As every student of the Great War is aware, the escalating scale of the conflict on the Western Front required the formation of new battalions—a new citizen army formed to be equal to the size of the challenge. This is the unit history of one of them, The Seventeenth Highland Light Infantry (Glasgow Chamber of Commerce) Battalion. As its name suggests it was but one of many additional battalions raised in Scotland which would bear the name of an old regiment of the British Army in this case the 71st Foot, the HLI. Many of these battalions, particularly those raised in large urban centres, took on the character of their place and community of origin. This battalion’s sister unit, the Sixteenth, for example was styled, ‘The Glasgow Boy’s Brigade’ Battalion. The Glasgow men were dispatched to France and into the trenches with all its hardships, grinding routine and frequent raiding. The battalion served through the Battle of the Somme and went on the see action around Hulluch, Beaumont-Hamel and the Ypres Salient among others. This invaluable book also contains honours and award rolls making it invaluable for genealogists. Available in softcover and hard over with dust jacket.
Signs of the coming conflict were everywhere. The tremendous accumulation of men and material had been going on unceasingly for weeks, and during the long June days clouds of dust hung in the hot, still air above the roads. For the roads all led towards the line, and the tramp of men, and the rumble of wheels were unending. The Battalion had long ago recovered from a hard and monotonous winter of trench warfare. To each man there remained the joy of remembering days and nights that were unpleasant—for it is a joy to remember, in the comfort and happiness of today, the discomforts and sorrows of yesterday. Now the sun was shining. Training was going on apace under the pleasantest of conditions. They were a healthy family. Each man felt his potentiality, and unconsciously boasted it in his every action. Such was the feeling in the Battalion when the certainty of conflict came.<br>
To everyone it was the “Big Push”—the mighty Armageddon—of which all had thought and spoken during the winter of waiting. There was no doubt as to the issue. Each man went about his duties with an eye to an immediate and definite future. If anything he gave greater care to his rifle. In his feeling the edge and point of his bayonet, there was something of a caress. Now was the look in each eye born of the lust of killing. It was the knowledge that on a bright morning—now only a few hours distant—man would be matched against man. “Justice of our cause may have been somewhere in our sub-consciousness. Certainly it was not uppermost. To each man the coming conflict savoured of individual mortal combat. The days of waiting were gone. He was going forward to prove his manhood”—so write two veterans of that fight.<br>
The story of that morning is an epic. For every man it was the first experience of “over the top.” In sun-baked trenches everyone longed for the zero hour, while the guns rolled and shells crashed with ever-increasing intensity. Nothing was real. Men stood and waited as if in a dream. They felt as if they were listening to the overture; that soon the curtain would rise. Even when the guns ceased their roar for a few moments towards the end, and in the death-like stillness was heard the warbling of birds in “no man’s land”—the grim reality of it all was felt. With the lifting mist of the morning, the curtain rose. . . .<br>
At 7.23 a.m. the Battalion started moving across “no man’s land.” When the barrage lifted the men entered the enemy front line and the work of the moppers-up soon began. The advance across the open was splendidly carried out, all ranks behaving magnificently, as was the case throughout the entire action. Leipzig Trench was taken and the leading lines advanced against the Hindenburg Trench. These were mown down and by 8.15 a.m. every Company Officer was a casualty. It now became obvious to Colonel Morton that Leipzig Trench must be held, as without reinforcements, no further advance could be made, both flanks being exposed, as the 8th Division on their right had been driven back.<br>
The left was particularly exposed and parties under Sergt. Macgregor and Sergt. Watt were organised and sent to strengthen the left where “B” and “D” Companies had been almost annihilated. It was now 9 o’clock and the Battalion casualties now amounted to 22 officers and 400 other ranks. The bombers, who had been sent up to replace casualties, were holding the flanks successfully. By 11.15 the entire line was very weak, and still at 2 o’clock in the afternoon the situation was unchanged, 2nd Lieut. Morrison and 2nd Lieut. Marr working and organising the protective flank bombers without the least regard for personal safety. At 4 o’clock the 2nd Manchesters reinforced them with two Companies. Just at this time the line wavered a little in face of the overwhelming bombardment and the appalling casualties, but control was immediately gained.<br>
At 5 the shattered unit was ordered to consolidate the ground taken. This was done and two strong enemy counter attacks repulsed. At 9.30 the Battalion started to be relieved by the Manchesters, but the relief was not wholly carried out until near midnight, although several bombing parties had to carry on till well towards mid-day of the following day before being relieved. The 17th concentrated on Campbell Post and held the line in that Sector. In the evening of the next day the Battalion was relieved and returned to dugouts at Crucifix Corner.