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Thomas Dennistoun M.M.

WW1 - The Ypres Salient Battlefields, Belgium

30465 Serjeant

13th Battalion, Royal Scots, 45th Infantry Brigade, 15th (Scottish) Division

Age: 20

Date of Death: 1.8.17

Buried: Tyne Cot Cemetery IX.B.21

Family history: Son of John and Elizabeth Dennistoun, Station Road, Grangemouth. He had five sisters. Thomas was employed as a grocer before he enlisted age 18 on the 25 November 1915.

The action leading to his death

The Battalion was part of the Fifth Army attack on 31 July 1917, in what became known as the Battle of Passchendaele. The 13th Royal Scots, as part of 45 Infantry Brigade, 15th (Scottish) Division, were involved in the assault on the German lines at Frezenberg Ridge. The task of 15th Division was to seize the ridge near Frezenberg and then to push on to a rise to the north east of Frezenberg known as Hill 35.

The main attack was undertaken by the 44th and 46th Infantry Brigades with the 45th held in reserve to go through the other two Brigades and capture the final objective. The Battalion HQ was in a dugout in Cambridge Trench on Cambridge Road, it was also being used by 6th Cameron Highlanders and as a Report Centre by 45th Infantry Brigade.

WW1 - The Ypres Salient Battlefields, Belgium
Linesman Map

Just after mid-day on 31 July, the Battalion HQ moved forward to Beck House with the Battalion due to be relieved that evening by the 10th Scottish Rifles however, the guides could not locate the Battalion and the relief was cancelled. On the afternoon of the 1 August the Germans launched a counter-attack and the 13th Battalion became dangerously exposed at Beck House and the neighbouring Borry Farm. The Battalion became cut off and surrounded by the Germans and outnumbered and exhausted this isolated garrison was overrun by the Germans with the men either killed or captured. The Battalion survivors were withdrawn to Cambridge Road and from there sent back to rest camps near Vlamertinghe. The losses were heavy: 13 Officers and 355 other ranks killed, wounded and missing in two days of fighting.

WW1 - The Ypres Salient Battlefields, Belgium
Linesman Map

He was listed a missing. On the 21 October 1918, the army officially pronounced him as dead and for official purposes listed his death as 1 August 1917.

W1 - The Ypres Salient Battlefields, Belgium

WW1 - The Ypres Salient Battlefields, Belgium

His body had been buried in a battlefield cemetery at Iberian South Cemetery and Iberian Trench Cemetery 1,200 metres North of Frezenberg, close to a farm called by the Army "Iberian". These contained the graves of 30 soldiers from the United Kingdom who fell in August-September 1917, and March 1918. His body was exhumed after the war and reburied at Tyne Cot Cemetery. He was identified by his AB64 (paybook).

WW1 - The Ypres Salient Battlefields, Belgium

WW1- The Ypres Salient Battlefields, Belgium

In her book ‘They Called it Passchendaele,’ Lyn Macdonald recounted the story told to her by Lieutenant P King, 2/5 Battalion, East Lancashire Regiment. He was tasked to go with men to the Frezenberg Ridge and bury the bodies of the successive waves of soldiers who had been killed there in the previous two months of fighting at Beck House and Borry Farm before they fell on 20 September 1917. He recounts:

We were each told to take a section of men and one NCO, draw rubber gloves, sandbags, and extra run ration for the men, and take our section out to the battlefield area to bury the dead. They were mostly Scottish soldiers - Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders and Black Watch. It was an appalling job. Some had been lying there for months and the bodies were in an advanced state of decomposition; and some were so shattered that there was not much left. We did have occasions where you almost buried a man twice. In fact we must have done just that several times. There was one officer whose body we buried and then shortly after we found an arm with the same name on the back of a watch on the wrist. We had to open their tunic pockets to get out their AB64s, which we had to put separately in a sandbag. If they had any identity discs, then we marked the grave - just put the remains in a sandbag, dug a small grave and buried him. Then I had to write it on a list and give the map reference location. Where the bodies were so broken up or decomposed that we couldn’t find an identity we just buried the man and put ‘Unknown British Soldier’ on the list. It was a terrible job. The smell was appalling and it was deeply depressing for the men.

Of course, the battle had passed well on by then, but the ground was totally destroyed. We could see nothing but these two abandoned pillboxes. There was no sign of civilisation. No cottages, no buildings, no trees. It was utter desolation. There was nothing at all except huge craters, half the size of a room. They were full of water and the corpses were floating in them. Some with no heads. Some with no legs. They were very hard to identify. We managed about four in every ten. There were Germans among them. We didn’t bury them. We hadn’t been told to. We did that job for two days running. And we didn’t dump them into a hole. We committed each one properly to his grave. Said a little prayer out of a book issued to us. ‘Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.’ The men all stood around and took their hats off for a moment, standing to attention. ‘God rest his soul.’ A dead soldier can’t hurt you. He’s a comrade. That’s how we looked at it. He was some poor mother’s son and that was the end of it.

Read more about recording the dead and how it began here

Medals Awarded

Victory Medal, British Medal

WW1 - The Ypres Salient Battlefields, Belgium

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