Archive for February, 2010

Second Lieutenant Alistair Hunter MacFarlane

From the memoirs of Sgt (later Lt Col) RWF Johnstone:

“Very soon after dawn broke,all the soldier’s in each fire bay “stood to”,i.e with rifle in hand and bayonet fixed,standing in the trench ready to jump up to the fire step if the sentry who was watching gave any alarm.About half an hour later, Mr MacFarlane,who had joined us for the stand-to,took Tam Yates and me along the platoon’s front to see what work was required in each section’s fire bay.We halted for a moment beside a little stream,which flowed through (Sanctuary Wood) across our front.As we stopped,the officer was hit in the head and fell dead to the ground at our feet.It was a great shock to see sudden death at first hand and so very early in my war service.The reality of war had become very apparent.We laid the body on the side of the trench,covering the face and hands with sandbags,and proceeded on our way.Tam now as Platoon Commander and I as his Platoon Sergeant. That night we buried our officer in a clearing near Battalion HQ. He was aged just 19 -the son of Lord Ormidale, a Judge of the Scottish Court of Session”.

Alistair MacFarlane’s grave was lost and he is listed on Panel 11 of the Menin Gate Memorial.

Menin Gate Memorial.May 2009

Private Percy Victor New

By spring 1915 the 12th Lancers were in the Ypres Salient, positioned on the Frezenberg Ridge to meet a heavy German assault. They were used as infantry and suffered from heavy shelling and sniping.Percy New was in the front line when he was killed by shellfire on 18 May 1915.

The regimental diary recorded “The usual morning salute of shrapnel was unfortunately rather effective.Otherwise a quiet day.All night work at the trenches.Casualties:killed two,wounded six.”

He is listed on Panel 5 of the Menin Gate Memorial.


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Lt Alexis Helmer

On the 1st  of May 1915 the British retreated from a particularly exposed area of the Salient and on the 2nd the Germans resumed a major bombardment of the Yser Canal.

Alex Helmer was killed instantly during this strafing and when there was a lull his comrades gathered his remains in sandbags,placed them in a blanket which was secured with safety pins and buried him near Essex Farm. Among those present was Major John McCrae, who was close friends with Lt Helmer.McCrae tried to recite some of the funeral service but was so distraught that he broke down. Within 24 hours McCrae had penned one of the most famous poems to come out of The Great War: “In Flanders Fields”.

Alexis Hannum Helmer is listed on Panel 10 of the Menin Gate Memorial.

May 2009

Corporal George Pugh

The 1st Suffolks had gone into the line on 17th April and were due for relief at the time that the Second Battle of Ypres was at its height.By the 8th of May there was less than 400 of the battalion left and by the end of that day the 1st Suufolks would cease to exist as a fighting unit.

Signaller Harry Clark recalled : “I was in the dugout with the CO and the adjutant,working the telephone.Then No1 dugout next to us was struck by a shell,burying all the men.Our dugout lasted about another 10 minutes, then a shell exploded.We hardly knew what was happening.The telephone,table,chair,had disappeared , with a hole a few yards in circumference staring at us in their place.We cleared out into the emergency trench,which had been dug in the rear of a ditch and which turned out far worse,because we were up to our waists in water,with shells raining all around.They had also dropped one on No3 dugout,shattering a beam which struck Cpl Pugh and smashed his right leg just above the ankle and also wounded him in the head and left arm. It was the hottest shop I had ever been in. Not one of us knew what was happening in front but we had a fair idea that the line had given way. After a bit we could see men retiring on our right,so we had to get out of the trench and we struggled back on our chests to the dugout but all of us were in a helpless condition and we had not a weapon amongst us.”

Soon they were surrounded : “They were good fellows all round that captured us.They were the 71st Hanoverian Regiment and they kept us from fire as much as possible by making a parapet in front of us,as well as for themselves.They also gave us meat and bread and coffee and did their best for our wounded.At 1.30pm we were all put in a dugout.Two guards stayed with us and then their line began to advance towards Ypres.We started back just before dusk.I simply could not estimate the strength of the Germans.Zonnebeke was crammed with them.We had to leave behind our teo badly wounded men,Cpl Pugh and LCpl Game,apparently dying and left entirely on their own,but with no stretchers they had to be left.We settled down about 10pm at a place called Beclaere(sic) and were put in a church which they had made into something like a pig sty.But I was only too glad to lie down after such a day and then a march of four miles.”

Cpl George Pugh was recorded by the Germans as having died on the 9th of May 1915. No trace of his grave was ever found and his name is listed on Panel 21 of the Menin Gate Memorial.

LCpl Game was carried back to German lines by their stretcher bearers and survived.

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Sepoy Maluk Singh

The 15th Sikhs and other units of the Lahore Division attacked the German positions on Mauser Ridge on the 26th of April 1915. They were mown down in their droves by machine gun fire and despite knowing the costs launched a similar attack the next day.The troops did not reach within 400 yards of the enemy line despite being fine and brave soldiers.

Sepoy Maluk Singh, from the Punjab, was killed near Hill Top Ridge,His name is listed on Panel 1 of the Menin Gate Memorial.

Menin Gate Memorial, May 2009. The patches are repairs following damage done to the Memorial when the retreating British destroyed the bridge over the moat in 1940.

Sepoy Ran Bahudar Bura

On the 1st of May 1915 the 1st and 4th Gurkhas assaulted the strong German positions on Mauser Ridge.Advancing with grim determination they were devastated by machine gun fire and artillery at a range of only 150 yards.2 small parties from the 4th reached the enemy wire and found to their dismay that it had been undamaged by the British bombardment.The brave Nepalese attempted to cut the wire with their famous Kukri knives but their actions were futile as almost all were killed.

Sepoy Ran Bahadur Bura was among those killed and his name is now upon Panel 2 of The Menin Gate Memorial.

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LCpl Fred Fisher VC

An extract from “The London Gazette,” No. 29202, dated 22nd June, 1915, records the following:-“On 23rd April, 1915, in the neighbourhood of St. Julien, he went forward with the machine gun, of which he was in charge, under heavy fire, and most gallantly assisted in covering the retreat of a battery, losing four men of his gun team. Later, after obtaining four more men, he went forward again to the firing line and was himself killed while bringing his machine gun into action under very heavy fire, in order to cover the advance of supports.” For this he was awarded the Victoria Cross, the first Canadian soldier of the war to do so.

This man,bravest of the brave,is remembered on Panels 24-26-28-30 of the Menin Gate Memorial.

View from Menin Gate Memorial.May 09

Private Peter McDonnell

The McDonnell brothers from Dublin suffered a poignant and sad fate.Peter (42) was killed by shellfire near St Julien on 26 April 1915,while his brothers John(22) and Patrick(32) were killed while fighting side by side at Mouse Trap Farm on 24 May 1915.

Peter is listed on Panels 44 and 46 of the Menin Gate Memorial. 

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Major Thomas Prior Lees

As he lead a small carrying party towards Hill 60 on the 21st of April 1915 Major Lees met a platoon of Bedfords who had been forced from their position.Lees’ own men were not fully equipped for battle,they had no bayonets,but he realised the situation was critical and so rallied the remnants of the Bedfords with his own troops and set about recovering the taken trench.The venture was successful but Lees was killed by the enemy who were less than 10 yards away.

His Commanding Officer ,Colonel Shipley,wrote to his family “He died like a hero,having retaken and made good a position of primary importance… I believe his death to have been instantaneous,as he had a bullet mark through the head and was wounded on the chest.His gallant charge is as he would have wished it, to the assistance of the Bedfords (Lees was a native of Bedford). The last words I heard him speak as he led his company off into the trenches were, “Now remember,if any one is wounded the others  must carry on,not stop with him; if I am hit,go on….”

He is remembered on Panel 54 of The Menin Gate Memorial.

View of ramparts and moat from Menin Gate Memorial.May 09

Second Lieutenant Henry Gage Morris

On the 22nd of April the Germans began their second offensive of Ypres.Using poison gas for the first time the German 2nd Army had punched a massive hole in the northern flank of The Salient.This gap was between the French at Boesinghe and the Canadians at Polecappelle.It seemed as if the road to Ypres and therefore the Channel Ports lay open.

Sealing the gap meant a series of counter-attacks and bloody battles between St Julien and the Yser Canal and it was during these that 17 year old Henry Morris was killed.He is listed on Addenda Panel 58 of the Menin Gate Memorial

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