Mobilisation of the Territorials - The Seaforth Highlanders
Following the assassination of the heir to the Austrian throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, in Sarajevo on 28 June 1914, tensions within Europe built up over a period of six weeks.
At the end of July Britain began to prepare for a possible war. The Royal Navy had been on exercises in July that culminated in a Royal Review of the Fleet by King George V at Spithead. Rather than dispersing to peacetime stations the fleet was instructed to sail to depots to take on fuel, stores and ammunition, before sailing on to their war stations. Naval reservists who had been recalled for the exercises were retained.
The army, including the Territorials, was also put on alert and, when the Germans marched into Belgium, Britain sent an ultimatum that unless they withdrew immediately a state of war would exist from midnight on 4 August 1914.
At about 6 pm on the 4th a telegram bearing the single word ‘Mobilise’ arrived at the 6th Seaforth Highlander’s Elgin HQ. The battalion adjutant, Captain Anderson, dispatched mobilisation notices by motorcar, motorcycle, messenger, and the telephone and telegraph were also used to contact members of the battalion. The Northern Scot reported how the adjutant came out of the HQ with the final batch of notices carried in a waste paper basket, jumped into a waiting car, and rushed off to the Post Office. In Elgin notices were posted around the town and the services of the Town Crier were also used to convey the important news. The battalion at that time had eight companies; two located at the HQ in Elgin and one each at Forres, Rothes, Fochabers, Grantown-on-Spey, Garmouth and Lossiemouth, and it was important that every man received notification as quickly as possible.
The comprehensive plans for nation-wide mobilisation had been in existence for some years and went smoothly in Morayshire, with the men assembling quickly. With the exception of the Grantown-on-Spey and Forres companies, who would join en route, the orders were for companies to assemble at Elgin as soon as possible. The men of the two Elgin companies immediately paraded at the HQ and were issued with equipment, before being sent home for the night with instructions to return the following day at 7 am. A large crowd had assembled in Cooper Park once word of the mobilisation had spread around the town, and they were most enthusiastic in supporting the men as preparations for war service got underway. The Elgin Courant and Courier reported that:
A good idea of the extraordinary interest aroused in the town by the war is shown by the large crowds at the Great North Station waiting for the late editions of the Aberdeen evening papers and, notwithstanding that a big supply comes to the town, every copy was bought up in the shortest of time. Police officers were on duty at the various booksellers’ shops regulating the huge crowds who assembled.
On the morning of 5 August Major Campbell and Lieutenant Stephen carried out medical examinations and found only a few men unfit for duty. Later that morning the other companies arrived at the HQ, with the Garmouth Company marching in with Colour-Sergeant Smith at their head. The Fochabers Company arrived behind their pipes shortly afterwards. So effective was the assembly that the first part of the battalion was able to depart to their war station at the Cromarty defences by special train from Elgin at 11 am. The first half-battalion that left Morayshire that morning consisted of the following companies:
'A' Company - Forres (joining at Forres) – OC Lieutenant Macdonald.
'B' Company - Elgin – OC Captain Mackenzie with Lieutenant Macpherson.
'C' Company - Elgin – OC Captain Doig with Second Lieutenant Stewart.
'E' Company - Fochabers – OC Captain Asher with Lieutenant Legge.
'F' Company - Grantown-on-Spey (joining at Forres) – OC Captain Macdonald.
The remainder of the battalion, minus a small number left behind for special tasks, was able to follow on by train at 12.15 pm on 6 August:
HQ Staff - including the CO, Lieutenant-Colonel Rose Black, and Captain Ramsay.
'D' Company - Rothes – OC Lieutenant Grant.
'G' Company - Garmouth – OC Captain Cameron with Lieutenants Bothwell and Kennedy.
'H' Company - Lossiemouth – OC Lieutenant Jack with Lieutenant Mair.
It was reported that there were no absentees and some who had recently completed their service appeared at the HQ demanding their uniforms back. The departure of the battalion from the railway station over those two days was the cause of much pride and celebration for many of the townspeople, but also many a mother or loved one shed a tear for her own man as he left for an uncertain future.
Source: Derek Bird based on his book 'The Spirit of the Troops is Excellent: The 6th (Morayshire) Battalion, Seaforth Highlanders, in the Great War 1914 – 1919'.