Monday, 21 November 2011

On this day in Scottish Military History - 16th Bn HLI hold Frankfurt Trench - 1916

"The Somme" by Lyn MacDonald is probably my favourite book about the First World War. I have a well thumbed copy on my bookshelves and tonight I will bring it down again and read the epilogue.

1st July 1916 overshadows every other phase of the Battle of the Somme, but the battle was not fought on one day; it officially ended with the end of Battle of the Ancre just over ninety five years ago. Amongst the Scottish troops in action during the last battle were the 51st (Highland) Division. They captured Beaumont Hamel (and a place in history) on 13th-14th November. Their bravery that day is commemorated by the magnificent bronze highlander which was unveiled by Marchal Foch in 1924.

They weren't the only Scots in action in the last phase of the Battle. The 16th Battalion, Highland Light Infantry attacked the German trenches east of Beaumont Hamel on the what was officially the last day of the Battle - 18th November 1916. The battalion reached its objectives of Munich and Frankfurt trenches but were beaten back by the Germans.

Three days later, on this day ninety-five years ago, it was realised that not all the Highland Light Infantry had retreated. Some of 'D' Company, 16th HLI still held Frankfurt Trench. They were surrounded, and lesser men would have surrendered, but the Glasgow Boys' Brigade battalion men were made of sterner stuff and held on, hoping to be relieved.

This takes me back to Lyn MacDonald's book. The story of the fight of the men of 16th (Service) Battalion (2nd Glasgow), Highland Light Infantry in November 1916 is the subject of the epilogue of her book. I'm not going to go into more detail here. Nothing I could write could come close to Lyn MacDonald's moving description to the events which closed the 1916 fighting on the Somme. Instead I'd encourage you to find a copy in a shop or a library and read it.

In the mean time have a look at the Glasgow Roll of Honour which we have just published. Many of the men listed are just like the ones MacDonald describes in her book. "The shipping clerks, errand-boys, stevedores, railway porters, grocers' assistants, postmen"; the men of Glasgow who answered the call in 1914.

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