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Thomas Gardner


292760 Private

'A' Company, 7th Battalion, Black Watch, 153rd Infantry Brigade, 51st (Highland) Division

Age: 26

Date of Death: 31.7.17

Buried: No Man’s Cottage Cemetery A.40

Family history: Husband of Marion Jane. They lived at Unitas Terrace, Bonnybridge however, on the death of Thomas Marion moved to Croft Place, Larbert.

Before being called up Thomas was a baker with the Bonnybridge Cooperative Society for two years and before that he had been a baker with the Larbert Cooperative Society for thirteen years.

He initially served with the Scottish Horse in May 1916 and joined the Black Watch in January 1917 when he went to France. In February 1917 he had an attack of pleurisy and was invalided home. On recovery, he rejoined his regiment.

(No Man's Cottage Cemetery. Thomas lies towards the end of the row on the left)

The action leading to his death

At 3.50am on 31 July 1917, the Third Battle of Ypres opened. The 51st (Highland) Division attack was opened with a barrage of 206 drums of burning oil projected from mortars on the German support and reserve lines, like something from medieval siege warfare. A further 150 shells filled with thermite were fired at the strong point known as Fort Caledonia in the German reserve lines. One squadron of the 1st King Edward’s Horse and eight fighting tanks and one supply tank, were placed at the Divisional commanders disposal. The artillery barrage had begun on the 16 July, with some 3,500 shells per day by the 18-pounders, 1,000 rounds per day by the 4.5 howitzers, and 200 rounds per day by the trench mortars.

(Linesman Map showing the trench positions before the attack on 31 July 1917)

The leading battalions of the 51st (Highland) Divisions attack were, from right to left, the 5/Seaforth Highlanders, 8/Argyll’s, 7/Gordon’s and the 7/Black Watch. They had little difficulty forming up under the British barrage except that the water filled shell holes and heavy ground made the maintenance of direction and the proper extension of the line difficult. The four battalions advance to the first objective known as the Blue Line and found the trenches obliterated by the artillery barrage. Some of the farms had been so demolished that they could not be located until the sun was up above the horizon. The German counter-barrage opened some ten minutes after the British had launched their attack and this fell mainly on the old British front line. Points of resistance that remained were scattered across the battlefield and were not always cleared in the half light. Any that showed themselves were immediately dealt with. The 7/Black Watch were opposed by the remnants of an elaborate trench system however, they dealt with this and cleared the area.

With the Blue Line secured according to plan, the Battalions consolidated their positions as the troops allocated to the capture of the Black Line passed through them.

In a letter to his wife, Lieutenant W A Speid, an officer in Thomas’s Battalion, wrote that Thomas had been killed by a shell splinter during the advance. He is listed in the Casualty Return in the War diary:

Medals Awarded

British War Medal, Victory Medal

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