Saturday last I discovered the grave of Private Jim Reid at Tyne Cot, and today Dominic – very kindly – has taken the time to use this fallen Scot and relative of mine as a means of showing me the workings of the Ypres archives. Over the course of the day he has dropped files, reports, books, and maps pertaining to the actions of the Royal Scots during late September 1915 down to my desk. The 25 September 1915 was a single day in the conflict, and it was the last day of Jim Reid’s life. At 3.50 am 112 eight-pounder field guns opened fire on the German lines at Hooge from behind the Scots’ position along Sanctuary Wood. From this early stage in the assault the War Diary reports that these artillery pieces were “too light for destroying the enemy’s trenches and wire entanglements.” The commanders knew fine well they were sending the Scots on a suicide mission. This was of course a rouse to keep the Germans distracted from what was happening further south at Loos. By 4.19 am four colossal mines were exploded under the German lines, and at twenty past the whistles were blown and the Scots went over the top. It was raining. The morning was dark and misty, and the German machine gunners were primed and ready to meet the attack.

During the afternoon, at about twenty past two, the report reached command that the Royal Scots had breached the German frontline trenches and were holding their position under heavy bombardment. In no-man’s-land the Gordon Highlanders were not having the same luck; they were caught up in the barbed-wire and taking heavy losses from German machine gun fire, though some had made it to the enemy’s trenches but were soon beaten back. Despite the decision to focus artillery fire on the German second line and communications trenches in front of the Royal Scots, the German attack on them made it impossible for reinforcements to reach them, and so for the time being they were cut off and taking losses. At half past four in the afternoon the Scots were forced to abandon the trenches they had taken from the Germans and make haste back over no-man’s-land to their own trench system. Nothing had been gained in over twelve hours of savage fighting, and during it all nine-hundred-and-fifty-four Scots lost their lives – including Private James Reid. Support did eventually arrive from the English Suffolk and Middlesex regiments. Their ‘support’ was so vigorous that they lost about three men. Another fine example of Operation Hide Behind Jock!

Jason Michael
Blog Author

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