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King's Own Scottish Borderers - Actions in WWI (Great War, European War) to 1915

Updated on February 5, 2015

Parade Uniform of King's Own Scottish Borderers' Corporal

Corporal of the King's Own Scottish Borderers in parade uniform.
Corporal of the King's Own Scottish Borderers in parade uniform. | Source

The Borders and the Borderers

In romantic interest no part of Britain is superior to the Borders, the district once a 'debatable land' between England and Scotland. It is a land of castles, ruined and restored, such as Alnwick, Ford, Chillingham, and Naworth; of abbeys such as Melrose, Hexham, Jedburgh, and Kelso, while its peel towers are full of 'tumultuous and crying memories' of a fierce and lawless past.

Battlefields - Flodden, Otterburn, Ancrum Moor, and Solway Moss - are everywhere, and the district has been immortalised in the poetry of Sir Walter Scott.

The history of this land has left a mark upon the people who dwell there. They inherit the blood of generations of wild fighting men, of reivers, of men who lived in the saddle, and whose only trade was war.

For them there were no long years of enervating peace. They were always looking to the beacon fire of danger, and listening for the call to arms. They were the warriors of whom Scott wrote in "The Lay of the Last Minstrel":

"They carved at the meal
With gloves of steel,
And they drank the red wines through the helmet barred."

The descendants of these men must be soldiers. They simply cannot help it. It is the call of the blood.

So, be not surprised that, high on the roll of British regiments, the name of the King's Own Scottish Borderers, the 25th of the line.

Quote from Sir Walter Scott

"Not so the Borderer : born to war,

He knew the battle's scent afar,

And joined to hear it swell." - Sir Walter Scott

K.O. Scottish Borderers Badge

King's Own Scottish Borderers. 25th Foot. Inscribed circle surrounded by crown; St. Andrew's Cross; with the Castle of Edinburgh. "The Kokky-Olly Birds".
King's Own Scottish Borderers. 25th Foot. Inscribed circle surrounded by crown; St. Andrew's Cross; with the Castle of Edinburgh. "The Kokky-Olly Birds". | Source

Les Débuts de la 1ère Guerre Mondiale

800 Recruits in Two Hours

What would the recruiting officers of the First World War have thought about the raising of a regiment of 800 men in two hours?

In 1689 the regiment known as the King's Own Scottish Borderers was raised in Edinburgh by Lord Leven, commemorated in its colours by the figure of Edinburgh Castle.

"The work of these two hours has lasted for two centuries, for the regiment then hastily enlisted is still alive as the 25th of the line." - Fortescue

At this time "bloody Claverhouse' had just roused the Highlanders to fight against William III>, and to crush this insurrection Mackay marched north with the Borderers and some other regiments.

Highlander and Lowlander met in the Pass of Killicrankie, where the wild Highland rush swept the Lowlanders away. Lord Leven kept together a few of his Borderers, but the day was lost.

In this way the Borderers received their baptism of fire and entered upon their career. Under William of Orange they fought at Landen and elsewhere in the Low Countries; they were at Fontenoy, and were among the men who fought at Minden.

In the 19th century their services were not called upon very often, but they took part in the Tirah and Chitral campaigns, and they were in South Africa, Paardeberg being their great day there.

When the Great War broke out, the 1st Battalion of the regiment was at Lucknow, and the 2nd at Dublin, the latter being one of the first two to arrive at the seat of war. It went out as part of the 5th Division, being one of the four battalions in the 13th Brigade, and at the Battle of Mons it lay along the Condé Canal.

It was there when the army got the order to retreat, and with the other regiments of the division the Borderers fell back some five miles on the morning of Monday, August 24th, 1914.

The Borderers at Mons

The battalion was in excellent spirits, and had only lost a few men, but in the retreat it had a terrible time. Of the six brigades in Smith-Dorrien's corps the 13th was in the rear, and consequently it felt the full force of the German attack.

At Fromeries on the Monday, and again at Le Cateau on the Wednesday, it was in the thick of some desperate fighting, and on those days the battalion was nearly destroyed.

Altogether the Borderers lost fifteen officers - about half their total - during the first days of the retreat. Their colonel, Lieut.-Col. C.M. Stephenson, Major A.E. Haig, and several more were wounded, while a number of others were reported as missing.

At least one of these, Major Chandos Leigh, D.S.O., was dead, the first Harrovian to be killed in the war, although this was not known until some months later. The casualties included four captains: Captain Spencer, Captain Macdonald, Captain Kennedy, and Captain Cobden.

The Borderers soon recovered from this gruelling, and when Sir John French ordered his army to "make good the Aisne," they were again put in a position of danger.

They were ordered to cross the river opposite Missy, and all through Sunday, September 13th, they struggled on, but the ground over which they had to move was quite open, and when night came they were still on the wrong side of the Aisne.

Their efforts, however, had assisted the other brigades of the 5th Division to cross, and these in their turn held out a helping hand to the Borderers and their comrades of the 13th, who crossed on September 14th.

On that day Private G. Turner, of the Borderers, won the Distinguished Conduct Medal (D.C.M.) for carrying ammunition to the firing-line under heavy fire.

The Borderers were next met with at Cuinchy, where the Second Corps, under General Smith-Dorrien, was fighting hard to drive the Germans from Lille.

On October 12th and 13th they were in the thick of a slow advance, and on the latter day one of their corporals, A. Brown, won the D.C.M. for his successful sniping. By this he kept the enemy from occupying a position essential for his comrades safety.

During the great Battle of Ypres the Borderers did their share in holding on to La Bassée, round which place the struggle swayed backwards and forwards for some three weeks.

On October 22nd they were attacked heavily, and from November 7th to 9th they were in a critical position. In the fighting in October Major William Lewis Campbell Allan was killed, and several officers were wounded, while Sergeant-Major R.P. Kirkwood received the D.C.M. for "great gallantry and coolness in action".

Leading the Attack on "Hill 60"

During a good part of the winter the Second Army Corps, in which the Borderers were, was in reserve, and it did not take any serious part in the Battle of Neuve Chapelle. But, refreshed and strengthened, the Borderers were again in the fore in the second Battle of Ypres, and especially on "Hill 60". With the West Kents, they were chosen to lead the attack on this position.

On the evening of April 17th the engineers exploded seven mines under the German trenches there, and as the great masses of earth, carrying with them the remains of men and guns, shot furiously into the air, the Borderers and the West kents leapt from their trenches, charged up the hill, and planted themselves fairly on the top.

With feverish haste they set to work in the darkness to entrench themselves in the great holes made by allied shells, and to drag up their machine-guns, for they knew what to expect as soon as it became light again.

Sharp at 6:30am the Germans came on, as usual, shoulder to shoulder. Many of them were shot down, but others reached the trenches, where there was some fierce hand-to-hand fighting. In this the Borderers more than held their own, and when they were relieved the next night, they had won and kept the hill.

In the fighting Captain T.P. Wingate and Captain Rupert Cholmeley Yea Dering and two lieutenants were killed, and a little later the battalion lost Captain C.E.W. Bland, who had previously won the Distinguished Service Order (D.S.O.).

World War I: Gallipoli Campaign

Undying Glory on Gallipoli

A few days after this exploit the 1st Battalion of the Borderers won great glory in the attack on Gallipoli, where it formed part of the immortal 29th Division.

With a battalion of Marines the battalion was chosen to land on a beach which Sir Ian Hamilton described as merely a narrow strip of sand at the foot of a crumbling cliff, not unlike some spots on the coast of North Devon.

The men got on shore, climbed up some small gullies to the top of the cliff, and brought up food, water, and ammunition. Then, in great force, the Turks attacked, and they kept this up through the day (April 25th), and all through the night.

They threw bombs into the allied forces trenches, and so black was the darkness that they were able , quite unseen, to bring a pony with a machine-gun on its back into allied defences, where the party was discovered and bayoneted.

Growing fewer and fewer every hour, the Borderers and the Marines fought through that terrible night, rushing forward with their bayonets to meet the Turks, who seemed to have an endless supply of men.

By morning, half of the little detachment had been killed or wounded, its leader, Lieut.-Colonel A.S. Koe, seriously injured, and no reinforcements were available.

Then Sir Ian Hamilton, seeing that good progress had been made elsewhere, ordered the Borderers and the Marines to retire. Quickly the whole of the force was embarked on the transports with their wounded, their stores, and their ammunition, this being successfully accomplished owing to the fire from British warships and the devotion of a small rearguard of the Borderers, who prevented the enemy from lining the cliff.

In this operation the losses were heavy, and roughly speaking only half the battalion remained. In addition to:

and two subalterns were killed, and six officers were wounded.

In this desperate fighting many deeds of gallantry were done, and many, alas! unnoticed in the darkness, will never be revealed, for the men who did them and the men who saw them done were no longer alive.

One of these deeds, however, may be mentioned, not as anything special, but a mere example of many others. Private S. G. Bidgood was in a trench which had been partially destroyed, and after a time he was there alone. He blocked up the broken end and kept his position until daybreak, although only twenty yards away a Turkish machine-gun was firing. He was severely wounded, and received the Distinguished Conduct Medal (D.C.M.).

On the retirement, the survivors of the battalion were taken round to another landing, where they joined their comrades of the 87th Brigade in forming the extreme of the British right. Once there they shared in the attack on the Turkish positions, including those made early in June.

At this time the Borderers were commanded by Captain George Butler Stoney, who

"showed great coolness and good leading, holding together in a most praiseworthy manner the battalion, which had suffered greatly."

Borderers Near the Aisne

King's Own Scottish Borderers near the Aisne
King's Own Scottish Borderers near the Aisne | Source

Some Heroic Borderers' Officers

Much more could be said about the deeds of the Borderers, especially in Gallipoli, but I shall mention just a couple of others. The heavy fighting had been terribly hard on the commissioned officers, but happily the Borderers had excellent non-commissioned officers to lead them.

On June 4th one of them, Sergeant-Major W. Brameld, led his company in a successful bayonet charge on a Turkish trench, and through these difficult days another sergeant-major, J Pearce, showed:

"great powers of leadership."

Finally, on June 28th, there was one of many attacks made by Sir Ian Hamilton's men. At 11 am the artillerymen lengthened their ranges and the Borderers left their trenches and raced for those of the Turks.

They reached and rushed the first line and then the second line, and what was more difficult still, they held them against fierce counter-attacks. Glory, like liberty, is never cheap, and the Borderers paid for it in hundreds of heroic lives laid down for their country.

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