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The Black Watch

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First World War | 1914-18

1914

On the outbreak of war there were seven Black Watch battalions - for in addition to the Regular 1st and 2nd Battalions and 3rd (Special Reserve) Battalion there were a further four Territorial ones which had become part of the Regiment in 1908. They were the 4th Dundee, 5th Angus, 6th Perthshire and the 7th Battalion from Fife. The 1st Battalion was in action at the very start of the war taking part in the Retreat from Mons before turning on the Germans at the River Marne and the subsequent advance to the Aisne. Trench warfare then set in and the 2nd Battalion arrived from India, both battalions taking part in the Battle of Givenchy. Meanwhile the Territorial battalions had been mobilised at the start of the war but only the 5th was in action in 1914.

fww 1914

Picture: Trench warfare soon set in. This photograph shows men of The Black Watch manning a typical trench"

1915

This year was to see the participation of all the Territorial battalions and some of the newly formed "Service Battalions" of the Regiment in the battles along the Western Front. The 2nd, 4th and 5th Battalions were at Neuve Chapelle in March and a total of six battalions fought at Festubert in May where two Victoria Crosses were won by members of the Regiment. Then in September came the initially successful but horrifically costly attacks at Loos in which the 9th Battalion suffered over 700 casualties.

fww 1915

Picture: Members of D Company, 4th Battalion The Black Watch on their objective after the Battle of Neuve Chapelle March 1915

1916

The 2nd Battalion was withdrawn from France for operations against the Turks in Mesopotamia for the attempted relief of Kut-el-Amara. Such was the urgency to get forward that the advance was made without proper preparation and heavy casualties were incurred. The losses at Shaikh Sa'ad were so heavy that the Battalion had to be merged temporarily with another Highland battalion which had suffered similarly. This year also saw the 10th Battalion taking part in operations in the Balkans. On the Western Front, 1916 was dominated by the Battle of the Somme. Five battalions of the Regiment were involved with particularly fierce actions at Contalmaison, High Wood, Delville Wood and Longueval - the last named changing frequently as the Germans counter-attacked and further assaults were made to regain it. Eventually it was held but by then the 8th Battalion was reduced to just 171 men. The year ended with the extremely hard fought battle at Beaumont-Hamel with the 6th and 7th Battalions particularly distinguishing themselves.

fww 1916

Picture: The Pipes & Drums playing after the initial capture of Longueval by the 8th Battalion. It was to change hands again frequently over the next five days.

1917

April saw the launch of the 1st Battle of Arras. With the support of some of the first tanks, with more sophisticated artillery fire and improved tactics the five Black Watch battalions involved made some progress. They then held on tenaciously to the gains made at such cost against fierce counter attacks. Subsequent attacks in the Second and Third Battles were less successful but equally costly in lives. July saw six battalions of the Regiment taking part in the Third Battle of Ypres and the endeavours to extend the Salient. In this the 4/5 Battalion was reduced to no more than company strength, indicative of the terrible losses and conditions at Passchendaele. However the 6th and 7th Battalions were taken back to train with tanks for the initially successful Battle of Cambrai. Advancing behind the tanks and passing through each other the battalions made significant gains but most of this ground was later to be lost to German counter attacks. Meanwhile in Mesopotamia the 2nd Battalion had taken part in the fight for Sannaiyat and in March had entered Bagdad before fighting across the desert to Mushaidie and thence to the ferocious action at Istabulat. There Private Melvin won the VC for single handedly overcoming a group of nine Turks.

fww 1917

Picture: Men of the 2nd Battalion at Samarra railway station which had been captured after the entry of the Battalion into Baghdad in March 1917.

1918

After the conclusion of operations in Mesopotamia the 2nd Battalion moved to Palestine and took part in Allenby's eminently successful action at Megiddo in September. In France the spring brought in the final massive German offensive. In a confused withdrawal all the battalions suffered heavy losses, those of the 9th at Arras being so great that it had to amalgamate with the 4th/5th. Attack followed attack through March and April until the German offensive was exhausted. Then came the long fight to recover the lost ground. At Chambrecy the 6th Battalion, attacking alongside a French unit, was awarded the Croix de Guerre for its bravery - a distinction still worn by the Territorial soldiers of the Regiment. By September the 1st Battalion was involved in the successful attack on the last German fortified trench system, the Hindenberg Line. By the time of the Armistice in November 8000 members of the Regiment had lost their lives during the four years of this terrible conflict.

fww 1918

Picture: Men of the 1st Battalion at Roisdorf in Germany at the conclusion of the First World War.