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If you ask most people to name a battle in the Great War, most will say the Somme, or perhaps the mud of Passchendaele, maybe the coalfields of Loos, but few if any will mention the Battle of Arras in 1917, which a great shame.

Just over 102 years ago on 9th April, 1917 in North East France a huge army was assembled in the historic town of Arras, many of the soldiers were Scots or ex-pat Scots in Canadian service.

Men of the 9th Scottish, 15th Scottish and 51st Highland Division, the Canadian Highlanders, the 15th and 16th Royal Scots with 34 Division, in short the largest number of Scotsmen bearing arms since the Battle of Flodden were assembled ready to face the Germans. The morning of the 9th broke cold and windy, very un-Spring like, the men emerging from the huge tunnel network under Arras witnessed an artillery barrage the like of which had never been seen before.

The British and Canadian troops were to attack in support of their French Allies who were going on the offensive a week later.

Hardly surprisingly with so many Scotsmen being in the battle, many of them came from Midlothian, and they were involved in some of the fiercest fighting.

Going into battle with the 6th King’s Own Scottish Borderers were lifelong pals Andrew Hogarth from Fordel, and James Crawford from Dalkeith. Andrew had worked as a ploughman on Murrays Farm and had only enlisted in 1916 due to the importance of his work. James had worked on Airfield Farm and had joined around the same time as his best pal. They asked to be kept together and were posted to the 6th King’s Own Scottish Borderers, part of the 9th Scottish Division.

Now at 215 am on a cold April morning they rose and donned their webbing and picked up their weapons to make their way to the front line. At 5am they huddled together at the rear of a huge mine crater called Clarence, waiting anxiously for the off, at 530 it came, with a blast of the whistle the men of the KOSB rose and advanced over no-mans-land. Then disaster struck, the creeping artillery barrage for some unexplained reason suddenly dropped very short of the German lines and landed on top of the KOSB. The casualties were severe, and amongst them were Andrew and James, killed by shrapnel. Andrew lies at rest in Bailleul Road West Cemetery, St Laurent-Blangy, sadly James’ body was lost in the advance and he is remembered on the Arras Memorial.

On a different section of the front, the 1st Gordon Highlanders went on the attack, their objective was a series of German trenches along the Tilloy Road, they are luckier than the Borderers, the artillery has cut the barbed wire to ribbons and the dazed Germans quickly surrender to the Highlanders, the German bombard the trenches vacated by the Gordons but they cause hardly any casualties. However as they advance towards a small wood a German machine opens up on the men, killing and wounding around 60 men before it overrun by the Scots. Amongst those killed is 30-year-old Pte George Lothian from First Street in Newtongrange a miner at the Lady Victoria Pit, one of 6 brothers with the colours, he had been at the front since July, 1915. He is buried in the cemetery at Tilloy British Cemetery.

As you would expect many of the Midlothian men serving were in the various battalions of our local regiment, The Royal Scots. Several battalions fought at Arras, the 2nd, 8th, 9th, 11th,12th, 15th, 16th and 17th to be precise, giving an indication of the involvement of our men. One of these men was Pte Thomas McDonald of 15th Royal Scots, he was well known in Junior Football circles as a player with Bonnyrigg Rose FC. In February, 1916 he went to France and was quite badly wounded in July of that year in the Battle of the Somme. Tom was sent home to recover from his wounds and in February of 1917 he was declared fit enough to return to his unit.

On 9th April the 15th and 16th Royal Scots were tasked along with the 11th Suffolks with clearing a series of trenches running from the important Railway Cutting up to the relatively high and exposed Point-de-Jour Ridge. They made good progress initially overcoming ‘steady resistance’ but by the time they made it to the ridge, only 4 officers and 100 men were left. Tom McDonald was one of those killed, his body was never found.

Despite it’s lesser known reputation, Arras was one the bloodiest battles ever fought by the British Army with over 4,000 casualties every day. The 9th of April, 1917 was Midlothian’s 2nd blackest day of the war, with 21 of her sons falling that day.

A day to remember. A day to forget.

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Sapper William Dodds SASNewbattle Church is a beautiful old church with a fascinating history, however I always thought that it had a chapter missing from that history, a memorial to those who fell in the Second World War.

Well I’m pleased to say that the Parish has taken the decision to approve a memorial and to begin fundraising for it.

I have been asked to draw up a list of names for the memorial. a great honour, and a duty I readily agreed to.

I have drawn up a provisional list of names for inclusion, 55 in number currently.

This comprises all of those named on Newtongrange and Easthouses war memorials and a number of men who have been omitted or declined a place on the above memorials.

If you have a relative who is NOT on the list and would like him / her to be considered for inclusion on the memorial, please contact me with details of that person via the contact form below as soon as possible, giving as much information as possible.

A cut off date will be announced in due course, once that date is set, further entries regrettably cannot be accepted after then.

The list is now closed as of 30th June and we are no longer accepting new entries.

Thank you

Provisional list

1 John F Allan  RN 27 Alexander Hunter  SH
2 James F Beveridge  RA 28 James F Hughes  SG
3 William H Bonsor RAOC 29 Robert L Jack
4 Alex Burnett  SH 30 Barrie Jones   RN
5 Peter Burnett  RS 31 George C Johnston  CSR
6 William Campbell  QOCH 32 Charles C Law
7 Hector C Clark ASH 33 John Livingstone  SH
8 John S Coleman RSF 34 Douglas MacKenzie
9 William Currie RAF 35 Malcolm McLean
10 James Dea  RN 36 Peter J McLeod  ASH
11 Edward B Dick  GH 37 William Meek RAF
12 W R Dickson  FMS 28 Robert Y Moffat  RAOC
13 William Dodds  RE 39 Thomas C Moffat  RN
14 Harold Finlay  MN 40 George Noble   PR
15 Adam A Ford 41 John B Paxton  MN
16 James C Forrest  RN 42 Nicol Peacock  SG
17 Ronald Fraser  KOSB 43 George W Raper  MN
18 Charles M Gowrie   RASC 44 Ninian Roberts   RSG
19 John Hadden  RS 45 William A Scott  RN
20 Andrew Haldane   MN 46 Archie Thomson  RE
21 Brodie D Haldane  RAF 47 David Trist  RN
22 Robert Hails  HLI 48 John Webster  MN
23 David Hamilton RAAF 49 Joseph White RN
24 John Herbert   RN 50 Hugh Whitehead  RNPS
25 James Holgate RE 51 Andrew D Wilson  RN
26 David Hunter  RN 52
53
54
55
William S Wilson  RN
Zibigniew Kozlowski POL
Richard Scott RE
Dixon Gair GH

 

A few days ago I called in on the Aviation Preservation Society (APSS) workshops down at East Fortune in East Lothian, naturally enough people were a little bit down regarding the death of their Patron Captain Eric (Winkle) Brown, one of our finest ever aviators.

I spoke to APSS members about the Sopwith Strutter project and the news is very encouraging, the work is picking up pace rapidly and they’re waiting the arrival of the special wing tension wires from the Wiremill in Musselburgh. Once these arrive and a suitable work space is found the aircraft will be assembled for inspection. Once it has been passed the aircraft can then be covered with fabric, not the original Irish linen, but a modern more durable alternative.

 

APSS replica MGs

Replica Machine Guns

The apprentices at McTaggart Scott Engineering are currently hard at work manufacturing a Scarfe ring  for the rear cockpit onto which will be mounted the magnificent Lewis Gun replica made by APSS member John Guy, who also made the magnificent Vickers gun which will sit up front in front of the lucky pilot.

The beating heart of the aircraft, the Rotec radial engine, all the way from ‘Down Under’ is ready to be installed and looks very impressive indeed. I filmed a short video with Ken Sharp and Mike Harper who gave me a run down of the progress.

So keep your eyes on the East Lothian sky later this year, you never know what you might see.

 

A while back I had the pleasure of working with a group on a WW1 display and presentation along with Lynsey Anderson from the Museum staff.

The kids were really enthusiastic and asked lots of good questions, it was refreshing to see that another generation was most definitely interested in the Great War.

The day was based on a case study of Pte James Marchbank who went to war aged 14. I was able to tell the kids his life story with the aid of my photo collection and a host of great artefacts supplied by Tom Gordon of the Royal Scots Museum, it was nice to see Tom there but sadly his recently broken leg curtailed his day with us

After a busy morning’s research, we pulled together artefacts to tell young James’ story, half the team went off to prepare the exhibition case, whilst the other half stayed with me to put together a presentation for a group of parents attending in the afternoon.

Using the facts they had established from their research the kids, only 10 or 11 remember, put together a very good, concise story which they presented to the assembled group, in front of the exhibition case. It was well  received as you can see below.

Learning should and can be interesting, I have no doubt that another generation is keen to learn what life in the trenches was like.

More recently I have become involved in the Digging In Project through at Pollok Park in Glasgow, an ambitious project it features two trench systems one British and one German. The idea is to open the trenches up to the public on a regular basis and for kids from all over Scotland to visit, an admirable ambition as a visit to the battlefields of France and Flanders is beyond the financial means of many families.

Whilst you can never replicate the experience of walking the ground, this is compensated for by the hands on style of Digging In. Running until the Spring of 1919, I hope you will be able to visit at some time during the Centenary.

 

 

Digging In header

Digging In website

Newbattle at war

This article appeared on my work Intranet but well worthy of wider circulation. The tale of a mjohn-mcaulay-vciners son who joined Glasgow City Police and won the Victoria Cross in WW1.

John McAulay joined Glasgow Police in 1911 as a probationary constable. He was posted to Northern Division in March that year and was a champion wrestler in police sporting competitions.

Within a month of the out break of war John had resigned for the police service and volunteered, being posted to the Scots Guards and seeing action across France.

 

By the end of 1915 John’s bravery had seen him promoted three times in one day, from corporal to acting sergeant. He was officially recognised for his bravery in September 1917 for his actions during the battle of Ypres (which took place in December 1916) being awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal.

John McAulay VC

Sgt John McAulay VC Glasgow Police

During the battle had taken command of his platoon after his officer had been killed, cleared two strongly-held dugouts and “accounted for several snipers”. McAulay had been recommended for the DCM four times already and an officer said to him: “You ought to have got it ages ago”.

On 27 November, 1917, at Fontaine, Notre Dame McAulay’s platoon was pinned down on a sunken road by German machine gunfire. When his commander, Lieutenant A Kinnaird, was wounded, McAulay lifted him on to his back and carried him to safety amid shells bursting around him.

Still carrying the officer, he rallied the men, placed Kinnaird in a shelter and seized a machine gun. He set it up in the road and, as the Germans came over the ridge, completely stopped their attack. He then carried Kinnaird another 500 yards through “a tornado of bullets, killing two Germans who tried to intercept him”.

Though escaping without a scratch, he is said to have “accounted for 50 of the enemy by himself”.

An Aberdeen journalist in the trenches recorded how McAulay learned of his award of the VC in January 1918: “A modest man… he was deafened by the cheers… fellow sergeants almost shook his arm off…the VC was mounted shoulder-high and headed by the piper, marched round and round.” McAulay returned home in February 1918 and was decorated by King George V on 16 March. He re-joined the police in January 1919 and was promoted to sergeant in June that year.

McAulay laid a wreath at the Glasgow Police War Memorial ceremony in 1921, commemorating 173 city police officers who had died. He became an inspector in 1922 and retired in 1946 after 34 years’ service.

One hundred years on from the start of World War One there is a group of men who’s service has long since been forgotten about, these men were Eastern European immigrants from Russia and the Baltic States who had settled in Scotland.

So how did these men come to settle in Scotland?

Many of them were escaping the clutches of Czarist Russia’s Army, where they would serve many years for little reward. In the 1890s many decided that enough was enough and left Russia, Lithuania, Latvia and Ukraine with the intention of moving to the United States.

At this time there was an active trade between ports such such Leith on the east coast of Scotland, with coal being a prime export from Scotland and the Baltic states. One of the main exporters was the Lothian Coal Company with numerous ships going to and from Hamburg.

Rather than come back empty, the filthy coal ships offered immigrants cheap passage to a new life, which the immigrants thought would be in the USA. To their horror they were deposited in Leith, without a job and homeless.

The Lothian Coal Company was not slow to take advantage of their situation, the Lady Victoria Colliery had just opened in Newtongrange, many men were needed to man it’s new and highly productive coal seams.

At first Scottish families moved through, mostly from Lanarkshire, however their numbers were insufficient and the Eastern Europeans were offered a job and and a house, many, especially those with a wife and family,had no choice other than to accept.

They settled in two main areas, the bulk in Bellshill, Lanarkshire and the rest in Newtongrange. Most came from Suwalki which lies in the North East of current day Poland and South West Lithuania.

And so Newtongrange became home to several hundred ‘Russian Poles’ as they were christened. Coming from all walks of life, few if any had ever been down a coal mine, most spoke no English, and a number were illiterate. Most settled well in their new home and by 1906 there were around 200 Lithuanians and a number from Latvia and Ukraine living in the village, by the outbreak of war around 800 or about 1 in 5 of the population of Newtongrange were immigrants.

 

Technically they were Russian citizens at this time, and as such ‘friendly Aliens’ who had to register with the Police and had certain restrictions on their movements. Unlike the Germans and Austrians in the community there were still free to live and work in the village.

Many men from the village enlisted in the Army, including a group of around 25 Lithuanian miners, who wished to join the famous McCrae’s Battalion, the 16th Royal Scots. They were initially accepted by were sent home shortly after as they could not read or write in English.

Not all were rejected however, men such as the Mikolajunas brothers Jan and Stanislaw, from the Square in Newtongrange, were accepted into the Royal Scots and the Lancashire Fusiliers, Ukrainian Vasily Nikitenko boarded the train into Edinburgh where he enlisted in the Royal Garrison Artillery. This pattern continued through 1916 with the occasional man enlisting, but most remaining in the coal mining industry.

This was about to change however, conscription had been introduced in early 1916 for British citizens, ‘Russian’ citizens were not subject to conscription, at least that was until 1917 when a treaty was signed between Russian and Great Britain allowing both to conscript each other’s citizen into their Army.

An ultimatum was issued to the Eastern Europeans, they were to make a choice, enlist in the British Army or return to Russia to fight for the Czar. Around 2/3rds of them decided to return, believing they were fighting to preserve their national identity. Not a single man who chose to fight for Russia was ever seen again, shamefully their families were rounded up and deported, again many never to be seen again.

As the for the others, well most were sent in job lots to Infantry regiments, from my research I have identified groups sent to the Royal Scots, Kings Own Scottish Borderers, Scottish Rifles and the East Yorkshire Regiment, My theory is that they tried to keep the men in groups to overcome the language barrier, with an English speaking man in each group.

In 1917 the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia sent shock waves through the Allies and many of the ‘Russian Poles’ were viewed with much suspicion as potential ‘Reds’ and were removed from Infantry battalions and sent to unarmed Labour battalions. However many of the men who had proved themselves reliable under fire remained with combat units until the end of the war.

Inevitably some became casualties and a number made the ultimate sacrifice, mostly in 1918. If you take a walk through Newtongrange Park you will come across the war memorial on which are these names

Pte Klemis Poliskis, Scottish Rifles, Pte Juozas Sanalitis, Kings Own Scottish Borderers, Gunner Stanaslaw Scortolskis, Royal Field Artillery, Pte Justinas Tutlis, Royal Scots all of whom were Lithuanian. And that of Gunner Vasily Nikitenko, who if you recall, volunteered in 1916, in 2007 I successfully campaigned to have him added to the war memorial.

In 1918 Vasily was awarded the Military Medal for gallantry during the German Spring Offensive, sadly he did live long after the award, on the 28th May, 1918 he was manning his gun when a stray shell landed killing him and wounding a number of others.

 

After the war most of the Lithuanians moved away from the area, mostly to the United States, the majority of those that remained took British nationality and adopted British names, men such as Jan Mikolajunas, who became John Nicol.

 

There is no little trace of the Lithuanian community in Newtongrange or elsewhere in the district, I estimate that around 100 Eastern European men served in the Army and would welcome contact from anyone related to them.

John Duncan – Honorary Board Member of the Scottish Lithuanian Community

 Image

Juozas Sanalitis,from Newtongrange, killed in 1918

A short article in the Midlothian Advertiser this week has prompted me to publish this entry today.

The headline reads “War Memorial wrangles continues” and states that hopes of adding names to the (Newtongrange) war memorial in time for Remembrance Sunday have been dashed.

I would like to clarify my position and a brief summary of events.

I approached Newtongrange Community Council in April, 2012 with a provisional number of names I wished added to the war memorial, I subsequently submitted a number of documents to them, which I later combined into a booklet for submission to the Council with a view to having the names of 12 men, 1 WW1 and 11 WW2, added for last year’s Remembrance Day.

I subsequently queried the lack of action on this matter by both the Community Council and Midlothian, at the request of the Community Council I resubmitted the booklet containing all the evidence and waited…and waited.

I was aware that the Council had dismissed a number of men, for reasons that I viewed as invalid, and frankly an insult to men who served and died for their country.

I submitted an FOI request to the Council asking for clarification of matters and passed the results on to the Community Council and what happened, nothing.

Back in September,2013 I was spoken to by the Chairman of the Community Council and informed by him that the CC were not going to be putting forward a number of men’s names forward as they had been killed by accident or after the war, and could I supply the information again.

Regrettably at this point I decided I’d had enough with the run-around and decided with a heavy heart to withdraw my co-operation with the project particularly in view of the omissions and that 12 men now appear to be 3 according to the Community Council.

I will now be going my own way, I am planning to raise funds for a memorial commemorating all the men from Newbattle Parish, not a chosen few.

If need be I will pay for the memorial myself if I have to.

I will remember all 11 of these forgotten men this Remembrance Sunday as will their relatives.

Will you remember them?

L Cpl George Ross, 1st Gordon Highlanders

LAC William Currie, RAF Volunteer Reserve

Acting Leading Stoker Joseph White, Royal Navy

Leading Stores Assistant James Simpson Alexander Dea, Royal Navy

Lt John Herbert, Royal Navy

Engine Artificer 4th Class Barrie Jones, Royal Navy

Sapper James Holgate, Royal Engineers

Able Seaman Malcolm Mclean, Merchant Navy

Sgt William Alexander Meek, RAF Volunteer Reserve

Pte George D Noble, Parachute Regiment 5th Battalion

Trooper Ninian Cockburn Roberts, Royal Scots Greys

Second Engineer John Webster, Merchant Navy