Festubert, 15 June 1915

Festubert, 15 June 1915

15 June 1915 saw the men of the 6th Seaforths face their sternest test so far. South of the La Bassee Canal, the French launched a major attack with the Canadian 1st Division, and British 7th and 51st (Highland) Divisions attacking in support north of the canal; the Highlanders being at the extreme northern end of the attack.

The battalions of the 154th Brigade attacked as did a single company of the 5th Seaforths. The rest of the 5th Seaforths along with the 6th Seaforths, manned their parapets and opened rapid rifle fire on the German lines. The British artillery bombarded the enemy trenches all day but, shortly before the attack went in at 6 pm, the Germans retaliated and bombarded the British front line and communication trenches, forcing the occupants to shelter as best they could. The French attack was successful, as initially was that of the 154th Brigade who overran two lines of enemy trenches, but they were forced to retire due to a lack of ammunition and reserves. The 5th Seaforths suffered very badly in their advance and subsequent retirement, with half of the men of the attacking company becoming casualties. Although only involved in a supporting role the 6th Seaforth suffered many casualties from the enemy shellfire. Captain Alexander Ramsay was shot through the arm while watching the progress of the battle through his field glasses and Lieutenant Lyle Fraser had to take over command of his company – he was subsequently awarded the Military Cross for his leadership.

Positioned in the 'Canadian Orchard', 'D' Company suffered particularly from German mortars firing onto the parapet of the trench. The blast of these was sufficient to flatten sections of trench, blow men to bits or bury them in the debris, and Lieutenant Charles Fysh was reported as working with great courage under constant fire to dig out wounded men. The bombardment lasted three hours and a great deal of damage was done to the trenches. The battalion suffered 140 casualties that day, 29 of them killed. In an article printed a few weeks later in the Elgin Courant an unnamed soldier said that:

It was the shrapnel that did the trick. The Germans were putting them over very neat, right on top of the trench every time. It is their trench mortars that are best though. You can see them coming just like a football, with a spike in it, through the air, and then they fall almost perpendicular. When they get a trench it is good-bye to about thirty yards of it.

 Another soldier recorded his thoughts on a lucky escape saying:

I cannot understand yet how I was not struck, as the foresight of my rifle was blown off, and the hand-guard split in two.

Source: Edited extract from 'The Spirit of the Troops is Excellent: the 6th (Morayshire) Battalion, Seaforth Highlanders, in the Great War 1914-1919', by Derek Bird.

Lieutenant Lyle Fraser was awarded the MC
Lieutenant Lyle Fraser was awarded the MC for his leadership