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Charles McKerracher

WW1 - The Ypres Salient Battlefields, Belgium

S/3218 Private

‘C’ Company, 1st Battalion, Gordon Highlanders, 76th Infantry Brigade, 3rd Division

Age: 21

Date of Death: 2.3.16

Buried: Menin Gate Memorial Panel 38

Family history: Son of Peter and Alice McKerracher, 72 Lumley Street, Grangemouth. Before enlisting in the Gordon Highlanders on 29 August 1914, he was employed by the Anglo American Oil Company at the Grangemouth oil tank depot. He landed in France on 18 December 1915.

The action leading to his death

Before the attack on Verdun the Germans initiated a series of diversionary attacks along the allied line. One of these attacks was against the British line at the Bluff in the Ypres Salient. They exploded a mine in front of the Bluff on 22 January and shelling half a mile of front line trenches, including the Bluff itself, on the 14th February.

The front line was defended by the 17th Division’s 51st Brigade which had relieved the 76th Brigade on 7th February. The Bluff was held by a single platoon of the 10/Lancashire Fusiliers when the Germans attacked. Their positions were blasted by artillery and the men sought cover in the Bluff’s tunnels. This was a fatal mistake as the Germans exploded a small mine beneath and buried the occupants. The captured trenches were consolidated and repeated attacks to retake them failed.

It was concluded by the commander of V Corps that to retake the Bluff and the lost trenches would require a more detailed plan and the attack to be undertaken by troops who knew the ground. For this reason 76th Brigade were recalled from reserve and placed under the command of 17th Division for the attack on 2 March. Brigadier General H.C.C. Uniacke, GOC Royal Artillery, V Corps, was brought in to arrange artillery cooperation.

All four of 76th Brigades battalions would be taking part in addition to 7/Lincolns and 10/Sherwood Foresters from the 51st Brigade. The plan was for the 2/Suffolks, supported by the 10/Royal Welch Fusiliers to storm the bluff as well as the canal bank where the German mine workings were suspected. Companies of the 1/Gordon Highlanders were to attack on the left and the 8/King’s Own to attack the centre. The difficult area was the Bluff because of its height and the ability for surveillance. It was considered impossible for the 2/Suffolks to cross No Man’s land without supporting artillery cover. To do this would forewarn the Germans. It was estimated that two minutes was all the time the Suffolks needed to cover the ground. It was Uniacke who came up with the answer. He would arrange for a battery to fire a salvo at the Bluff, followed by another salvo two minutes later and this pattern would be fired at irregular intervals day and night leading up to the day of the attack. Only at zero hour would one salvo be fired and while the Germans were taking cover expecting the second salvo the Suffolks would cross and storm the German positions.

WW1 - The Ypres Salient Battlefields, Belgium
Linesman Map

At 4.30am after the guns fired for two minutes being the usual salvo the Germans had been expecting at 4.32am as the fire ceased the assault went in. The Germans were taken by surprise and except for the loss of one of the tunnelling parties and three platoons of ‘A’ Company, Gordon Highlanders practically annihilated by machine-gun fire, all objectives were achieved.

Battalion casualties were: Officers 3 killed, 7 wounded. Other ranks 69 killed, 12 missing, Died of Wounds 3, Wounded 145.

Deaths of fellow Grangemouth men

In June 1915, Charles wrote to his parents about the deaths of Private John Inkster and Private James Smith, both Gordon Highlanders, and in his Company. They had both been killed by a shell on 2 June 1915 at Hooge.

The death of Charles was reported in a letter to his parents by a friend Lance Corporal James McLean. He states that Charles was killed by shellfire. L/Cpl McLean was to be killed on 3 April 1916.

Medals Awarded

1915 Star, Victory Medal, British War Medal

WW1 - The Ypres Salient Battlefields, Belgium

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