Sgt. Thomas William Chisholm

This page provides excerpts from the personal diary of Sgt. Thomas William Chisholm, of the 1/5th Northumberland Fusiliers which covers the events leading up to his capture on 27th May 1918 during the Third Battle of the Aisne and subsequently as a POW at Giessen, Darmstadt, and Lamsdorf camps, until his release on 1st January 1919. The excerpts are provided courtesy of Mike Orchard, (Sgt. Chisholm’s Grandson), and remains his exclusive Copyright. Please do not copy or reproduce any part without permission.

We can not know exactly what happened to Pte. Arthur Slater during his capture, transport and arrival at Giessen PoW camp but his experience must have been very similar to Sgt. Chisholm’s and they provide context to his story.  The diary entries start in the early morning hours of of May 27, 1918 as the intense enemy artillery barrage was winding down before the German storm troops attacked the Allied lines.

Monday, May 27, 1918
Sgt. Thomas William Chisholm
The Sgt writes:

There were very few casualties considering the shell fire, but the main part had been dumped on the front and support lines, the wind blowing gently from the direction of the enemy lines reeked of powder and the sickly tang of gas. By this time about 3am our gas masks were in a bad state, the glasses were dimmed with perspiration and the waterproof bag covering was sticking to our faces and very wet, but we dare not move them owing to the risk of getting a dose of the poison. This confinement was the worst part of it because anyone who has had to wear one will know how difficult it is to breath.

Somewhere near 8am our Company Commander decided to move forward, so we headed for the cross country track so well known to us, towards the road. But this was out of the question, because it was absolutely being plastered with all sorts of iron work, and a fly could not live on it, so we were content with moving across the piece of dead ground between Concevreux and the French cemetery, it being fairly well left alone. We succeeded in reaching the rear side of the cemetery and skirted round the left side nearest the road, when suddenly the enemy barrage lifted,and seemed to drop right amongst us. Then it was for who could get forward the quickest, earth, smoke, and the moans and yells all mingled with the deepening crashes of bursting shells tended to make everyone get behind even a blade of grass.

 Finally we scrambled through the cemetery and moved about thirty to forty yards in front, and proceeded to dig in with as much speed as we could, because by this time we were under distant machine gun fire as well. Things were getting rather warm and unpleasant, and owing to the smoke and the morning haze visibility was very bad, and gas masks made it much worse. Being a platoon commander I tried to marshal my men into some kind of formation, and issued instructions with regard to entrenchments and they worked like Trojans.

Inside half an hour they were fairly well off under the circumstances, in regard to cover, my orderly stuck to me very well and was remarkably cool, owing to the fact that this was the first big fight he had taken part in. He had just been transferred from R.F.C. and was really too young to be where he was, so I decided to take him under my wing to save him more or less from the arduous duties of the trench.

By this time the sun was fairly well up and the heat was beginning to itself felt, the time being somewhere about 9am we were just feeling a little bit hungry, and the men were asking when it would be possible to get something to eat, when suddenly to my surprise we were hailed from the road which lay on our left and lo and behold there were the cooks with their field kitchen with smoke pouring out of the chimneys. To say the least it was shock to see them, as it seemed an almost impossible thing for anything to move up that road. Never the less they were there and the greeting they gave us was “Howay get all this stuff off do ye want us to all get blown to hell standin’ here all day?” So I called for volunteers which soon came in the form of eight men and with a mad rush we snatched up all the dishes and made back for the trenches. I managed to get hold of the bacon and forthwith proceeded to dish it out with my hand. The grease had become cold, and it was almost hard, but we could pick out the bacon from the fat. I offered some to the O.C. Coy but the sight of the cold fat turned him against it. I think he decided that a little libation from his flask would be more beneficial.

At this point in the defense suddenly we observed two dispatch riders on motorcycles literally tearing up the road towards the front line, (which had already been pierced), and were in grave danger of running into the enemy line, but we hailed them to stop and when told of the position they soon turned about and made back towards Head Quarters. They only got about quarter of a mile back when their machines were blown from under them and they were killed.

We got something to fire at but after killing one or two owing to the haze it was discovered that they were French troops.

A CSM of the Durhams dashed over and reported that the Germans were getting round the wood on our left but the O.C. Coy denied this and told him to go to hell (personally I thought we were there already).

By 9:45am they were well advanced, and on looking behind through the information of my pal Fred, it was to see two scouts come but from behind the wood, followed by his machine gun teams, then there was a scramble to get back, but it was pretty hopeless from the first. I called my platoon to follow me as there was still a chance to get clear, so taking a course straight through the cemetery directly behind, we dodged amongst the graves and head stones as quickly as it was possible, because the bullets from both rifles and machine guns were coming like hail amongst us, but we were rather lucky with regard to casualties as there were very few hit, some being killed outright, and so far as I could gather about three of the boys wounded, including my batman and runner through the left shoulder. On reaching lower ground these were dressed and we made straight for the River Vesle, where there were bridges at intervals. We scurried forward but when we were about a hundred yards from the first bridge a deafening report rent the air and our hopes were dashed as the bridge went skywards in a million pieces. Nothing daunted we made along the river bank towards the next one but our Royal Engineers were doing their work thoroughly and up went another three. There was nothing left to do but stand fast and await events.

The heat was almost overpowering, when an officer, one of the platoon commanders came forward to me to enquire as to what I thought we had better do next. Well on going through the trees which lined the river bank, we saw a rare sight and soon drew back under cover again to hold a short consultation. In the end he wanted to reorganize and make a bayonet charge, but that solution was out of the question, owing to the fact that on the other side of the trees were something like three hundred disarmed British troops being covered with three machine guns and three flame throwers or liquid fire machines, s that any attempt at attack would have meant wholesale slaughter of all those men, so I gave him my opinion, and acted upon it without his permission. In fact I ordered him to dump his revolver and equipment in the River Vesle and keep only what was required for personal use. The Lewis guns I had brought forward and placed on the ground, put a couple of round through the machine and pitched into the air.

This part of the program completed we rather gingerly moved once more through the trees into the open where all the captives we being horded together like a lot of terrified sheep, not knowing what was going to happen next. Also the very piece of ground I have already mentioned, was the natural basin, but the position of the troops being reversed, the enemy having a strong advantage over us, by having his formidable weapons mounted on the long wood tressle bridge, which being at a height just suitable for a massacre should his gunners and fire operators desire, and I may say it was expected every second. Owing to our numbers it was thought that they would not trouble to take us prisoners.

Meanwhile his troops were trying to get something like five to six hundred British on to this bridge, and when it began to creak and crack there was a panic, so he decided it would be better to form up on terra firma and march us onto the main road.

The time being about noon judging by the position of the sun, we were unceremoniously formed into fours on the main road moving in the direction of Guignicourt.

We had proceeded for about quarter of a mile, passing through the enemy lines of advancing troops. First came his infantry, followed by light mortars, heavy mortars, machine guns, pioneers filling up all shell holes as they came forward to enable the transport to come in comfort along the roads. Next came medical services, followed by fairly solid lines of artillery in order of merit, light field guns, howitzers, then all his heavy guns, and coming pretty close again were the observation sections mounted on motor lorries. The wheels of these lorries were not tyred in the usual way with rubber, but round the rim was a series of coil springs kept in place by an outer tyre of flat steel band, thus when moving over rough surfaces these springs could take the shock and jolt similar but not so good as the rubber tyre. Above us were the huge sausage shaped balloons hundreds of feet in the air watching with all eyes, the advance in the forward areas.

One incident which happened goes to prove some of the almost unbelievable atrocities which the enemy committed during the war and a few of our boys being almost in the rear of the column witnessed it without being able to give a helping hand so just had to bear it and keep moving.

It was when their Red Cross men were coming over the ground passing our killed and wounded and not offering to give a hand to relieve their sufferings in the least. (I might mention before going any further that these supposed Red Cross people unlike our R.A.M.C., were armed with an automatic revolver, cartridge pouch and bayonet.) This particular German walked over to a man lying with his guts hanging out having been hit with a piece of flying shell, the man was doomed in the first place as it was really no good trying to patch him up, but the German walked up to him, and trying to raise himself on one arm asked for water. The swine just shook his head saying ‘Nein, nein, nein nix wasser’. The tommy, who was a Durham man opened his breast pocket, took out his wallet and offered him a fifty franc note, again gasping out ‘Water, water’. At this the Gerry took everything from him and drawing his bayonet, slashed him across the mouth. The man then lost consciousness and with a howl, we started forward to attack but being without arms we could do nothing and our guards, for there were plenty of them and big ones at that, with a yell of “Rouse!” or words meaning to ‘get back’, we could do nothing but grit our teeth and with a few curses the German moved on his way, and we were marched in the opposite direction. We never saw our comrade no more, for he was sure to die a brutal and inhuman death.

We continued our journey along the river road and three hundred yards further on came across some of his General Staff mounted on horse-back. One gentleman in particular, having under his arm an English loaf of bread and a jar of jam. It seems hard to believe, but never the less quite true. There he sat watching prisoners move past, and he, every now and then tearing a handful of bread would dip it into the jam, and eat as if his very life depended upon it.

Another quarter of a mile or so and we were passing in the shadow of the great California Plateau, and on looking up to the top most point we could see a crowd of German officers and a few yards ahead of them there was standing a solitary man standing with his cape gently blowing  in the breeze. This man proved later to be the great War Lord of Germany, the Kaiser himself watching his troops doing their work of destruction as they moved forward.

The heat of the day was at it’s worst now and we were beginning to feel the effects and wondering when we were going to get a halt and something to eat because the last good meal we had was about 4:30pm on Sunday afternoon and it was now 2:30pm on Monday. We had no water either to fall back on as a reserve having dumped all before being taken, so we just trudged along, Fred No 1 on the right, myself on the left and being supported by us was Fred No 2 my batman, as we had to carry our own wounded, and with no idea where we were bound for, what with our sore feet, parched throats, the heat together with the groans from Fred 2 it was a very unpleasant position to be in. Fred 1 cursed the square head fluently all the way.

This continued until 6:30pm without a spell, when we arrived at a fairly large barbed wire compound and being counted when passing through the gate, all this done the gate was securely locked and surrounded by guards. On looking round there was no chance of escape.

Next we were fed our first meal in captivity. Well, now came a problem. Having no small kit what were we going to get this meal in, and what to eat it with? Fred 1 came to the rescue, taking off his steel helmet, he tore out the lining and low and behold there was as good a soup bowl as one could wish to have. Many followed likewise and forming up in the line, arrived at the boiler from which a German with a litre measure, dished out a white liquid, which turned out to be nothing else but flour and water boiled, so putting our helmets to our lips we drank deeply. Hardly had this been done when we were moved into a more remote corner of the compound for the night, and it was a cold one.

Everyone huddled together in the open, without any sort of covering, in an endeavour to keep warm. The outside men, one of them being me, had to keep turning over from back to front as required.

 So ended the 27th May as my first day as a prisoner of war.

Tuesday, May 28 – Friday May 31, 1918
Sgt. Thomas William Chisholm
The Sgt writes:

At 5:30am the rouse came again, and with another drink of flour and water we were turned into a large field just over the other side of the hill. When this was done Fred 1 said ‘I wonder what they are going to do now Bill.’ ‘God knows, and he won’t split.’ say I.

So sitting for a short while we watched Jerry’s movements, until Fred 1 said ‘Billy if you want to keep anything you value get it smuggled quick because they are searching every man.’ But it had to be done under cover because Jerry was watching with an eagle eye, so covering each others movements, we transferred each articles we wished to keep, down inside our trousers, or in our boots. I happened to have in my possession four one mark notes, having taken them from a Jerry prisoner in a previous engagement, so Fred says ‘For goodness sake get rid of them or when they see them your days are numbered,’ so with my jackknife I dug a small hole in the ground and buried them, and with a sigh of relief joined the line to be searched.

The number to be searched being so large, it was surprising that the searching was such a short affair and when we had passed through we were minus our jackknives, and any other small articles that would be of any use to our guards. This being done we found ourselves on the road to God knows where, the order was given to march so off the column trudged, the time being about 10am.

 After about four spells that day we came to a place called Lislet, this place boasted a proper prison camp, and all were put into huts no matter what rank they held, by the time this was done it was 10:30pm this practically ended our second day as prisoners. The huts were fairly large and roomy but they were packed to suffocation, however it was much better than being out in the open. The camp being a big one was built in the form of a hollow square and surrounded by a double wall of barbed wire twelve feet high. Outside this was a small embankment four feet above ground level which was used by our guards as their beat and they had to walk up and down towards each other.

By 12pm all was quiet, as we were dead tired and needed as much sleep as possible, owing to the fact that we did not know what the morrow would bring, but about 2am we were awakened by a loud whirring sound, so going outside to investigate, I found out that our aircraft were on the way and it proved quite true because when they came overhead and dropped their first bomb Jerry disappeared with a squeal and we saw no more of them until the raid was over. That caused us to get a good strapping from Jerry next day.

We rested two days in the camp. All there was to do was just walk round and get in touch with a few of the boys we had not seen since our capture, and feed upon  the soup very kindly given to us by Jerry with the intention of keeping us alive but it was really just a long drink. We were also given a small piece of black bread, we looked at each other before starting to eat, however Fred and I thought we would sample ours but owing to its bitterness we could not finish it, so some of the less particular of the boys made short work of it.

By this time my wounded batman Fred 2 had been taken away from the party and put in a hospital somewhere. Whatever happened to him I never knew, for he was never seen again

This camp and the rest seemed to do us a good deal of good, but being unable to either wash or shave, we did look a grubby crowd. On the second day I happened to meet my old Company Commander who seemed in a very cheerful mood. We had a good chat over past events and parted, to see no more of each other until about twelve months after I returned to England.

That brought the day to the 31st May 1918 a Friday, and rumours that night, that we were to move again on the morrow.

Saturday, June 1, 1918
Sgt. Thomas William Chisholm
The Sgt writes:

Up at 4am and partaking of coffee and black bread we marched off again, this time under the charge of a guard of stalwart but rather old Prussian Guards mounted on very pristine horses who continued to trot backwards and forwards along the column keeping a very sharp eye on all that happened.

Getting on for about noon this day, the column were passing through a series of small villages, and by this time, we were again in no fit state to march so far without a break, but our guards kept us on the move all the time. Owing to the bad state of the roads and intense heat, we were all covered with a good coating of white dust, with streaks down our faces where the perspiration had been running down. Our mouths parched with thirst, sore feet, stiff limbs and sick of heart through this heartless treatment, we were passing through the village of Liart. The peasants noticed our plight and seemed to take pity on us, as they put outside the houses, small wooden tubs of clean fresh water for drinking. Without attempting at any halt to enable us to refresh ourselves, our guards rode forward and willfully turned over the tubs and forced us back into the ranks again. We just trudged forward very little being said, owing I think, to the fact that we wanted to save our breath as much as possible for our exertions.

We continued moving past fields looking more cultivated than the ones we had left behind, and great woods of giant fir trees. The time was somewhere about 6:30 or 7pm, when we suddenly left the road and entered one of these dense woods. Moving across a beaten track, we continued for something like half an hour before coming into the open again. Then across country for about half a mile and then came to a halt.

We had arrived at Hirson, a fairly large French town dominated by a fortress on the Borden. It was into this, that we were to rest for the next 24 hours. The Fort de Hirson, being surrounded by walls built of huge pieces of rock, this retaining wall afforded very little chance of escape. Also last but not least a large moat about 35 to 40 feet deep and 30 feet across the top.

The time being somewhere about 7.30pm, the light had not begun to fail yet so we to set off to explore our prison, in an effort to find a decent resting place, before dark came upon us. Wherever we looked, it was all the same, great towering walls faced us, so we just had to be content with a place against the wall, wherever a space could be found. Just imagine what it would be like when something like 8 or 9 hundred people tried to line a wall and find a comfortable place to lie.  

Fred and I squatted down in a place as near as possible to the entrance thinking of an early exit next morning. Hunger was growing at our stomachs as we had had nothing to eat all day and it looked as if nothing was forthcoming. Even if we could have got a smoke it would have been better than nothing, but not being in the possession of the necessary articles, we had to do without. Fred however, was not to be outdone. Having a supply of cig papers, as he always did make his own cigs (like all men in the service of the merchant marine) finding a large heap of the refuse in one corner of the moat, being a dump used by the Germans, for all scrap such as potato skins, tea leaves etc., Fred managed to manufacture a cigarette by using the tea leaves and powdered dry grass. As for myself I usually smoked a pipe, so I properly filled up and smoked, but the taste and smell was nothing on earth however I stuck at it until satisfied.  

All this time the people up above (French and German sight seers), who had turned out in full force to see such a large batch of British prisoners, were talking among themselves and occasionally jibing at us, intending I suppose, in making us feel our position a little more acute. So when we did understand anything that was said, it did not take long for us to give them a suitable answer, which was not always in the best of English language (some people call it ”choice”).  

Our visitors keep tormenting our hunger, by displaying large pieces of sausage, bananas, and black bread, but by only dropping the skins into the moat, they seemed to enjoy seeing the boys make a rush for them. Personally I have never been nearer to being an animal than at this particular period. All that we wished for, was that we had been shot dead in the first place. 

Eventually with the darkness, the crowd up above drifted away, and quietude rained.

Sunday, June 2, 1918
Sgt. Thomas William Chisholm
The Sgt writes:

The day passed without event, and on the night all that could be seen or heard, was the sentries feet and the figures of the guards moving along the stone coping round the top of our prison, and the groups of prisoners down below, on their damp cold ground beds, talking about anything that seemed to come into their heads.

Some talked of home and what their people would have to say when they heard of their sons or fathers plight. Others grumbled at the hunger and the cold, whilst some even tried to brighten our burden by singing the war marches that we had sung during happier days.

Eventually all was silent and the more contented slept fitfully throughout the night (which now seems a nightmare after all these years, but is as fresh in my memory as if it had happened last week).

Monday, June 3, 1918
Sgt. Thomas William Chisholm
The Sgt writes:

Morning came bright and fresh, but no grub. At about 7am we were all hussled out of the hell hole to a railway station and put aboard the train and rolled away again, arriving about 3.30pm at the town of Giessen.

De-training here, we marched through the streets to the other side of the town and were put into a real and proper prison camp, which was fairly large, containing good huts.

During our march through the town, we noticed the streets were spotlessly clean, also proving as to what a state of depression and starvation the German nation had been reduced to, we noticed in a few instances concessionary shop windows with not the usual display of goods, but in their place were coffins, also in drapers, and bakers shops, the same thing meet our gaze.  

We were met at the entrance to the camp by other prisoners who had been in captivity a good while, but who also looked as if had done them good. They had a well fed appearance and were very well clothed, being dressed in the regulation uniform prescribed for British prisoners of war. It was made of the same material as our usual service dress, only it was dyed black with a brown band around the right arm and a two inch brown strip down the sides of the trousers. Not having seen this before, we decided it looked rather funny, but all the same, comfortable, seeing as by this time our own uniforms were looking and feeling the worse for wear.

These men who had been prisoners for a considerable period welcomed us with the news that there was a feed ready for us. I might say that we all seemed as though we needed one, judging by our friend’s appearance, because he did look well fed.  

As soon as we were put into our various barracks, the food was brought and placed between the huts, where we all formed into eager queues and a German Pastern or sentry issued out the soup with a litre ladle with a handle about four feet long. As soon as a man obtained his portion, he returned to the hut to which he belonged, to partake of the first substantial meal we had had for days, which also proved very much insufficient, for our most starved condition however, it had to do, as there was no more to get.

Following this meal we were again turned out on parade and this time an RSM who had previously belonged to the Rifle Brigade carried out a nominal roll of all men in our batch. That is the only name it is possible to find for such a mixed crowd.  

Followed by the RSM, came a German officer with his followers. He spoke very good English, so before ever he got anywhere near to where Fred and I were, it was passed up the ranks that he was making enquiries with regard to what trade we worked at before the war, and also that he seemed to splitting us into distinct parties.   Fred and I having being pals so long now, we did not feel inclined to part, and thinking that this officer was looking for tradesmen with a view to placing us in his factories, thus relieving more German soldiers to go to the front. Fred and I had a little talk and decided that I was to tell them that my trade was a blacksmith and also that Fred had in peace times, been my striker, although he had really never seen inside of a blacksmith’s shop. Nevertheless the gag worked and we were both put into the squad containing such tradesman as engineers, both mechanical and electrical, boilermakers, blacksmiths and motor mechanics etc., so we felt fairly safe for the time being.

When all this had been done, the complete roll was called, and not being content with this, the officer and the German Sgt. Major counted us three time in succession to make sure that it corresponded with his numbers in the first place, and the roll that the British RSM had made, ensuring that no one had escaped during the journey.  

Finally the dismissal came and we were told that another meal would be forthcoming somewhere about 10.00pm but it never came yet so we laid down each beneath his one blanket and slept a good sound sleep also the first of its kind, as up till now we had to sleep without any covering at all.  

This ended June 3rd 1918.

Bandar Abbas

The HM HS VITA sailed from Basra to Bandar Abbas, Persia on October 4, 1917 arriving the following day.

Bander Abbas Dwelling

Bander Abbas Village Smithy

Bander Abbas Caravan Preparations


Photos of HM HS VITA between 1916 and 1918.

HM HS VITA Leaving Harbour

HM HS VITA (Bombay)

HM HS VITA from Hospital Pier
Pontoon Bridge from Pier to Ship

Life Below Decks

VITA CO's Cabin

HM HS VITA Smoke Room

HM HS VITA Dining Salon

HM HS VITA Lounge & Staircase

HM HS VITA RAMC Orderly's Cabin

RAMC Crew Bunks

On Deck

HM HS VITA Port Promenade Deck

When the VITA was passing through areas known to be mined, patients were brought on deck as a safety precaution.

HM HS Vita Patients on Deck in Mined Areas.

HM HS VITA Patients on Deck

Patients on Deck

Patient’s Wards

HM HS VITA Forward Ward (70 Patients)

HM HS VITA Lower Tween Decks Ward (100 Patients)

VITA Upper Tween Decks Ward (70 Patients)

Operating Theatre

HM HS VITA Operating Theatre

HM HS VITA Operating Theatre

Medical Staff

HM HS VITA Medical-Staff 1917

Angels of Mercy December 1916. HM HS Vita.



HM HS VITA Ventilation System

Thresh Disinfector HM HS Vita

Repatriated Turkish PoWs

HM HS VITA Repatriated Turkish Officers


Photos of Bombay

Photos and images of Bombay 1916 – 1918.

Cuffe Parade N. (Bombay)
« of 4 »

Bombay Apollo Bunder
« of 2 »

Bombay Pioneer Dock

Bombay Unloading-Patients (Governor General Present)

Bombay Unloading Patients to Ambulance

Bombay Loading Troops

« of 17 »

Hack (Bombay)
« of 3 »

War Diary 9th Loyal North Lancashire Regiment May 1918


9 May                   Battalion left at 3am, march route to WAYENBERG, to entrain. Transport proceeded in advance. Battalion arrived at 7:30am. Battalion entrained in record time, viz Transport Complete – 1 1/2hsr. Train left at 11:15am

10 May                Battalion on railway journey. Made halts at NOYELLES and PONTOISE. Arrived at FERE en-TARDENOIS at 7:00am. Arrived In camp at 10pm.

11 May                Battalion cleaning up, etc. Inspection by Maj-Genl. Bainbridge KCB at 6pm who complemented 25th Division on good work done and conveyed same from Corps Commander and C in C.

12 May                Church parades in camp. Inspection of men by CO.

13 May                Battalion in training as per orders. Battalion provided working party under French Camp Commandant.

14 May                Battalion training. Military Medal awarded to 7 men of the Battalion. Lieut. AE Bulling appointed assistant adjutant.

Major (Lt Col) EL Nares, MC proceeded to join 66th Division.

Lt. Col. AM Tringham DSO took over command of the Battalion.

15 May                Battalion training

16 May                Route march with halt for Tactical Scheme, Lewis Gun Detachment formed. Military Medal awarded to 4 Other Ranks.

17 May                Range allotted to Battalion. Transport inspected by BPC.

18 May                Route march.

19 May                Church parade. CO’s inspection

20 May                Range allotted to Battalion.

21 May                Tactical Schemes on Training Area. Major OS Derby-Griffiths, MC takes over command of the Battalion. Lt Col. AM Tringham DSO to 75th Brigade.

22 May                Entrenching scheme carried out on Training Area.

23 May                Range allotted. Moved to VANDEUIL in the evening


24 May                Arrived at VANDEUIL, early hours of morning.

25 May                CO’s inspection of Battalion

26 May                Church Parades. Orders for move.

7:15pm Received orders to prepare to move at once.

11pm     Marched to MUSCOURT. During latter part of journey Box Respirators were worn owing to gas shelling by enemy.


27 May                Arrived at camp at MUSCOURT at about 4am.

9am       1 Platoon per Coy ordered to proceed to a line along Canal bank, NE of MAIZY, to form a nucleus of defence for that place.

12noon Remainder of Battalion ordered to reinforce at once line already taken up.

Total going into action 12 Officers, 496 other ranks.

Capt. WF Loudon MC – Wounded. Lieut. A Sumner – Wounded.

Capt. PR Shields MC – Wounded and missing. 2nd Lieut. AE Downing – Wounded and missing.

Major OS Darby-Griffiths MC – Killed.  2dn Lieut. JBM Lightbody – Wounded.

Capt. RJP Hewetson – MIssing.

Major Lloyd 105th RE assumed command of Battalion.


War Diary Total Casualties During the Month:

Killed     Wounded           Wounded & Missing       Missing

2             6                            1                                           1                            Officers

6             123                       4                                           232                       Other Ranks

War Diary HM HT Guildford Castle 1915

Guildford Castle at Dar es Salaam in 1917

The War Diary for the HM HT Guildford Castle cover November 1914 to January 1919 (although there is a large gap between Dec 1916 and Aug 1917). A summary of the logs for 1915 is below:

HS Guildford Castle
23-08-15    Arrived Alexandria
29-08-15    Left Alexandria
31-08-15    Arrived Mudros
01-09-15    Left for Imbros
02-09-15    Arrived Imbros. Took on board 670 cases.
05-09-15    Mudros. Handed over 670 cases to SS Scotian, Sumila(?) & Hospitals on shore
06-09-15    Suvla. Commenced to take in cases.
08-09-15    Left for Mudros arriving at 6pm with 557 cases onboard
09-09-15    Left for Malta
11-09-15    Arrived Malta. Disembarked all cases.
17-09-15    Arrived Mudros.
21-09-15    ANZAC Beach. Left with 600 cases onboard.
22-09-15    Mudros. Left to Alexandria with 520 cases onboard 120 being on decks
25-09-15    Alexandria. Arrived in dock. Disembarked all cases.
29-09-15    Embarked 384 sick & wounded. Left for Southampton.
06-10-15    Gibralter. Arrived – only waiting long enough to hand over embarkation stats.
11-10-15    Southampton. Arrived in dock disembarked all sick & wounded.
12-10-15    London. Arrived in East India dock. Repairs & Alterations.
25-10-15    London. Left East India dock anchored for the night off the NORE.
27-10-15    Boulogne. Arrived in dock. Took on board 75 Indian troops destined for India & 300 for Marseilles. Left for Marseilles.
02-11-15    Marseilles. Arrived in dock. Disembarked 300 Indian cases for General Hospital. Took onboard 130 Indians for Alexandria.
10-11-15    Alexandria. Arrived in dock. Disembarked all 205 cases.
16-11-15    Mudros. Arrived in harbour.
20-11-15    Mudros. Left for Suvla.
23-11-15    Suvla. Left for Mudros with 410 sick & wounded onboard.
24-11-15    Mudros. Left for Malta.
27-11-15    Malta. Arrived in harbour. Disembarked 224 cases likely to be well in six weeks & took on 210 cases for England.
28-11-15    Malta. Left for Southampton.

Next entry in the Guildford Castle’s log is August 1916

War Diary HM HS VITA 1915 – 1916


The War Diaries for the HM HS Vita are only available from June 1917 onward.  Below is the best I can do to trace the Vita’s movements from commissioning to when the War Diary starts:

SS VITA – Troop Transport:

14 April, 1915     Bushire. 8.35am: Stopped by SS VITA, drew stores

3 Aug, 1915        Basrah. 5.15am: SS VITA down river

21 Dec, 1915      Marseilles. Troops Boarded the SS Vita at Marseilles

21 Jan, 1916       Basrah. Troops Disembarked SS Vita at Basrah

29 Jan, 1916       Basra. Arrangements were made to dispatch a Medical Officer with practical knowledge of Plague and an Assistant Surgeon skilled in Bacteriology on HT VITA proceeding to Bar to take troops off NILE.

2 Mar, 1916        Basrah. 10.10am: VITA down river

3 Mar, 1916         Basra. Specialist MO with Assistant Surgeon BROWN left on HT VITA for transport NILE at KUWAIT to mitigate Plague outbreak on that ship.

4 Mar, 1916         Troops on NILE being transhipped to HT VITA for Basra.

7 Mar, 1916         It was decided to Quarantine and disinfect troops on the VITA and NILE. A batch of 500.

Note:  The War Diary for Divisional Troops: 56 Brigade Royal Field Artillery (WO 95/5151/4) also shows HMT VITA at Shatt el-Arab on 4 Mar, 1916.

HMHS VITA – Hospital Ship:

21, May, 1916     Basra. The VITA arrived on her first trip [as a Hospital Ship].

23 May, 1916      Basra. Dispatched the VITA with 17 Officers and 341 other ranks and the “Chackdara” with 12 B officers and 260 other ranks.

29 May, 1916      Bombay. 6.30am: Hospital ship VITA arrived

6 June, 1916      Bombay. 1.00pm: Hospital ship VITA proceeded

11 June, 1916     Basra. [No 33 BGH personnel arrived on VITA. 33 Officers & 187 men].

1 July, 1916         Busrah. Hospital Ship VITA.

3 July, 1916        Busrah. Hospital Ship VITA departed to India. 16 British Officers, British Other Ranks 205, Indian Officers 14, Indian Other Ranks 157.

16 July, 1916      BASRA. Hospital Ship VITA arrived 6:15pm.

17 Jul, 1916         BASRA. Sick & Wounded for transfer to HS DONGOLA. British Officers 25; British Other Ranks 500.

18 Jul, 1916        BASRA. VITA departed to Bar.

19 Jul, 1916        BASRA. VITA arrived from Bar.

20 Jul, 1916       BASRA. Hospital Ship VITA departed 12:20pm. Sick & Wounded to India.

20 July, 1916      Mohammerah. 10.20am: 69 ratings discharged sick to SS VITA

2 Aug, 1916       BASRA. Hospital Ship VITA arrived.

4 Aug, 1916        Basrah. HMHS Vita left @ 8:15am

4 Aug, 1916       BASRA. VITA departed 8:30am. Sick & Wounded to HT MADRAS. BO 21, BOR 216, IOR 248.

5 Aug, 1916       BASRA. Hospital Ship VITA arrived 5:15pm.

7 Aug, 1916        BASRA. Hospital Ship VITA departed 7:00am. Sick & Wounded to India. BO 5, BOR 389.

7 Aug, 1916        Abadan.  9.50am: Two invalids discharged to HMHS Vita

19 Aug, 1916      At Sea. 9.10pm: HMHS VITA passed, west

21 Aug, 1916      BASRA. Hospital Ship VITA arrived 12:15pm.

22 Aug, 1916      BASRA. VITA departed. Sick to Bar 7:15am.

23 Aug, 1916      BASRA. VITA transfer sick to HS DEVANA. BO 17; BOR 378.

24 Aug, 1916      BASRA. VITA departed. Sick & Wounded to Bar. 7:30am.

25 Aug, 1916      BASRA. VITA Sick & Wounded for Transfer to HS MADRAS. IOR 499.

26 Aug, 1916      BASRA. Hospital Ship VITA arrived from Bar. 2:15pm.

28 Aug, 1916      BASRA. Hospital Ship VITA sick to Bar. 6:00am. Sick for transfer to HS DONGOLA. BO 21; BOR 407.

29 Aug, 1916      BASRA. Hospital Ship VITA arrived 6:00pm

30 Aug, 1916      BASRA. VITA departed to India. 6:00am. IO 3; IOR 374.

12 Sep, 1916      BASRA. Hospital Ship VITA arrived 1:00pm.

13 Sep, 1916      BUSRA. Hospital Ship VITA departed 6:00am. Sick to India BO 10; IO 4; IOR 224. Follrs 150.

27 Sep, 1916      BUSRA. Hospital Ship VITA arrived 5:30pm.

28 Sep, 1916      Basra. Told that VITA, from Bombay, was bringing repatriated PoWs.

30 Sep, 1916      BUSRA. Hospital Ship VITA departed 6:00am. British sick to Bar, Indian sick to Bombay.

18 Oct, 1916       Basrah. 6:20am: VITA passed down

12 Nov, 1916      Basrah. 1:15pm: Hospital Ship VITA passed down

9 Dec, 1916        Zanzibar. 1.00pm: HMHS Vita arrived.

11 Dec, 1916      Dar-es-Salaam. 4:30pm: HMHS Vita arrived.

17 Dec, 1916      Zanzibar. 6.00am: H.S. Vita sailed.

15 Feb, 1917      Basrah. Men discharged to HS Vita

13 Mar, 1917      At Sea. 8.40am: Closed HS Vita

12 Apr, 1917      At Sea. 7.40pm: HS Vita passed, Bombay to Basra.



Source: WO 95/5238/3. Headquarters Branches and Services: Assistant Director Medical Services.

Source: WO 95/5241/3. Headquarters Branches and Services: Embarkation Commandant.

Arthur Slater Discharge Papers

We are lucky to have these discharge papers:


Vita, was owned by British India Steam Navigation Co Ltd, (a subsidiary of the P&O group of companies) and was completed in October 1914 by Swan, Hunter & Wigham Richardson Ltd, Wallsend, Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

She was 4,691 gross tons, 1,955 net tons, and 5,160 deadweight tons. Dimensions were 390.1 feet length, 53.3 feet breadth and 26.5 ft depth with a shallow Draught of 22.9 ft. She had twin props and two triple expansion engines giving 4,700 ihp and a speed of 15.8 knots (as measured in her launch trials). Her passenger capacity when new was 32 first class, 24 second class, and 2,694 deck.

Immediately upon completion she was put into military service as a troopship (SS Vita), and her first voyage was from Bombay to the Persian Gulf with troops, and her next voyage was to France. She carried on trooping duties until May 1916 when converted into a hospital ship (possibly at the Royal Indian Marine Dockyard at Bombay) with 405 patient berths.


In July 1917, the War Diary reports that its patient accommodation was brought up to 436 by replacing swing cots with fixed double tiered cots in wards 1, 2 & 4.

Period of Service as Hospital Ship or Ambulance Transport.*
Date From:     27th October 1915
Date To:           24th February 1920

She was returned to British India in 1918, and in 1922 was put into regular commercial service on the Bombay-Karachi-Bushire-Basra run.

The VITA was the third of the V-class ships commissioned by the British India Steam Navigation Company to be delivered along with her three sister ships: VARELA, VARSOVA and VASNA.

Command Structure

The VITA was an “Indian” Hospital Ship under the military command of the Indian [Army’s] Medical Services branch (I.M.S.). Consequently, it carried a large Indian staff along with the British one. There would have been as many as 100 Indian staff members on board filling a variety of roles such as sub-assistant surgeons, dispensers, Hindu and “Mohammedan” cooks, tailor, sweepers, dhobis, ward orderlies and servants. All of these men were under the command of the O.C. Troops, I.M.S. who in turn received his operational commands from the Assistant Director Medical Services (A.D.M.S.), Bombay District. Also under this command was a small female nursing staff made up of a Matron in Charge, Sister in Charge, Sisters, Staff Nurses and probationary Nurses from various nursing services from Australia, India and Africa.

Sailing the ship was the responsibility of the Merchant Navy Officers and crew who would have numbered around 100. Along with the Officers the crew was made up of Engineers, Electricians, Stewards, Trimmers, Firemen & Stokers.

There is an excellent book: Fifty Thousand Miles on a Hospital Ship, by Charles Steel Wallis that provides a fascinating glimpse into the life on board a hospital ship in 1915-16.

The VITA was under the Command of the Assistant Director Medical Services, (A.D.M.S.) Bombay District belonging to the Bombay Brigade of the 6th Poona Divisional Area:

Indian Army
Southern Command
6th Poona Divisional Area
Bombay Brigade
Lines of Communication, ADMS (District), Bombay

By the latter half of 1918, RAMC non-commissioned ranks were then further placed under the command of the Embarkation Commandant and the No 42 RAMC Embarkation Company, Bombay.

Roles & Responsibilities

Medical Doctors and Surgeons were made up of personnel from both the RAMC and IMS. In addition to their hands-on medical responsibilities, these men also filled the roles of Adjutant, C.O. Office, Surgical & Medical Stores, C.O. RAMC, and C.O. Indian Personnel. In other words, they had both medical and administrative responsibilities.

Nursing personnel, organized under the command of an on-board Matron and a Sister-in-Charge, were made up of women from the Australian Army Nursing Service (A.A.N.S.), the Queen Alexandra’s Military Nursing Service, India (Q.A.M.N.S.I.), Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service Reserve (Q.A.I.M.N.S.R.), and the South African Military Nursing Service (S.A.M.N.S.).

Additionally, a small number of St. John’s Ambulance personnel were also on board.

Officer Commanding Troops, HM HS VITA (1917 – 1919)

The following men were O.C. Troops on the VITA during its time as a Hospital Ship:

Major S. H. Lee Abbott, I.M.S., O.C. Troops HM HS VITA
Major Lee Abbott was O.C. Troops from before June 1917 to September 10, 1917. It is likely that Major Lee Abbott was O.C. Troops from May 1916 when the VITA first became a Hospital Ship.

Major J. Husband, I.M.S., O.C. Troops HM HS VITA
Major Husband was O.C. Troops from September 10, 1917 to September 6, 1918.

Major J. J. Robb, I.M.S., O.C. Troops HM HS VITA
Major Robb was O.C. Troops from September 6, 1918 to after December 31, 1919.


The following nursing staff served on board the VITA during the period June 1917 – December 1918.


More than 2,000 Australian nurses served with the Australian Army Nursing Service (AANS) during the First World War, some of whom were assigned to Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service Reserve.  Candidates for appointment in the Australian Army Nursing Service (AANS) had to:

(i) have at least three years’ training in medical and surgical Nursing in a duly recognised hospital
(ii) be aged 21 to 45 years
(iii) be either single or a widow


Q.A.I.M.N.S. Nurses

At the outbreak of the War, there were 297 trained nurses of QAIMNS serving in military hospitals throughout the world, and despite the enrollment during wartime of nearly 11,000 members of the Reserve, the small size of the regular service was maintained throughout, thus avoiding a surplus of staff that would be difficult to get rid of when war was over. Although there had always been a small ‘Reserve’ of women who augmented the numbers of the regular QAIMNS, the effects of the War demanded that many more women needed to be recruited quickly. The figures for enrollment vary, but one reliable source shows that 10,404 women joined Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service Reserve between August 1914 and the Armistice. Like their counterparts in the regular service, these women were educated, of good social standing and had all completed a three year nurse training in a hospital approved by the War Office. They were, with very few exceptions, over 25 years of age and single, but as the war progressed a shortage of staff resulted in some married women being allowed to serve. Women were engaged on yearly contracts or until their services were no longer required, and most had been demobilized by the end of 1919, to return to civilian life.


Q.A.M.N.S.I. Nurses

QAMNS for India was set up to provide nursing services to the British military in India. They were a small service and, because the Indian government was so careful with money, it was reinforced from about 1916 with numbers of temporary nurses who served on 6 months contracts. As they were temporary, the Indian government did not have to worry about any pensions or other benefits for them. Some of these nurses served continuously on these contracts for years, even until the establishment of the Indian Military Nursing Service in 1926. Many of them served in Mesopotamia, which was considered part of the Indian theatre of war.

Sister D HUNT
Sister Mrs OVER

S.A.M.N.S. Nurses

Probationer Nurse Miss L FINLAYSON

Post WW1:

After the First World War, in 1922, VITA was put into regular commercial service on the Bombay-Karachi-Bushire-Basra run. She continued in this service to 1939. Prior to this she had made some voyages to and from the UK. In May 1940 she was converted at Bombay into naval ‘Hospital Ship No 8’. She was unusual in that most Hospital ships came under the Royal Army Medical Corp. The medical staff were all Royal Navy, the Captain & other officers were mostly Merchant Navy. By September 1940 she was operational and her base port was Aden. In March 1941 she transferred to the eastern Mediterranean, and on 14 April, during the withdrawal of the British 8th Army, was attacked by German dive-bombers when she was leaving Tobruk for Haifa with over 400 wounded troops. A near miss lifted her stern out of the water and her engine room flooded, this put her engines and dynamos out of action.

The destroyer HMAS Waterhen took off 432 patients (wounded Australian and British troops being evacuated from Tobruk) and 42 medical staff and towed the disabled ship back to Tobruk. After the wounded patients had been disembarked, Vita left Tobruk on 21 April for Alexandria in tow, and in the course of this voyage escaped damage in two more bombing attacks. From Alexandria, on one engine and without electricity, she limped back to Bombay for repairs. When repairs were completed she went again to Aden.

In 1942 Vita was based at Trincomalee, and on 9 April went out from that port to pick up survivors from the aircraft carrier HMS Hermes and her escort destroyer HMAS Vampire, both of which had been sunk by Japanese aircraft. When Vita appeared on the scene, the Japanese ceased attacking and she was able to pick up 595 survivors. In December 1942 Vita acted as a hospital ship for the landings at Diego Suarez, Madagascar. In the following year, and for 1944 she served, apparently without incident, in the Mediterranean and in the Indian Ocean. In April 1945 she was at the Burma landings at Kyaukpyu, and the following month at Rangoon. She was now based at Cochin, and operated hospital voyages between Madras and Chittagong. In September 1945 she was again based at Trincomalee. In May 1946, following a refit, she resumed commercial service, and this lasted another seven years. She was sold on 20 may 1953 to Tulsiram Bhagwandas for scrapping at Calcutta.

The P&O V-Class Ships

The VITA was the third of the V-class ships commissioned by the British India Steam Navigation Company to be delivered along with her three sister ships: VARELA, VARSOVA and VASNA.

VARELA. Built by Swan, Hunter & Wigham Richardson Ltd. in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, she was launched on March 27, 1914, and delivered on May 28, 1914 as “Varela” for the British India Steam Navigation Company at a cost of £119,200. She was the first of the V-class ships to be delivered, followed by her sisters Varsova, Vita and Vasna. The Takeover of the British India Steam Navigation Company by The Peninsular and Oriental (P&O) Steam Navigation Company
was agreed less than a month later.

The VARELA was the first British India Steam Navigation Company ship to be requisitioned by the Government for the war effort (two days before the official declaration of war). She was initially used as a supply and despatch vessel. Shortly thereafter she served as an Indian Expeditionary Force transport, and was the headquarters ship for the landings at Fao and Sanniya in Mesopotamia. In early 1915 she was used intermittently as a base hospital at Basra and in October 1915 she was converted into an Indian Expeditionary Force hospital ship, with 450 beds, at the Royal Indian Marine Dockyard at Bombay. She was employed mainly to and from the Persian Gulf for the Mesopotamia campaign. From November 1917 to 1920 she was transferred to ambulance transport service.

VARSOVA. Built by Swan, Hunter & Wigham Richardson Ltd. in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, she was launched on June 9, 1914 and delivered on August 11, 1914 as “Varsova” for the British India Steam Navigation Company at a cost of £119,000. She was the second of the V-class ships to be delivered along with her three sister ships: Varela, Vita and Vasna. She was requisitioned immediately upon her arrival in India and took part in the convoy from Bombay to Mauritius. In 1915 she served as an overflow base hospital at Basra and then as a transport to Gallipoli. From April 1916 she was made an Indian Expeditionary Force (IEF) hospital ship with 475 beds for the Mesopotamian campaign. From 1917 to 1920 she was employed as an ambulance transport.

VASNA. Built by Alexander Stephen & Sons Ltd. in Glasgow, she was delivered on June 30, 1917 as “Vasna” for the British India Steam Navigation Company at a cost of £139,600. She left the builder’s yard already fitted out as an Indian Expeditionary Force hospital ship (613 beds, 125 medical staff and 129 crew) and was immediately sent out to join her sisters (Varela, Varsova and Vita) in the Persian Gulf. She was the last of the sisters to be delivered and was used as an ambulance transport.

VITA’s Movements 1915/ 1916

Date Location
22-Dec-15 Departed Marseilles
24-Dec-15 Arrived Malta
26-Dec-15 Departed Malta
30-Dec-15 Arrived Alexandria
01-Jan-16 Departed Alexandria / Arrived Port Said
03-Jan-16 Departed Port Said
20-Jan-16 Arrived Basra


* History of the Great War; Medical Services, General History, Vol 1, by Major-General Sir W.G. MacPherson, K.C.M.G., C.B., LL.D.; published 1921. Appendix B: Military Hospital Ships and Ambulance Transports, Showing Date of Commissioning, in Chronological Order.

National Archives British Army Nurses Search Portal.

Australian WW1 Service Embarkation Search Portal.

Royal College of Nursing Search Portal.

Edwin Slater

Edwin Slater was born in Ashton-under-Lyne, Lancashire on April 13, 1892. In 1911 he was employed as an Iron Turner at Platt Brothers & Company in Oldham, as was his father.  At this time, Platt Brothers had established itself as the world’s largest textile machinery manufacturer.

He is shown below in “early 1915”,  (probably May 1915), taken from a group photo with his brother Arthur, of the 1/9th Battalion Manchester Regiment, and his sister Eleanor.

Edwin Slater 1915

There are no Army service or pension records for Edwin; we only have his Medal Index Card, his 1915 Star Roll and his British War Medal and Victory Medal Roll entry.

Edwin Slater Medal Index Card

His Medal Index Card (MIC) gives us his regimental number (22754) and tells us that he was in the 11th Battalion Royal Scots (Lothian) Regiment and that he was entitled to three medals: 1915 Star, British War Medal, and Victory Medal. It also tells us that his first date of entry of overseas deployment was August 11, 1915 to France. Finally, it indicates that he was demobilized on March 22, 1919 to the Class Z Reserve.

The Class Z Reserve was a Reserve contingent of the British Army consisting of discharged enlisted soldiers. The first Z Reserve was authorized by an Army Order of December 3, 1918 and was abolished on March 31, 1920 when the expected problems with violations of the Armistice did not materialize.

Edwin Slater 1915 Star Roll

His 1915 Star Roll matches the information on his Medal Index Card (which is not always the case). The Star Roll is a crucial document because it also records all the other men of the 11th Battalion Royal Scots with the same disembarkation date as Edwin. By researching those men, several of whom have surviving service records we can deduce many things with a very high degree of certainty.

Below is a B.103 form from one of the men Edwin deployed with (Pte. DAVID CRIGHTON, 21179).  It is identical to all of the surviving Service Records and it clearly shows their arrival in France and their assignments in the initial few weeks there.

11th Royal Scots B.103

Consequently, we know that Edwin Slater was part of a draft (the third draft) of at least 40 men who arrived at Boulogne on August 12, 1915. Almost all of these men attested and joined the Royal Scots in April/May 1915.  Many of them attested at various locations throughout the UK and then traveled to Glencorse Barracks in Scotland joining the Royal Scots one or two days later. They went through basic training and then shipped out to France on August 11, 1918 arriving in Boulogne the next day.  From there they were immediately assigned to the 5th Entrenching Battalion of the First Army. Entrenching battalions were temporary units and allocated at a Corps level. They were used as pools of men, from which drafts of replacements could be drawn by conventional infantry battalions.

Note: An analysis of the enlistment dates of the 10 men that joined the 11th Royal Scots with service numbers +/- 10 digits from his shows that he must have joined around May 10, 1915.

The following men were posted to the 11th Battalion Royal Scots, in the field, on September 18, 1915.

Rank No. Forename MI Surname Enlisted
Pte 13334 THOMAS CLOSE 01-Sep-14
Pte 20899 ROBERT GUNN 12-Mar-15
L/Cpl 21054 ROBERT FERGUSON 07-Apr-15
Pte 21056 JOHN BELL
Pte 21128 HUGH O’DONNELL 17-Apr-15
Pte 21134 WILLIAM MYLES 16-Apr-15
Pte 21173 WILLIAM GRANT 22-Apr-15
Pte 21179 DAVID CRIGHTON 23-Apr-15
Cpl 22691 JOHN HAWKINS 29-Apr-15
Pte 22721 JOHN BARLAS 04-May-15
Pte 22726 THOMAS KIRK 22-Apr-15
Pte 22764 WILLIAM BLACK 12-May-15
Pte 22776 JAMES FINNIGAN 14-May-15
Pte 22809 W GRAHAM
Cpl 22814 JOHN E BROOKS 19-May-15
Pte 22826 JOHN BRADY 17-May-15
Pte 22933 EDWARD PEARSON 27-May-15
Pte 23023 FRANK C E WILSON 31-May-15
Pte 23409 JAMES CARR 29-Jun-15
Sgt 23656 WILLIAM H PASCOE 13-Apr-15
Pte 23664 WILLIAM E SOUTH 14-Apr-15
Pte 23685 WILLIAM R WOOD 08-Apr-15
Pte 23709 ALBERT G EVEREST 15-May-15
Pte 23710 ALBERT R GALE 13-Apr-15
Cpl 23711 ARTHUR JONES 12-May-15
Pte 23715 CRISTOPHER R PAUL 17-Apr-15

On this date, the 11th Royal Scots were at Cambrin (near Bethune) and engaged in training, having recently been relieved in the line.  They went back into the trenches on the 25th and were involved in a significant action between 25-28th in the opening phase of the Battle of Loos resulting in 381 Officers and Other Ranks killed, missing or wounded.

It is sobering to discover that of the 40 men listed in this draft, fully 17 would be Killed in Action and a further 8 would be discharged due to wounds or sickness and awarded the Silver War Badge. Two men won the Military Medal, one was Mentioned in Despatches and one man deserted.

Edwin Slater WWI Service Medal and Award Roll

Edwin Slater’s Service Medal and Award Roll entry also indicate that he at some point was transferred to the 16th Battalion Royal Scots Regiment.

The final piece of surviving information we have is the picture below (Edwin Slater is front row, right):

Edwin Slater with Four Comrades

There is some indistinct writing on the photo but careful examination  shows that it reads: “Loos 1915, Somme 1916, Ypres 1917, Arras 1917, Soissons 1918, Blicquy 1918, The Quarries 1918”.  Also, at the bottom it says “5 Tanks, December 12, 1918”. This photo is a so called “survivors photo” taken after the Armistice with men about to be demobilized and celebrating their comradeship, service and, more importantly, their survival.

Military Medal

Edwin is wearing a medal ribbon:

Edwin Slater Wearing Military Medal Ribbon

The ribbon is for the Military Medal (MM) and Edwin Slater’s Military Medal (MM) was announced in the London Gazette on the 19th November, 1917 (and in the Edinburgh Gazette on 21st November 1917).  The action for which it was awarded would have been some time prior to this publication date. The gazette, simply says “22754 Pte E. Slater, R. Scots (Ashton-under-Lyne)”.

Edwin Slater Edinburgh Gazette 1917

Additionally, we have a short article in his local newspaper, the Ashton Reporter, regarding his award but unfortunately it provides no additional details except that it was published on October 20, 1917 a month before the official listing in the London Gazette.

Ashton Reporter October 20, 1917

Edwin’s Military Medal award was promulgated in the London Gazette of November 19, 1917. His was one of 5 MMs awarded to men of the 13th Royal Scots so it would appear that at some point he was transferred, or attached, to the 13th Battalion even though there is no mention of this on his medal roll.

At this time, the 13th Royal Scots were part of the 45th Brigade of the 15th Scottish Division. Edwin’s Registered Paper (No RP/68/121/327) indicates an award for 3rd Ypres. His schedule number (No 111419) indicates it was one of five 15th Division Military Medals awarded to the 13th Royal Scots.

The five MM awards, all from the 13/Battalion Royal Scots, were to:

16152 JAMES STEEL Schedule No 111417
20635 WILLIAM CARR Schedule No 111418
22754 EDWIN SLATER Schedule No 111419
37371 WILLIAM MULHOLLAND Schedule No 111420
15296 HENRY CHARLESON Schedule No 111422

The London Gazette of November 19, 1917 covers awards from July 27, 1917 to September 26, 1917. But we know that these awards were for gallantry on Wednesday August 22, 1917 in the 15th Division’s attack that day. The 15th Division’s 45th Brigade attacked Potsdam, Vampir and Borry Farms at 4:45am. Under the light of flares, the 13th Royal Scots’ and the 11th Argyll and Southern Highlanders’ attacking infantry was mostly wiped out by machine gun fire. Survivors fell back to establish a line from Railway Dump to Beck House. The 13th Royal Scots tried to get forward repeatedly throughout the day but were unsuccessful. Two German counter-attacks were beaten off with rifle fire and artillery. The 11th Argyll and Southern Highlanders were themselves awarded 4 Military Medals for the same action.

But we are getting ahead of ourselves …

11th Royal Scots

The 11th were attached to the 27th (Lowland) Infantry Brigade, of the 9th (Scottish) Division and moved to Bramshott in the Bordon area of Hampshire. In late April, 1915 whilst located at Bramshott, the Battalion received orders to move to the front and on the 11 May, 1915 the main body of men boarded the S.S. Invicta and crossed the English Channel landing at Boulogne, France later that same day.

The Battle of Loos (Sep 25 – Oct 15, 1915)

As already noted, the 11th Royal Scots, as part of the 9th Division of the First Army, fought in the front line during the opening phases of the Battle of Loos between September 25th to the 28th.  Edwin Slater had been in France for just a few weeks and had arrived there after just a few short months of basic training. All of these newly arrived men were ill equipped to be thrust into the front line of a major offensive. From this draft of 40 men, Pte. WILLIAM BLACK (22764) was killed in action on the last day of the battle; less than a month after joining the Battalion in France. By the time it was over, the 9th (Scottish) Division had lost a staggering 6,058 casualties including 190 Officers.

Wounded in Action

Ashton Reporter October 9, 1915

After approximately 4 months of treatment and rest in the UK, Edwin returned to the front lines in France on February 1, 1916.

Two more men from this draft of 40 lost their lives in November and December 1915.  Pte JOHN BARLAS (22721) was severely wounded in the face on November 11, 1915 and a week later was repatriated to the UK on the HM HS ANGLIA. Unfortunately, on November 17, 1915 the ANGLIA struck a mine and sank 1 mile off the coast of England, going down in just 15 minutes.  134 people drowned; Pte. BARLAS was one of them. Later, Private DAVID CRIGHTON (21179) was killed in action on December 12, 1915 while the 11th Royal Scots were once again in the front line.

The Battles of the Somme (Jul 1 – Nov 18, 1916)

The Somme was an Allied offensive that changed its nature due to the German attack against the French in the epic Battle of Verdun, which lasted from late February to November. Huge British losses were inflicted by the Germans on the first day followed by a series of fiercely-contested phases that became attritional in nature. September 15, 1916 saw the first-ever use of tanks in the phase known as the Battle of Flers-Courcelette. The British army in France was now approaching its maximum strength in numbers but was still developing in terms of tactics, technology, and command and control.

The British Fourth Army faced three separate very formidable German defensive systems of trenches, dugouts, underground shelters and deep barbed wire defences.

At this time, the 11th Royal Scots were in the 27th Brigade of the 9th (Scottish) Division attached to the XIII Corps of the British Fourth Army.

Somme: Battle of Albert, (1 – 13 Jul, 1916)

In this opening phase, the French and British assault broke into and gradually moved beyond the first of the German defensive systems. For the British, the attack on 1 July proved to be the worst day in the nation’s military history in terms of casualties sustained.

The 11th Royal Scots were in the reserve line moving up at 8pm on the 2nd to relieve the front line troops which was achieved by 3am on the 3rd. They remained in the front line suffering casualties every day from intense enemy shelling. Trenches were consolidated and patrols sent out until July 8th when they moved to Bivouac in the rear to rest and refit.

Somme: Battle of Bazentin, (14 – 17 Jul, 1916)

The 11th Royal Scots were in the front line and attacked the German line in the early hours of July 14th. They quickly achieved their first objective, capturing 63 German prisoners in the process, but their success came with a high cost of casualties.  Three men from the draft of 40 lost their lives that day:

Rank No. Forename MI Surname Died
L/Cpl 21054 ROBERT FERGUSON 14-Jul-16
Pte 22826 JOHN BRADY 14-Jul-16
Pte 23685 WILLIAM R WOOD 14-Jul-16

More frontal attacks of the German lines were undertaken by the 11th Royal Scots on the following days, as the 9th Division attempted to secure all their objectives of the initial attack.  The Battalion was relieved from their front line duties at 8pm on the 17th July.

Wounded in Action

Pte. Edwin Slater (22754) Royal Scots was listed in the Daily Casualty List published in The Scotsman newspaper on August 24, 1916.

Daily Casualty List. The Scotsman August 24, 1916

Generally speaking, it would take approximately one month from a soldier being wounded for them to appear in the casualty list. This was in part to allow the next of kin to be officially notified before finding it in the newspaper.

An analysis of the other men appearing in this Casualty List from the 11th Royal Scots shows that they were all wounded on July 14, 1916; the first day the 11th were in the line at the Battle of the Somme.  As noted above, it could have been much worse.

It is almost certain that he was repatriated to a Hospital in the UK for some months before he returned to join the Battalion again.

Somme: High Wood

On the 18th October, the 11th were back in the Somme front lines again, involved in actions to secure the feature known as The Butte de Warlencourt. The attack was undertaken under extremely difficult conditions of heavy rain, mud and intense cold, leading to large numbers suffering from exposure and trench foot in addition to considerable losses in action.  Pte. JAMES FINNIGAN (22776) of the draft of 40 was wounded on the 20th, dying of those wounds on October 24, 1916.

Arras Daylight Reconnaissance (March 21, 1917)

By February 1917 the Allied Forces were planning and rehearsing the Arras Offensive which was scheduled to commence on April 9th.  In March, intelligence was received that the Germans were withdrawing from certain positions and so Sir Charles Fergusson, (VXII Corps Commander), resolved to test the enemy’s strength in front of Arras by means of a daylight raid. The 11th Battalion Royal Scots were selected. The “raid” was a frontal assault on the German trenches carried out by approximately 200 men and resulted in a loss of 7 Officers and almost 70 Other Ranks killed, missing or wounded. Nevertheless, they had fulfilled their mission by proving that the Germans had in fact held themselves in full strength in their line opposite XVII Corps. Reports from the raid estimated that perhaps as many as 100 Germans had been killed or taken prisoner.

The efforts of the 11th Royal Scots that day elicited a letter of praise from the Third Army Commanding Officer.

General's Letter March 21, 1917

Pte. WILLIAM SOUTH (23664) of the Draft of 40 also lost his life that day.

Now confident that the Germans had not withdrawn and were still at full strength, the Arras Offensive was put back into motion.

The Arras Offensive (9 Apr – 16 Jun, 1917)

The British were called upon to launch an attack in support of a larger French offensive: the battles of the Chemin des Dames and the hills of Champagne. The opening Battle of Vimy and the First Battle of the Scarpe were very encouraging, but once again the Offensive bogged down into an attritional slog.

The Battalion moved into the trenches on April 4th and endured heavy shelling from the enemy resulting in 4 men killed and 7 wounded. One of the men killed that day was Pte. HUGH O’DONNELL (21128) from the Draft of 40.

The 13th Battalion Royal Scots

Frustratingly, we do not know exactly when Edwin returned to action after his wounds but his award of the Military Medal confirms that when he did return to the front he joined, or was attached to, the 13th Royal Scots.

Pte. Edwin Slater, MM

August 22, 1917

The action of August 22, 1917, took place in the Ypres Salient on the Western Front as part of the Third Battle of Ypres. The attack on 22 August, although unsuccessful, advanced the British front line up to 600 yards in places, on a two-mile front but failed to reach the more distant objectives it had been set.

On 17 August, the fresh and rested 15th (Scottish) Division relieved the 16th (Irish) Division in the XIX Corps area. In the 15th Division area, supported by patrols from the 47th (1/2nd London) Division south of the Ypres–Roulers railway, the 45th Brigade on the right was to attack behind four tanks, a creeping barrage and overhead fire from 32 machine-guns but the tanks ditched short of the front line on the Frezenberg–Zonnebeke road. As soon as the infantry advance began, German artillery-fire fell along a line from Frezenberg to Square Farm, followed by machine-gun fire on the attacking troops and on the support and reserve troops even before they left their trenches. The 13th Battalion, Royal Scots and the 11th Battalion, Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders were supported by the 6th Battalion, Cameron Highlanders. As soon as the advance began, German small-arms fire became so dense that runners could not go back or reinforcements move forward. Recognition flares were seen later at Potsdam, Borry Farm and Vampir Farm but nothing else was known of the progress of the infantry. Survivors retreated to join the 6th Camerons along the track running north-west from the Railway Dump to Beck House.

Machine-gun fire from the German fortified posts had devastated the infantry of the 15th (Scottish) Division as they struggled through the mud. A report from the 8th Seaforth described how the creeping barrage had failed to damage many pillboxes; the German defences had been underestimated and were insufficiently bombarded by the heavy artillery. The swiftness of the Germans in inflicting casualties left the survivors incapable of capturing strong points, even where the garrisons seemed willing to surrender.

The Official History of the Great War records that the 15th (Scottish) Division suffered 2,071 casualties; 1,052 casualties in the 44th Brigade and 1,019 in the 45th Brigade.

The following account, from the perspective of the 13th Royal Scots, is excerpted from The Royal Scots 1914-1919, by Major John Ewing, M.C. :

Owing to the bad weather, operations of any magnitude had to be postponed, but whenever there were any signs of improvement, attacks were launched. On August 16 our position was strengthened when we secured a hold on Langermark but after this operation rain set in again. The 13th Royal Scots, after their ordeal of July 31, 1917, were given a rest until August 20th when they took over the front line near Frezenberg, with their right flank on the Ypres-Roulers Railway. “D” and “B” were the two front companies with “C” in support and “A” in reserve. An attack, in which the 15th and 61st Divisions were to co-operate was arranged for 4:45am on August 22nd. The 13th Royal Scots, who went into action with Major Mitchell in command, formed the right Battalion of the Division, and their objective was a line extending from South of the railway to Bremen Redoubt, a fortified pill-box, exclusive. In view of the number of formidable pill-boxes to be encountered, special parties furnished by the Royal Scots Fusiliers and “A” and “C” companies of the Royal Scots were detailed to “mop up” particular points.

Most of the hostile shelling fortunately dropped behind the line of the assembled troops, but the attack, though carried out with the utmost gallantry, made little progress. Numerous Boche aeroplanes audaciously buzzed over our lines and inflicted several casualties on our men, who were met, moreover, by a terrific machine gun fire, particularly from the large pill-box known as Potsdam. The Royal Scots formed a line in front of Vampir and Potsdam and beat off several counter-attacks, but were unable to make any impression on the enemy’s defences. Ultimately, Major Mitchell established a new line from the railway, slightly in front of our original position, which the Royal Scots, in spite of a galling shell fire, including “shorts” from our own artillery, maintained without serious difficulty. Heavy losses were inflicted on the Boches by our rifle and Lewis Gun fire, on one occasion a party of sixty of the enemy being almost annihilated. Their exertions however, told heavily on the men, and they were very exhausted when on the night of the 22nd they were relieved and marched to a camp near Ypres.

The number of 13/Royal Scots casualties was again alarmingly high, (276 killed, wounded and missing including two officers killed), and as a result of the two actions in the salient practically a new Battalion had to be formed.


We do not know what happened to Edwin between his winning the Military Medal in August 1917 to the end of the war but if we are to believe his Medal Roll at some point he transferred to the 16th Battalion Royal Scots from where he was demobilized. However, that does not seem to add up. The 16th Royal Scots were reduced to a cadre strength and attached to the 39th Division in May 1918 after suffering heavy casualties. They were finally disbanded in France on August 14, 1918 but we know that Edwin was not demobilized until early 1919.

Edwin Slater with Four Comrades

As noted earlier, the writing on the above photo says “Loos 1915, Somme 1916, Ypres 1917, Arras 1917, Soissons 1918, Blicquy 1918, The Quarries 1918”.

Loos 1915, Somme 1916, Ypres 1917 and Arras 1917 all fit well with the battles fought by the 11th Royal Scots. Whereas, Soissons 1918 [23 July – 2 August 1918], The Quarries 1918 [12-16 Sept 1918] and Blicquy 1918 [Nov 11, 1918] fit well with the 13th Royal Scots.

It’s my belief that Edwin’s Medal Roll is wrong and instead of the 16th it should actually say 13th – but this is pure conjecture on my part.

Class Z Reserve
Pte. Edwin Slater was demobilized to Class Z reserve on March 22, 1919.

The Class Z Reserve was authorised by an Army Order of December 3, 1918. There were fears that Germany would not accept the terms of any peace treaty, and therefore the British Government decided it would be wise to be able to quickly recall trained men in the eventuality of a resumption of hostilities. Soldiers who were being demobilised, particularly those who had agreed to serve “for the duration of the War”, were at first posted to Class Z. They returned to civilian life but with an obligation to return to military service if called upon. The Z Reserve was abolished on March 31, 1920.

Royal Visit to Ashton-under-Lyne May 20, 1938

Edwin was presented to King George VI and Queen Elizabeth when they visited Ashton on May 20, 1938 at the very end of their 4 day tour of Lancashire.

Edwin Slater with King George VI and Queen Elizabeth
Ashton May 20, 1938

Not only was he presented to the King and Queen, he also had the honour of accompanying them when they briefly met with some of the disabled ex-servicemen of Ashton, as can be seen in the photo below.

Royal Visit to Ashton May 20, 1938
With Disabled Ex-Servicemen


Edwin Slater died in Ashton-under-Lyne, Lancashire on November 23, 1945. He was 53 years old.


The History of the 9th (Scottish) Division, 1914 – 1919
Major John Ewing, MC

The Royal Scots, 1914-1919, Vol I 1914 – May 1919
Major John Ewing, MC

The Royal Scots, 1914-1919, Vol II May 1917 – May 1919 and Appendices
Major John Ewing, MC