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1st/5th Battalion Gordon Highlanders

2048 Private William Ritchie
Missing, presumed killed at High Wood
30-31 July 1916


William Ritchie was born in 1893 in the small fishing village of Rosehearty on the Moray Firth near Fraserburgh in Aberdeenshire. His father Archibald was a fisherman and when he was old enough William likewise went to the fishing.

Twenty-one year old Willie enlisted in the local Territorials in September 1914 and was with the 5th Battalion when it went to France in May 1915.

On 18th May 1915 the Fraserburgh Herald published a list of Rosehearty men who had answered their country's call. Six of the fifteen were killed and at least two were so seriously wounded that they had to be discharged.

Rosehearty Roll of Honour

Private George Beedie, Pitsligo Street, Gordons [2653 - Killed 30/7/1916]

Jack Catto, Coburty Smithy 5th Gordons [2127 - Killed 13/11/1916]

William Clark, Woodside, Peathill 5th Gordons [1440 - Survived the War]

Pte Alex Gill, Pitsligo Street, 5th Gordons [1922 - Killed 30/7/1916]

Thomas Ingram, Mains of Cardno, 5th Gordons [772 - Survived the War]

Henry Jaffray, 41 Pitsligo Street, 5th Gordons [1568 - wounded and discharged in 1918]

Pte Morrison, 5th Gordons [1962 - Survived the War]

Pte McLean, 5th Gordons [1994]

Pte A Ritchie, 5th Gordons [1437 - Survived the War]

Pte W Ritchie, 5th Gordons [2048 - Killed 30/7/1916]

Pte Richard Sim, Mid Street, 5th Gordons [1299 - Survived the War]

George Turriff, Percyhorner, 5th Gordons [2175]
Sergt. George Wood, 5th Gordons [2343 - Killed 24/7/1918]

Corp. William Wood, 5th Gordons [1436 - Died 9/9/1917] 

Pte Robert Wilson, 35 Pitsligo Streeet, 5th Gordons [1567 - Wounded - leg amputated]


On 30th July 1916 the 5th Battalion embarked on its first major action of the Somme campaign - the attack on High Wood, which resulted in over 200 casualties - killed, wounded and missing.  Willie Ritchie was among the latter. In Eary September the Buchan Observer reported:

"From information received which has not been officially confirmed it is reported that Pte William Ritchie son of Mr Archibald Ritchie 20 North Street is missing. He was last seen on July 30-31. He enlisted in Sept 1914 and has been at the front for a considerable time. Pte Ritchie was only 22 years of age and before enlisting was a fisherman. His father joined the patrol shortly after its formation and has lately been promoted to mate."


The man's family contacted their local minister, Reverand Gibb, who in turn wrote to Willie's Company officer, Captain Simpson. The first page of the letter and a transcription of the whole are reproduced here, thanks to a descendent of the family.





A cousin of Willie's, Sgt John Sim (2228) was reported as being wounded and missing in the same action. A year later he was officially declared to have been killed on 30th July.


John Sim



The Ritchie family also had to wait for almost a year before the War Office could declare William Ritchie to have been killed at High Wood.





William Ritchie's body was never recovered and he is commemorated on the memorial to the missing of the Somme at Thiepval.





My thanks to Peter Masson and Mrs Nancy Wishart, a niece of William Ritchie for providing me with these documents.


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