Coigach Folk

COIGACH'S SACRIFICE IN THE SECOND WORLD WAR

Page 05

THE 4th BATTALION, SEAFORTH HIGHLANDERS


The majority of men from Coigach served in ‘B’ Company, the 4th Battalion, Seaforth Highlanders. Their Company Commander was Major Simon Keith Fraser under Lt Col H Houldsworth, M.C. They formed part of the 51st Highland Division with Major General V M Fortune, C.B. in overall command. There were nine infantry battalions in three brigades, the 152nd, 153rd and 154th. The infantry were drawn from the Territorial Army battalions of the five Highland Regiments; The Black Watch, The Seaforth Highlanders, The Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders, The Gordon Highlanders and The Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders. The Division had four regiments of artillery, a Royal Armoured Corps reconnaissance unit, and other supporting arms.

The 2nd and 4th Battalion, Seaforth Highlanders formed part of the 152nd Brigade. The Seaforths were hastily mobilised in September 1939 and spent the first month in Dingwall town hall in cold rough conditions. The Battalion then transferred to Inkerman Barracks, Woking in the first week of October, where it remained until early December when moved to Guadaloupe Barracks, Bordon, Hampshire. Embarkation leave was granted on 18th December (1st party) and 28th December (2nd party) when the first returned for duty. The Battalion left Bordon by train on 26th January 1940 for Southampton with 24 Officers and 602 Other Ranks, and embarked for service overseas. The ships had to anchor outside the port, the crossing having been delayed owing to fog. They eventually docked at Le Havre at 2100 on 27th January, with disembarkation commencing at 0730 the next day.
 
The troops left Le Havre by train for the Bolbec area, 25 km away. They were billeted in three villages of Raffetot, Nointot and Mirville in farmhouses and chateau stables. All areas were extremely wet and muddy. The roads and ground were frozen with ice hanging from the trees so all movement of road parties was temporarily cancelled.


TNA: WO 167/820

 

A ten hour train journey on 5th February transported the troops towards the Concentration Area at Ecquedecques, north-east of Bethune. ‘B’ Company was billeted in Lières nearby.

Extracts from the 4th Seaforth Highlanders War Diary: 1940 – WO 167/820

9th February: “Route Marches are the order of the day. This is a rural area but is overshadowed by the great coal fields of the North-East France. The people in our villages have been very kind to us, and we are all the best of friends.”

22nd February:The Pipes and Drums played Retreat in Ecquedecques this afternoon on the road opposite the Mayor’s House. The performance appeared to be much appreciated by the Mayor and the whole civil population of the village.”

25th February: “The following officers and one N.C.O. per Company today reported for attachment to other Units in the B.E.F. to study the construction of defences. [This included Lieut M. MacLennan who had previously been the Headmaster at Achiltibuie School]. They will rejoin the unit on Saturday 2nd March.”

28th February: “The Battalion today moved out of the Ecquedecques area, and proceeded in troop carrying lorries to Wingles.

29th February: “Our billets here at Wingles are extremely good. “B” and “C” Companies are in a disused cotton factory where they have ample room to expand themselves.

7th/8th March: “The Battalion left Wingles for Lys-lez-Lannoy. “B” and “C” Companies are billeted to the North-East of Leers which is a semi-rural village.”

11th March: “Battalion Headquarters is situated in a large and comfortable farm house, with Battalion Rear Headquarters at Le Briqueterie to the West.”

12th March: “H.R.H. The Duke of Gloucester honoured the Battalion with his presence at Battalion H.Q.”

22nd March: “A” and “B” Companies conducted range practices today on the 2” Mortar Range at Bois Quatorze.”

26th March: “Advanced party of 3 officers and 50 men moved to the Bailleul area to prepare for the arrival of the Battalion on 28.3.40.”

28th March: “Arrived at Bailleul in severe snowstorm. Headquarters at Ferme Boddeart. “B” and “C” Companies are in farms in the Nouveau Monde area.”

During April training took place in the Nieppe Forest. Much of the time the weather was cold and rainy. Later in the month the Brigade took over a sector on the Saar front in the area of Hombourg-Budange on the Maginot Line. It was then that they were detached from the British Expeditionary Force (B.E.F.), and put under French Command in the 10th Army.

Regrettably the 4th Seaforth War Diary from 1st April onwards no longer survives , but the 152 Infantry Brigade War Diary exists for this month, including this summary.


TNA WO 167/406

 

On 15th May the 51st Division withdrew from the Saar front owing to continued pressure from the enemy. They moved across France towards Rouen in an attempt to link up with the British Expeditionary Force (B.E.F.). However, by this time the withdrawal of the B.E.F. from Dunkirk was already in progress and this was no longer possible. The troops were transported in buses towards the River Somme.

Spellmount Ltd

 

Thanks to the Ross and Cromarty Heritage Society, the diary of Captain Patrick Munro of Foulis, Company Commander of ‘C’ Company, has been made available on the internet by the Ross and Cromarty Heritage Society. Hence it is possible to track in detail the Battalion’s movements. Each extract is shown in italics with his initials PM at the beginning.

27th May: PM. “Travelling very slowly through Rouen we saw the preparations the French were making to try and stop the German advance. The bridges over the river were being sandbagged and hastily prepared for demolition and there were many troops about. The subsequent speed of the German advance was so great that they didn’t have time or neglected to blow these bridges and the Germans found them intact on reaching the town. We travelled some 30 miles by way of Neufchatel to a RV called “Starfish Cross Roads” in the Foret d’Eu.”



Captain 
Patrick Munro of Foulis.  Photo RCHS

It is not certain if this crossroads, Poteau Maitre-Jean, south of Blangy, is the exact place where the troops rested, but it is typical of the area.


 

The signpost is one of 28 poles scattered in the forest, installed from 1876 to 1902 at the initiative of the Duke of Aumale, the Count of Paris and Count Baston d’Orléans, successive owners of the Forest of Eu. In other forests the poles are generally wooden; here they are unique, made of cast iron and each weighs several tons.

27th May: PM. “The Battalion debussed and Companies went off to various ‘hides’ in the forest. A perimeter was formed with all-round defence and all the roads were blocked and covered by anti-tank rifles and guns. In the afternoon the CO took the Company Commanders in his car eight miles further north, through the small town of Blangy to a village called Le Translay which we were to occupy next day. At 9 p.m. we marched in darkness and silence to Le Translay. It had been completely evacuated in a hurry from what I saw when I went into some of the cottages. In one I found a half-eaten meal still on the table; in another a kettle boiling on the fire. Many animals had been left behind and birds in cages. Whenever I got a chance I spent my time letting out caged rabbits and birds, and loosing chained dogs, all of which would otherwise have starved.”

28th May: At Le Translay

29th May: To Grebault-Mesnil: PM.“While walking along the road a French Army lorry passed us and then stopped. They had four or five German prisoners in the back. They were the first Germans I had seen. They were all wounded and looked very dirty and exhausted and rather frightened.”

30th May: PM. “Some of us went to a nearby village called Huppy with the CO for a conference. The French Commander was General de Gaulle who no one then attached much importance to. He was wearing a very tattered uniform and looked extremely tired. All this time we were under command of a French Corps and the Division took its orders from the French.”

Various sources say that installed in the attic of the highest house of Les Croisettes De Gaulle follows the progress of his tanks in combat. This was confirmed by a local resident when this photograph was being taken.


Les Croisettes.  Photo:  Clare Church

30th May: PM. “We then went on to the village Behen which the Battalion was to occupy that afternoon. Just as we were completing our reconnaissances the Germans began shelling the village outskirts. My Company position was in a small wood in the grounds of a large chateau on the edge of the village. The Germans had occupied this village some days before. Just outside the front door two Germans had been buried and small wooden crosses put over their graves on which their tin hats were sitting. Because of this I didn’t think it was a very healthy place to have my Company HQ. So I decided to steer clear of it and dug my headquarters position in the wood not far from the platoons.


Behen Chateau.  Photo:  Clare Church

31st May: PM. “At 10 a.m. orders came for us to relieve the 2nd Seaforths in Moyenneville. The village was being shelled sporadically as we arrived. I chose a small orchard on the north (enemy) side of the village for my Company HQ. We dug two trenches, a ‘V’ shaped one large enough to hold ten men comfortably, and another smaller one fifteen yards away for the cooks. In my ignorance I had chosen a most unfortunate spot for my HQ. Mortar shells were coming over and bursting on impact with the top branches of the apple trees. I went off to find another site for my Company HQ in another orchard but at the south end of the village.

1st June: At Moyenneville

2nd June: PM. “The day was fairly quiet until midday when the Germans began shelling Moyenneville. They made a mess of the middle of the village and knocked the church steeple down. Battalion HQ rang up in the afternoon to say that we were to withdraw that night. Shortly before midnight we set off across country, parallel to, but away from, the road leading out of the village. The Germans must have known some kind of relief was taking place as they were shelling this road the whole time. Our progress was slow and we seemed to come across enormous hedges and ditches every ten yards.”

3rd June: PM. “About 4.00 a.m. we arrived at a place called Les Alleux, the Battalion. RV.”


Photo:  Courtesy of Coigach Community Heritage Group
 
From left to right:
L/Cpl Roderick Mackenzie (2818540) – captured 4th June 1940;  Private Roderick Macdonald (2816982) – captured 12th June 1940;
Private Robert Macleod from Culnacraig;  Unidentified – from Inverpolly;  Private Robert Graham (2820799) – captured 12th June 1940;  Private Norman Mackenzie (2822659) – died of sickness 19th May 1941.

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