The opening days of the Third Battle of Ypres heralded another chapter of death and destruction for the Armies of both sides. Whole battalions of men disappeared into the mud around Ypres, many casualties drowned in the water filled shell holes of no-mans land as the troops fought in the hellish conditions. Battalion attacks were launched against well-sited enemy bunkers with inter-linked fields of fire, British soldiers attacking in waist deep mud and water made perfect targets for German gunners.
The 2 Seaforth Highlanders less ‘C’ Company, moved up to the village of Aubongite on October the 1 1917. ‘C’ Company was moved straight into the frontline at Eagle Trench with the remainder of the battalion joining them two days later. The battalion then began to make preparations for the forthcoming attack with the 1 Hampshire Regiment on the right flank and the Dublin Fusiliers on the left.
At zero hour on the 4 of October 1917, the attack on Broodseinde to the East of Ypres began, with the Seaforths moved off one hundred yards behind a creeping barrage. The two leading platoons in the front assaulting company carried trench boards, to help them cross the water at the start point in Kangaroo trench. The attacking troops found it very difficult to maintain alignment as they crossed no-mans land and were forced North to find dryer ground. This caused some confusion resulting in the formation of assaulting troops becoming mixed up, on the left flank the Seaforths walked into the British artillery barrage and took casualties.
Kangaroo Trench was reached with the attacking sections still mixed up, the Highlanders got into the enemy trench and cleared it with the bayonet, passing a total of twenty-five prisoners back to the troops behind (several of these were killed by an enemy barrage as they were taken away). The left flank Company met some resistance in heavy fighting taking few prisoners, Sergeant Major Bain accounting for fifteen of the enemy with his bayonet.
The battalion assault continued without heavy casualties until it reached Beek Street trench, where enemy machine-gunners on the left flank began to inflict heavy casualties on the Seaforths. A number of officers were lost as fortified houses were taken, the remaining men took cover in some shell holes, with only two junior officers left in command The right hand Company lost heavily as it took 19 Metre Hill and was unable to keep in touch with the Hampshire Regiment on their right, only one officer (Captain Wood) and thirty other ranks remained unwounded. The Company on the right flank sustained heavy casualties and was unable to support Captain Wood and his men any further.
At 6:20am the 3/10 Middlesex Regiment sent two Companies to advance on Eagle Trench in the enemy third line to support and to counter-attack any enemy seen, maintaining the ground already taken. A number of reinforcements were now sent forward as an attempt was made to consolidate the line and meet any German attempt to re-take the ground lost.
Later in the day the enemy counter-attacking 19 Metre Hill from the left were repulsed, on the right flank enemy infantry crossed a road and established themselves on an embankment but were unable to go any further. Captain Wood in command on 19 Metre Hill was killed at this time, running to take Lewis Gun ammunition drums to a gun on his right. The two junior officers in the front line trench were also wounded, leaving the ground in command of junior NCO’S. Captain Eggerton of the 3/10 Middlesex Regiment moved his men forward, sustaining heavy casualties as they did so. Enemy machine-gunners brought heavy fire down on any targets they could see, the fire coming from high ground on the left making it very hazardous for runners and carrying parties to operate. The battalion war diary for that day is full of praise for the men of the 2 Seaforth Highlanders, especially the ammunition runners who maintained a good supply to the front line troops.
At 7:30am battalion headquarters moved up to Kangaroo trench and found it’s self cut off from the front and rear, the Headquarters Sergeant and two runners were killed. The Commanding Officer, finding that he was totally isolated and unable to send or receive any messages was forced to return to the previous headquarters in Eagle Trench.
The 2 Seaforths held their new positions until late in the afternoon, orders were then received from 10 Infantry Brigade Headquarters to fall back from 19 Metre Hill to Eagle Trench and establish a new line. The Seaforths fell back between 5pm and 5:30pm, with support from the Warwick Regiment on the left and two machine-guns from the 10 Brigade Machine Gun Corps. The battalion war diary says that nothing of importance happened on the 5 of October across the Seaforths front until what was left of the battalion was relieved at 3am, on October 6and returned to the second line trenches. The 2 Seaforths had achieved it’s objective and inflicted heavy losses on the enemy but at a heavy cost, Commonwealth War Grave Commission cemeteries in this area today contain the remains of many men from the Highlands of Scotland.
Corporal John Donald Mackay was seriously wounded in the attack on the 4 of October and evacuated by battalion stretcher-bearer to the Regimental First Aid post. He was then sent to a Casualty Clearing Station called Dozingham behind the lines close to the village of Poperinghe, where he died from his wounds aged twenty-five years. There were two other Casualty Clearing Stations in the same area called Bandaghem and Mendinghem; you can see from the names the troops who had named them had a macabre sense of humour.