m. Will be going into action with the signallers - delighted - hope there are no trenches and that we get open warfare.

Heavy march in evening to Aubigny, where we arrived at 8.30 p.m. Entrained at 9.30 p.m. and left at midnight, as we thought, for the vicinity of Paris. Slept fitfully en route. Reached Amiens in early morning. Saw the broken Cathedral Tower. We passed it by on the West side. Halted at Romascamps for half an hour, where we had breakfast, lunch and tea combined. Then on to Beauvais. 3 p.m. where our instructions were changed again, and we were ordered to get out at Liancourt-Ratigny. Interesting march through the village whose inhabitants had never seen Highlanders before (Just fancy!). Jove, how our band played to them! The pipers nearly bust!


Marched to Bethencourt where H.Q. and two coys. were fixed. Very pretty country. Had to do billeting on my arrival. Got fixed up myself in a beautiful chateau and with very nice people too.

18th. For some unaccountable reason my watch went two hours fast in the night. So when I found myself awake at what appeared 7.30 a.m. I got up. Went down to the little pool in the grounds - an idyllic spot - the kind I have always associated with fairies - and plunged headlong into it. Reached the house via the strawberry bushes.

Bathed again at midnight with Flind. Great fun. Macleod came out in a boat, and we almost succeeded in pulling him in. As soon as we came out of the pond, (1 a.m. on 19th.) we got word that the Battalion was to move at 5 a.m. Damn! Went to bed. Rose at 4 a.m. No breakfast. Bn. moved to embus at Bethencourt by 5 a.m. Good work. Not a man late. French embussing methods very fine - Moved via Clermont, along Compeigne Road, crossed River Oise, Arsy-Elincourt, Pierre-Font to Haute-Fontaine where we debussed at 2 p.m. I never want to see a bus again! My liver and spinal column severely tested by eight hours continuous jolting. Had hell of a headache.


Met many French and American wounded coming down. French Red Cross arrangements poor compared with ours. Wounded in good spirits. French seemed pleased to see us. This part of the country has not suffered much, and apparently there has never been any great concentration of troops in it. We are the first Scottish troops to come to the district.

Saw about 2,000 Boche prisoners coming down - a mixed lot. Many boys amongst them, but also a fair number of older men. They all looked dour, glum and fed-up. A few had exceedingly ugly faces. People in the villages delighted to see us. Great welcome. Villages cleaner than up north. Many delightful woods and hills - but fighting in them would be difficult. And marching hard. No dirty ponds to be seen. Fields beautifully kept. Can't understand how the French manage to look after them. The French soldiers we met appeared clean, active and useful. They all looked happy.

Got awfully hungry en route. Bus broke down several times. No shop to be seen. Bought some tomatoes for ten francs, of which my share after distribution amounted to two. Saw some Italians, a lousy looking mob! After debussing we walked downhill in glorious country. Rested for an hour near Orva and bivouaced amongst the trees. Dinner consisted of 'bully' and potatoes which we dug along the roadside. Slept comfortably under a tree until 8 a.m. Cold, but not a bad night. Am enjoying myself.

20th. Lazed about in morning as we are at half an hour's notice. Short walk with men to top of a hill in afternoon. They are in splendid form in spite of heat which is intense. Each cooks his own food, finds his own vegetables etc. as our transport folk are not yet with us. In H.Q. we had 'souvenired' potatoes, carrots, rhubarb and turnips in one meal. Mosquitoes bad.


Ordered to move at 6 p.m. Orders changed to 9 p.m. probably because Boche would see us crossing the ridge in daylight. I questioned if they would have seen us, but the staff might have though it out earlier. Move put off till 3 a.m. on the 21st. Heavy rain began at 10 p.m. so we had a thorough soaking to prepare us for the 3 a.m. march. Move changed to 4.20 a.m. Changed again to 6 p.m.

Finally moved at 8 p.m. through Montigny, out on to main road and up until we came to the top of the ridge at the bottom of which lies the village of Coeuvres. The road winds tortuously down into the village, the houses of which seemed, big, bright and then shadowy in the moonlight. It was a glorious night. Marching was easy and peaceful, and the roads empty except for our columns. The whole division was on the march, and our own battalion was leading.


Just as the head of the column was clearing the village, and my lot were still in it, we heard an aeroplane above. We saw it next, big, black and flying very low. In an instant from seeing it, it had dropped a bomb just to the left rear of H.Q. Coy. which I was with. Hell of a noise. The effect on many would have been most demoralising, but our ranks kept absolutely steady. The men didn't even quicken their pace.

The plane, like a black bird of prey, in the moonlight, turned and began flying back again along the road to meet us. I watched it coming - very slowly it seemed until it was right exactly over my head. Then I stopped looking up, and simply walked on for 5 seconds, at the end of which there was a hell of a crash, and a series of eight terrific explosions took place just in our rear about 100 yards along the road - so we kept on marching. Men came along alright, tho' a bit fed up.

The battalion was halted clear of the village. Lieut. Moffat was wounded badly. Sgt. Kinsells and three others killed and some 20 or so of the men wounded. Rotten luck. Don't like bombing. Lord knows what it must be like on the other side of the line, for our chaps do far more night bombing than the Boche.

So we continued our march along a low dark road, for the moon was now hidden, below St. Pierre Aigle and then along between a river and a high wood which we entered, 3/4 mile short of Vertefeuille Farm, where we bivouacked for the night. Felt tired and rather rotten. Had a cold in the head. Our destination had been changed at the last moment.

I should have mentioned that it was Lieut. A.S.Miller whose company caught most of the bombs, and from what I learned later, Sandy Miller behaved like the little gentleman he was.


Have been much impressed on these marches by the salutes and greetings of the American and French soldiers. The former were fascinated by our bag-pipes. Lord! How we held our heads up high and stepped out when THEY were watching, just to show them that we - WE - were winning the war - and then the Americans would fall behind - and we would carry on for another ten bloody miles without speaking.

22nd. July. 1918. Advance parties sent off early to 1st. Brigade. 1st. U.S.A. Division. C.O. away all day. He returned at 4.30 p.m. and immediately called a conference of officers for instructions. There is to be a push forward on both sides of Berzy-le-Sec, and we are to put out patrols to keep touch with the flanks. These patrols are to cross the River Crise, and the Railway Embankment and push on to the village of Noyant which lies on a steep hill just east of Berzy. H.Q. to be of a moving nature. Visual signalling alone to be employed. 'B' and 'D' Coys. in front. 'A' in support and 'C' in rear. This is how it worked out.


The Bde. and Bn. H.Q.'s. boundaries were as shown on the map (Map 12 of Buchan's History). Our 'B' Coy. on left should have included the whole village of Berzy while 'D' Coy. was to occupy the curved upper half of the steep bank South of the Village. We were to relieve French troops.

Scarcely saw a Frenchman to relieve. Information re. ground, there was none: A French O.C. coy. met one of our forward coys. and standing still, in the darkness, pointed: "Mitrailleuse lą, et lą, et lą. Boche lą. Moi. Je vais". And he went.


No other information was given over; no posts indicated or relieved. They had all relieved themselves before our men arrived, without guides, and for the most part without maps. As a result one of our platoons walked onto the top of a Boche post who immediately opened fire upon them. Doubtless they saw the kilts, and then spotting the relief, a tremendous bombardment of artillery and M.G. fire began to sweep the ridge over which our troops were coming. Our movement forward began shortly after the post incident, and carried on continuously thereafter, greatly increasing our casualties. The men of the front coys. had arrived near the front line about or shortly after midnight - but no "relief complete" messages came from either front company. Things went quiet at midnight and the men appeared in very good fettle until the relief was discovered.

I have never found out exactly how the time was spent during the bombardment prior to the advance by the two front coys. 'B' and D. I know that because of the lack of shelter we suffered many casualties - 30 or more dead - at the bend in the bank S.W. of Berzy. These casualties I saw myself.


Meanwhile, lack of proper information and more still, the absence of "handing over", plus the continued shelling and casualties prevented our forward companies taking up their proper position or alignment. They had to move about in the half light on an exposed sky line, easily seen by Boche, and without even a trench for shelter. We got word that the show was to start at 5 a.m. At 4 a.m. the Boche guns were working our back areas in addition to the front. As soon as we got operation orders from Bde. H.Q. we got our own orders ready, and issued without a moment's loss of time. These were sent out to coys. at 4 a.m. Zero was 5 a.m. Thus there was scarcely time for the orders to reach coys. The runners did not know the way - as none had come back from the front coys. 'B' and 'D' to report relief complete.


To complicate matters I heard that the French on our left have not to move at all. As a matter of fact, flanking communication was not made on the left until I made it myself in the afternoon with a French post at the extreme North end of Berzy. Operation orders did not reach both front coys. - but only one, I think. I came across Kinniemont, one of my best runners, lying dead on the road up, near Berzy, and I think he bore one copy. He lay with some others near the cemetery. 'C' Coy. in reserve, lay all day in line, and suffered few or no casualties, although firing was brisk.

A bombardment of sorts - provided by guns of the 1st. U.S.A. Division, was opened at 5 a.m. Those in front told me afterwards that they didn't or couldn't see it - it was useless!

At 5.30 a.m. I got permission from the Colonel to go to 'C' Coy. to fix visual signalling. On the road up, I intercepted a message from 'A' Coy. to the effect that they had withdrawn a little, and that 'B' and 'D' Coys. had heavy casualties. So I let 'C' Coy's visual signals go to blazes, and went up to 'A' Coy.

I found 'A' Coy's men scattered in holes or on the grass in very open, exposed country, on hillside sloping down towards Boche, i.e. on the sky line without a bit of cover. They had taken up a position about 100 yards forward, but had come back a bit to avoid shell fire. It was very unhealthy, even while I was there, and poor McIntosh - it was his first show - was in an anxious state. He knew nothing about 'B' and 'D' Coys. I went forward near the upper edge of the wooded ridge but saw no traces or 'B' or 'D'. Absolutely no movement, either on the ridge or below it. Got some more information and went back to H.Q. The Colonel then went forward with Flind (later a psychiatrist!). The latter was wounded. The C.O. returned. He had gone to 'C' Coy.


About 11.15 a.m. I went out again, taking Corporal Langridge with me. My orders were to establish, if possible, a bridge head over the Crise River, on the Eastern side of the Railway, and to collect information, and to help things on. As soon as Langridge and I got to the top of the ridge we were machine gunned at long range, so there was nothing for it - some of the shots were very near - but to bolt in the direction of the firing which was coming from the Sucrerie. This we did in a slightly zig-zag course until we reached lower ground when the firing became more intense. So we lay down in a shell hole to consider the situation. I had not met a single Argyll of 'A' or 'B' or 'D' Coys. on this journey.

'A' Coy. by this time, with McIntosh and several others killed, had fallen back north west about 200 yards to some very slight cuttings or banks which gave some degree of shelter from the machine gun fire. I noted 'A' Coy's disappearance, but thought at the time that they had gone forward (and might be in front of us). 'B' and 'D' were non-existent, and there was not a 'B' or 'D' casualty to be seen on the ridge or on the ground below on the right half of the battalion front. From what I had heard, our front line as it had been "handed over" ran from Berzy (inclusive) S.W. to the corner of the steep ridge, and then S.E. along the front of the ridge in the direction of L'Etang.

I watched the areas being shelled by the Boche, and concluded he had given up the ground West of the Railway. So with Langridge I worked along until I came into the Cameron's area at the very S.E. corner of the ridge, got down, turned, and came back as towards Berzy at the foot of the ridge, on level ground. Not a single casualty, or sign of life could I see. The whole southern half was untenanted. We therefore made a bolt across the open for the little wood S.E. of Berzy village - and searched it, its edges, and its centre. Found no one.

Then I decided to work over to the Railway Embankment which was some 200 yards further on. As we were moving over, I saw the first sign of life - a small post of Camerons - 2 - 3 of them, holding a part of the embankment 200 yards south of the river. They told us we were the first Argylls they had seen. By this time I was sure that our fellows must be behind in Berzy or else had lost their direction of advance, and gone through the village in a North-East direction. Langridge and I therefore worked our way along the Railway, northwards. Boche was quieter now, although he machine gunned the top of the Railway Embankment from time to time, as from the Sucrerie.

We entered an orchard near the crossing of the road and railway, and I filled my pockets with peapods. I then searched a house nearby. Then we spotted some Camerons across the road alongside the Railway, and one or two dead Camerons in the road. They had been shot from under the railway bridge. Therefore we made a detour back and crossed the road at a point hidden from enemy view, came up again to the Railway and found Pat Fraser of the Camerons. His position was well inside our battalion area, and yet he had not seen an Argyll! I got some information from him about his own battalion, the 6th. His was the left hand flank post of the 6th.

I then went a bit north towards the station which contained a number of broken wagons. I did not enter, but the place was quite untenanted, apparently. I therefore came back and worked up the roads behind but parallel to the Crise. Found a dead horse and nothing else. (Apparently I did not feel like "establishing a bridgehead across the river Crise" with only one corporal, even although he was a good one, beside me! RLM 1972.)

I then determined to climb the hill on which Berzy stood, and which, while still receiving attention, was moderately quiet compared to what it had been in the morning. I came back to it and approached it from the road leading from Noyant - a very steep road - and entered the village. It was still being shelled, and the streets were piled high with masonry which I had to clamber over. I searched the front edge of it, and found a post of two or three Frenchmen at the North East corner. They told me that some French and Scots were behind in the Village, but where they did not know. They did not know who was in front, or on their flanks. So therefore there was a thousand yards gap between Pat Fraser and this post! (and incidentally some 600 or more yards between Pat Fraser and the nearest post to the South of him! RLM 1972).

I began to search the village, and found a French Artillery post in the centre of it, and in it a big crowd of French, and our own Argyll wounded. I then came upon a sort of cave, and found in it a number of unwounded and wounded Argylls. At the Western corner of the village was a big crowd of our dead - caught obviously by shell fire.

I then went downhill at the bend of the ridge and found little Sandy Miller and his platoon, all properly placed at the bottom of the ridge, but less a number of casualties. He had managed to keep his men together better than the others, but he had never received operation orders! When caught by the shelling he had gone forward with his men, and although he was in a rotten hole, by this judicious action he had succeeded in keeping down the number of his casualties. Of his immediate situation and surroundings he knew absolutely nothing, except that he himself had been over a certain amount of ground. His men had seen Langridge and me cross round in front of them, but had not told him. Of the remainder of his Coy. ('B') and of his O.C. Coy. he knew nothing, and so, of course he could only stay where he was.

I came back up again to report and found 'A' Coy. in their new position, minus a good many casualties. 'A' Coy. had received their orders alright. On the way back to Bn. H.Q. to report we came across several more casualties - one or two of them runners, poor devils. Battalion H.Q. were relieved to get my news. Neither Battalion H.Q. nor Bde. H.Q. nor Divisional H.Q. had the foggiest idea about what had happened.

Things began to quieten down a bit. Had a yarn with the C.O. (Colonel Wilson). He wants me to take a company - told him I would be delighted.


Word came in for relief by the 13th. Royal Scots. Had to go up again with orders, as no one knew the way. I took them up, carried out the relief, and found Bradshaw and McElwee. Finished somewhat late. Lost my skean-dhu. Very sorry about it.

24th. When the relief was completed, I was told to remain behind to show Col. Turner of the Scots over the ground. He was an original 11th. Argyll. They were very good to me, the Scots. Went up to Bradshaw's cave with Col. Turner in the morning. The Boche sniped at us with pip-squeaks and shrapnel for nearly 500 yards as we were coming over the open ridge. I got a rare view of Soissons through my glasses. Glorious country for fighting. I took it as a compliment on the part of the Boche that they should turn a couple of field guns on two men like Turner and myself. Lunched with the Scots. Rejoined my battalion in the afternoon.

Then I was informed that I have to go down with reserves (or 'details') for a rest - not sorry, for I needed it. Left Missy-aux-Bois, our Bn. H.Q., before dark, and almost got lost on my way back as I came by Dommiers. Arrived late, and slept with the sky for a covering.


26th. News of the death of Colonel Turner and his signal officer, Sgt. Shaw, Signalling Officer of 13th Royal Scots. The poor fellows had occupied the same hole in the ground for their H.Q. as we had had on the previous night, when an odd shell came in and killed them. Heavy rain. Whole place swimming.

27th. Fourteen hours sleep. God! It was fine. Attended funeral of Colonel Turner and Shaw. Heavy rain. We buried them on a green hillside.

We have been living in a sort of rustic bower - such as the poets sing about - until they have had to live in one during a rain storm. This one of ours let in everything, the birds of the air, the beasts of the field, and RAIN, in buckets.

28th. Played bridge badly.

29th. Word of more casualties to the Bn. who are in the line and doing well. I do hate the Hun now.

30th. July 1918. My birthday! Aged 22!

1st. August, 1918. Heavy bombardment all morning, the big guns around us going all out, and making a hellish row. Boche dropped a few bombs around us during the night. I am still at the transport lines.

2nd. August. Rejoined the battalion in a railway tunnel near Lechelle - found everyone choked up with 'colds' or with poison gas. Moved forward to Villemontoire at night, the scene of previous day's attack. Many dead lying about, many much decomposed. Put up in the caves - the whole Battalion! It was like prehistoric times! These caves were in a deep hillside, and were very big. We found some Boche machine gunners near by, chained to their guns - dead! The division is pushing on! Royal Scots at Villebain.

During the previous two or three days our Battalion, and especially Lieut. D.T.McAinsh gave most distinguished service at Buzancy, earning great commendation all round from French and British. The Battalion got well beyond its objective.

August 3rd. Our men out 'souveniring'. I bought a nice pair of prismatic glasses from a Royal Scot for 60 francs. Sent it home to Father as a present. Word came to move at 1.40 p.m. - a perfect hell of a march to Longavesnes, behind Montgobert - fetched up at 11 p.m. Men glorious, not one fell out. Q.M. supplied grand soup on arrival. Slept like a log. We are all finding open warfare more tiring than trench warfare.


August 4th. Anniversary of something or other - I believe, of the start of the war! On the move again, by bus, to Liancourt area. Embussed at 12.30 p.m. - Viviers - 3 hours late in starting - passed via Coeuvres where we had been bombed, Haute-Fontaines, where we hadn't slept, felt rotten in bus, so played bridge - Pierrefond - Morienval - Buissy - Arsy - and over the Durcq - Rivecourt - Canly - Cleremont - slept a bit of the way, debussed about 10.30 - where, at Bethencourt, we billeted in the same houses as before. Inhabitants very pleased with us. Paris papers lauding the Scottish Divisions - the 9th, 15th, 51st. and 52nd. to the skies. Very tired. Slept till 10 a.m.

5th. Rain in morning. Gee! I am pleased with my men. Rain in afternoon. Got soaked. McAinsh strongly recommended for the Military Cross. Hear I am recommended for a bar to my M.C. myself. MacLeod should get something for this - he has worked like a Trojan.

6th. Wrote letters of sympathy.


7th. On the move again. Marched to Laigneville to entrain. Sorry to leave the district. Entrained about 9.30 a.m. Moved off 2 1/2 hours later, the men being in dirty, filthy cattle wagons - Hermes - halt for lunch - Beauvais, Amiens, Doullens. Detrained at Frevent at 11 p.m. Waited 3 hours on buses - very tired - reached Grand Rullecourt about 5 a.m. and had breakfast. The Colonel's, Adjutant's, 2nd. i/c's and my own servants were all paid before we left Bethencourt. They had a monumental binge there. They have not recovered yet! They probably all thought they were going to lose their jobs for this morning each has fluttered round us for hours, trying make us comfortable. Very funny!


My experiences on the Soissons Front have been most valuable, and I've been thinking deeply over the lessons to be learned from them. Points learned:- (1) Value of cover and camouflage. (2) Necessity of minimising daylight movement. (3) Uselessness of our Divl. M.G. Battalion in attacks in open warfare. Only weapon is the Lewis Gun. (4) Importance of accurate and rapid map reading. I saw several officers make bad mistakes. (But some of the maps, French ones, were old and inaccurate RLM 1972) (5) Necessity for not accepting verbal reports, unless first hand from reliable men. (6) Necessity for reconnaissance by commander. (7) In event of bombardment - never go back!!! (8) Need for closer liaison with gunners - there were too few forward observation officers (F.O.O.s). (9) Closer co-operation in transport in Divl. Units. (10) Some odd points re. ammunition and its supply in the field. Ditto re. food and water. (11) I have seen too that a company in action in this kind of open warfare is too large to be directly controlled in everything by one man. The unit is the platoon. (12) The value of woods, valleys etc. for concealing movement. (13) Use of gas in valleys. (14) Value of M.G. in defence. (15) Need for aerial supremacy in a stunt. (16) Effectiveness of good night bombing. (17) Need for reporting H.Q. positions. (18) Value of good visual signals. (19) Need for two intelligence officers for each spread-out battalion in a big show. (20) Correct "handing over". (21) Above all I see how great is the need in this type of war to have men - even privates - who have enough initiative to act on their own. Our present training fails here.

Good points noted were:- The rapidity of movement of all units when 'put to it'; the efficient Battalion food supply. We had excellent Q.M. and Transport Officers (Johnnie Dusseldorf, and Davie Barbour, from old 8th. Bn.); keenness of men and officers; ability to take over quickly; great work by runners and stretcher-bearers; value of work by mere individuals; value of surprise; value of a good adjutant like Macleod.

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