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Webmatters : The Battle of Loos, 15th (Scottish) Division
Rough Map of Area

Loos

15th (Scottish) Division

The response in 1914 to Lord Kitchener’s campaign to raise a New Army of volunteers had been so positive that many men could not get in.

As a result of the continuing flood of men coming forward, a Second New Army was authorised on 11th September giving Scots who had been unable to join the 9th (Scottish) Division to get into 15th (Scottish). Like all British Divisions at the time it was made up of three Brigades (44th-46th) each of four battalions. Ten months later in July 1915 they were ordered to France and given a period of acclimatisation in the Béthune area.

The advance by 15th (Scottish) Division

44th Brigade

On the immediate left of the 47th Division the Scots’ 44th Brigade (Which was made up of Highland Regiments) had the task of attacking the Lens Road Redoubt (today this is the location of the Loos Memorial).

The task of advancing down the main road into the redoubt was assigned to the 9th Bn Black Watch who had the 8th Bn Seaforth Highlanders on their left and the 10th Bn Gordon Highlanders covering the German trenches on their right — where the German line momentarily swung backwards, following the highway before cutting back across country towards the south.

The Black Watch were not so fortunate with the gas as the Londoners but it did slowly drift towards the German positions though not before some had blown back into their own trenches. Advancing down the road they were met by the fire from the machine guns in the redoubt. Keeping steady they swiftly seized the first objective but at the cost of much of their officer corps.

Accompanied by the Seaforths on their left the two battalions ran down the slope towards the Loos Defence Line. The only stalling points were a machine gun in the village cemetery and one at a position called Fort Glatz, but both were dealt with and the tide of Highlanders continued into the village streets. It was 0700 hours — just thirty minutes after Zero.

Ninety minutes later the village was pretty much taken though many Germans had been overlooked and had to be ferreted out of houses and dugouts.

Emilienne Moreau

As they advanced into the village the Scots were met by a young French girl; Emilienne Moreau who shouted at them to lookout for particular posts of Germans hidden in the houses. Her aid — under fire — almost certainly prevented numerous casualties and facilitated the cleaning up of the streets.

During the morning the Black Watch set up their First Aid Post under Captain F Bearn in the small shop owned by the Moreau family. Mme Moreau and Emilienne assisted throughout the day by carrying in the wounded, removing the dead and providing refreshments for the medics.

For a time the work was harassed by German snipers operating from a neighbouring building. Equipping herself with grenades Emilienne (who was only 17 years old) walked around the back of the building and threw them in killing the occupants. Later on during the day when the building came under renewed attack she took a revolver from an officer (presumably one of the wounded) and opened fire on two advancing Germans killing them both.

Her story received great publicity and she was decorated by both the French and the British (She was awarded the Military Medal and was received by King George V in London).

During the Second World War she would join the French Resistance. Constantly tracked by the Gestapo she eventually managed to make her way to the south of France where her husband (also in the resistance) had taken refuge. She continued working against the Germans but was eventually forced to flee to London in 1944.

Returning to France in the aftermath of the liberation she was decorated with the Croix de la Libération by Général de Gaulle at Béthune on 11th August 1945 (One of only six women to become Compagnons of this prestigious order — which included Winston Churchill and George VI amongst its 1,038 members).

She died on 5th January 1971 and is buried in Lens Est Cemetery.

The fighting for the village continued over the next few days until a properly organised sweep of the ruins was carried out on the 28th. Whilst the importance of mopping up any resistance was understood it is doubtful that the difficulties of doing so in an urban environment had been fully appreciated.

It also needs to be accepted that the loss of officers made controlling the soldiers more difficult, and, these were men who, twelve months previously, had still been civilians.

 

46th Brigade

Attacking astride the Loos Road (from Vermelles) the Brigade’s task was to sweep around the top of Loos village towards the La Bassée Road and Hill 70.

Two prominent features in the German defences gave cause for worry: At the top of the ridge was the Loss Road Redoubt whilst slightly to its north and jutting out towards the Scots was the Southern Sap. It was feared that a machine gun post within it would cause havoc to a frontal assault and the decision was taken that it would be taken by a flanking movement.

From the German front line back towards Hill 70

From the German front line at the Loos Road Redoubt looking back towards Hill 70
The dip into Loos en Gohelle is quite evident. The red brick building on the left of the hill is the Crematorium.
The hospital sits on the summit of the hill.

Two companies from the 12th Bn Highland Light Infantry (HLI) would enter the German front line and then bomb their way northwards (In the context of the First World War the word bomb in this sense invariably means: grenade).

On their right the 7th Bn King’s Own Scottish Borderers (KOSB) would deal with the Loos Road Redoubt and the right flank of the Brigade would be the 10th Bn Scottish Rifles (Cameronians).

Once again the gas did not fully blow out of the Scots’ trenches and it was with some difficulty that the Rifles made their way forward losing many of their officers in the advance. Fortunately the wire in front of them had been cut by the bombardment and they continued forward through the German line and down the slope behind towards the Hulluch Road.

In general it would be true to say that in French you do not aspirate the ‘H’ commencing a word. To add to our misery the French do not pronounce a final ‘CH’ either and we Anglophones do not have an equivalent sound for a French ‘U’. Thus Hulluck is in reality almost pronounced Oo-loo.

The KOSB had a difficult start to the attack. The gas had hung in their own trenches and for a moment the soldiers’ will to go over the top hung in the balance. 2nd Lieutenant Young cried out to his piper, Daniel Laidlaw to play the men forward. Climbing onto the parapet Laidlaw took off his own gas mask and struck up Blue bonnets over the border. The skirl of the pipes rallied the men and all went forward following their piper.

A shell wounded Laidlaw but he kept going until a second shell brought him down and killed Young. Undeterred the KOSB stormed the redoubt, bombed out the machine gun nests and then continued their sweep down towards the Hulluch Road.

Recreating Piper Daniel Laidlaw's heroic action in 1915

Laidlaw’s great grandson recreates his advance in 2005, the ground as open and devoid of cover today as then.

For his bravery Laidlaw became the first soldier from the New Army to receive the Victoria Cross. He survived the war and was filmed playing his pipes. He died in 1950. Martin Young is buried in Noeux les Mines Communal Cemetery (Grave: I A 29).

A and B Companies of the 12th Bn HLI under Captain Torrance were almost overcome by the gas in their own trench. Reaching the German line they found that Southern Sap was not deep enough to afford any cover to those that had survived the attack. Making their way into the German front line there were now too few of them to carry out the planned bombing attack along it. Reinforcements from the 6th Cameron Highlanders had some limited success in bombing along the trench but it proved impossible to reach as far as the 1st Division — attacking on the far side of the sap.