Festubert, 4 - 14 June 1915

Festubert, 4 - 14 June 1915

On 4 June 1915 the 6th Seaforth Highlanders took over the front line from the Canadians just to the north of Festubert. The trenches were in a bad state and much battlefield debris lay about, including the bodies of the dead. 'D’ Company found itself in a very dangerous position in the 'Canadian Orchard' that was exposed to fire from almost every direction and only accessible by a path that ran over open ground.

Because of the poor state of the breastworks great care was necessary as enemy snipers were very active in the area. In the two days spent in the line Lieutenant Cumming was wounded in the chest and lost a finger and one man was killed. Twenty year-old Private Kenneth Mackenzie, a forester on the Altyre Estate, Forres, died on 6 June 1915 having received a severe wound in the chest and two broken legs. His grave was lost and he is commemorated on the Le Touret Memorial to the Missing.

About 20 other men were also wounded. During the night of 6 June the 5th Seaforths relieved the Morayshire battalion and they returned to Lacouture, however, before having time to settle in, they were on the move again, this time nearer to the line at Le Touret. The following day the fine weather broke and a thunderstorm flooded the battalion out of its bivouacs, so they were given permission to move back to Lacouture and into billets.

On 10 June it was again raining heavily as they moved up to the trenches; a difficult and unpleasant journey was made worse as each man had to carry a large number of empty sandbags as well as his normal equipment. After struggling forward to the front line to deliver their loads, they then took up their positions in the reserve line. An unpleasant and muddy three days were spent suffering frequent shelling and having to carry equipment forward each night to help improve the front line.

Those at the battalion HQ were also subjected to some attention by the German artillery and one morning their breakfast, which had been laid out ready, was blown into the air by a shell exploding nearby. Later the same day the Adjutant, Captain Doig, was wounded in the arm and Captain William Macdonald was appointed to take his place, with Lieutenant Kennedy taking command of 'C' Company. An unfortunate training accident also befell two of the battalion's officers, Lieutenants William Petrie and Edmund John Sulley, who were attending bombing school to learn the rudiments of using hand grenades; the latter, who was born in Dumfries on 11 July 1893 and was an actor, lost his right eye in the accident.

The 6th Seaforths then took over the front line from the 8th Argylls on 13 June, with the following day turning out to be a sad one as a sniper killed 20 year-old Lieutenant David Stewart as he was going to the aid of a wounded man. His loss was deeply felt as he had been a member of the battalion for a number of years. He was the first officer of the Morayshire battalion to be killed and the local press gave his death extensive coverage. As well as being known in the area through being an apprentice solicitor in his late father's practice, Stewart and McIsaac, and his membership of the Territorials, he was also known to many others through his links with the Boy Scout movement. He had been a member of the Elgin Academy Troop and later Assistant Scoutmaster, while for the two years prior to the war he was the Secretary of the Boy Scouts Local Association. Sad as that day was, much worse was soon to follow.

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

Lt David Stewart who was killed on 14 June, 1915.
Lieutenant David Stewart who was killed on 14 June 1915.