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1st/5th Battalion Gordon Highlanders

Battalion War Diary November 1917

Place  Date             Diary
HABARCQ  1st Nov  A,B and C companies carried out musketry practice on the rifle range in the vicinity of the village. 
  2nd Nov  A regimental exercise was carried out.  
  3rd Nov  The battalion made use of the baths. 
  4th Nov  The presentation of the regimental colours took place this day. The commanding officer in presenting the colours made a suitable speech and thereafter divine service was held.  The chaplain referred to the tradition of the regiment. A demonstartion by tanks was given in the afternoon of this date near the BAPAUNE-ARRAS road.   [See newspaper report below].
  5th Nov  A programme of training was carried out by the battalion 
  6th-8th Nov  [Training exercises held at HAUTE AVESNES and WAILLY training grounds]
  9th Nov The officers and NCOs of the battalion of tanks co-operating with the 153rd Brigade visited their respective battalions on this date. 
  10th Nov  [Training exercise HAUTE A VESNES training area] 
  11th Nov  Divine Service was held by the battalion 
  12th Nov  [Training exercise WAILLY training area] 
  13th Nov  This date as being the anniversary of BEAUMONT HAMEL was observed as a holiday. A programme of sports was carried out during the forenoon and in the evening boxing and wrestling contests were held. Special dinners were given to the men. 
  14th Nov  [Tactical exercise WAILLY training area] 
  15th Nov  Under company arrangements the battalion practised the attack on strong points.  The brigade gas NCO inspected gas appliances of the battalion in the afternoon
  16th Nov  On this date the battalion carried out a programme of interior economy. All the battle officers (twelve) proceeded to the new area to visit the line. 
  17th Nov   The battalion moved from HABARCQ this day on their way to the new area where the attack was to take place. The companies paraded at 10.15 a.m. and proceeded to march to BEAUMETZ via  WANQUETIN and SIMENCOURT.  The battalion entrained at BEAUMETZ and when they arrived at BAPAUME detrained there and marched to BARASTRE to stay overnight. Echelon B of the battalion paraded at 10 a.m and went to IZEL-LE-HAMEAU  {This was probably "D" Coy as there are no reported casualties from this company.]



18th - 19th Nov 

The battalion entrained in the afternoon of this date after resting in the afternoon. It proceeded to METZ by the light railway and marched from there to HAVRINCOURT WOOD at night. After tresting there till morning special kit for the battle was issued from the battalion dump which had been specially formed there.
From HAVRINCOURT WOOD the battalion proceeded to its sector in the trenches and spent the day becoming acquainted with the ground over which the attack was to be made.

Summary of the events of the Battle of Cambrai  20th - 24th November from The Life of a Regiment.

The number of tanks allotted to the divisional front was enormous by comparison with anything hitherto experienced : a battalion of 36 to each of the leading brigades - the 152nd on the right and 153rd on the left. (p.167 )

The attack was launched at 6.30 am on November 20th. What followed was a wonderful experience for the infantry. ... the tanks swept forward in tremendous strength and cracked open the shell of the German defence. The programme was not without a flaw because a number of tanks got ditched. (p.168 )

The 5th Gordon Highlanders had a great day.  It took the front Hindenburg trench without difficulty but found itself for the time being bereft of aid from armour. On its right a platoon made its way up a sunken road in which it penetrated the wire, entered the second trench, and began to work its way along this.  On the left a platoon waited for the tanks of the second phase which cleared a way through the wire. About 400 prisoners were sent back by the battalion.  Its own losses were 6 men killed, 4 officers and 52 men wounded.  When the brigade staff asked it were fit for more Lt. Col McTaggart had no hesitation in answering yes. (p.168)

The battalion was relieved on 24th Nov but the 51st Division had to be rushed back at the end of the month to help stem a German counter attack.

The British commander-in-chief decided to reduce the salient in which his forces stood and on 3rd December ordered a withdrawl to a good line including Flesquieres ans a section of the Hindenburg line.  Little time was given for demolitions, but the 5th Gordons report that they made the abandoned front as uncomfortable as possible. In particular, communication trenches were filled in.  The division remained in the sector. (p172-173)

The War Diary, continued.

 Place  Date                   Summary 
VARENNES  25th Nov  On 25th cleaning and renewing of clothing and equipment was carried out.  
  26th Nov  Inspections were held under company arrangements. 
  27th -29th Nov  Baths were alloted to the battalion at Acheux. Interior economy, close order drill, handling of arms etc was carried out by companies.   Training on 29th
30th Nov In the forenoon training was carried out by the battalion under company arrangements
In the afternoon the battalion received sudden orders to move. It marched from VARENNES to ACHEUX where it entrained for BAPAUME. From Bapaume it marched to LECHELLE where it stayed overnight.

There are many sources for details of the battle and General Harper's attitude to tanks. For example see: Battle of Cambrai

| Casualty List November 1917 |

Casualty List and War Diary extracts for December 1917 (German Counter attack and British retreat.)

  Report in Buchan Observer 13/11/1917

5th Gordon Highlanders
Presentation of Flag by
Commanding Officer

 A full dress parade of the 5th Battalion Gordon Highlanders was held the other day at its present headquarters at the western front, on the occasion of the presentation of a flag to the Battalion from the Commanding Officer L.Col M.F. McTaggart D.S.O.  The ceremony was a very interesting one and the Commanding Officer in presenting the flag addressed the battalion in the following inspiring tones:
Officers, NCOs and men of the 5th Gordon Highlanders, it is my privilege to-day to present the battalion with this regimental flag. Our old one, as you can see, is torn with shrapnel and faded with the weather. Much as we would like to preserve it for its great association, it is clear that its day is past and the old must give way to the new. Although its colours are faded it represents deeds of valour, devotion to duty and self-sacrifice that will never fade, and by this ceremony we pass on into the new all that the old has stood for. Therefore I now present this banner to the battalion as a symbol for all the great record the battalion has made during the present war, and as a standard for ourselves and our successors to live up to from now onwards for all time.


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Carolyn Morrisey