“We were very surprised to see them walking. We had never seen that before. The officers went in front. I noticed one of them walking calmly, carrying a walking stick. When we started firing we just had to load and reload. They went down in their hundreds. You didn’t have to aim. We just fired into them.”
Written by a German soldier after the Battle of Loos, it is not surprising that no less than seventeen Victoria Crosses were awarded for acts of tremendous bravery during the battle. Possibly, one of the most famous was Piper Laidlaw, who took off his gas-mask and mounted the parapet to rally 7th Battalion, The King’s Own Scottish Borderers with a rendition of “Blue Bonnets”.
The Battle of Loos, (25 September-19 October 1915) was the biggest British battle to take place in on the Western Front during 1915, with 75,000 troops engaged on the first day. It was the first time the British used poison gas and the first mass engagement of New Army units. The attack of was actually a British diversion designed to support the French attack in Champagne; and was part of the final attempt by Franco-British forces to push the German army out of France before the onset of winter in 1915. It failed and the war would go on.
However, everything seemed to go wrong: the four-day artillery bombardment had failed to cut the wire; the terrain in this mining area was difficult for an offensive; many of the troops were inexperience and the wind blew the gas back towards the advancing troops.
Two Battalions of Royal Scots Fusiliers (6th & & 7th) as well as three Battalions of Highland Light Infantry (2nd, 10th & 12th) were in the thick of the battle and sustained major casualties.
The Loos Memorial surrounds the Dud Corner Cemetery on three sides and bears the names of 21,000 British troops who perished in this area during the war – 14,000 of those died at Loos and, of the 8,500 who died on the first day of the battle, more than 6.500 have no known grave.
On Sunday, along with soldiers from 2 & 6 SCOTS and veterans from all the three Services, we attended a very poignant service at Glasgow Cathedral. Although other standards were present, standards from The Highland Light Infantry and Cameronian Associations were placed on the altar – regiments that had been in the thick of the battle.
Before the service began, Cameronians continued their age-old regimental custom of setting pickets and notifying the Minister that “the pickets are posted, there are no enemy in site!”