Lochbroom Folk

Lochbroom's Sacrifice in the Second World War


Page 06 

 

THE 4th BATTALION, SEAFORTH HIGHLANDERS


The majority of men from Lochbroom served in ‘B’ Company, the 4th Battalion, Seaforth Highlanders.  Their Company Commander was Major Simon Keith Fraser M.C. under Lieutenant Colonel H W, Houldsworth, D.S.O., M.C.  They formed part of the 51st Highland Division with Major General Victor 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.  They left in buses from the Drill Hall in Custom House Street, Ullapool 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 – (TNA WO 167/820)
9th February: “Route Marches are the order of the day. This is a rural area but 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.”

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 inch 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 the following 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 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.


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