Neil Munro was born in
Tongue, son of Donald and Williamina Munro of Morvich in Sutherlandshire. At
the outbreak of the First World War, Donald was the tenant at Borgie farm and
employed his son as a farm worker.
Neil enlisted into the Army on his
nineteenth birthday at Fort George near Inverness, once he had completed his military he was sent to the 4
(Ross-shire) Battalion, Seaforth Highlanders near Arras France. The 4
Seaforth were serving with 154 Brigade, 51 (Highland)
Division and were resting at La Rasset on the 12 of April 1917,
following the opening days of the Battle of Arras and the attack at
Neil Munro was one of 172 other ranks to
join the 4 Seaforths between the 13 and 19
of April 1917, as the battalion prepared to move back to the front. The
Commanding Officer inspected the battalion on the 14, before the
move forward to prepare for a fresh attack.
On April the 15,the Seaforths
marched in the pouring rain to St Laurent-Blangy to relieve units from the 15
(Scottish) Division in reserve trenches. The battalion remained in reserve for
the next six days improving trenches, supplying working parties for road
repairs and preparing for the attack on the 23.
During the night of the 22
April, the battalion moved forward and was located in a railway cutting near
Fampoux; they were now the Brigade Reserve. The Seaforths were behind the
frontlines in support of the 9 Royal Scots, 7 Argyll
and Sutherland Highlanders and 4 Gordon Highlanders, who were to
attack Rouex and the heavily defended Chemical Factory the next day.
At 4:45am on the 23 of April
1917 the British VII Corps resumed the attack on the German lines East of
Arras, extremely heavy fighting took place. The 4 Seaforths
Commanding Officer received verbal orders from his Brigadier, to move up in
support of the 4 Gordons and take command of the left sector from
Colonel McClintock, who had been wounded.
The battalion moved off by platoons at
8:15am, crossing over the River Scarpe by a small wooden bridge under heavy
5.9-inch shellfire. The Companies began to arrive in the forward trenches at
8:55am, where the Seaforths C.O. was informed by Colonel McClintock that his
right hand units had moved on but the left hand “ was completely demolished”.
An enemy machine-gun post on the
Arras-Douai railway junction, manned by over fifty German soldiers had caused
heavy casualties on the left and had to be dealt with. The C.O. was being shown
where the enemy strong point was by Lt Anderson from the 4 Gordon
Highlanders, when one of the twenty tanks involved in the attack arrived. The
tank was then asked for its assistance in dealing with the Germans holding up
the advance near the railway junction.
The tank commander informed the Seaforths
that the 51st Division now surrounded the village of Rouex from both sides, the
Germans were holding out inside the houses. The tank commander then agreed to
give assistance in attacking the enemy strong point, the tank moved off towards
the Germans with the Highlanders following behind.
At 9:56am the tank bogged down in the thick
mud, the attacking infantry moved passed the tank and began to assault the
enemy positions. By 11:05am the enemy post was taken, twenty Germans were
killed and the rest were prisoners, however the machine-gun that had decimated
the 4 Gordons was gone, removed from the trench before it was
The Seaforths Commanding Officer ordered
two Companies to move up into the German frontline and push on towards the
Chemical Factory, one Company stayed in support with one in reserve. The left
hand Company advanced without opposition to establish themselves in a line of
shell holes east of Chemical Factory; to advance on the right near the Chateau
was impossible, owing to heavy machine gun fire from Rouex cemetery. The
Seaforths formed a defensive flank on the railway line near the railway station
with a disorganised and worn out party of men from 153 Brigade on
their left. (See map William Mackay, Tongue.)
In the afternoon a British tank managed to
get into the centre of Rouex and began to blast the German defenders out of the
houses with its six pounder guns, the village was then cleared by the Argylls.
Another tank supported by the remaining Gordon Highlanders entered the heavily
defended Chemical factory but heavy machine-gun fire and a determined German
counter-attack drove them back. (The Chemical Factory was not taken until the
14 of May, see also William Mackay, Tongue and the story of a
At 5:25pm the 4 Seaforths sent
back runners to ask for an intense bombardment to be made on enemy troops,
reported to be concentrating at the North end of the Rouex cemetery. This
report proved correct when at 5:30pm an enemy counter attack hit the Seaforth
line, from the north and Greenland Hill. The attacking waves of German infantry
from Greenland Hill were cut up by rifle men and Lewis gunners, the attacking
developing from Rouex cemetery was destroyed by British artillery fire with the
survivors dispersed by machine-guns.
German troops were again seen advancing at
8:20pm and two platoons were sent up to reinforce the line. At 8:45pm the
situation became desperate when the SOS flares were fired for British artillery
to fire a barrage on the Seaforth lines, the battalion was then forced to fall
back at 9pm to the old German line.
British and German artillery now began to
shell the whole of the Chemical factory, the flank platoon suffered 15
casualties and was forced to pull back. The party from 153 Brigade
on the flank also pulled back suffering grievous losses, enemy troops began to
advance working their way around the Seaforths.
The Seaforth Highlanders now began to run
out of ammunition, as resupply could not get up to them and the battalion had
to reluctantly withdraw to consolidate the line. The Germans however did not
push on with their counter-attack but instead began to establish machine-gun
posts. Two enemy gun teams set themselves up on the road from the Station to
the Chateau, about fifty enemy soldiers occupied a house to the South of the
Seaforth Highlander patrols tried to push
their way forward during the night but before they could move 50yards, they
came under heavy machine-gun fire. The Highlanders now began to dig in and
prepare for the counter-attack they knew would come at dawn.
At 4:30am on the morning of the 24
of April 1917, German gunners began to bombard the area around the Chemical
Factory, before enemy infantry advanced from behind Greenland Hill at 4:45am.
The Seaforth Highlanders opened fire at 5am with rifles and Lewis guns, killing
many of the enemy soldiers advancing towards them. All the SOS rockets were
used up so artillery support was sent for using Morse code from power buzzers
and lamps; the enemy attack broke up under heavy artillery fire not many
Germans survived to return to their lines.
The Seaforths were relieved by the 11
Battalion Suffolk Regiment later that day and returned to billets in Arras. The
roll was taken in Arras and the battalion reported casualties of one officer
and fifteen other ranks killed four officers and eighty other ranks were
wounded. On the 25 of April
the battalion was moved by train to Ligny-St Flochel and marched to rest
billets at Maizieres.
Private Neil Munro was one of those killed
in action by shellfire on the 23 and 24 of April
1917, he was nineteen years of age and had only been in France for a few weeks
it had been his first battle. He had a brother John who also served in the
Seaforth Highlanders; he survived and returned home after the war. The Roll of
Honour in Tongue church says that John was awarded the Military Medal during
his service in World War One. However there is no official notice of this award.
SCOTTISH NATIONAL WAR MEMORIAL
Munro Neil (b)Tongue
Sutherlandshire. 202520. Private. Killed in action F&F 23 or
24 April 1917. 4 Battalion Seaforth Highlanders.
COMMONWEALTH WAR GRAVES
Munro Private Neil Munro
202520. 4 Battalion Seaforth Highlanders. 23 or 24
April 1917. Age 19. Son of Donald and Williamina Munro of Morvich,
Private Neil Munro 202520, 4
Battalion Seaforth Highlanders has no known grave and his name is remembered on
the ARRAS MEMORIAL TO THE MISSING, FRANCE.