The wide distribution of Scots throughout Britain and the Empire led to the formation new ‘Scottish’ regiments and the London Scottish, formed in 1859 as a volunteer rifle corps and originally commanded by Lord Elcho, was a primary example. Elcho, anxious to embrace all the fighting men of Scotland into one brotherhood irrespective of their clan origins, uniquely clad the regiment in kilts of ‘Hodden Grey,’ a traditional hard wearing Scottish homespun cloth devoid of the tartan check and, as he perceived, being a drab colour suited for life on military campaign in the most practical way. Pinkerton, the author of this book was a soldier among the ranks of the regiment who answered the nation’s call to arms during the First World War. The regiment was mobilised at the outbreak of hostilities and the 1st battalion had the distinction of being the first Territorials to go into action during operations at Messines in October 1914. Pinkerton takes his readers to war with the London Scottish on the western front where it took part in all the major offensives of the conflict. Predictably this vital account is filled with immediate first hand account action and anecdotes and is essential reading for anyone interested in the war in the trenches the kilted infantry knew.
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It was a deucedly rotten night. A nasty, cold drizzle had settled down, and everything was afloat. The tall, dank grass between our lines and the German trenches was wetter than the rain itself. Occasionally a flare forced its way up through the mist, but it gave little light, owing to the vapour in the atmosphere. On the preceding night our patrols had been out and had cut a lane through the German barbed wire that would permit us to go forward about four abreast.<br>
Since quiet in going, coming, and execution of a raid is essential, few firearms were taken along. Our decorations that evening consisted largely of long, ugly trench-knives and “knuckle-dusters” or “brass knuckles” as they are known in the parlance of the second-story man.<br>
Before setting out we were stripped of all marks of identification, such as regimental insignia, etc., so that the capture of any of us might not disclose information of value to the enemy. <br>
While the trenches at this point were within seventy-five yards of each other, we took a diagonal course from one of the sap-heads and had about one hundred yards to go across no-man’s- land. Our objective was a German sap-head at which was posted a machine-gun. It was our privilege to enter this sap-head, capture the occupants, and bring them back, along with their machine-gun and, incidentally, ourselves. The prisoners were to be brought back alive, if possible, that they might be subjected to the “third degree” and any and all information in regard to the opposing forces wrung from them.<br>
A code of signals had been arranged, so that our progress might be intelligently guided by the officer in command. Such signals consist of taps on the ground. The commanding officer is in the centre. One tap means “go forward.” This is passed down each side of the line until it reaches the end. It is then passed back. When the officer hears the tap come back, he knows that all are fully informed of the movement. Two taps mean “halt after fifty paces,” and three taps mean “go at them.”<br>
Half way across we halted for a final adjustment of our line, and then prepared to rush the trench.<br>
The machine-gun emplacement was just behind the German barbed wire entanglement and extended out from the Teuton line proper about thirty-five yards. As we reached the breach in the barbed wire we halted, took a deep breath, and at a given signal rushed forward as quietly as haste would permit. Dividing to the left and right, some of us jumped into the trench midway between the emplacement and the German line. Others jumped into the emplacement itself. Here we found three Germans. One of them was bayoneted, being too unruly for convenient capture. The other two were dragged back without ceremony to our own lines. Concerning the action at the machine-gun emplacement I know little, for I was one of ten who jumped into the sap in order to prevent the German lines from sending assistance to their men at the sap-head.<br>
Of course the raid was overheard in the quiet of the evening, and no sooner had the first shot been fired than all of no-man’s-land became a living hell of bullets and almost as bright as day with a multitude of flares from the German trenches.<br>
I vaguely remember two Germans—the trenches permit but two men to advance abreast—rushing down upon us two Scottish, who stood between the Germans and their friends at the machine-gun emplacement. We did not know what was going on behind us. It was our duty to fend off all reinforcements from the firing line. I braced myself for the shock of attack. Somebody threw a bomb, and the blackness in front of me collapsed and sank down. Behind him came a towering mass of onrushing, helmeted forms—myriads of them, apparently—and I lunged forward blindly with my bayonet.<br>
If I should describe the action of the next two minutes, I would be lying, because I do not know exactly what did happen. I remember lunging repeatedly, missing sometimes and sometimes not. There was no room or time for conscious parrying, but when the signal came for us to retreat the four of us who survived the action in the sap-trench sprang over the edge and crawled back for our trenches, like snakes bound for their holes at the break of day.<br>
On our return we found our objective had been gained—two German prisoners were there, big as life. But they proved expensive luxuries, for of the fifty-three who went out on this trench raid, only nine returned. Some thirty-five had been wounded or killed, and the others had been captured. Five or six of the boys lay out in no-man’s-land for twenty-four hours before our stretcher-bearers could reach them.