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William Taylor Gillespie


S/7488 Private

1st Battalion Gordon Highlanders, 8th Infantry Brigade, 3rd Division

Age: 35

Date of Death: 14.12.14

Buried: Menin Gate Memorial Panel 38

Family history: Husband of Maria, 49 Milton Road, Dunipace. They had five children. William had two brothers and three sisters. He had been a member of the local volunteers for 4 years and was employed as a Paper Mill Worker before enlisting on 21 November 1914.

The action leading to his death

The Battalion had begun the month of December quietly. They were to become involved in one of the last actions of the year of any importance on the northern front. It was to be a mainly French operation with the British 3rd Division and its 8th Brigade on the French right taking part. The plan was for the attack to spread south with the ultimate aim of capturing Messines Ridge. The 8th Brigade, with 9th Brigade in support and 7th Brigade in reserve, attacked with 1st Gordons on the right attacking Maedelstede Farm and 2nd Royal Scots on their left attacking Petit Bois. The Battalion were in billets at Locre on 13 December 1914 when they received orders to move up to the front line opposite the German strong point at Maedelstede Farm, near Wytschaete.


The War Diary records: ‘The Battalion marched to Kemmel where they arrived at 9pm and went into billets. At 2.30am on the morning of the 14 December the Battalion left Kemmel. ‘B’ and ‘C’ companies who were to carry out the attack occupied the advanced trenches. ‘A’ and ‘D’ companies who were to form the reserve occupied the trenches 200 yards in the rear. At 7am the artillery bombardment commenced.’


(Linesman Map)


The artillery of three divisions took part in the preliminary bombardment. This was planned to last forty five minutes and to target the German frontline trenches. It was woeful and ineffective due to a lack of ammunition.


The War Diary: ‘Many of the shells fell short of the German position, some even in the rear of our reserve.


Due to inadequate communication they could not report on these shortfalls.

The War Diary: ‘At 7.45am, in accordance with orders received, two platoons of ‘B’ company and two platoons of ‘C’ company advanced from the fire trenches and pushed on in extended order in spite of the very heavy rifle fire which was immediately opened on them. The sodden nature of the ground and the fact that the men had been standing for several hours in trenches deep in mud rendered a rapid advance impossible.


Some men of the Gordons were seen to jump into the German trench some 300 yards from the British front line, if so, it was miraculous. On the left the Royal Scots had got into the German front line and had taken 40 prisoners however, they could not hold their gain due to enfilade fire and had to withdraw.


On the Gordons front, at 3.55pm it was reported that a line of men were lying 50 yards in front of the German trench and plans were made to resume the attack. However, seeing that the German wire was still intact the commanding officer Major A.W.F. Baird cancelled the attack on his own initiative. After dark the remaining Gordons withdrew to their original start line. The losses of the Gordons were heavy. Seven officers killed or wounded and Other Ranks 51 killed, 123 wounded, and 69 missing, a total of 250. The Royal Scots had a total 110 killed wounded or missing. A large number of the Gordons wounded were still lying out on the battle field in front of their own lines and it would have been death for anyone attempting to reach them in day light.


In his diary on 16 December, Gerald Burgoyne, commanding ‘D’ company, Royal Irish Rifles who were occupying the trenches from where the Gordon’s had attacked, wrote: ‘Some of the men brought in this evening had been lying out in front since 8am on the 14th. I have just visited the ‘Dug-outs’ and saw a Gordon lying there, hit through the foot. I gave him a tablet of morphia to still the pain.’ On the 17 December he wrote: ‘In front of H1 are the bodies of some thirty or more Gordons, and on my left, many more victims or heroes of the mis-directed charge last Monday. At dawn this morning, two unwounded Gordons hopped into our trenches. These two men and two others badly wounded had crept into an old French fire trench, some seventy yards in front of our line, and lain there since Monday morning (14th) not daring to come out, as they had lost direction and did not know where our trenches lay. Starving and drenched the two unwounded men, thinking they heard Irish voices, chanced it and came over. Four of my men very pluckily at once jumped over the parapet and went to the two badly wounded men, taking them some hot tea and food, but the Jocks refused to allow themselves to be brought in then, preferring to wait another day in the cold, until nightfall. Our fellows also brought in two other wounded men who were lying in front of them.’


Captain Billy Congreve, ADC to General Haldane, 3rd Division, wrote in his diary: ‘Imagine sending a battalion alone to attack a strongly wired position up a hill and over mud a foot deep, under frontal and enfilade fire. It was a regular Valley of Death. The losses were, of course, very heavy. They lost seven of nine officers and 250 men. Such was the attack ordered by Sir John French. Next day, I read in a paper: British troops hurl back Germans at Wytschaete. A beautiful epitaph for those poor Gordons who were little better than murdered.


The French failed to make any ground and during the two following days of 15 and 16 December, the operations carried out were of a half-hearted nature degenerating into demonstration.


Medals Awarded:

1914 Star, The British War Medal, Victory Medal


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