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Joseph Sheratt

8070 Private

1st Battalion Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders, 1st Guards Brigade, 1st Division

Age: 32

Date of Death: 11.11.14

Buried: Menin Gate Memorial Panel 38 and 40

Family history: He was married to Janet and they lived at 6 Gilburn Place, Kinneil, Bo’ness, with their two children George and Margaret. He had a sister, Mary who also lived in the town at Corbiehall. He was regular Army enlisting in 1907. He landed in France with the Battalion on 14 August 1914, and saw action in many of the early battles.

The action leading to his death

The Division was engaged in what became known as the First Battle of Ypres and had been fighting continuously for the past fortnight and the strain and privations was beginning to show. E Craig Brown, who had started the campaign as a company commander in the 1st Battalion Queens Own Cameron Highlanders and ended it in temporary command, noted on 3 November that he had not washed since 25 October and had changed his socks only once, having already noted on 24 October that he and his men had not washed for five days nor eaten for two. He wrote on the 8 November: ‘You can imagine what uniforms look like after being day and night in deep, narrow drains for a fortnight, rubbing against the earth walls every movement made. The straw in the bottom of my drain is all sodden and smelly, but there are occasions in which I am jolly glad to get well into the furthest and darkest end.’

On the 11 November 1914 the 1st Battalion, now part of the 1st Guards Brigade which also included the 1st Black Watch and the 1st Scots Guards and was commanded by Brigadier General Charles Fitzclarence VC, were in the line at Veldhoek and on this day the Germans launched a major attack on a 9-mile front with 12 Divisions with the aim of breaking the British line and taking Ypres. The day dawned with a mist covering the frontline trenches and this was dispersed by a wind that brought rain which grew heavier as the day went on. At 0630 the Germans began an artillery barrage that grew in intensity and reached its peak by 0900. The main German attack was directed to the front line opposite Gheluvelt and extending from the wood on the south of the Menin Road known to the British as Shrewsbury Forest to Nonnebosschen (Nuns Copse) and the edge of Polygon Wood beyond it.

(Linesman Map)

The Germans overlooked Fitzclarence’s positions being situated on the high ground at Reutel Ridge, and his positions were in open ground, this meant that the British had as many men as possible drawn back into support positions with the consequence that the front-line defence was stretched. The German shelling had also made it difficult for supplies of ammunition, water, and food to be brought up to the front line. The British lines were subjected to a heavy artillery bombardment and then attacked by the twelve battalions of the German Guards Division. The German 1st Guards Brigade attacking Fitzclarence’s Brigade advancing silently at a jog in massed columns with officers in front and with swords drawn. Due to the mist and a breeze blowing the smoke towards the British positions they were not spotted until they were 50 yards away by which time it was too late to bring back the men under cover in the rear.

E. Craig Brown just managed to shout to his men to open fire but found it difficult being heard above the noise of the shelling and then he noticed that the Scots Guards had begun to run, and his men were following. He wrote: ‘I shouted on them to turn and fire, but I might just as well have shouted to the wind.’

The War Diary recording that: ‘The Scots Guards, Camerons, Black Watch evacuated their trenches and fled leaving the Germans in possession.’

Brown now found himself alone and took cover in a dugout being joined by a lance corporal. A little later a wounded German crawled in, and they bandaged his wounds. After dark two more Camerons came into the dugout and with one of these, the lance corporal, and a bandsman they came across they crawled back and found the remains of the battalion.

The War Diary recording: ‘About 50 men under the Regimental Sergeant Major had formed up at Battalion HQ. ‘C’ & ‘D’ Coy's were reported missing’


1914 Star & Clasp, The British War Medal, Victory Medal

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