Tuesday, 19 April 2011

2014 target for Black Watch memorial at Ypres

An article from The Courier today. Frustratingly it mentions wristband available for sale, but doesn't mention how you can get one...

The bravery of Black Watch soldiers in the first world war is to be celebrated in an ambitious project forged in the regiment's heartland but with its focus on a tranquil corner of rural Belgium.

For almost a century, Polygon Wood has stood in calm remembrance of the horrors of war experienced by the men who wore the red hackle.

Some 8000 of those heroes fell in the first world war, and although their sacrifice has lived on in the memory and historical records of the regiment there has never been a permanent memorial to honour that sacrifice.

However, with the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the war looming, Black Watch Association veterans in Angus have taken the lead in a project to create a fitting monument for the men of Tayside, Fife and beyond who were destined never to return from the fields of Flanders.

Association members across the country will be joining their comrades in Angus on a drive to raise the estimated £25,000 for the planned 2014 unveiling of the memorial in the poignant location of what, for the past nine decades, has remained Black Watch Corner in the countryside close to Ypres.

The project was revealed to The Courier at the weekend when senior association figures visited the Kirriemuir war memorial on which it is planned to model the Belgian tribute.

Angus Black Watch Association branch chairman Major Ronnie Proctor said, "We lost 8000 men in world war one and there is no specific Black Watch memorial in France or Flanders. One of our members, Tom McCluskey, mooted the idea that, with such an important milestone approaching in 2014, it would be fitting to create a memorial to these men.

"I was then able to propel it forward. Brigadier Edward de Broe Ferguson, the association chairman, is very much behind the idea, as is the rest of The Black Watch community.

"It is important to us that the memorial will be sourced and produced in the regiment's homeland, so the stone will come from Perthshire and is to be carved by well-known sculptor Bruce Walker from Kirriemuir... We hope to model it on the figure from the war memorial at Kirrie which is a striking monument, and it will take the form of a large stone slab with a Black Watch soldier carved in relief."

Angus branch is aiming for part of its contribution to come from the sale of specially commissioned wristbands created in the regimental colours which are now on sale.

"The association works to support the welfare of Black Watch soldiers and their dependents, and the wristbands are aimed at raising money for that continuing work," continued Major Proctor. "Proceeds will go into the welfare fund and hopefully we will be able to make a contribution from that to the memorial project.

"Three years seems a long time away but it will come round quickly so we are hopeful that the project will gather pace."

 The origins of Black Watch Corner

The origins of Black Watch Corner are revealed in a passage from The History of the Black Watch in the Great War 1914-1918, written by Maj-Gen A.G. Wauchope.

"November 11, 1914 — Ypres Sector, South West Corner of Polygon Wood: Between 6.30 and 9 a.m. on the 11th of November, the heaviest bombardment so far experienced by the British forces broke out; as it ended, a Division of the Prussian Guard, with orders from their Emperor to break the line at all costs, attacked the front of the 1st and 2nd Divisions. Under the cover of the bombardment, a strong force drove back D Company and the two platoons of A Company entrenched at the south-west corner of Polygon Wood, and broke through the line. Second Lieutenant M. McNeill, commanding this portion of A Company, was last seen on the parapet of his trench, revolver in hand, fighting right gallantly to the end with all his men.

"The supporting point of C Company, under Lieutenant F. Anderson, held out firmly, and split the attack into small parties of twenty or thirty men, many of whom were soon lost in the woods behind. It is interesting to note that Lieutenant Anderson's post was the first instance in the war of the "strong point," or wired-in locality, which later became a salient feature of defensive warfare. This particular post was sited and constructed by a great friend of the regiment, Major C. Russell-Brown, R.E., commanding the 23rd Field Company.

"B Company and the two platoons of A Company, under Lieutenant Sprot, who were in reserve in the paddocks of Verbeek farm, were overwhelmed by the first onrush of the enemy; Lieutenant Sprot and most of his men were killed. A few men, amongst whom were Privates Jackson and Gardner, were taken prisoner; but when their captors took cover from a chance shell, they slipped away and escaped into the Nonne Boschen Wood.

"Verbeek Farm, the joint Headquarters of The Black Watch and the Cameron Highlanders, was temporarily occupied by the enemy; the actual Headquarters dug-out, a primitive brushwood lean-to against the farmhouse was, however, kept safe by the spirited defence of the two commanding officers, Lieutenant Colonels C. E. Stewart and D. McEwan, and of Sergeant D. Redpath, The Black Watch signalling sergeant. Lieutenant Colonel Stewart was wounded in the head at point-blank range by a German who was, in his turn, despatched by Sergeant Redpath.

"Lieutenant Rowan Hamilton and Captain Brodie of the Camerons, the two adjutants, had previously, when the attack commenced, gone to 1st Brigade Headquarters in Nonne Boschen Wood to report the situation. Lieutenant Rowan Hamilton, in returning to report to Colonel Stewart at Verbeek Farm, was wounded.

"Meanwhile, Nonne Boschen Wood, in which the 1st Brigade Headquarters was situated, was held by 1st Brigade Signal Section, The Black Watch party that had been with the North Lancashire Regiment for the past three days and had reported at 1st Brigade Headquarters during the preliminary bombardment, and a few men who had got away from the the front line. Several small parties of the enemy had broken past Lieutenant Anderson's Post and Verbreek Farm and had attempted to enter the wood or passed along its eastern edge, but they were successfully dealt with. During this fighting Captain Brodie of the Cameron Highlanders and Lieutenant Lawson were killed. Lieutenant Lawson had recently been granted a commission having come out to France with the Battalion as Regimental Quartermaster Sergeant - a most gallant officer, who fell fighting, having served the Regiment loyally for nineteen years.

"About 3.30 p.m. three companies of the 1st Northamptonshire Regiment, assisted by a party of The Black Watch and Camerons, advanced from Nonne Boschen Wood and regained the line Veerbeek farm — Lieutenant Anderson's Post, south-west corner of Polygon Wood, this corner being known on all later maps as "Black Watch Corner." Lieutenant Anderson was most severely wounded and his garrison suffered many losses; but they had accounted for a large number of the enemy - Lieutenant Anderson having himself shot several - and had broken up the main German attack in this area.

"The net result of the German effort was to drive back the British line about five hundred yards on a front of a mile. Only one officer, Captain V M Fortune, remained unwounded at the end of the day. The casualties were: killed, Lieutenant Lawson and 18 other ranks; missing (nearly all ascertained to have been killed), Lieutenants Sprot and McNeil and 49 other ranks; wounded, Lieutenant Colonel Stewart, Captains West and Rowan-Hamilton, Lieutenant Anderson and 52 other ranks."

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