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William Baird Brock

S/18714 Private

‘C’ Company, 1/6th Battalion, Black Watch (Royal Highlanders), 153rd Infantry Brigade, 51st (Highland) Division

Age: 25

Date of Death: 31.7.17

Buried: Menin Gate Memorial Panel 37

Family history: Son of Robert and Jessie Brock, 12 Annfield Street, Dundee. He had an older sister Agnes a younger sister Margaret and a younger brother Robert. William was born in Falkirk and the family later moved to Dundee. Before he enlisted William was employed as a Batcher at a Jute Mill in Dundee.

The action leading to his death

The 51st (Highland) Division was in the line preparing for the opening of Third Ypres on 31 July 1917. The Division had been allotted a front of fourteen hundred yards and the final objective was the Steenbeek River which was about two thousand yards behind the German front line. The attack was divided into four stages, the first objective being the Blue Line, which was the enemy front line, the Black Line, the support line, the Green Line, the river Steenbeek, and the final objective, a line some two hundred yards beyond the river. The Division attacked with two Brigades, 153rd on the left and the 152nd on the right with the 154th in reserve. The 6th Black Watch were in reserve on the left. Their task was to pass through the lead battalions after they had taken the Black Line and continue the advance and secure the Steenbeek River.

Linesman Map showing trench lines and objectives before the attack on 31 July 1917

The artillery barrage, which also consisted of barrels of flaming oil being fired at the German lines from Livens Projectors, a scene a kin to a medieval siege, began at 3.50am and ten minutes after zero ‘A’ Company of the Battalion went forward followed by ’B’ and ’C’ Companies with ’D’ Company holding the original British trench line. At 6am the Battalion HQ moved forward to Hindenburg Farm which was some two hundred yards beyond the German front line. Following this move forward Captain Lindsay, commanding ‘B’ Company, reported that he had occupied the Black Line and at 7,15am Lieutenant Hamilton, who had been wounded and was being carried down the line by German PoW’s, reported that ‘B’, ‘C’ and ‘D’ Companies were now established on the Black Line and had gained touch with the 6th Seaforth’s on their right.

Courtesy of Simon Verdegehem - Picture taken during an excavation of the trenches occupied by 51st HD and the uncovered Livens Projectors used to support the attack on 31 July 1917

At 7.30am ‘B’ Company took Cane Wood and twelve prisoners and this was followed a few minutes later with the capture of Rudolph Farm and a further seventy prisoners, the farm being located midway between the Black and Green Lines. By 9am they had captured Kleist Farm, although now reduced to fifty men. Battalion HQ was now moved to Gournier Farm, located half-way between the Black and Green Lines, with every

Gournier Farm German bunker. Used by the 1/6 Black Watch as their HQ. Authors image

available man now being sent forward to assist ‘A’ Company in consolidating the Black Line. ‘D’ Company was now on the Green Line holding some gun pits on the road between Ferdinand and Chien Farms, and they were sent over the Steenbeek River to establish a foot hold. These outposts came under a number of German counter-attacks with the enemy incurring over one hundred casualties. ‘Company was now established on the right between Ferdinand and Chien Farms, ‘B’ Company was dug in at Francois Farm, and ‘A’ Company, with the 7th Gordon Highlanders on their right, had now occupied the Black Line. At 6pm ‘D’ Company on the far side of the Steenbeek were subjected to a heavy barrage from the Germans and five minutes later they launched a counter-attack which, owing to the withdrawal of the troops of their left and the heavy causalities sustained throughout the day, they could not repel and ‘D’ Company was forced to withdraw back across the Steenbeek to the Gun Pit line. The Germans made one final attack at 8.30pm but this was easily fought off.

The Battalion casualties were one officer killed and eight wounded. Fifty other ranks killed, 234 wounded and 9 missing.

Medals Awarded:

The British Medal, Victory Medal

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