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Gordon Highlanders, The - Actions in WWI (Great War, World War 1, European War) to 1915

Updated on February 5, 2015

Gordon Highlanders' Badge

The Gordon Highlanders' Badge. 75th and 92nd Foot. Crest of Marquis of Huntly. At Waterloo they charges with the Scots Greys clinging to the stirrups.
The Gordon Highlanders' Badge. 75th and 92nd Foot. Crest of Marquis of Huntly. At Waterloo they charges with the Scots Greys clinging to the stirrups. | Source

Relief at Gheluvelt

Early one Thursday morning in October, 1914, the men on the watch in the British trenches near Gheluvelt gave the alarm, and quickly the sleeping soldiers awoke, clutched their rifles, and staggered to their feet.

Large bodies of German soldiers could just be seen nearing the lines, and in a minute with a rush they were upon them. Hand-to-hand fighting began.

Fresh masses of the enemy came on, wave after wave, and after a time the 1st Division, the tried men of Mons and the Marne, were driven from their trenches.

Still they fought on in the open, falling back slowly, and in a little while those who had time to turn their heads could see, side by side with the Grenadiers and other battalions from the 7th Division, the kilted figures of the Gordon's hurrying to their relief.

Their colonel halted them and turned them towards a hill below which runs the road from Gheluvelt to Lille. Then he ordered them to advance and drive the enemy from the trenches they had captured thereon.

Quote by Sir Henry Newbolt

"There are bullets by the hundred buzzing in the air,
There are bonny lads lying on the hillside bare;
But the Gordons know what the Gordons dare
When they hear the pipers playing." - Sir Henry Newbolt

Gordon Highlanders Campaign Kit

Private of the 1st Gordon Highlanders in campaign kit.
Private of the 1st Gordon Highlanders in campaign kit. | Source

The Gordons' Dashing Charges

Fearlessly the Gordons went forward as they had done at Dargai on another October day seventeen years before, but this time they were 'up against', not savagery alone, but savagery and science combined.

Yet, in spite of all, they reached the summit of the ridge and did their share in driving the Germans off. This was not, of course, done in a moment, and more than once it seemed as if the Gordons would fail. But they did not.

Early in the afternoon the Germans began to give way, and before the night the hill of Kruiseik was in their possession. In the records of the Gordons - October 29th, 1914 - ranks up there with Dargai - October 20th, 1897.

At Kruiseik Lieutenant James Anson Otho Brooke won the Victoria Cross (V.C.) for leading two attacks on the lost trenches, one of which was regained by him and his men, and by preventing the enemy from breaking the line at a very critical moment.

Unfortunately this heroic subaltern was killed later in the day, when the Gordons lost several other officers, including Captain Lachlan Gordon-Duff. Their colonel, Lieut.-Colonel Henry Percy Uniacke, C.B., was wounded in one of the charges.

Gordon Highlanders Officers of 1st Battalion

Officers of the 1st Battalion Gordon Highlanders
Officers of the 1st Battalion Gordon Highlanders | Source

Lieut.-Col. Henry Percy Uniacke

Lieutenant-Colonel. Henry Percy Uniacke
Lieutenant-Colonel. Henry Percy Uniacke | Source

BACK ROW (LEFT TO RIGHT):

Lieut. J.M. Trotter, Lieut. H.M. Sprot, Lieut. G.T. Burney, Lieut. William Alastair Fraser Sandeman, Lieut. G.R.V. Hume-Gore, Lieut. the Hon. A.A. Fraser (Master of Saltoun), Lieut. A.S.B. Graham.

CENTRE ROW (LEFT TO RIGHT):

Capt. J.K. Dick-Cunyngham, D.S.O., Major C.J. Simpson, Capt. G.N. McLoan, Capt. C.G.D. Huggins, Capt. H.A. Ross, Capt. C.R. Lumsden, Capt. S.R. McClintock.

FRONT ROW (LEFT TO RIGHT):

Capt. Lachlan Gordon-Duff, Capt. John Uchtred Macdowall Ingilby, Capt. C.A.S. Maitland, Lieut.-Col. F.H. Naish, Col. the Hon. Frederick Gordon, D.S.O., Lieut.-Col. Henry Percy Uniacke, Capt. P.W. Brown.

March-past of the 1st Battalion Gordon Highlanders with their colours. At the time, one of the few remaining sights of martial pageantry.
March-past of the 1st Battalion Gordon Highlanders with their colours. At the time, one of the few remaining sights of martial pageantry. | Source

Grandes Manoeuvres in Belgium

Lieut. A.F.F. Lyon

Lieutenant A.F.F. Lyon
Lieutenant A.F.F. Lyon | Source

Highland Cemetery, Le Cateau

"Their Dashing Valour" at Khuiseik

One should not be surprised at finding the Gordons in the thick of the Great War. The surprise would be if they were not there. This famous regiment was raised in 1788, when Sir Robert Abercromby gathered a body of young Highlanders together.

In 1790 they were sent to India, where they remained until after 1804, showing great gallantry at the Siege of Seringapatam. Soon they became the 75th Regiment of the Line, and, later, the 1st Battalion of the Gordon Highlanders.

In 1794, when the war with France was in full swing, the Duke of Gordon raised a regiment of Highlanders from among his tenants in Aberdeenshire. In his honour they were called the Gordon Highlanders, and became, later, the 2nd Battalion of that Regiment. They are also known as the 92nd of the Line.

The Gordons were in Holland in 1799, and distinguished themselves in Egypt in 1801. They fought under Sir John Moore at Corunna, and under Wellington at Vittoria and in the Pyrenees, where, said Napier, "their stern valour would have graced Thermopylae".

At Quatre Bras the 92nd in a wild charge drove the French from their positions, and at Waterloo, when their numbers had been reduced to about three hundred, they routed a solid column of French infantry and captured 2,000 prisoners. It was on this occasion that the Gordons seized the stirrups of the Scots Greys, and shouting "Scotland for ever!" ran with the cavalry towards the foe.

The Gordons helped to quell the Indian Mutiny. Under a burning sun they fought for three months on the ridge at Delhi, and then they carried by assault the bastion by the Kashmir Gate.

They marched with Roberts from Kabul to Kandahar; they led the way across the Egyptian trenches at Tel-el-Kebir, and in the Chitral Campaign they helped to storm the Malakand Pass.

They won fresh glories at Dargai, and then came South Africa, where the 2nd Battalion was among the defenders of Ladysmith, and the 1st faced a hurricane of fire at Magersfontein, and under Smith-Dorrien was to the fore at Paarderberg.

Just after the outbreak of the Great War the 1st Battalion of the Gordons left Plymouth for the front, and the men had only been a few days in France when they met with a serious misfortune.

They were in the 3rd Division, the one under General Hubert Hamilton, and on Sunday, August 23rd, they were stationed close to the town of Mons. They fell back, stood and fought at Le Cateau, then fell back again, and on the night of the 26th met with disaster.

Lieut. William Alastair Fraser Sandeman

Lieutenant William Alastair Fraser Sandeman
Lieutenant William Alastair Fraser Sandeman | Source

Captain Lachlan Gordon-Duff

Captain Lachlan Gordon-Duff
Captain Lachlan Gordon-Duff | Source

The 1st Gordons Surrounded

In the darkness the Gordons became separated from the rest of their brigade - the 8th - and took a wrong turning. Through the night they marched unawares, until, about two o'clock in the morning, when they were going down a narrow lane, shots were suddenly fired at them.

At first it was thought that a French detachment had mistaken them for the enemy, and Lieut.-Colonel William Eagleson Gordon, V.C. - one of the six Gordons who won the Victoria Cross during the Boer War - rode into a field to explain.

He called out "Les Anglais! Les Anglais!" - and then as he returned to his men, they were fired on from all sides. The Germans had surrounded them.

The Gordons returned the fire, but in a few minutes all was over. Many were killed and more wounded, and the rest had no choice but to surrender. Thus this fine battalion was destroyed as a fighting force. Eighteen officers were taken prisoners, these including two lieutenant-colonels, F.H. Neish and W.E. Gordon, and two Rugby Internationals, C.M. Usher and Ronald D. Robertson.

A little later the battalion had been reconstituted, and it fought in the Battle of the Aisne. With the rest of the 8th Brigade it crossed the river near Vailly, and after one attempt had failed, drove the Germans from some high ground above it.

Battle of Neuve Chapelle, 1915

The 2nd Gordons at Ypres

Meanwhile the 2nd Battalion of the Gordons had returned to England from Cairo, and early in October it left Southampton for Zeebrugge as part of Sir Henry Rawlinson's famous 7th Division. Too late to save Antwerp, it marched through Belgium, and about the 15th had joined up with the rest of Sir John French's army near Ypres.

The 2nd Gordons had plenty to do during the first Battle of Ypres, which began about the time of their arrival there. They marched out towards Menin, and then fell back to the cross-roads at Gheluvelt, almost half-way between that place and Ypres.

There they held their ground during some days of very fierce fighting, especially the 23rd, when Drum Major William Kenny won his Victoria Cross, and the 25th, when their brigade was violently attacked.

On the 29th they came to the assistance of the 1st Division, and stormed Kruiseik Hill. By this time the 7th Division had been reduced from 12,000 officers and men to forty-four officers and 2,336 men, so Sir John French gave it a well-earned rest.

It seems to have been at this time that the two battalions of the Gordons - the 1st in the 2nd Division, and the 2nd in the 7th Division - both reduced to skeletons, were united temporarily in one battalion.

On December 14th the Gordons were chosen to assist the French by attacking a wooded hill near Kemmel. Although great gallantry was shown, the assault on the German position failed, but the incident deserves to be mentioned in the annals of the Gordons if only for the heroism displayed by Private R. Hyslop.

It was necessary to send a most urgent message to another part of the field, after no less than six men had been killed in trying to get through with it, Hyslop went out and succeeded. For his act he was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal.

Four other Gordons:

received the same honour for gallantry in assisting the wounded on that day.

Lieutenant Colonel Henry Percy Uniacke

Lieutenant Colonel Henry Percy Uniacke
Lieutenant Colonel Henry Percy Uniacke | Source

Colonel Colin Maclean

Colonel Colin Maclean
Colonel Colin Maclean | Source

Highlanders at Neuve Chapelle

At the Battle of Neuve Chapelle the 7th Division, refreshed and restored, was in the thick of the fight.

Around the little village of Pietre the Germans had a specially strong position, and the assault on this was entrusted to the 20th Brigade, in which were the 2nd, and also the 6th Gordons, a Territorial battalion.

They took position after position, but proper artillery support was wanting, and complete success was not attained.

On this day the battalions suffered terribly.

The 6th Battalion in attacking the German trenches had their commander, Lieut.-Colonel Colin Maclean, and at least four other officers killed, and the 2nd Battalion, which came up to support them, lost Lieut.-Colonel Uniacke, who had returned to the fighting-line in January, and one or two others.

The Gordons fought in the Battle of Festubert on May 16th, when they reached the German trenches, and they were heavily engaged near Rue d'Ouvert a month later.

On all occasions they responded nobly to the call of duty, and showed themselves worthy of the name they bear and of their distinguished Colonel-in-Chief, Sir Ian Hamilton.

Heroic Highlander's Supreme Self-Sacrifice

Source

Above: One of the most conspicuous acts of self-sacrifice in the war was the heroic deed of a private in the Highland regiment. This unnamed soldier proved himself a super-hero. His regiment was advancing under a withering machine-gun fire, and one gun in particular was accounting for many lives. Like a flash the Highlander rushed ahead with a bomb, and actually hurled himself on the muzzle of the German quick-firer. He was riddled with bullets, but his body choked the gun, rendering it useless. This act thoroughly demoralised the German gunners, and saved hundreds of Highlanders from death.

Pictures of the Gordon Highlanders

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    • searchinsany profile image

      Alexander Gibb 3 years ago from UK

      Thank you, I look forward to reading it.

    • humahistory profile image
      Author

      Chaz 3 years ago from UK

      I wondered if you might consider writing a Hub on the Royal Scots Fusiliers?

      It's in the pipeline

    • searchinsany profile image

      Alexander Gibb 3 years ago from UK

      Thank you for the information and the links.

      I have successfully researched my uncle's death. He was killed on the last day of the battle of the Somme, which began on 1st July 1916 and ended on the 13th November.

      I wondered if you might consider writing a Hub on the Royal Scots Fusiliers?

    • humahistory profile image
      Author

      Chaz 3 years ago from UK

      If you had given his name I could perhaps have found some information that would have been of use to you.

      However, Nov. 13th, 1916 would have seen the Royal Scots Fusiliers in the later phase of the Battle of the Somme.

      Apparently they were part of 90th Brigade, which was part of 30th Division. However, below is a link to a Bedfordshire Regiment website. It has the Operations Order for 89th Brigade - part of 30th Division and 'next' to 90th Brigade. It gives some indication of what your uncle died trying to achieve.

      http://www.bedfordregiment.org.uk/2ndbn/2ndbtn1916...

      You may also be able to find his name on the Thiepval Memorial record of War dead buried at the site:

      http://www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead.aspx?cpage=1&...

      as there are a number of RSF soldiers there.

      A forum site also has a thread about someone that may have been a comrade of your uncle:

      http://www.talkingscot.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=3...

      from which most of the above information was extracted.

    • searchinsany profile image

      Alexander Gibb 3 years ago from UK

      This is a wonderful tribute and well worth recording on HubPages. The graphics are excellent.

      My uncle was in the Royal Scots Fusiliers, but I know little about that regiment. He was killed on the 13th November 1916, aged 21. Does that date strike a chord with you?