Friday, 2 December 2016

"All our casualties now are caused by snipers, and all through the head..."


In closing remarks to his mother, in a letter written on the 3rd April 1915, Captain, The Honourable William Fraser, 1st Battalion Gordon Highlanders, wrote:

"All our casualties now are caused by snipers, and all through the head. Men will not take sufficient care not to show their heads.  With love to Father and Mary..."

The extract is taken from In Good Company, recently re-published by Pen & Sword and a compelling and well-written account based on the diaries of The Hon William Fraser who served with both the 1st & 2nd Battalions of the Gordon Highlanders.

At the time of writing, William had been "18 days in the trenches without rest" and both the war diary and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission note casualties.  I have taken the list below from the Commonwealth war Graves Commission website - which includes all deaths for the 1st Battalion during this period - and then cross-referenced these against the war diary. I have literally taken Captain Fraser at his word and so this casualty list covers the period from 17th March to the 3rd April 1915

3/6270 Private Alfred Wallace Bruce, aged 32, killed in action on 17/03/1915
S/8245 Private George Hamilton, killed in action on 17/03/1915
S/6923 Private Charles A Macdonald aged 29, died of wounds on 17/03/1915
6842 Private William Patrick Quinn aged 33, killed in action on 17/03/1915
S/3265 Private James A Sloss aged 28, killed in action on 17/03/1915
73 Private William Willox, aged 24, killed in action on 17/03/1915
3/6485 Private John Wilson, killed in action on 17/03/1915

Strangely, the war diary makes no mention of any casualties and indeed notes "No casualties." The men who died this day are a mixture of regular soldiers (Patrick Quinn who enlisted in 1899 and William Willox who enlisted in 1908), Special Reserve (Private John Wilson) and Kitchener volunteers (S/ prefix).

8474 Private John Park died as a PoW in Germany on 22/03/1915
S/2527 Lance Corporal Matthew Bruce Sillars aged 37 on 22/03/1915

The war diary reports three men wounded. Private Park was a regular soldier, Bruce Sillars was a Kitchener volunteer.

7165 Private Robert Jeffrey killed in action on 24/03/1915
10166 Serjeant William A. Reid aged 26, killed in action on 24/03/1915

The war diary reports two men killed and one wounded. Both Robert Jeffrey and Serjeant Reid were regular soldiers, and Jeffrey had been a soldier since 1900.

6 Private Alfred Wallace McDonald aged 25, died of wounds on 27/03/1915

The war diary reports "No casualties". Private McDonald had been a regular soldier since June 1908.

S/3613 Private William Stevenson aged 21, died of wounds on 31/03/1915

The war diary reports "No casualties". Private Stevenson was a Kitchener volunteer.

S/3281 Private Walter Law aged 26, killed in action on 01/04/1915

The war diary reports "one man wounded". Walter Law was a Kitchener volunteer.

William Fraser would not only survive the war, but survive it with distinction, being awarded the DSO three times, the Military Cross, and Mentioned in Despatches three times.  He would die in 1964.




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