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Murdoch Mackenzie

260169 Private

1/5 Battalion Gordon Highlanders, 153 Infantry Brigade, 51st Division

Age: 23

Date of Death: Died of Wounds on 3 August 2017

Buried: Dozingham Military Cemetery, Westvleteren II.I.35

Family history: He was born in Duthill, Carrbridge, Inverness-shire, he resided at Crosscroes and was the son of David and Annie Mackenzie of Millknowe, Avonbridge.

The action that lead to his death

On the night of the 30/31 July 1917, the battalion left Windmill Camp at 9pm and crossed the Yser canal at Bridge 5 without any casualties. Opposed to the 51st Division, and holding a slightly more extended front, was the 23rd (Reserve) Saxon Division, in the process of being relieved by the 3rd Guards Division. As the attack was launched 206 drums of burning oil were projected from mortars on the enemy’s support and reserve lines, with a further 150 shells filled with thermite thrown at Fort Caledonia in the German reserve line. One squadron of the 1st King Edward’s Horse and eight tanks, with one supply tank, placed at the disposal of the Division.

Map showing location of Fort Caledonia

(Linesman Map)

The picture opposite (courtesy of Simon Verdegem) are the Livens Mortars mentioned in the paragraph above. Excavated in an archaeological dig in 2019

The Brigade attack was lead by 1/7 Black Watch strictly to timetable but owing to their second wave not moving forward for 20 minutes, the 5th Gordon’s suffered 40 casualties before it was able to advance. Immediately the rear wave of the Black Watch advanced, C & D Coy’s advanced behind them in artillery formation, with A & B Coy’s in close support. With the Blue Line captured by the 1/7th Black Watch and as the leading wave met little opposition, they advanced almost to the protective barrage to Marsouin Farm and were able to advance in good order to the Black Line. As they approached the Black Line ‘C’ Coy was held up by a machine firing from a shell hole just behind a concrete emplacement. 2nd Lieutenant W.B.Maitland, Company Commander, without waiting to organise a Platoon attack, advanced on this machine gun single handedly. Dodging from shell-hole to shell-hole he got round the back and ran into the emplacement were he shot down two men, clubbed a third with the butt of his rifle, and took the gun. He was awarded the D.S.O.

About 100 prisoners, including two infantry officer and a medical officer were taken in the Black Line and the trench was filled with German dead, mostly killed by rifle fire. Cane Trench was captured by 7am and touch was established with the 38th Welsh Division to the left and with 1/6th Black Watch to the right. Cane Wood was captured by No.2 Platoon and keeping well up with the barrage they captured Randolphe Farm to the Cemetery Line were they met their first serious resistance from Francois Farm and a block house 100 yards NW of the cemetery. The battalion took Francois Farm and Varna Farm, using the ‘shell-hole’ method of attack. In both cases the enemy surrendered without waiting for the battalion to get to close quarters, At Francois Farm 4 officers and 140 other ranks surrendered. 5th Gordons casualties were 1 officer killed, 7 wounded, other ranks 49 killed, 9 died of wounds, 171 wounded and 7 missing.

Map showing final positions at Varna and Randolph Farms.

(Linesman Map)

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