A TONGUE SOLDIER
(This is the story of one mans war, he came from the village of Braetongue, but it could be what happened to any of the men from this district who fought in the First World War.)
Alick M Ross was born in Tongue, eldest son of Mr Robert Ross the shoemaker from Braetongue, Tongue. Alick was a regular soldier at the outbreak of World War One serving in the 2 Battalion, Seaforth Highlanders stationed at Shorncliffe England.
The 2 Battalion, Seaforth Highlanders was mobilised for active duty at 6:30pm on the 4 of August 1914 and departed overseas with the 10 Brigade 4 Infantry Division of the British Expeditionary Force. The B.E.F. was embarked for France and arrived at Boulogne on the 23 of August, ready to move up to the front line and defend Belgium from German attack.
The 2 Battalion moved up to the front line close to the Belgian village of Le Cateau, where it acted as the British rearguard during the retreat to the River Marne. The rearguard held the Germans as they followed the British on the long march South, on the 23 of August Alick Ross was slightly wounded in the leg and ankle.
Marching over twenty miles a day, the B.E.F. retreated for fourteen days to the River Marne covering a distance of over one hundred and fifty miles. The German Army was now at the end of long supply lines when the French and British counter attacked forcing their enemy to fall back to the River Aisne.
The Germans began to move North, towards the English Channel and began the so-called ‘race to the sea’ as the remnants of the British Army fought a desperate battle to stop the enemy cutting them off. As the two Armies advanced towards the coast they began to dig a line of trenches, beginning the trench warfare of World War One.
On the 13 of October, the 2 Seaforths attacked the village of Meteren, close to Armentieries in Northern France. The village was captured at bayonet point as the battalion charged alongside the Dublin Fusiliers, opening the way for a further advance.
The Seaforths took heavy casualties during this attack, mainly caused by a machine gun in a church tower. Alick Ross was injured in this attack by a bayonet and buried in a machine gun post by a ‘Jack Johnson’ shell. (See also Kenneth Mackay, Melness.)
In April 1915, the 2 Seaforths were in action near the village of St Julien during the Second Battle of Ypres, as they tried to stem the heavy German attacks. The battalion took heavy casualties, losing over a thousand men between the 25 of April and the 24 of May. (See also Angus Clarke, Tongue and Thomas N Mackay, Skerray.)
Alick Ross was slightly gassed during this action and wounded in the knee; this led to him being evacuated to England to recover from his wounds. He rejoined the battalion in the front line close to Albert on the Somme on the 26 of January 1916, where he was again wounded by a German rifle grenade. He was taken to a casualty clearing station and then to a field hospital, to recover from his wounds.
On the 1 of July 1916, the 2 Battalion Seaforth Highlanders took part in the Battle of the Somme. The battalion attacked a German strongpoint called the Quadrilateral, close to the village of Beaumont Hamel on the Redan Ridge.
The Seaforths advanced at ‘zero hour’ (7:30am), behind an intense bombardment and by 8:45am were under heavy hostile machine gun fire from the village of Beaumont Hamel. As the battalion came into sight of the enemy trenches, heavy machine gun fire began from the front and some battalion Lewis gunners were sent forward to silence the enemy positions.
Once the enemy front line had been taken, parties of Seaforths pushed forward in to the second line trenches and some may have penetrated as far as the third line (Munich) trench. Units on the flanks however failed to take their objectives and those parties in Munich Trench were cut off then coming under heavy counter attack. Those attacks were held by bombing parties for as long as possible but by 1pm the survivors were forced to retire back to no mans land, Drummer Ritchie was awarded a Victoria Cross for his bravery in rallying the battalion to continue the charge.
At 5pm, only forty men of the battalion were left uninjured in the German first line and an attempt was made to consolidate the trench, however no reserves were available and the position became untenable. At 9pm an order to hold at all costs was received from 10 Brigade, followed by an order to retire and some confusion occurred with these orders. At 10pm the survivors retired to a sunken road, on the old British line taking all wounded with them and as much equipment as the could carry.
Casualties at Beaumont Hamel on the 1 of July 1916 were thirteen officers killed and eight wounded, sixty-four other ranks killed in action and two hundred and twenty-five wounded, fifty-four men were missing. Total British casualties that day were approximately twenty thousand men killed and thirty thousand wounded, it was the worst defeat ever suffered by a British Army at war. (See also John Angus Mackay Skerray.)
Alick Ross was also involved in the attack on the Redan Ridge; he then went on to take part in the attacks on Longueval and Delville Wood. He was again seriously wounded at Delville Wood by shrapnel in his hand and was sent to a military hospital in England.
He returned to the battalion on the 11 of March 1917 and was sent to a training camp for five days. Whilst at the camp it was found that his health was not up to the rigours of them intense training and he had to return to hospital for six more weeks.
On the 23 of April 1917, the 2 Battalion Seaforth Highlanders was involved in the Battle of Arras and severe fighting around the Rouex Chemical factory. Casualties were heavy as the battalion fought to take the German lines and was soon so depleted that two small composite companies was all that was left fit for battle.
The battalion survivors were twenty minutes over the top, when Alick Ross now a Lance Corporal, saw an enemy sniper firing at the men in his section. He rushed at the sniper and they both fired at each other; the enemy sniper’s bullet hitting Alick in the shoulder and the bullet was deflected by his shoulder title. He fell wounded into a shell hole next to one of his comrades, the fate of the German sniper is not known. (See also William Mackay, Tongue.)
He was taken to a field hospital and after recovering from his injuries rejoined the battalion to take part in the final battles of the war. On the 11 of November 1918, the 2 Battalion Seaforth Highlanders were to the Southeast of Vallencies in France, when the guns fell silent at 11am and the war was over.
Alick Ross survived the war and returned home to his family in Braetongue, his name appears on the Roll of Honour in Tongue church, behind the pulpit. His story is typical of what happened to many soldiers in the trenches of World War One, the battles they fought in and the conditions they had to endure. Alick Ross received no medals or awards during the war, but as you can see from his story he was a brave man, who fought for his country in the most terrible conditions imaginable